This marks my third year at Medoc Trail Races. It’s always a high point in my season and always a little different. For example, this year the night before the race, participants got an e-mail from the race directors advising us that recent rains had caused Little Fishing Creek to exceed its banks with roughly five areas underwater. And that the water was in one place waist deep but dropping rapidly so bring extra clothes and a 2nd set of shoes. They also included some safety tips if you came across standing water in the trail. Luckily by race time standing water was not an issue but we did have many muddy slip & slide opportunities. I love trail races!
This year Frank and I signed up for the 10 miler, so as a bonus we got to watch the marathon start and see some of the marathoners finish. And we only had to run the muddy course once. We saw the marathoners start and began our final warm up. I found and wished my friend, Steve, a good race. He was running the marathon three weeks after Ironman Chattanooga.
We milled around at the 10 miler start and before we knew it the horn sounded. We were off and striding the mile plus out and back on park roads, then across the grassy field and into the trees where the race really begins. About 100 yards past the tree line I passed three women who were doing a walk/run. If felt it was a good omen. I typically don’t pass many people on trail runs. My strategy this year was to run continuously and walk any hill that I couldn’t run faster than I could walk.
I was on high mud alert but really didn’t encounter much until I crossed the long bridge. As I took the mandatory left turn at the end I hit some slick clay that sent me shuffling sideways looking like one of the Three Stooges complete with woop-woop-woo sound effect.
Then I hit the hills at about 2.75 and 3.5 miles. And yes, I walked them both. Every year I tell myself that I’ll work on hill repeats and actually run these hills just like the big dogs. Hasn’t happened yet but maybe next year. Having gained the high ground I was on the long stretch of jeep road near the woods aid station when I passed two men walking. I was definitely having a good race so far.
I think of the woods aid station at Medoc as the gold standard for aid stations. It has everything: enthusiastic volunteers, water, Gaterade, gels, snacks, boiled potatoes and portajohns. I ducked into one of these to take care of some pressing business. After a quick pause to get my water bottle refilled, I rejoined the race. I picked up my pace in an effort to catch back up with Frank. My potty stop had given him a good lead, and he can be slippery if you let him break visual contact.
On the downhill section back toward the creek I passed another four or five runners. There was a man about my size who had clearly pulled something and was gamely hiking his way toward the finish line, a woman whose face was flushed bright red and a couple of runners just loping along slower than me.
Winding through the woods before the final drop back to the trail along the creek I encountered my first major mud. There were two spots where the mud was four or five inches deep and completely covered width of the trail and went a dozen yards into the woods on both sides. You could run through it or walk through it. I ran figuring there was zero chances of finishing this race without mud at least up to my knees.
Coming down out of the hills, I was on flat trails along the creek and making good time. Still no Frank sightings. I crossed the big bridge again. At this point I’m about six miles into the race and beginning to feel some fatigue. My training coming to this race had been erratic and now I was paying the price.
Running along I unexpectedly came across the biggest obstacle to my no-mud-above-the-knees goal. I’ll call it the slurry pit. It’s a dip in the trail about 15 yards long with a steep entry and even steeper exit. Here the trail was covered in a two or three-inch layer of slick mud. I instinctively ran down the incline at speed knowing I would need the momentum to get up the other side. I made it all the way up out of the dip and found myself on top running in place. I had run out of momentum and the slick mud gave near zero traction. I switched to a walk and immediately forward progress began again. After a few steps I was in the clear and running once more.
Running along I encountered a family: a woman with five kids. Two of the kids, a boy and a girl were standing on a tree stump, making them about my height. I exchange a high five with the little girl as I ran by. Target of opportunity.
I came to the famous Medoc stairs. They are mercilessly steep and mercifully short. And a short while later the stairs back down to the creek. Here the trail winds around and you can see runners that are quite a bit ahead of you. Still no sign of Frank. I’m beginning to wonder if he is at the finish line ordering a post-race pizza.
The trail goes up and down with some short steep climbs. I find myself passing and being passed by a woman in a Carolina t-shirt. She is tiny but tough, and I’m hoping that my strong finishing kick will get me across the line ahead of her. But at this point it could go either way.
After a short steep climb I am briefly back on pavement then a race volunteer, a woman who is a hula hooping, directs me back into the short stretch of woods that leads to the big field and yes the finish line. I’m pushing hard when I clear the woods and enter the field. Ahead I see Frank entering the finishing chute. Found him! I toss my water bottle off to the side and sprint to close the distance. I can’t catch him, and he crosses the finish line a full 10 seconds ahead of me. My chip time is 2:22:48 and a PR. It’s been a great day.
We sit around for a while with our families and the watch marathoners come in. I don’t spot my friend Steve but later learn that he not only finished but made it into the Medoc 100 mile club. I hope to eventually stack up enough Medoc 10 milers and marathons to get there myself. In the meantime, let me encourage you whatever your goals and whatever your favorite race to stumble on.