Jim Farmer, the Rock/Creek Race Team member who finished fourth in the 6.5-miler at the Rock/Creek River Gorge trail run last weekend — and first among the over-40 set — is always good for a laugh, and his race reports are no exception. He took the time to write this 1800-word gem for us, and it’s well-worth the read!
Sitting here on my new love seat, keyboard on lap, sipping on a PBR (No, I’m not a hipster. I actually like this swill.), basking in the soft glow of electric sex that is my new forty-six inch flat-screen TV, precariously perched on my mantle. Perhaps I’m compensating for my shortcomings, the number of which I’ve lost count of over the years, but the forty-six incher was just sixty smackers more than the forty. What man, nay, what human being, wouldn’t pay sixty dollars for another six inches?
But I digress. After seven months in my new abode, I felt that it was finally time to accept the fact that I’d be there for a while. New furniture and big-ballin’ electronics would hopefully ground me a bit. Life has been a roller coaster as of late. Suffering badly from motion sickness makes it just that much tougher to deal with. But roller coasters aren’t nearly as bad as tea cup rides. Those things are my definition of hell…
…Off topic again…Focus…Focus.
Okay, I’m supposed to be writing about trail racing here. I almost forgot. Flash back to Saturday morning at the River Gorge Trail Race, another top-notch event in the trail series put on by the fine folks at Rock/Creek. This was my first-ever trail race many, many moons ago and also the site of my first ever podium in any type of non-ball sport. It was not only a watershed moment in my racing career, but also in my life. I had dropped nearly 40 pounds in the years leading up to that race, and had spent the entire winter gearing up for the spring racing season. Talk about a confidence boost.
This past winter, however… Well, let’s just say that it’s tough to train on a roller coaster. Going into Saturday, I’d burnt all of the “I’ll start next week” matches and all that was left was a rusty Bic lighter and some wet leaves. The only fuel I had for the fire was a belly full of pride and a head full of experience, with a side order of confidence to boot. But I was doing the 6.5 mile version, aka the “kiddie race”, rather than the 10 miler, so the competition would be a lot less stiff.
Well, a warm fire would’ve been nice come race morning, as the deluge turned Prentice Cooper WMA into a sea of wet gravel and peanut butter mud, and the temps dropped into the forties just a week after the mercury hit eighty. We had gone from winter to summer and back to winter again in the matter of a fortnight. Although the race had sold out, over one hundred runners decided to stay in bed rather than brave the elements. Most people considered these conditions intolerable.
I, on the other hand, drooled at the thought of the slick rocks and roots and muddy descents that lay ahead. You see, I’m a mudder. My father was a mudder. My mother was a mudder. Sorry, couldn’t resist throwing in a Seinfeldian reference. My apologies to the younger set.
If you’ve done this race before, you know full well that getting onto the single track with the front group, a mere football field or so from the start, is a necessity, especially in these conditions. That means getting a good warm-up before the carnage begins. Well, that was the plan anyway.
But, part of my duty as a Rock/Creek Race Team member is helping out when my services are needed. Standing in the cold, wet mud for well over an hour, stuffing shirts into race packets for the hundreds of racers picking up their packets on race day, was not a good warm-up. Running to the car and the port-a-potty and then to the race start with just a minute or two to spare before the gun went off, was also not optimal. But it were what it were.
Sitting fourth wheel (Yes, I race bikes too) heading into the single-track was the start I desired. Unfortunately, my cold, tight calves decided that they would pay me back for putting them trough the uphill sprint on the jeep road with little warning. The right one locked up tighter than a tick on a dog’s butt almost immediately. I immediately went into damage control, gingerly one-footing all of the roots and rocks, trying to give my calf a break for a bit. A small gap opened up between me and the top three, but nobody behind me was complaining, so I just kept plugging. By the time I tackled the stairs leading down to Indian Rockhouse, the calf had settled down a bit and I was able to run the flats. Limping the ups, but keeping a fast pace, I was still able to stay within a rock’s toss of the lead group (editor’s note: as far as we know, Jim did not actually throw any rocks at the lead group).
