Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Art of Getting Lost: Rock Cut Hobo Trail 25K Report

Saturday, September 18, 2010
Rockford, IL

I ran the Rock Cut Hobo 25K trail run on Saturday morning. It was held in Rock Cut State Park in Rockford, IL. Pictures below are snagged from google - I did not carry my camera for this run.

This race was a planned distance PR for me. The longest I had run before was around 14 miles (from a previous trail HM that had a small detour.) Little did I know, that this run would turn into a HUGE distance PR for me.

I drove down to Rockford on Saturday morning and found the park. Picked up my bib number and "Hobo socks." You didn't get to collect your shirt until you crossed the finish line.

This was a small race -- maybe around 100 people. No chip timing and the starting line was just a couple of cones. I stayed toward the back of the pack and we were off. I kept my pace nice and easy. Having never ran this far before, I wanted to start off slow and just keep a nice steady pace through out.

I settled in for the first 2 miles with a couple of other runners. We started out for maybe a half mile on the road and then merged onto the trail. At first it was fairly non-technical singletrack. The runners in front of me started walking too early for my tastes, so I left them. Now I was running alone, which I found quite enjoyable. I was just clipping along, enjoying the trail. After a bit, I came to a T intersection. It was unmarked. Uh oh. Then I saw a post in the ground with an arrow. I thought it indicated for me to go right, so I did. I glanced back frequently to see if any other runners were in my line of sight. None. I shrugged it off and kept going.

This was a flat crushed gravel path, which made for easy running. I passed a few wild turkeys. The trail eventually came to a road. No signs. I crossed the road and picked up a new path, still with no signs. I finally had the sense to realize that I was lost and started back tracking. I came to an intersection and stopped to try and use the rudimentary map on my Garmin to see which way I should go. I thought I had it right and resumed running. Still no signs and no other runners.

After running for a while and not seeing any people or signs, I slowly started filling with dread. I was lost. Like, really lost. I'd never been to these trails before and the best way to describe them are a spiderweb. I came to another unmarked 4 way intersection and threw up my hands in frustration. Again, I tried to use the (mostly worthless) map on Garmin to figure out which way to go. Then it started to rain. And lighting. And thunder. Great. I'm lost in the middle of the woods in Illinois and it's pouring.

Finally, finally, I see signs for the run again. I'm relieved and hope that I didn't get too far off track. So I'm running along and I start to think to myself, "Hmmm, this looks familiar. Haven't I passed this meadow before?" Yes, I am indeed back on the race course, but I'm somehow back at the beginning! I'm contemplating throwing in the towel at this point as I'm frustrated and angry that I got so lost. But I feel good at this point, so I just keep moving. Regarding mileage, I have no idea where on the course I am. I pass a picnic table with a water cooler. Was that an unmanned aid station, or has everyone already left that aid station? I just keep running and am SO THANKFUL to have my handheld with me. Lesson learned -- I'm never running a trail race without it.

My mileage is starting to creep up and I haven't seen ANYONE in well over an hour. At least it's stopped raining. 7, 8, 9 miles go by. Finally I am running along the trail and I see a marker for the race that says mile 5 -- I look down at my Garmin and see that I have run 10 MILES already. F$@$*$%!!  Are you kidding me? I got 5 miles off course?! Then it hits me. If I decide to finish this, I will have to run over 20 miles. I figure, what the hell? I'm out here, I've already run 10, and I want my finisher's shirt. If I have to walk the last 5 miles, so be it. Let's do this.

The rest of the trail is magically well marked, so I'm not worried about getting lost again. I just concentrate on moving forward and hopefully catching up to someone, anyone, and not finish DFL. I pass the "5 mile" aid station and it's deserted -- even the volunteers have left at this point. At least there's still water. Top off my handheld and keep going. Run into a couple of mountain bikers and I'm just happy to see other people. I'm enjoying the trail again -- it's singletrack and beautiful. Totally runnable, even though there are some slick muddy spots and sand. There are some steep hills, but nothing awful by any means. This is Illinois after all.

Some nice trail

At 12 miles (7 miles), I finally come across a pair of racers -- two older ladies who are walking the course. "I could hug you!" I tell them, and relay my story. They tell me that I'm back on course and give me some encouragement. As I am taking off, one of them yells something about good bonus miles. I love trail runners.

