Race #4 of the South County 4th Season Series of trail races was this past Sunday, and it was by far my favorite. Despite taking place in my home park, the trails used for the course were rather unfamiliar to me as I've never explored the side trails around the busy campground. Warming up with Greg, Justin, Jeff, and Steve, the trails were as I suspected - narrow, twisty, rolling single track. I couldn't wait to race. My legs felt great, and I thought the course favored my strengths both in distance and technicality.
Going in, there was a question of how many people would turn out on a cold windy day to run a new 15K trail race. I was happy to see another great turnout, and a very strong field. Waiting to start, I knew the top five would probably be my brother, Al Bernier, the URI kid, the kid who came in 2nd at Ryan Park, and Tom Bosquet (fellow WTAC teammate). Then there was the usual group of runners I'd be chasing: Justin, Jeff, Aaron, and Boj. What about the people I didn't recognize? I wasn't sure top 10 was in reach.
My plan was to pace myself. No need to sprint the beginning of a 9.3 mile trail race. At the siren, I settled behind about 15 or so runners as we looped around a field. Aaron made a comment questioning why everyone was starting so fast to me and Boj, and I agreed with him. Two seconds later, as we entered the woods, I could see the pace drop dramatically, and I quickly made the decision to take off. I didn't want to start fast, but I also didn't want to get stuck going too slow.
I soon found myself leading a group of runners through the single track. I could see people ahead of me, but I wasn't gaining on them. I could feel the people behind me on my heels. I hammered every hill, both up and down, but I wasn't shaking whoever it was. I knew that Boj, Aaron, and Jeff were there, and I wasn't sure if Justin was ahead of me or not. The pace seemed fast and I had some doubts if this was a smart move. I continued on, nervously leading this group. The trail was relentless.
Eventually I caught up to a couple of guys, passing one easily and then just as I was going around the second one, the course veered hard to the left. I couldn't make the turn and had to bushwack my way back to the course. The guy I tried to pass got caught up in some bushes and I then saw Boj trip over a rock. Jeff got through this "pile up" unscathed and shot ahead. I sprinted up to him, not wanting to lose position. We chatted briefly on the wider double track, before he steadily pulled away from me back on the single track. He was in full gazelle mode on the long downhill section, and I wasn't sure if I would see him again. As I approached the bog bridges I could here someone behind me that I recognized as Boj. I tried to navigate the bridges, roots, mud, and rocks as nimbly as I could, but I knew that he was itching to pass me, and that he is a more talented trail runner than myself. As soon as we turned right onto the Vin Gormley trail he went by. Now in the campground, I was happy to see the course avoided the pavement by weaving through campsites.
After a fast descent, I passed through the start/finish area and completed my first lap in 31:26. Jeff and Boj weren't that far ahead of me surprisingly, as well as another runner that I quickly passed. Taking a peek back in the field before entering the woods, I could see a runner gaining ground rapidly. I realized it was Aaron, and he looked like he was ready for a huge negative split. The four of us formed a single file pack on the single track with Boj leading. On a short hill before the road crossing, Aaron blasted by the three of us in one shot. Soon after, on a rather open gradual climb, Boj seemed to slow down a bit. I waited for him to pick it back up, but eventually decided to pass him, assuming he would pass me again on the next downhill. This didn't happen, and I found myself slowly pulling away from him and Jeff.
I was in a nerve-racking position again. I was guessing there were two miles left. I had been running about as hard as I could for the entire time up to this point, and I wasn't sure I had enough left. I especially felt slow on the wide double track, even tripping and falling over nothing at one point, but no one caught me. I was beginning to see a new runner ahead of me. It wasn't Aaron. Boj and Jeff seemed to be a few seconds behind. Before entering the bog bridges section, once again I could hear Boj behind me. Again I tried to go as fast as humanly possible, but I knew he was just waiting for his chance to pass, which he did at the exact same spot as the first lap. I still had a decent lead on Jeff, but I was fearful of his finish. Running through the campground I watched Boj pass the runner I had been seeing, and then I made the decision to push harder to pass him as well. I hoped that he didn't have any fight in him left, and we were very close to finishing. I was wrong, he perked up as we both hammered the final descent to the finish line, but I held him off.
My total time was 1:02:56, with a pretty even second split of 31:30. I was really happy with this race. I ran hard the entire time, and my splits showed that I didn't slow down. I ended up in 9th place. It was fun talking with the familiar trail series faces afterwards, as well as with my WTAC teammates (1st place again!), and my family (Jen and my dad also raced). I loved the course and the 2 lap format. I can't wait to incorporate these trails into an even longer loop around Burlingame.
Photos courtesy of Off Rhode Racing