Friday, May 3, 2013

Race Report: War at Windrock Stage 2: 10K

As many of you know, especially if you read the last post, that I recently completed two trail races in one day thanks to the War at Windrock Trail Running Festival hosted by Dirty Bird Events. After successfully completing Stage 1 of War at Windrock Move Fast 4 miler, it was time to rest up and get myself ready to run Stage 2: Get High 10K.  Honestly, I had no clue what lied ahead of me in the afternoon, all I knew was that it was a 10K and there was over 2000 feet of elevation gain.

So after stage one, I walked back to the events area of Windrock OHV Park where the race weekend was staged from and proceeded to the vehicle in order to start recovering and getting ready for stage 2. I had packed my self a couple of PB&J sandwiches, a banana, and a couple of granola bars. After getting my wet shoes and socks of me from the few run off spots of the previous race and changing shirts, I sat in the tailgate of our SUV and started to chow down on some food. It was around 11 am and I still had 4 hours before the next race.

I enjoyed the warming sun and the views of the Cumberland Mountains that
surrounded us and made a little idle chit chat with some of the other runners here and there. Mainly though, other than stuffing my pie hole, in hopes of having it mostly digested in time for the next race, I talked to Robin to get an idea as to whether her and Boo were going to come out in time for the second race and if so when they planned on heading this way. Of course the kiddo had to go sleep over at her cousin's house so that added some time to her drive.

After getting a bit of rest and finishing my food I just mainly hung and listened to the radio until Robin and Boo arrived. They got to the place around 2 giving us a little time to just hang out and let Boo get out of the car and play with rocks for a few before we had to head to where stage 2 started. I got myself geared up and ready to go and we piled in the car and took off for the starting area. All us racers were gathered and waiting for the start. I don't think anyone there had a clue of what we were up against, but there was definitely some excitement in the air.

In addition to keeping Boo corralled and happy, we had to wait a bit longer than anticipated so they could get the first part of the course cleared of ATV traffic. A few minutes later and it was finally time, Robin took Boo and I lined up with the rest of us suckers. The race director gave us a quick synopsis of the course and trails to stay on, and counted it down to GO! In a frenzied dash, we all took off for the trail. It was slow going at first as there were large mud holes to dodge and several of us dodging them at the same time. It didn't take long for me to realize that the first trail sucked. Imagine, Georgia red clay, deeply rutted due to high amounts of ATV and OHV traffic, large mudholes completely filled with water and absolutely no quarter from the sun. Granted, it was somewhere close to 70 degrees and the air was dry, there was no cloud cover and the trees hadn't leafed out enough to provide and sort of a canopy to block out the rays.

Within the first 1.5 miles it was like this and nothing but incline albeit a low grade incline. The big issue was running on the side of the trail/road and zig-zagging back and forth just to dodge and avoid large mud/water holes of course not to much avail. At some points it was inevitable and every so often there was a enough run-off in the various switchbacks that there was no choice but to get your feet wet. It was about the third or fourth of these run-off spots that I stopped caring about it and actually welcomed the refreshing cool water soaking my feet.

I also realized after about the second mile that black was indeed the wrong color to be wearing. While my was cool, nice and thin, the sun's rays really loved to beat on the black color and left me wishing I had sunscreened my entire upper body and not just my arms, neck, face and ears. I can tell you this, it I was afraid of getting burnt out there, the top would have been off in a heartbeat. For most of the first 2 miles or so, I was keeping pace with a group of about 3 to 4 other runners. We continued to joke about the continuous uphill climb and wondering if around each curve it would ever flatten out any in order to get a brief reprieve for our legs. Unfortunately we would be denied that luxury throughout most of the race.
Terramar short sleeve Body Sensor Helix shirt

Around the 3 mile mark, I had been running close with another guy (who I soon learned his name was Frank) and a girl (who I had never caught her name). We ran close together in distance for a good mile or so. At one point though we were running along spotting the trail signs ensuring us we were still on the right track, when it had been a little ways since we had seen our last one. The trail ahead of us started to turn into what looked like a creek due to runoff from rains a couple days earlier and another trail turned off to the left and straight uphill. We really didn't know exactly how far along we were but knew there was an aid station coming up not too far from our next trail. The three of us started to head up the trail to the left. At about the halfway point of the incline I slowed while Frank and the girl kept going up. We had all slowed our pace and I had spotted some other runners coming up the trail we just left.

We still weren't sure if we were on the right track, so I stopped to see what the runners behind us were doing. The started to head up the trail we were on when I hailed if this was the correct trail. Frank and the girl by this time was almost to the top of the climb. The other runners responded that they didn't know for sure and that they were just following us. By this time there about 6 or 7 of us along this stretch of trail and not moving anywhere. Another runner came up and went ahead a little ways on the other trail to see if there were any trail signs as I hadn't seen any on the one we took. A minute later he started heading back toward our group and let us know that the trail went straight instead of up the one we were on. So we all took off running close in single line fashion.

