My dad and I drove slowly through the early morning snow to get to the race early to help Mike and his family with the set up. After some heavy lifting, Mike asked if I would help him mark the course. I happily agreed, as I already knew the course layout, and I'm comfortable with the "skill" required after marking some of his other trail races. We jogged out to the end of the beach and began placing flags and signs on the more confusing trail section. Easy enough, except that the ground was frozen, and placing a flag was becoming tedious. It was impossible to get some of them in the ground. I improvised where I could, but I began to get a little nervous about the time. Mike then had to go back to help with registration as things were getting busy, so I was left to finish on my own. I didn't have a lot left to do, but I felt stressed with the time. I finished up and ran back along the beach. I realized that I needed to place a flag at the other end of the beach, and by the time I finished that, I was able to get changed in my car and relax. I felt so relieved mentally, and I wasn't the least bit concerned about the race I was about to do. It was a very refreshing experience.
The start was delayed and I huddled with my teammates in the windy, damp, mid 30's weather. I was under dressed for not running (just shorts, singlet, and a hat). I could have used gloves (I forgot them in my car). Mike lined us up on the beach and off we went.
I was on the ocean side at the start. There was a rather strong headwind, and my hands and lower arms felt numb from the cold. I felt under control, but was surprised that I was up front initially with Justin (who was leading - he never does that!). I wasn't sure if the elements were slowing everybody else down. By the time we reached the flag to turn around, I was in fourth place behind Bob Jackman (TNT), Tom B (WTAC), and DJ (TNT). I was feeling good. I wasn't working too hard and I was happy to be up front in the thick of things. Soon, Justin moved ahead, and he just looked like he was going to have a strong day. I didn't try to stick with him. My race was going to be holding my position and staying ahead of other Turtles. I passed the 1 Mile mark in 5:53. I hesitated to even look at my watch, knowing that splits are useless for a trail race, but I was curious to see if I was running a pace that was maintainable. I was, and I was happy.
I continued in my 5th position, with the wind pushing me along the beach. There seemed to be a gap between me and others behind me, as no one sounded close. Up ahead, Justin moved by Tom, which was a bit surprising to me. Pre-race I thought Tom might battle Bob and DJ for the win, but I was forgetting that he was working his way back from injury. By the time we crossed the dunes onto a wide trail, I was only a couple of seconds behind him. The trails were a mix of snow and ice. The pace definitely was dropping, at least for me. Shoe choice was difficult, because I wanted something tight and light for the beach, but I needed more traction for the ice. I never slipped and felt comfortable taking even shorter steps than normal for me, but I wasn't going as fast as I wanted. And soon I could hear company behind me. On the short road section leading to the trails of Black Point, I got a glance of 2 or 3 runners gaining ground, one very tall runner I recognized from last year's Super 5K:
History repeating itself
Tom and I entered the snow and icy trails of Black Point. The 3 leaders were out of sight at this point. I was hanging a second or two behind Tom. I wasn't sure how comfortable he was going to be on this surface, and I was watching for any slow down as my queue to make a move. I also was running a bit scared of the tall guy and whoever else was a few seconds behind me. They seemed to be handling the trail conditions fine. I passed the 2 Mile mark and again glanced at my watch - 6:13 split. Again this is a useless number, and can only hurt psychologically - which it may have for me.
As we continued on this trail above the ocean, I decided to make a move on Tom before a rather treacherous downhill section. My plan was to pass before the decline and work it hard to create some space. I sprinted by and Tom encouraged me on. He stayed right with me, and I knew that I didn't get the space required to hold him off back on the beach. I could also hear the other guys still chasing us. I rounded the corner, with Tom on my heals, and caught a glimpse of Justin hopping onto the beach with the two TNT guys - probably 30 seconds ahead. I slip-slided my way through the house ruins, jumped down to the beach, and crossed the stream.
Now we were on the home stretch - a long straightaway into the wind on the beach. I glanced again at my watch (again bad idea) to see how much distance was left - about 3/4 of a mile. Ugh! Tom soon passed me, but I kept within a second or two behind him. Our company was still only a few seconds behind us. At one point, Tom moved from the shoreline to a higher section of sand and I followed. The sand was much softer, and it slowed me down, which is a terrible feeling at the end of a race. Finally, we were closing in on the finish line and we both cruised in. My final time was 19:04 - one second behind Tom, and almost a minute faster than last year. I'll take it!
Jeff was in our chase group, which finished about 10 seconds after us. I was thrilled to hear that Justin had finished in 2nd, behind Bob, but ahead of DJ. The team title was going to be even closer than the previous two team races, and it was going to come down to the numbers once again. Teammates and other familiar faces kept finishing up as we chatted and watched. Congrats to Kelsey for being the top female finisher. I also enjoyed watching Jeff's boys and my dad out sprint other runners to the finish line. It seemed like WTAC had 15 or 20 runners racing today.
After running the course as a cool down with my teammates and finally putting on some warmer clothes, it was time for the awards. The Turtles beat us again, but the margin was small. This is disappointing, but it's fun to have this rivalry with another team, and they seem to enjoy it as well. Kudos to Mike and his family for putting on another great trail race. There was quite the turnout, especially with the snowy roads. Bring on the 10K in three weeks!