Sunday was the day for the race I anticipate all year long. My local trail race doubles as my family's Thanksgiving, and the race is always fun no matter what shape I'm in. This year I was in the best running shape of my life, and I couldn't wait to run it. I have to drive by the course at least two times a day and I would often envision how I would be feeling at a certain point or how hard I would need to push myself. I decided on a very light running schedule for the week (3 runs - 17 miles, 3 days off). I had a great big meal the night before (similar to my Pisgah race) and slept very well. I wasn't too nervous until I began fidgeting around my house waiting for my dad to pick me up. Finally my wife advised, "Remember, this is supposed to be fun." Good point. This actually helped. My dad and brother Glenn picked me up and we were at the race over an hour early. Luckily, a lot of our friends were there early too, and it was fun to hang out, catch up, and discuss strategy. I wasn't planning on a warm up, but I ended up doing a pretty long one with Justin. We timed it really well, because as we returned to the parking lot, it was time to line up at the starting line.
I was in the second row, behind my brother Greg (going for the win and course record) and Bojo, and next to my coworkers Dan and Tom.
At the gun, someone behind me (Tom?) stepped on my foot and my shoe almost came off. I was stuck behind some slower people. I worked my way around them and let it fly. I allowed the adrenaline do the work for the first mile. I was amazed at how many people were passing me despite the blistering pace. Finally, we hit the first single track trail. The speedsters ahead of me (road runners?) slowed down upon hitting the woods. My theory in these situations is that it is better to pass and run faster than you'd like then sit behind someone at a slightly slower pace. I worked my way around quite a few people until the trail opens back up in Burlingame campground. Then, in typical Lil' Rhody Runaround fashion, the slower trail runners turned back into faster road runners and I was passed by many of the same faces. The trail re-enters the woods in a low lying area. I skipped the first bridge and ran to the side of it. The next one I took, and from behind me I could here someone skid off and crash into the bushes. Ouch! Soon after, I heard two more falls behind me, and we hadn't hit any technical stuff yet. As the former race director would say, "People, this is a TRAIL race!"
After the first couple of miles I was feeling it - it being the pain of maintaining my speed. I was in a single file group of runners that seemed to know what they were doing. No one was slowing down at the rock gardens and stream crossings, or getting up the hills. Somewhere before mile 3 I was passed by the first female. Then I was passed by an older guy with a big white mustache. And finally, Justin went by at the 22 minute mark. This is the furthest I've made it before he has caught me (I tend to start too fast). At the water stop (the half way point time wise), I grabbed a water thinking I would try to get a drop down, but the cup exploded in my hand. So, I tossed my wet gloves to my waving mom and sister-in-law and began the short road section ahead. I was expecting to get passed by more road runners here. However, I was able to work my way past quite a few people including the first female and the mustache man. The pace was still fast entering the next technical single track. I nimbly hopped my way up a short rock climb section and then dealt with the roots. At the bottom of the biggest hill on the course there was a very young hunter with a large gun leaning against a tree right on the trail. Yikes! I made a joke here and somebody behind me topped it as we climbed the hill. For some reason this hill finally slowed down a few people in front of me, and I passed five runners. It took me a while to recover from my effort, and the mustache dude passed me again. The guy was an animal out there! Soon after this point my body felt strong again (2nd wind?). I followed someone for a little while and then went for the pass. I hammered the remaining rock gardens and uphills and reached the road at 48:20ish. My spirits soared as I now knew I would reach my sub 56 goal. I then passed the mustache man again and I swear he groaned at me. I caught one more guy on the road, who then sprinted by me, slowed way down, and then I went by him again. I soon figured out what he was looking to accomplish: a mad dash for the finish line. As we turned back into Burlingame Park, I was run down by this person, who was locked in an epic sprint battle with the mustache man! I didn't have that sort of kick in me, and they finished a few seconds ahead. I was ecstatic to see the timer just click to 54 minutes (actual time 54:02) as I passed under it, and tried to stop my body from wanting to throw up (I didn't).
It was fun to see my wife and kids at the finish line, and get to see Glenn, Dan, Tom, Jen, Pard, and Brad finish their races. I was expecting to set a PR by a decent margin, but didn't envision by 4 minutes and 17 seconds. Running 8 miles at 6:45 pace on this course has increased my desire to run faster, further, and funner (bad grammar intended). I was proud of the way Glenn fought his way to a 57, and excited for Dan and Tom's 58's, Greg's win and PR, and Justin's own huge PR. This race never disappoints. Can't wait for next year!