At any rate, it was rather fitting that, due to scheduling, my first race of 2014 was the Old Mountain Field Trail 5K and my last (first race of this new South County 4th Season Race Series) would also be OMF 5K. Wow, that was a somewhat awkward sentence. Given the cool, dry conditions I was rather excited to redeem myself from the snowy shit show of January's race. I was coming back from knee issues in January's version and consequently was fat and out of shape. Oh yeah, it was freezing cold and there was about 6" of snow on the ground at that one too. If that doesn't qualify as a recipe for disaster then I don't know what does. Well, perhaps a school bus driver high on crystal meth would be more representative of an epic failure but since that's not running related I'll stick to what I know.
I arrived at this year's race a little late for my liking but was easily able to get my bib, and run a relaxed partial course warm up with Gazelle and Mark F. The course looked great and I made mental notes of several locations at which I could rip and make moves pass people if I needed to. Given the nearly entire single track nature of this race, (other than the XC style open field start and return finish) I knew positioning was at a premium. Any little advantage I could gain would be important.
I did one short stride from the start and then lined up in the front among my WTAC brethren, a slew of Tuesday Night Turtles, and several other semi-familiar faces. At the "gun", everyone took off, per usual, at a suicidal pace to clear the outfield fence and loop around into an optimal position before entering into the single track approximately a 400m(?) away. As we entered the woods I was already nearly redlining and wasn't sure of my spot in the field but recognized fellow runners that were around me so I knew I was probably okay. After working around a several unknown people and a few I did know (Dave Principe), I settled in behind Jonny in my usual position as we crossed over the last real footbridge before entering mud and rocks. Now, a brief departure from this grammatically terrible race recap to clarify a few things about this "race tactic" of mine:
Apparently, over the past several years, I've developed the annoying habit of settling in behind my running partner in crime, using him for pacing purposes, and then trying to pass him near the finish. I'm not sure if this is acceptable or not. It certainly is never a conscious goal or strategy of mine. It just always unfolds this way. As my wife graciously pointed out later that evening, "You did it again, didn't you? That's kind of a dick move." Wait a damn minute - "dick move"? I have two major issues with my lovely lady's declaration: 1.) Can I be blamed for using a fellow training partner, with whom I log a lot of training miles and that is very close to my fitness level (actually a little bit faster and more fit), as a pacer of sorts during a race? I don't see it as a dick move! The guy sets a perfect pace and effort (for me) nearly every single race, nearly every single distance, especially on ALL trail races! He always goes out faster than I'd like and throws in surges when I don't want to--yet I know I must hang with him if I have any hopes of running a good race. 2.) it's a R-A-C-E! Isn't the goal to run smart and then leave your blood, guts, and dick dragging in the dirt behind you at the finish in every attempt to pass as many people as possible?
Anyway, I fought to hang with Jonny and when he passed several people I too tried to surge just after and move around them. Near the heart/center of the twisty course we closed in on a fellow racer, but really more of a triathlete, Tom Gruczka. I was a little bit upset as usually we "dispose" of him earlier in races but here we were, "late" in the race, working hard trying to catch him. At the same time I also became frustrated by the absence of another familiar face, Steve Brightman. I love trail races but they're also the bane of my existence because runners can get out ahead of me and hide. As a result, if the distance is less than 10K, I stand no chance of hunting them down. Gruczka, like the gentleman that he is, allowed us to pass and offered words of encouragement. I offered spit, snot and a moaned grunt back at him. It was now that I began to get giddy. Jonny and I were closing in on local speedster, and brick shithouse, Bronson Venable. The dude
was IS very fast and would absolutely obliterate my pansy ass at a road race. However, we found ourselves consistently closing the gap on him near the end of the trail before it spilled back out to the final 600m or so finish back across the outskirts of the grassy ball field.
Along this point I watched as Jonny pulled away a bit and moved past Venable. Two things didn't happen here. In a recent race (Li'l Rhody Runaround) I was right behind my running friend and watched him just fly away from me over the last .9 mile of road and beat me by about ten seconds. I expected the same thing to happen here. Also, I figured that Venable would drop the hammer and leave us both in the dust a la Road Runner ("meep meep"). I was surprised to find Jonny move in front of Bronson but then they stayed within range! As we turned the corner around right field, I pulled closer and when we climbed a tiny rise back up to the final finishing 75m or so to the finishing chute I began pushing really hard. I passed Jonny and Venable! Unfortunately, seconds later, Venable blew past us as though we were standing still. I know that sounds rather cliche but he seriously had A LOT left in the tank. Apparently, a finishing kicker, I am not.
The three of us finished 5th, 6th and 7th, literally 1 second apart. After choking back a little gorge behind the bleachers, I shook hands with those around us and gave congratulations. We watched all the finishers come pounding in and I figured that WTAC had managed to beat the Tuesday Night Turtles in the team competition (we did but it was closer than I thought).
Bunches of us went out on the course a little later to trade war stories, run a short cool down and pick up race flags. I was pleased with my effort of 19:26, 6th OA (results here) -- about 10 seconds faster than my last comparable race over this course in 2012. Another quick word about the course itself: what it lacks in elevation, it certainly makes up for in twists. Holy shit, the twists and turns, coupled with the narrow trail make it tough but super fun to race on. I feel that no matter what one's pace on this course, given the nature of the environment and footing, it would feel fast (despite not being fast in actual time/pace). Plus, a 5000m TRAIL RACE? Really? What's not to like about that? Redlining out of the gate with bloody quads and mud everywhere. Yes, please!
Overall a great day! I look forward to battling those dastardly Turtles over the next 4 races. If you've never run these races as part of the series, they're worth checking out-- low key yet highly competitive, cheap ($10!), and over excellent terrain. Plus, I can try and finish ahead of you. I need all the help I can get in the character development and confidence fortification departments.