Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Magic Mittens Saved My First Race of 2011

Sunday marked my first race of the year --the Chilly Cheeks 7.2-mile trail run in random Reading, Pennsylvania, also known as the land of sloppy, messy trail runs that occur rain, sleet, snow, shine, hail, plague or locusts.

We woke up to 20 degrees and sun and bundled in too many layers before making the hour drive to the Reading Liederkranz. The first time we came to a race here, we thought they were kidding. On the side of a hill in the middle of nowhere is a 125-year-old members-only club that celebrates all things German through singing, beer, dancing and bratwurst. And, logically, through all things trail running.

A giant German Apline mustachioed beer stein for
your viewing pleasure. A two-year-old could take
a bath in this thing.
In addition to an established schedule of four annual trail runs, the Liederkranz became home to a 12-hour ultra in 2010. Finish a lap? Get a German beer. A mix of serious runners (I think the winner last year did 75 miles, although I could be making that up) and people who ran for an hour and then dropped. I am considering adding this to my 2011 race calendar.

Anyway, as for Chilly Cheeks, I had zero goals (what can I say, I am ambitious) other than to finish without booboos and to get in a solid training run to start to prep for a spring season of a longer race or two (hopefully).

It was cold, but not bitter, so I shed a few layers just before heading to the start line. Bungeed my old Yacktrax to my trail runners (I think I've officially run the trax into the ground … might be time for something different) and kept on a pair of thick mittens. This turned out to be one of the smarter race decisions I’ve made.

Does he look ready to go, or what?

Squinty in the sunshine, pre-race.
We stood around freezing at the start for a while and then, eventually, we were off. The first 100 yards were downhill on road. Clacking and tapping of Yacktrax and Microspikes cut through the quiet and then took a sharp right and began bushwacking up a steep hill. Chaos! Fun! This race was billed as being both manageable because it’s not too long and tough in terms of terrain. The bushwack certainly proved the later as several hundred runners picked and pulled their way up the 50 yards of unblazed course.

Two seconds in I realized that the line I was on was filled with sticks covered in thorns. All around me people were dropping F bombs and worse as they grabbed onto the nasty pricks in hopes of pulling their way to the top. I, however, had mittens of magic and was thus able to yank myself up the hill without uttering even an “Oh, gee whiz” as my fingers remained thorn-free.

At the top there was a quick sprint through a field and then we were dumped onto some narrow singletrack. Fortunately I was in the right group of people pace-wise – I don’t think I could have passed anyone and it didn’t seem like anyone was breathing down my neck to pass me. We wound around for a bit before hitting what felt like a monster climb. Managed to run the whole way but my lungs started to burn a bit from the biting cold. We had been warned before the race that the downhills would be harder than the uphills. As we hit the first real decent I, unlike some of the people around me who tried to bomb down and soon found themselves faceplanting and sliding into trees, decided to play it conservatively and slowly picked my way down the snow-covered rocks and roots.

On and on we went. I passed a few, got passed by a few and I knew that my pace sucked (I still haven’t accepted the fact that a trail running pace isn’t the same as a road-running pace) but I couldn’t go any faster and everything was starting to hurt.

There were a lot of sharp turns, tight, tight singletrack (hardly wide enough for one person between some of the trees) and tons of slipping and sliding. People would topple over, laugh, get up and keep on going.

Eventually we hit a steep downhill. In good conditions I think it would have been tough to pick my way down while remaining upright. In snow and ice, I thought it would be nearly impossible. So, I sat on the top of the hill, pushed off and, with my magic mittens steering me along, glissaded Laurie-style to the bottom. It worked, mostly – hit a rock or several and now have a bruise or two in places inappropriate to photograph and post on a blog.

I was in a group of entertaining people taking the race seriously enough to push each other but normal enough to have fun. We encouraged each other along and helped each other up as we slipped along.

Suddenly a conch shell horn blew through the Reading hills, letting us know that we were close to the finish. We sprinted across a field, ducked under a guardrail (well, I ducked, everyone else around me was tall so they went over it) and then scrambled up some rocks and junk before a flat sprint to the finish.

I got passed by a woman 15 yards from the finish. Grr. My time was slower than my personal worst 10-mile time on a course 2.8 miles shorter. But the whole thing was so damn entertaining, silly, challenging and worth it that I couldn’t care (much) less.

They gave us pancakes, eggs and coffee at the finish and then we headed inside for beers and banjos.

Rocks and junk. And magic mittens. And a lady who looks like she wants
to punch me.

Instead of punching, she passed me.

The top says "Where 'Coldplay' isn't just a lame band."
Plus nekkid cartoon man running. I will wear it to church.

A post-race beer tastes better than a post-race medal.
Banjo! Guitars!
How random. How fun. A perfect way to start to 2011 racing.

I don’t have anything else officially on the schedule for this year yet. Two longer events penciled in (I hope to put them down in pen soon) for March and April but I am still looking for something that fits into February. We are now going to be away for the race I had my eye on the last weekend of the month and I haven’t found anything else yet that looks fun enough to pay for.


Mallory said...

HAHA I totally laughed out loud when I saw that you said you'd wear the shirt to church! Nice!! Looks like a good race! I have yet to do any like that but it sure looks fun!

Julie said...

Now THAT sounds like an awesome race!! What a great meal afterwards, too.

I love love love the shirt :-)

Totally enjoyed your race report. I wish more were this fun.

Laura said...

Super clever and entertaining post! Sounds like both a challenging race and a good time!

(Just) Trying is for Little Girls said...

What a fun race report. I don't think I'm brave enough to try something like this. Definitely wear the shirt to church.