I couldn't believe the number of people I knew at the race this year. Everyone from family, running friends, non-running friends, WTAC members, and co-workers. The registration/getting ready process was very festive. I ran a warm up with my brother, Mike Galoob, Boj, Bob Jackman, and Scott Mason. I happened to catch a falling oak leaf in my left hand as we ran and thought back about this blog post. Maybe this was a good sign. Some of the guys stopped at the campground, but I took Bob and Scott on a short tour through the NWR to make our warm up more interesting (not to tire them out). It was almost show time by the time we got back. My body seemed fresh (took the last two days off) and my lungs felt fine. The weather was cloudy and a bit warm (high 50's), so I just wore shorts and a technical orange t-shirt (no hat or gloves, etc.). I opted for my trail shoes - Nike Terra Kigers. Time to line up. I slid into a spot in the front row. The competition looked fierce. I knew Greg, Galoob, and Chris Garvin would be too fast for me, but I considered everyone else fair game.
at the start - photo by Jana Walker
As usual, the start was very fast at the gun. I let my body go, but kept my breathing in check. After a 100 yards, I was in 3rd place (behind Greg and Galoob). I kept expecting a few more people to go by me, but no one did right away. It wasn't until about 3/4 of a mile in Ryan Woolley (fellow WTAC teammate) went by me. I didn't know he was here today. The kid is fast, so I wasn't surprised to see him go by. Bob Jackman (TNT) was on my right shoulder. We've had quite the fun year of trail battles, and I knew today would be another. I could hear many other footsteps behind me. I entered the first short single track section in 4th place and tried to keep the pace hot through here. I emerged into the campground with a first mile (GPS) of 5:32. This was faster than my first mile in a recent road 5K that I set my PR in. Good thing I wasn't looking at my watch.
front page photo in the Westerly Sun
Along a campground road Chris Garvin pulled along side of me. I tried to stick with him for a short time before falling behind. Steve Brightman (last year's 2nd overall here) also got ahead of me. I thought I might have a shot at beating him today and figured my best shot was on the more technical trails later. So I re-entered the woods in 6th place. Bob was still right on my heels as I could tell by his distinctive foot strike. I continued to push the pace, faster than I should have, but this section of trail is straight and rather easy (mile 2 GPS split of 5:55).
At about the beginning of mile 3, I heard someone other than Bob gaining on me, and quickly. I tried to pick up my pace, but this person was really moving, and passed me. I didn't recognize him, but he looked young and tall. I was happy with my race so far, and glad/nervous that Bob was still with me and not ahead. We reached the technical rock gardens and stream crossings section. I thought I might be able to shake Bob here since I know the best lines and run this spot so much. No dice. At about 3 miles (GPS 6:42) I was anticipating a strong move by him to get by me. Instead, I noticed that after a couple of the small hills, he wasn't right on my heels anymore. This kind of perplexed me, and I ended up kicking a root (on a very easy section) really hard and almost fell. I tried to keep pushing the pace. I was still seeing Steve Brightman and the kid ahead of me (10 seconds maybe) and Bob was about 5 seconds behind.
I realized at the top of a small hill at the open burned area that I was running out of steam. My aggressive pace had taken its toll. I was still able to run the rest of the trail out to Buckeye Brook Rd pretty well (mile 4 GPS 6:26). The gaps ahead and behind me were not changing. I let my legs turn over as quickly as they liked on the short road section. It felt good to go faster while getting a chance to relax.
top of the long climb - photo by Robert Ornstein
Back in the woods it was difficult to run fast. I knew I was slowing down. The trail is very tricky in spots here and always gaining elevation. I was afraid Bob was going to run me down, although I could tell he wasn't that close. I would occasionally see someone ahead of me, but basically I was running alone. Tired and scared. I hit the steady climb, usually an advantage for me, and struggled to keep good form as I chugged up it. I saw my in-laws and neighbors at the top and tried to look happy and smile for the camera. The trail then briefly gets flatter and easy, but I couldn't get back into high gear. On a couple of tight turns I peeked back and saw Bob still within striking distance. This motivated me to dig deeper. My mile GPS splits were 6:43, 7:06, and 6:50.
Finally I finished up the last punishing hill section and reached the road. Muddy (injured) was there and told me that I had a good gap on Bob. I again let my legs decide on my speed. Track work has given me the confidence in a strong finish, and I let muscle memory do the work. It was clear I wasn't catching anybody, but after reaching the top of the hill on the road, I looked back and knew that I would safely finish ahead of Bob. Finally looking at my watch it seemed I still had a chance at my goal time (sub 49 minutes). When I was struggling in the woods, I figured my time goal was out the window. Now I began to push my body faster as I watched my time go from the 46's, to 47's, to 48. This was going to be close! I made the sharp turn onto Sanctuary Road and madly sprinted for the finish line. I saw 48:56 on the clock as I rounded the last corner and dug down even more. Final time 48:59 (last .7 miles in 5:33 pace). I was so pumped. On a day I wasn't sure how healthy I would be, I was able to attain my goal. A new PR by over a minute. Results here
nearing the finish - photo by Jana Walker
The post race atmosphere was festive. Everyone's story was "I went out too fast and suffered". Mine was no different. I ran a short cool down with a big group of guys. When I got back my wife had already finished - 9 minutes faster than last year! I hung around chatting with everyone until the awards ceremony. The rain came and it was time to take the celebrating inside with family and friends at my house.