Saturday, April 23, 2011

See Root City

Down and dirty

Saturday, April 9, I ran something different, a 9+ mile race:

"The portion of the Palmetto Trail that we will be running on is The Awendaw Passage. This is the coastal terminus of the Palmetto Trail, ending at the intracoastal waterway, the "sea" part of the Mountain-to-the Sea Trail. This is also where you'll see palmetto trees along the trail. The trail follows Awendaw Creek through a maritime forest and offers sweeping vistas of the salt marsh. The trailhead at Buck Hall National Recreation Area provides parking and bathroom facilities for trail users. A portion of the proceeds from this event will be donated to The Palmetto Conservation Foundation for trail maintenance."

The race is put on by Eagle Endurance, the founder and organizer being Chad Hoffa, a fireman here in Mount Pleasant. As an aside, I use to run by his fire station as an able-bodied runner, haven't been that way in a while. Chad brings something different to local races and I am enjoying exploring the new venues he is opening to us. In my last few years of able-bodied running I had to stop running on uneven terrain, my ankle simply would not tolerate it. I ran quite a bit in my youth on a dirt road back through the soybean fields and clay mine in Summerville, and it is something I missed being able to do.

After the Cooper River Bridge Run - and I need to do a post on that race - I came down with a head cold and decided to take some time off. On Friday I ran 3 miles and felt okay, not 100% but I really wanted to do this race so I gave myself the okay to hit the trail.

Start of race, Palmetto tree at left
This race started with the oldest first separated with one minute intervals; so not exactly age graded times but did give us seasoned runners more of a chance against the kids. With around 9 other events vying for attention this weekend, our field was small but that made for more camaraderie. The volunteers were super and it was a very relaxed atmosphere.

I started as the only male with 3 or 4 women in my group. We made a circle around the parking lot and headed down a boardwalk past the terminus Palmetto Tree of the Palmetto Trail. The first mile was the easiest footing-wise and would be my fastest. There were no mile markers so I used my Garmin for splits and it worked well in the forest. The trail was twisting and the footing constantly changing; there were also some sort of grating in stretches. This proved nearly impossible to run on with my blade so I had to run as best I could on the sides of the path.

As the miles wore on, there were places where the roots and pinestraw made my footing more treacherous and it simply was not possible for me to run very fast if at all. Soon the heat - which would see a record high this day - would conspire with the humidity to make me think of lobsters boiling in pots. In many places I was running alone, in the trees, a blue sky above, and across boardwalks where I could briefly take my concentration off my footing and look out into the mist laying low on the marsh grass. 

I am struggling at the halfway turnaround, sweating profusely and knowing I'd have the same roots to contend with on the trip back. I am passed by many runners and pass few and possibly those re-passed me later. I walked over some of the more difficult places; it was a challenge to constantly speed up, slow down, step over this root, out of that mudhole and stay vertical. I stumbled numerous times but never fell, about the best I could do this day.

Sunshine on my shoulders....
As I ran along by myself I thought it would be nice to come back here to run just for the fun of it. The horsefly that was buzzing around my head agreed, and suggested that the return visit be soon, his very last words I believe as I slapped the back of my head.

My pace continued to slow as the air turned to the consistency of molasses and the sweat faucet on my visor began a steady drip drip drip off the bill. Back across the grates as finally the last miles were covered, an occasional walk to take in fluids and GU as dehydration was building. I didn't like how quickly my pace slowed, especially considering I had run so much faster in my last half marathons, but some days are just better than others, and this race course was far different from those.

Near the finish the volunteers (thanks Peggy!) gave me a lift, calling out my name as I ran across the main road and headed to the beginning boardwalk. I could see the race finish on the other side of the trees as I listened to the different sounds of my footstrikes on the wood, slap, tock, slap, tock, slap, tock. I managed to finish strong and quickly down Gatorade and water as the sweat poured off my clothes.

The top 3 awards went to some of the usual suspects, no real surprises there. It was great talking to other runners afterward, one man slightly younger than me ran extremely well in the race, having only started running again in recent years and showing signs of tremendous talent. Several talk about upcoming ultra trail races, nothing I plan to do but who knows what the future may bring. I still plan to work on basic speed for now, as I know there is more in these 1 ½ legs than they are letting on.

This race was a lot of fun, always more so upon reflection, and I look forward to being able to participate in trail runs in the future. I am thinking of the trails around Bass Lake at Blowing Rock, and how I was unable to run them in my later bad ankle years, and thinking how I would like to run them again.

And I will, remembering.


  1. races are always more fun upon reflection. but great job. i'm so impressed how you run trail races. i have sooooo much trouble with my own footing. very awe-inducing man!

  2. Thanks Karyn, it's definitely more challenging than road races and I will always be a few steps slower, but running like an animal through the woods is pretty damn priceless. :-)