It was a muggy morning at William O'Brien State Park for the annual 10-ish mile trail race, the 7th stop on the 2013 UMTR Trail Race Series. I was already dripping with sweat during my pre-race warm-up jog, so I believed we'd be in for a survival-of-the-fittest type of race (that is, those who planned to go out hard and then hang on for dear life would likely be fading fast).
For this year, the race organizers moved the start/finish area from the river's edge to a spot with more parking a bit higher on the hillside. It made the course just a tad shorter than last year, but still more than 10 miles (about 10.3, they reported and my Garmin confirmed that). The change to the course also put the hilliest section of the loop later in the race. The new start/finish didn't make much difference from my perspective, with the exception of one short (and only) section of single track that paralleled the park drive heading down to - and back up from - the river. The front pack made it through that area with little stress, but I can imagine that the larger group behind got rather squeezed.
Competition was stronger than my most-recent races. Out front, Jason Finch from River Falls, Wisconsin set a blistering pace in leading the race from start to finish. He must be able to float in mid-air, because he ran sub-6:00 miles on a course that - while not technical - is simply not "fast": the footing is uneven, there was a bit of mud, and there are plenty of rolling hills, particularly during the second half of the race. I found an older post about Jason here. Clearly a talented runner.
Having that one race leader flying out front tends to pull along the entire field, and this race was no exception to that rule. As my dear readers know, I'm not much of a speedster, so I was not surprised to find that I was sitting barely inside the top 25 as we pounded down the hill and through the first couple of miles. I assumed that I'd make a move when we got to the hills, but even on the first couple of them I was losing ground to those ahead. I was running as hard as I could reasonably sustain, so I began to feel settled in my fate when I failed to pass ANYONE in the next three miles. Halfway home, sitting in about 22nd place, and not making much headway. Sigh.
Finally, we hit some rolling hills on grassy terrain, and the over-eager runners ahead began to come back, albeit slowly. The fact is that no one whom I managed to pass was willing to give up without a fight, and I had to work very hard over the final three miles to reel in and move past just a few competitors. I wasn't exactly zooming home, but I did manage to crawl and battle my way slowly up to 12th place by the finish line. Results.
The top 10 runners included three teenagers (wow, nice work guys) and an array of strong runners in their 30s and 40s. I managed to capture the old guys' division, a point of pride at this point in my racing career. And unlike last year, there were no bizarre freight train incidents! A good race at a good venue, with very friendly volunteers and race organizers. I recommend it. Hope it stays on the Grand Prix circuit next year too.