The Medoc 2013 Race Review: A Love Story

   The only way this race review would be a love story is if Nicholas Sparks traveled west from his home in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, to Medoc State Park in order to run this glorious race. It would then, of course, spin into a tale of the return of a young solider who's wife had died running Medoc while he was away serving his country and this year he decided to embrace the pain, honor her, and run the race in her memory. He will of course do so while ironically falling in love with the female over all race winner. And all of this while defying the odds, despite not having trained himself, ignoring the intense training of other runners, he manages to somehow win the male overall.....or something. I don't know, I've never actually read any of his books.
Shoot to kill

   The story of my own race this year at Medoc, while not a love story, does feature suspense, pain, drama, tears of joy, and as is tradition, pork rinds. We open on the night before the race where I chose not to eat anything for fear of bathroom issues the next day. (Plus, I had already destroyed my pre race burrito a few hours earlier.) I figured that I would get a good night's sleep, wake early and drive out to a cool fall morning to my favorite race of them year.

  Instead, this happened:  

   T-9 hours until race time: I arrive home after getting an invite to hang out and have a few beers with another great group of runners who will be running the Peak To Creek marathon and the Marine Corp Marathon this weekend. Obviously couldn't turn that down.

   T-8 hours until race time: I have now spent thirty minutes taking my ever insistent dog out to urinate on every individual flower he can find, making me cringe every time I see the little girls in the neighborhood wearing and playing with said flowers. The second thirty minutes was slightly more productive, for the sheer fact that it included not one, but TWO activities that were a complete waste of my time. First, I searched for a pair of shorts that were by all accounts in my memory, magical. They were a perfect length, didn't chafe, and were drafty enough to feel like a cool summer breeze was ever present as I ran. Pretty sure I now know how the elderly feel when they try to recall their amazing childhood and gloss over all the parts that sucked. 
   Giving up the search for the shorts the probably are residing in Narnia, I took up the diligent task of debating the merits of two pairs nearly identical Nike shorts, the only difference being the color. (One totally makes you faster than the other.) Epic movie scores playing out in my head, I procured the blues ones, while snatching both a shirt and a singlet, deciding that I would make a last minute call between those based on the tempature.

   T-6 hours until race time: After an approximate one hour of sleep the dog is now scratching to wake me up to go out and make sure no other dog has claimed his flowers between the hours of midnight and 2:30am. I reassure him that the flowers are still in his possession by throwing his favorite toy across the room to distract him while I attempt to get a little more sleep.

Hey man, I know its 4:00am and you have to race,
 but I just wanted to say "hi"

   T-4 hours until race time: A friend who has come to Medoc with me every year save for one, (something about his daughter being born or some such nonsense) calls to wake me up and let me know that he is driving from Wilmington, North Carolina now and can't wait to meet me at the race. Fantastic. 

   T-3 hours until race time: I am up and dressed, choosing the singlet, but stuffing the shirt, some shot blocks, and a bottle of S-Caps in a bag as another friend arrives at my door to up to the mountain together. (Its his first Medoc)

   T-1 hour until race time: We arrived at the race site, connected with friends and picked up our bibs and bags. This year's swag included temporary Medoc tattoos amongst the usual collection of an awesome tech shirt, jelly beans, and a few other items. Even before the sun rose and I walked around in my singlet, I realized I had made the right choice. The weather was already warm and the air thick, but not quite oppressive. (I learned later that the humidity was at a staggering 96%, or the standard thickness of three day old pudding.)

    As I wandered around trying to catch up with friends and other runners I hadn't seen in a year,  the marathoners were lining up and getting ready for take off. Most of us stood by and jumped in on yelling numbers for the countdown, and much like every other year I have run Medoc, I experienced no marathon envy. Absolutely none. But his is perhaps my body's response to knowing that I have to run it myself next year. (More on that later.)

