Race Report – 2014 USATF Open 10K Trail Champs

By: Cassandra Henkiel

On Saturday, August 23rd in Laurel Springs, NC (about an hour NW of Boone) Mountain Goat Racing put on the Continental Divide Trail Race. Wow! What a total kick in the ass that was…totally fun in a sadistic, tough way. I was looking forward to doing this race being I’ve never done a national level trail race and why not?!? Plus, past summers the trail or mountain champs never fit into my summer schedule and this summer it did. I just got back, Aug 17th, from 2 weeks of running in Colorado, Boulder and Aspen. Got in some great altitude training and lots of climbing and trail running. So everything seemed to line up perfectly leading up to this 10k trail race this year.

I entered this race with nothing other than looking to having a fun new adventure. That it was! I have been in the Asheville area and loved the very green & wooded rolling mountains. As I drove from Charlotte up to the race site(2 hrs)…it didn’t disappoint. A drastic different view from my miles driven in CO…it’s all a different beauty. Up and up I drove to the top of a mountain of the Appalachians just over the continental divide. The race accommodations were in a very bare bones though nice retreat/resort facility. The views were amazing…rolling green mountain tops as far as the eyes could see in all directions. I arrived the day before, so I had the time to check out the course. As I drove to the very tip top of the mountain where the race started, I was told the race director was out finishing up marking the course. So off I went trying to figure out the course…which was not a success. Wasn’t sure where the start/finish was, how many loops or direction we were going on these trails?!? Oh well, after about 10-15 mins of running I jumped into the trails and once into the trails, it was time to walk! I think my legs were still feeling all those climbs at altitude in CO. And there I found myself, in the land of the Hobbits…everything became; mossy, ferny, shroomy and dense with lots of trees and green everywhere. I was so glad I did this to be able to really enjoy the beauty surrounding me that I would be missing racing, knowing how hard I’d be focusing on my footing through this very tough, technical single track hiking trails traversing up and down these mountains.

photo 1

Race day: 9:30 am start

Back up to the mountain top, noticing it rained the night before, thinking….yikes! The footing is going to even more fun than I thought!! The temp was fine, of course coming from ATX, it’s not that hot or humid. There was one race, men & women combined. This could add to the already challenge of passing in any kind of trail race. Passing on this course was going to be interesting!! Not knowing any of my competition or how many were in the race or having any expectations other than having fun…it was time to start. The announcer was taking a tally how many where here for their first trail race and I was surprised at those numbers. He laughed and mentioned how much we’d love the ROCK WALL? Ok? Well, if it was your first or not…we all were in for a treat no doubt!

With a mass start which felt like a cross country race for the first 1000 m, was a great way to string things out pretty quick and down the mnt we went. Soon enough we where weaving in and out, down and back up thru the Hobbit like tough terrain. I would say overall all these tough trails made up roughly 5 miles of this 10k course. I thought several times I was going to fall & roll down the mnt with the trails tricky soft/mushy footing as well as the slant of the trail, not to mention the mossy, slick covered fallen trees and granite rocks that occasionally crossed/covered the trails. Mid way in the race was an interesting encounter….swarming bees or hornets!! Yes, there must have been a hive/nest on the course that got disturbed by several of the leaders. This was where I was stopped by a male runner who wasn’t sure what to do and informed me of the danger ahead and with a quick decision I decided to cut the course by about 50 feet to avoid the hazard and he with a few others who caught up followed. Once back on the course within in secs I could hear screaming behind where others weren’t so lucky!! (over 20 runners got attacked with multiple stings with 3 off to the hospital by race end) . There were 2 different spots on the course I found myself hiking due to the grade being so steep. Towards the end of the race I found out what the ROCK WALL was and this is where I believe ‘ignorance is bliss’! Truly, it was a granite rock mnt face that went straight up within the last 800 m/mile of the race. Awesome! With an up hill run out of the woods that continued up to the finish line…..all the fun was over.

As after any race…there’s the post race break down. I cooled down with several guys who ran this same race last year, they seemed to think this year was tougher. It seemed more runners went down with surveying the scene post race, with lots of cuts, scrapes, mud, and stings. The men’s winner wrenched his ankle real bad and 2nd place said he’s never fell in a trail race and fell that day. At this point I was not sure where I ended up overall with the women and had to head back to shower and check out from my room prior to the awards.photo 3

I ended up 3rd overall women and first in my 40-44 age group. Not knowing this wasn’t just the USATF 10k Champs, though also the NC 10k trails Champs as well. All in all I had a great time meeting some new peeps and loving the challenge of the terrain and traveling to a new place to race. I was happy the running in CO certainly paid off in these green-covered Hobbit-like mnts. I’ll for sure look into doing another USATF either trail or mountain event in the future.

photo 5

 

Now it was time for some fun, off to Boone I drove. What a cool small mountain town. There are great trails to run/hike which I did that afternoon and a cool vibe being a college town as well. Had some good food and beer at a fun brewery. Sunday awoke with it totally socked in with fog and misty rain. Enjoyed a very wet run, knowing it was going to be awhile before a run like that back in ATX. Then the drive about an hour and 30 back to Charlotte. What a fun weekend in the North Carolina mountains! For those trail runners…you need to check this area out! You won’t be disappointed!

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