Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dirty Dog 15K Trail Run 2011

The start of the Dirty Dog 15K 2011
May 21, 2011 in Kanawha State Forest, just outside of Charleston, West Virginia, 200 runners and 35+ canines gathered to attempt the Dirty Dog 15K Trail Race.

Doing this race this year for us was a no-brainer.  The Dirty Dog in the Kanawha State Forest was the start of it all last year.  I signed up myself, my husband, and my brother and his girlfriend to do this race last year as a way to kick everyone out of their comfort zone and do something hard.  (Well, except for Lindsey, who pretty much runs 15Ks on a daily basis)  With minimal time to train last year, we all completed the race, and the running bug bit.  It has been quite a ride since then, and I'm thrilled that we were all still going strong and ready to the Dog again this year.  Tom Samples joined us on the race, and as usual, smoked us all to the finish.

Vance and Daisy run through Dunlop Hollow
I love trail races.  I love this race, and I love this distance.  The course is difficult, technical, and scenic.  The distance is enough to require the dedication of training.  The reason I love trail races is because it combines two of my favorite activities: running and hiking.  Running trails gives the sense of flying, as trees whiz by and arms fly out to maintain balance.  The terrain is an equalizer; it introduces an additional factor to running that does not exist on roads: courage.  It takes added courage to run fast over roots, boulders, and down muddy downhills.  The risk of falling and injury is higher than on the road, and it takes guts to keep going fast.  Guts are my best asset.  I'm not fast, and I don't have lots of time for training, but I'm not afraid to gut something out.

Jay & I run through Dunlop
Mom and Dad brought the kids to play at the park while we ran.  It was so fun seeing them cheer us on in Dunlop Hollow as we ran by.

We learned from our experience at this race last year.  We were familiar with the course this time, and knew what to expect.  Also, running with Daisy last year added time as we frequently had to confirm her whereabouts while on the trail.  Daisy benefited from training also, and has learned to stay close while running with us.  Her favorite running partner is Vance, so the plan was for her to stick with him on the race.  Jay and my plan was to get near the front of the pack (not a usual race start place for us) so that we did not get caught in the logjam that we knew would occur in the first uphill single track section which was only a mile or so into the race.  Unfortunately, we didn't get to the front in time, so we ended up getting behind the logjam.  We tried to make up time on the logging road once the single track opened up.  But, at least we have room for improvement again next year!

Dirty Doggers dogged out post race
The course varies between old logging roads and single track hiking trails.  The hills vary from long gradual uphills to straight up and down single track switch-back trails.  The terrain varies from rutted out log roads to bouldery rooty trails.  It is an incredibly challenging but satisfying and exciting course.  I think most people running it underestimate its difficulty.

The Dirty Dog 2011 saw a record attendance, attributed to its recognition in national magazines, and its social networking visibility.  Before the race, preregistrants and race day registrants lined up to check in with Tracey Todd, and milled around with their dogs in the beautiful Kanawha State Forest.  At 9:00 am, 200 runners and at least 33 canines lined up on the forest road and took off for the hills at Dan Todd's start.

Tom Samples
Runners start on the forest road, but only run for a few minutes until the trail juts off the road to the right, and heads directly up a steep single track.  Thus, the inevitable logjam that occurs here.  Faster runners and those without dogs should try to start in the front of the pack to avoid some of the slowdown.  The single track then opens up to a logging road (first aid station is along this road) that follows the ridge until a steep single track descent into Dunlop Hollow.  Runners cross the picnic areas and traverse the creeks to the second aid station.  Then comes the monster.  After crossing the forest road, the course reenters the woods and immediately ascends up a steep, long, switch-back single track.  I have yet to see someone run this portion of the race (including the dogs), but I am not hanging with the lead pack, whose times indicate that yes, they did run up that behemoth.  The single track then continues, undulating up and down, switching between logging road and single track (around aid station 3) until it finally connects again with a muddy logging road.  This is the slog.  This portion of the race is about 6 or 7 miles in, and it is a steady uphill chug for two miles.  Experienced runners in this race look longingly for the right turn that takes you down the final, fun, satisfying single-track wet, muddy descent to the finish line.  Almost the whole course is nicely shaded.    

Jay Roberts
I ran in all black, anticipating a muddy race after a rainy spring.  I wore compression shorts and a black tank, visor, and sunglasses.  My Garmin accurately reflected the mileage, although I didn't trust it during the race because of the tree cover.  Others reported their Garmins showed a much longer course than the 9.3 miles.  I started with an ipod, but quickly ditched it, preferring to run without tunes on this one.  Listening to fellow runners was very entertaining.  Jay & Vance ran in compression shorts and a technical tee, also with visors and sunglasses.  Jay ran with his Nathan running belt.  Lindsey wore standard running shorts and tank.  Daisy wore her poo-boss and collar.

Shannon Roberts
Jay and I had our usual pre-race breakfast, coffee, a bowl of Kashi GoLean cereal, and a few bites of a Clif Bar along the way.  We drank water and Gatorade in the car on the way there.  We each ate a Gu before the race, and I had one after aid station 2.  Jay ate a Gu at aid station 3 also.  (I probably should have, I ran out of gas on the uphills at the slog).  Vance had cereal, Gatorade and a prerace Gu also.

Vance McCracken & Lindsey Adkins
The Dirty Dog is extremely well-run, and a really fun atmosphere in absolutely beautiful surroundings.  Dan and Tracey Todd and the volunteers have thought of everything.  The presence of the dogs and the technical nature of the trail is enough to humble even the most elite runners.  Most folks I saw were smiling and happy, both before and after the race.  Post-race food was great: watermelon, rice krispie treats, fruit, cookies, and water, as well as other tasty treats.  Over $1000 was donated to the Humane Society and a truckload of food and supplies was collected for the shelter.  Charleston, WV is lucky to have such a great trail race so close to them, one that is of a doable distance.  I highly recommend this race, and I cannot wait to do it again next year!