I could hear the footsteps and heavy breathing behind me and knew that the selection would be made on the first big climb, which starts with a rock staircase followed by a long uphill slog. At the top of the climb, I was maxed out, but knew that I’d get a respite soon. A look over the shoulder confirmed my prediction. The only one still with me was a high schooler from North Carolina who decided that wearing a shower cap would be a good idea on a rainy day. I don’t know, maybe his momma dresses him funny. Maybe he just got his hair did, a la Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever. “Would ya just watch the hair. You know, I work on my hair a long time…” All I know is that if you come to a race with a shower cap on, you best be fast. Well, this kid was fast, so hats…er, shower caps off to him.
The three-plus miles out to Snooper’s Rock are a series of ups and downs, in and out of drainages and up and over small knobs, much of it rocky, rooty and very, very wet. The two hundred and fifty runners doing the ten-miler, who started thirty minutes prior, turned the trail into a soupy mess. But this is my milieu. Owen Bradley, fellow Rock/Creek race team member, had already separated himself from the pack at this point, on his way to an easy W. “Shower cap” and I quickly caught the third place guy and dropped him like a bad habit, and second place was still in sight.
On each downhill and treacherous section of trail, I would close the gap to second place, subsequently distancing myself from my new friend behind me (Apparently, dry hair makes one quite chatty). But his youthful vigor allowed him to catch me on the next hill each time. So, I simply bombed the downhills and took a little off on the ups, saving up for the back half of the race and, hopefully, making him burn all the matches in his matchbook in the process.
Now, “bombing” the downhills and the off-camber sections in the given conditions might seem like a risky thing to do. But you gotta be in it to win it. I’m talking about commitment here, folks.
Taking the bull by the horns, you know. Okay, that’s some macho BS there, but there’s some truth to it. Testosterone, mixed in with years of running on the nastiest of trail systems, hardens ones soul. It’s analogous to having several stiff drinks and getting out on the dance floor. Confidence is high and inhibitions drift away as I samba my way along the muddy trails. But I’m not a brainless drone either. I can’t shut the rational side of my brain off. Although I’m a risk taker (Yes, I’m an adrenaline junkie. Shocker, I know), they’re always calculated risks.
I ended up taking a header on one section of trail as my right foot and the moss-laden boulder it was on decided that they weren’t too fond of each other. True, there was a 50 foot drop-off on my left, but this is the Southeast; therefore, the mass of vegetation along the slope would provide ample opportunities for breaking my fall. No worries.
Hitting Snooper’s Rock (the one and only aid station on the short course) with “shower cap” right on my tail, I knew I was in trouble. The next mile and a half or so was on non-technical jeep roads, slick with peanut-butter mud and a seemingly endless series of steep rises. My advantage, if any, was now gone. But I plugged along, watching “shower cap” catch the guy in second place and then pass him. I didn’t gain on them, but I didn’t lose ground either. The last grinder is a doozy, with a calf-busting hill, followed by a dog-leg left and another punch hill, before hitting a temporary trail on the way back down to the original single-track that we started on. This temporary trail was a washed-out mess, strewn with loose rocks and blown-down branches. It was just what the doctor ordered, as I gained ground on the two in front of me.
Continuing my pursuit, I kept the dynamic duo in check on the flats and ups, reining them in on each and every technical spot. I finally got within a stone’s toss of them on the rock staircase just before Indian Rockhouse. But the wheels started to come off as I hit the stairs behind the beautiful rock overhang. The calves locked up once more as the two in front of me pushed each other as they smelled the finish line so painfully close to the three of us. My goose was cooked and, for the first time since very early on in the race, my head was on a swivel, checking for any sign of pursuers along the misty trail behind me. But I was the caboose of the lead train and I simply phoned in the last uphill push to the finish.
Yes, fourth place is the first of the rest. My only solace, although it’s hard to think about it in that way, is that I’m an old fart. That meant that I was the first Masters finisher in the kiddie race. The winning loot was replete with samples of Geritol and Depends, along with an all-you-can-eat gift certificate to the early bird special at Golden Corral. Oh yeah, a free pair of Montrail shoes as well. Not sure which one I’m most excited about, to be honest, but not a bad day at the office.
Question is, will I be wearing those new kicks on the trails or dangling them from my toes while watching Seinfeld reruns on this big rectangle of LCDeliciousness in front of me? My track record as of late is not all that promising.