This is a long one: Both Ashley and I share our 2015 Rugged Red experience below, followed by bonus pictures!
Last Saturday was the second Rugged Red in Red River Gorge, Kentucky! Nearly everything about it was opposite of last year’s race, with one notable exception: The course was the same.
The morning of the race began very early. When the alarm went off at 3:30 in the morning (2:30 a.m. at home), Ashley and I crawled out of the tent, cleaned up, and got in our running clothes. We were at the shuttle pick-up location very well on time (5:00 a.m.) – while the same could not be said for many other runners. Possibly victims of sleeping in or last minute decisions to not bail on the race due to the rain. Oh yeah, it rained the whole night before the race, most of the morning before the race started, and then several times during the race. The course was damp, but our spirits were not. (creative writing degree, thank you very much.) We had to wait a long time before the buses finally pulled out of the parking lot. Some of the delay was on purpose, though. With the cloud cover, the sun wouldn’t be shining on the dark trails when the first wave took off – so they delayed about 15 minutes to accommodate for that. Anyway. Bus ride finished, we got to the Chimney Top trail head and headed to the portojohns (another similarity to last year…45-minute bus ride + ~450 runners = big line). We cheered on the three waves that started before my wave started, and then I got in a clump of other runners. Ashley’s and my experience separates here, as I was in Wave 4, and she was in Wave 5.
The instructions were similar to last year. “Be careful, sometimes people die.” and then a horn blew, and we set off down the gravel road in search of this “Rugged Red” we all were promised.
To start the RR course, runners go down about 1.5 miles of a rolling gravel road. It’s not the most fun portion, but it definitely makes it that much more exciting when you do get to the true dirt trail portion of the race – which continues for the next 12 miles, so there’s really nothing to complain about. The course blasts down technical switchbacks to the bottom of a ravine where we cross a stream and climb back up a grueling incline that rose above the low, drizzling clouds.
While the water rushed from both the sky and creeks, it would be insincere to say the rain didn’t affect me. As the rain pattered against the leaves, rocks, streams, and my fellow runners, I couldn’t stop smiling and thinking to myself “This is perfect. There is no other way I’d rather spend my weekend.” I was truly elated.
The miles wore on, and I barely noticed except for the few people in front of me who slapped each mile marker as we passed it. Three, four, six, eight….they flew past without much notice. Absolutely the trail was difficult: I was climbing hundreds of feet in minutes, not stopping to breathe at the top – but running on. Unlike most races or training runs, with each mile completed, I felt a surge of energy. I flowed up the hills and blasted down the quad-busting downhills, pushing incrementally harder, feeling exponentially greater with every person, tree, rock, and root I passed. It was amazing, and I felt – truly – like a million bucks, even as my legs asked politely if we could take the next hill a little less aggressively. “We’ll rest at 13.2!” was always my response.
A few highlights:
Shortly after mile 8, we crossed a suspension bridge. There were a few spectators sitting in the woods playing guitar and singing to the passing runners. It was one of the best parts of the race. Their songs followed us as we ran past them, across the bridge and road, and up the next hill.
We were climbing up the hill that broke me last year. I recognized a big rock, and knew that when we turned the corner, I’d be facing some of the really large step-ups where I had to stop and sit last year. I was feeling 100% this year, though, and as we approached the area, I continued forward with strength and confidence I could only dream about last year.
When I passed the 12 mile marker, I high-fived the sign, and said “Let’s run this out.” I drank the rest of my Skratch, ate my last date, and took off. I came down a hill pretty aggressively and took off up a little uphill into the woods past a ravine – and down the wrong trail. Not only the wrong trail, but in the complete opposite direction of the finish line. I went down a big hill and halfway up the next before realizing I hadn’t seen any trail markings in a while. I turned around a little ways in, really not knowing how far off course I had gone. I ran back down the hill and up the other side, and finally back to the Rugged Red course. I saw a stream of runners come down a hill and turn at the giant yellow arrow that I had missed. A giant, yellow arrow and a big “RUGGED RED” sign. It was so clearly marked, I have no clue how I missed it. I was heartened only by the fact that two runners followed me during my bonus miles, so they missed the marker, too. All told, I got an extra ~1.67 miles and around 30 minutes added to my finish time.
When I got back on course, it was only 7 or 8 minutes to the finish. I crossed the line at 3:30, which is about a 30 minutes faster than last year – a pretty decent improvement. Without my bonus miles, I probably would have cut an entire hour off last year’s finish and finished under 3 hours, but…you know. Extra miles ‘n’ such.
While I’m disappointed that I didn’t improve my overall finish time as well as I could have, I still feel incredibly good about the race. I ran exceptionally well with a fuel and hydration strategy that was much better than last year. I’m sure the hundreds of miles I’ve run on trails in the last year helped out a lot as well. Training for Gnaw Bone has gotten me into pretty good shape, something I’ve only built on while getting back into training for December’s Bell Ringer 50k.
Since I started my pre-race report with three thoughts I figured I could start off my race report similarly. Full circle people, it’s all about full circles.
1. “This place and these people are amazing.”
2. “So I’m running back and forth across a creek while its pouring rain and there is nothing I would rather be doing.”
3. “I’m totally doing this again next year.”
From those you should have a pretty good idea about how the Rugged Red went, but I’ll elaborate because that’s what I’m here for. Andrew’s rundown of the general parts of the day is pretty detailed so I’ll try to focus mostly on my own personal running experience out there.
I was able to warm up early on and tackle the first big climb at an okay pace. The trail was still pretty crowded so there was lots of passing and being passed going on but that cleared up pretty quickly. On I went and it was during the fifth mile I found myself alone, running along and through a creek in the pouring rain, and just smiling to myself. I was having so much fun. That feeling never went away even as I climbed more or when I found myself laying on my back on a downhill. A root or rock tripped me and I somehow managed to hook my arm around a tree (seriously, I’m not really sure what happened) and I ended up staring up the trail I was descending. I just got back up, brushed myself off as well as possible, and kept going. I’ve fallen before and I will fall again, so far so good (apparently I know how to fall without seriously hurting myself, so hey, great life skill achieved).
It was after my little fall that I starting thinking about how bits and pieces of all the different trails I run at home came together to help me get ready for a course that you simply can’t come near to replicating around here. Downhills from Audubon, long ridge lines from Harmonie, hills from both Audubon and Lincoln, fast flats from Angel Mounds, roots from them all. All those hours and loops really paid off as I found myself keeping my pace up and counting down the miles quicker than expected.
Andrew had told me that after I “stepped up a tall rock” you would start winding your way down to the finish line. Well, at mile 11 I met up with that tall rock that was really the whole hillside and required several “step ups” (we can blame last year’s heat exhaustion on his vague memories). But he wasn’t wrong, after that I found myself descending quickly and before I knew it I heard the sweet sounding commotion of the finish line. I came out of the woods, ran up on the road and down the large grassy lawn. I had talked with Andrew about my expected finish time, and I had guessed 4 hours if everything was going right. I crossed at 3:41.
The rest of the weekend was just as great. I was definitely “suffering” from runner’s high, additionally fueled by pizza from Miguel’s and getting to spend it all with my favorite guy (see above). It rained off and on the rest of Saturday, but Sunday brought on sunny skies and we took our time enjoying them before heading home (on the way we got beer, vegan crab cakes, and a cactus!).
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