|Stuffed in the hurt locker.|
[Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey]
Exeter, NH -- Is not having a plan technically a plan? If so then for the second consecutive year at the Exeter Trail Race presented by GoLite Footwear I executed my plan perfectly. Problem was that this year, like last year, my failure to plan once again haunted me in the crucible moments of the race. The XTR is one of my favorite races on the schedule for several reasons. First, to really race well there you need a combination of technical skill, agility, power, and aerobic endurance. Every footstrike needs to be strategically placed and there is a continual push and pull of acceleration and deceleration as the course serpentines through a rollercoaster of singletrack. Secondly, as an acidotic RACING event I'm so proud of the RDs Ri & Sarah who have developed the event into one of the premier trail races in NH. A record field of 148 runners (4 & 10 milers) stepped to the line and received the start command from Sarah. After 20 meters the course takes a hard right hand turn into the trail network. I was on the inside of the turn near the front but nearly got boxed out by 5 runners trying to fit in a space 3 runners wide. Safely through that section things got single file very quickly and I found myself in the Top 7-8 and assumed that at least a few of the folks around me would probably be racing the 4 miler. I picked my way around a couple of runners early on and settled into a group with new aR teammate Jeff Hixon in from and teammate Bob Swarthout behind. Running singletrack can be a little deceiving at times. When I'm racing hard it always seems like I'm going faster than I really am. Without mile markers and the potential for face plants littering the trail there was no need to peek at the watch. I could feel the pace was hard. At the 4 mile turn around just before we entered the tunnel Bob peeled off and shouted some encouraging words. The group I was racing with seemed fairly content with the pace and the place they were racing so we held our ground for most of the Oaklands Loop. Before we passed back under the tunnel Jeff and the other guy I was racing fell back and I managed to pass them. At this point, although I didn't know it, I was 5th overall. Not long after that I caught a glimpse of aR's top ultrarunner Ryan Welts, who had just scorched the first half of the race. Setting my sights on him I was able pull up along his right shoulder. We ran together for a 1/2 mile or so before he encouraged me to go ahead. Just before we entered the tunnel for the final 4+ miles of the race I went around him for 4th place. Still feeling good I tried to maintain the pace I was running. This particular counterclockwise course rotation is a little 'easier' finishing 5k because the trail is a little less technical. But as I found out...easier does not equal easy. With about 5k to go I slowly began to feel a bonk coming on. I must have looked like a train wreck in slow motion. My recklessly hard pace early on coupled with a lack of hydration began to take a toll on my legs and my will. Seemingly out of nowhere Nate Bassett, who had been trapped behind slower traffic at the start, went flying by be like his hair was on fire. It wasn't long before Ryan, Jeff, and the other guy whom I had passed and dropped 2 miles earlier had caught and passed me like I was a spectator. Getting passed at any time during a race is hard, but it's demoralizing when it happens in the last section of the race while you're 2/3rds of the way in the hurt locker. With my legs gone and the fire in my belly extinguished I was helpless to fend off two more runners who also picked the remaining flesh off my bones. As I passed teammate and traffic cop Mike Sallade for the last time and began the Camel's Hump climb there was no more pretending...I was cooked. I had run this part in 2011, but not this year. With my head down I marched up as quickly as a I could and gave one final peek over my shoulder to see if there was anyone else I wouldn't be able to hold off. When I passed my lovely wife Karen (volunteering at the first major trail junction) I knew I had only 200 meters to go to the finish. Aided by the fact that it was downhill and I could hear the crowd I managed to pick up the pace (a little) and actually look like a competitor as I crossed the finish line in 1:20:59 (11th place, 2nd 40+). A quick review of my 2011 result showed that I was about :90 slower this year although the last 5k was almost the same.
[NOTE TO 44 YEAR OLD SELF: Run the first 7 miles a little more conservatively in 2013 so you've got a little something left for the final 5k.]
NEXT UP: Cranmore Hill Climb