Babcock State Forest was covered with a blanket of clouds as the cool and crisp January morning had everyone moving slowly to retrieve their race bib from the registration table. I was no different and like most others, I remained in my vehicle where the warmth was abundant. Inside the car I was not alone, my fans (wife and daughter) had accompanied me as they do on all my races. Although I tried to sit still until the race start, it seemed that I needed to retrieve something from the rear of our Sorento several times. Each opening of the door requested a rush of freezing mountain air to intrude our space, which also mysteriously produced a gripe to leave them shut.
Fortunately for my sake, I had opened and shut the door for the last time and was headed to the start line. Along the way two wonderful people happen to grace me with their presence: Joey Jarvis and Cory Richardson, the latter being the race director for the Kanawha Trace 50/25k. After a few words concerning the obvious topic of trail running, we shuffled across the parking lot to the race start hoping to avoid a harsh meeting with the icy asphalt. No doubt we resembled a pack of penguins cautiously shuffling across the Antarctic ice sheets.
Once we were formed into the crowd, I made my way to the front of the group. However, it didn’t work out for me because as the race director began to shower us with his wisdom from the force, other racers trying to listen began to nestle towards the front also. At this point I was engulfed in the crowd and decided to begin elbowing my way back to very front – no I didn’t, I am kidding. I happily waited in my niche until we were blessed with the signal to “run fiercely” and I then desperately tried to pass people as fast as I could. I knew I must accomplish this before we encountered the first big climb which occurred only about a quarter mile from the start. Failure to do so would result in being stuck behind the crowded bottle neck. My first attempt was on the icy asphalt road which proved too slick to get enough traction. Thus, I quickly dropped off the edge of the road onto the grassy area, there I was able to gain the traction needed to get ahead of the soon-to-form traffic jam.
Once we left the road we were greeted with the first climb and I expected the trail to be a soupy mess encased with ankle deep mud due to the considerable rain the day before. Surprisingly, I was presented with a mostly dry surface that my seasoned Merrell’s could connect with. Although the single track was extremely runnable and kept me company for the majority of the course, the jeep roads were not so inviting. The large gravels that had been abundantly deposited on the hard packed dirt road acted like golf balls under my feet. Numerous times my ankles rolled to left and to the right. I was sure I would soon roll them too far and be in need of crutches or fall victim to the Sasquatch and be carried off. Luckily the torture was short lived and once I was back on single track I remembered to thank God for nurturing each of my steps and Mike Dolin (the race director) for keeping it to a minimum. Actually, I think the three large climbs were easier than the jeep roads, perhaps because training for the 2,552 feet of vertical gain on this course is much easier than practicing ankle rolls. All joking aside, all the different parts of the course did have one thing in common, and that is that Mike Dolin and his team had marked the course wonderfully. Only once did I worry if I was on the right path, and soon as the thought entered my mind a blue ribbon waved in the wind and reassured me that my direction was true.
Just as the marking was ample, so were the amount of aid stations. Although I ran past all but the last aid station, I could see they were ready to accommodate the runners. At the last aid station I did make a pit stop and the awesome volunteer quickly poured me some Heed. After two big gulps I threw the cup in the trash and scurried away fast as possible hoping for a top 10 finish. It wasn’t long and I could hear the people down below in the valley and I knew the finish line was just a sprint or two away. Suddenly in the last switchback before landing on the main road leading to the finish, a runner bypassed (cut) the switchback to get in front of me. I have never done this as I have always thought of cutting switchbacks as cheating. Nevertheless, his move put a sizable distance between him and I. As we moved onto the paved surface I quickly began gaining on him leading into the finish. Although I had it in my soul to pass him, we were already too close to the finish and he made it there just seconds before I did.
Crossing the finish line two big smiles awaited me, my wife and daughter had made sure to greet me and capture my finish like always. I smiled back crookedly with some disappointment in what had just transpired and also that I was not sure if I had made it into the top 10. I explained to my wife what had happened and she didn’t hesitate to let me know that my hard training had landed me in 7th place and the guy ahead of me only got me by 8 seconds. With a new found joy, I leaned close to her and said “That makes me happy, but not as happy as knowing I only committed to the 25k, my legs would not endure another loop, even to see the rare Sasquatch again”.
Thank you and may the LORD bless your life and especially your Trail Running.
For all those that want to know the specs of the course: the distance was right at 15 miles for one loop and the vertical gain was 2,552. This is the data from my Garmin watch and is not from the race director or the website. Most of us know that several runners with the exact same watch can run together and each will end up with different results, especially when it comes to distance and vertical gain. This is to say, don’t inform the race director his race is too short or too long, or he is off on elevation change. It is your watch that is most likely off. Besides, what’s a mile here or there, or a few hundred more feet of gain among friends of the forest?
That’s it my brothers and sisters, hope to see you at the 2017 Frozen Sasquatch. LORD willing I will be back.
Author: Austin Michael – Huntington, WV
The phrase “run fiercely” is a slogan of Robert’s Running.