   A few more minutes went by and those of us who were running the ten miler joked and eyeballed the competition while we waited for the marathoners to pass us again on their first loop. After cheering our friends on and giving them words of encouragement like, "You poor, poor, lost souls," and "Man, that's gotta suck in this weather. Better them than me.," we headed down to the entrance to the park  and began our own warmups. I can't say I was totally at ease with so much on the line with this race. My breathing wasn't terrible, but it wasn't as deep and easy as the last few practice runs. I did an extra half mile as my friends turned back, as much to calm my nerves as to try and warm my body up. 

   They called us up to line up at the start line, reminding us that we were chip timed and that we didn't need to push our way to the front, or stand in the front if we weren't going to be some of the fastest runners. When I didn't seem to take the hint, one of the race directors repeated the statement in the microphone while making eye contact with me directly. Taking a cue from my elementary school days I smiled and nodded, just knowing that the person in charge couldn't be referring to me. With what appeared to be a deep sigh, the race countdown was started. As people around me began to assume the same position as one would have for a prostate exam, (hips pushed out, trying to relax and focus on breathing, face contorted) I refused to do anything special. I tried to stay calm and take in the scene, allowing some music from a favorite band to pipe through my head.

Yeah, yeah he's still not getting it. Can someone pull him off the line, please?

    If you've read the blog before, you know that Medoc traditionally is started by the blowing of a conch shell. (This is used not only to signify the start of the race, but ward off Medoc himself.) This year I don't recall if I actually heard the sound or not, as I was busy trying to get to my happy place of enjoying beer and burritos with the US women's beach volleyball team. What did grab my attention was the crush of people pushing forward and sprinting towards the first timing mat. Smacking the start button on my garmin I joined them, fantasies of beating the Russians and being hailed by my teammates as a hero while we receive our Olympic gold medals dashed. (And you thought my last reference was dirty; shame on you.)

   I came off the line faster than I wanted, and passed a few people who had taken a commanding lead. Then, as my watch hit the 2 minute mark, I began to feel that old familiar stabbing feeling (like the very atmosphere is shanking you for the cigarettes you failed to provide it this week) while two of the guys I had blown by earlier came by me, clearly undisturbed by my earlier passing and totally immersed in their conversation. The fact that they were conversational bothered me, and I decided to show them exactly what how I felt about their "superior fitness," and "good looks," by wheezing even louder and pulling ahead again. We rounded the first mile and I tried to high five and wave at as many people as possible while maintaining the illusion that I wasn't about to have a seizure. 

Go on, man.
Get the finisher's surprise without me.
   We peeled off the road and onto the grass to began our ascent on the trails. I still felt good as the grass was pulled underneath my feet and the sky was clear above me. That feeling of moderate speed and ease all changed as I hit the canopy of tree cover and was somehow transported to the mountains of the Vietnam jungle. The air was ten times thicker, and I felt my pace slow down as I struggled to keep my suddenly heavy feet moving through the brush. Somehow managing to resist the urge to yell out Charlies! Charlies in the trees! I pushed on, noting that I had least covered the first mile and some change with decent speed, and wanted to try and hold whatever lead I had.  Expecting the trails to be in horrible condition after a week's worth of rain, I was pleasantly surprised to find that for the most part they were pretty dry and in good condition. 

   I passed the mile two marker and allowed myself a look back for the competition while bracing myself for the mile high climb. No one there. Huh. Maybe I had made a bigger lead than I thought? Before I could even finish the last thought, the mile two ascent was on me. I climbed, my legs and bodily movement looking like a confused puppy that has encountered stairs for the first time when I heard noises behind me. I twisted around to see a slew of runners closing the gap where I had slowed so much on the hill. Ohhhhh....there they are. Still walking up the world's only stair master with roots, I moved slightly to the right to allow the runners who insisted on trying to maintain pace up the behemoth to pass me. Another half mile went by and I watched most of their paces slow to match mine. I know I should feel more guilty about the smile that broke on my face seeing that...but...ummm...I didn't. Finally hitting a flat section I unloaded my saved energy and managed to pass the same amount of people who had taken me on the hill. (I have no clue if they were the same runners or not, but I was keeping a mental tally on the number that passed me.) 

