October 25, 2009

The Tale of Two Trails

The Allerton Trail Race was this morning. As you may recall, I've been scouting the course the past two weekends.

On the 11th the course was flooded pretty badly in four places. Everywhere else the trail was muddy, but runnable. The water came right up to the edge of the trail.

On the 18th the water was a couple feet lower and there was no real flooding.

On the 25th (race day) the right height was, well, this chart speaks for itself.

Sangamon River height

The water was 3.5 feet higher than it was when there was serious flooding. Half the trail was literally under water. Fortunately, the race organizers changed the course to keep this a running race rather than a swimming race. The new course used some parts of the old trail, but added a few new parts that have never been used before.

Despite my best intentions of starting out easy, I started out fast. I quickly settled into 10th place before the end of the first mile. We crossed the big meadow where the finish line is located, but we were just getting started. The big rolling hills slowed me down, but they slowed everyone else down too. We ran back into the woods towards the minotaur before heading down a large set of stairs, only to immediately turn around and run right back up them.

A short distance later we hit water. This wasn't a crossing, it was knee deep standing water on the trail. For 200 meters. I leaped through it only to find the trail very uneven and root-covered under the water (where I couldn't see it). After a couple hundred meters the people in front of me finally decided it was better to run through moderately dense brush beside the trail than to brave the water any longer. I followed suit, as I'm sure did everyone behind.

With the frigid water behind my wet calves were now numb and I was running even slower. As we approached the Sun Singer I noticed the leader was heading back down the trail towards me, having already circumnavigated the Sun Singer. I thought this was peculiar because some of the race volunteers informed me that the new route included a half mile section of road... but the only road around was straight ahead (i.e. not the direction the leader was running). This meant one of two things, either my good friends gave me incorrect information, or the leader was off the course. Ugh.

As I reached the Sun Singer I witnessed a bit of chaos. A few people had run all the way around it and were now wondering where to go. The volunteers did not know. When I got half way around I noticed painted arrows on the road indicating a turn which none of the first 5-6 runners took. I was in a group of 4 who all made that turn.

Further chaos ensued about a half mile later when the 3 new leaders (who were not the original 3 leaders) continued down the road past another painted arrow on the road indicating a turn. Again, the group of 4 I was in made the turn. Suddenly I was in the lead pack. One of the runners from the lead pack (who had been off the course twice at this point) turned around and quickly caught up to us, while the others disappeared.

Here's a (time-accurate) comparison of my 2008 (red) vs. 2009 (blue) Allerton trail race. Something funky happened with my GPS in the last half mile of the 2009 race. I didn't cut the course, I swear!

I finished the race reasonably well. I almost caught up to the guy I had been chasing (10 meters behind) since the half mile mark. I barely edged out (by split second) a challenger from behind. I finished 5th place. I probably deserved 10th.

I have mixed feelings about the results. On the one hand, from the sportsmanship point of view, other racers deserved to finish ahead of me. On the other hand, trail racing is not like track or road racing. You really have to pay attention to the course markings. All of the turns the lead runners missed were marked. Granted, the course was new and nobody had run it before.

I won a hat for finishing 2nd in my age group. Fig seemed to like it.

Fig's new hat


Anonymous said...

Great race, Congratulations!

Chris Ⓥ said...

Well done at Allerton. Happy birthday to you too!

Anonymous said...

WOW!! after watching the BLUE and RED twisty lines, ( which made me think of SNAKES>> I think I threw up a little in my mouth>>>> talk about DIZZY and TRYING hard TO KEEP UP> and WHICH one should I follow.. WHAT A RACE> but CONGRATULATIONS on a SUPER JOB and BEST of ALL, winning a HAT FOR FIG!!!! IT LOOKS PERFECT on him!!!!! next thing ,he will be RUNNING along side you and Meli , in races!!!!!!!! you will have to BUILD a room on, for the " THE HATS"!!!!!! hugs, nan