The variables considered for Saturday's Dupont Forest 12k included trail conditions. With the abundant moisture and wind this winter the potential for a sloppy and slow course was high. These concerns were unfounded however and it turned out that the trails were ideal. Not wet but not too dry either, allowing some of the sandy sections to hold up pretty well and not get loose as they may be later in the year.
The morning air was a tad chilly for standing around in but perfect for racing. So perfect that I did not notice it, which I think is ideal for any runner. With the word "GO!!" we were off and running down into the forest. Eventual winner Tyler Michael (17 years old) took the lead from the start and the rest of us settled in. We had a pretty good sized chase group for two miles including the top woman Amber Moran. She has put her stamp on this race.
Reaching the middle miles the climbs were becoming more regular. Every half mile or so we were gaining elevation steadily and then quickly returning downhill again. My method was to fly down these hills and get as much distance and time as I could out of them. The effort on the climbs went from a slight increase in breathing and heart rate to the eventual gentle burn in the middle miles. I was feeling a bit taxed with half of the run left to cover. Hello, Doubt.
So, what does the successful runner do when this eventuality appears? I suppose there are many methods to deal with doubt. I prefer to stare it down, listen to what it is saying and then gently decide what to do next. In this case doubt was suggesting that I was going to crash and burn in the woods. That I was not cut out to hold of the pursuit of the field. I listened to this and responded with comfort that my main goal was to run my best. Now concentrating on form and efficiency I suddenly felt lighter and quicker on the climbs. We need to decipher whether discomfort is reality or a rough patch and adjust accordingly.
The hills became more aggressive successively. Around mile 4, I could see that I was being chased down effectively by the 3rd and 4th place runners after my relaxing stretch. They were on my tail and the 4-5 minutes of "recovery" was at its end. I had to move now. I was feeling better and now could push and try to hide out again. First place was decided at this point as I could only see the leader's back on the longer, straighter sections of trail. My goal was to establish this same distance for myself over the next mile. To not be hunted any longer, in my mind, but to be the elusive prey... too fast for the lion on this day.
After a long winding, twisting downhill section which I ran on the edge of being out of control... we reached one mile to go.
This mile featured 3-4 short and steep climbs with extended gentle climbs in between. Here is an observation about steep hills. Nobody runs them 'fast'... the difference made here in these cases is the ability to run the ground directly after the steep climb, the amount of recovery needed. There is a larger amount of time to be made on the longer and flatter sections. So, with patience, I covered the aggressive inclines and then the idea was to push and push with powerful strides along the more runnable areas. Use the arms, drive the knee, don't hurry.
The noise of the pursuing runners diminished as this mile progressed. I estimated that the third place finisher was about 5 seconds back entering this final mile... too close. By focusing on what I could do to run my best, I was able to hold him off. Eventually the difference was about 15 seconds.
Adversity and You
A poor thought process could have sabotaged my race at this pivotal time. I had a choice at several points in this race. Either crumble when things got tough focusing on all the potential problems facing me or, to simplify my options. In a race we have our tools which are basically fitness and mechanics and of these we have immediate control of only one of them.
Is my knee lift too high? Are my arms driving me forward. Am I carrying tension in my shoulders? A quick body check can free up the body to perform at its best.
I chose to go within my ability to run. By setting my thoughts on utilizing optimum movement which occurs only when relaxed, I was able to enter that state we reach on our best training runs. Not that the movement is free of effort, but it is free of strain.
The mind is so powerful and capable of limiting or uplifting the body. This is something you need to cultivate each day during maintenance, long or speed sessions.