0 SPF (Race Report)

I guess this is proof there were downhill sections. I’m in the back running with Michael.

You would think a trail race that is – with one small loop exception – an out-and-back would have an equal amount of uphill and downhill sections. But something about the nature of trails results in the magic occurrence of consistent and unending ups without the equivalent downs. The laws of physics need not apply.

Local running community TrailsRoc puts on the 0 SPF race as a way to raise money for the organizations preserving and maintaining the Seneca and Crescent trails, and it’s advertised as a half marathon(ish). It also falls on the same day as another local road half marathon, the Shoreline Half. Despite hating that race for its relentless plodding past farmland in summertime heat, I ran it both of the last two years, which means I hadn’t the pleasure of running 0 SPF before this year.

And we couldn’t have asked for a better July morning for a race. It was overcast and cool, with a few moments of misting rain that helped against the increasing humidity. And despite consistent rain, the trails were in very good shape. No sun screen of any SPF required!

The course starts on the Seneca Trail in Victor, NY, and winds around some office complexes, crossing a few busy roads, and down an open hill before finally reaching the woods. Seneca opens out to a road for a bit under a half mile before connecting to the Crescent Trail.

Crescent is one of my favorites. It’s hilly but not hard, it’s immaculately marked, and because it runs for 18 miles, it’s an easy destination for out-and-back training runs. So I’ve run this trail quite a few times, and we were on the hilliest section. I passed a few people I knew and fell in behind another familiar runner, and we chatted for most of the first stretch.

The leaders passed us surprisingly early, and they were sprinting. Out-and-back races are nice, because everyone on the trails is encouraging and offers a “good job,” but these trails were pretty narrow. I tried to get out of the way of the leaders each time, but most of the people I passed on my own way back did not offer the same. It was fun to see all the leaders, including one runner who recently ran Western States 100.

At the turnaround, the runner I was with slowed to refill his water, and I shouted out my number and turned back in. There was too much of a crowd there, and I had enough water to at least get me to the refill station halfway back. I fell in behind another runner who was powering up each hill. He would get further ahead of me at this points, but I quickly caught up after the hills.

The one exception to this being a total out-and-back race comes on your way back. You split off on a side trail and connect back to the main trail a mile or two back. The main trail contains a long incline at this part, and that’s always one of my least-favorite sections of Crescent. Unfortunately, the side trail seemed to have steeper trails, going up and down a few more times and sapping the last of your strength for running hills. The runner I was following kept going at one intersection, and I called him back to the turn, but at that point I was ahead of him, and I didn’t see him again until the end.

In the last section of Crescent, I fell comfortably behind three other runners. We ran as a pack, one or two powering ahead up hills, the others of us catching up again. When we came out to the road, however, I and another runner passed the others and one or two people who were further ahead. It seems the roads are soul-crushing to trail runners, but I found it nice to open up my pace, even though it was a sloping uphill.

As we entered Seneca again, the runner who stayed ahead of me on the road stopped to let me go. I thought he’d overtake me quickly, but it was clear the road section took a lot of his energy, and I ran Seneca on an island until it was almost over. When I walked up Powerline Hill, another runner who I had seen running every hill got by me. I figured I’d overtake him again, but he knew how little distance was left, and he managed to stay just in front of me.

We came back around the office parks and into the trail that finished at a nice descent. I heard another runner catching up to me, and I took off in a sprint. Though I couldn’t catch the hill runner, I managed to stay ahead of my pursuer, and I finished a fairly respectable 47 out of 134.

You have to run each hill twice on this race, and that’s frustrating. They sapped my energy on the way back, and I found myself walking even the stretches that felt flat on the way out but now stretched ahead at an incline. That’s the magic of trails, after all. It all ends up feeling uphill when you’re tired. Regardless, I enjoyed the race thoroughly, and I appreciate it as a very challenging 13.5 miles on some beautiful trails.

So this race report is short, and all my swear words while climbing Chair Hill are purposefully omitted. There’s a bigger race in my not-too-distant future. I’m sure that, too, will be all uphill.

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