Knock on Wood Running Festival: Forest Freak 50k race report

May 16, 2017 at 10:48 am Leave a comment

This past Saturday, I ran the Knock on Wood Running Festival Forest Freak 50k (THAT’S a mouthful!). At this point, the handful of people who read this regularly (HI JAIME!) know that one of my goals this year is to run at least one marathon or ultra every month. At the outset of 2017, I made it my mid-year goal to PR at the Rock n Roll Seattle Marathon on June 18th, with all my training so the previous few months geared toward that. Along the way, I’ve had better than expected results, including setting a 3+ minute marathon PR at the beginning of April in Raleigh and then beating my old PR again two weeks later in Newport. Since then, partly because I’ve been dealing with some sort of sickness/congestion/allergy crap and partly because the amount of travel we’ve been doing plus work has been exhausting me, training had been less than robust. In the three weeks following Newport, I ran about 30ish miles less per week than I’ve been averaging with nary a workout. On the plus side, I’ve been biking to work more so I guess that helped mitigate some of the decrease, and I guess partly my body probably needed it. The week leading up to the race, I decided I cared more about having a good week of training than I did about feeling fresh on Saturday, so instead of maintaining, I upped my mileage back to what it had been previously. Finally feeling pretty much back to normal (just a little lingering head congestion) I even managed to fit in my first track workout since March 29th on Wednesday. I did a “mini-taper” Thursday and Friday, only running an easy 5 miles both mornings with some strides Friday to remind my legs what running hard feels like, or something.
After biking home from work Friday, Ari and I drove down to Greenville. Thanks to getting on the road late-ish and the terrible thunderstorms we encountered along the way, we didn’t get to our airbnb until after 10pm, cramped, exhausted, and ready to PTFO. Race morning, I was up at 6 for the 8 am start, ate a honey stinger waffle and made two trips to the bathroom. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up my “aid station” supplies that amounted to a 4 pack of Red Bull and some bottles of coconut water. We got to the park where the race was being held at 7 and proceeded to get our bibs (Ari was doing the 8k that started at 9:30), got dressed, the usual pre-race stuff. About ten minutes before the start, I set up my “aid station” on a bench near the end of the loop, gave Ari a kiss, and made my way to the front of where everyone was lining up. I figured, even though there were a few guys who looked pretty fast/serious, I had a decent shot at placing pretty high.

Knock on Wood50k aid

Race

The race comprised six loops through Lake Conestee Nature Park, each roughly 5 miles long, consisting of a mix of twisting, rocky/rooty single track (some of it extremely muddy and slippery), a whole bunch of wet, wooden bridges that were EXTREMELY slick and treacherous, and some shady, paved park roads. Some of the trail was in particularly bad shape as the 100 mile race that was being run concurrently had started at 8pm the night before during the torrential rains. I was glad I wore my Lunartempo 2s instead of a trail shoe, as they were cushioned enough for the rocky spots but didn’t feel like they were weighing me down on the road stretches. The way the course meandered, there wasn’t much opportunity to find a rhythm. The road sections were all relatively short so that by the time you found one, it was back to some muddy trail. The trail was dry and runnable in spots but would dump you out at a bridge that you had to slow down for or risk busting your ass. That said, it was all runnable and I knew right away an absolute catastrophe would have to befall me to NOT run under 4:29.

Pre-race fit

[First Loop]

As soon as the RD gave us the start command, some guy (who I would later learn was Dan) absolutely blasted out like we were running a 400. Instinctively, I followed him at what felt like a dead sprint as we rounded the sidewalk and headed for the trail. At first I thought maybe this was just a guy volunteering with the race who would run the first bit in front to make sure we all went the right way, there’s no way a guy is running this hard at the start of a 50k. Moments later, as we descended down some switchbacks, I noticed his bib and there went that thought. I pushed harder and more reckless than I anticipated ever having to run here to maintain contact partly because not knowing the course at all, I didn’t want to get lost, and partly because my competitive fire was stoked, and I didn’t want to let this guy just run away from everyone else.

I hung to Dan as best I could for that whole first loop, mostly trying to take in the lay of the land for future reference while also trying not to go too far over the red line, which I had immediately approached. I used any road section to bridge the gap. About a mile or so in, Dan slipped while cornering off one of the aforementioned bridges but seemed to pop right back up and keep hammering. It did afford me the chance to regain contact that I would maintain for the rest of the loop. One one of the longer road stretches about halfway through the loop, I glanced back and noticed that we were already well out and away from anyone else, and thought well, it’s him or I today I suppose.

