The Exeter 10m Trail race was next on my schedule and I arrived early (not Scott Graham early but early no less), offering a hand and convincing Chris Dunn to run the 10 miler. Chris just returned from VT after participating in the Death Race yesterday and for some reason was not up for a 10 miler today (so he thought). I told him I'd run easy today and of course he knew I was lying or at least stretching the truth. With all my best intentions, I just can't participate in a race without going all out. It is after all, a race. If I wanted to do a tempo run or run easy I'd just go out and do it, no race venue required.
Now most (if not all) runners bring a bag of excuses with them to every race. It's just what we do. Not enough sleep, too much training, not enough training, injury du jour, old age...I can go on and on. I guess it's a way to play down expectations. That way, if we do well it feels so much better. Well my excuse happened while putting on my shoes (Inov-8 Mudroc 280's for the record). As I was tying my shoes, my lower back spasmed. I couldn't even stand straight up! Oh crap. All of a sudden I wasn't sure if I'd be able to even start this race. I desperately tried to stretch out my back as best I could but mostly just walked around, rubbing the sore area. Mike Wade and I headed over to the start for an easy warm up on the trails. Although sore, my back didn't do much else and running seemed doable. Thankfully there would be no bone jarring descents today, mostly rolling terrain. It was go time.
Now Chris told me the trails were tight early and passing would be difficult. With this in mind I reluctantly lined up in front with Chris, Mike, Ernst Linder and a few others. With the 'go' command I was off. To my surprise no one jumped to the lead and I was forced to the front, a place I am not comfortable in. My pre-race race picks Keith Schmitt and Paul Young opted to start a bit further back, presumably to toy with the rest of us, only to pick us off and leave us all in the dust eventually. I wasn't running all out, and I thought it was an easy pace but no one wanted to join me or even run by me so I hung in there for the next mile or so waiting... My place was not in the front and I knew it, but I'd enjoy it while it lasted (however briefly it my be).
After about 10 minutes or so Keith and Paul went flying by but it wasn't the last time I'd see them. Shortly after Mike passed me as well and I settled in behind him for the next few miles. Right behind me was Ernst, followed by Chris. If you haven't run here before you should. These are some nice, technical trails and are truly a hidden gem. There's probably not a single section you can't run but that doesn't mean it's easy. The trails do have some short climbs but mostly it's about keeping track of your feet. Rocks, roots, a little mud and a bunch of bridges, and of course not a single stretch of trail that straightens out for more than 20yds. It's no wonder I got lost out here before!! Talk about throwing your internal compass off, geesh. Thankfully (due to the efforts of Ri, co-race director) the trails were expertly marked and I never hesitated or wondered if I was on the right course.
Well, part of that was due to me following Mike right up to the second water stop just prior to mile 5. In fact, it was at this point that Keith and Paul went flying by us...in the opposite direction! What the? I was pretty sure they told us we'd be doing a 6 mile loop in this section so it didn't make sense that they'd be running back at us. After grabbing a drink at the aid station I took the lead for the second time today. Mike and I chatted a bit, trying to figure out what we just saw and finally concluded they must have taken a wrong turn and we were in the lead...again. I hit the 1/2 way mark at 37:55 but was definitely tiring. Thankfully I guess, so was everyone else.
For the next 3+ miles Mike, Ernst and I would run fairly close together, keeping the pace going. I did notice Mike laboring a bit on the hills so at each climb I'd push a little harder, trying to put some distance between us. It wasn't until we went back through the tunnel under RT101 that this strategy finally seemed to pay off....or maybe it was because Mike rolled his ankle. Although I knew both guys were lurking back there somewhere, I could no longer see them when I peeked over my shoulder, and I peeked a lot! Now I was just trying to hang on and not get passed in the last 1/2 mile or something. The last 2 miles took forever but eventually I was running on familiar trails (from my one time here). I knew I was close, I glanced one more time and coasted in to the finish in just over 1hr 16 minutes.
Keith and Paul were already there and I quickly asked them what happened. Keith had finished in 1:11 something and Paul was a bit back in 1:13. When we went thru the tunnel we were supposed to turn left and do a roughly 6 mile clockwise loop. For whatever reason, Keith and Paul did the loop backwards, turning right when they went thru the tunnel. Although they ran the exact same distance they didn't run the exact same course as everyone else. For this reason they were DQ'd (I think) and were not eligible for prizes. Bummer, because they were (and are) clearly faster then me. My 3rd place overall suddenly turned into 1st.
So, by default I ended up with the win today (and $50!). I felt really bad, not bad enough to fork over the $50 but bad enough that it didn't feel like a win. In all the years I've been running (and racing) I've never had an outright win. (Well technically about 4yrs ago I won a weekly 5k trail race but I don't really count that. It was a 20+ wk series over the spring and summer and I just happen to win one week.) So, even my first win doesn't seem like a win but I'll take the results, and was pleased with my efforts.
Shortly after finishing my back tightened up big time. By the time I got home I could barely walk and every step sends a shooting pain into my lower back. It's always amazing how we, as runners, can run thru all kinds of pains during a race but can barely walk once we finish. This one really hurts. I hope I didn't hurt myself....again.
No results yet but masters kicked butt out there today.
1. Keith Schmitt (40) DQ
2. Paul Young (43) DQ
3. Steve Wolfe (45)
4. Enrst Linder (54)
5. Mike Wade (40)
6. Chris Dunn (40)