Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Sweet Trail Run on the Plantation

Margaret Plantation, Port Allen, LA
I am learning quickly two important things, which may already be obvious to those of you who are runners. Training is a lot more fun a) with friends and b) when you use small races as part of your training plan. Hence my registering for the Cane Field Classic Trail Run in Port Allen, LA this weekend. As it seems lately it has just become par for the course for me to barely make a planned event, once again I was able to slip away from the latest family emergency long enough to get a quick training run in. I am so glad I made the extra effort to do that!

Maddy, FireFly, COOg, Lizzard (not pictured: Koko who got lost)
It was a beautifully crisp and sunny morning, the sugarcane field locale was unique and filled with new running challenges and I had plenty of FitBird buddies to run with. With my new approach to off-season training in full effect, I put on my headphones, cleared my mind of any expectations, abandoned my Garmin, and set out for my four mile run in the back of the pack.

From the start of the run I had to adapt to a different terrain than I was used to running on, different even from when I have run off-road. The ground was rutted from heavy machinery and it was difficult to run without one leg being consistently higher than the other on the uneven dirt. There were cane husks littered in piles along the paths that obscured holes and ankle-spraining crevasses. It required focus and at first most of my attention was on the ground five feet in front of me and not on the scenery. Once I got my footing and became more comfortable with the obstacles I was able to look up and around to take in the greens of the sugarcane, the freshly burned and still smoking fields that had just been harvested, and the winding line of runners that weaved ahead of me through the brush.

As usual I wasn't fast, but my intent was to manage my pace and to just keep moving; to control my breathing, to clear my head, to focus beyond the cramping in my shins. I spent my time thinking about how much more mentally tough I have become these last few years, about the races I hope to one-day attempt, and about how I need to remember to enjoy what I am doing so that I will continue to want to do it.

My group of FitBirds quickly disbanded as some moved ahead and some dropped behind. I saw the first aid station at about 1.5 miles but elected to pass it as I didn't feel the need to drink and didn't want to risk stopping or slowing down. I was pleased as I hadn't had to resort to walking and wanted to maximize my run as much as possible. I plugged away and was challenged by some deep and finely textured dirt that my feet would sink into as I ran along the path. It was not coarse like a beach and the lack of traction made it hard to gain much of a push when I would progress my legs forward.

My run technique is bad and I am highly aware of it. I strike with my heels, my hips are weak, and I have a short stride. I took the time to think about my technique and tried to correct some of the glaring mistakes. As my legs became fatigued and my muscles felt heavier, my technique would return to what it knew best.

There was a Weirmaraner that must have been owned by the property residents as she seemed to know the course, and she loved to run. She easily cruised the paths, dodging runners, and would wait patiently at each turn in the field for the runners to catch up to her. At times she would retrace her steps and meet the slower runners for a while to help encourage them along the way. We spent quite a bit of time together.

I stopped to walk at the last aide station so I could rinse some of the dust out of my throat, but then I resumed my pace to the finish. I had been leap-frogging with a lady that I have seen on some of the Forge Trail races, and refused to allow myself to come in behind her, so I managed to put in some speed at the end to cross the finish just ahead of her. It wasn't impressive, but it gave me some self-satisfaction.

Overall I kept a pace around 11 minutes, which for the terrain and where I am right now in my fitness I am satisfied with. This run did reinforce to me that I need to increase the time and frequency of my running over these next eight weeks or I will be in a world of hurt for the half-marathon trail run.

I am thrilled to have been able to run with some of my buddies. It is always nice to have people at the finish cheering me in and encouraging me during the process. We received a finish line award of freshly cut cane to suck on, Greek food, jambalaya, and cake balls and a symphony of live Cajun music.

Lizzard explaining the nuances of "bagasse" in relation to both racing and sugarcane

It is nice to start to feel some of my motivation and "mojo" returning. Mixing it up and cross-training has been a good choice for me. It helps to have people in my life that inspire me: Linda "Freebird" Adams who just demolished her very first full Ironman distance race, clenching a first place in her age group and Susan Hayden who is competing in the Xterra World Championships in Maui as I am writing this. Both of these women are mentors and give me the hope that one day I can compete in these kinds of races if I just keep persevering.

So for now I will continue to plug away at the smaller scale. Next week's adventure is yet to be confirmed, but I am considering the Voodoo Duathlon so I can get some more trail running and mountain biking experience under my belt and do it in a race situation that may motivate me to push a bit harder than I would on my own.

To be continued...


  1. So off-season officially begins with a sweet run. Glad you joined me.

  2. We were so bagasse-es in that trail run. So fun to be with COOg, KoKo, Firefly and my baby girl Maddy! 5 PRs for the course. Great race report COOg. This is a must do event. Saaweet time!