Ah, the Li'l Rhody Runaround . I have a love/hate relationship with this race. On one hand it's a fun local trail race put on by WTAC, five minutes from my house and every year more and more faces are familiar to me. On the other hand it hasn't been a great race for me over the years. The first miles are fast and usually leave me spent for the second half of the race. The last stretch on road hasn't been my cup of tea either.
Nonetheless I arrived in good spirits for this race. It was cold as hell with the wind coming off Watchaug Pond but I knew it wouldn't be as bad in the woods. The warm-up along the dirt road showed a lot of puddles and I hope it wouldn't be too wet in the woods. I didn't think I could match my 2013 PR of 52:51 but I hoped I would be within a minute of it.
I lined up with the usual suspects and made a real effort not to go out too fast. I backed off and stayed a few paces behind Jeff Walker. I was surprised there wasn't a glut of people passing me as they have in years past. Perhaps the water hazards on the first mile were creating logjams and preventing people from opening up. The lead female went by me just before the singletrack and I fell in behind her. By the time we reached the playground the lead group was already a ways ahead of us.
|Shoving water in my face - Photo by Paul Gray|
As we entered the woods the pace felt just right. At a curve in the trail I could see several people not far behind us. I stayed behind the lead female until the wood bridges ended and we made the sharp right at Klondike Road. The trail became a bit more technical and I noticed a slowdown from her so I motored past and put some distance on everyone. Jeff Walker was long gone at this point and after a few minutes I could hear footsteps behind me. At around 3.5 miles Leslie O'Dell went past followed by another fellow in red. Red Shirt then passed O'Dell and I pushed to keep up with them.
I stayed with them for the next several miles. One or both would put distance on me but I would close the gap on certain sections. Their pace was manageable and I began looking at my watch to try to figure how close I'd be to my PR. I thought I was about a minute slower but it was hard to judge. The last section of trail is fairly technical and I stuck behind them, though in retrospect I should have pushed harder here. At the last trail incline I went past the two of them and increased the pace in anticipation for the final road stretch.
|Rock hopping with a mile to go - Photo by Scott Mason|
|Finishing up - what am I looking at? - Photo by WTAC|
Normally I'm toast at this point but I was feeling good and was managing a low 6 pace. I heard footsteps behind me with a 1/4 mile to go but I didn't dare look back. Mike B was at the final corner and said I had a telephone pole length which didn't sound like much so I pushed towards the finish with everything I had. I finished in a solid 53:12, only 21 seconds off my course PR from 2013.
I'm very happy with this race. I usually go out too fast and can't hang on but this time it worked out great and I was able to draft off others for most of the race. It left me with something for the end. Had I made my move earlier perhaps I could have bested my 2013 time but I'm not going to quibble about that. Overall I'm feeling fit and healthy and looking forward to competing in the winter trail series that is right around the corner!