Monday, February 12, 2018

0 Degree Winter Trail Festival

At the end of 2017 I was able to squeeze in one last trail race to close out the year. #TrailRoc's 0 Degree WTF is a low-cost, low-key, no frills trail race, with a similar vibe to most of the FLRC trail races around Ithaca. The course snakes its way around Powder Mills County Park on a 5-ish mile loop, with options to hoof it for 5, 10, or 15 miles. #TrailsRoc holds the race annually to raise money for trail maintenance projects in the Rochester, NY, area, with all proceeds going back to the trails and landowners.

After plans to head up to Maine for the Millinocket Marathon fell through, I signed up for the WTF 15-Miler to run it as a workout. I figured I'd get some quality mileage in amidst a six-week training phase that involved a ton of uphill intervals at maximum effort. Halfway through the six-week phase, 15 miles on dry trails would be a welcome reprieve from shredding my calves on 12 percent road inclines.

December 9 came around—the same day I'd planned to run Millinocket—and thankfully the park was snow-free. It was quite a bit warmer than the advertised 0 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, it was pretty
close to 0° Celsius, which one may argue is guaranteed implicitly via the event's title. But if the temperature is accurately advertised in SI units, why present the distance in USCS units? (Hey Eric, there's no consistency here!) Anyway, there was no snow or ice on the trail, but instead a uniform layer of leaves to romp through.

40% incline. PC: #TrailsRoc
As the 15-mile race started, I found myself alone in front pretty quickly. At a casually hard effort, this was completely unexpected, and meant I'd have to really pay attention to turns and course markings. The singletrack was incredibly tortuous with a ton of interconnected trails—the type of course where one could easily get turned around and run it in reverse or inadvertently lop off a kilometer here and there. I'd never been to Powder Mills Park before, and thus it was imperative to maintain a keen eye on the flagging. It didn't help that the cold air caused my Suunto Ambit 2's start button to stick. I wasn't able to start the GPS recording until about four miles into the first loop. Even then, I had to muster up a few heavy exhales right on the watch face to warm it up enough. For the entire race I was unaware of my mileage or elapsed time.

Three miles into the loop there's a short, very steep incline with a ton of roots and trees jutting out every which way. I've run a handful of true mountain races before—of which the WTF is not one—but this was the first trail race where I encountered fixed ropes on the course. Pulling myself up the slope wasn't terrible on the first loop, but by loop 3 it was absolutely exhausting. Each loop I'd reach the runnable trail at the top and still have to walk a bit to catch my breath and let the lactic acid dissipate.

I came through the lap area to finish loop 1 in about 43 minutes, still in the lead, and in time to get heckled by Dan Lopata—a scene that would repeat at the end of the second loop. Dan was insistent that I get moving to finish under two hours, yet he declined my offer to let him pace me to a fast finish!

Loop 2 was more of the same, only slower. This time I had to weave around the 5- and 10-mile runners who'd started later than the 15-milers. At least this lap I could zone out more and get into a groove without fear of missing a turn and going off-course. Lap splits weren't recorded, but I ran something close to 47 minutes for loop 2.

Running with 10-miler Chris O'Brien
late in the race. PC: #TrailsRoc
Although I chose not to flat out race, my legs were definitely taking a beating on all the rolling hills and winding singltrack. I wasn't fully rested from my the hill repeats earlier in the week, making runnable uphills a chore. I began to slow down, a lot, and became paranoid about getting passed and losing the lead. Finally, after recovering from the penultimate fixed rope incline, I hammered the last two miles to maintain my lead. I won a trail race for the first time, in 2:19. The 49-minute third loop really took its toll, and my time was about a half-hour slower than the typical men's winning time. Still, a win is a win, and I took home the sense of accomplishment of a job well done. Thus, my 2017 racing season ended on a very high note! (Full results.)

Thank you to #TrailRoc for putting on a low-key, high quality trail race. I don't know the names of everyone involved, but a hearty handshake goes to #TrailsRoc board members Eric Eagan and Michael Valone for all their hard work with this race.

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