Impromptu race

I really wasn’t planning on racing. So when people asked me, as recently as last week, if I was going to race soon, and I said no, I wasn’t lying or anything.

I went to Kingston to help Derrick Spafford with his 5 Peaks race, and to get an idea of how they run, since I’m going to be putting one on in Sutton on September 17th.

Friday afternoon, in beautiful weather at the J&J Cycle trails, Derrick and I marked the course. It was about 1h40 of slow jogging, leaning over every 50m or so (sometimes less) to plant a flag, and maybe a sign over the 10k/6k course. I was hoping to do a little workout on the short course, but once we flagged, we had to put up the scaffolding and set some other stuff up, and it was really hot, so I figured I’d get up early and do it pre-race or something.

Friday night I had a nice, early night. We hung out in Derrick and Sara’s backyard for as long as the blackflies would permit. They live in Yarker, which, they admit, is pretty much the middle of nowhere. They have 500m and 1k grass loops in their backyard. They also have 6 sled dogs. Seriously. Those dogs were awesome. Sometimes, with animals, it’s hard to attribute personality. Dogs seem, well, like dogs. But when you get a pack of them together, you can really see their individual traits. Cool dogs.

Anyway, at dinner, Sara asked me, “So, are you going to race?” I hadn’t considered it, since I was supposed to be there to help. But they seemed ok with it. Derrick promised to lend me a pair of trail racing shoes, in case it rained. I’m not usually one for gear, but if those trails got slick, I would need something.

Sure enough, it poured all night. And all morning, too. I got to the course at about 7:30, and helped with more set up. I pulled my back taking something out of the truck, but after much rolling around and twisting, it was ok to run (clearly a side-effect of the bending and flagging the night before). I led the kids race, first, as a bit of a warm-up. Those kids flew around the 500m loop. The first part was mostly rolling dirt mountain bike moguls. We had fun on those. Then the course turned around and went back uphill for about 200m. At the start, a little girl asked me: “Can we pass you?” I told her: “You can try.” Everyone laughed. But then, at the midway point of the hill, there she was, relaxed as could be, matching me stride for stride. I said: “Ok, you can pass me.” She finished like it was nothing. Then she went on to run the 6k Sport course and finish 19th out of 102! I managed to beat her that time, (ha!) but still, for a 10-year-old, she looked smooth coming up that final hill after 5.5k in the trails. Logan Medieros. Watch out for that name in about 5 years on the high school scene. It’s not a big surprise she did so well. She lives on the farm where the race was hosted. I hope she doesn’t get burnt out or anything, because she’s clearly got some talent.

Anyway, after that, I got ready for my race. Taylor Murphy and his many brothers, sisters-in-law, and cousins were running this race as a kind of unofficial high school reunion challenge. So, in addition to Taylor, who is a Canadian Mountain Running champ, I also had to race against some 1:50 800m guys. Good job. Also in the race was Brent Satchel, who was wearing a Physi-Kult jersey, so I figured he was decent.

The race started down the dirt hill the kids were on, down again on a grassy road, and out around a farmer’s field. I held back, figuring I would just use it as a workout: I didn’t want to get too involved in racing anyone. Just chill. That lasted until about 1k, when I came up on a pack which included Satchel and two Murphys: Blake and Matt. Taylor was already way out front with a couple other guys. I settled in with the group, but almost right away, the Murphys faded back, and Satchel kept kind of half-wheeling me, just pushing to get in front. I let him do this and just kind of hung there. It was still raining and the grass was pretty muddy, but we didn’t have to do any sharp turns, so it was easy to just be steady. I was kind of getting the itch to race. I figured if I could beat this group, I might be in for a free t-shirt at least. And I had an idea. I looked down at Brent’s shoes and saw he was wearing Mizuno racers. Pretty flat shoes. We were coming up to the trail that was mostly mud with lots of tight turns. As soon as we got into the forest, I hit it, put in a surge, and hoped that my trail shoes would give me a little advantage. Sure enough, after wobbling over a board that was left across a beaver dam, I had managed to gap him.

The trail ended quickly and the course headed out to a gravel road for a short stretch to 2k and the only water station. Then it would head back in. I saw the two guys in front of me keep going towards the 10k course, so I was kind of excited to learn that I was now in 2nd place. If I could hold off Satchel, I would be in for some kind of prize. Ok, so I was racing now.

Back into the trail, I used the same strategy: just push the pace as much as I could to get around corners and out of sight. It’s really hard to make up ground in a trail run because you can’t see the guy in front of you, and you feel like you’re all alone out there. Turns out Blake Murphy is pretty good at making up ground. By 4k, I could hear see him coming, as the course switched back and so I knew where he was: closer. And he knew where I was. And he knew that I knew. It was just a question of whether I could hold on or not.

The last k of the race starts in the forest, but then heads back out into the field, and back up the same hill. When I got out onto the grass, I still had a lead, but I knew he was closing. Satchel had faded to fourth, but he told me afterward that he was watching the two of us, and he admitted he figured Blake would mow me down. I charged hard, and decided that if I could beat him to the bottom of the hill, I would beat him to the top. Bold thoughts, considering my lungs and heart were pretty much at their maximum. The legs still felt ok though.

As I hit the hill, I put my head down and just started pumping the arms for cadence. I knew he was there, but I was too tired to look back and see exactly where. The final hill is about 400m long. There’s a 5m flat sand section just before you start up again, onto the part where the kids race went. When I got there, my cadence gave me a boost and I felt myself surge. I say this because it was really not voluntary. I was more machine than man, now… As I hammered up that last section, I thought it was a lot more scary having Blake Murphy chase me than Logan Medeiros.

When I crested the hill, I knew I had him beat. That might be my favourite part of the race: you’re not done yet, but you know you’re going to win, or PB, or achieve your goal somehow. He had faded on the second hill. I cruised in for a nice little 2nd place in 25:56. Yeah, that’s a 6k time not an 8k time. Oh well, that’s trail racing for you.

So, my next race, planned this time, will be June 4th at the Asics X-Trail. I’ll do the 11.8k. I’m glad I did this one, as I feel a little more ready for it. Also, post-race, I went around the 10k course and picked up all the flags. It took me about an hour. So I did a good bit of running over there.

To finish the weekend off I spent Sunday at the Festival de Plein Air on Parc Jean-Drapeau with Phil Villeneuve and the Salomon team. Then Phil and I went for a jog on the mountain, Sunday night. So, all in all, a good weekend. The best part was probably the satellite radio in the rental car, which means: E Street Radio! Bruuuuce!

Full race results.