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Thursday, September 22, 2011
Muscle Milk Woodsy Race Report
Rule #1 of trail running is, "respect the trail". Rule #2 of trail running is, "respect the f@#king trail!" And Rule #3 is of course, "bring something to wipe your ass".
Trail runners know that our version of running is a lot different than road running. For the most part you can't impose your will on a trail. You have to take what it will give you. The trail dictates everything from your pace to the kind of gear that you use. Well the trail definitely dicated how things were going to be to me last weekend.
I usually don't do race reports for races under half marathon distance unless there is something different about them. I'm doing a race report for this one for a couple of reasons. First, because I was using this race as a preview to the Surf the Murph 50K or 50 Miler (haven't decided) I plan to do at the end of October. Second, because this was the first race of such a short distance to completely kick my ass.
The Muscle Milk Woodsy was billed by the race website as a "9-mile trail race that will test your agility and will over untouched wilderness terrain." I called bullshit. The race featured the trails of Murphy Hanrahan Park in Savage. The route was entirely over cross-country ski paths. That's hardly "untouched wilderness terrain". I thought I was in for a bit of a cake walk. More on me eating crow later.
I rolled into Murphy Hanrahan at around 8:30 a.m. to the cutest little registration area I've ever seen. It was just this one tent, to accomodate packet pick-up for the 200 racers that had signed up. Everybody say "awwwwww...." The only other thing that would clue you in to the fact that a race was going on was a race clock and a mat for chip timing. I was digging the casual atmosphere.
I was set to do this race with my barefoot buddy Sarah Dulcoux-Potter and her daughter Tiana, both of which did the Minneapolis Duathlon with me. They are good people. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the amount of participants in minimal shoes. I bet I counted at least twenty racers in Vibrams or New Balance Minimus Trails.
I thought Sarah and I would be the only two barefoot weirdos per usual. Then I saw this guy...
That there is Tony Pierre, my new best friend. I caught a glimpse of him tying up some Luna Sandals and when over to say hi. One thing I love about barefooters is that they always make fast friends. We were chatting it up and making plans to run together in this race within minutes. We didn't know much about the course, so our plan was to go out at around 8:30 min/mile pace and see how we did. Turns out that was a great strategy for Tony, who recently placed 1st in his age group at the Go Commando mud run. That was not a good strategy for me, who hasn't placed in a race since I won the 100m sprint in 4th grade.
Here's a picture of the head of the pack at the start of the race. We started out with these fine folks at a pretty swift clip of 7:30 min/miles. I went out way too fast, but I was excited. The trail was pillowy soft and flat...great for bare feet. I had done a little trail scouting ahead of time (read...I walked up the trail for a couple minutes), and confirmed that at least the first mile featured the same terrain. I was in high spirits for the race.
About two minutes later, it all changed. We went up our first hill, and the trail turned from smooth single track to large rocks. This wasn't a problem during my pre-race scounting, nor would it have been on my normal trail runs. But my normal trail pace is a lot slower, and I tend to walk over really rocky sections. At this pace I was really getting worried about my feet. Since the temps were in the low 50s for the first time all year, they felt a little numb. What I could feel led me to believe that this race would not be barefoot friendly. On top of that, I was also sucking wind big time.
Something had to give. So I decided to put on the Soft Star Moc3s I was carrying along just in case. I slipped them on quick and caught back up to Tony. Then came the first of a never-ending series of long, near vertical hills. I tried to maintain a good pace, but with each one I got a little slower. The hills were killing everyone. I was completely trashed by about Mile 2.
So at that point I let Tony go and contemplating a change in strategy. Instead of trying to conquer every hill, I switched to just surviving them. I walked or slowly ran up the hills, then opened up on the downhills and the flat portions of the race.
I never miss a chance to take my shirt off while running.
This was a really cool course. Lots of wide dirt trails through heavily wooded areas, with the occasional stretch of single track. Not a whole lot of grass like a lot of these horse trail runs. But as you can see, the trail debris was pretty big. There weren't a whole lot of barefoot friendly sections of trail. I'm happy that I had something on my feet.
At around Mile 6, my hill-bombing strategy started to come back to haunt me a little. The course never stayed flat for more than a few hundred feet before the next gigantic hill. The constant up and down was frying my quads and doing a number on my feet. Opening up on the downhills is a fine strategy for a shod trail runner, but not for a barefooter. We need to watch our footing, or we get hurt. And my Moc3s were pretty much useless on all those large rocks. I could feel a good sized stone bruise developing on the bottom of my right foot.
Despite getting my ass kicked by all the hills, I finished the last mile at around the pace I started, and came in with a time of 1:25. That's an average of a 9:30 min/mile. I placed 55th out of 153 racers. And even though it was possibly the hardest trail race I've ever done, I actually had a blast. It's weird, but now that I'm doing Crossfit Endurance consistently I really like going through a really intense workout like this. It might seem like I'm doing a plug for the program after every race, but I only do it because I keep being amazing by its results. It seems like no matter how much I throw at my body nowadays, it always seems to be able to recover and keep going.
So despite the difficulty of this trail, I'm in high spirits heading into my second 50K of the year. Should be good fun. Although I might want to bring my trail shoes the next time. You live and you learn!
May all your trails treat your feet better than this one treated mine! Cheers citizens!