I got back on the Friday night summer race horse this past weekend. Vowing never to run the Blessing of the Fleet 10 mile road race again, I ended up jumping in a 7.4 mile trail race in Bluff Point (Groton, CT) - the Twilight Trail Run. The competition looked legit, and from what I gathered from people who have run in Bluff Point, the course was flat and fast.
Race day was hot. Low 90's during the day. I was hoping it would be low 70's along the water and breezy, but when I arrived at 5PM it was high 80's with little wind to speak of. Yuck! I wondered how I would run in these conditions. I collected my bib, and not seeing any familiar faces, just kind of hung out in the shade until I was too antsy to stand still anymore. I then headed out on a warm up (what if you're already warm?). I ran the wide dirt/gravel path along the western shore. My body felt tense and nervous - not about racing but the heat. I needed to relax, so I pushed on a little further. I reached an opportune bathroom, and then headed back. I began to notice a breeze. There were more runners out warming up, so I tried to look calm and focused.
I returned to my car for water and to ditch my singlet and hat. I decided to carry my handheld in case there was no water on the course (I asked a few people who weren't sure). I returned to the start area and ran into Eric Wyzga. We chatted about the conditions (he talked me out of carrying the handheld), the course, and recent races. Besides being fun, it definitely distracted me from my nerves. The breeze seemed to pick up, and it felt a lot cooler now in the shade at least.
The start was delayed due to the monster turn out (360 racers I believe). I ditched my handheld at my car and lined up front at Way Hedding's (SNERRO & WTAC) direction next to Spy Barros and some other friendly fast guys. I saw a guy decked out in Sportiva gear and I assumed it was Eric Blake. Next thing I knew I heard the gun and we were off. I tried my hardest not to sprint off the line and I settled into a group of runners for the first half mile. Then Eric Blake dropped the hammer and two guys (including Spy) tried to chase. I was in fourth and kept my pace, knowing that I was already going fast enough (probably too fast). After a few turns, the three of them were out of sight, and I had company behind me. We made our way around the point. I didn't dare look at my watch, afraid of what my pace was. The course was marked with hanging pink ribbon at intersections, but my unfamiliarity led me to question each turn, as there were many. As the course veered back to the north, there were frequent short climbs. The guy on my shoulder was sticking to me and I got the feeling he was going to make a move soon. It was still early in the race, and I wasn't ready to commit to going any faster than I already was.
Near the 3 mile mark there was a water stop. The runner next to me got ahead, but grabbed a water. I followed his lead and took water to dump over my head. The course then descended on a trail that was more technical than I thought I'd encounter on the course. The runner was pulling ahead, clearly descending faster than me. I kept him in my sights, but he gapped me. I had to pay more attention to my footing. The trail eventually leveled off, but was still slightly technical. I couldn't hear anyone behind me, and I was only concerned with keeping up my pace and seeing if I could catch the guy ahead of me. At mile 4, the course headed east along a train track. The loose small stones were interesting to negotiate. The course was a bit confusing the next two miles as it crossed the tracks and was doubling back on itself. There were marshals stationed at key spots, so it was well marked, but like Big River, there are so many trails everywhere it's confusing. After spending time along the tracks and in the woods, the trail opened up into some large fields (Haley Farm). I could see the guy ahead of me again, and noticed him looking back. I hoped this was a good sign. I did not slow down.
I took water at the cone turnaround and knew that I had about two miles left. I poured the water over my head and was able to also drink a drop or two. My shorts were drenched, and when I glanced down, I realized they were sticking to me a little too well. I was slightly embarrassed, but what could I do? I was back in the woods, all alone, telling myself to keep it up. Then I reached the double back portion along the tracks, and was running directly into a stream of runners. I tried to not worry about my clingy shorts and focused on hammering. I kept glancing at my watch, only looking at the total distance, trying to garner how much was left. When I knew I was getting close, I picked up my pace some more, and also got a few more glimpses of the guy ahead of me. I could hear the loudspeaker at the finish before I could see it, but waited for my final sprint upon eye contact.
My official time was 46:18 - 6:15 pace and 5th place overall. The next finisher was a minute and a half behind me. I was immediately pleased with my effort and happy I didn't overheat (it never was close to being an issue). I grabbed a water and then was greeted by the 4th place runner - Todd Bennett. We began chatting and then did a cool down loop through some single track together. It turns out that we have finished right next to each other in a couple of other races - Li'l Rhody Runaround and Pisgah 23K. I'm sure we'll cross paths again sometime soon. Unfortunately I had to leave to pick up my son, so I didn't get to chat longer or see the awards.
Overall, it was a great experience. The course was much more interesting than I thought. I'd love to go back and explore. I'm still not sure if I had more left in the tank as I recovered pretty quickly after finishing. I don't think it would have made a difference in my finishing place however. I can't wait to come back next year!!