Two race reports for the price of one! (Matt)

Well folks, my goal race for the spring has come and gone.  On Thursday, May 12th, my wife Ashlie and I started driving down to Summerville, Georgia to run the aptly named Twisted Ankle Marathon, a grueling romp up and around a picturesque ridge in Northeastern Georgia.  Ashlie and I both ran the half marathon there two years, so we knew what to expect (and it took us that long to forget the agony and decide to run it again).

When I ran the half, I was leading the race once we got to the top of the ridge, and accidentally kept running when I was supposed to turn around at an aid station, so I ended up adding an extra 3 miles onto the course.  I affectionately refer to this escapade as the “Twisted Ankle Ultra-Half-Marathon,” and I like to tell people that I still hold the course record for it.  This time, though, I was running the full, and was determined to redeem myself and run a good race.  I knew that if I was in really good shape, I would have a chance at winning the full, as it is not a very large race and the winners usually run around 3:30 or so.

As soon as the race started, I found myself in a loose group of 6 or 8 guys in the front.  I didn’t know who was running the full and who was running the half, and I knew better than to try to push from the gun, so I just jogged within the pack, knowing that the tough part wouldn’t start until mile 3 or so.  You see, this race has a little hill that people like to call “Becky’s Bluff.”  For the first few miles of the race, the competitors meander around the foothills of the ridge, always going up but enjoying some nice rolling hills.  Then suddenly, the course makes a hard turn onto a singletrack trail, and the runners find themselves running straight up the side of a mountain.  For illustrative purposes, here is an elevation profile straight from the race website:

As you can see, that don’t mess around.  The elevation rises from around 750 feet to 1550 feet in the course of about a mile.  And let me tell you, it sucks!  Around this section of the course, another guy and I found ourselves in the lead.  I walked up part of the bluff because I knew there was more to come; the other guy ran the whole thing and gained 20 or 30 meters on me there.  Once the trail leveled out, I caught up to him and we began talking.  His name was Craig and he was the same age as me.  He turned out to be a pretty cool cat, so we decided to run the whole race together.  For the next few hours, we chatted while cruising along the top of the ridge, enjoying the views, the water at the aid stations, and the glorious weather.  Craig would pull away from me going up the hills, and I would catch him shortly thereafter every time.  We both felt great and were probably going anywhere from 5:45 to 10:00 pace depending on the terrain.

Around mile 18, or two and a half hours into the race, we came to an aid station that I had heard called the “Watermelon Turnaround.”  Craig and I stopped there briefly for some water and sweet, sweet watermelon, and I asked the volunteers staffing the station, “So this is where we turn around, right?”  Both men denied this, saying that the full marathoners continued on straight ahead.  Craig and I both asked them if they were sure, because we definitely heard people calling this station the turnaround.  The volunteers insisted that we most certainly were not supposed to turn around there, so Craig and I reluctantly ran on.

This part of the course was on an open gravel road, nowhere near as pleasant as the dirt trails, and around this time the sun started really beating down on us.  I let Craig get about 100m on me in the next few miles as I do not do well in the heat and I was slowly starting to feel that maybe we went the wrong way.  Several miles passed without a single trail marker on the trees, and I began to feel certain that we were supposed to turn around at the aid station.  I caught up to Craig at one point and we decided to just go on, because even if we did turn around, we would end up running at least 30 miles.  After a few more miles, we found ourselves at one of the aid stations from earlier in the race.  They told us that we were most definitely supposed to have turned around at the watermelon stop, and told us that our best bet was just to run back down Becky’s Bluff and finish.

Upon hearing this news, Craig and I were of course quite frustrated, but what else could we do?  We decided that since we would almost certainly get disqualified, we might as well just run easy together back to the finish.  Surprisingly, once we started running on the dirt trails again, I felt amazing.  I was tearing down the hills, nearly sprinting in some places, and actually enjoying myself, despite having been running for close to 3 hours and knowing that my chance at winning was destroyed.

The race finishes by crossing a lake via  a wooden bridge, and Craig and I ran across and through the finish together.  I immediately informed the race director of what had happened to us. While neither of us wore a GPS, we estimated that we ran around 23 or 24 miles.  Later, I would find out that the volunteers at the watermelon turnaround had led several people after us astray, but most of them turned around after a mile or so.  Finally a runner who had done the race before alerted them to their mistake and everyone after that was fine.

Needless to say, I am quite upset and frustrated that both times I have ran this race, I was led astray by a volunteer.  I don’t blame the race directors, with whom I am friends, but it still rankles nonetheless.  I am actually quite upset with myself this time, as I was certain that we were supposed to turn around at the station and still I ran on.  Looking back, I should have turned around until I met another runner who knew for sure; even if we were supposed to run on, Craig and I still could have pulled away and not been challenged for the win.  After 18 miles and two and a half hours, though, its hard to maintain common sense.  So while its aggravating and disappointing to squander the months of training, hours of driving and a shot at winning, there’s nothing I can do about it now and there is no sense in hanging onto the negative feelings.  And that brings me to my next race report (which is much shorter, thankfully!)

After taking a week off to recover from my aborted marathon, I resumed running on Monday.  Tuesday was the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge, which I absurdly decided to run this year.  I knew I wouldn’t have lost much fitness in the week off, but I also knew that not only was I just returning to running, but I hadn’t done any real speedwork in the past few months.  I figured I could run decently hard and do 5:45-6:00 pace.  When my first mile, which felt completely comfortable, turned out to be 5:30, I decided to go for it and see what would happen if I raced it.  A second mile of 5:31 increased my confidence.  Shortly before the 2nd mile marker, I caught up to fellow RKR member Chanse.  He looked good, but I was concerned that I had caught up to him.  I urged him to pick up the pace; after all, I was fat and slow after taking a week off and should not be near him in a race!  We ran the rest of the race together, with him putting a small gap on me around 3 miles.  With half a mile left, I put in a surge and caught up to him and two other runners.  We both passed them, and then it was Chanse and me, neck and neck coming into the final stretch.  I commanded my legs to spring, and they calmly responded, “No.”  Chanse pulled away and out-kicked me by two seconds in a searing time of 19:26, only 25 seconds behind another RKR runner, Mike, who blew away from us at the start and never looked back.  I, however, did end up running an unexpected 3-second PR, and was able to nab a top-10 spot.  Three Roadkill Racing members in the top 10 of one of the biggest and most competitive races in Rochester is a pretty cool accomplishment.  I am honored to have brought up the caboose in that train!

So while my marathon may have been a bust, at least my fitness led me to a great Corporate Challenge, and with any luck I will run a good race at the Columbus Marathon in October.