I did a good job of tapering prior to this race, something I've only recently got better at. I still ran everyday, but limiting the intensity, especially cutting out intervals, really had my legs feeling fresh for the race. I was less nervous and jittery the night before and pre race, and feeling oddly confident. I guess this was due to feeling strong physically, knowledge of the course, and happy to figure out my footwear.
I headed out solo to the race, pumping myself up with some old favorite tunes. At registration, I met up with my brothers - Greg, who was not racing here (going for a WR in the 4x800 later that day!), but there to watch, and Glenn, who we talked into it the night before. My dad also was running, and has not missed one of these series races yet in two years. Justin was also there early. He and I headed out for a warm up after we sat in our cars with the heat on for a few minutes. The day was nice enough, with the temperature about 20 degrees and sunny. The problem was that the wind made things frigid, especially as we first ran by the pond. The shelter of the woods allowed us to finally feel warm (and overdressed). On the rail bed, we ran into a group of Turtles (TNT), and Justin instinctively picked up a snowball and threw it at them. You've got to love running club rivalries! After exchanging pleasantries, we kept on with our warm up. Justin and I began worrying about our pace. Why did they look so fast and effortless? Should we be running faster? We finished up our 4 miles with 10 minutes left to race time. This seemed perfect, although unplanned. I had enough time to retie my shoes, adjust my YakTrax, and get my racing gear on - thin technical long sleeve with WTAC singlet over it, hat, and thin crappy gloves (as I may be the only runner whose hands don't get cold).
There were plenty of familiar faces at the starting line. I lined up with my teammates Justin and Jeff on one side, while the Turtles lined up on the other. In between was series champ Derek J. I kept telling myself "Don't go out too fast!", but after a slow start by everyone the first 100 meters, I ended up out in front. My first thought was that I hoped my brother Greg couldn't see me, as he wouldn't approve of this strategy. The pace seemed relaxed, and it was what I was comfortable with, hopefully for the duration. I kept waiting for someone to take over the lead, but everyone seemed content to follow closely behind me. Despite being in this strange position, I did my best to just run my own race. I knew the best lines and where are the small hills were. I was still in first when I hit the flat, wider rail bed.
Turtles on the left, WTAC on the right, Derek in the middle
This is where I expected the faster guys to make their move. At the one mile mark, Derek passed me, with Bob Jackman in tow. They were really moving, and I now focused on staying with whomever was behind me, assuming this was going to be my battle. I could hear plenty of footsteps and heavy breathing. I was hoping to hold them off on this easy section, and gain an advantage back on the trails. Near the end of this straightaway I could hear the young Principe moving very close behind me. I dug in, and held him off before we spilled out into the icy parking lot.
We then entered the field section, and I seemed to have gained some breathing room. Just ahead Derek made a wrong turn, but quickly got back on course. There then is a steep short hill on the power line, and I was able to make up ground on the two leaders. I shouted ahead for them to make the sharp left on a very tricky section. It's a narrow and overgrown side trail to avoid a very wet and muddy section in the power line. Bob slid on a turn and I caught up to him. I decided to surge past him, and use my knowledge of this technical spot to my advantage. I remained in second as we popped back out onto the power line and made our way up another short steep hill that leads to the trail along Route 4.
I really like this trail, and think of it being flat for the first half, and then hilly the second. Bob passed me early on during the first section. He was only a couple of seconds ahead, and when we reached the first hill, I was able to close the gap, and then pass. I now hammered every uphill knowing that he has more speed than me, and was making up ground on the downhills in particular. I was able to stay in front of him as we reached the southwest corner of the park. Here the course turns back to the north and you are able to briefly see the runners behind you. Besides Bob on my heels, I was surprised to not see anyone. It didn't seem right. At this point (the 3 mile mark), I wasn't sure how fast I was still going, and if I could keep it up for another 5K!
I reached the field and felt really warm with the wind at my back and the sun in my face. As I approached the parking lot, I saw Greg encouraging me on. He told me that I could catch the leader (Derek), who was only 15 seconds or so ahead. I was more focused on holding off Bob, who was again right on me after a fast descent into the woods. I figured that I could really attack the twisty single track here - knowing every turn and obstacle would again be an advantage. Carrying out this plan proved tough, as my legs were losing some steam. I made a huge leap over a waist high downed tree - one I usually carefully climb over on training runs. I again sprinted the small hills, but there was no shaking Bob. Mentally, this was a bit defeating, and I was expecting him to pass me once we got back onto the wide rail bed.
We turned sharply off the single track trail and were now on the rail bed, with a little less than 2 miles to go. I allowed my legs to go faster on this easy stretch. Bob didn't make a move to pass me. At times he felt closer than ever, and I tried to pick up my pace. Nearing the end, he made a move and passed, but I quickly countered. Finally, as we eclipsed the 5 mile mark, he made another surge, and passed me for good. This is the one part of my race that I'm not content with. I didn't try to fight back and sort of settled for my position behind him. I'm not sure I could have beat him - but I might have been able to make it more interesting.
I peeked back before we entered the next single track section to see if anyone could chase me down. I knew the last mile was pretty technical, and that I would be able to run it faster than most. If I didn't see anybody, then I could relax, and finish my race. When I looked, there was no one in sight. I looked again. Still no one. I continued to follow Bob by about five seconds, waiting to see if he faltered on any of the hills or obstacles. He was finishing strong, and that was that. I mustered up a mad sprint down the final hill to the finish line, again being cheered on by Greg.
last few strides to the finish
Final time 38:56, 6 seconds behind Bob, 19 seconds behind Derek. I congratulated both of them, and then watched to see how the team battle would turn out. Justin finished next, and there was a gap between him and the next Turtle (Principe Jr). So far so good, WTAC in the lead. The top three times score, so it wasn't over yet. After another gap, the third Turtle crossed the line (Principe Sr). I could then see Jeff rounding the final turn, and began screaming to/at him. It was going to be very close. We then watched other friends, family, and teammates finish their respective races. Everyone had a smile on their face. Trail races, especially in the cold and snow, will do that. It's a blast!
Official Results here
I put on more clothes, ate half a donut, and drank a cup of scalding hot chocolate. Justin and I headed out for a cool down, that became less ambitious the further we got. I was definitely heading into bonk mode and couldn't wait to get back to the closing ceremonies for water and a bagel. I collected my prize for 3rd place, and then learned that the Turtles eeked out another team victory. What really hurt was their prize - a case of Long Trail Hibernators - one of my favorites! We'll be battling them again soon enough. Kudos to Mike and his family for putting on another great event!