(Writer's note – I had a much better report, but because Google's email system doesn't allow one to find the draft I accidentally discarded, I'm starting all over…)Two weeks later, it's hard to believe that winter was in full force on race day for the Fleet Feet Trail Half-marathon, organized by TBF Racing. Rain, cold, wind. It pays to be a mudder on days like this. The course is a few rolling hills, with rolling hills sprinkled in, along with some rolling hills. I ran the same trails back in October and finished in 1:57, 28/90 overall and 10/16 in the 30-39 age group. The conditions then were rainy, but not the wrath we will getting today.
The race start was at 9:00am. I woke up at 7:00am to howling winds and rain pelting my house. I even checked the TBF website just in case, secretly hoping the race was cancelled. Nothing doing.
Pre-race – I went light on food – Clif bar, banana, and Startbuck Via. I've come to love these little packets. All the caffeine without needing to imbibe copious amounts of liquid to get there. Got to park and paid the $10 entry fee. (This is my only gripe about races here. $10 entry fee to park is crappy. TBF should figure out a way to bake this into the race fees or offer some kind of discount. I did send out a carpool notice, but no takers.)
After arriving, I did my changing and got my running belt together. Electrolyte pills and my concoction of Hammer Strength Perpetuem. I thought for a moment that perhaps I could sneak into a top 3 spot for my age group, but after seeing the other runners, I realized that only the hard core come out on days like this. Didn't give myself much time to spare. (If you've read my other race reports, this should come as no surprise). Most of all, I told myself to take it easy. This was ultimately a training run for the big race in June. There's no glory in getting hurt at a random trail race in March. Countdown to start and away we go.
Mile 1-3 – Started off pretty quickly. The trail was mostly open and gravel. Some puddles, but nothing awful. I figured if the track was like this the whole way, I'd be fine with that. I was figuring that race pace of 8:00/miles would be fast but a sold goal. By mile three, my heart rate was up a bit and I was at an 8:06, so I dropped by target time back to 8:15s figuring I'd get slower with more hills.
Mile 4-5 – Runners really spread out by now. I've found I'm a pretty strong runner on hills (climbing that is. I'm slow on descents.) I imagine myself as a Quarter Horse or a semi truck in second gear, or on a roller coaster just after it clicks in to pull you up to the top. As I'm climbing, I hear the clack-a-clack-a-clack in my head, control my breathing, and picture myself running strong with good form. Seems to work. The course also moved into the wood – a single track course with TONS of mud everywhere. Went from avoiding puddles to just splashing down right in the middle of them. The mud around the puddles was thick from the other runners, so mid-puddle was the most firm ground other there.
Saw a runner wrist-deep in the mud fishing out an orphaned shoe he lost in the deep mud. A few slips here and there made me think about popping my knee or blasting my Achilles or ACL, but alas, keep moving at a pace faster than was safe.
Mile 8 – I found myself completely alone on the course – no one in view ahead or behind. As I turned a switchback, I saw a runner I'd passed back at Mile 4 gaining. Nothing motivates you more than seeing someone you thought you buried miles ago. I was thinking I was getting lazy and turns out I was.
Mile 9 – The course and hills were taking its toll. Started feeling fatigued. It's the half-marathon version of the "wall" people talk about in marathons. Nothing like the Mile 18 wall of a full marathon, but a mental hurdle nonetheless. Towards the end of the mile, the course opened up and I could see ahead. Two runners in sight. One looking much stronger than the other.
Mile 10 – The weaker of the two ahead slowed and eventually stopped to fix his shoe. Picked him off and I was about 1/8 mile from the next rabbit, but gaining slowly. The trail started narrowing back to the single track in the woods.
Mile 11 – I picked up my pace and started running hard tangents. That gets kinda tricky with the slop. I hit the tangent with my outside foot, then almost wiped out twice as I turned. Keep my balance and kept driving. By the end of the mile, I was about 5-10 strides away, with two more runners in sites, about 25 yards ahead. Both were wearing Fleet Feet running shirts, one with arm-warmers. This meant these guys were real runners, not middling triathletes pretending to be a runner like me.
Mile 12 – I finally passed the first ahead and crept up to the Fleet Feeters. They heard me behind them, seemed surprised, and picked up the pace some more.
Mile 13 – Final aid station. I was only 3-5 strides behind the Fleet Feeters who stepped right to grab a Gatorade. I decided now was the time to kick, so I burst out as the trail opened into a long flattish segment. About 1/2 mile to go, I sneaked a look and saw I was well ahead of three runners I passed, and looked ahead and found one more rabbit. The headwind was vicious, probably 20-25 mph. Turned the last corner and was about 50 yards from the last rabbit but only had 100 yards to go. He turned around, saw me, and started sprinting. I yelled ahead – "Don't worry! I can't catch you!" finishing 6 seconds behind him.
I crossed the finish line, grunted a few times, and felt absolutely spectacular. My Fleet Feet friends were 0:01:20 behind me, for 13/90 overall and 5/14 in my division, with a time of 1:47:15 – a full 10 minutes faster than my October race is far worse conditions. (Funny side note – the next day at work, a colleague asked how the race went. Told him I was 13th. He said – "That's still pretty good." No, that's INCREDIBLE for me – I've never been this close to the top of the board.)
Afterwards as I was changing my shoes and shirt, a women asked me – "Do you ever wonder why you do these things." I said without thinking – "I wonder how people don't do these things. There's always a few minutes in the morning when I ask why, but once I'm out here, it's awesome." I still don't think she understood. Sometimes I don't. Well, that's not true. I know exactly why I do these things.