Monday, December 14, 2015

Race Review: Bulow Woods Trail Run

The 2nd annual Bulow Woods Trail Run took place on Saturday December 12th. Three distances were offered: 50k, half marathon, and a 4 mile (ish). 
Before I talk about the race itself I must let everyone know that the whole (race) weekend was a huge deal for my family and me. I was graduating from university with a B.A. in psychology the following day. My daughters and parents had flown in for the occasion and my wife, Harmony, had organized the whole weekend down to the last detail. As a runner, I really wanted to race this weekend; I knew it would add to the excitement and create memories. It didn't disappoint! Harmony, who earned both her B.A. and M.S. as an adult, and my girls, both of whom have their B.A.s, were running the half marathon and I was running the 50k. I mention their education to show how they were a huge part of the motivation for me to complete my degree! Thank you, my beautiful family, for your support!

On to the race! Very simply, the half marathon was a single loop of the out and back course and the 50k was two loops, obviously with a couple extra miles tacked on! The course was wonderful! It was flat and runable with a nice mix of trails through the trees, double track, and rooty/muddy sections that made me feel like the hard-core trail runner I am (in my mind).
The organization was fantastic, especially considering this is only the second running of this race. The race was held in the Bulow Woods StatePark and parking was a couple miles away in the Tomoka State Park. This was not as inconvenient as it sounds; shuttles were constantly bringing people back and forth. I must have waited for the shuttle for a total of 5 minutes! Easy! There were three aid stations but because of the course, runners were never more than 3 or so miles from the next one, and often closer. The food was great with lots of the perfect foods runners enjoy: fruit, candy, chocolate, Fig Newtons, water, Heed, etc. (and rum runners in a souvenir jar at the finish!).

I'd estimate 95% of the course was shady! 
 It was lovely! I brought sunglasses but ended up carrying them for the first half before dropping them off at the half way point!

Milling around the start of an ultra is always fun an exciting. There is a lot less stress in the air than at a road race (and exponentially less than at the start of a triathlon) and seeing all the equipment and clothing is fun! Before the gun (or the race director saying "go"), everyone was hanging out near the line and chatting about what runners chat about: running! No one was standing on the line ready to bound out of the gate for an immediate lead! It was very laid back and chill!

 ***Pro tip*** Don't judge a runner and/or change your race plan because of their equipment or body hair!

I found myself gazing at two guys that looked like every ultimate ultra-runner depicted by Trail Runner magazine! They were trim, wearing hydration vests, and had beards! Beards!! I thought to myself, these guys must really mean business; they have beards! Should I try and hang on to them at the beginning? Ugh! This was supposed to be a fun run and now these beards are goading me into running faster than I'd planned, and we haven't even started! For a few minutes I was cursing my clean-shaven face for hindering my performance! (Ha ha, I jest! Well, sort of!) Anyway, as in any race, once it begins, all pre-race jitters melt away as I did what I came to do: run as well as I could on the day!

I started with the front couple of runners at a fairly easy pace (8:15ish) and enjoyed chatting to a few guys for the first couple miles. (I'm #4 in the photo below! I'm guessing I didn't see the camera!)

The flat and shady course soon whispered that it was ok if I picked up the pace. I listened! I took the lead somewhere between miles two and three, not with the sole intention of running away (pun intended!) but more to look for the trail and make sure we stayed on track. On trails it is often easier to be behind someone and have them keep an eye out for the trail markers. This wasn’t really a problem at this race because the course was extremely well marked. It would be very difficult to get lost (this is coming from someone who has got lost several times on supposedly “well-marked” courses). 
 The course was relatively easy and very flat until the last three miles before the turn around. That’s about 6 miles per loop (12 miles total for the 50k) where we really needed to watch our footing over roots and through twisting trails. There were a few sections where the trail got muddy. As I was the first one through the first time, the mud wasn’t too bad but after all the runners had gone through, it got pretty sloppy (and fun). It wasn’t muddy with standing water but the mud was shoe-sucking soft (I heard one runner got their shoe sucked off their foot!). The first time through this techy section was fun and easy(ish). The second time through, fatigue was making it more difficult to pick my feet up as high as I needed. Although I didn’t go down completely, I did trip several times (This is the first trail run I can remember that I haven’t fallen!). At the second turn around with about 7.5 miles to go, I was wondering how far back the person in second places was. When I passed him, I timed it at 5 minutes and 40 seconds. Ugh! Not enough of a buffer to stop and rest, especially if he was feeling good and picking up the pace. In the last quarter of a race, it is not often I am feeling my best and freshest. Today was no exception! I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, determined not to stop. I knew I wouldn’t mind not winning if I had given everything. My determination paid off and I crossed the line in first place in 4:12:14. Needless to say I was VERY happy. What made it even better was my daughter, Michelle, running the last ¼ mile with me. She had wandered down the trail looking for me and made me dig deep to turn my legs over faster to finish strong! My wife and daughter, Libby, and Ryan (Michelle’s boyfriend) were all cheering as I crossed the line! In looking at the results, I can see I increased my lead over the last 7.5 miles, finishing 13 minutes and 17 seconds in front of the second place finisher. I guess the lesson is to just keep pushing on; you never know what you can achieve until you try! 

This race offers something for everyone! For those looking to tackle their first ultra distance race, this would be an ideal choice! The course does not add so much difficulty (terrain wise) that it makes the distance seem even more challenging! Let me be clear, running 50k is no easy feat, however, don't be put off by the course itself; it is welcoming and provides enough challenging terrain that makes you look forward to the flatter and open parts of the course! It was great having the other distance races too; there were always people to cheer and give high fives too! I received a lot of kudos from other runners on the course! It really helped me, especially during the last hour of the race! Support means everything and the running community knows all about this! Thank you!

My wife, amazing runner that she is, finished 3rd in the half marathon and won the Masters division! My daughters ran the half marathon together and came 2nd/3rd in their age group! What a great day of racing! Thank you to my wonderful family for making it extra special and memorable!