Monday, June 3, 2013

Race Report: Chester Woods Trail Race

I traveled south to the Rochester, MN area this past weekend to run the fifth race in the UMTR Trail Series, the Chester Woods 10 mile. It had been a stormy night, but only a few stray showers sprinkled the car on the way down, and by the time the race started the sun was shining. What a (non)spring we've been having here!

The race director was an enthusiastic blur of motion, jumping around trying to keep three concurrent races organized (a 50k that had started earlier in the morning, a 5k, and our 10 mile race, all sharing some of the same trails and roads). For some inexplicable reason, the 5k started prior to the 10 mile, despite a published schedule indicating the opposite. This caused the 10 mile to begin about 25 minutes later than advertised (with no explanation or apology, which was a little weird, but then again trail racing is always a little weird). So much for timing my warm-up! Ah, but flexibility of attitude is hallmark of trail runners, right? The temperatures were climbing, the humidity was up, uh oh.

Thankfully a little breeze kicked up and soon were off. The initial half-mile or so was on a pavement, and downhill. I was stumbling along in my usual slow-footed fashion, basically losing ground with every step to the fleet-footed youngsters (and frankly the fleet-footed oldsters too). I glanced at my GPS watch, and I was running 6:00 mile pace - way too fast for me, and I was still being dropped and left behind. Sigh.

We got into a grassy, open field trail section, soaked by the overnight rains. Ah, that's better. But those faster runners ahead were still pulling away, and I was huffing and puffing along, hoping for some technical trails and that at least some of them would come back later.

I tried to count heads, and I think I was sitting about 15th more or less when we hit the two mile mark - each mile was denoted with Burma-Shave styled signs (cute idea, but the signs were so tiny that I couldn't read them, ah well). We were back on pavement, and I wasn't so happy about that. But soon we hit a gravel road, and then finally at about 3.5 miles we entered the woods on a softer double-track trail. I finally started thinking I might catch somebody up ahead!

The wet trails probably slowed our pace, but they were a blessing to me. I'm a tractor, as you know, not a speedster. With difficult terrain and poor footing, I start to have an advantage. This race had almost no technical sections at all, but it did have some wet rocky downhills, two or three small rivulet crossings, and a couple of Achilles-stretchingly-steep uphills. I used them to my advantage whenever I could, and by 5 miles I'd passed two runners. Looking ahead, there was a short line of 4 more guys struggling up a hill. I felt like I could catch them, so started to push the pace. In retrospect, it was a little too early to do so, but that's racing isn't it? Live and learn.

It took me about 2 miles to get past all but one of them, and together we'd passed another runner, so I thought I was sitting in about 8th place at that point. Up and down a few more hills and I'd moved ahead one spot - but then mile 9 came up and my left calf started to cramp. Shoot.

I slowed down and concentrated on good foot plant and ankle flexion. That kept the cramping to a minimum, but I kept feeling the twitches. A quick glance over my shoulder showed the runner behind me closing in, and he looked pretty young and eager. I was in trouble.

Perhaps comically, I tried my best to lift my arms and really kick it in. I imagine I accelerated maybe 1% - or perhaps not even half of that. With my arms flailing around and my gulping for air, I must have been quite a sight. But I take solace in the words of George Sheehan, "If you want to win anything - a race, yourself, your life - you have to go a little berserk".

Somehow, I held him off (he must have been tired too) and finished 7th on the day, winning the 50-59 age group (and if I can be allowed to crow a little bit, I beat all the guys in their 40s too). Happy day!

The venue had nice restrooms and even warm showers. Great to get rinsed off completely after a very muddy and sandy race. I was pretty spent, and downed plenty of fluids and snacks at the finish.

A very nice race at a great park. Kudos to the Race Director and everyone else who helped make it happen.  They clearly took pride in their work, and it showed.

On to the next one in Brainerd next weekend: the Sour Grapes Half-Marathon. I don't think I'll run as well there as I did last year, but I'll do my best.

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