Thursday, July 14, 2016

Afton 25K 2016 Race Report (or, "Hey Rand, you should do a trail race!")

Rand and I both lift at the YWCA and our relationship is based on mutual respect, high regard, and of course talking smack to each other. In November, he mentions that he's been running more and putting up some good weekend mileage.

 I say what I say to anyone who sets me up with that kind of statement: "You should run a trail race with me." But to my (mild) surprise, he agrees, and we decide we'll do Afton. It's nearby, it's midsummer so you can train in the heat and on the course, and there's an ultra (50K) and a "fun run" (25K) distance. When it's time to put up or shut up and register in May, we pick the 25K. He's been running up to 16 miles at a crack, all road miles (with one trail run at Lebanon Hills in April). I want it to be a good experience, not a death march. 

Race morning, we drive out to Afton together. Despite my efforts to get him back out on the trail again, life has intervened and we've run together exactly once. But his training times are similar to mine. "We gonna run this together?" I ask. "Sure, if you want to. You're the boss," he replies. "Okay, let's do it," I tell him.
Beautiful morning at Afton. Photo: Rand R.
We get there early, pick up race swag (the shirt's pretty excellent this year), wander around. I introduce him to about 50 people. "This is Rand. It's his first trail run."
"His first trail *race*, or *run*?"
He replies: "Well, kind of both."

John Pitera, who is working the merch table, has the best response. He looks Rand in the eye and says, "You are going to have an AMAZING time out there. After this, you'll never run roads again!"
Not sure what he's gotten into...
... but game for anything.
John Storkamp counts down and we're off. It's the coolest weather I've ever seen for Afton -- start temps in the high 50's, headed for high 70's. It's a glorious day to be out and running.

We run easy up to the first big climb. Rand is a bit surprised when we, along with 90% of the runners around us, slow to a walk.
 "We're walking all the big hills," I explain.
"You're the boss," he replies.
Walking the hills.
There's abundant horse poop on the trail on this climb. Rand is following the road-runner's convention of yelling a warning about obstacles.
"POOP!" he yells whenever we pass some.
I take a different approach.
"Damn 50K runners!" I exclaim. "Can't they step off the trail?"

Mile 2: "Hey, is there a porta-potty somewhere on the course?"
"Um, there are a few pit toilets, first one's at about mile 5. But there's a beautiful dense woods right by the trail!"
"I, uh, think I can hold out for the bathroom."
"Okay, but seriously, the woods are good too. They smell better and make their own toilet paper!"
He is unimpressed.

A short section across the prairie and a fast rocky descent into the Back 40 brings us to the first aid station.
"Hey Rand, do you have a fuelling plan?"
"No, I never eat while I'm running."
"Hmm. Well, you should have a bite of something at every aid station. Literally, just a bite is fine."
He obediently takes a banana, and makes a point of eating something at every aid station. There's no bonking and no barfing, so I'm calling it a win.

Back 40 loop flies by and we're climbing back up to the prairie.
"OOORAH! Hey, did you know I used to be a Marine drill seargeant?"
"Yeah, and how long ago was that?"
"Shut up."
"Do you like my hat? It's new."
"It's a lovely shade of pink, Rand." (It is, in fact, fantastically hot pink.)
"I was going to wear my feather boa, but it's too hot."

"That would have been fabulous."

Rand tells me his godson is joining the Navy. I tell him my favorite off-color joke. He likes it so much he calls him on the phone then and there, climbing back up to the Africa loop:
"Hey Peter! What's long and hard and full of seamen?"
"A submarine!"
Fabulous pink hat. Photo: Kevin Langton
Back on the prairie, we stop at the pit toilet. There's a little line of about 5 runners there. Every time one comes out, they describe, in graphic detail, how it smells inside. Rand's turn comes, he goes in, and emerges two minutes later looking a bit tramatized. Tells the next runner, "Whatever's going on in there, IT WASN'T ME."
Photo: Kevin Langton
 The prairie loop wraps up with Rand telling me stories about the Marine Corps and more mutual bantering/insults.

On the next descent, I get ahead of him, spread my arms out, and make airplane noises. I'm having an absurdly good time. I think he is too.

