Very late on this write up so I will keep it relatively brief. Saturday, February 27th was the fifth annual Belleville Pond 10K in Ryan Park. I was particularly excited for this year's rendition because there would be no snow on the course. This has only been the case the first year. The second year only had an inch or so, but the last two were snowy sufferfests. I longed to get to race fast on my (one of many) home courses. RD and training partner Mike Galoob couldn't resist tinkering with the course this year to include some of the many new single track trails that have sprouted up in the park the last couple of years. This would make a relatively easy course a bit more tricky. I also hoped this would improve my chances in the race - slowing down the speedy road guys and favoring my trail and hill experience. Realistically I thought a podium finish might be possible for me. It was clear by the almost 150 pre-registries that this race would be chock full of competition. This is was not going to be a walk in the park!
I deliberately had a very easy race week. Sometimes I find it challenging to give up miles during the week of a race. I hadn't raced in quite some time and I wanted to be fresh. In the future I hoped to remember the race - I certainly won't care if I ran 50 miles that week or 60. I spent 4 out of 5 weekdays on the course. I kept the going easy and the mileage low. I liked the flow of the new course. It mixed in some pace changing tight single track and also a bunch of small hills. Then on Friday, I met Mike in the park to flag the far end of the course. He was already out when I arrived, so I ran around the course to find him. I found his pack ditched on the trail in the powerline and I immediately knew what he was up to - tinkering with the course less than 24 hours to race time! Sure enough he had just scouted an idea and liked it. I did too, so we went ahead and marked it. This change mixed in a decent hill on the powerline as well as part of the fun "middle" trail. I was excited for tomorrow.
Race day! My brother Greg was in town and going to race as well. He was convinced that this would be the race I finally beat him, but I never count him out. His plan was to stick with me, and the prospect of racing with my brother was a fun and comforting feeling. I figured he would both push me and make me run smart. I decided to rep Wild Endurance with him at the race (yet still scoring for WTAC). The morning was nice - sunny and a bit chilly. The course was in top shape. We arrived early and got settled in, chatting with many familiar people. I led a group warm up on the beginning and finishing stretches of the course. I then returned to my car for last minute prep and headed off to the starting area. Besides the competition I already was counting on, there were some surprises as well - namely fit looking fast road guys. I had no idea what to expect.
At the siren, I tried to keep it under control. I watched 20 something people shoot out ahead of me. I tried to find the balance of conservation and not falling too far behind. I hoped to be in the mix when things most likely slowed down on the first single track shortly into the race. I moved up as the sprinters fell back, but honestly, I felt like my body was tight and or working too hard way too early. I entered the single track in 6th place. Ahead of me were knowns Eric Narcisi, Eric Lonergan, and Steve Brightman, and unknown fast looking road guys (later figured out to be Geoff Nelson and Christopher Cluett). Greg was on my heels. The pace remained fast and the pack did not stick tight as I thought. Eventually I made a move by Cluett before reaching the rail bed. Now Geoff and the Erics were pulling away with Brightman doing his best to keep up. I was not close to them. Greg moved up along side of me and I could hear more footsteps behind. Again, I noticed that the hot pace didn't feel great to me. Shouldn't I feel fresher? I thought Greg would continue to push on ahead of me, but it didn't happen. When we reached the end, he let me take the lead again. I thought it was just a courtesy, but that was the last time I would run with him today. I ran through the field and up the awkward powerline hill. For a few moments I forgot what was going on behind me, and focused on a fading runner ahead. It was Geoff Nelson. I passed him on the steep incline onto the Rte 4 trail. 4th place now!
Quickly my focus turned to the runners behind me. Someone was now "pushing" me. It didn't take long to realize it was Muddy. Here we go again! Does this happen in every trail race we run together? I knew he was super fit and wouldn't put up with me lollygagging out there. I had to hammer. The thought of it was more tiring than the physical act of it. I pushed hard on the ups and downs of this trail. On a tight turn I could see that we had put some distance between us and Greg. The next couple of twisty miles were the same. Negative mental thoughts as I tried to stay ahead of Muddy. Sometimes I wished he just went by so I could relax. Other times I surged hills or obstacles hoping to create space. No dice. I was sure he was just biding his time until the end. It also was frustrating to not see 3rd place (presumably Brightman) in the woods. How can he be so far ahead?
I reached the open rail bed again. I made sure to increase my turnover. Muddy remained close. Brightman looked to be a minute ahead. The battle was for 4th place. I still felt like Muddy was waiting to make a move. I thought about the new WTAC Clamshell series and how we would be tied if he beat me or I would have a decent lead if he didn't. Willing myself to stay uncomfortable for just a few more minutes. Off the railbed, I hammered the next two small hills before hitting the "roots" trail. Did I create some space? Adrenaline was pumping as the end got closer. I reached the open parking area and now just had to run around the "broken field of dreams". I began sprinting. Don't get passed I told myself over and over. Finally I could see the finish and found yet another gear. 4th place! Two seconds ahead of Muddy. One minute 19 seconds ahead of Greg.
I missed my podium finish by one place, but I was very happy with my race. I think the early tightness and uneasiness can be chalked up to a lack of racing. My body was not ready for it. However, my training let me push hard on the trails and finish strong. I outsprinted everyone on the Field of Broken Dreams Strava segment - even the race winner Eric Narcisi by 4 seconds.
The new course was a smashing success. It still is fast, but way more interesting now. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. I managed a group trail cool down and then stuck around for my cruel 4th place award - a can of O'Doul's! Thanks again to everyone who makes these 4th Season Trail Race Series events so awesome.