Goose Creek Trail Race Review

   The Goose Creek Trail Race, a fun, small race located in the Goose Creek State Park of eastern North Carolina that includes both a 10 miler and an 8k trail race. Last year I ran this race for the first time and experienced the bitter shame of defeat to my friend, neighbor and training partner, Jenny. After some hardy encouragement to 'race me,' in the last tenth of a mile of the race, she did just that beating me across the line in a race so close that determining the winner came down to the fact that my timing chip-less left foot crossed the mat at the same time as her timing chip equipped right foot did. This bitter loss was definitely 90% of my motivation in registering for the same race this year, which had now been transformed from a 7k to an 8k race to incorporate a view from the beach.

Apparently my bitterness from last year's loss
makes an excellent broth.
   The morning of the race I was groggy and tired, struggling to get back to my running form after a mandatory week off. As I lay in bed watching the minutes on my phone slowly tick away, I debated the merits of skipping a race I had paid for months ago. Five more minutes ticked digitally by and I decided that I needed to get up and head out the door to Little Washington when I got a text from Jenny indicating she was about to head to the race herself. While there was ever very little danger of me actually skipping this race, the thought of being automatically chicked simply by not showing up was not appealing whatsoever. Dressing quickly and taking my dog out for a quick trip to the bathroom, I was soon on my way to the race site.

   Upon arrival I was treated to a volunteer staff handing out packets that was almost entirely composed of local runners from home. Walking in just ahead of me, Jenny received what has to amount to a starlet being greeted on the red carpet, while I received all of the contempt of a homeless man that the staff of McDonalds decided to give a cup of coffee if he would just leave. With over an hour left until our race time, we both floated around speaking with friends and volunteers to pass the time. Around 8:10, (Twenty minutes before the 10 milers took off, and 35 before our own race was supposed to start) we finally took off for a warm up. My lungs felt ragged and full holes, while my legs filled with lead as we made our way down the tree lined road. Out loud I told Jenny that I was planning on trying to run the first 3 miles or so with a  5k race pace and then go from there, while inside I was just hoping not to die and possibly get lucky enough to get an age group award. Already having turned around and headed towards the 8k start line we hit the one mile mark and I was still left largely feeling like a man who should have been in rehab learning to walk again, not lining up for a race start. 

Race day? Yeah....sure,
you're totally ready

   As we looked around, trying to get a feel for the competition, I noticed the absence of many of the faces that were present at last year's race. To compensate, it seemed that fate had sent us another batch of extremely fast runners, including a high school cross country athlete who looked like he was ready to steam roll us all at the race, and then begin his real workout. Groaning as I overheard other pockets of people discussing how many times they had run Goose Creek prior (It was my second year.),  I told Jenny that I was contemplating going out with the leaders and trying to see how long I could stay with them. Her response was the withering "How many times have I told you not to..." look that every parent gives a child as she reminded me to run my own race instead.

   Fumbling with my Garmin again to make sure I had signal, awkwardly made my way to the front of the pack when the race countdown from ten began. Trying to keep calm I didn't countdown with the rest of the people racing and standing by, not because I wanted to be rude, but because counting down brings my stress levels to that of man being shot at. As we came closer to one, time seemed to slow down as my breathing quickened. Run your own your own your o- Oh hell, here we go. The sound of the bullhorn cut through the air and I flew off the line, chasing down the first three or four runners. Within a half mile or so I was behind the lead runner, listening to the rhythm of my own breathing and wondering exactly how long I could keep up. Trying to stay competitive, I refused to look at my garmin, instead glancing back quickly over my right shoulder to reveal the sight of the high school runner, not to far from me casually running. Reminding myself to stay competitive above all, I tried to forget about my breathing pattern which resembled something like a club / dance remix of a dubstep song, and keep my head up and eyes on the runner in front of me who was leading the 8k race. 

I refuse to participate in your 
New Year's Eve-like countdown..

   Almost to the end of the road portion, we passed the first water station just before the trail head and a volunteer shouted something to me to which I responded the same way I do at social events when I can't hear what someone has told me. Smile, nod and hope they didn't just tell me how sad their grandmother's funeral was. Breathing hard, still chasing the lead runner I watched him go down to one knee in front of me with his right foot forward, presumably to tie his shoe. Yes! I thought, This is my chance to catc- what the hell?!? As a whole, the super power to be able to tie your shoe inhumanly fast is kind of lame. However, in the world of running and racing, it falls only behind super human speed and endurance. It was like he bent down to tap his shoelaces, or possibly reprimand them for coming untied in the first place, and then he was back up again. I meanwhile, might have gained a whole three steps on him. 

