I have the advantage of being one of the few people who gets a sneak preview of the course since it's just down the road from where I live and I helped Jeff mark the course along with James and his daughter. Actually, I'm not sure that this is an advantage, sometimes it's better going into races like this not knowing how much more difficult things are going to get.
The night before the race Jeff revealed the start order, which predicted my finishing time at 57 minutes and had me setting off with Ryan, Chuck and Bob. This seemed about right to me, Chuck and I were very close at the Mountain Epic race in October, Bob was well ahead of me there but I did finish just ahead of him at the Bruiser, and Ryan has been working on shorter faster runs lately which I thought would help him put up a good fight.
There were 34 runners starting the race this year, up quite a bit from last year. I got to see a little more than 20 other runners set off before me, individually or in small groups. Emma was running today, but because she's still recovering from a long lingering knee issue she decided to help pace Linda through this race and the two of them were the first to set off. Running up and down big hills on technical, slippery trails is not usually considered good for knee problems, but Emma just could pass up the opportunity to run this race.
Shaun making his way up the long first climb
Similar to last year we had a major rain event just before the race, but I was a bit sad to see that water levels had dropped significantly the night before the race and it turned out to be drier than last year. We all still got wet feet just walking to the start line, but the stream crossings were definitely easier this year. Chuck set a quick but manageable pace at the start and I followed along the mostly flat single track. When we got the the first climb, which lasted about 1/2 mile and gained about 350 feet, there was a little back and forth as we negotiated the terrain. Ryan was still right behind us when we reached the "pinnacle" but on the first downhill section of the race, which is technical rocky terrain covered with wet leaves, Chuck and I pulled away. Faith in our feet and a lack of fear helped us open it up on the downhill stretches, Chuck usually gets ahead of me on stuff like this but I managed to stay close this time.
Sara, Erin and Christine demonstrating the correct technique for puddle running
Over the next few miles Chuck and I passed a few other runners, in theory no one should be passing during this race and we'd all finish together. A little more than 3 miles into the race we bumped into Bob who was running down the trail towards us. He was supposed to start with us but couldn't find the start area so he parked somewhere else and set off into the woods, without any idea of where he was going. I'm not sure if it was luck or skill that he managed to find us, but he ran with us for the second half of the race.
Linda on the roller coaster gas line trail
This was my first hard running effort since Stone Cat and I was very happy that everything seemed to be in fine working order. For a variety of reasons (including a messed up right calf) I hadn't been doing much running in the three weeks since my 50 miler, and none of it was fast so I wasn't sure what to expect. Actually what I did expect was for Chuck to run away from me and for a handful of people who started after me to come flying by at any moment but neither happened and I felt great throughout the race.
Erik and Django on the last long uphill
Last year's race finished with about a mile of fast downhill on wide power line trails, but Jeff had recently been building new single track trails off the power lines so he included this as the last mile of the race. Although not as cruel as the O-Trail there was a bit of that flavor about this new trail. Just when you think that you're almost to the bottom of the hill the trail takes a sharp turn and runs you back up again, or when you start thinking you're almost out of the woods you turn around and head back deeper in. Chuck and I passed a handful of runners on this stretch, it definitely felt like everyone was coming together at the end. At some point near the end I managed to sneak past Chuck on a corner, I could see Jim up ahead but he was trying just as hard to stay ahead of me as I was to catch him. Jim crossed the line 10 seconds ahead of me and Chuck was right behind.
The wicked steep course elevation profile
I finished with the fifth fastest time overall, although I'm sure I would have been further back if several other runners hadn't gone off course and ended up runner longer. I was very happy to run well and feel good, especially amongst the good company of my fellow Trail Monsters.
distance: 6.23 miles
place: 5/31 finishers 34 starters
weather: sunny and warm (for November), mid 40's
conditions: slick mud, wet leaf covered rocks, stream crossings, big hills...
gear: Inov-8 Mudroc 280, wool socks, shorts, singlet, Moeben sleeves