This was my 5th time at the Medoc Trail Races, and I came with an ambitious goal, at least for me, to complete the 10 miler in two hours or less. I had a great race last year coming in at 2:04:55 which was a huge improvement on the 2:22:48 I ran in 2014. Both my fitness and my body composition had improved from two years of triathlon training under the supervision of my coach, Jamie Church, TYB Coaching.
My race plan was to go out hard, especially on the first 1.5 miles which is on park roads, and then hold pace as best I could over the roots, rocks and hills that are the Medoc experience. I wanted to gain a minute or two early on for the second half of the race where I knew I would be slowing. My trail name this year: Lone Waffle.
Walking in from the car with my wife, Barbara, I was delighted to encounter Randy and Karen Hatfield. Their trail names: Tennessee Tree Frog and Tennessee Tiger. Good friends and incredible athletes that I met when I lived in Tennessee. I can’t imagine a better omen on race day. Best trail name I saw this year: Roots ‘R Snakes Until Otherwise Proven.
Weather was near perfect: sunny and about 50 degrees. Then began the usual ritual of photo taking, bathroom breaks, portajohn inspections, muttered positive thoughts and warm-up run walk.
Finally the horn sounds and everything becomes a blur of brightly dressed maniacs taking off from the main picnic shelter parking lot out to the park entrance onto the road, around the cone and back into the park, hard left onto the main field, past the first aid station, then into the trees where this race really starts. The usual dress code prevailed, everything from shorts and singlets to full sweatsuits, many Medoc t-shirts and hats, at least one tutu and two kilts were sighted.
The first section of trail, Discovery Loop, is generally flat to downhill single track with plenty of areas wide enough to pass. Like last year I find myself passing runners by twos and threes, plenty pass me as well. It still feels odd to hear the words “on your left” come from me. Before I know it I’m at the long iron bridge over Little Fishing Creek. I hear the familiar sound of race volunteers chanting “stay left.”
I cross the bridge, hang a sharp left onto Dam Site Trail. It snakes around and brings me to the steep rocky climbs that lead to the summit, always the hardest part of the race. I walk the really tough portions, knowing that I can’t run them much faster than I can walk them. I hear my breath coming fast and shallow and grin that maniac grin that I live for. Last year I ran everything except the aid stations and the stairs just to see if I could.
Finally I crest onto Summit Loop Trail, a fairly flat double track. Here I pick up my pace. I come to the second aid station, which remains my gold standard for aid stations. It has everything: enthusiastic volunteers, water, Gaterade, gels, snacks, boiled potatoes and portajohns. I quickly take advantage of one of the portajohns, trading a minute for a more comfortable run. Here the trail goes back to single-track and rolls downhill requiring a bit of technical root skipping on the way back to the creek. I pass a few more runners and press hard on the flats beside the creek, trying to keep to my self appointed schedule.
I crossed back over the bridge, remembering to thank the volunteers. My Garmin buzzes for mile six. I’m good on time but feeling the effort in my legs. I have a brief stab of panic that my plan for a race PR might be only a dream. I try to run a bit faster on the gentle slope back toward the main shelter and the third aid station.
Ups & Downs
About a quarter mile before the aid station a root reaches up and grabs my right foot. I go down. Two runners ahead of me, a shirtless man in baggy hiking shorts and a woman in t-shirt and running tights, a race volunteer who had just passed by me taking photos, and a concerned squirrel all asked me “you alright?” I lever myself out of the dirt and pant “good to go.”
At third aid station I walk through drinking Gatorade. There are three miles left in this race and I wonder if I can cover them faster than last year. My strategy is to keep cadence high on this flat section, knowing that I will lose time on the climbs and stairs ahead.
I’m on the Bluff Loop trail along Little Fishing Creek. The trail has some short steep ups and downs, and short multiple bridges. I come to the stairs going up. I walk up them since I’m not coordinated enough to run them. Shortly a race volunteer warns me that I’m approaching the down stairs. I climb down glad that I’m nearing the end and dreading the climbs to come.
Usually the last two miles finds me reconciled to my fatigue and content to move at whatever pace my legs can support. This year I find myself making an extra effort, convinced that I can still move faster.
Finally I come to the last steep hill and hit Campground Road. About 100 yards later I take the left back into the woods, almost there. A very short steep root strewn downhill then I leave the trees for the last time, cross the road and enter the field. I dig deep as I cross the field, pass the aid station and head uphill to the finish line. I cross the line and check my Garmin. It shows 2:00:43. I am both thrilled and relieved. Later my I discover that official chip time is 2:00:33, more than four minutes less than last year.
Running for Validation
I’m greeted at the finish line by Barbara and the Hatfields. I’m given my beautiful and enormous race medal. We talk enjoy the post race food, listen to the bluegrass band and catch up a bit. Hard to imagine a more perfect day. Sitting at the table with a bowl of soup, my mind drifts back to last year. I remember texting my friend Scott post race, telling him that I knew it was a PR and thought it might have been 10 minutes faster than 2014. He texted back “what was chasing you?” I laughed and thought about the comment as I started my long drive back to South Carolina. A short while later I found myself taking the next exit. I pulled over and texted back a one-word reply: “validation.” Stumble onward.
Medoc Trail Races Info
Difficulty: Moderate: A few challenging climbs and some technical downhills, very runable trails.
Distances: Marathon, 10 mile & 5K.
Race Vibe:” We want you to feel like family; not just like a runner. Please note, our family is very weird . . . but you are part of the reason why.” – from race instructions.
Food: Excellent. I recommend the potato soup.
Terrain: Roots, rocks & hills. Nothing extreme.
Race Preparation: Get out on the trails.
Newbie Friendly: Yes.
Swag: Top of the line. Great t-shirts, beautiful race medals & amazing finishers surprise.
Sign Up: The 10 mile sells out in hours so be ready when online sign up comes around. Also you need to come up with a trail name for your bib. You want a good one so give it some thought before sign up.