Medoc Trail Marathon
The Medoc Marathon takes place on the trails at the Medoc Mountain State Park located in Hollister, NC, on the third weekend in October. After running the local trails here in Newport News, VA, I figured Medoc would be the next logical race in my growing portfolio. Plus, being held in late October I knew there would be a chance to enjoy the fall weather. This would be my first race since the Seattle Rock ‘n Roll in June, and would be my first time running a race through the woods. Not to grandma’s house either! This race would also be my final one before retiring from the Air Force.
I heard early on this was a first-class event from my local running friends, so I felt I had to sign up for this one. I quickly learned the race director had a witty sense of humor. This quote was from an email the he sent out prior to race day, “This is a long email, so grab your iPhone and head to the bathroom for some “alone time.” There is a big prize if you read it all. Please don’t forget to flush and wash your hands….” Not sure if I read it on the toilet or not!
More often than not, when signing up for a race there is a spot for a nickname. We had two options in this race: pick a nickname or one would be bestowed upon you. The majority of my bibs have “Dewey,” so for fun, I went with the latter option. I wanted to see what I would be anointed on my race through the woods. When I opened the envelope at packet pickup, I discovered I would be known as the Newport Ninny…a foolish person from Newport News. The name was fitting as I crossed the finish line…more on that later.
This race has an interesting legend and can be read in its entirety here – http://www.medoctrailraces.com/legend
The nearest hotel was located about 40 minutes from the race area, so the next best option was to camp in the park. Driving down and setting up before race, I quickly found myself relaxed and ready for what laid ahead. The camping adventure could be a blog post on its own.
This year, prior to race day, Hurricane Matthew decided to test the will of the local park personnel by wreaking havoc throughout the park. While the hurricane pounded the coast line its outer bands unleased torrential downpours and high winds far inland. This caused the park’s creek to spill over its banks and crest some 20 feet, as well as, ripping large trees from the ground. Just days before we lined up to test our trail skills, we were told the trail was clear except for some muddy areas. Kuddos to the park service! They were able to relocate a large metal bridge that was washed downstream, and clear several fallen trees from the trails.
The morning started out as a typical race morning, up early with coffee, except this was not a typical race morning. Life beyond the tent happens quickly when it’s chilly out. Getting up at 6 AM while camping is not the same as waking at 6 AM at home. My first priority was heating the water for coffee followed by heating my race-day oatmeal concoction.
Before the race kicked off at 8 AM, we met up with several of our long-time friends, listened to the race director’s pre-race announcements, and paused for the National Anthem. You never know what you are going to get when the anthem is played, but a local student played a wonderful rendition on a trumpet.
As I walked to the starting area, I quickly gathered this was a race few knew about or attempted. The field had just over 100 runners and I had the impression everyone appeared to know someone, at least it felt that way. Over the years, I have learned small races are generally the best kept secrets in the running community.
As the seconds counted down on the clock, the Newport Ninny was ready to create a bit of trail history.
The course consisted of three loops through the park, but first, there had to be some separation between the runners. We tore across the start line down the main road as the airhorn ripped through the park. Feeling a little too energetic, I took off pretty fast – clocking a 7:30 pace – and hanging with the lead pack. I paid for this silly idea in the final miles of the race. One day, I will learn to stick with my plan and start out a bit more conservative.
As I entered into the woods and onto the trail, we quickly jockeyed for position. The trail traversed along a creek that had been flooded out a week earlier causing some muddy areas.
Less than two miles into the race I encountered the first climb – 78 feet. This was a minor leg stretcher to what was coming about a quarter-mile later. Climbing over 300 feet in less than a quarter-mile really woke up my lungs and pumped up my legs. On the first loop, I owned this hill! That would not be the case on the subsequent laps…that hill owned me, big time! I set out with a goal to finish this trail marathon within four hours. I completed the first lap and felt great. Four hours was achievable!
Just before I started the second lap, I picked up my GoPro and decided to capture the trail’s beauty. Running over the bridges, climbing up and down hills (stairs included), and along the creek, it was all truly breathtaking. Well, that fun ended as I started to record area just prior to crossing another bridge.
I was in an area that had thick sand, and for some unknown reason, I wanted to capture my feet traversing this area. Scanning ahead, I saw another bridge. I had been recording about 20 seconds when my right foot scraped the ground and catapulted me uncontrollably on to the bridge. All that crossed my mind was “SHIT! This is going to hurt!” I fell right into the guard rail with the back of my right shoulder. Bouncing off like a rock, I stumbled and hit the left railing too. I felt like I was in a pinball machine. Recovering quickly, I looked down and thought I ripped my stomach muscles causing a hernia. The upper portion of my abs contracted so hard that it looked like an alien was trying to escape me. All I could think was what the hell just happened and how quickly will the creature inside go back to sleep? I cannot recall ever feeling pain such as this while running.
After walking for a couple of minutes, my abs slowly relaxed and retracted, and I was able to regain my bearings and press forward. No, the GoPro never saw the trail again.
Going out too strong during that first lap caught up to me during the third lap. The big climb became the never-ending crawl. Knowing the clock was quickly ticking past my goal, I maintained forward progress even though my tank was rapidly emptying out. As I was nearing the final two miles, I felt a massive electrical shock in both calves. So much for finishing without the hobbles and wobbles. Crossing the finish line at 4:25.10 is better than not at all, and that is the time I will strive to beat in the future.
I was happy to finish, but not quite ready for food. The finish line and the food were located across the field from one another. So once the cramps subsided, I ate a helping of some warm soup and washed it down with a cold Coke.
Overall, I was truly impressed with the race, and if the 2017 race season allows, I will return. The aid stations were spaced out every couple of miles, so I was never far from cookies, chips, water, Gatorade, or Honey Stinger gels. To play it safe, I carried my UD handheld with a couple of Nuun Hydration tabs. Neither were necessary, but nice to have.
I was 32 of 108 runners
In the 40 – 49 age group – securing the #8 spot in a field of 28 runners
The elevation gain during the three laps was 1,621 feet
First lap: 1:23
Second lap: 1.22
Third lap: 2:00
Medoc Trail Races – http://www.medoctrailraces.com
Medoc Mountain State Park – http://www.ncparks.gov/medoc-mountain-state-park
A journey around Medoc by Eric – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUC3Rovz7O0&t=564s