Today I ran the third race of the Appalachian Series, which was in Morganton, NC. In contrast to the first two races in the series, today’s race had a fairly flat course. I needed that. I didn’t spend enough time stretching yesterday, so this morning my left hamstring was a little tight. I could have been a big issue on a hilly course, but on a flat course I don’t have to speed up and slow down so much.
When I left the hotel, I was disheartened to see that it was already raining. By the time I got to the park where we were running, it was raining hard. We had to park about a quarter mile away from the start/finish area. That meant I couldn’t easily run to the car during the race if I needed a change of clothes. I put on my rain poncho and walked to the start with a plastic bag that I could use as a gear bag. There was a tent for gear bags at the start. That gave me a way to drop off my poncho if it stopped raining.
Today’s course was an out-and-back along two paved trails. The first trail ran alongside the Catawba River. Then we turned onto another trail that crossed a bridge over the river and continued through a greenway.
We would run this 14 times. To stay on pace to break four hours, I needed to average 17:08 per lap. I rounded to 17 minutes to keep the mental arithmetic easy.
About 15 minutes before the start, the rain stopped. I put my poncho in my gear bag and hoped the rain wouldn’t start up again.
Because of the tight hamstring, I eased into my pace gradually. By the time I reached the first turnaround, I was already going a little bit fast. Running on a flat course felt so much easier than the hilly course we ran on the previous two days. It also helped that there was very little wind today.
By the time I finished the first lap, I was going much too fast. I finished that lap in 16:09. After that, I eased up a little. My next several laps were all close to 17 minutes.
At the halfway point, I was feeling good. I didn’t have to contend with rain, wind, steep hills, or shoe problems. All I had to do was run. That felt comparatively easy. I told myself that I just had to keep running at the same pace for two more hours.
Toward the end of my eighth lap, it started raining. It wasn’t raining hard, but I was worried that the sky would open up like it did 30 minutes before the race. When I finished that lap, I stopped to put on my rain poncho. I had trouble tying the hood, so I was stopped for about 45 seconds. After taking a water stop, it was more like a minute. That was long enough that my legs started to get stiff.
When I resumed running, I immediately felt hot. It was about five degrees warmer than yesterday, and we didn’t have a cold wind. I untied my hood and pushed it back. That helped a little. I regretted the time I wasted tying it in the first place.
Before long, I felt hot again. That lap was almost a minute slower than any of my previous laps. It was also tiring. With the poncho, I was overheating. At the end of that lap, I took off the poncho and put it back in my gear bag. It never rained very hard, and the rain was already stopping. Putting on the poncho turned out to be a mistake. It had already cost me about two minutes, and now I was tired.
After that, I had trouble holding a steady pace. When I tried to lift my effort, I went too fast. When I relaxed, I went too slowly. I opted for too fast. It was draining, but I ran a little faster the rest of the way.
I eventually finished in 3:54:22. Despite the poncho fiasco, I ran the first half and the second half in almost identical times. It was the second straight day that I ran even splits.
After the race, I stayed in the finish area long enough to eat some post-race snacks and make a bathroom stop. Then I walked back to the car. By the time left, I was cold. That’ll happen when it’s 60 degrees and you’re wearing wet running clothes.
When I got back to the hotel, my hands were white. I was able to get a 2PM checkout, so I would've had time to take an ice bath. Instead, I went straight to a hot bath. I spent a long time stretching, paying particular attention to my hamstrings. Then I got on the road for the two and a half hour drive to Seneca, SC for the next race.
That’s three down and two to go. So far, I’ve kept them all under four hours, but they’re not going to get any easier. I’ve heard rumors that tomorrow's race is hilly. There’s also rain in the forecast. Imagine that.