Thursday, July 5, 2012

Race Report: T-Rex 10 Mile Trail Race

I am writing this race report with some reluctance. It is like the dilemma you might face with your favorite restaurant or watering hole: you want to tell your friends about it, but you really don't want the place to get too crowded and lose its initial charm. That is how I feel about this race. It is everything I love in a trail race rolled into one: small, quirky, inexpensive, friendly people, great course with lots of shady single track, enough uphills to bitch (then brag) about and enough downhills to enjoy. Seriously, what is not to love about a dinosaur themed race on the 4th of July, with a cardboard cutout of Mel Gibson as a mascot, and make-it-yourself snow cones at the finish line?

Proof that I can legitimately call myself an Old Fart
The first thing you need to know about the race is that it is put on by a group called The Old Farts Running Club  (of which I am a proud member). I have got to say that this group is one of the friendliest groups I have ever met, and that is saying a lot because I know some really friendly running groups! Besides being incredibly friendly, they are also an eccentric and fun-loving bunch. Besides the TRex 10 Miler (and Wimpy 8k) dinosaur-themed race on the 4th of July, they also put on such gems as the Beat the Grandma 8k and also some pretty serious (albeit still quirky) races, such as the Fallsburg Festival of Races  and  the Wild West 100k and Grin and BearIt 50k.  

These races are all about every competitor having a good time, and it shows. A great example of this has to do with the adjustments that were made after last year's race. Last year it was hot, hot, hot. A lot of runners really suffered, so they made two adjustments for this year's race. They moved the start time back an hour and rerouted the course in the last few miles of the course onto a shadier section of single track to remove a road section with little shade. Those were two little changes that did a lot for the comfort level of the racers. I know I really noticed and appreciated the changes.

Another thing the race director does to make the atmosphere fun is to make sure that nearly everyone has something to take home. (He really does understand that for some of us, it is all about the "bling"!) However, he handles this in a typical Old Farts Running Club kind of way. First of all, this year everyone that finished got a fossilized shark tooth (which went well with the dinosaur theme). Also, top finishers got the traditional TRex 10 miler towel. I did not get one this year, but love mine from last year. Overall, Masters, and Grandmaster winners also get a special basket full of all kinds of goodies.

The fun continues in the age group awards, which are three year groups rather than the traditional five year, and prizes go three deep. Here is where the quirkiness kicks in. The first place is a really nice medal, but second and third are a little more unusual. Last year, they were salt and pepper shakers that said something along the lines of  "I just didn't have the pep-pa."  This year, they were some really cool railroad spikes painted in bright colors that said "Missed the medal" on one side, and "Got the metal" on the other. They were so cool, it made me wish I had gone a little slower and got second.  

Finally, in case you still managed to be empty-handed, there is a raffle that is unlike any other. It is easier to just let them describe it:  If you don't win your age group then you might win at the "NOT" so Famous T-Rex Raffle ... and odds are you'll win something Old Fartish or something Too Lame to be called a raffle prize! Last year we had over 50 raffle winners!

Here is how the raffle works. They dump out a bunch of stuff onto a table. The "stuff" is so random! This year there were everything from old racing shirts, shorts, and hats to a pine derby kit, LED flashlights, a pair of men's extra large Superman briefs, collapsible clothes hampers, and two 3 ft. tall stuffed Christmas elves (which I dearly wanted to win).

Prior to the start of the raffle, we all stalk the table making choices and checking sizes (and sometimes figuring out the answer to the "What the heck is that?" question). Then they draw names from the jar. If your name is called, you have 30 seconds to grab your raffle prize. They call out the names in rapid succession, and the table becomes a free-for-all of raffle winners grabbing whatever is still left that looks good to them. Last year, I picked up a very cool running poster and also a nice thermal shirt for Jer (they had more prizes than runners last year). This year, unfortunately, the raffle gods were not smiling in my direction. I was heartbroken that I didn't get to bring home a stuffed elf. However, one of the winners was gracious enough to pose for a picture so that you could see what I missed out on.

