First, let me say that I was REALLY looking forward to this race. This is the only one of the Rocksteady Running races that I haven’t yet done, as it usually collided with a 4th of July relay race that my wife and I would do. However, this year we decided to skip that race, and do Afton instead. I was also excited to run this race because I have been nursing an Achilles issue, and I haven’t run for two weeks. I was very ready to get back out there Saturday morning and get some miles on my feet.
We both opted for the 25K distance instead of 50K. The 50K course is two loops, and the idea of looping that course twice in July heat just didn’t appeal to me. Since I hadn’t run much, only one loop also felt much more appropriate. We launched promptly at 7:30 and began heading out to the path near the ski hills before climbing up to the Back 40/Trout Brook loop. I felt good throughout the race, but I knew I had to ease into it, so I kept it nice and slow through this section.
I hit AS 1/2 and simply grabbed a couple M&Ms and some HEED before heading around the small loop. I love the descent from the top of the Back 40 hill, as it’s nice and gentle and really fun to run. I arrived back at AS 1/2 before I knew it, grabbed some more HEED and started the climb up to the brutally exposed Africa loop (after saying hello to a great local runner John Maas). Thankfully, it was a really nice morning out, and the sun wasn’t quite as high yet as I feared. I bumped into someone I knew and the two of us chatted the entire way to AS 3/4, which made the time go very fast.
Out of AS 3/4 you climb a long service road to a short prairie section that eventually turns into a downhill to the river. It was on this descent that I was passed by the lead 50K runner. He came up behind me running so fast I had to stop and look back to see if the sound I was hearing was a poor 25K’er falling down the hill. As it turns out it was simply the winner, Kurt Keiser, barreling down the hill on his second loop, with a commanding lead. I kept moving and didn’t see another 50K runner for at least 5 minutes.
Aid Station 3/4 was special to me because the local running group that I run with was putting it on. I came down before the race started, for about an hour, to help them set up, and planned on returning after the race to help some more. It was a ton of fun to see all of my friends there cheering me on. They took great care of me as I left the “4” side of the station and prepared for the long slog down the river trail. I was feeling physically hungry as I came down Campground Hill, so I took longer at AS 4 than at any other station. I opted for some fruit as well as some PB&J squares. Once properly fueled I headed out for the next section.
This mile long section along the river is flat and straight, meaning you have little reason not to run it, and you can see forever just how far away you still have to go. I locked in a solid 11:15 pace, picking up a couple of people along the way who really liked the speed I was setting. I managed to run the entire section, minus a brief moment at the start of it where I stopped to massage my calves a bit to relieve some stress off my Achilles. I finally saw the turn to head up Meat Grinder hill in the distance and picked up the pace just slightly. It was an incredibly happy moment when I turned the corner and could start a nice solid hike up a brutal hill.
Aid Station 5 was rocking when I arrived and my friend Wendi took care of me with some sponges to cool me down. I got refueled for the final 3 miles to the end, and started towards Snowshoe loop. I’ve never run this race course before, but I’ve seen almost every part of it on various training runs and fat ass runs. The only part I haven’t spent much time in is Snowshoe. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what I found were a lot of quick, steep hills that served to sap you of any energy that you had left. My last two miles were some of my slowest miles, and I know it’s partly because of the annoying little hills of Snowshoe.
Eventually, I made it back to the final push to the finish line. Along the way I ran into an old co-worker, so I paused a moment to say hello, but quickly turned to head to the end. I kept up a solid run across the line, and collected my medal as I reflected on how good I really felt. My final time was 3:40, which is slower than I hoped for, but considering my lack of training the past month, and complete lack of running the past two weeks, I am happy with where I ended up. I finished the race feeling positive and in mostly good shape, so a slower time was the least of my worries.
I got in line for some food and chatted with a lot of friends who had also completed their races. After I finished my lunch I had intended to go back to AS 3/4 to help out more, however, as I was about to leave I saw my wife’s pink hat in the distance. I decided to wait a few moments and watch as she crossed the finish line, and help her to get settled before leaving. She ended up with a lot of really bad cramping, so she staying up at the race village while I headed down the station.
I arrived and started pitching in where I could, however like most of these races there are way more volunteers than needed. I planted myself on the AS 3 side of the station and helped the final 50K runners who were reaching that point in their second loop. Many of them were keeping up a solid hike trying to stay ahead of the sweepers, so we got them cooled down, fueled, and back on the path so they could finish. After another hour or so of helping out I was feeling pretty exhausted and I knew my wife was recovering up the hill, so I bid my friends goodbye and headed back to get home. I ended up crashing for a solid hour nap after my shower. I was more tired than I assumed, and it felt great to sleep it off in the afternoon.
I really had a great time at this race, and it made me feel like I was “back”. My Achilles still ached a bit, so I might still try and get some imaging done on my leg to see what type of therapy I need to be doing. However, I’m really happy with where my cardio was, despite needing to drop some weight. My stomach also behaved which is a huge ‘win’ for me in any race.
I can’t wait for the next race I get to help out at, or run. Trail people are amazing people, and I love every minute I spend in community with them. Afton is a great race, and I might make it a regular stop on my race calendar each year. For now, it’s more rest as I get prepared for some fall races to close out the season.