Today I ran the fourth race of the Appalachian Series. This race was at an athletic complex in Seneca, SC. As I drove into Seneca yesterday afternoon, I drove by a large lake. Later, we had a group dinner at a restaurant on the lake called the Light House. One of the nice things about a series like this is that you see a lot of the same people every day. The night before each race there’s always a large group dinner at one of the local restaurants.
I had heard rumors that this race had a hilly course. As it turns out, it wasn’t that bad. The real story was the weather. Everyone was saying we would get soaked today. When I looked at the hourly forecast, it didn’t seem that different than the other days, except the temperature was warmer. I saw a 50 percent chance of rain throughout the morning. Everyone else was saying 100 percent chance of rain, and it would be heavy. They were right.
When I arrived at the Seneca Athletic Complex, it was 73 degrees and raining lightly. With such a warm temperature, light rain would help keep us from overheating. I didn’t need a rain poncho or gloves today. I would get wet, but I wouldn’t get cold.
The course was an out-and-back that we ran 14 times. It started in the parking area and wound its way around the whole complex, past soccer fields and baseball diamonds. The start/finish area was on the highest ground. After running through the parking lot, we ran down a small hill. There was a larger hill in the middle of the course, which we would encounter in each direction. The middle part of the course was on low ground. On the return trip, we had to climb a small hill to get back up to the parking lot. Altogether, we had three noticeable hills per lap, but they weren’t all that tough.
When we started running, it was still a light rain. It had also been raining during the night, so there were puddles in the low parts of the course. Some were unavoidable, so my shoes got wet during the first lap. The next time I ran down the hill in the middle of the course, I felt both of my insoles sliding forward. I hadn’t even run two miles yet, and they were bunched up under my toes. I knew it would be a waste of time to try to fix them. The same thing would happen the next time I ran down a hill.
My time at the first turnaround was surprisingly fast, but my time at the end of the lap was about right. Then I realized that the first half was downhill and the second half was uphill. I could only reliably gauge my pace at the end of each full lap.
Early in my second lap, I had to stop briefly to tie one of my shoes. I still finished that lap faster than the first lap. It was during the second lap that the sky opened up. Suddenly, it was raining ridiculously hard. Some of the puddles quickly grew to be ankle deep. In other places, there was water slowing across the pavement. There was a river flowing through the parking lot. It became almost impossible to avoid some of the deep puddles. I’ve never seen so much rain during a race.
My feet were unbearably uncomfortable. After my third lap, I ran into a nearby building to take off my shoes and remove the insoles. It meant running with no cushioning in my shoes, but I already didn’t have any cushioning under most of my foot. That took time, but surprisingly, I was still on pace for four hours. I couldn’t imagine maintaining that pace for the whole race, but I had to try.
It rained hard for nearly an hour, and the puddles kept getting deeper. I weaved back and forth to avoid going through the deep spots. In places, I ran around them on the grass, but it didn’t always help. The puddles extended over the grass. You just couldn’t see them as easily. In some places, I could avoid puddles by running up onto the side of the hill. It meant running farther. It was also tiring. It was still worth it, because it was the only way to maintain my pace.
Eventually, the heavy rain subsided, but light rain continued for the whole race. The puddles continued to get worse.
I was having to work harder and harder to maintain my pace, but somehow I was doing it. I reached the halfway mark in 1:58:10. I had a cushion of almost two minutes. That was encouraging, but my next lap was much slower. After running several 17 minute laps, suddenly I ran one in 18 minutes.
I picked up my effort as much as I could. When I reached a hill, I tried to run it without slowing down much. It was tiring, but powering up a hill used different muscles than running through or around puddles. On downhills, I picked up as much speed as I could. I tried to carry momentum into the flats. Finally, I expended the necessary energy to avoid going through deep puddles. It was tiring, but at least I could maintain some speed.
With all that effort, I was back to 17 minute laps, but I couldn’t seem to gain a single second. I was certain that I would fall off the pace, but I had to fight for a four hour finish with all the effort I could muster. I didn’t think I could do it, but I had to try.
By the time I had three laps to go, I gained a minute. I had a two minute cushion with three laps to go. I still didn’t think I could hold the pace, but I had to try.
With two laps to go, I poured it on. That lap was fast. I gained a whole minute. I continued to pour it on. I knew I could afford to slow down a little, but I was afraid I would slow down a lot. I was so drained.
I checked my time at the turnaround. I ran the first half in eight minutes. I had more than 11 minutes for the return trip. It was uphill, but I knew that was safe. When I got back to the parking lot, I checked my watch – 3:55 and change. I was slowing down, but I had less than a quarter mile to go. I finished in 3:56:20. Even though I was tiring, I ran the second half in exactly the same time as the first half. Somehow I found the strength for another sub 4 in the most ridiculously difficult weather I’ve even seen. I later learned that we had1.75 inches of rain in a period of only 50 minutes.
That’s four down and one to go. Every day of this series has been difficult. I don’t know what we’re going to face tomorrow. I’m predicting locusts.