You'd be smiling too if you got to take home one of the coveted  elves.
Okay, by this time you may be saying "Wait, isn't this a race report? Did you actually run a race?"  Well the answer to that one is yes!  I ran the 10 miler while Leslie (my partner in crime from the Dances With Dirt Gnaw Bone adventure and the Mango Madness race report author) ran the Wimpy 8k (the doctor had just cleared her on Monday for physical activity after her leg wound from the Mango Madness fall had become infected). 
Leslie and Me Ready to Start

The race is at Fallasburg Park in Lowell, MI. The finish line is at one of the picnic shelters at the park. Both races start together on a grassy field below the finish line. Runners start across the grass field, but then it narrows down to single track, with a bridge crossing and then more single track for the first mile before emptying for a mile or so onto a dirt road. It gets kind of congested in the first mile, as we do the conga-line thing on the single track trail. Last year, I went out fast to get ahead of the crowd. This year I tried a different strategy and went out a little slower hoping to have more left for the latter (hillier) half of the race.

The ten miler has lots of little ups and downs, as well as three increasingly difficult hills: Mini TRex, Little TRex, and Big TRex. The 8k runners get to turn back after the Mini, hence the name
"Wimpy 8k."  Mini and Little TRex are not the kind of hills that give an ultrarunner much problem, but Big TRex is truly a thing to dread. It is not really so much a hill as it is a cliff, and you go right up the sandy, hot, unshaded face of it at about mile 5.5.  It is a hands-on-the-knees type of climb that makes the rolling hills that follow it a bit more painful than they would normally be. Last year, it was much more of a shock to the system, though. This year I was more prepared. That does not mean I went up it any faster, just that I did not mind as much. I just told myself it was excellent training for DWD Devil's Lake and pushed on. For those interested in such things, the course is very well marked, with little chance of getting lost. There are also mile markers and friendly "tourist information" signs pointing out things like dinosaur eggs ahead (in a particularly rocky section), identifying Stegasauras ridge, and warning of the upcoming TRex area.

I felt pretty good for the first four miles of the race, but the hills and the heat in miles 5 through 7 really got to me. I struggled quite a bit and walked more than I should have in a race of that length. I tried not to look at my watch and just keep doing what I could do -- running when I could and walking when I felt I couldn't. Luckily, I had done an extremely hot, uncomfortable, and ugly ten mile training run last Friday afternoon with my friend Kate that had reduced us to walking breaks in the last three miles, so I just kept telling myself "This isn't as bad as the run with Kate. At least there is shade." That helped me get through the rough parts.

Toward the end of the course, after mile 8, there was some really pleasant downhill on a shaded dirt road, and I was able to pick it up. The last mile is back on the same trail we came out on, so I knew what to expect and how far it was to the finish. I was able to pick it up some and felt a little better.

Now, let me tell you about the race finish. Remember how I said the race starts in a field "below" the finish line.  The finish line is on a low bluff overlooking the field where we started. At the finish, we come out of the single track, run across a grassy meadow, cross a bridge over a creek, and then have to go up a ramp to the top of the bluff. The ramp is short, maybe 50 ft., but it is very, very steep on tired legs. It is not the kind of thing I even like to run on fresh legs! Thankfully, though, the finish is just over the top.

As I started running again after cresting the ramp (yes, I did walk up it -- no pride here), I saw the time on the clock 1:40:03. As I crossed the finish line, my watch said 1:40:23 -- exactly, to the second,  the same time that I had run the previous year. That time was good enough to win the age group last year, and it was also good enough to win my new age group this year. I was really happy with the result, both time and place, because I think it was even hotter this year than last, despite the earlier start time, and with the marathon I had just done not quite two weeks ago, I thought it was a pretty good outcome.

Soaking the legs post race
Post-race festivities here are some of my favorites. There are no bands, beer tents, or huge crowds. Save that for the road racers. What there is -- besides the aforementioned raffle -- is a stream for cooling off in and chatting with fellow runners. I met some really nice people, including Suzanne Kosloski, the perennial Grand Master's champion (Someone really needs to check her I.D. She is so beautiful and full of energy that she can't possibly be over 60!) and a couple of really nice people I met at the post race soak, including a 5th grade teacher whose name I did not get but who took those great pictures of me in the creek). 

 I also got to see one of my RUT friends Brandon who was both helping out with this race and advertising for the upcoming Naked Run.
Nuff said

One of the other post-race amenities that is my favorite is a snow cone machine where runners can make their own post-race snow cones. If you have never had a snow cone on a 90 degree day in Michigan after running ten miles through the woods, you have no idea what you are missing! If you look closely at the photos of me in the stream, you can see the tell-tale blue lips from my post-race snow cone. Everyone knows blue is the best!

So, if you are putting together a race calendar for 2013, you may want to pencil this one in. And, as I promised all those people I took pictures of at the race, here is a video. (If you are in any of these pics and want to download the JPG version, they are available on the Through a Running Lens Facebook page.)

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