Thursday, July 15, 2010

Good-Bye Noland Trail

      "There comes a pause, for human strength will not endure to dance without cessation; and everyone must reach the point at length of absolute prostration." **Lewis Carroll**

        Saturday morning was gray, dripping, and a steamy 80 degrees. I needed to get in a long run, but the thought of 10 miles on wet pavement with bare feet or in soggy VFFs was not inspiring. Running in mud, however sounded like a great idea so I headed out to my favorite trail. If you ever find yourself in Newport News, VA and want to see a little nature, this is the place for it.

      I arrived at the trail around 7:30 am, thinking it would be deserted compliments of the rain, but everyone had the same idea. The parking lot was a beehive of activity, people were stretching, organizing their dogs, and topping off water bottles at the fountain. Unfortunately, it hadn’t rained as hard on the trail as it had at my house so the ground was fairly dry, not the playful mud I had hoped for, but still good for running.

          The Noland Trail winds around an inlet off the James River with 14 wood bridges crossing the water at various places and giving spectacular views.

          Of course, this means hils. Steep grades down to, and back up from, the bridges or galloping up and down from the water’s edge to the next wooded crest. No picture ever really captures the intensity of an incline so nothing here does the difficulty of this trail justice, but I think it is the best hill training on the peninsula! Which isn’t actually saying much, but it is still a great place to run.

        About 5 minutes into my first lap I realized I was over dressed. Thank goodness for running bras that are designed to be worn alone. I stripped off my tech shirt and instantly felt better. Of course, my paste white tummy exposed meant I would run into large numbers of people I knew.

         I knew this was my last run on The Noland Trail and that I would miss my time here greatly. The trail is a touch over a 5 mile loop and running it has been a great indicator of my progress. The first time I ran it non stop in under an hour I was elated! Anyone that has run it can tell you that you plan to add a good 1.5 to 2 minutes per mile to your pace compared to running on a flat street. On this day, I was taking it slow. I stopped to take pictures, chatted with friends, and really took the time to just enjoy my run without watching my Garmin for pace, time, or heart rate. I just ran.

        This is such a tranquil place, there are always birds chirping, squirrels playing chase, and the occasional lazy snake crossing the path. I thoroughly enjoyed the rain pattered through the trees, chasing each other down the leaves to drop with a splash on the trail ahead of me. The air almost immediately absorbed it, turning the whole place into a steaming forest that felt primeval. You can’t let your mind wander too far though because the twists, turns, hills and chunks of wood to protect the trail from erosion makes for some tricky footing. Thankfully, small tree stumps and roots are painted orange so they are hard to miss, but it is easy to get caught up in the wildlife and forget to look down. I’ve never taken a bad spill here, but I’ve stumbled more than once and seen people with bloody knees and elbows emerge from the trail, muttering choice words under their breath.

           The majority of the trail is packed dirt, but the steeper sections have fin gravel that can be a bit abrasive on the feet, especially if you aren’t careful and scuff or slide going up or down the hills. The first time I ran this trail barefoot, I made it 4 miles before I stopped to put on shoes. I was too late though, my feet already had several blisters each. Now I can run it more than once the same day without pain or blisters.

          On part of the trail, there is an area where the path is covered in broken oyster shells. It is very pretty, but also VERY challenging for a barefoot runner. The first time I came through this area I had to run on the grass at the side of the path or walk carefully over the unavoidable sections (which are short).

       I can now run this part with relative ease. I do have to keep a sharp eye out and maintain my focus, but it only slows me down a little and adds an interesting element to the run.

       At the end of my planned 2 laps I was feeling great. Every mile had been a blast so I wasn’t mentally worn out either. As I stood talking to a friend, it started raining again, a good gully washer this time. I decided not to miss the fun! Quickly, I refilled my depleted water bottles and head out for one more lap. The rain didn’t last long, but I found a few muddy spots and savored the cooler air.

        It was a fantastic 15 miles that left me utterly spent, a wonderful way to say good-bye to my favorite running haunt. I hope I am able to come back someday and enjoy it again, until then it is time to rest and move on to new adventures.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Yorktown Battlefield Independence Day 8K

"Luck is being ready for the chance"    **J. Frank Doble**
     July 4th arrived with spectacular weather and the promise of a fantastic race day that did not disappoint! My goal for this race was to stay ahead of a 9 mpm pace and place in the top ten so I would have at least one point to get on my running club’s Grand Prix board. I have plenty of volunteer points, but your volunteer points cannot exceed your running points and with marathon training, and other assorted life events, I have not had the chance to run in a Grand Prix race. Since we fly out for Korea the last week in July, this was my last chance to score a running point.

     This 8K is generally a big race for a local venue. Last year there were nearly 450 runners and that doesn’t count the 5K fun run/walk that bleeds off all the slow pokes. The course is on the tourist road through the battle fields so the road is a horribly chewed surface that even people in thick running shoes complain about. I foolishly ran it barefoot last year, when I was new to barefoot running and not at all up to such a rough surface. When the course turned off the road and onto a gravel path I was sunk! When I finally hobbled across the finish line, an hour and 14 minutes after the start, I was the last person in my age group to finish.

     I knew I would have a better time this year. Even barefoot I would have improved, but since I wanted to score Grand Prix points, I decided to run in Vffs. They allow me to be more relaxed and I wanted to really enjoy my last race with the Peninsula Track Club. Since last year’s age group place winners all averaged close to an 8 minute mile pace I had no real hope of placing in the top three, but I knew I could easily score a point or two. My goal was to finish the 5 miles in less than 45 minutes

     I got off to a slow start. Placing myself too far back in the pack didn’t help, but I usually take off too fast so it’s all good. I also goofed up my Garmin so I can only guess at my first mile, but it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t warm up long enough because the porta potty lines were crazy long and this added to the sluggishness for the first couple of miles. Fortunately, once I got rolling I spent the rest of the race passing people. I never stopped to walk, not even on the long uphill slopes where about half the people I passed had dropped into “death march” mode. I just increased my cadence and trundled on.

     My Garmin was set to chirp out half mile laps so I knew I was keeping a decent pace, but the trees were really messing with the GPS so I never knew from moment to moment how I was doing. It was okay though, and probably helped. I just focused on running a pace I felt I could sustain and reminded myself I could only expect to do my best and have fun.

     As I approached the finish line I was thrilled to see the clock still said 44:xx and kicked it up one last notch for a sprint finish. I was thrilled with my 44:38 finish time! I met my person goal and felt well the whole run with no pain and no sudden stiffening after the race.

     The results were posted at one point, but I didn’t even bother to look. I would find out soon enough how many points I scored (you get a point for 10th place, 2 for 9th, etc.) and I was too busy talking to the many people that I will sorely miss when we move. When it was time for the awards ceremony, I cheered and clapped for my friends that placed but wasn’t at all expecting to hear my own name. “Women, 40-44, 3rd place, Wendy Nail!” What????? Whoot! I was so shocked I didn’t even hear my official time called out. It was such a great way to finish my time with PTC. I will see them all once more at the summer picnic the week before we fly, but running is what our group is all about and race days are how I will remember everyone best.

     48 hours after the race: Looking through the final results is making me laugh out loud. It is a total fluke that I won third place. The same pace (8:59) last year would have only pulled 5th place in my age group and had I been running in the next age group up it would have been 8th, next age group down would have been 9th. It was pretty much dumb luck that none of the fast runners in my age group showed up, but I still beat 13 others and am very glad they decided to take it easy on Sunday so I could have a beer glass.