KOWloop1

End of loop 1… I swear I’m enjoying this more than it looks

[Second Loop]

Coming in at the end of the first loop (35:05 split), I spied Ari sitting on the bench and quickly grabbed a honey stinger gel and a handheld before setting out on my second loop. Dan blew right through and headed back out, putting about 10-15 seconds on me. I again pushed a bit harder than I wanted/planned, wanting to regain contact. I managed to get back up to him a half mile in and we kept pushing until about halfway through the loop, when he started to slow down and asked something along the lines of, “this pace better for ya?” It was an odd question and kind of caught me off guard, but I said sure. We briefly introduced ourselves, and then he said something like, “we’ll keep it cool til the end and then it can be a shootout.” Again, a bit odd to me but I was game. In my head I was thinking he might have been starting to feel the hot early pace already and, not being able to shake me and not wanting to bonk early, figured if he slowed things down he might be able to outkick me over the last few miles when I tired. I was willing to make that gamble, as now I knew 1- we were certainly going to go under the CR and time was less important to me than running to win the race, which had become a distinct possibility and 2- I was confident in my ability to outkick him should it come down to that. For the rest of the loop we eased off the gas, still running reasonably hard but nowhere near the red line. Coming in at the end of the loop, I got to wish Ari good luck in the 8k, down a Red Bull, grab some stinger chews, and I was off. (Second loop split: 39:16, 1:14:22 elapsed)

Why so serious?

[Third Loop]

It was a lot easier to catch back up to Dan at the beginning of the third loop. We worked our way through the trail and road and back onto the trail. I was enjoying seeing all the 100 milers and 24 hour relay runners, and, because of the nature of the loop, we also got to see 50k runners in various spots. I was sending encouragement to everyone we went by and most were super friendly and encouraging back, definitely good vibes all around. With about a mile to go in the third loop, we were going down a twisting hill and Dan caught a root and landed hard on the ground. I stopped to make sure he was ok, worried he had twisted an ankle or a knee. After a few moments, he got back up, shook it off, and we were off, cautiously. I got to my bench, Ari was now out on the course, so I quickly grabbed a new bottle and was off. The third loop was by far my slowest (41:44, 1:56:06), but starting the fourth loop, I was feeling fresh and, dare I say, sprightly.

 

[Fourth Loop]

We went down the hill at the start of the first loop and then up over some rocks. Near the top, Dan pulled up and said go on ahead, he needed to work some stuff out. I guess the falls took their toll on him and he was tightening up? Realizing this was sort of a pivotal moment in the race, I bombed down the next downhill hard, wanting to put some distance between myself and Dan before he could loosen up. My hope was to this as an opportunity to build enough of a gap that closing it would require some serious hurting so that if he (or anyone) did catch up, they would have nothing left to outkick me. As I came out to a bridge a half mile in, I spied Ari running toward me, probably a mile and a half from finishing her own race. We high-fived and I thought to myself, “I bet she’s winning,” which gave me a huge bolt of energy as I hit a road stretch. The rest of this loop was just me pushing, finding someone up ahead, closing the gap, rinse, repeat. Also, I kept repeating to myself, “don’t fall, don’t fall!” Coming back toward the end of the loop, I saw Dan and another guy going out on part of an out&back-ish loop. I figured I had about a mile or so on them. As I finished up the fourth loop I saw Ari back on the bench, and as I was chugging another Red Bull and downing a gel, Ari said, “You wanna hear something funny?” I replied, “You won the damn race didn’t you?” Spoiler alert: she did! I glanced back as I ran through the timing mats and didn’t see anyone… cool. (38:14, 2:34:31)

Knock on Wood moosin

Somewhere on Loop 4… Moose X-ing!

[Fifth Loop]

My goal for the fifth loop was to just get through it reasonably quickly without expending too much energy. I wanted to be get to the start of the last loop with a comfortable lead, plenty of energy, and still with no falls or other mishaps. I was a little more careful on the bridges, muddy sections, and any sharp turn. I took the more uphill sections just a little easier. I didn’t go all-out reckless on the downhills. I was still moving faster than anyone else I saw, but I was just covering ground. I saw Jon Hunter and George Wannop and made sure to give them a shout out when I went by. They both looked strong and steady all day and were awesome in sending encouragements my way whenever I saw them. Having a few friendly and familiar faces out there throughout the race was definitely a huge boost each time we crossed paths, so — THANKS GUYS! This time I didn’t see anyone on the out&back toward the end, so I assumed I gained a bit (I had). At the aid bench, I grabbed my last gel and Red Bull, gave Ari a sticky, disgusting kiss, and off I went. (39:14, 3:13:35)

[Sixth Loop]

The last loop was pretty fun and anticlimactic. I was pretty confident that I was going to win, so I just kept it in cruise control. I took it as an opportunity to really enjoy the loop and send encouragement to the other runners I saw. As I ran up the last hill and made the turn onto the park path that would take me the last quarter mile to the finish, I felt an immense sense of satisfaction and gratitude. Satisfaction in executing a well-run race, gratitude that I was able to share this moment with Ari. I crossed the finish in 3:53:49 with an 11 minute win and a 36 minute course record.

Knock on Wood 50kfin

fin

Post-Race

Right after finishing, I got my finisher’s award and downed a ginger ale. I chatted a bit with the RD and watched second place come in before we walked back over to the bench, grabbed our stuff, and headed back to the car for the much more pleasant drive home.

As I write this two days later, my legs are feeling much better than they did 24 hours post-race. My quads and my feet initially felt particularly beat up from all the little ups and downs, twists and turns. An easy few miles Sunday and biking to and from work today definitely helped loosen stuff up. I have a flat half marathon in Sunset Beach this coming Saturday, which I’m hoping will be a good test of my fitness going into the final month of training for Seattle.

Mark, out.

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2017 Rock n Roll Raleigh race report

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