Mile 2 is the worst

   Like previous years, the next couple of miles are really fuzzy. I tend to either blackout, or to repress the memories of the pain. (Or some awkward combination of the two.) I have flashes of wonderful volunteers manning aid stations as I give my best zombie impression coming by. "Water? Gatorade?" To which I respond with a hand wave and all the eloquence of livestock. "nnnughhhhhhh..." Sometimes I am running beside the river that cuts through the park and under the bridge, sometimes I am running across smaller bridges that help bridge the gaps between trails. Still other times, I am battling to stay ahead of runners who I can hear barreling through the trails behind me. The point being that I don't really remember much of what happens there, save for quick snippets of memory. 
And you say your'e being chased by this
Medoc "monster" the entire time?
I seem to regain the ability to form new and lasting memories somewhere around mile seven. Here is where the single track trails come into play and I am doing one of four things; trying desperately to stay ahead of another runner hot on my heels, find a good spot to move so that said runner can get by me and I don't lose too much time, hoping the runner in front of me will be considerate enough to move out of my way (they almost always are at Medoc- its part of the magic) or trying to figure out exactly how fast I can go while roots jump out at me and the ground itself seems to roll like ocean swell.

   I remember clearly looking back several times to see packs chasing me down. I don't mean there were groups of runners who happened to be running about the same pace and were near me; these were packs to two and three. Like some unholy cross between Twilight werewolves that could run the trail with incredible agility, and Hitler youth that had the exact same simultaneous lock step going on. Every time I looked back, their dead eyes seemed to make contact with mine, and suddenly, irrationally, I wasn't running for a cup anymore. More than a little unnerved, I tried to step on the gas once again.

   I held them off for the entirety of mile 7, and then we hit the last big climb of the race. No where near as bad as the previous hills, bit still rough on my already trashed legs. I made it about a third of the way up before I remembered that this was Medoc, and politely side stepped to allow the first pack of two to pass. Silently I hoped that would be able to overtake them as I did the first time, but these were not like the others. The two seemed to float from rock to rock above me, almost supernaturally. Shaking my head I slogged on, my legs exhausted as another pack of three, arms and legs working in time with each other blew up the hill. I laughed when I noticed quite a few of them were rocking the temporary Medoc tattoos that they had received pre race on their calves. My first thought, (Which I would vocalize later pacing out a friend for the marathon) was "Its like they don't even know I'm their God..." Despite the acolytes not knowing that they should have let me win, I decided to put forth the effort and at least try to give them a run for their money at the end of the race. 
 I can't even tell the difference

   Pushing my body and ramping it up for one last mile, one more runner passed me. We would play the passing game back and forth for another half a mile before he finally conceded victory, telling me to go ahead. I willingly obliged as he shouted back "No worries, theres no one behind us for a while." Bursting out of the jungle and back into the open air I shot for the last quarter mile of the race. I threw myself across the finish line to accept this year's medal.

   Looking around....there was a definite change in the people around me. There seemed to be just as many people across the finish line already as last year, but this time they were all still sweating! Maybe I hadn't done that bad after all! I knew the official times wouldn't be up, so I waited at the finish line a little longer for friends who weren't too far behind. The first crossed the line shortly after me, throwing down a new course PR for Medoc, and the next soon after him, having run his very first Medoc event. Bodies sapped for energy, we made our way down to the tents where the food was held.

    As in past years, Medoc does nothing but the very best in every undertaking they choose, the food being no exception. There is every kind of food imaginable from doughnuts to apples, cinnamon buns to bananas, soda to coffee. (If you've read the blog for more than a few months you know that I am not only an avid believer of a strong burrito and beer diet, but a healthy dose of coffee as well.) Sampling some of the wares, and probably what some would deem "more than my fair share" of the coffee, we recuperated after picking up this years finishers surprise which turned out to be a pretty sweet Medoc beanie! Figuring I would ride the high, I finally meandered back over to the television where the Tar River Running Company had the results scrolling through. 

