Monday, July 02, 2012

Breaking News: A Segahunda Trail Marathon Race Report

This weekend the GeekGrl and I flew out to the East Coast to collect a couple states in our 50 state marathon bid.  She was going to pick up New York and Massachusetts and having run Boston earlier this year I was only going to be picking up New York.
The first race was the Segahunda trail marathon in Letchworth State Park.  The race is a point to point from the Mount Morris dam to the Civil War parade grounds near Portageville.  This is apparently a little known part of New York state, despite being called 'The Grand Canyon of the East' because most people we mentioned it to just kind of looked at us blankly and shrugged their shoulders, the one exception being a friend who works for the state Department of Transportation who also has family living near that area.

I've been to the Grand Canyon on more than one occasion and this bore no similarity.  By Western Standards it was little more than a gully, however, it was thick with trees so there may have been much that was obscured from a trail runners view.

The race course followed the Finger Lakes Trail except for the short sections that climbed up side trails to the roadside above where all the aid stations were located.  These side trails are billed as steep climbs to the road above but they were all pretty gradual and runnable though I chose to hike at least sections of most to save my strength for running the FLT, which was mostly mellow and rolling but it was punctuated with several descents and ascents in and out of stream beds and washes.

The race management said there were something like 120 such crossings.  I have no idea as to the exact number but suffice it to say I don't dispute their claim in the least.  At the beginning of the race I was a bit worried about all these crossings because I hadn't heard them described in any detail so I didn't know if the were large or small, steep of relatively flat, running with water or dry.  I usually like to have better information on a course, especially when it comes to the signature challenge of the race but at the starting line I was just left to find out for myself.

The answer to one of my questions was that the crossings were all pretty much dry and those that weren't were more moist than flowing.  This apparently wasn't the case last year when they had rain all week including race day and the course was full of running water and sloppy mud.  I'd say the majority of the gully crossings were pretty flat but there were plenty enough to make the course pretty difficult.

The other thing that made the course somewhat difficult were the rocks and roots.  It presented a surface that I'm not really used to running on.  In the southwest where I do most of my running a rocky course pretty much means you are running on a field of rocks, sometimes it's runnable at a slower pace and sometimes the surface is so irregular that you just have to walk it for a bit.  The rockiness on the FLT is more random.  There is plenty of goos, smooth trail but it is frequently interrupted by a random large rock or root with the occasional small patch of rocks and roots combined.  This creates a situation where you can run pretty fast but you really have to keep an eye out because the obstacles just pop up.  The conditions were also made more foreign to me because of the leaf litter obscuring some of the rocks and the low light conditions caused by all the trees.

The race starts off immediately on narrow single track in the woods so you really have to position yourself well in the parking lot at the Mt. Morris dam and when the starting gun goes off just commit yourself to plunging into the woods.  I decided to position myselfk somewhere near the back of what I figured was the front quarter of runners and this seemed to work out pretty well.  Once we disappeared into the forest we were a smooth moving line of men snaking along the trail in unison.  I love that experience!  I'm not sure what it is about forested runs but I always feel like I'm part of a prehistoric hunting party or a small band of tribal warriors moving to engage the enemy tribe.  I never get that same sense when I'm running races without the dense cover.

At Segahunda the women take off first, about 15 minutes ahead of the men.  I was a bit skeptical about this setup but it seemed to work out fine even on narrow trail.  We caught the last women at about mile three or four and it was pretty easy to get by though I wondered how annoying it might have been to be trying to run and suddenly have a huge long train of faster runners come plowing through.

During the early stages of the race I went back and fourth with a couple guys but pretty much by mile 4 I was in a pretty familiar group of people that I would mostly see on the out and back sections though while in the woods I was mostly running alone or just barely in sight of one or two other runners.

I was blowing through aid stations and I think this is where I passed a lot of people, however, it was kind of hard to tell because the race actually had more teams than solo runners so you would pull into an aid station and there would be all kinds of people lolly gagging on the sidelines.

As often happens I adopted the strategy of power hiking most of the steeper sections pretty much no matter how short the climbs but most everyone else I could see ran them until later in the race when they couldn't.  I'm not sure what it is with people who just seem to refuse to walk or hike in a race.  I think even if you are a very strong runner you still benefit from saving a bit of energy by hiking the uphills and you can run everything else much faster.  Maybe it's an ultra runner versus marathoner difference.  In any case as the race progressed I started reeling those folks in and passing them.

Somewhere around mile 13 I turned my right ankle pretty sharply but it seemed only to slow me down temporarily.  Then at mile 16 I kicked the hell out of an unseen rock and stubbed my left big toe pretty badly.  That was seriously painful, enough to take my breath away.  I continued to limp and hobble my way forward until the pain subsided enough that I could pretty much ignore it and run.  Despite these two mishaps I was able to continue gaining ground on the people in front of me and didn't lose any ground to the people behind me.

About the last couple miles leave the FLT and get onto an old carriage path, which is really nice because it is wide and easy to run and at this point in the race you are pretty whipped.  Within a quarter mile of the finish line there is a evil hill you have to climb when you turn onto a brief section of paved road.  This thing is steep and exposed and the day has become hot.  I leaned into it and kept running because I was so near the finish line.  Close to the top both my legs started to cramp pretty seriously and I thought I might pull a muscle but I made it to the top of the hill just in time even if a little stiff legged.  Once off the hill my legs relaxed and I was able to run into the finish line.  It felt good to be done though now since I was no longer racing the pain in my left toe came to the forefront of my mind, something I could have done without.

I hung out at the finish line waiting for the GeekGrl to finish where they had free beer and burgers, both of, which were great. I found out I got second place in my age group.  The guy who won my age group was nearly an hour ahead of me.  There were three guys who all ran about an hour faster that the other front runners, maybe they are local elite runners.

Once the GeekGrl finished and ate we hopped in the car for our long drive to Lenox, MA where we were scheduled to run the Memorial Day Marathon.  My toe was in bad shape and my ankle started hurting as well so given the fact that Western States was just around the corner I decided to bag the second marathon.  The next morning when we woke up to get the GeekGrl to the start line my toe was really swollen and black and blue.  I was completely freaked out and thought for certain I had broken it.   We had a double marathon weekend scheduled for the next weekend as well but I canceled it because I knew if it was a break I would be forced to rest the whole time between now and Western States.  Emotionally I was in bad shape but I just tried my best to keep it under wraps and enjoy our trip.

Next up, a trip to the doctor!

P.S. ok, the post is really late, got caught up with Western States.  Saw the doc, toe was not broken, I was amazed something could hurt, bruise and swell so much and not be broken.   Since it wasnt broken and I had canceled our South Dakota, Iowa double the GeekGrl and I signed up for the Taos marathon, which Im sure will appear in an even later race report.

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