Sunday, December 28, 2014

Old Mountain Field Trail 5K 2014 December Version

No doubt you've already read many other write ups about this race.  Sorry mine's so late.  Here's my take: 

Pre-race Thoughts:

I was super excited to find out a couple of months ago that Mike Galoob was still planning on putting on his 4th Season trail race series.  The OMF 5K would again be the first race.  I really like this course.  Despite the short distance, it is diverse and challenging.  And feels long.  I ran it a few times the week of the race and it would take me 25 - 30 minutes to complete depending on my effort (and the 25 was a good push).  In December 2012 I had a good race here and finished in 19:33.  I knew I should be faster two years later and had the goal of possibly finishing just under 19 minutes.  That was my only real goal besides a team WTAC win over TNT (and any others).  As the pre-registries came in on the site, it was obvious the field was going to be large and stacked.  My plan in previous years was to go out super fast and get to the single track first or with the lead pack.  Well, the results of that plan have humbled me, and I didn't want to do that again.  Maybe a more conservative start and then passing people later would be better.  I even searched out Chris Garvin's opinion about it at the WTAC Christmas party. 

Fast forward to race day and I was feeling good.  Because of a very busy work and family schedule, I hadn't been logging that many miles leading into the race.  I felt fresh.  That was good.  Mentally, I've been lacking confidence in my speed since I've had a bit of a training lull since the Li'l Rhody Runaround.  That was bad.  I already knew who would be at the race, but arriving there just confirmed the amount of competition.  I really just was hoping for a race I felt good about at the end. 

I ran the course a bit early with my brother Greg and Tom Gruczka.  We brought orange tape with us to help block off possible wrong turns.  Tom is a super friendly guy and we had fun on our 30 minutes of mostly running the course, occasionally stopping to tie up tape.  We had about 15 minutes left before the race start.  I stripped down to just a singlet, shorts, hat, and gloves on this 35 degree gray day.  I then did some more running to stay warm, mixing in a few field strides.  Mike got us all lined up and it was time to race! 

The Race:

The start was a mad sprint like always except this year there were so many more people involved.  I tried to be conservative, but quickly found myself in what I verbalized as 40th place.  I made the turn around the ball field and onto the partly paved section where the clicking and clacking of spikes could be heard.  Must be high school or college kids.  After the next turn at the bottom of the pond I made the quick decision to sprint even harder as I didn't like how many people were ahead of me so near the single track trail entrance.  According to GPS, my pace for this first quarter mile fluctuated between high 4's and low 5's. 

Finally I entered the woods maybe in 12th or so place.  The pace eased off immediately and I maneuvered around someone at the first bridge.  I needed to recover from the sprint - my breathing was out of whack and I was tired, but I was in the middle of a furious train of runners.  I did my best to keep pushing despite how I felt.  I passed Dave Principe along this stretch who sounded like he was feeling worse than I was.  I made it to the bridge at the top of the pond and I finally was feeling recovered.  I quickly passed a young runner on a wider stretch and then caught up to more runners on the rock jump stream crossing.  I patiently had to wait my turn (the runner ahead of me had spikes on and I wouldn't have been surprised to see a bad fall).  I made my move to go by at the power line, cutting up my legs in the process.  Now we were in the soggy far end of the course.  I caught another younger guy and now found myself with a sizable gap behind the next person up ahead (Tom) and then I could sometimes see glimpses of the leaders (Garvin, Greg, Bronson V, Jackman, Brightman).  Muddy was still behind me, as well as many other fast guys.  I kept pushing through the slop.  As the trail got more technical and twisty, I wasn't racing to catch anybody, rather I was trying to stay ahead of Muddy who was now clearly on my heels. 

Non-rant Sidebar: 

It's pretty amusing how many times this scenario has presented itself this year in trail races - me being closely trailed by Muddy for the majority of the race.  I feel that we are so closely even in ability and train so much together that it sort of makes sense that we race together.  And I prefer to lead.  Being "pushed" from behind helps me maintain my focus and effort.  As soon as I get passed, I have a tendency for a let down.  I lose focus and determination.  I believe we have pushed each other to great races this year.  Besides, I think the results are about 50/50 this year on who finishes ahead of whom. 

Back to the Race:

The course begins to rise gradually and then with a rather significant hill.  I was pushing to stay in front of Muddy, but now Tom was coming into view.  We definitely were gaining a lot of ground on the hill climb.  After summiting and then clumsily dropping down the steep stairs, I knew I was going to pass Tom on the next short hill.  He heard me coming and graciously pulled off to the side and offered words of encouragement.  I appreciated the gesture and saving my legs from more cuts.  I was hoping to get a gap on Muddy here, but sure enough he was back on my heels.  We crested the "Old Mountain" again, and then began negotiating tight switchbacks down the hill.  I was afraid that I would get passed here and really tried to descent quickly.  Besides Muddy, this was prime Gazelle territory and also Dave Principe.  Surely they weren't far back.  Near the bottom of the hill we began seeing and gaining on local road speedster Bronson Venable.  He was racing as a Turtle, so besides the excitement of catching up to a fifteen minute 5Ker, there could be team racing consequences.  I knew that he was inexperienced on trails, and hopefully the tough course was doing him in.  I wanted to pass him on the uphill switchbacks.  Then suddenly on a tight turn Muddy cut sharply inside and almost went by me.  But it was just like NASCAR and he lost all his momentum.  I pushed on up the hill and finally resigned to the fact that I wasn't catching Bronson here, and soon we would be out of the woods. 

The finish is on grass around the skate park for 200 meters, then on pavement for 200 meters, and then back on grass for another 200 meters or so.  I remained a couple of seconds back of Bronson with Muddy a second or two behind me.  I picked up my pace, more to hold off Muddy at this point.  Once we reached the pavement however, Bronson seemed to slow a bit.  I quickly took off and made my move.  I just passed a super fast dude!  I tried to keep on the jets.  Surely this wasn't the end.  I rounded the turn onto the field and continued to press, but here comes company.  Muddy and Bronson overtook me.  Ugh!!  I tried to find another gear - I've no doubt done this in previous races - but couldn't find the turnover to catch back up.  Bronson surged ahead of Muddy and then a couple of seconds later, we crossed the line.  Race over. 


I had to take a few moments to make sure I didn't throw up.  What a finish.  Despite "losing" at the line, I was very pleased with my race.  I felt good about how it all went.  My time was 19:27, good for 7th place in a stacked field.  A modest PR, but I'll take it.  Team WTAC got the win! 

Thanks to the Galoob family for putting on such a great race.  It was a record turnout too.  Rhody trail racing is strong and I can't wait for more races in 2015.  Happy New Year!! 

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