Monday, June 22, 2009

the bird ridge race...

officially known as the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb, occurred yesterday. there were roughly 250 racers who took off in three waves. the first wave was made up of competitive racers who expected to finish in under 50 minutes. the second wave was for those who thought they would finish in 45-65 minutes. the third wave was for the youth racers who would be racing to the halfway point (a new addition to the race this year) and for all other racers who were out to run at whatever speed they liked.

being my first attempt at this race i situated myself near the front of the second wave, taking off 5 minutes after the first wave. going into the race i had no idea about what kind of time to expect. i've only been to the very top of the ridge (the race's end) once (in the winter) but i'm pretty familiar with the lower trail. i set my sights on 1-3 hours. i was pretty certain i would fall within this time frame.

i was able to stay near the front of the pack for the first 25 minutes or so but began slowing down after that. about 40 minutes in there was only one guy directly in front of me and a woman about 80 yards behind me. this became my race: to pass the guy in front of me and not let the woman behind pass. a small world, but a manageable one.

the weather was cold; raining and blowing on the ridge. that sort of weather is able to isolate a person even when other runners are in sight. i focused on one steep step at a time, head down, pushing into the wind that pushed back against my right side and drove frozen rain straight through my apparel and into my skin. it was especially easy to fall into the trance while on sections of the open ridge where the wind steadily howled, pulling at my number and causing the windshirts of racers ahead of me to flap loudly and violently. i tried my best to ignore the cold until i had the odd sensation of losing feeling in my chest. it was strange but from above my stomach to below my neck i couldn't feel anything except the tightness of my breath.

at about 50 minutes in i began to see the race leaders on their way down. typically the winners finish in around 40 minutes or so and as they began to trickle by some gave encouraging words, others a smile, and still others passed with arms wrapped tightly around themselves and glassy stares. the cold had taken it's toll on some runners. my brother-in-law reported that his time was "terrible" as he passed me on his way down. i asked what was up and as his voice blended into the wind behind me all i heard was something about the cold.

i turned my focus ahead and felt strong as the trail's angle started to lessen. i by no means have any kind of illusion that i will be competitive in these races. i do it for the sole purpose that i want to see what my body and mind are capable of. that, and the camaraderie of the trail running community. right before the false summit a down climbing racer encouraged "right over this this rise it flattens out and you can jog again." unless you've been power hiking uphill for almost an hour you may not realize how much of an encouragement that is. at this point, any leg movement other than the single leg squats you've been doing is welcomed. it did 'flatten', meaning become less vertical than it was, and i was able to air out my legs a bit.

i had passed the guy that was in front of me on a similar short section several minutes ago and no was focused on an older woman in front of me that had passed me much earlier in the race on a steeper section. i wasn't going to pass her in these last 100 yards or so to the endpoint, that's just bad form, but i did want to catch her. i did in the last short climb and we finished roughly together with a time of 1:08 something...

the official results will be posted here at some point.

i took a shot of gu. guzzled a bit of water that someone offered at the top as i hadn't brought any, and began the hike down. i sipped on a can of Coors Light that had been handed to me at the summit with a declaration of "Happy Solstice!" oh yeah, this is not only Father's Day but also the longest day of the year was my thought as i had received it. heading down i now did my part to encourage the racers still coming up: staying out of their way and shouting words to spur them on. i poured out the remainder of the beer and put the crushed can in my pocket. this wasn't because i didn't want it but because i couldn't really feel my fingers. well, i could feel them but they felt like frozen hot dogs. i attempted to re-warm them and continued down. the rest of the way down was uneventful, just a slow slog on tired legs.

overall the race was exactly what i had imagined going into it. on the way up it hurt terribly, upon finishing there was that sense of elation, and then coming down i wished it would end quickly. though it wasn't the sunny version of the race i envisioned, it was just as well. another AK experience recorded in my mind and body.

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