Saturday, February 11, 2017

Race Report: Conquer the Cove Trail Marathon

'Tis a lesson you should heed: Try, try, try again. If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again.-- William Edward Hickson

Space, the final frontier. I remember hearing these words every night growing up. Star Trek was one of my favorite shows. It was also the favorite show of my uncle who was the only person in my family interested and obsessed with Sci-Fi. The final frontier that William Shatner aka Captain James T. Kirk alluded to was a journey into the unknown. For me, the unknown was the trail marathon.

At this point I had run 17 marathons in my life. I wasn't nor am I now, a special runner but I am a grizzled marathon veteran. I saw the movement of runners to the trails and I saw all of the obnoxious hashtags and such. Initially I asked myself, "what's all the hubbub?" Then I learned about the serenity of the trail and the oneness with nature. Trail running is also a bit of a challenge. You know how when you are a treadmill rock star and then you venture out to the roads you feel like you are breathing through a store and trotting along with 7 pound ankle weights. Certainly I am overdramatic but it can be a very noticeable difference the first couple of times. The similar feeling holds true as one moves from roads to trails. There are trees and roots and perpetual, subtle climbs into the unknown. Road running encourages the runner to look up and out while those same rules, if applied to trails, will have you on your back or even better, your face.

After one completes as many races as I have and a few marathons you kind of get the gist of what a marathon entails. There are some hills. There are a few rough patches. Undoubtedly, there is a wall hiding in there somewhere. I've put up some stinkers in the past on marathon courses but I'm not typically surprised. Although I sometimes find myself as the smartest guy in the room, I am most certainly the dumbest in the woods. My first trail race was my first trail marathon. I can count the amount of times I've trained on a trail on one hand. I could count it on two hands if I decided to lie to myself. The arrogance of success is a friend to failure.

I would be remiss if I didn't speak of how absolutely beautiful it is to be in the forest. It is so beautiful and green and brown and orange and blue. So many amazing colors sort of became a fantastic distraction. Although I had music as I always have, I took time out to listen to the forest. The sounds of streams and crunching leaves under foot were so intoxicating that I didn't notice that my first mile was 13 minutes... DOH (Homer Simpson voice)

Before I continue, here's little back story to this journey. I booked a hotel in Roanoke, Virginia, where the Conquer the Cove Trail Marathon would take place. Even further back than that was after a year in Atlanta I was moving back to the Northeast. My kids had already gone back but my wife had to stay another month in Atlanta. I had to pack some of our lives into an SUV and go run my 6th marathon of 2016. Here's the kicker, my wife and I had not spent more than 2-3 days apart in 15 years. We were about to spend 30+ days apart. It was too hard and I stayed home in Atlanta with my wife. I forfeited the hotel room, packed the car and planned out my drive to Virginia. I knew that it was crazy but the alternative was unacceptable. The race was like an 8:00 am start so I left my home with enough time to drive through the night and start the race. Good plan right.

I arrived to the race with maybe 20 minutes to spare and I began to change and mentally prepare for a challenge but I was certain of success. I had little sleep, less food and I was cramped in a car for 6 hours or so. When I arrived the race was organized very well and the volunteers were magnificent. I didn't catch all of the race instructions as I was trying to get dressed but I listened to enough to know that I would be guided by pink, plastic strips on trees and branches every tenth or quarter of a mile... YIKES. I'm a city kid.

Within the first quarter mile or so I hit my first climb. After about 1.5 miles I was into a major climb. I saw folks power hiking already. I din't even know what power hiking was at this point. As I reached the top of the climb along roots and mud I enjoyed the views. The I had a steep drop. We ran single file for a little bit with rolling hills. One of the coolest parts was running along what I can only call a cliff that overlooked the rest of the forest. Running on a single track that overlooks acres and acres of woods felt so good. I couldn't stop taking photos. I wouldn't take pictures on the really narrow tracks . It sucked to run through a stream but the hidden coolness was that it was unavoidable. I made the 8.42 mile cutoff so I continued on.

I tried to keep up with groups in order to not be a black man, alone in a Virginia woods. I was unsuccessful in my attempt to do that. I pledged my love to the little pink ribbons on trees and branches and I continued on. Eventually I looked at the time and I realized that I was in danger of missing the 18.54 mile cutoff time. I started to book it through the woods. I even past some limping dude. I saw a pick up and I thought that it was the mile marker. I sprinted towards it. I felt like there had to have been some theme music in the back. Maybe Shaft played. I get to the truck and it's just some people cheering on their friends. I dialed it back and glanced at my watch. I realized that i misread my time and i was dangerously close to missing the cutoff. I picked up the pace again until I reached the foot of the steepest climb in the race. I could no longer run. I had to hike it. Then I walked. One of the race officials gave me the take it easy hand gesture and then moved towards me. I knew why he told me to take it easy. I missed the cutoff by 5 minutes. He took my bib.

This was the greatest physical challenge that I've ever experienced. Emotionally I had nothing left. My dream of 12 marathons in 12 months were dashed.The other final frontier and  the other unknown is the dreaded DNF or Did Not Finish. I even now I struggle with this post. I stopped blogging after this race because I couldn't express my feelings about falling short of a goal. I still can't express how I feel but what's done is done so it's time to move on. Or in this case, what isn't done, isn't done.