Race Report – Afton Trail Run 25k 7.7.12
The last few weeks have been packed full of some amazing races. 4 races in 2 1/2 weeks, roughly 37.6 miles in all. Race #2 for the month was the Afton Trail Run 25k on July 7th. When I saw that there was a trail race in my back yard on some of my favorite trails, I had to be there. So I signed up to torture myself on the trails at Afton State Park. Next door to Afton Alps Ski Area, this is one hilly mother of a course. Just shy of 5000 ft net elevation change, the course wound up and down the bluffs along the St. Croix River.
The week leading up to the race was one of record heat in the Cities. However, a deal was made with the Mayan Gods to give us runners a little relief that morning. With temps in the 60s and 70s for the race, it felt amazing after the 95 degree heat index during my 4 mile race a few days earlier. But thanks to the unyielding humidity, I’m happy I still decided to carry my Nathan Quickdraw Plus during the race.
The leg to the first aid station started with a quick downhill towards the border with the Ski resort. After a brief somewhat flat stretch, it was up a steep climb to the Africa loop. Normally, I’d stop and take in the view from the top. As you come out of the woods at the top of the hill, you find yourself on top of a grassy bluff. The views of the hills and surrounding farmland are absolutely beautiful. However, I was on a mission… Finish the race and don’t die. We exited the Africa Loop trail and headed onto the first of a few single track portions down hill to the first aid station. At this point, I was still feeling good, so I kept on going, knowing that the next section was short loop that would hit the aid station on the way back up to the Africa Loop.
The second leg was through the woods on a mostly single track trail. Luckily, it was much drier than the last time I’d run that section of the course. Footing was much better, especially on the many wooden bridges that I found on the hard way might as well be used as a slip and slide following a rain storm. This portion of trail also took us up a steep set of stairs that was the first of many sections that were much easier hiked. It was back down the hill and back into the Aid station where I downed my first packet of GU.
From there, it was back up to the Africa Loop. And I was hiking again. About a mile of not too terrible grassy terrain, and then it was down one of the more technical parts of the course to the 3rd Aid station. Here I stopped to refill my handheld before hitting what was probably the most taxing part of the race. That hill out of the Aid station seemed like it would never end. I made a new friend, a gentleman that was a seasoned trail runner that decided hiking was also a good idea. Even walking, I was gassed. Then we were up, and back down again. A little less than a mile of fairly flat trail and we were going back up, this time it was campground hill. Another quick up and down, and it was back to the Aid station where I decided it was time to take advantage of the Mike and Ike’s and Swedish fish laying out on the table.
Finally, some flat easy trail. The next mile and a half or so was along the river. It was hard to enjoy, though, knowing that the next hill, the meat grinder, was waiting at the end of the Rail Trail. Meat Grinder was the last of the brutal uphills. At the top, we came to the last Aid Station at the group campground. A lovely volunteer was waiting at the station with a pitcher full of ice-cold water. One final refill of the handheld and it was off to the Snowshoe Loop and the home stretch.
The last time I’d run that part of the course, the Snowshoe Loop was so overgrown that I couldn’t find where it broke off from the main trail. The last of the single track, it was another somewhat technical stretch up and down through the woods. Here, I made another new friend. Rafi (sp?) from Florida became my running buddy for the last few miles. Having some company through the woods to push me was more than welcome. This being her first time out at Afton and first trail race ever, she was glad to have someone who knew the course. Once out of the Snowshoe loop, we hit the bridge. We were in the homestretch. Another uphill through the woods, and then it was through the grass to the finish. Final results 2:45:06. Could I have done better? Yeah, probably. I could have been a little stronger on the hills. Next year, I’d love to be able to say I ran the whole course. That’s right Afton, I plan on coming back in 2013!!!