I ran my first 25k trail race at the Rockbridge Revenge 25k back at the beginning of October, had a blast, it was an awesome event. I figured I would like it; after all, my favorite place to run is an eight mile loop at Rockbridge. Rockbridge is familiar; I run it all the time, Dogwood Canyon not so familiar! I had heard about the race sometime at the beginning of the year, kind of forgotten about it. But following RB Revenge I remembered, signed up, and now here I am on race day morning, ready to head off into the unknown!
So, first thing different with Dogwood is that I am totally unfamiliar with the course, other than that I hear it is tough. But another big difference between the two, prize money! The Dogwood 25k has $250 for the winner,$125 for second, both male and female, double that for the 50k. Needless to say, the lure of prize money has brought in decidedly tougher competition.
Beautiful weather today, sun is out already, but it feels kind of cold, the radio said lower 40’s at start time. I’ve got a tank top and shorts on as I’ll warm up quickly, except for the hands so a lightweight pair of gloves is in order.
Lined up for the start and following a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner we are on our way. Dogwood canyon is a private nature area; I’ve heard it said that it is owned by the owner of Bass Pro Shops. People pay money to come and ride bikes or get hauled around on tours, past waterfalls, pools, caves, cliffs, and all kinds of cool scenery that we’re going to get to run through, only I’ll probably being paying less attention than most!
There are two races happening here, the 25k and the 50k. Both races cover the same course going out together until the very end at which point the 25k runners head toward the finish and the 50k runners do a loop and head back to do the route in reverse. The bib numbers are colored based on which race you’re in. Of course I’ve been checking things out all morning, so I have a pretty good idea who to watch now that the race is under way.
This first stretch isn’t so bad, we’re cruising along at an easy 7:30 pace and I joke to the guy next to me "This isn’t so bad; I thought this thing was supposed to be hilly!" I probably should have just kept my mouth shut...
After running a mile or so of mostly paved flat stuff, we soon found ourselves on an old rocky road. Then the creek crossings started! Over the next three or four miles I counted 12 different creek crossings! And the hills, did I mention it was hilly? The first one was gradual; at first I thought "this won’t be much different from Rockbridge" as I ran it. Then the next hill came, and it was steep! By this point I had already written off first or second place and the $125. Even if I was leading, I still think I would have walked the steep hills, everyone I saw did. I actually didn’t get passed on the uphills, but the downhills were just as steep and somehow people managed to run down them much faster than I was. The number of leaves on the trail camouflaged the rocks, so racing fast downhill was out of the question for me.
This continued for the next 8 miles or so. Occasional short flat stretches followed by steep uphills and downhills. The course was mostly old roads or "double track" as they're called in trail running. Leaf covered, so that made it difficult, that and the pitch, but definitely a scenic run. On several occasions we broke out of the trees to cross under power lines; you could look back and see across to a previous ridge with runners crossing it a 1/4 mile away.
After 9 miles or so, the course reached a paved section of the park. I was running by myself at this point. It is really hard to tell in a trail race if anyone is close by, but once on the pavement I could see three of four people ahead of me. At this point I figured I was at best 15th or so, but I was feeling decent and since I had a flat paved section I picked things up a little. After a quick mile, I was ready to get back on a softer trail and fortunately we did. Of course, it was another steep hill, but I could see 5 people ahead of me walking it. So I ran a little further than I normally would have and then walked taking long strides. By the top I had passed three of them and before too long I passed the other two.
When I had reached the paved section, my average pace was around a nine minutes per mile, but with the fast flat pavement, I had lowered it to around 8:45. Now that there was less than a third of the way to go and I was feeling good, my new goal was 8:30 average by the end.
Somewhere around 14 miles, I passed Andy Pele who was on heading back from the 50k out and back. He was looking great, but unfortunately since there was a funky loop the 50k’ers were doing, I had no way to tell what position he was in. After a quick yell of encouragement he was gone and I pushed onward.
The final half mile or so was downhill, not quite as steep as other downhills had been, so I was able to keep lowering my average pace. Just prior to the finish was a switch back and I happened to notice I was barely ahead of another runner! But I could hear the finish line noise and after one more turn I was there, I was done! 2:11:49, 6th overall and I had just edged out the guy right behind me for second in our age group! Average pace, 8:31...
Can’t say enough good things about this race, definitely a must do for anyone slightly interested in trail running. I paid $52 for the race, ended up with a long sleeve Brooks Technical event tee, a finisher’s towel, finisher’s fleece jacket, a huge second place AG award, and an excellent post race meal.
I expect to see a lot more of my friends there in 2011!
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