This weekend brought me and Lynnea to Matthews, NC for the 3rd of 4 races in the Xterra North Carolina trail race series. With a lead after two events in the 30-34 age group I was hoping to put the series to bed with an age group victory. If so I would be done with the regional aspect of Xterra for the year. Since only 3 of 4 races qualify for points there is no advantage (since these races are $40-50 each) to running the 4th race- if, I were able to place at the top of the age group in this 3rd consecutive race.
I knew nothing of this course, except its advertised length. I saw this as an opportunity to get out and just run a controlled, relaxed race and see where that left me with 2 miles to go. So, with the muted electronic beep of the megaphone- we were off. I sat in 12th position as the excitement drew runners out front. The initial portion of the course brought us through an open field. There was about 600m to adjust into our places before hitting the single track.
As we neared the forest I moved into second place making a guess as to where I needed to be within the field. The front runner was gone. He is a 4 flat miler with endurance to match it- so I was certainly not interested in chasing that rabbit. I'd seen him disappear several times this year already.
Mixed up Confusion
We moved through mile one gently in 6 minute pace. Half a mile later the leader was running back our way confused a bit by the course. We stopped and decided to press on... hoping we were right. We plodded along- the chase pack closing in on us, until we saw mile marker #2- 6:11.
I was leading through this portion as we were still a little uncertain as to our path- though after 5 minutes of running we were pretty much committed to our decision... soon I relinquished the lead, happily, and was alone in the woods in the blink of an eye.
Stunned but not Defeated
In that same blink I must've overlooked one of the 12 million roots throughout this technical trail! In an instant I was legless with only a torso and momentum as I flew through the air- what a freeing feeling to know you are about to bite it, nothing to do but wait- nothing to fear but that sudden, grinding halt awaiting you only milliseconds away. Still rotating ever so smoothly until that fateful instant when the Earth met my inertia-
"Awww," the grunt and thud could be heard throughout the trees. I quickly checked for missing, cracked or severely altered parts and was on my way... Covered in sandy mud! (Later, at the finish line I noticed I was one of 20-25% of the field with a similar or more extreme case of trail rash... I got off easy.)
At several point in the course, the winding nature of the trail allowed runners who were a minute or more apart in time to be only 20 feet apart in space. These convoluted sections were a healthy reminder to stay on the tipping point between aerobic and anaerobic effort. The pursuers were there- don't be fooled... I was beginning to feel the effort of mile 3 (6:11), where I pushed a little too hard after the fall and had a resulting adrenaline induced spurt. Halfway through this mile 4 I was stinging and had no choice but to back off a little.
Regaining a 'firm' Foundation
Having not seen another runner for a mile or so I had the luxury to recoup my wits before hitting mile 5 and a last push. Mile 4- 6:30... ouch. I resumed the previous pace of around 6:10, though- now the effort required on the twists and turns was exponentially increased. Little hills were stinging and burning and the downhills were less of a break and more of an exercise in concentration to keep from spilling the beans.
...and its Decision Time...
This was the tipping point in the race. Not knowing the course from here I had to simply keep running brave and find that courage inside me to face and embrace the vulnerability of the situation I was in. This is WHY we do this, so let's jump in full steam!
Finally, after what seemed like 20 minutes I reached mile 6 (6:10ish???). This was a very technical portion of the course with many drastic step ups and downs over larger rocks. I try to fly over these kinds of features to maintain my center of gravity in space basically hurdle the small mounds of dirt. Easier said on a Monday morning after the fact, than it was done on a Sunday morning at 80 degrees!
It Ain't Over 'till the Fat Lady Says its Over...
Suddenly however, I caught a glimpse of a chaser- I was being reeled in with .2 to go!
Decision time. Either crumble into the clay and dust off an excuse, or dig deep, concentrate on recovering form and find out how fast that chaser really is!!! He might catch me, but he is going to have to run out of his mind to do it- let's race!
I hit the gas. The ups were swift and the downs were on the edge of control. On tight turns I grabbed an oak to swing around, pumping the arms as I entered another 50m climb.
Accelerate, check the speed going down again, jump over the log, turn, around that stone, accelerate into this straight!!
Now, this was fun. I entered a straight stretch where I powered down the trail. .1 of a mile to go. One more technical section and the race director's words came to mind, "this course is dead on 6.2..." Knowing this information I could drop the hammer without fear of bonus fun. Exiting the trees and seeing the finish line the arms were in full swing, knees driving up the small incline. So much joy was bringing me home:) This kind of running is the result of preparation and mindset. It may happen by accident occasionally- but we can also allow ourselves repeated visits to this place of bliss.
The Results in Black and White
I finished the course in 39:02 for second place overall and won my age group. Officially the top 30-34 male for the North Carolina Xterra trail series!! As reward, I am now eligible to race for free (not travel for free...) in Bend, OR next month at Xterra Nationals!! While that is pretty cool- the true reward was the aforementioned freedom and joy felt within while out on the trail this day. The series was a great experience- learning new trails, sharing them with so many tough runners and having the superior race direction of Dirty Spoke Productions...
So now... onto another race series. This weekend race number two of the High Country Triple Crown series. The Valle Crucis 7 miler nicknamed "The Cub"...