Monday, May 9, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

I'm certain that I'm one of the very few husbands in the world whose wife requests this for her Mother's Day gift: Let's go to a trail race and run together!

I'm one lucky guy.

So, we hired a babysitter, piled into the car, and drove out to Lewis Morris Park in New Jersey on Saturday morning to run the NJ Trail Series Spring Race #3 - half-marathon. It was a gorgeous morning, sunny with no real wind, birds singing, a great day for a fun race.

Footnote to other parents out there: the little guy didn't get car sick this time - thank goodness. And he had a ball with the babysitter, throwing rocks into a stream, and even seeing a snake, which he reacted to with both sheer joy and utter terror. Funny.

Back to the event: I've sung the praises of Jennifer and Rick McNulty on this blog before, so I won't repeat myself too much. Why do I like their races so much? Because they are just-challenging-enough, low-key, friendly, attract a small but strong field, welcome experts and beginners with the same enthusiasm, and - of course - there's a cold one waiting at the finish line.

This was my wife's first race in this series, and she just wanted to "run, not race". We were definitely going to stay together throughout the 13.1 miles, and enjoy the chance to run with each other, something that's been rather hard to do since our son was born 2.5 years ago - especially on trails where the jogging stroller just would not be appropriate. When we were on our honeymoon in 2007, we spend the penultimate day running together in a trail race on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay. It was a beautiful day, and we were just in it for the fun and the spectacular views. Of course, by the halfway point we realized that the top two women were mere seconds in front of us, and I asked Monika if she wanted to catch them. She said, "Go!", and a few miles (and one screaming descent) later she had won the race.

Deja vu? Pretty much. As the race started and the small field did a short 0.7 mile lap before heading into the single track for two 10k loops, we could see the lead woman (Jessi) just a bit ahead. For the first 2 or 3 miles, we were just running along. I think maybe I was talking too much, but I was excited to be with Monika in the woods, and the pace felt perfect for me. I'm not all that fast right now, but I'm feeling fairly strong. I noticed that we were typically making up ground on Jessi during the uphills, then losing time on the descents. She was a smooth and fast downhill runner.

Around the 5k mark, the single track opens up onto a fire road for maybe 800 meters. The road slowly rises, and this time we caught lead woman. I could sense that Monika wanted to push a little - despite our plan to "just run", she can't help but be a little competitive, she is a runner after all. Because she generally wants me to lead on single track - calling out obstacles and doing the navigation while she can just concentrate on running - I picked up the pace just a little. We still had nearly 15km to go, so no need to get anxious yet.

Finishing the first lap, we stopped for water briefly at the start/finish. Couldn't spot the babysitter and the boy, they were hiking around the lake somewhere. As we started running again I could see Jessi maybe 15 seconds behind us. This could be a race after all.

On the second lap, I kept asking Monika if the pace was all right. She kept wanting me to turn it up a little, and in fact on one descent she actually passed me and opened up a small gap! I was occasionally glancing back, and I could no longer see anyone behind us.

As we neared the finish, I wanted her to finish ahead of me, she said the opposite - a good couple, right? In the final 50 meters I slowed to let her pass. We were celebrating Mother's Day after all. She earned a strong first place as part of that celebration, and we came in 6th and 7th overall. Results. We ran the second lap a bit harder in terms of effort, but in fact the split for the second 10k was a bit slower than the first (the lap one split time includes the 0.7 mile loop, so split one is for 6.9 miles - 8:00 pace - and split two is for 6.2 miles - 8:20 pace).

It was a great day, and my wife was all smiles. Happy Mother's Day my love.

And Happy Mother's Day to all mothers out there.

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