08 August 2020

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Amazing view at the race start.

... or why I keep coming back for more

In 2011, I attempted my first “Perry race” and it just so happened to be the first edition of the H9 50 Miler. I had been trail and ultra running for less than 2 years and it showed. Around mile 35, we were supposed to follow flagging up the side of a mountain for a short bushwhacking section to connect to another trail. Vandals has moved the markers and as a result, I stumbled around for a couple of hours before calling it quits and returning to the previous aid station with my tail between my legs. I was done.

Fast forward to 2020 and the 10th edition of the H9 Trail Races and I was back for more. By now, I had run various editions of Perry’s races, anything from a marathon to 100 miles with varying success. But regardless of success, there is something about his races that has me coming back for more. The reason I’ve cursed Perry more than once is also the reason I love his events. Minimal course markings and minimal hand holding are “prerequisites” for his races, which is something that used to be much more common in the trail running community. It is also something that used to significantly differentiate trail running from road running as it required trail runners to be much more self-reliant and self-sufficient. It is something I have always appreciated as it adds to the challenge of covering a given distance through challenging terrain. It makes you appreciate crossing the finish line so much more and it creates and even tighter bond with your fellow trail runners, whom have faced the same challenges as you and likely found out something about themselves along the way. It’s what makes the trail and ultra running community what it is.

The 2020 H9 Trail Marathon was my first race in 6 months and first run over 13 miles since a proximal hamstring tear in late May. In 2015, the last time I ran this race I was lucky to come away with the win. This year, I was just hoping to cover the distance and not aggravate my slowly healing hamstring injury in the process. It was meant to be a litmus test or dry run of sorts for the Pikes Peak Marathon later this month, a bucket list race I was determined to run regardless of my current state of fitness or health.

I started the race very conservatively, running with a group of 5 other runners as we climbed our way out of the park before a long downhill descent. Once we reached the bottom of that descent, I had to step aside to tie my shoes momentarily losing contact with the group of runners. As I was leading the group until now, I also took this opportunity to dial back my pace as we started the first major climb knowing that we had to run sections of the notorious Duncan Ridge Trail along with climbing up Coosa Bald twice.

It took a few miles to catch up to the runners now ahead of me as the field slowly started to stretch. However, my goal was to keep a comfortable pace by keeping an eye on my heart rate to prevent any dumb moves that would have me either blow up or worse, strain my hamstring, which I was still nursing.

By mile 12, Wolfpen Gap AS, I had slowly worked my way up to 2nd place, still just trying to keep moving forward and keep it together to finish the race. I refilled my bottles with the help of the amazing volunteer crew and continued on, making my way up a gradual jeep road climb. I was moving well and feeling great, not usually what you experience when running a trail race in the Southeast…in August.

When some @$$hats on dirt bikes remove flaggings an turn signs... 
Just as I was starting a fun descent down this stretch of jeep road after 2 mile or so of climbing, vandals had removed both flagging and turn signs. Having gotten lost before in this area 10 years ago, I decided pretty quickly to wait for the next runner to figure out where to go as I had no desire to find out at the bottom of the mountain that I was off course. Thankfully, the runner in 3rd place (Chad Grenda) wasn’t far behind and he had wisely loaded the race course on his watch. We continued on together for the next 5 miles, but lost touch with each other as he pulled out some food after the next AS while I pushed on.

I was feeling great, even with humidity levels officially recorded at 100%. Knowing the finish line was now just 7-8 miles away, I pushed the pace a little. When I rolled into the final aid station, Fire Pit, 6 miles from the finish, volunteers informed me that I was 6 minutes behind the leader, the same gap he held for more than 10 miles, but with the encouragement of the volunteers, I made a final attempt to catch him. At the top of the Coosa Bald after a long and challenging climb I finally did catch and pass him, running scared for the next 5 miles to the finish.

I was stoked to come away with my second win here and super thankful for the opportunity to race again. More importantly, I earned my second H9 gnome:-) 

Stoked to collect my second gnome for winning the race.

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