Afton is where I ran my first trail race 2 years ago and has become one of my favorite training sites in addition to being one of my favorite races. This year it landed on the Fourth of July, which turned out to be a warm but very humid and overcast day.
Got to the park early enough to score a good parking spot and have time to visit with several runners before the race: Jim, Dan V, Marise, Keith, Wayne, (I'm sure I'm missing a few). Before long it was time to toe the line and begin our single 25K loop of the park. The first 0.85 miles are mostly downhill on a gravelly horse trail before taking a left turn up the first of several steep climbs (total elevation for the 25K loop is a little over 5000 vertical feet). This first climb leads to the open prairie of the Africa Loop, which is a relatively flat, grassy trail. I seemed to be breathing a lot harder than normal for the pace I was running, and I was already feeling overheated even though the temp was only about 70 degrees (humidity was 90%).
A short distance later the trail leads downhill to the first of 5 aid stations, which is about the 2.5 mile mark and the beginning of the Back 40. I blew through AS1 without stopping and began the mile and a half loop through the woods which leads back to the same aid station (AS2) to top off my hand held with Heed. A short mix of woods and open meadows, a few ups and downs, then another climb back up to the Africa Loop. Thankfully the sky remained overcast or this section would have been a scorcher! After more relatively flat running on the grassy Africa Loop (the blackberries are starting to show on the bushes but are still very green), the course turns into the woods for a fun, runnable downhill that leads to AS 3 at the 6.1 mile mark. Londell was there taking pictures and told me that the first place woman had just run through the aid station shortly before I got there - except that she was on the other side of the table (AS 4). Hehehe.
Refilled with Heed, popped some electrolytes, grabbed a few pretzels and some ice, and headed up towards Nigel's Hill. While this is a noteworthy climb, it is basically a gravel road and is very runnable. Usually. Not today. I did some slow jogging at the beginning of the climb, but was really feeling hot with a queasy stomach and needed to slow down to a walk. I told myself that since this was my strategy for Lean Horse (walking all of the uphills), just think of this "race" as a good training run for the Half Hundred rather than trying to better my Afton time. Just keep up a brisk walk; keep moving forward.
Finally got to the top for another short stretch of flat, exposed running and then the somewhat tricky descent of Nigel's Hill. A short easy run along the river and then the long, tough climb up to the Campground. This is probably the longest and toughest climb at Afton and this little loop is one of my favorite hill workouts! Had a Clif Shot on the way up and was actually passing several people even though I was just walking. The Clif Shot seemed to help a little and I was able to run the rest of the way to AS 4, although the downhill is a little tricky. Stopped for another refill, more pretzels and electrolytes, and probably the best tasting fresh strawberries I've ever had. That really hit the spot! Also managed to grab about 5 ice cubes and was able to get them to stay in my hat. This seemed to help immensely, and I started passing people the entire way along the long, flat rail trail that runs parallel to the river.
The end of the river trail brings runners to the Meat Grinder at about the 11 mile mark, another nasty uphill that is technically tougher than the Campground Hill but not as long a climb. A few more ups and downs through some woods and open prairies, then finally in to the last aid station where Tom, Nancy, Eve, and others were taking care of us. More strawberries and a final refill of Heed, then off to the very fun snow shoe loop. While this part of the course is probably my favorite trail at Afton, I don't run it very often because I usually emerge covered with ticks even when I use DEET. Unlike the other trails which are typically 3-6 feet wide, the snow shoe loop is single track through woods and open meadows with tall grass. Tight, twisty turns, some technical running with rocks and roots, some short steep ups and downs that were a little slippery - this is just flat out fun to run! Too bad that I'm usually cramping when I get to this point.
Eventually the trail led back out to a wide grassy path and one more hill that I had to walk before running in to where John P, Wynn, Larry, and others were working the finish line. My time wasn't very good, but I didn't expect it to be given the trouble I was having with the humidity. Met up with Wayne and Marise who both had good runs, and soon others were stopping by to chat too. Had a great post race feed of barbequed burgers, watermelon, and chocolate chip cookies, and I ended up spending several hours hanging out and socializing afterwards. There were so many people at this race! Was able to see Steve, Carl, Zach, Dan M, Les, Bryan, and several others finish the 50K. Finally got to meet Mike, Bill, and Lynn (who will also be running Lean Horse), had time to chat with Molly about her adventure racing, Maria about Bighorn and numerous other runs/races, and Helen who won the women's 50K (again).
Thanks to RD John, Alicia, Afton State Park, and the army of volunteers who continue to do an awesome job every year putting on a premier event! Great trail, great volunteers, great aid stations, great post race barbeque, and great friends - I can't think of a better way to spend the Fourth of July :)
Hope to share the trail with all of you again soon!
1 day ago