I've been looking forward to this one since last fall when I ran it in the snow. It is the first local trail race of the year and there was a good turnout of close to 300 runners, despite the dreary weather. The temperature was in the lower 40s and there was a fine drizzle and fog the whole time. I made a wardrobe change at the last minute to a thicker long sleeve shirt and gloves. The gloves came off a few miles in but the shirt was perfect.
This race has a 10am start which is a nice change from starting early. This course has lots of rocks and they were wet and treacherous. We started out with a 1/4 mile dash up a dirt road before hurtling into the woods on some rocky singletrack. One guy behind me apparently hurtled a little too much and went down with loud cursing and crashing. He probably slipped on a wet rock and for the next 13 miles I was very careful with where I stepped when there were rocks around.
I started out in about 10th place but felt good and started to work my way up during the first climb. About five miles in Pat Singletary caught up to me on an uphill stretch and I figured that would be the last I would see of him. He is a much better runner than I am and can really crank on the uphills. His only weakness is the technical stuff, which is how I was able to get ahead of him in the first place. The middle part of this course is not too technical but the beginning and end are tough.
I hit the last aid station at about mile 9 and still felt good. Unfortunately there is a steep, but not too long ascent, right after the aid station. As I got close to the top, I could see a lone figure in front of me. When I reached the top I started pushing to see if I could catch him. I gradually caught up to him and then on a long straight stretch I could see Pat and another runner up ahead. I passed the first guy and then we reached the long 3 mile descent to the finish. I knew it was technical but I just started flying. I flew past Pat and the other guy and danced through the rocks.
I finally got down to where the trail was supposed to cut back out to the road and to my horror saw that they had changed the finish. The course now went straight up the mountain over large boulders with no trail, just orange ribbons marking the way. I started climbing and this part was really treacherous. After climbing part way up the mountain, the course turned and took me horizontally along the mountain and then eventually dropped back down. Finally I was back on real trail.
After the obligatory dash underneath Route 80 in a tunnel where the stream ran, I hit the road and ran the last 1/4 mile uphill to the finish. I still felt strong, much more so than the last two times I have run this race. I finished in 4th place in 1:46.
It was a lot of fun again but I wouldn't mind running it in dry conditions some time. The course features a good mix of single-track and ATV trail with some steep ascents and descents to make it interesting. This is one race I plan on doing whenever I can.
The only downside this year was that I missed running the Garden Spot Marathon, which was also today. Some of my family ran it and my daughter ran the half marathon. I've got to say, though, that this was much more fun than pounding the pavement for 26 or 13 miles. Next up is Boston. I feel like I am in some of the best shape of my life, but of course there is no guarantee that will translate to a fast time on any given day. The weather that day and any number of other things can make a marathon turn ugly.