When I spotted the inaugural Overmountain Victory Trail Revolutionary Run pop up on my race radar my interest was piqued. Lights started flashing and synapses firing as I calculated that a 25K singletrack trail race within two weeks of my next big running goal of the Bartram State Forest 50k would be perfect timing to ensure a longish run would be on my calendar. Weekends have been hectic and with the nights drawing in, the first thing to slide has been some of the long training runs I need. If I signed up and put some money down I would have absolutely no excuse but to get out and nail a training run, with the bonus of exploring some new trail territory while I was at it. Running in circles at the whitewater centre has been getting a tad old, and I also prefer to try to run long distance on trail when I know I have some company out there.
My plan was to go out and run the race, and then try to tack on some extra mileage at the end to bump up the distance covered. The race site looked to be about a two hour drive from the house and it would entail a very early start to arrive in time to pick up the race packet at 7am. Getting up at all in the morning is not my strong suite, but with the right incentive I can get it done. I paid my money and took my chances.
Immediately luck would prove kind as I signed up, then discovered that my friend had synchronously also registered for the race. Suddenly hauling myself out of bed at an ungodly hour turned into a girl’s away stay in the NC mountains. Andrea’s parents own a little cabin tucked away up at Laurel Springs, a little more conveniently situated at about a forty minute drive from the race. Even better, it would guarantee a rested night with no children or distractions to disrupt an early night. Perfect.
Dead on seven Andrea and I were at the race site, bundled up in many layers of running clothes, shivering and flapping while picking up our race packets and trying our best to sign away the trail directors responsibility for our safebeing with frozen stiff uncooperative fingers. Around us runners huddled, and what would have been a pretty lake backdrop was ominous and enshrouded in a swirling mist like a witches cauldron.
With minutes to go before the start I pared down my race clothing and stripped down to skirt and top. It was absolutely ridiculously cold standing around waiting, but I was convinced that once running it would prove to be the right move. The race director staged the runners into approximate expected pace. Looking around I think he could have probably ordered the runners according to the amount of clothing being worn and got the same results. Lots of bare legs at the front of the pack; tights, beanies and jackets bringing up the rear.
The Race Director, Brian Johnson, gave a quick announcement, explained some race directions, threw in a little aside about the 25K actually measuring at more like 17.25 miles instead of a true 15.5 and then we were off and running up the tarmac hill towards the Overmountain Victory Trail entrance, my brain still processing that little snippet of information while my legs tried to ensure I hit the trail among the lead runners. I was the second lady to hit the trail.
Then I just kept on running and trying to stick to my game plan. I wanted to run hard, but comfortably, as this was supposed to be a training run for me. I still intended to throw some extra miles onto the back of the 25k once I was done. I felt strong and confident though and enjoyed the feel of my feet, clad in my VFF Bikila’s, crunching through the autumn leaves and skipping over roots. Unfortunately though the trail was a little treacherous for my choice of footwear as the leaves hid some nasty surprises at times. I hit one knobby lurking root and swore hard. Behind me a fella commented on my expletive outburst.
Shortly thereafter female footfalls and voice came from behind and enquired as to which race we were running as the 10kers and 25kers had started together. Fella was doing the 10k and another girl just behind him was on the 25. Fella made a comment about us going out way too fast for the 25k and we carried on running. The two girls behind me chatting away merrily while I just concentrated on my footwork and enjoyed the run.
We soon got to the 10k/25k split where huge signs were posted to announce the trail divide, a volunteer heartily directed and then another sign further up the 25k trail blazed out with “10kers WRONG WAY!”. Despite this we were heading on up the 25k trail and on our way to Bandit’s Roost Campground with 10k fella in tow before it sunk in that he was going the wrong way and bade us farewell with a hasty u-turn.
I continued to lead the trio of girls, now known as Holley and Hope, and we chatted away as we made good time through the woods. With my water bottle in hand I blew through water stops but though Holley and Hope briefly dallied at each they were back bobbing along the trail behind me in a blink each time.
