Thursday, April 7, 2011

Race Report: Dry Creek Half-Marathon 2011

Dry Creek ironically turned into a wet, muddy, windy, and super awesome day of racing. I went into the race not really knowing what to expect out of my body as this was my first half-marathon, and my first real "trail-race" all in one. The race turned out to be a record setting event dispite strong winds and rain 15 minutes before the start. Four of the top five were under the course record, and that includes the women's race as well. As for me, I was able to establish a reasonable 1st PR at the distance given the conditions and the course itself.

Since the race was part of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup series, I arrived at the race early not knowing what kind of turn out there'd be. The starting area was right in downtown Hidden Springs, and there was still a half-hour before I could check in, so I decided to drive around and see the road sections of the course. On the way into Hidden Springs from Boise I noticed that the first mile+ was on the road heading up to the water tower south of the town. Since I had already seen that section, I headed out the the portion of the trail that goes straight up from mile 7 to mile 8. I actually drove past the road the on my first attempt but then recognized the mistake and made the correction. The road on this section is super steep, so I was glad I checked it out. On the way back down I noticed all the little loops and crossings that the trail makes with the road, and made a note to take it really easy on the 7th mile so I could make it up the "Grind" without imploding...

Back at the starting area, I made the check in and gathered my schwag bag, which was a nice little drawstring backpack with La Sportiva's logo all over. After chatting with the La Sportiva reps, I mentally picked out a new pair of shoes and decided to go hit the potties since there were only a couple to choose from. I normally try to wait until after the warm-up, but there was already a line and it was still 45 minutes to the start so I thought I better get going.

My warm-up was greeted with the first sign of bad weather, and I donned my rain jacket as the deluge started. It was cold, windy, and raining, and my plans for a "fast" time were thrown out, as I knew the result of the rain would be a snotty layer of sludge on the trails once we ran over them once or twice. The course features a section that is repeated on the way home and I knew that it would certainly be messy.

As I finished warming up and got my kit on, I noted the long lines at the porta-pot and was thankful I didn't have to hit those again...

The starting line was full of fast looking dudes and some tough looking ladies so I didn't get right in the very front, too bad I didn't, because I could have made my way into this picture on

That's my yellow pair of Asics in the second row, right behind the La Sportiva runner in the short sleeve shirt, I was chasing the guy in the tall black socks with the white shoes for the entire race, he just never seemed to gain or lose any ground back to me, too bad I didn't run closer to him at the start...

Speaking of the start, it was just a good-ol "ready, set, go" to send us out, gotta love the trail race vibe. It feels so much like a mountain bike race, but without worrying too much about crashing or mechanicals. We took off up the first mile on pavement and immediately headed up the hill to the water tower. The guys in front pretty much just took off, I was conservative and came through the first mile in a very comfy 6:52 which put me just behind the lead pack of women and in tenth overall for the men. I pretty much just hung out here for the next 12 miles, with very little option to pass or be passed. By the second mile, everyone was strung out and I settled in for what I knew would be a fun day. Coming back into town, we ran through some slop and then headed out to the singletrack trails outside of town. By now I was in about 13th overall, but the trails were already a mess by the time I got to the first of them.

Before I go on, I think it would be helpful to set the stage for my footwear selection prior to the race. As you might remember, I have used a pair of La Sportiva Crosslites for much of my spring training, but prior to the race, I used them in a workout that nearly left my lower calves torn to bits, so I decided I needed to try some other shoes for the race or I could really compromise my chances of running again this spring. I managed to try a few different shoes from REI and couldn't come up with a winner, so I went to Bandanna in Boise and bought a pair of Brooks ASR 7's, which are the exact shoes I train on the roads with, except they are a bit grippier for trails. I felt confident running in them, but they just didn't feel right for a race, so I went to my trusty Asics DS Racers which I had been using for some tempo runs and track work without problem. I also used them at the Les Bois 10k in March, so I was confident I could run well on the trails with them.

The thing about my Asics is that they are great trail runners if the trails are DRY, they are not good trail runners in any mud, and by now they had pretty much turned into ice skates on the trails slick surface. Luckily, the trails only had sections of un-runnable mud, so I was able to make up good time on some downhills and flat sections, as well as do a bit of off-trail running to stay upright (Normally I don't agree with running off the side of the trail even in mud, but it was literally impossible to move through certain sections without going into the sage brush for some traction). I managed to make it to the 6 mile mark pretty well and was greeted by an unsuspected challenge of a scramble-like scamper up a very steep hillside. I got up this by power-hiking and came through seven miles in just over 50 minutes, right on my goal pace, despite the conditions... too bad it was so poor outside or I might have really surprised myself.

Now, I knew what was coming and it didn't make it any easier, but for once in the race, I was glad I had my light weight road racing flats on for the steep grind up the "Grind." The guy in the white shirt I mentioned above was still in front of me and I made a little ground up on him from here on out, but he just kept going hard enough to stay away all the way to the finish. I checked my split after topping out at the 8 mile mark and I had run a 10 minute mile which was by far the most challenging mile of the race.

From this point on, I battled a muddy descent back down to town, but was surprised to find good traction in critical areas so I never totally wiped out on the way down. I came down off the trails still trailing the white-shirted runner, but got passed on one last trail section by a guy wearing much better trail shoes than I was. We were all three kind-of sprinting for the home stretch, but for the first time in the race I felt my legs really tighten up and I was fighting off some quad cramps so I couldn't make a pass. Coming into the finish and seeing my time was exhilerating, 1:38:34 for my first half-marathon. I hoped on a good day to be at 1:40 for this course, and with the conditions out there, I couldn't have been happier if I would have won the race. This for me, was a learning experience in trail racing and half-marathons, so I chalked it up as a success and enjoyed the finish line spread of turkey wraps, chocolate milk (or should I say milks as I had 3) and a variety of fruit and chips.

The prizes only went to the top 5 at this race, but my performance landed me 3rd overall in the series going into the last race, so its looking good for me to podium in the overall, which is always cool. Best of all, I wore my FCA Endurance singlet for the race and managed to show dignity in defeat by speaking with other competitors at the race and sticking around until the end of the awards even though I knew I wasn't getting one myself. I really felt God while running out there, it was like I wasn't even running most of the time, and I can say that I wasn't even sore the next day, though I was thoroughly exhausted for most of the week. Still, I can't help but wonder what could have been if I had chosen better footwear for the race or the rain had held off. I guess I'll have my next shot on May 21st out in my old backyard at the High Desert half-marathon.

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