I had high aspirations for this race, thinking that it catered to my running strengths (distance, trails, hills). I had finished behind Bob Jackman in the last two trail series races, and I wanted to try my hardest to reverse the trend. This may not have been realistic considering what a talented and accomplished runner he is, but I was excited to try. My plan was to go out hard, attack the challenging sections, and then maintain my effort for the duration. I figured that if I could separate myself from Bob on the first half, I would have a shot at beating him. Otherwise, his speed on the smoother trails would be too much. I wasn't sure who else would be in contention as some of my speedy WTAC teammates were either injured/coming back from injury/or using the race as a training run, and I believed the same could be said for the TNT guys. I wasn't aware of any speedy out-of-staters who had pre-registered. I had my plan.
The weather was spectacular on race day. Bright sun, with temperatures climbing to almost 60 degrees. I almost felt overdressed in shorts and a singlet. I made sure to hydrate more than usual, and my body and mind were feeling good pre-race. It looked like a huge post-registration turnout. Lots of familiar faces, including more WTAC teammates than I expected. Besides the Turtles, there were two fast guys in orange jerseys - Steve Brightman and another unknown runner. I headed out on the Lego Trail for a short warm up, that also included the road section to/from the parking lot. I then chatted with teammates until the race was ready to begin.
At the siren, I took off down the wide dirt road (New London Turnpike). I was in front, but I had plenty of company. I made the sharp right turn onto the first single track trail. Known as Foster's Folly, I have run this fun trail many times, but never this fast! Rocks and turns came up much more quickly than I remembered. The trail is so twisty and narrow, it was hard to stay on it at times. After passing the giant teeter-totter, the trail slowly climbs for some time. On a sharp corner, I caught a glimpse of who was behind me - the unknown orange jersey guy and Bob. Once the trail leveled off, I thought orange might pass me as he was right on my heels. I was still moving fast, but tried to control myself a bit, as it was going to be a long race. I took the turn onto the Spider Trail (again another one I know well). I made a hard left turn where I thought the trail was, but I was wrong! I hadn't been paying attention to the flags, since I knew where the course went. The three of us had to turn around, allowing Dave Principe (TNT) to take the lead until we caught back up. Soon after, Bob took a bad spill in a muddy section. I continued to lead onto the wider trail with the water tower at the top. Dave soon past by me on the ensuing downhill. He told me pre-race that he was just using the race as a training run, so we joked about that when he went by. Bob eventually caught up to us, but I stopped hearing orange.
I retook the lead at the half marathon/10K split as Dave dropped back to run with his son, and Bob settled in a step behind me. Even though we were racing, we still occasionally talked and joked. I knew at this point that he probably would make a move once we got to the trails he ran often, but was content to have me lead until then. My only hope was to get separation on the big hill up to the Hopkins Hill Rd lot (water stop). I climbed well without overdoing it, but Bob was not letting me get away. We then passed an injured Justin snapping pictures.
The course then veered back down the hill. Bob went by me and quickly ran down the hill. I wasn't sure if he was making a move, or if I was just descending slowly (not one of my strengths!). I caught up to him when he fell hard on his hands through a rocky section a minute or two later. We navigated the two tricky stream crossings, up the steep hill near the party rocks, and then over then next wet section. This part of the course was no joke! I took over the lead again on yet another short steep climb. We were now on the top of the ridge between Carr and Tarbox Ponds - more rock running and trail craziness to deal with. Bob had yet another fall - it sounded bad behind me, but he assured me it wasn't a big deal. We then descended the ridge to the north side of Tarbox Pond. The relief was only temporary as we then had to climb again.
Soon, we reached smoother and easier trails. I was still moving well and feeling "good". We returned to the edge of Tarbox Pond and then reached the short steep hill at the second water stop (just after the 8 mile mark). Justin was there taking pictures and telling us we were only 25 seconds behind Tom and Jeff (my WTAC teammates) and a third guy. It was at this moment that Bob exploded up the hill. This was definitely an aggressive move! It was too late to switch gears on the hill, but I did pick up my pace once on flat ground.
Bob had gapped me as we ran the trail affectionately named Dead Shed. He was in my sights, but when I didn't catch him on the only hill, I knew that might be it. I kept up my strong pace, but fatigue was about to set in. The course crosses the New London Turnpike and continues on another interesting single track. I could now see other runners ahead of me besides Bob - it was Jeff, Tom, and Eric W. I passed Eric by the vacuum cleaner, but it took me another half mile to catch up to my teammates. They let me go in front, but at this point my legs were losing steam, and they seemed to be running faster than me. They told me they missed a mile or so of the course, but were in high spirits as it was an awesome day to be running in the woods and they didn't plan on running all out today. They either sensed or I vocalized that I was struggling, and they stuck with me the rest of the way (final 2+ miles). They encouraged me to keep it up and looked out for anyone gaining ground from behind (Dave P the last mile). The footing was easy enough on the final miles, but the twists and turns were outrageous on tired legs. I was so relieved when we reached the New London Turnpike, and I mustered up a short sprint to the finish line.
My time was 1:32:26 - a little over a minute behind Bob. I wish the gap was a little closer, but I can't complain with my race. It was a blast! I wandered over to the food table and then found the cooler with the cold Coke's. I drank two with two cookies and two slices of pizza. There were a lot of runners milling around with the 10K race and lost half marathon finishers, all with huge smiles on their faces and stories to tell about their individual adventures in Big River. I always love the vibe at trail races. As a bonus, I ended up finishing 2nd overall in the 5 race trail series, something I wouldn't have dreamed of back in December. Thanks to the Galoobs for hosting another incredible series.