I'm starting to get hungry. I took a GU at my mile 6, but have only one other GU with me. Should I take it now and hope that there's something at the 10 mile (my 15 mile) AS for me, or play it safe and save it in case there's not? I decide to play it safe and save my GU till later. I hit 14 miles on my Garmin. Every step after this is a distance PR for me. I've crossed one stream, which felt really good on my feet while I was in the water, but now my shoes are squishing around. I'm pretty sure there's another stream crossing coming up somewhere. And there it is! This one has rocks you can step on in order not to get your shoes wet, but I slip and my feet get soaked again anyway.

Stream crossing.

I make to the 10 mile (15 miles) AS and it's deserted. No people and the water cooler is empty. My handheld is getting low, so that worries me. Then I see the stairs. Oh, goody.

Lots of stairs.

Looking down the climb.

I slowly climb the stairs (why waste energy on this?) and suck down my GU. I have only a few swallows of water left my in handheld after I down water with the GU, so I'm really hoping that the next AS isn't out.

I hit 15.5 miles and my body is tired. I'm supposed to be done by now. This was a low point for me. I have 5 miles left and I have no choice but to get through them -- I need to get back to the car somehow. I'm run/walking and need to keep telling myself to run. I think about Jason running 55 miles and tell myself to suck it up and remember his mantra of, "relentless forward motion." So I just keep moving, running as best as I can.

Somewhere around mile 16 or 17, a runner appears. I see the back of her and I'm so excited to see another person. I come running up from behind her and exclaim, "I am so happy to see you!" Turns out that she started the race 30 minutes late. She's been all alone the whole time and is ecstatic to see me as well. She tells me, "You're my angel!" No way, girlfriend. You're MY angel! She turns out to be an experienced ultra runner and a talker at that. Works out perfectly, as I am a good listener. We decide to run the downhills and flats and walk the uphills. I wouldn't say that time is flying by now, but it's certainly moving faster than when I was by myself. We chat about running, races, family, etc. She recommends a few 50Ks to me and tells me about all that ultras that she's done. She is running the "Triple Crown" at this race (10K Friday night, 25K Saturday and 50K Sunday.) Hardcore.

We pass another AS and this one has water. Hallelujah! My Garmin reads 18 miles at this point. My new friend offers me one of her electrolyte capsules, but I decline. I've already run this far on 2 GUs and limited water, what's another couple of miles? We get to a confusing intersection and two women are just standing there looking lost. They ask us if we know which way to go. We finally figure out that one way is where we've already ran, another way is a loop that we have yet to do, and the third way is to the finish line. They've already run the loop, so they take off for the finish and we start the last loop on the trail. The two women tell us it's maybe a mile or so, but it feels so much longer. The only good thing about the loop is that we PASS SOMEONE. Yes, someone else is still out there this late and we give her words of encouragement as go by.

We emerge out of the loop and head toward the finish. First, however, we have to pass through this nasty drainage tube. It's filled with water and absolutely not runnable. You actually have to pick your way quite slowly through it, otherwise you'll trip and fall. Definitely one of the strangest things I've done in a race. Feet get soaking wet yet again.

Picture something like this filled with water.

Finally we're out of the tube. We hike up a hill and I see the finish in the distance. We pick up the pace for the last little bit and bring it in. I've never been happier to stop running. My legs are aching, my left arch is in pain, and I've run 5 miles more than necessary. The finish is deserted. A few people manage to clap as we cross the line. The RD is still there as well as a few volunteers and runners, but otherwise it's a ghost town. I collect my shirt and exchange a few parting words with my new friend. She helped me more than she knows. I don't know what I would have done without her -- those last miles would have been unbearably lonely.

So I didn't finish DFL, but pretty close. Official results are not out yet, but I'm pretty sure that I was 5th to last.
Unofficial Garmin time = 4:20:38 for 20.5 miles. (A dismal time for a 25K trail race, but oh well.)

Finishers shirt and Hobo socks.

Elevation profile. Fairly tame for the trails, but there were some decent hills.

I never would have done a 20 mile run on my own. I was content with not exceeding much past 15 miles unless I had committed to running a marathon. Being forced to do 20 miles really put things in perspective for me. I don't know why I was so worried about exceeding the half marathon distance, but honestly there wasn't that big of a difference. You just keep moving your legs. I'm a little more sore than usual, but it's nothing terrible. Going slowly and being on the trail probably helped. A 20 mile road run may have knocked me out more.

Perhaps I will look for a trail marathon or 50K next year, especially if I can find someone to run it with me. (Any volunteers?) Running with someone at the end was more helpful than I realized. If I had kept running with my new friend, I know that I could have knocked out 6 more miles -- it wouldn't have been easy and I would have needed more fuel, but I could have done it. (Albeit slowly.)

Despite being lost and getting frustrated at times, I had a great time. I'd love to come back next year and redeem myself.

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