Friday, June 24, 2011

Forge the Gorgeous race report

I decided semi-last minute to run this race, even though its distance (7 mi) is a little short for my liking.  I had three main reasons: 1) after months of training I just wanted to run an actual race; 2) the trails are indeed gorgeous; 3) pizza at the finish line.

The race is held in Fillmore Glen State Park in Moravia, and the course consists of two partially overlapping loops, basically ascending and descending the glen twice: up the North Rim Trail, down the South Rim Trail, up the Gorge Trail, and back down the North Rim Trail.

Map of Forge the Gorgeous course with first loop in red and second loop in orange. Not sure this is 100% accurate, but it gives the basic idea.

I tend to start races slowly, but my tentative plan was to go out hard and see how long I could stay with the big guns. The race began with a sprint of several hundred yards up a grass field before crossing a bridge over the creek and starting a steep, switch-backing ascent up the North Rim Trail. At the beginning of the climb I was close to the leaders, but it was quickly apparent that I would kill myself trying to hang with them. So I found a steady pace, gradually passing a few people on the first half of the ascent.

Once the steepest part of the climb was behind me, I settled in behind Scot J., a local runner I've battled in several races, in seventh place. At this point I could no longer ignore the signals coming from my bladder and had to stop for a quick pee break- which ended up being an all-too-long pee break. Four runners passed me, but I took off up the trail feeling rejuvenated and quickly overtook three of them. Finding myself alone for the rest of the ascent, I crossed the dam, made the last climb up the other side of the gorge, and hit the turnaround.

I could see Scot and another runner maybe 50 yards ahead at the beginning of the descent down South Rim Road. I'm usually pretty fast on the downhills, so I thought I had a good chance of catching them. But about halfway down, where the course switches from pavement to the South Rim Trail, their lead seemed to be about the same, and I lost sight of them in the woods. I kept a fast but not blistering pace the rest of the way down, not wanting to destroy my quads for the upcoming climb. This made for a fun descent to the turnaround, where I saw Scot and the other runner still about 50 yards ahead and beginning up the Gorge Trail.

The Gorge Trail is definitely the scenic highlight of the race, winding its way up the bottom of the narrow glen, crossing the creek eight times on stone bridges and passing several waterfalls. I soon lost touch with the runners ahead of me, so I tried to enjoy the scenery but still push myself, knowing the race would soon be all downhill. The humidity started to get oppressive in the dank recesses of the gorge, and I was glad when it was time to make the steep climb up to the south rim, where I enjoyed a nice breeze on the final paved portion of the ascent.

I didn't see anyone ahead of or behind me when I began the final descent on the North Rim Trail, so I figured I might be alone for the rest of the race. This was fine by me. Last year, with the opportunity to pass a few people, I had pushed really hard the entire way, including a borderline-reckless plunge down the final section of steep, loose-rock-covered trail, uneven stone steps, and hairpin turns. This time, I ran hard but didn't totally abandon myself to gravity. The descent ends abruptly with a sharp turn leading to a last bridge over the creek and a grassy dash to the finish. I saw Scot on the other side of the bridge and knew I wouldn't catch him, but I went all out on the final sprint for an 8th place finish in 55:31.

In summary, it was a great race on beautiful trails with delicious pizza at the finish, and I'm definitely glad I decided to run it. Despite the humidity, pee break, and lack of urgency on the last downhill, I improved on my time from last year, making me feel pretty good about my condition heading into next weekend's Finger Lakes 50s. Can't wait!

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