My favorite and most anticipated race of the year took place last Sunday. This was probably my 10th time running this race, as it has become a Hammett family tradition. Last year I surprised myself with a 4 minute PR, and knowing how many miles I had under my belt this year, I was hoping for a similar result. The question was how fast I could go on the trail. My plan was to start fast and then run the single track as hard as I could.
My brothers Glenn and Greg, and my sister-in-law Jen, and I arrived nice and early. Our dad was already there helping with the set up. At registration, I ran into Jeff and Justin. Spirits were high. I was feeling a little tense, so I snuck away for an early warm up to ease my mind. I returned to the parking lot, and met up with Jon Short and my coworkers Dan and Tom. Then my wife (running her first Runaround since 2003) and kids showed up with our close friends from Maine. It's quite the reunion. Jon and I broke away from the socializing to get a warm up in (my second). We timed it nicely as it was time to line up when we returned. I crammed in behind Greg and Boj and in front of Dan and Tom. Everyone was pumped.
There's something unsettling about running as fast as you possibly can on a trail, but hearing and feeling footsteps right behind you. It almost seems easier to let whoever it is pass by so that you can relax. I tried to focus on the trail. This section is always muddy. Instead of trying to avoid it, I just worked on running a straight line. I stepped in plenty of mud, but I thought it was better than taking extra and possibly awkward steps. I opted to not run on the first bridge. I took the next few, although I avoided the ramps. I was able to pass a runner after the last bridge and quickly caught up to another. I knew we were approaching some really technical wet/muddy/rocky spots. I really wanted to pass, but I had to go right and got stuck in some bad spots and deep mud. I then noticed Justin sprinting by both of us on the left and then turning on the burners on the following bridge. I had to wait until the covered bridge to finally pass this runner, but Justin had already put some distance on me. I tried to just keep up my pace and attack the technical terrain near Klondike Road.
Soon after, I could hear close footsteps again. I thought that I would plow through a couple of upcoming challenging spots, and gain some ground. This was not to be. I was soon passed by Jeff (again) and another runner. Jeff looked really strong on the following hill and soon I was a few seconds behind him. I wasn't sure what to make of this. I was running as hard as I could, but I was falling back in the field. I gained a little confidence passing a younger runner on a hill and then worked hard on the last 3/4 mile of trail before reaching Buckeye Brook Road. Jeff was again in my sights as well as another runner. I glanced at my watch for the first time, and was surprised (not in a good way) at my time. I was dwelling on this until I had to re-enter the woods and then pay attention to my footing. This part of the trail could be the most picturesque, and really challenging to run. I was able to zip by a runner right before the small rock climb, and almost caught Jeff here. I paid for my effort on the next little hill, and Jeff again pulled a couple of seconds ahead of me. I've run this section hundreds of times, but I found myself out of control and taking lines I've never done before.
Finally, we reached the biggest hill of the race. Last year I passed a handful of runners here. I was hoping I would have similar results this time. I didn't feel great about my climbing, but as I neared the summit I was able to catch Jeff and another runner. I dug deep to put some distance on them, but I wasn't confident I could. After a minute or two, I caved in to my curiousity and looked back. I was happy to see I was successful. I was able to relax, and just concentrate on working as hard as I could (if that makes any sense). The last section of trail is the most difficult. It is technical and generally up hill. I was trying to run straight lines and stepped in plenty of water and mud. At some point I considered taking off my shirt as I was getting hot. There was a runner in front of me, and I didn't think I could catch him, but on the last hill before the road, I passed him. I didn't let up. I kept looking at my watch and wondering what time I could still get. I was at 47:28 when I turned onto Kings Factory Road.
Everyone I spoke to post race wasn't thrilled with their time, and there were some theories as to what might have lead to that (abnormally warm day, heavy oak leaf cover). All I know is that I couldn't have been any faster. I executed my plan to run as hard as I could for the entire race. I watched the rest of my family and friends finish - Glenn, Jon, Dan, Pard, Tom, Jen, and then my wife. She looked happy crossing the line. Megan finished up and then everyone headed over to my house for post race food and chromium replacement. Congrats to Greg on his 5th Li'l Rhody Runaround victory. Boj finished 4th, and Justin was 8th and had a new PR. Jeff was 11th and looked really strong on the trails. Official results here. A great day overall.