It wasn't long before we reached the first real aid station with water and GU for those that wished it. I opted for two small cups of water, thanks to my Camelbak Marathoner's vest. I really just wanted something ice cold to put in my throat. I continued on along with the other 5 or 6 runners. It was long before the grade started to increase in the incline and most of the runners in our pack continued at a better pace than I and I lost sight of them. It also wasn't long before me and the guy was trading places with in the first race (Mike) were together walking up the mile or so stretch of at least 5% to 6% grade of incline. At one point we started calling it the death march. There was no hope of running up any of it. I think there was a dip or two and on one of them we both decided to try and run just a short bit to keep our legs from seizing up on us. A few minutes later we were past up by a lady that was older than the both of us and she was walking too but at a much steadier pace than either Mike or myself.

As she passed us she turned around and started walking backwards. She suggested we try doing the same as it worked different muscle groups and would allow your other muscles to rest for a minute. Sure why not, we had nothing else to lose. We turned around and walked backwards for a few steps and decided that it hurt just as bad as going forward and when we turned around those muscles screamed. The lady continued on at her pace and wished us well on the run. We had finally reached the 5 mile mark or so and came upon the second aid station in the race. It was around this point that my phone died and I could no longer track my progress. I also had no further communication with Robin who was waiting for my return at the event grounds. I had last texted her just before the aid station letting her know that I was around 5 miles and at this rate I didn't know how much longer it would be before I would finish. I think she was thinking it would be too much longer considering it was a 10K and that meant just a bit over a mile or so to go. I think I was around the 1 hour 30 min mark at that communication so she was thinking 30 more minutes tops and I would be done and be transported back down the mountain.

That indeed was far from the case. Shortly after the last aid station where I took on some water and a GU gel, it flattened out for a bit and I took off at a nice trot leaving Mike behind and wishing him luck. I was making good time in the flat section. I guess it was almost a mile long and I was feeling pretty good. I finally caught up to another runner and ran with him for a piece. We talked about adventure racing, something he did a while back before getting into just trail running. It wasn't long though that we saw a race photographer and I thought we were getting close to the end. Well as the crow flies that was probably true. However, just past the photographer the trail turned from it's flat ways into single track incline. This was the section I was sure the race description described as being the longest, hardest downhill mountain bike course on this side of the country. It even mentioned there was a rope during part of it to assist us in going up. I kept looking for it.

Holy elevation gain Batman, was that a huge understatement. If I thought the continuous uphill ATV roads were bad, this thing had it beat. I remember thinking that whoever rode down this thing on an mountain bike either had a death wish or something because if it were me, they'd definitely be flying my dead carcass off that mountain. Complete with bike ramps and jumps this course seemed to have it all. Finally the trail crossed the jeep road at one point and I stopped to turn around, and I beheld in my vision a wondrous view of all of Oliver Springs and much farther. Rolling hills and valleys all the way down the Cumberland Mountain chain as far as the eye could see. It was beautiful and I mentally kicked my self in the ass for not charging my phone more before starting this race.

Turning from the view I saw up the next incline, another road crossing and on the other side, the rope to climb up the face of a vertical drop off from the next jeep road crossing. That road we would run down and eventually pass the radio tower and one more boulder to climb before reaching the finish line. It was just past the rope climb that I caught back up with Frank. We decided to finish the race together. At the boulder climb we saw the lady that had passed me and Mike during the death march. She was sitting there and jokingly mentioned that the finish was just up ahead and that there were margaritas waiting. When the phrase "No shit really?" escaped our mouths she chuckled and said no but that was what the Salomon rep had told her just before the rope climb.

We got on top of the boulder and I said to Frank, let's finish this thing. He graciously said after you, and we both took off for the finish line, crossing just moments later, glad to be done with the tortuous adventure. I don't think I had been more excited or proud of myself in any other race.  That was indeed the toughest challenge I've conquered to date. I had crossed the line in 2:31:57 and in 25th place out of 34 finishers. In the distance from the finish line I had the pleasure of gazing upon the huge windmills on top of Buffalo Mountain. I gulped down a GU and several cups of water.

Frank and I hung around for a few and then found out that the transports back down where down the hill from the finish just a bit. We walked that way and rode back down, triumphant. Upon reaching the bottom, I unloaded and got into the car with Robin and Boo who had been waiting and had gotten worried because it had been almost an hour since they last heard from me. I can tell you this, I'll be sure to have some form of reliable communication for the next race of this nature.

We went back the events area and hung out there for a bit before deciding it was time to head back home and get Boo into her nightly routine. I thanked the Dirty Bird Staff for an amazing race day, wished them well for the 34K stage the next day, collected my finishers glass and into the sunset we drove off headed for home. It was a great day and a great if not hard ass race and I really enjoyed it all, even if it did kick my tail. I'll certainly be back next year and this time for all 3 stages.

Happy Trails,
Tim and Robin

P.S. Again another big shout out to Terramar Sports. Loving the Body-Sensor Helix shirts.

Here's most of the course for those interested. Where the track ends it goes a bit further in that direction then turns to the left and climbs the rest of that mountain for the finish.

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