26 April 2014


...Or How to Have Fun on Monte Sano Mountain

I can't lie, I wish I had signed up for all three stages rather than just one of the inaugural Grand Viduta Stage Races this weekend. As it happened, my wife and I decided against the Nashville Country Music Marathon (e.g. I'm too cheap to pay $400 a night to stay at hotel) and ended up staying in town, instead. I had been running a lot and really needed to take a day or so off, so I decided to only register for the Saturday stage of the races. One third of my usual training group (Jerry and James) had registered for the whole weekend and been training for it, Ed and I registered for Saturday only and had also been training for different events, only Mike and Rich opted out entirely. In any case, we were all training for one thing or another.

Initially, I didn't worry too much about this race, after all, it was "just" a 16 miler and I planned on treating it as a training race for Pinhoti 100 in November. Every race is a training race for Pinhoti this year. However, when I saw that James and Jerry had killed it on stage 1 by finishing 4th and 5th, respectively, I couldn't help but feel just a little competitive. Training really seemed to be paying of for our training group and I kinda wanted to see if I was able to run competitively as well in this event. The again, they handicapped themselves by already having run stage 1, while I was coming in to stage 2 with fresh legs, putting the pressure (although self-imposed) solely on me. A little healthy competition never hurt anybody, right? Ed Johnson decided to join the Saturday fun as well.

Great group shot of all starters at beginning of stage #2 (courtesy of Gregg Gelmis)
I arrived early enough on race morning to have a chat with other runners eager to get the day started. While I had run stages 1 and 3 over the course of the past 2 weeks as part of my training runs, I did not get to do stage 2 with my training buddies, because I ran a race that day. As a result, I really didn't know what to expect, but I gladly shared a comment James made a couple of days earlier, "stage 2 is the flat and easy day". I should've figured that he was referring to it as the "flat" day when compared to days 1 and 3, so ONLY flat in comparison and not on its own. Oh well, I found out soon enough that flat does not equal flat. 

Our training group running 4th-7th.
RD Brandon Mader led us to the actual starting line in the woods (e.g. Monte Sano Campground) and after a short intro we were off. Brandon led the way on his bike until we entered single track trail just a half a mile or so into the race. At this point, we has already settled into 4th through 7th place and it would mostly stay this way for the entire race. I had decided on a rather aggressive pace. My goal was to try to stay with Will Barnwell for the first half of the race or until he pulled away from me, naturally:-) I also planned to stay with an ambitious pace average throughout the day, which I ended up having to readjust as the race went on (read: slow down).  

Chased this guy all day, never could catch him;-)
A mile or so into the race I focussed on staying with Will and I started to stop hearing voices behind me. I knew I was going too fast and I knew that it would catch up to me, but I figured I'd try to hang on to a faster pace until I had to slow down. That slow down came faster than I had hoped, but I did manage to stay relaxed for most of the day. Looking at the elevation profile, it becomes clears very quickly too that this race does have hills and I started to feel them when trying to maintain pace. Instead of trying to keep pushing as hard, I dropped to a lower pace average. I stayed within that window, able to enjoy the run and the fact that I had run many of these trails in the opposite direction, which was true for the other stages as well. It is interesting just how differently you perceive a particular trail or trail section when coming from the other direction, especially when approaching changes in elevation. 

All smiles, all day!
The race continued to be a lot of fun and I remember just before losing sight of Will climbing up to Rest Shelter that I saw Jerry or Ed just below me ready to turn on to the rest shelter climb as well. Well, looked like I'd slowed down more than I expected, so I decided to try to pick it up a bit again. That was the last time I saw anyone ahead of me or behind me until there was about 2 miles left to go, when I saw the third place runner come down the trail in the opposite direction. He'd had his struggles with wrong turns today, so he decided to stay with me for a moment for reassurance. He took off again 2 minutes later, but I caught up to him just before the final climb up to the North loop. I decided to pass him and make a run for third place. I seemingly left him behind me, until it was finally my turn to take a wrong turn. I missed a couple of markers literally at the final turn of the race with less than a quarter mile to go.

Suddenly, I ended up in the middle of a bunch of birdwatchers asking them if they'd seen any trail markers. What was I thinking!?! They all just stared at me! An expletive might have escaped my mouth at that point and I sure hope that outburst didn't "startle" any of the birds...or birdwatchers for that matter. I turned around until I reached the last known marker and when I finally made the correct turn and arrived at the finish, the third place runner had arrived 2 minutes ahead of me. Was I frustrated? Yes, but not for long. After all, every single runner had had their share of missed and near missed turns today, so at the end, it all balanced out just the way it was supposed to. I just wished I had taken a wrong turn earlier in the day and not with just a quarter mile to go,:-)

Finally, thanks to Brandon Mader and the entire crew of volunteers for putting on a great event. The course was indeed well marked, but it appears some @#$%#@$!!! decided to remove some of those well placed markers making it slightly more challenging than what some folks are used to. However, I've learned a long time ago that getting lost and getting free extra mileage is all part of trail racing and what makes it fun!

All three stages had a pretty impressive elevation profile.

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