Okay, I've slacked off long enough, time for my story about the race this past Saturday.
This was a focus race for me, which meant a week of tapering. This is never easy. I still end up running everyday (basically I need to for the mental health benefits), but never feel satisfied that I've run the right amount. Anyway, I ended up running about 30 miles in the five days leading up to the race. My legs were fresh. My mind was antsy. What should I expect? I've probably had too much confidence coming into the previous series races. This one was different. I was confident that my training had put me in a position to run a strong race, but I knew that the top competitors were all in great shape and faster than me. There were no advantages for me in this race. A ten mile race was right in everyone's wheelhouse. Even Garvin had done long runs. Sure I had run more trails recently than the others, but this course was fast for a trail race, and not too technical. No big advantage there either. I envisioned finishing in 5th place behind my brother Greg, Garvin, Jackman, and Justin. Of course there is always the question of who else might show up race day.
I arrived at the race more than an hour early. I had to leave right after the race for my annual dorky fantasy baseball auction draft. I figured I could socialize with friends and family beforehand. The weather was awesome - high 30's to start - partly cloudy skies. After chatting it up, I noticed the time and wanted to go out for a warm up. A group of us ran the campground section. As usual, people peeled off for bathroom breaks, and by the time I reached my car again, I was alone. I retied my shoes, settled on my racing gear - singlet, shorts, gloves, hat, and listened to some music to pump me up/relax me. With five minutes to spare, I headed to the start and did some strides across the wide field. Crap - Derek Jakoboski is here. There goes another place for me. Maybe he isn't in good shape...
I lined up front and waited for the siren. Off we went across the field. I was up front with a bunch of others, but ended up second to the single track. I think this was more because I took the most direct line than anything. I followed Derek. I was feeling good for the first few minutes. I felt like the pace was maintainable, but it was getting hard. Eventually, Derek began to pull away. Bob got antsy and went by to stick with Derek. I found myself in the odd position of running in front of my brother for a minute or two. I was happy that he went by to catch the other guys. He hadn't been running much and wasn't sure how he would fair in a ten mile race. I was routing for him to pull out the win. Another minute went by and then Garvin made his way past (you can read his blog for a funny description of this move).
Justin was the next in line. He was right on my heels as I crossed the camp road and continued on the other side. I wasn't feeling great at this point. I was already working hard and tired. Sure, I could maintain, but I wasn't going to hold off Justin for too long. And then what - who else would run me down? We hit the North South Trail, and then took the next sharp right onto the next unnamed mtn bike trail. I got a long look back and saw no one. What? I said to Justin I guess this was only a six man race. We were only two miles in (at the most) and there was already a huge gap between us and the rest of the field. I guess the opening pace was very aggressive. I continued to lead Justin on this trail. He seemed content to go my pace for now. We reached the ridge trail. I did my best to keep the pace hot, even though the obstacles slow you down. Finally when we reached the wide double track, Justin moved along side of me. I wasn't ready to let him go by, so I upped my pace and hoped to reach the single track first. No dice. He sprinted by at the last second and dropped the hammer. I tried to stick with him for a while, but it was too much. He then sprinted up the steep climb near the sand pit, and that was that. He was gone. I was a little disappointed, but this is what I expected going in.
I could now run my own uncomfortably hard pace alone. I was borderline paranoid that I was going to get chased down by others, although I couldn't see anyone behind me. I was in no man's land. I pushed through the brutal campsite sections. I was getting hot, so I pulled my hat up above my ears. No big deal, except that there's Scott Mason taking pictures. Great. And he set up at the awkward water crossing. I was anticipating the jump, trying to look not dorky, possibly even athletic. It was not to be. I motored on through the uneven campground and knew I was coming to the end of lap one.
I was greeted at the finish area by my cheering wife and kids. I hadn't looked at my watch, and I was guessing 35 minutes. Mike tells me 32:20! That's pretty darn fast. This made me feel a lot better about my race. Sure those other guys were way ahead of me, but I was putting together a fast time for me. Adding to this was the sight of Justin closing in on Jackman on the far end of the field. Maybe Bob was tiring after trying to keep up with Derek. Could I catch him in lap two?
I was re-energized. Sure I was in pain - my lower core/upper legs felt super tight. But I only had five more miles, which seemed manageable. No one was that close behind me, although on really long looks I could see Todd Bennett's blue shirt. I know from experience that he is more than capable of beating me in a trail race, so I wasn't going to let up. I figured in the early going that I wasn't as fast as lap one, but I could definitely finish this lap faster. Alone I ran and honestly the time went by rather quickly. On the ridge, I saw Todd again, and figured I was a minute ahead of him. After cruising the wide double track to the bog bridge section I looked back again. What? Where did that guy in the green shirt come from? Where was Todd? Yikes! I pushed the bog bridges, determined to put more room on whoever green shirt guy was. I looked back again once I entered the annoying campground section and there he was, and he was closing in. I knew there was only a mile left. Pick it up! The piles of leaves, thick sand, and random obstacles were not helping. I knew things were getting bad when I approached a woman on the trail. She stepped aside and said, "Nice job guys". That's guys - plural. We emerged at an open area before the stream crossing and green shirt guy flew by me. Noooo!!
I nimbly jumped the stream this time (probably because Scott wasn't there snapping pictures anymore) and then worked through the next sloppy sections. I looked back one last time and Todd (or anyone else) wasn't in sight. Relief! I was getting close to the end, so I picked it up even more. I reached the last campground section and began sprinting as my family cheered me on. 1:06:09 was my finishing time. Sweet!
I'm really happy with that time on a 10 mile trail race. I just beat 1:10 at a 10 mile trail race last year. My lap splits seemed pretty close too (at least in my mind at the time I finished) - 32:21 / 33:48. I'm glad there wasn't a big let down lap two running alone and after a fast start to lap one. I probably should start these races slower, as Greg explained to me over beers later that night. I know it makes sense. I just feel so good at the start and I want to be up front and at least give myself a chance. Can I run smarter at Big River in two weeks? Probably not. But that race is different right? See everyone then.