After the first 4 races of the South County 4th Season Race Series, my Big River goal had been tempered. The competition has been fierce, and all the top guys showed their prowess at the 10 mile Brrr-lingame race two weeks ago. I finished pretty far back, despite my own strong race. This race would be harder (terrain) and longer. Could I bridge the gap at this one?
The days leading up to the race went well. I tapered. I helped race director Mike Galoob mark the course on Thursday and Friday. I was even relatively relaxed until race morning. Then I was my nervous self. I got to the race nice and early with my dad. My brother Greg was already there with Boj. Many of my WTAC friends were there, as were the TNT guys. I got my bib and then fidgeted in Greg's car, until I needed to go warm up and calm my nerves. I headed out alone on the Lego Trail, which would be the end of the race. The ground was damp from the earlier rain, but still firm. The sun was trying to come out and the temperature was good for racing (mid 40's). I took it really slow and the legs were feeling great. I returned to change shoes and get into my racing gear (just a singlet and shorts). A few minutes later it was time to start.
I really wanted to run this race smarter than last year, when I went out super hard hoping to get away and hide from everyone, only to have Bob Jackman stick with me and then surge the last third of the race while I faded. I was told by Mike and Greg to start easy and pick it up later on. That's what I did.
Not up front
The opening pace seemed really relaxed by everyone except the unknown guy in front. Entering the single track I was in 5th place. We were in a nice single file briefly, before getting more strung out. I was happy to see Greg overtake the lead at the top of the hill. Bob and Steve Bright(orangeshirt)man were staying close to him. The unknown guy was already fading and I soon made my way around him too. It was at this point (about the 1 mile mark) that I knew Justin was now right behind me. As I weaved my way around the tricky Spider trail, I began worrying about him. After the easy start, the pace was now spicy. I didn't want to push it any harder, just maintain. Did he want to go faster?
Spider had the first really muddy and wet section on the course. Because of my fear of being passed, I made the decision to just plow through and take the most direct route. My shoes drain well and my smartwool socks have done me well in the past. I hoped my feet would hold up. As we reached some easier wider trails near the water tower, I again worried Justin would make his move. Often it would seem like he was on my right shoulder, only he never went ahead. He mentioned something about Brightman getting away, and he seemed antsy about it. I told him that we'd catch him later on the more technical stuff, but again I was paranoid he would run ahead to not let Brightman get away.
The next two miles or so of single track along the far end of Carr Pond were uneventful. Justin and I kept our pace, but didn't have any other runners in our sights. Then we hit the climb up to the Hopkins Hill lot. I noticed the flags missing, and felt angry. Brightman was up ahead telling us which way to go. We could also see Bob and Greg. We climbed to the top and I told the helpers at the lot to call Mike Galoob and tell him flags were missing. I was relieved that the flags were still there on the way back down.
The next few miles would be interesting. The terrain is the hardest on the course. Lots of rocks, short steep hills, and water crossings. I knew the course well and knew that was an advantage. I was confident that I could maintain my position, and possibly even catch Brightman. Justin made sure to stick with me. We crossed the overflowing Carr River in two spots. The first was a wet straight shot through. The second was a gnarly wet rock balancing act. Justin took a different line and I nervously sprinted to beat him to the other side. A minute later we hit the big puddle. We splashed right through, but it was deep. Scott Mason was there (literally in the middle of the water) snapping pictures.
This is a trail race!
Running through deep water and then immediately climbing a steep hill completely exhausted me. My breathing was out of whack. Did I overdo it? Unfortunately there was yet another water crossing and steep climb. Wow, I was hurting here. It took quite some time to get back under control. Soon enough, we were being distracted by the bright orange shirt of Brightman. We were slowly reeling him in. I knew there was only a mile or so of the tricky single track on the ridge left. I'm pretty sure I increased my effort, hoping to catch him before things got easy again. Closer and closer. It was very exciting at the time, catching up to someone who I'd never beaten in a race before. Finally, I knew I'd make a strong move on a short steep climb that is followed by a rock-laden descent. I passed him at the top and got separation. I kept on the heat until I navigated through the rocks. Justin had moved by as well, and again was on my heels. We blasted along the next smooth section and then made a crazy fast descent down toward Tarbox Pond. It was too fast for my liking, but I was committed. Brightman didn't give up, and our bold move seemed to re-invigorate him. I was continuing to run at a too fast pace, and it was hard. Finally, after huffing and puffing up a hill, we got a little breathing room.
I again began to focus on Justin. The technical, hilly stuff was over. It was smooth trails for now on. This is where my race fell apart last year. I did not want to repeat it. But if he stuck with me through the hard stuff, then surely he would go by on the easy terrain. I continued to run scared, without a second of let up. We ran past the beaver dam and along Tarbox Pond. We reached the unmanned water stop and climbed the hill. I was still leading as we reached the twisty Dead Shed trail. At this point, I was confident that I could finish the race at the pace I was going. However, I didn't think I could go any faster. Justin never left my heels. Surely the move would be coming. And now Brightman is catching back up to us! I got jittery, and picked up the pace on the last quarter mile of Dead Shed. Everybody stayed with me.
We crossed the New London Turnpike and hopped onto Lego - the last trail in the race, but a doozy - over 3 miles of unrelenting turns through mostly pines, with one hill in the first mile and flat after. Again, I was happy that I was feeling much stronger than last year, but I wasn't sure I could stay ahead of the two other guys. Justin wouldn't leave my shoulder and Brightman was a couple of seconds back. I pressed on, pushing and pushing. I decided to throw in a surge on the mannequin hill and hopefully drop Brightman for good and see how Justin reacted. I sprinted this hill hard. I knew I would pay for it on the other side, but I took the chance. It seemed to work! Brightman dropped back. Justin rejoined me, but didn't seem as antsy as before. Then he asked how much was left - two miles? There were two miles left. Damn. He's just waiting to make his move still. We reached a short wide section and I made sure to hammer to the next narrow spot, not wanting him to make a move here.
Now in the middle third of Lego, the crazy twisting began. I was still feeling good, but not confident. And then Justin fell. He quickly caught back up to me, but I was wondering if that was a sign that he was fatiguing, as the trail was smooth. I marched on, feeling a little better about how this would play out. I knew that we were getting close to the last opening before the final half mile of single track. My plan was to try to kick it in from there. And then Justin fell again. This time he didn't catch back up. I ran faster trying to create a gap big enough to deflate his confidence. Up the little hill, and surprise, there's Scott Mason again!
Focused. Almost done.
I reached the open area and began getting nervous. Was I going to pull this off? I had trouble putting in the kick I had hoped for. Instead I was nervously quick stepping, glancing back at Justin, trying to judge if he was going to mount a mad dash for the finish. Finally, after one last hill, and knowing the end was imminent, I was confident I had a big enough lead to hold him off no matter what. I reached the New London Turnpike and sprinted to the finish line - 1:29:46. Almost three minutes faster than last year and ahead of Justin (who was two minutes faster than me two weeks ago) and Brightman (who is always much faster than me at Lil' Rhody Runaround).
This race felt good. I put in the work, raced smart, and had a good result. Post race was very festive, chatting it up with everyone. Congrats to Greg for holding off Bob for the win. Congrats to Bob on another series championship. Congrats to WTAC for winning the series. Let's celebrate!