About a month before I started down the path of wrist pain and coronary procedures, I signed up for a first time event: the Fonta Flora (trail) Half Marathon. Rolling terrain on the trails of Lake James SP about an hour east of Asheville. 90% single track trail with a little bit of gravel and pavement. The event was sponsored by Fonta Flora Brewing in Morganton, NC, starting and finishing at their new farm/facility (currently under contstruction), with proceeds going to build more Fonta Flora Trail.
Craft beer and running trails? Woohoo!
Since I was unable to run the Asheville Marathon at Biltmore (let alone both the half and the full), this was going to be my first long race after the stent procedure and I was both nervous and excited about it. I hadn’t done a whole lot of training, so I didn’t know what to expect beyond 8 to 10 miles.
Since I was already going to be that far east anyway, I also bought tickets to Hickory Hops beer festival in Hickory, NC for the same day, and got a hotel room. Figured Monte and I would make a weekend of it.
Monte picked me up at 7am and we headed to the race site.. a large field on Fonta Flora farm property that is adjacent to Lake James. There was a fairly large contingent from the weekly New Belgium and Highland runs so it was fun to be doing an event with a lot of friends.
It had rained pretty hard for about 24 hours prior to the race and we found out that the course was modified to remove a mountain bike trail loop and instead we’d be running the same hiking trail loop twice. That made the route a bit flatter than the original profile, and also an unknown distance shorter than a full half. I was fine with flatter, but shorter bugged me a little bit. Seems to me if one signs up for a half marathon, it ought to be a half marathon.
On the other hand, trail races are somewhat unique to the trails they are run on and distance isn’t all that important.
I lined up pretty close to the front of what appeared to be about 200 people, looking for a quick start across the grassy field before we headed into the woods. I didn’t want to get trapped behind slower runners on narrow trails.
Training from the high school cross country days… it never leaves ya.
We headed out at a good clip on some super cushy connector trail for about a mile until we reached a little bit of pavement. It was misty and humid, but just cool enough not to be uncomfortable. I was happy for the rain to knock the pollen out of the air. A quick couple of turns onto and off of pavement took us to another section of twisty rolling trail. I was feeling pretty good and had settled into a good pace and comfortable heart rate with about four other runners. We made a sharp left turn onto what I assumed was the start of our first loop, which was a steady uphill, and my heart rate started to climb, so I backed off just a bit.
Three miles into the race and I still wasn’t sure exactly what my goal was. With the course odd distance, a PR for a trail half marathon was a moot point. There were no age group awards so going for a top three was a moot point. I didn’t want to kill myself (literally or figuratively), but I didn’t want to stroll either. I figured I’d go just hard enough to net a relatively high overall place, as well as gaining the satisfaction in knowing I was out in the woods running a (nearly) half marathon just a few weeks after having a stent procedure.
As the first lap progressed I fatigued a bit but still felt good. We raced across the packed sand of the park’s beach, where there was a water/food station. I stopped just long enough to fill my (previously empty) water bottle with a little Gatorade, and took it in over the next half mile or so. (This was a “no cup” race, meaning they would provide fluids, but racers had to bring their own vessel.)
Starting up the longer climb on the second lap (about 10k in), I knew for sure the race distance was going to be short, and further, that my GPS was showing it being even shorter. The tight terrain and lots of twists were faster than the GPS could record. The race director had told us this in advance, plus I know it from experience.
In any case, I was still feeling pretty darned good but was developing a bit of a blister on the ball of my left foot… not bad but a bit annoying. Once I got to the top of that climb I opened up the stride a little bit and that seemed to help the foot feel better… more of a running gait. I brought my heart rate up to about 160, still a bit low for a race pace, but I’ve been on beta blockers for nearly two months.
As I went past the beach station the second time I opted to skip fluids… there was only two miles left. I turned off the second and opened up just a little more, trying to catch a couple runners in front of me to move up in the standings. I managed to get two, but two got me from behind, so it was net zero.
I hit the final connector trail back to the farm really enjoying myself and feeling strong in my stride. It was a great feeling! I zipped across the field for the finish line, hoping to catch one more runner in front of me, but missed him by a couple seconds.
I clocked in at just a hair under 1:45, with only 11.85 miles on the GPS. In talking to a few other runners we figured it was probably about 12.5 miles, the watches missing about .6 miles, or about 5% of the overall distance. The posted results showed I was 29th overall out of 177 finishers.
Although there were no official age group placings, there was one guy my age in the top three (third), so I technically “won” my age group, since there’s usually no “double dipping” on awards.
On the other hand, three guys in their 50s were faster than me… there’s some tough old dudes around here!
My buddy Evan had already finished and was 4th overall… running on a bum knee no less. We watched for all our friends to come in and everyone did well and enjoyed the event. Since Monte and I had the tickets to Hickory Hops, we didn’t hang around long after the race.
All in all a really good morning and a nice little event… it was a little light on amenities since the Fonta Flora facility isn’t built yet, but it was good to contribute to the inaugural event and help build some trail.