Friday, March 25, 2016

BLACKROCK BEAST


WOW! And I thought Table Rock was tough, but this beast took the cake! What a brute of a mountain race. I came across this little gem about a week ago and in search for mountains and more mountains to run while training for Leadville, I thought, why not? I called up my bestie TJ who has been there for so many firsts in my life to make this journey with me and she said okie dokie and with that, I hit the submit button. And then gulped ;)

We headed to the Smokies on Friday and what a fun trip. We ended up in Maggie Valley. Such a nice little mountain town with such a friendly hometown feel. We explored a little and had a nice dinner and then chilled out for the remainder of the evening.

When I woke up on race morning, I quickly looked outside because the weather had been calling for rain and cold. Much to my surprise ( well, not really because they never get it right) it was quite warm and it was dry! Hallelujah! I didn't really want to be scaling those cliffs on wet rocks. Turns out...they were wet anyway. More on that in a bit--

We arrived at the race site and once again there's such a positive vibe in the trail and ultra community. It is so laid back and so enjoyable. I went over to pick up my bib number and that's when they asked me to sign this....

Well, ok then. With Ironman you obviously sign a waiver and it's pretty intense if you actually take the time to read it, but I don't think that I have ever quite signed one like this. I knew this race was tough, but wow! I had to take a picture just to laugh about it later, hoping none of the above actually happened to me!! I would say this race is definitely Chuck Norris worthy ha!

Thankfully TJ was an amazing Sherpa. I ended up ditching most of my clothing on her because it was much warmer than we initially thought it would be. I was down to a tank and shorts and I felt comfy. I decided to warm up for a few minutes and I ran up the hill where the race started. Within minutes my heart rate was pounding. Actually within maybe a two minutes. This beast started on incline. Straight up from the get go. The terrain seemed to be large rocks and skree which really takes a toll on the ankles. Oh boy! decided to go easy on the liquids any my Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra pack. I didn't want any extra weight slowing me up on the climb. The lighter you are, the better in these type of races. I had just enough liquid to get me through, but knew I had to use it sparingly. It was warm and I have a very high sweat rate, so was cutting it close. Anyway, made my way to the start and listened to the RD give us the race info. Seems he wanted us to know just how treacherous this was and not only that...every year someone has gotten lost out there. Um, wow! I am seriously geographically challenged so was really trying to pay attention. I didn't want to be 'that person' ;)

5,4,3,2,1...we're off! I kept telling myself--control it, control it. The heart rate was climbing fast and were weren't even 2 minutes into the race. Breath, control, too late! Heart rate was soaring and I knew it was going to be a rough day. Of course everyone around me was pretty much the same. I heard someone say "Here we go, 'this' for the next 3 miles."

Rather than go on about how hard this was, just have a look at the course info above. Table Rock was roughly 3,350ish elevation gain over around 5 miles or so. Tough, yes. This baby was nearly 3,000 in only 3.5 miles, but the kicker was the last actually 1/2 mile which was 650 gain and topped out at 5,810 altitude, and let me tell you, that baby was basically vertical. I thought about crawling a couple of times. Perhaps it would have been faster. If there hadn't been trees along the trail to pull myself up on, not quite sure how I would have gotten up to the top. It was a bit tough too because we ran down the same way and so the faster guys were descending like lightning as I was trying to reach the top. Talk about potential for some serious head on collisions. EEEK! There's no stopping on a decline like that!

Once at the top, you had to climb the rock at the top to get the bib marked. I pretty much needed climbing gear at that point just to get up that rock. Thankfully an outstretched hand of a fellow runner helped hoist me up. Thankful for that but then once at the tip, gulped because I knew I had to get down. I am all about running downhill, and I knew with the terrain and the steepness, that it would be really rough! Once I slid on my bum down the tip of the mountain to find ground, I just decided to go for it. Again using trees and rocks to keep me upright. It was slippery and it was steep. Runners were still coming up and like I mentioned before, there's just no stopping when you are running downhill with speed. Thankfully everyone is very courteous and made way for those of us barreling down.

After about 1/3 mile of the massive steep portion, it got a tiny bit easier. This still was so much more difficult than Table Rock, but I can only compare the two. This was my second mountain run ever. The creek crossings, the mud, the stone, the skree--this race had just about every thing you can imagine. I now know that for races like this I need more grippy shoes.  I love my Hokas but these are for easier trail running and not so much steep, wet or technical. Anyway, barreling down, down, down. Ankles screaming, knees screaming, quads on fire. It's certainly a balancing act! The last mile or so was on a steep ravine section and was very rocky. I was running pretty quickly at this point and knew one wrong move and I was a goner down the ravine. I took the chance and kept trucking.

Finally nearing the end, my ankles had had enough and I rolled my left ankle in between two rocks and had to hobble the final feet to the finish. As soon as I stopped, I couldn't put any pressure on my ankle and removed my shoe. I was nearly in tears at the stabbing pain I felt. TJ was holding me up. Luckily after a few minutes, the sharp stabbing eased off a bit and I was able to put my foot down on the ground and stand. A swollen ankle would haunt me for a couple of days and then my body forgave me and made peace with it. My body sure took a beating on this course and really I gave it my all and am pleased with that. This race certainly tested me, my grit. I really like that!

While I was out there in the thick of it, my mind drifts to places that you just don't find when out on the road.  I am focused and alert to my surroundings. I am pushing myself, but paying attention to every detail of the course. During Table Rock, as well as this race, I had this amazing sense of peace. It's hard to explain but it's almost a 'primitive' feeling. Out there, you're at one with nature, your surroundings, the earth. Isn't that the whole essence of trail running?!?  It really does feel good.  I think I have found a new passion in mountain running as well. I have been trail running and racing on and off since 2011, but running up mountains is brand new to me and I am in love with it. Good thing too, I guess, since my ultimate goal is Mont Blanc.

I am really pleased with my performance. I don't get to train on mountains, so I am happy at how well this is going. Coach says that my legs are strong from all of the years of bike and run training and that's why I still continue to cycle and do the leg strength work. The carry over strength helps me up and over even though I am unable to train on the terrain or mountains. Hoping to increase the strength to get me through Leadville.

I am a triathlete through and through and now I am starting to miss the grind of Ironman training. It's all I have really known for the last several years. I am still cycling and swimming 2x weekly on top of the running. I'd be lying if I said I haven't been considering a late season Ironman. We shall see. I am trying to decide on what to do after Leadville. There are some ultras in the fall that look really appealing and I'm trying to get Rich to start racing some of these too. We may do a couple of fall races together, but if I change my mind...well, you know what I will be doing if that happens :)




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