Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Monday, October 7, 2013

2013 Continental Divide 10K Trail Race National Championship

So, I get an e-mail from a friend (Derek) who wants me to be on his team for the 10K Trail National Championships in Laurel Springs. The fact that Jason Bryant and Ryan Woods (until he broke his foot) were on the team, made me wonder what use I would be, but apparently you can have however many people you want on your team and the top five times are added together to determine the winners. So, a terrible performance wouldn't necessarily count against the team, so long as we had five decent times. In truth, I think Jason was more concerned about his placement overall than the team. Overall finishers are eligible for cash prizes, after all. Teams get medallions in the traditional "gold, silver, bronze" colors. I told my friend that after looking at past results and knowing my lack of speedwork in training, the best I could possibly hope for would be an hour finish time. He said that there were only three teams in the event so we were guaranteed of a "podium" finish.

Jason Bryant is the Race Director and his original plan was to have the event at Beech Mountain earlier in the summer. Somewhere close to race day, his plans were foiled and he had to scramble to reschedule the event and move it back to Laurel Springs. Personally, I'm glad it was later in the year, but I wonder if it did affect turnout.

It's a nice Autumn morning as I make the 1 1/2 hour drive up to the Laurel Springs Moravian Camp, near the Virginia border. The leaves have not really begun to change, but you can feel the drier air and see an occasional "shower of leaves" when a gust of wind hits. Wilkesboro was apparently having some sort of festival that morning as I detoured around downtown and a Main Street that was beginning to fill with tents. The race starts at 10:00 a.m., so I was trading a warmer race for getting to sleep a bit later.

Somewhere past North Wilkesboro, the road starts quickly winding up into the mountains. Occasionally, I can smell brakes from cars who were coming down this same stretch. I remembered some of the notes about the course--28% grade for one 150-meter stretch, 1500' of elevation gain, single-track. It was going to be an interesting day.

Some serious runners at the start. I'm safely out of the way.
The walk from the parking area to the start/finish area was about 1/3 mile, but not really an issue. We picked our packets up in an old assembly hall which would later host the awards ceremony. The actual start/finish was a short walk up a hill, behind the hall, to a grassy meadow. Paths had been mowed for the runners, but off the paths, the grass was 3-4' high. The race runs maybe 200' before its first turn and then quickly heads into the woods. Passing is a bit difficult early on and I imagine had the turnout been more than 77, it would have been extremely difficult. I was probably mid-pack in the early stages. The course consists of four loops, but that is deceiving for first-timers (or me, anyway,) because you don't come close enough to the finish area to know that you've completed a loop.

Somewhere around mid-race, I think?
After maybe 1.5 miles (a guess since I didn't have a GPS or watch) I was pretty much in the vicinity of the same people for the rest of the race. The course didn't have any extremely tricky downhill sections (nothing like the first mile down after the summit of the Mount Mitchell Challenge) but there were some uphill stretches where you almost had to grab small trees to pull yourself up. It would also come out into a field or road momentarily and you could briefly stop worrying about watching your footing.

I managed to pass a few people toward the end, though I didn't realize I was near the finish, and crossed the line feeling fairly good, despite having just come up the 28% grade section. My time was right in line with what I expected - 59:26. My place was 23/77 which is around 30%. My goal is always to try for top 10%, but with this event attracting some real speedsters, that wasn't going to happen. I'm comparing it to when I entered the Grizzly 100K bike race with my 20+ year old Bianchi road bike. I knew I was handicapped from the start and I had ridden my bike very little in preparation. I also finished that event mid-pack and couldn't really expect much better.

I think this is near the top of the last hill, near the finish.
After finishing, I went back to cheer on the rest of my team. I knew Jason had finished well ahead of me and apparently, we had one of his cross-country team members running for us, who also had already finished. One by one, the rest of our team came through, all in good spirits and we reconvened at the finish area. Derek knew half the people there and immediately set into catching up with them while I compared notes with some of my newly-met teammates. I should add that Derek was responsible for making the finisher's medallions, which were in the shape of maple and sycamore leaves.

The time between the finish and the awards stretched out a bit as there were some walkers still on the course and Jason had to manually add the times for the team awards. The finish area had some cheese/salsa burritos, chips, etc... as well as some information about other upcoming area races. The awards ceremony stretches out because there are USATF awards in addition to overall race awards. Double dipping was allowed and since most of the participants were USATF members, the two individual awards ceremonies were basically the same.

Yes, we really did win the Team National Championship!
As that was going on (knowing there was no reason for me to expect to hear my name called) Derek was busy adding up the team times. His eyes got real big and he whispered, "I think we won!" I was skeptical since one other team had all the same shirts and I saw several ahead of me. But while Jason's top five finish and a good performance from the cross-country kid helped greatly, it was more a matter of all five of us performing respectably as we won the team event by thirty minutes of combined time. I was happy for Derek as the win really seemed to mean a lot to him. I know that the team event is secondary to the individual events in the Championships, but it is still kind of cool to win.

I need to add that there were some nice door prizes, including some running watches. The age group awards were homemade jam (unless you were flying and then you could swap for socks.) The shirts were white tech shirts with the logo on them. Some people had on shirts from prior years that were different colors, so I suspect they change the colors each year.

I enjoyed this race a lot, though it did make for a long day--getting home later than with most marathons. I think it is geared more for USATF people who travel to a lot of USATF events. I'd certainly do it again in the future, but would really want to train for it if I went back in hopes of improving on my finish time.

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