Official time: 1:34:17. 6th overall. Results here.
Time for the last race of the 4th Season trail series. Last year the Tuesday Night Turtles had wrapped up the team title prior to this race and this year WTAC had done the same. There was still plenty to complete for, including the Rhode Island trail running Triple Crown. Last week's recon of the course confirmed how long and relentless this race was going to be. I had rested extensively in the last week and wanted to best last year's time of 1:41. I also hoped to keep my top 10 streak intact for all five races but of course that would depend of who showed up.
I arrived, got my bib (which indicated that I had run all five events) and did a short warm-up with Muddy. Everyone lined up and Race Director Galoob gave us all the lowdown on the course. Then we were off. The initial pace seemed restrained as if everyone remembered the early hard effort two weeks prior at Brrr-lingame. After about a half mile the front runners began to pull away. Greg Hammett, Bob Jackman and Steve Brightman in the front pack and and a guy with a neckerchief, Jonny and Muddy in the second pack. On the early switchbacks I could see my closest pursuers but it was only a mile into the race and I was already in no man's land.
Jonny and Muddy soon passed Neckerchief and began to put distance on him. I was slowly gaining on him but after we passed Carr Pond I glanced back and saw...Jeff! The Mighty Gazelle was slowly gaining on me as I gained on Neckerchief. At mile three I passed him and continued on, knowing the Gazelle was hunting me down. Up until this point the course had been marked well with little orange flags. But when we came to the big intersection that leads up to the Hopkins Hill Road parking lot, there was not a flag to be seen. I stopped. Even though I knew the course I second guessed myself. Did Galoob change the course at the last minute? There were orange arrows on some of the trees. We were supposed to be following these now? (we weren't.) By now Jeff and Neckerchief had caught up to me. After a few moments we continued up towards the parking lot, though the trail was not marked. I assured them that this was the correct route.
At the parking lot was the first aid station. I blurted out to one of the volunteers about the missing flags and then the trail veered steeply down towards Carr Pond, the course once again dotted by orange flags. Jeff began gazelling down the rocky slope and told me that I would catch him on the uphills, though I wasn't so sure. We began to encounter significant water hazards and it was soon apparent that splashing through them was the best course of action. I was still following close behind Jeff but Neckerchief had now dropped back.
The section along the ridge was tiring but it helped having Jeff to follow. I figured I'd stick with Jeff for as long as I could which would hopefully put me in a position to hold onto 7th place. At mile 6 Jeff turned on the afterburners and began flying along the twisty singletrack. He began to put some distance between us. Then after a long straight section I spied Neckerchief making gains on me. I was still keeping Jeff in view at mile 7.5 when Neckerchief flew by me, looking really strong. He barreled off ahead towards Jeff but at mile 8 we hit the self-manned aid station and all stopped. I quickly downed a gel and half a cup of water and took off in pursuit of Neckerchief with Jeff right on my heels. In retrospect, I'm really glad they both stopped at the aid station. If they had both bypassed it, I probably would have too which would have been a mistake (I think the gel helped a lot.)
Now we were chasing Neckerchief as the course really began to twist and turn. The way he had flown by me I thought Neckerchief would be putting distance on us but we were able to stick close to him. We passed over the New London Turnpike and entered the last three mile stretch of trail. The trails here are mostly smooth pine forest but the twists and turns are relentless. As we began this section I was in 7th place between Neckerchief and Jeff. I started to think about moves. Jeff had been following me for a couple miles now - no doubt he enjoyed being pulled along and would probably be surging soon. Neckerchief wasn't putting distance on us like I thought which made me think he was running out of steam.
The opportunity presented itself when Neckerchief began to go the wrong way at a split. I yelled to correct him but still had time to move ahead. Now leading the group, I decided it was time to see if I had anything left in the tank and tried to pick up the pace. It was difficult with all the turns but I could hear their footsteps fading and as the course turned back on itself often I was able to see the distance I was putting on them. Jeff had moved ahead of Neckerchief but he was also pretty far back. Now I was supercharged about holding onto 6th place. I kept the pace up and cursed this last section of trail that seemed endless. Finally I came to the open dirt section and knew I was almost there. Scott Mason was in the woods snapping shots and a few moments last I came out on the New London Turnpike and crossed the finish.
To say I was pleased with my performance would be an understatement. I smashed last year's time by 7 minutes and was able to mount a surge over the last few miles when I needed it. Being able to run the majority of the race with Jeff was a major boost. I don't think I would have been able to keep the pace up if I had been out there alone. Amazingly the nagging nerve pain I've been dealing with in my right foot didn't surface until after I finished, when it became very painful for a few minutes. Then thirty minutes later it was gone again. Strange.
Afterwards everyone ate and swapped race stories. The big issue was the bastard that had stolen the flags in the early morning near the Hopkins Hill Lot. A lot of people had gone off course because of that and I guess there was also a graffiti incident that led a lot of the 10kers onto the 1/2 marathon course. A real shame because Galoob and Company worked really hard to mark these courses well and make the race a success. Still, everyone was in good spirits and took it all in stride. At the awards ceremony I got a nifty pint glass and beer for completing all five events in the series. A wonderful gift and a wonderful trail race! Once again thank to you Mike Galoob, his family and everyone else who helped to put on these races. They really are great, laid-back events that take advantage of the wonderful trails here in South County Rhode Island.