Race day and the weather was feeling rather wintery, at least cold compared to the extremely warm temperatures we'd been experiencing. The rain the previous two days left the course very wet and muddy, except on the "mountain". It was hard to keep my feet from getting wet on my warm up over the first 2+ miles of the course with Jeff and a young WTAC teammate. I decided to wear my Inov 8 Trailroc 245's rather than something lighter due to the conditions. I really hoped the messy trails and the additional hill climbs would help me. I was feeling good and strong. I chatted with many WTAC teammates pre-race and some rival team frenemies. I did a bunch of strides in the parking lot and tried to stay warm through a delay to the race start. Finally it was race time!
The start. Photo by Jana Walker.
My plan was to not go out fast. Usually this race is a mad dash to the single track, but this year the course ran around a field and then entered a wider trail up the mountain. It would be very easy to burn myself out on a layout like this. Luckily everyone else seemed content to not sprint at the gun. Brightman went out to the lead (which I assumed he would do), but not too fast. I settled into a chase pack with current Level Renner coverboy Eric Lonergan and Bob Jackman. We circled the field and then dashed up the hill in the woods.
Early chase pack (Brightman leading). Photo by Mwangi Gitahi.
Into the woods. Let the fun begin! Photo by Jana Walker.
Once in the woods, things got interesting. Steve led us up the hill at a pace that felt very confortable to me. We fell into a single file line once we got over the top of the "mountain". The trail narrowed dramatically and Steve really slowed down the pace. Bob and I (3rd and 4th) got antsy and we made our move around Steve and Eric as soon as possible on the more open downhill. Bob was up front now, but I felt the pace still was too slow. Throwing caution to the wind, I made my way around him to take the lead. I was feeling strong since I wasn't winded from a too fast start. I pushed the now technical single track to the best of my ability. I could feel Jackman staying right with me, but it seemed that Eric and Steve had fallen back a couple of seconds. I ran over the rocks and began with the wet and muddy trail I affectionately call "zero track" since it is barely a trail. I was slipping a lot, but I needed to be aggressive to keep the lead. I did well for a few minutes, but then had a hard fall on a wet rocky section. Luckily I braced my fall enough to not let my abdomen smash onto a large rock. I got up quickly and tried to regroup. Bob slipped by me, but I got going again before Eric and Steve could. Bob had a second or two lead and I heard Steve tell Eric to "not let Bob go!". Eric tried to pass me, but it was too passive. He found another spot and finally went by. I was still regrouping, happy that I didn't feel injured. Then Steve made a move around me. I had to laugh because it wasn't a great spot and I could have stopped him. I knew the course was about to get more interesting, if that was possible, and it would be in my favor, at least compared to Eric and Steve. I trailed a second or two behind a really wet section until we reached the river crossing. Even though Mike and I had opened up the dam to let the water drain faster, it was still roaring over the rocks. The three leaders stopped in their tracks and I was back on their heels. I wanted to just pass them since they were tiptoeing, but my only choices were to push them off the rocks or jump into the deep water and wade through. I was annoyed because if I could have made it to this spot in the lead I definitely could have created space on them. Anyway, we now were single file on the longish climb back up the hill. Bob was fading. Steve and Eric went by and then soon after I made my move. We crested the hill and then had a very treacherous steep drop. Steve and Eric again brought the pace down to what seemed a crawl. Bob was right back on my heels itching to hammer this downhill. So was I. Unfortunately there was no place to pass. Once we got down to the bottom, the trail flattened out and ran around the pond. This trail is rather technical too. Plenty of roots and slippery bridges. I trailed Steve and Eric by 2 or 3 seconds as Bob seemed to slowly fall further behind me. We spilled out of the woods at the bottom of the pond. I picked up my pace and had spectators and RD Galoob shouting at me to catch up.
Less than a mile to go! Photo by Jana Walker.
I did just that on the next steepish hill climb. I closed the gap, but was sucking wind at the top. I guess we all were, because the pace remained slow for the next minute or so. We then hit the single track descent. I again fell slightly behind. Finally we hit the bottom and had to take the slow switchbacks back up. I remembered at this point that the race was very close to being over. It was now or never. Duh! I tried to pick up the pace climbing the hill, but I wasn't closing. I was afraid I would get toasted on the last little descent to the skate park and the field around it. Surprisingly this wasn't happening. I was remaining the same distance behind, even when they had a sprint battle to the finish. Final time was 20:47, 3 seconds behind the winners (Brightman by a nose over Lonergan).
I was stoked! I had a great race and it was exciting. This course was really awesome and one of my favorites despite only being a 5K. I definitely wonder what would have happened if I could have remained upright when I had the lead, but that's trail racing. A huge thank you to the Galoob family for putting on the race and the RI trail racing community for coming out and supporting these great races. See you at the next one!