Through the third aid station and we're heading for the next big hill.
"This one kind of sneaks up on you. It starts as a gentle hill, then gets steeper and steeper."
"Is this the steep part?"

"Not yet." We come around a corner and it rises sharply. "THAT'S the steep part. We're running till we get to that birch tree. Then we're walking."
That's what we do.

We're at the top of the hill and the sun is shining and you can see the river, Wisconsin, and infinity. "I love this part!" I exclaim. Running feels easy and everything is awesome.

Back down, along the river road, and now we're climbing Campground Hill. I don't know if it's because Rand is feeling good or feeling bad, but he's decided that he's going to give everyone shit on the Campground Hill climb.
"Hey, you, yeah, you there who's half my age. I could run like that when I was 28, too!"
"Hey Rand," I tell him, "If you're feeling good enough to talk smack, we should go faster." And I push the pace, passing five runners on the steep hill.

"Hey, you're going too fast, come back here!"
I keep going. Another runner says, "What are you going to do with him?"
I grin. "I have small children. I know how to deal with them when they get whiny on the trail. You keep going, ignore them, and check behind you after a half mile or so."
Rand, feigning outrage, catches up to me.

"You know what the best part of Campground Hill is?" I ask as we start passing tents and campfires. "It smells like bacon!"
Getting a little silly here...
Down Campground Hill and through the penultimate aid station (where there is a full-bore party going on and I have to stop to hug a half dozen friends), and we're still feeling great.
"We're going to finish this, aren't we?" he asks, sounding a little surprised.
"Oh hell yeah!" I tell him.

We're on the 1.5 mile railbed section now. It's straight, it's flat, and we're going to run the whole thing. We were chatty up till now, but now we're both a little quieter, focusing on translating breath to motion and movement to breathing.

We finish the railbed section strong -- we've passed another four or five runners along the way -- and drop into a walk up Meat Grinder Hill. "I think that's the hardest part of the course," I tell him. "We did good."

At the top of Meat Grinder, less than 4 miles from the finish: "Do you think we could have done the 50K?"
"Absolutely," I say. "It would hurt, but you could do it. And definitely if you got a few long training runs."
"I want to do that next year," he says.
Secretly, I grin.

We're through the last aid station (ice-cold sponges and watermelon and more friends volunteering) and we're in the last 5k of singletrack. "Woohooo!" I yell. This is so stinkin' fun.
Moving into the homestretch
'I'm starting to feel it," Rand tells me. 
"You better be feeling it," I reply, "or we went out too slow!" He's still hanging with me, so I push the pace, just a tiny bit.

Must have pushed it a tiny bit too much, because with 2 miles to go, he hits a rock and goes down. But, he tucks, rolls, and is back up on his feet with only a few smears of dirt to show for it.
"Nice trick!" I tell him.
Then, a few dozen yards later, he does it again, this time grabbing a tree and swinging 270 degrees around it to catch himself.

A runner ahead of us asks if he's okay.
"I'm fine," he says.
"He does all his own stunts," I add.
Since it's late in the race and my brain is getting silly, I elaborate.
"Actually, he's my stunt double. I run, he does the falls. People often mistake us for each other, since we're so similar in our build and dress style."

We pass a few more runners on the last hill I've dubbed "Kick in the Teeth." We're up on the prairies and in the home stretch.
"I'm feeling it now," he says.
"We're almost there. Get up here and run it in next to me," I say.

"See that banner that says, 'Finish'?"
"Is that the finish line?"
"Yes, it is."
We kick it in and cross the finish line together.

We collect our finisher's medals, wander around, eat food. I introduce him to a few dozen more people. We get into a long conversation, over burgers, about the advantages of blowing snot rockets and the joy of peeing in the woods. We exchange sweaty hugs with lots of people.

On the drive home, he asks, "Are you doing any other trail races this year?"

Two days later, he asks for the link to Icebox 480. And sends me a note. "I did enjoy Afton, I wish I'd done the whole enchilada [50K]."

I have created another trail runner. My work here is done.
Congratulations, Rand!

1 comment:

  1. Hmm - there is still time to register for the Curnow. I think it is time to introduce Rand to the the Powerlines.