Apparently planting your beanie on an infant's
head like a flag in the sand, does not
allow you to claim it as "yours." 
   First place....second place...third place...the names kept scrolling as I waited to see mine come up.  7th...8th...9th...10th... and there I was. 11th place, 4th in age. Looking to see hope much I had lost out on an age division, Medoc pint glass producing award, I saw it was a mere 31 seconds. I smiled, nodding my head. I had given all I could give this year to the mountain, and 11th place overall in a race that brings some of the best trail runners from multiple states across the country? Yeah, I could live with that. I passed on my standings to friends and stood by to cheer others on who were coming across the line when it was announced that the awards for the ten miler would begin soon.

   Knowing I had just enough time to watch these go down before hitting the trail again, I stood by to cheer and clap for those who had also come to do battle with the mountain. Watching the overall, and then the age group awards I recognized the faces who had passed me to win their own agar groups and higher rankings. After a few seconds more thought I realized that the majority had not passed me until that last hike at mile 8, meaning that I had floated somewhere between 3rd and 5th place overall for the majority of the race!  

   Although I didn't technically win this anything this year, I'm counting this one as a victory. Five years ago I was a guy who had never run and showed up to a ten mile trail race in the middle of nowhere on a whim. And the proceeded to get schooled by several of the elderly on the trail who told me I was "doing a good job," and then offered me a hard candy. I made a vow after the race that year, after meeting so many amazing runners, volunteers, and even the incredible directors that I would keep running and at the very least show up again the next year as a better runner. If nothing else, to show them that their commitment to that day had changed my commitment ton the sport. Four years I'm almost breaking into the top ten with incredibly elite runners at the race that changed my life. So, yeah, I think I can call this year a victory.

Mrs. Johnson would have never beaten me that first year
if she hadn't had help on trails from assisted living

   But, my story wouldn't be complete if I wasn't honest about a little bit of cheating. As a friend was coming back through for his final loop on the marathon, I jumped back on the trails to help pace him out. Given that he had gotten sick earlier in the week on his flight from Denver, Colorado and hadn't been able to keep food down for three days, I didn't feel too bad. Karma being what it is, I was appropriately punished along the trail as my left calf locked up during the eight mile loop. 

   It's also the last year I'll have the chance to do that, as next year I'll finally be stepping up to the marathon myself. After five years of running, stumbling, falling, and flying (literally) at the ten mile race, it's time. The real spirit of this race for me, is definitely the marathon. Its got to be one of the toughest courses out there, offset only by having the best volunteers and post race party out there. And besides, my tattoo actually says "Medoc Marathon," not "Medoc ten miler." Which makes me, as the french say, Le Poser. I'm looking forward to earning the marathon finisher's surprise, being 26.2 miles closer to the Medoc 100 mile club, and of course, being able to say I am one of the select few to have accomplished running the marathon there.

   In the meantime? I've got a great new Medoc medal, and I'm enjoying my new course pr over beer and burritos. And who knows, maybe I'll be enjoying that beer out of a marathon winner's glass next year. As always, thanks for reading, and don't forget to show us some love on the Facebook  and Twitter sites! 

   *From the CPNS law team: For disclaimer purposes, "showing the love," is not an intentional derogatory statement towards the reader, nor does it imply any "love showing" involving the use or lack of trench coats on behalf of the author, and is not strictly necessary for the the continued reading of the Crazy People with Nice Shoes blog.

Doubles as an ice pick



  1. Awesome job on both the run and the race report. Like you I am an adult onset athlete. I was one of those marathoners you "cheered and encouraged." No worries sounds like I may get to return the favor next year. That was one muggy October day.


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