Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tuesday Trails: Afton 25K Race Report

Happy (belated) Independence Day! What did you do with your extended holiday weekend? Did you shoot off fireworks? Watch fireworks? Roast a pig? Read the Declaration of Independence?
With my extended weekend I decided to run the longest trail race I've competed in to date: the Afton 25K in beautiful Afton State Park. The race was held Saturday, July 3 in conjunction with the Afton 50K. I opted for the shorter distance.

Beautiful Prairies and Wildfires Steal the Show in Afton

I have run at Afton a few times and I love it there. The rolling prairies, steep ravines and sweeping vistas of the St. Croix River are breath-taking. Their hike-in campsites are some of the best and most-remote feeling in the Twin Cities.

Here's my promised race recap:

I made a series of errors leading up to this race (errors I'm sure I'll repeat again). The first was that I ran a marathon only 2 weeks prior.

I set out for Afton with my lovely wife Friday evening to meet some non-running friends for some summertime camping. We hiked in the 1 mile of steep terrain with all our gear and set up base camp. I then realized error #2: I had neglected to read all the email communications and didn't realize that everyone else had dinner before we went to Afton. So my pre-race dinner consisted of trail mix and S'Mores. Not too far off from my normal dinner, actually.

Our campsite was at Mile 10-ish

So then my wife takes off to sleep in our comfortable bed, and I decide that sleeping under the stars sounds like a great idea. So while all my friends pile in tents, I stretch out to gaze at the sky. However, that was hard to do since my view was blocked by hordes of angry mosquitos. So I crawled deeper in my sleeping bag. Problem was, it was still about 80 degrees at midnight. I had to decide whether to A) Be cool yet eaten alive B) Avoid the bugs but roast or C) Crawl into a friend's tent. I chose B and roasted all night. In spite of that, I still woke up in the morning with my face covered in mosquito bites (including one bite INSIDE my mouth.) We'll call that collectively error #3.

Error #4 came moments later when I'm trying to put my contacts in and decide to use my friend's saline solution. Which turns out to be hydrogen peroxide. So now, I can only see out of one eye, and I have a race in 45 minutes!

I wince and jog down the hill to the start. I bump into some racers I know, and meet some others for the first time. Soon, we're off and racing!

I quickly settle in about 15th place or so and attack the hills. There's a TON of tough uphill in the first 5-6 miles, and this is where I excell. I attack the uphills, press hard on the flats, but then, the really, ridiculously steep downhills come.

This was WAY steeper than it looks in the photo, I swear!

Now people are flying by me on the downhills, and I'm passing them again on the uphills. For the most part, I'm coming out ahead on this, as only one person of many that I was playing leapfrog with beats me. Unfortunately, my timidness on the hills starts to quickly wear on me physically. By about mile 7 of gingerly stepping down the hills, my left ankle is tense and feeling sore. From then on, I'm practically walking the downhills.

At the 10.5 mile checkpoint, I'm around 1:15, a 7:10 pace. The next 1.5 miles are the flattest and straightest section and I start to fly again. I'm thinking that I have sub-2 hours in the bag! No WAY can I not break 2:00 with only 5 miles to go! In fact, with 3.5 miles to go, it's looking darn near impossible that I won't be breaking 2:00.

Well, hubris on a dreadfully hot day and on a ridiculously hilly course will come to bite you, and it did me in quickly. After mile 12, the race ascends from the river up the "Meat Grinder". I know this is bad, and I'm ready for it, and I walk faster than others are running. I'm still looking good.

Then I get to the last 2.5 miles of the course, a single-tracked, super hilly and twisty section in the SW part of the park. Again, I'm attacking the hills, but now there are no more flat spots to cruise, and the downhills are obscene and very dangerous. I am walking parts of EVERY downhill. At this point, honestly, I'm limping. My left ankle is hating me and I have zero stability.

That is not the facial expression of a happy finisher

I limp across the line in 12th place, just a few seconds over 2 hours. I grin through the pain and greet my friends who have come down from the camp to see me finish. Then I cheer on my other friends racing, grab the best tasting hot dog I've ever had and... start the sloooow walk uphill to get back to camp. (let's call that error #5).

MDRA's very own Andrea looks like she enjoyed this race WAY too much!

Highlights of the race include:
  • Seeing (at least) NINE hawks flying over the ski slopes around mile 3. Inspirational. At mile 14 they would have appeared to be vultures.
  • Cheering on the 50K runners. These are people who ran the same sick course I did and thought, "That was nice, how about another lap?"
  • Seeing my friends at the finish after I missed them by the campground because I thought I was faster than I actually was!
  • The AWESOME wicking race shirts that look like a concert t-shirt for a death metal band. My father-in-law thought I was pretty cool in that one.
  • Meeting a bunch of die-hard trail runners and getting a glimpse into the trail-racing culture that is quite different than the road-racing culture. The Finn-Sisu runners are awesome! If you're interested in trail running, check out their class!
  • Setting a PR at 25K, a PR for a TRAIL 25K and a PR for the Afton Trail 25K. The best part about racing trails like this is that no time is transferrable to another race. It's just you and the course. I'm hooked!

Sweet shirt! Rock on!

  • Spraining my ankle. It's a mild sprain and you'll still be seeing me pound the pavement the next month or so, but I'm off of uneven terrain for at least a few weeks. Look for me, I'll be the guy running around the lakes in an ankle brace.
  • My downhill running is terrible. I lost literally minutes of time on the downhills and ultimately hurt myself by running tensed up. Any suggestions out there on downhill trail running form?

One last look at the St. Croix River! Afton SP, July 2010

Enjoy the Trails!


Mike W. said...

Good report, great race, glad you enjoyed it.

You get better at downhills with practice, just sign up for the 50k next year and that will help you work it out.

Heal up and then plan to tackle the Big Woods 1/2 followed by Surf the Murph 50.

The Triathlon Rx said...

This was great!! I only found the Run Minnesota blog just recently, but am glad I did! Loving the Trail Tuesdays too! I had reconstructive surgery on my hip in 2008, and have since then been looking for softer surfaces. Not that trail running is "easier" by any means!! Just that it might be easier on all the hardware in my hip. ;)

Rebecca S said...

Great recap - It was almost like I was there. wait a second...

Anonymous said...

Your "lovely wife" likes the report, and is glad that you're taking care of the injured ankle...

Nathan said...

Mike- Thanks for the advice! Enjoyed reading your recap as well.

Dr - I'll have to check out your blog a little more, looks interesting! We'll add it to the "Running Blogroll". Well, Rocco will when he gets back to a world filled with computers.

Anonymous - That's odd, I didn't know my wife knew anyone by that name :) Thanks for reading!

dsciacca said...

I found this blog today and after reading your race report I realized that I met you on Saturday. Thanks again for redirected me during the run when I took a wrong turn.
Great report and race! Good luck with the sore ankle and see you on the "paved" trails soon. Hills optional?

Roller shoes said...

thank you for share,good post

Thompson said...

I'm glad you could find the humor in your pre-race errors. I had to laugh at the hordes of angry mosquitoes attacking you as you gaze at the stars (it’s happen to me) and the use of your "friend's saline solution" (me too). How could things get much worse after something like that? Yet you finished, and in good time too.