Monday, March 30, 2009

Clinton Lake 30 Mile - 3/28/09

Don't let the fact that this race is one mile short of a 50K fool you. It's tough! But . . . I liked it! The profile from the race's website (above) says it all. It's a 10 mile loop that's repeated 3 times. You're either running uphill or downhill. There are very few, flat sections, so you never get a break. The course is very runnable actually, because I witnessed the elite runners as they lapped me, flying up and over these hills like it was nothing. There are lots of hills, but the climbs and descents are relatively short lived. It just becomes a problem cumulatively, lol.

Dewitt, IL (population: 200) is about a 6.5 hour drive for me. I left after work on Friday and arrived at the Clinton Lake State Recreation Area about 1:00 a.m. There was a sign clearly posted at the entrance to the North Fork Boat Access Area that said "no camping was allowed." Hmmm . . . . No cops followed me into the area (the problem I had last weekend), and the area was quite remote. So . . . I parked my car, grabbed my comforter, and settled in for a 5 hour nap. However, just like last weekend, it was cold (below freezing) and very windy, but this time, I was toasty under my comforter.

Morning came too quick as I heard Chris (race director) and Jeff (volunteer) setting up for packet pick-up. I was taking the one hour early start along with 22 other runners. The entry limit for the race is 125 runners, but there were a lot of DNSs and DNFs. Only 87 runners finished the race. The one hour early start allows 9 hours to complete the race.

It boggles my mind when a race director can charge a low entry fee ($45) and give the runners so much in return. The goody bag had the race t-shirt (with that awesome course profile on the back) and a Marathon and Beyond (sponsor) running hat and rain poncho. We also get a 6-month subscription to Marathon and Beyond, which is cool. I've been a subscriber for years and absolutely love the magazine. There were two, fully stocked aid stations per loop and nice volunteers, and the course is permanently marked with white trail blazes. It was impossible to go off-trail on this course. There were also permanent mileage markers every mile, which helps in pacing. And the finisher's medal at the end was pretty neat. Some of the bigger and more expensive races could learn a lesson or two from the low-key events.

Getting back to the race. We start off from the parking lot and go out onto the highway (uphill, of course) before we enter the trail section, and then it's all single track. There were lots and lots of bridges, which means no stream crossings, and very few rocks and roots. The trail circles Clinton Lake, so the course is very scenic and absolutely beautiful. It's a good thing, too, because I was alone most of the day, except when other runners were lapping me, lol. Because of the single track, I had to move off-trail a lot to allow other runners to go by. That's a little nerve wrecking, but you would think that I would be used to that by now, lol. I watched the faster runners pass me and disappear down the trail, out of sight within minutes. It was like they were well-trained mountain lions running effortlessly up and down hills, and I was an elephant out of my territory, plodding along, lol.

Jeff (IL) was out on the trail, hiking the course in reverse. I met Jeff a few years ago in KY at the Love 'n the Hills 50K, another one of my favorite races. It had been a long time since I'd seen him. He was at the LBL 60K a few weeks ago, and now he was helping out at Clinton Lake. He had warned me before we started about the relentless hills, and he was right. When we saw each other on the trail, I commented to him that these hills were worse than Love 'n the Hills. Now that I think about it, that may not be exactly true. Love 'n the Hills has very long uphills and downhills, but you do get a break ever so often. With Clinton Lake, the hills are shorter, but you never get a break. They keep coming at you one right after another.

I finished the first loop in about 3 hours. That meant that I could not slow down on the next 2 loops. So I headed out for my second loop, knowing what was ahead of me for the rest of the day. About half way through the second loop, it started to rain. Great! By the third loop, it was raining so hard, I could barely see through my glasses. The runnable trail was now becoming a mud pit. Going up the hills in the slick mud was hard enough, but coming down the hills in the mud was nearly impossible. And it was so cold! I couldn't feel my fingers and toes for the entire 3rd loop! I just knew that I would have frost-bite at the end of the race. I ran when I wanted to walk just so that I could generate enough body heat to combat the cold and rain. And the ridges! Once you reached the tops of the hills, the wind coming off the lake would nearly knock you over. This was insane!

And then the unthinkable occurred! Four miles from the finish, I slipped and fell . . . sprawling, spread-eagle, a perfect 10 face-plant. I was down before I knew what happened. My head bounced back onto my spinal column, and the forest started dancing before my eyes. I yelled out, knowing no one could hear me. "I've snapped my spine into pieces" and "I'm paralyzed" are the worse thoughts that ran through my mind. I laid there trying to get my bearings as the rain continued to fall, and the mud began to soak into the fronts of my thighs, my stomach and my chest. I had to get up. I had to finish. Goodness . . . I only had 4 miles left, and I probably could finish under the 9 hour cut-off if I hurried.

I slowly got up, pain shooting down my neck and spine. I had laid there long enough to get cold again. I spat out mud and tried to wipe my face. Leaves were stuck to me, and I tried to brush them away. The rain was actually good for something; it helped to wash the mud from my clothes, lol. I slowly started to run, to generate some body heat. My toes and fingers were numb from the cold and rain. Four more miles and I could pull off my soaked clothes, dry off, put on warm, dry clothes, and turn the heat up in the car full blast. Those thoughts got me to the finish line.

I made it! I was the 85th finisher in 8:55:02. Chris and Jeff met me at the finish with my medal. I thanked them both and headed for the car. I quickly got a towel and my duffle bag, went into a porta potty, and began the long process of getting clean and dry enough to drive home.

As I drove home, the adrenaline wore off, and the pain from the fall started to intensify. Sunday morning I could barely move my neck. I had a headache all day, and my back and chest hurt so badly I could barely breathe. Today, I'm better. I can breathe deeply without too much pain. The headache's gone, and I can move without my chest and back protesting too much. The plan is to take it easy this week, as I have the Umstead 100 Mile starting on Saturday. The adventures never end.

Clinton Lake is a beautiful area, and Chris, Jeff, and the other volunteers did a wonderful job. I would like to go back one day. Next time, however, I'll have to have a little discussion with Mother Nature about the weather, lol.

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