   We turned right into a parking lot and then hooked one more sharp right onto the trail where I continued wondering at what point the runner behind me would stop toying with me and drop the hammer. Waiting for him to close the gap and pass me was becoming nerve wracking. I decided that instead of thinking about him and wondering exactly when he would over take me I would try to keep all my focus on the sole runner ahead of me, even if I couldn't catch him. Wheezing out in spurts, I heard the sound of my own breath over the my footfalls so I tried to concentrate more on the scenery around me in hopes that it would bring it back down. The trees, the birds, the telephone...I nearly came to a complete standstill at the site of a pay phone  in the middle of a trail. It was so shockingly out of place and unexpected that I couldn't help but chuckle a bit as it brought me out of my panic mode and reminded me to not only stay competitive, but enjoy the race.
Hello? Yes, I'm done racing. No, I don't want to
 run anymore. Please send someone to
come pick me up.

   Another fifty yards brought us to a setting that would have forced me out of my mental  Guantanamo Bay if the phone hadn't. The main reason the race directors had elected to change the distance this year from 7k to 8k was the introduction of the beach into the course. From a runner's standpoint I wasn't too thrilled with the idea. Sand? Perfect, something to make me slower. Being a trail, there's probably going to be a stump or two where water meets land. (There was.) Something else to watch out for. Awesome. And make the race a longer distance? Hell, I am always THRILLED for that. 

   With the grin from the phone still plastered all over my face the site of the beach emerged with fog hovering over the water and the sun's reflection slowly but surely cutting swaths through it. It was jaw dropping beauty in the middle of a race like I've never experienced before. Trying to push the thoughts of complete peace and serenity out of my mind I realized that the sand had not only slowed me, but the runner directly ahead of me. Turning from the pilings jutting out of the water I refocused my attention on him and leapt over a log, unwilling to go around now that I was definitely gaining ground on him.

Pictured: The beach at Goose Creek.       /         Not pictured: Me struggling through sand 

   I stole another quick look when the trail curved away to see that we had actually made quite a bit of distance between us and the high school runner behind us. Knowing we still had another two miles to go and that he would out kick us in the end I took a risk and shot forward to try and catch the heels of the runner in front of me. Trying to match his stride on the single track trail we came up on the second aid station, manned by friends who had come to volunteer at the race. Wanting to indicate my position in the race, but unable to suck in enough air to articulate words I held two fingers aloft as I ran towards them. Smiling back, one friend raised his two fingers in the peace sign back as a gesture of hello. I tried to indicate that I was not simply 'saying hi,' by way of contorting my face and bugging out my eyes while my brain screamed I NEED SOMONE TO KNOW THAT THIS MOMENT REALLY HAPPENED WHEN I TELL PEOPLE THE STORY!  VALIDATE ME!!!

Train as if at battle, and battle will
be as if at training


    My friend continued smiling and nodding his head while I ran through the aid station snatching a cup of what I though was water and throwing it on my face to cool down. Only after the race would I find out that it was in fact, Gatorade, when he asked me if it was part of a racing strategy. With the trail widening I pushed again to run beside the lead runner. Still looking ahead, arms pumping beside me, I dared to speak to him for the first time. "Man....*huff*...*wheeze* never thought I was gonna...catch you..." To which he responded: "Yeah, I'm looking to get an age group award today." as casually as if we were standing in line at Starbucks and I asked him what he was going to order. A Few more seconds went by while I tried to process and I asked him, " know you're in first, right? Like, first, FIRST?" Again, with seeming ease he replied, "Yeah, but thats the problem with leading. Everybody has a target on your back." If this had been the lamest movie about running of all time, the audience would have realized that I was not heeding his subtle warning at that moment when I chose to shrug my shoulders almost imperceptibly and sprint ahead, determined to put some distance between us. 

And to your left, race signs directing you to turn with the trail.

