Yesterday, I took the subway north to Van Cortlandt Park, and raced the 10k Urban Environmental Challenge trail race, organized by the Van Cortlandt Track Club (VCTC). The day dawned bright and sunny, if a bit windy. Conditions for the race were dry - frankly, not my cup of tea! I've done this race before, and it's selling point is that it takes you off the "regular" trails in Van Cortlandt and into the urban woods, seeking some mud and brambles for your trail running pleasure. Unfortunately and despite some mid-week rain, this year's course featured almost no water or mud whatsoever. Sigh. At least there were a few downed trees, a couple of which required some hands-on scrambling to get over.
I ran a couple miles of the course while warming up, and knew that the day would result in some faster-than-usual trail racing times. I've posted here recently that I'm not really trained for that kind of racing right now. My main goal for the year is to stay injury-free, so I'm being very cautious about doing any kind of harder workouts. I'm not going to push myself too hard right now in training. The end result: I've got no leg speed!
As usual, the start was too fast for my old legs. I convinced myself to get out faster today, if nothing else it would be good training for the upcoming Leatherman's Loop race, at which a fast start is rather vital (with 1000 other runners all thinking the same thing). Despite my best efforts yesterday (and my immediate heavy breathing), I counted 16 runners in front of me as we made the sharp left turn and headed for the first short section of single-track (a rocky uphill). For the remainder of the race, I'd be the guy trying to charge from behind. Like I said, as usual.
The race mixes some technical single-track with some wider, crushed-gravel trails. This makes for very uneven pacing, which can wear some runners down. Knowing that I'm better on the technical stuff, I approach a race like this in an unusual way: I actually hammer the single-track, and when we hit the gravel paths I slow just a tad to catch my breath. That led to some back-and-forth with two guys between miles 1 and 3, with me leaping past them in the woods, and them coming back around in the clearings. Eventually, as we completed the first loop and had to cross a couple of muddy sections (the only mud of the day), I left them behind and moved into the top 10.
Rather than repeat the first loop, the second time around moves runners onto a long, gradual downhill section that is clearly rarely-used. By this point, I'd gotten past a couple more runners, and had my sights set on a guy at least a minute ahead of me, wearing a bright orange t-shirt (an old Mudders and Grunters shirt, actually). That orange shirt became my target, and I knew that we had to climb back up eventually, and that's when my non-fast but somewhat-strong legs were going to help me reel him back in. The plan worked, and I got past him just as we crested the hill.
From there, it was a mad dash through about a mile of technical stuff, until the final 800 meters on an easy gravel path. I knew I'd have to put time on those who were chasing me, because once on the flats they were likely to out-run me during the final kick. I did what I could back in the woods, and hit the flats with enough of a lead to hold onto 6th overall (out of 326 finishers) in 41:50 (my slowest-ever time for this race - ah, well). Here's a photo near the finish line, you can see that long, flat stretch at the end - not my favorite part of the race.
As they posted results after the race, I was delighted to have won my age group, because there are no trophies for this race: instead, you win a carrot cake from Lloyd's. At first glance, that may not cause you any pause, but it should. In my humble opinion, Lloyd's makes the best carrot cake on planet Earth.
The stuff is pure heaven, really. The bakery is located right across the street from the finish line at Van Cortlandt, and after the race there was a line of runners stretching out the door and up the sidewalk - and not one of them minded the wait. I don't know what Lloyd's secret might be (although I understand that they work by hand and invite you to watch them), but those carrot cakes are just incredible. Winning my age group garnered me a pastry box containing one entire cake. All I wanted to do was to tear it open and devour the thing in a few bites, but I wanted to share it with my wife, so I made a bee-line back to the subway and toted it home.
Here is a photo of me right after receiving my carrot cake - you can see me carefully cradling the priceless contents in the elegant box. I seem to be whispering softly to it as I caress the container:
Kudos to the VCTC for another great race. I must say that the VCTC folks are truly friendly and welcoming. They manage to get a lot of volunteers out to support their racing schedule, which seems to me to be growing every year. Their races have an old-school, down-home feeling - reminds me of why I fell in love with racing so many years ago.
Speaking of racing and so many years, this little trail race yesterday was the 700th race of my running career. I celebrated it by sharing carrot cake with my lovely wife when I got home. I'll look back on those 700 races in another post soon.