Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Maze - Rogue Running Trail Series 10K

Last Sunday I ran in Rogue Running's Trail Series run, The Maze. The series consists of 3 trail
runs, each occurring at a different location over a 3-month period. The Maze took place at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park. Walnut Creek contains over 20 miles of trails and is located 10-minutes north of downtown Austin. A pretty sweet park for both trail riding and  running, although a word of caution-most of the park is an off-leash dog park so watch out for loose pets.

There are two options in the Rogue Trail Series, either 10K or 30K. Entry fees are reasonable. The 10K races are $45 if you hit the early registration and the fees include a great technical tee-shirt and, maybe more importantly, an awesome breakfast buffet after the race. I opted for the 10K version of The Maze, I'm not ready for 30K on the trail yet. The race was scheduled to start at 7:30 am. I arrived at 6:45 to pick up my packet, bib and timing chip. It's pitch black. I start to wonder if I missed some instructions that suggested a headlamp for the start of the race. It's also cold. Surprisingly cold, about 42 degrees. So I check in and return to my car to wait and keep warm, hopeful that the sun will rise soon. Twenty minutes go by and it's still dark. I wonder if I should run home and get a headlamp? Do I have time? Probably, but really, the sun is going to rise before the race right? Google...what time is sunrise? 7:31 am. Why didn't I ask Google sooner. All is good, the sun will be up at the start of the race, but note to self, add headlamp to race bag.

I leave my car at around 7:18 and start my pre-race prep, which if you know me, means some half-hearted attempts at stretching and nervous pacing, then two trips to the port-o's and I'm ready to line up with the 210 other entrants at the start line. The 85 souls in the 30K left at 7:00 (some with headlamps on, by-the way), and the leaders will be turning their first of three laps about 15 minutes after we launch. I am dressed for the weather. Shorts, long-sleeved wicking shirt with a short-sleeved wicking shirt atop it, my yellow one...every race...really? I was smarter than usual and grabbed a wool knit cap on my way out the door. My head is toasty and my ears are warm. I figure if I get too hot during the run I can just take it off and hold it in one of my hands or tuck it in my waistband.

The start line is also the finish line and there is a big timing clock clock there. It is running in countdown mode. One-minute-thirty to go, I set my Runkeeper app to start with a 90 second delay and launch Pandora for some tunes. I always train with music but I have never run a race with it. This will be a first for me.

Timer hits zero and we are off. There is a pretty tight pack at the start. The trail is
narrow and everyone is bunched up. Even so I turn an 8:28 mile, but in retrospect I wish I had started closer to the front of the pack as I found myself hanging back, waiting for the pack to thin out. I believe I gave up at least 30-seconds during the first mile to the traffic. The trails have been well marked by Rogue and they are in good condition, mostly hard-packed clay and rock, except the occasional loose gravel or sandy areas. There are two water crossings along the way, the first just after mile one and the second just before mile five. Both are navigable without too much trouble and with some rock-to-rock hopping, my feet stayed quite dry. Rogue also had a timely aid station set up just after mile three, perfect chance for a quick drink and breath-catcher after one of the more strenuous hill climbs. Unfortunatly, I grabbed a cup with something off-color and possibly bubbly that tasted terrible. Not sure what it was, and while it wet my whistle, it wasn't satisfying and left a bad taste in my mouth. I will be more careful next time and grab the clear stuff...

This is my first full out trail race where the only goal was to run. No obstacles, no multi-sport events, just trails. Walnut Creek Park, like most places in Austin, is relatively flat. Over the course of 6.5 miles there was a total elevation gain of 342 feet, most of which happened in 4 chunks. The course is called The Maze because the design of the trail system here is super tight and compact, leading to lots of zigging and zagging. It's pretty impressive how tightly packed the trails are. It was easy to get into a rhythm and let my mind wander a bit, but as in any off-road run, focus was important else the trail will come up and bite you.

I choose to wear my New Balance Mimimus 10 Trail shoes for this one. The prior week's Iron Warrior Dash was my first race in them and this was my second. Like last week they did not disappoint. I tied the lower laces a bit tighter this week and my toes faired better. I will say that the sharper rocks and larger roots still telegraph through the sole a little more than I would like, but the run was still delightful. I do have a new pair of Merrell Trail Gloves that I have just started to break in, but I haven't raced in them yet, so more to come on those soon. Turns out the rest of my ensemble worked out well. The long-sleeved shirt was a good call, the sleeves, with their elasticity allowed me to pull them over my hands to keep my fingers warm early on and the wool hat was great. I wore it until mile five at which point I just clenched it in one of my hands for the last mile.

One of the best features of this race was the finish. After crossing the line and catching my breath I noticed what looked like a giant food buffet. There was a plate of gummy bears, another of trail mix, one with M & M's, bananas and a few others that I missed. Better yet, the Rogue crew was cooking for us. Fresh off the griddle pancakes, bacon and turkey bacon with strawberries, bananas and syrup to top it all off. Quite possibly the best end to a race ever! I really enjoyed The Maze and now I am looking forward to the next two races. I hope that breakfast is served again. The LOOP at Emma Long is about 3-weeks away. I haven't run at Emma Long, but I think that I biked there about 5 years ago, so I am excited about the new scenery. I finished The Maze in 00:59:21 which equates to a 9:09 pace. Pretty good for a trail run and considering that I had taken the week off from running after the Warrior Dash I feel pretty good about it. I finished 70th out of 211 total racers and 13th out of 38 in my division.

Thanks to Rogue Running for putting on a great event.

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