Friday, June 21, 2013

Race Report/Camping Fail: 2013 Panther Creek Challenge

It was the weekend before Memorial Day, and KTC's Treadin' Trodden Trails series was making a stop atPanther Creek State Park for it's annual 10 mile Panther Creek Challenge. This was one of the original 3 trail races I had planned on running this year (To date I've run in 6 and I've still yet to run the last of the original 3 I planned on running and who knows how many more before the year is out). With the Challenge approaching I had the hair brained idea that we could turn it into a weekend of camping, fun right?

Since it was at Panther Creek State Park which was a 2 hour drive from home, it would be awesome to already be at the park on race morning and then have the rest of the weekend to camp with the family. On paper, most of our crazy ideas sound great. However, we've quickly learned that with toddler, those ideas don't always work out the way we plan. Race weekend had finally arrived and I had taken a 1/2 day on that Friday. When I got home, Robin had some stuff ready (another change since our Little Bug came along, Robin would have already had the car loaded and ready to go), so I got straight to helping with the final packing and then loading of the car. After all was said and done, we were packed, out the door, and pulling into our campsite by around 5pm or so.

Once at camp, Robin and I commenced to getting the tent and everything else setup while taking turns on keeping Boo content and in the campsite. So far things were going pretty good for the most part. Boo was wearing us out with the constant redirect back into the campsite (teaching boundaries to a toddler less that 18 months old is definitely a lesson in humility, especially one who is headstrong and determined). Needless to say, she was having fun at camp. Once everything was set up, it was supper time and if we didn't get food soon we were all going to be divas in those Snickers commercials. We hopped in the car and drove out to town for food and to let Boo get a nap in.

We got back to camp and things were going pretty good until it came time for Boo to go to bed. I forgot to mention that the campground was packed, over 90% of the sites were occupied by RVer's. We were surrounded. The campers across from us apparently were having some sort of reunion and decided it would be fun to congregate at their site and hoot and holler most of the night, which only got worse and much louder after the 10pm quite time. It was about midnight when on my second attempt and after Robin's hour long attempt, Boo was finally asleep in her pack 'n' play. I think Robin would have had her to sleep a lot sooner and actually did a couple times if it were for the jackasses across the street from us. Every time she'd just about be asleep, they'd get rowdy again and Boo would wake back up.

It wasn't very long after Boo was asleep, that we decided ourselves to go to bed. I did have a race in the morning and I was going to need all the sleep I could get after a night with screaming baby, and loud ass campers around us. The next morning we woke up to rain, rain, and yes more rain. I got straight to eating breakfast so I'd have enough time to digest and have some fuel before race time. Robin was up with me as well while Boo slept. We knew not to wake her until it was close to time to head to the starting line. It wasn't very long before that time was here and in the rain we headed that way.

Due to the rain, Robin decided that her and Boo would stay in the car and go for a drive while I ran my race. It was far too wet and rainy to get Boo out of the car anyway. I stretched real good and then said my farewells to them. It was getting real close to start time and all the runners were starting to assemble. After some words from the race director about the course, he gave the signal and we were off like a mad pack of people running from the zombie horde. It was a short uphill jaunt to the trailhead from the starting line. Enough to thin the crowd out nicely so as to avoid a choke point at the trailhead. From there it was mostly downhill across wet moss covered rocky outcroppings.

The going was slow until we made it to the bottom of the peninsula.. This was due to the wet rocky outcroppings that covered the trail. At one point on the way down, I about busted my tail. One of my feet flew out from under me but I was able to grab hold of a tree next to me and regain my balance and move onward with the group of 6-7 runners I was tailing and surprisingly keeping up with. I felt like I had started off at a decent pace and for the first 2 miles around the lakeside I was feeling pretty good.

It wasn't long however before that would all change. Around the 2.5 - 3 mile mark, my legs were telling me that I had started out too fast once again. by mile 3 we entered the heart of the wooded trail system complete with 3 nasty uphills along the next 6 miles. These climbs really took it out of me, especially the first one. I struggled up that climb, continuously moving forward and cussin' everything about it. My legs were dead and I felt my goal of sub 2:30 was slipping away from me with every forward step.

Normally after about 3-4 miles my legs warm up real good and I feel like I can run for ever. That feeling never really came to me during this race. However around mile 5 the trail was once again running close to the lake side and was generally flat. My mood had changed and my spirits were lifted, as I was passed by a runner and tailed her for a while. She would pull away on slight uphills but I would catch back up on the downhills. We conversed about previous races and future races while we ran together. It definitely helped to have someone to talk to during that time. It took my mind off of my previous feelings. However, the company didn't last very long.

The second big climb was coming and I was force into another bout of walking up hill while my company had continued plodding forward and eventually out of site. This time however I was in better spirits and knew that it wasn't far before I'd be up top of the ridge and could cruise again. The rain never really let up. It would drizzle, then it would downpour, then it would drizzle some more. The trails were a sloppy mess, and that definitely made parts of the course a bit treacherous causing a slower pace.

Around mile 9 I came of the second ridge and back to the water station, which I had already passed two times previously as the heart of the course criss-crossed at a trail intersection three times total. I passed one gentleman racer and had another in my sites ahead of me. However, once passed the aid station and up the final big climb to highest point in the park, I was forced to walk again and I wouldn't see any other racers until I was finished. The final climb was too bad, at least mentally as the fog put a certain serene feel over the last part of the course. There were some pretty sweet boulder outcropping to run around as well that were pretty sweet.

Photo Courtesy:
At the top of the ridge and the highest point in the park, I was greeted by a wonderful view of Cherokee Lake below, spreading out for as far as the eye could see on such a foggy rainy day. I was rather thankful for the rain, it kept me cool during the run, even it did make things a bit muggy. The last half mile or so down the ridge to the finish line was a great feeling. I happened to get a glance at my time and was pleasantly surprised to see that I actually had a good chance of meeting my goal. It wasn't long before I say the timekeepers at the finish line on the trail just before it spilled you out back onto the road. I was never more thankful to see a race come to an end.

With a final time of 2:23:18 over what was a bit more than the advertised 10 miles, I was completely wiped out and ready for some drier conditions. Walking off the trail and up the road to the pavillion where all the racers were located for refreshments and refueling, I saw Robin and Boo parked on the side of the road waiting for my return. I stopped to visit with them for a few minutes and to discuss our plans for the rest of the day before going to get some well deserved junk food and drink other than water.

It wasn't long before I was back to the car and stripping out of my wet gear and into some dry clothes. We headed back to camp with a feeling of relief with the decision to break camp, pack it all up and head to the homefront a day earlier than planned. It was quite the experience, one that I hope over time will get better as Boo gets more acquainted and used to our outdoor ways. She already loves to go on hikes, and did have fun in camp until it came time for bed. We've made plans to do more trial runs in the back yard before our next attempt.

My final results in the race were 55th overall out of 65 in the 10 miler, and 16th out of 17 in the open male category. Considering how crappy I felt in the first part of the race, I consider it a win because I finished and I did so under 2.5 hours. It was overall a good time, however one we don't want to experience again. It was my hair-brained idea so I assume full responsibility and have learned my lesson that we will just get up on race mornings at home and drive to wherever the next races are (Unless they are more than say 2 hours out of town, then I might convince the gang to get a hotel room for the night).

Happy Trails,
Tim and Robin

P.S. Once again I have to give a shout out to Terramar Sports for powering me on this run with my Helix Mountain Body Sensor Tee, even though I took it off around mile 3 so I could stay even cooler on the muggy run. I also wore my Terramar Socks throughout the whole race.

Course below for those interested.

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