Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Thrill in the Hills Trail Marathon, Georgia, US - Feb 2010

I found myself in the US with work and there just happened to be this trail marathon happening that weekend. It was too good an opportunity to pass up! The day started off freezing cold. I arrived an hour before the start, which gave me time to get parked up and collect my race packet. The start/finish area was right on the shore of the lake that we would spend the next few hours running around and looked stunning as the morning sunshine rose through the trees. 

Most of the 500 runners were doing the single loop half marathon, with only 77 doing the two laps. It was the first time I had tried a lapped race so I didn’t know how I’d feel about it. At 8:20am we were called to the start line and we had to spend 10 minutes shivering waiting for the off. I positioned myself at the back of the field, hoping the crowds would slow me down on the first lap.

When the gun went off we started with a loop of the start/finish area, with Guns 'N Roses being blasted out (Welcome to the Jungle) then ran up the road for a spell. The idea was to thin the crowd before we hit the single track trail but when we reached the trees we came to a grinding halt. There was more walking than running in the first half a mile and it was pretty clogged up for the first three miles. People around me were complaining and I could understand their frustration but as I was doing the marathon I didn’t care at all. We walked most for the first half a mile in the trees.

After about three miles the crowds thinned enough to think about overtaking. The trails were tight and passing could be difficult. You would come to a line of 20 runners and have to work your way through into a bubble of space then work forwards towards the next line. I realised that someone was using me to pace themselves and I got used to the sound of the familiar footfall. We eventually got chatting and ended up running the last 8 miles of the first lap together. It was fantastic to have good company and it made the first lap feel effortless.

Talk about a race of two halves! We reached the end of the first lap; I said goodbye to my new friend, Kevin, and headed off on lap two. The trail went from very busy to just me, running alone. I got to really appreciate just how good the trails were on this second lap. Lovely twisting single track with lots of tree roots, gently undulating but never too steep. As trails go it was just about perfect. There were a couple of novelty 6 foot tall mountain bike jumps that we had to climb using hands and knees which was fun. The trees were tall pine trees and the sun was up in the blue sky making the temperature perfect. As the day went on the sun brought out the smell of pine sap, it was just a fabulous place to be running.

I thoroughly enjoyed lap two and felt strong up to about mile 22. I continued to work my way slowly though the field and didn’t get passed until the last mile, when a completely fresh looking girl flew past me as though I was standing still. The last few miles were tough; my pace dropped and I had to walk more of the up hill slopes. The finish actually appeared before I was expecting it and it was great to cross the line, collect my medal, sit down and eat some food.

I finished in 4:36:33, 32nd out of 77. Very pleased with that given the nature of the course.

This race was fantastic! Great route, great organization, friendly marshals (who gave extra big cheers to marathoners on the first lap) and friendly runners. A thoroughly enjoyably day.

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