The trail was singletrack and very rooty, requiring concentration the entire way. There were no huge climbs to speak of, but with little ascents followed quickly by sharp descents and constant rolling track with copious turn backs, there was really no place for any recovery or zoning out on this run. On one or two hills I launched into a brief powerwalk and got chivvied on from behind by Holley and Hope. Both Holley and Hope took a tumble on the trail and each time our little trio briefly halted to make sure that they each got back on their feet successfully.
Nearing Bandits Roost and the turn around for our 25k out and back I let out a yell and a holler when I spotted the first of the charge of lead runners heading back towards us down the single track. When the first lady came running by I checked my watch, and then again when we hit the campground ourselves. One and a half minutes. Wow, she had at least a three minute lead on us by this point. Grabbing a chocolate GU from the table I dashed back into the woods for the return leg.
While my body was warm and comfortable at a good running temperature, my hands were still frozen. Trying to open the GU and then stow the rubbish in my pocket was a real challenge. Holding the GU with my hand held I then went to take a slurp of water to wash it down and ended up with thick and sticky chocolate GU all over the side of my face. Awesome. Thankfully I am English and carry a handkerchief at all times.
I swabbed at my face, and ran, and fumbled for a mile or so and had just about sorted myself back out when Andrea appeared running down the trail. Another hoot and holler erupted from me and we high fived as our paths crossed. Whoo hooo!
By this point, psychologically or not, being the lead of our trio of ladies was beginning to wear on me. I was also having some issues with my feet and noticeably beginning to run and heel strike or land flat footed despite trying to concentrate hard on not doing so. I’d gone into the race with some unknown niggly discomfort in my left heel (probably caused by running 13 miles in brand new out of the box VFF Sport Treks the week before) and it was getting more and more evident with each foot strike. Not really enough to slow me down too much, but certainly enough to keep me from pushing any harder. Running along in 2nd place with 3rd and 4th lady on my back had almost hooked me in and tempted me to jump into the race proper. With the extra mileage on the 25k I’d have been running nearer to my long run goal anyway, right? I’d been calculating that they would tag behind me and then make their move in the final miles and attempt to avoid a final sprint to the finish.
With about five miles to go, the chatter had quietened into just the sound of hasty footsteps, and that prediction was confirmed as Holley broke away from the caravan. My mind was totally sold on the idea of giving chase, but my feet would not be lured. Holley quickly disappeared on up the trail. Now my game plan was just to get off the trail as quickly as possible. Hope and I leap frogged each other a couple of times until she eventually picked up her stride too, sailed up the trail ahead and turned into a distant speck.
Oh well. I just worked on maintaining pace, reminding myself that I hadn’t set out to run this as a race (though a podium finish would have been nice!) and that I was concentrating on preparing for the big 50k. My feet weren’t terribly painful, but there was no need to kill them on a 25k when I had a more challenging goal in a mere fortnight.
I ran on alone and in my own thoughts until popping out of the trail encouraged a sprint back down the hill to the car park where the finish line was waiting.
4th place lady, 1st in age group, 2 hours 35 minutes 12 seconds with an average 9 minute mile pace.
Shook out at about a minute and a half behind third place lady, Hope, but not too shabby.
Run over I sat around and talked to Holley and Hope and exchanged tales of adventures and goals with the other runners some more before remembering my initial plan of getting a little extra mileage in. Feeling recovery in my feet I hurriedly changed into my Mizuno trail shoes which have a little more padding and decided to head back out onto the trail for an easy run. I intended to try to get to the two mile aid station before my friend Andrea came down the trail and thus add on four before calling it a day. I felt revived, heels were whinging but not too bad and I was ready to go again. Though, I must have dallied too long running my mouth at the finish, and that coupled with Andrea getting her trail speed on meant I barely hit the trail before spotting my smiling friend incoming. Doh! Grand plan forgotten I put my personal photographer hat on and sprinted ahead of Andrea, took a photo, sprinted ahead some more, took another picture, and so on, until she reached the finish line too.