  I tore through the trees and down the trail, heart slamming in my chest. This is IT! I'm first place in a race! No matter what my pace was, what time I ran, I was holding the lead! And then it set in. I had the bullseye on my back now. Every. Single. Runner. Would now be gunning for me in the race whether they even knew who I was or not. The irony of the older runner's words now hitting me, I resolved to push even harder as I came up on the first of the bridges which had been so slick last year they had decimated my time. Feeling his eyes bore into the back of my head I squeezed mine shut for a micro second right before hitting the damp, moss covered wood. Being only about five feet long, I covered it in a heartbeat, and without too much loss of balance. Back on the trail again I made an effort to not look back, or down at my garmin as I tried to accelerate again, knowing that another bridge, this one almost a mile long, was coming soon. The trail turned and twisted as my feet crunched and kicked up earth beneath me. I took the turns as opportunities to gauge how far ahead I was of the competition, each time convinced that he was now making ground on me. I ran by ten mile runners who were kind enough to step to one side, hearing me coming and cheering me along the way, opening my palm to them as a sort of awkward thanks as I came by. 
If you pass me now, I shall become more powerful
 than you can imagine.
   I hit the final bridge, and out of the corner of my eye caught hold of the moss covered trees growing from the swamp we were running above. I could feel the bridge was slick even as I kept the speed on, knowing that the other two would be hammering the last mile as well. I hit a gaggle of ten milers, trying to suck in as much air as I could to call out the familiar "On your left!" expression, in order to let them know I was trying to pass. As the crowd became thicker I realized I only had so much time to weave before it would cost me like it had the runner on the beach. Seeing a small hole in-between a group of runners, I jumped between them yelling "Sorry!" while trying to stick the landing and keep my speed on the turning bridge.

   Remembering last year's race, I knew that as soon as I came off the bridge I would round a solitary corner and then be at the finish line.Trying to avoid colliding with any ten milers, or running off of the bridge and into the water where it changed angles, I vowed to keep the speed on and not look back until I had gotten off the bridge. A twist here, a turn there, and I saw the end of the bridge. My heart and lungs fighting for space in my chest, I tried to make my arms and legs pump a little faster just tone last time at the end before I looked back. My foot had barley touched solid ground when my head whipped around to check out how much he had gained on me. But he hadn't. There was no one there. Cold shock spreading from my chest made me almost stop as I drunkenly went with the forward momentum. Was I...going to win? The cold shock that had advanced from my chest turned into a wave of joy and  erupted with a cheer from my throat as I realized that I was going to be the first person to cross the line.

    Again I let out a cowboy-like whoop of joy and headed for the finish line. The moment felt surreal. The pounding in my chest, while not subsiding, did go unnoticed and to me the world fell silent as I crossed the finish line. It felt like one of those moments in cinematic history that should have gone down in slow motion with Enya playing in the background. As soon as I passed under the banner the race director was there to congratulate me and the world snapped back with an audible pop; my ears filled with the sound of my own thudding heart, raspy breath and cheering volunteers. Looking up I managed to croak out "The guy behind REALLY fast!" A little over a minute later I got the chance to tell him myself when he came across the line. Not thirty seconds off of him was the high school runner that it turns out we had BOTH feared trouncing us.
Taking over the lead at the half. The hardest part
was running at a 45 degree angle.

  Congratulating them both afterwards we got to talking and it appears that my fears during the race were justified. The older runner I had passed had indeed intended to catch me on the bridge, and the younger one had wanted to drop us both after we took off on the line, but the sand slowed him just enough that we retained our lead. After accepting our pint glass awards I sat down with a bowl of hot potato soup provided by the race to talk with the 2nd place finisher.

   "You know," he pipe up before I could speak, "I've never been a fan of those zombie movies. Never seen an episode of the Walking Dead before." Oooooookkkkk, I thought, as I wondered if it was too late to politely excuse myself while pretending I recognized someone else in the distance. He continued, "I always thought that stuff was pretty dumb. But when I heard that terrible, heavy breathing following me the whole first half of the race, well I guess I can see how it might be terrifying. I might have to watch an episode." I laughed out loud and told him I'd been noticed a few times for my terrible breathing patterns, while internally I know wondered if I had a thing to strike fear into the hearts of people racing with me?
Your welcome, AMC. I'll expect my check in the mail.

So here's the final breakdown:

Race Course: 5/5 The course gives beautiful trail views without really being technical at all, and the inclusion of the beach this year is definitely a win. 

Race Value: 5/5 Tar River Running puts on some of the most fun events I've ever been to at a very reasonable price. They never skimp on the swag, and Goose Creek is no exception.

Pre Race: 4/5 Easy directions to get there, a food drive, efficient volunteers and a very casual atmosphere before you start all make the race a low stress start.

Post Race: 3/5 Post race is a small, casual event where hot soup and food has been graciously provided by sponsors.

Bottom Line: Sign up for Goose Creek if you find yourself in Eastern half of North Carolina. It s fun, flat and fast trail race with a lot of small town charm. 

The view alone was *almost* enough to make me forget about ordering an extra burrito to celebrate the win

    As always, thanks for reading, and don't forget to like the blog on Facebook! (  We're also all fancy on twitter now! (@CPNSrunning)



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