Monday, July 10, 2006

RACE REPORT - 2006 KTRF 10k Trail Race

The Keweenaw Trail Running Festival is a two day celebration of running and working to create a healthier environment. All of the food and drink was organic, everything was recyclable if it wasn't compostable, and there was no waste of any kind. And (obviously), all of the races are conducted on trails.

There are a total of three races at this event; a 10k and a 5.8k hill climb on Saturday, and a 25k on Sunday. I was only doing the 10k, but a number of the runners I talked to were actually doing all three events. Yikes!

We were bussed from the lodge to the start of the race, which was at Fort Wilkins State Park, just east of Copper Harbor. This was an actual fort that was built in 1844, apparently to offer some protection to the area during the beginning of the copper mining boom. It is located on an inland lake, and there are all kinds of old preserved barracks, buildings, and even some cannons. The American flag flying over the fort only had 26 stars as well! It was an interesting park in a gorgeous location with lots of interpretive signs to explain the history. And the race starts right in the courtyard.

This race crowd was similar to that of the Tofte Trek; quite relaxed and carefree. The horn sounded, there was a lot of hooting and hollering from the excited participants as we got underway.

The course runs from the State Park through the woods and back to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. The first mile and a half was a bit of a tease with flat conditions as we trekked around Lake Fanny Hooe. I was running at a comfortable 8:15 minute per mile pace and feeling pretty good. But then the hills started.

The course quickly turned into an up-and-down single track with some difficult terrain. Lots of rocks, roots, loose gravel, and even a small stream crossing. It became hard to catch your breath because the downhill stretches were not that long before we had to start ascending once again.

Midway through the 2 mile stretch, a lady running in front of me wiped out. I stopped to see if she was OK. She had a big scrape on her shoulder, but she told me she was fine, so we both continued onward. And just so this poor woman didn't feel alone, I did something I have never done in a race before; I tripped and fell, too!

At the 3 mile mark, I was running down a short hill. I never saw what got me, be it a rock or a root, but I ate it big time. Running downhill, you might assume that the ground gave out from under me and I slid on my backside. Not the case here! Going for style points, I fell face forward, landed on my stomach, and slid to the bottom of the hill.

My right knee and elbow took the brunt of the fall, and thankfully it was mostly loose gravel in this location, so the landing was soft (relatively speaking, or course). I received a couple of nice raspberries and scrapes that drew a little blood, and I even got dirt on my bib number that was pinned on the front of my shirt. It was an impressive effort, if I do say so myself. I have friends who give an award on the annual ski trip to the person with the best crash. My wipeout would have been a contender, I am convinced! :)

An acute case of "trail rash!"



A few well-chosen expletives later, I dusted myself off and continued on my way. However, any rhythm I had was gone at this point. It was slow going now. My race had became a matter of survival, as the course was going mostly uphill from here on out. Some of the hills were so steep that I, and most of those still around me, had to walk them.

At long last, the lodge was in sight. There was a volunteer/race official near the crest of the hill saying to everyone, "200 yards, and then take a hard left!" I thought this was the finish. We turned per his instructions and even crossed over a mat (which I thought was the timing mat), so I stopped running, as did a few others.

Then another race official shouted over to us that this was not the finish! We still had to do a quick out-and-back down the fairway of the golf course, which was about another half a mile. What the hell? What was this mat doing there? One of runners next to me was really pissed and started yelling back to the race officials for causing this confusion. And why was that joker down the hill telling us we only had 200 yards to go? Whatever. I was too exhausted to care and started running again.

I crossed the finish line in 1 hour, 00 minutes, and 27 seconds, a time which rivaled the 2005 Tofte Trek for my slowest race ever. Never have I been so tired and spent! I think I have learned my lesson about running multiple races in the same week. Not that I could have done much better on this terrain, but I was not well rested, and my legs certainly were not fresh, so I will chalk that up to experience.

In spite of my accident and the really slow time, I didn't fare all that badly. Of the 212 runners, I finished 117th, so I was solidly in a the middle of the pack, and I can take comfort in the fact that a whole lot of runners were suffering worse than me (and plenty of others were dirty and bruised, too)! And now that I have had time to reflect upon it, I am much happier with my performance, because it was a great exercise in overcoming adversity and sticking with it when the going got tough.

A humorous part about this experience is that the KTRF is a Trail Runner Trophy Series race, which is a season long points competition. By virtue of finishing, I get some points towards the 2006 championship trophy. I will let you know if I am in contention when the series standings are posted! ;-)

With this race under my belt, I have now run races in 4 different states. And I got a couple of good scrapes, and a few championship points, to help me remember my Michigan experience!

One quick addendum; I just reviewed the course profile for the KTRF 10k race. The course had an elevation gain of 474 feet with an average grade of 6 degrees. The total climbing distance was 3.74 miles (so, about 60% of the race was uphill). I am feeling better about my time now!
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