Today was the inaugural running of the Fat Tire Trail Challenge in Rapid City, SD. This race is also the first in the inaugural Black Hills Trails Series that will span the next 7 months. No prizes are awarded at the individual races, but points are awarded (10 for 1st, 9 for 2nd, 8 for 3rd, etc.) and awards are presented the the top 3 overall males and females in the Open (under 40) and Masters (over 40) divisions at the end of the series (got all that??). I'm all over this because: A) I like competing and this NASCAR-style points system really floats my boat and B) I'm just now starting to get seriously into trail running and this is a great way to get some race experience. The Fat Tire race is part of a larger Fat Tire Festival going on all weekend in Rapid. Of course, most of the festival (actually, all of it besides this race) revolves around bicycling. The foot race was held on the same venue as some of the mountain biking events: M Hill.
Since the race started bright and early at 7 (we had to be off the hill by 8:30 at the latest because of the bike races), I had to leave home at 5:30 to give myself plenty of time to get to Rapid and get checked in. As I was driving, it seemed like the perfect morning for a race: low 50s and overcast. Well, about 20 miles outside of Rapid I hit rain showers and then just as I was entering town it really started pouring. And then, suddenly, it stopped. When I got to Founders Park, it was dry but I knew the rain was on its way. I was already preregistered, so all I had to do was check in, visit the portajohn and by that time it was starting to rain so I headed back to the refuge of my car to stay dry until race time. With about 5 minutes to go, I stepped outside. By that time it had rained for about 20 minutes or so and was starting to taper off, but it was pretty damn chilly outside. I was wearing a sleeveless t with a longsleeve shirt over it and decided to run in both instead of just the sleeveless as I had originally planned.
A grand total of 35-40 people lined up for the start and after some explanation of the course (none of which I really understood since I'd never been on the M Hill trails) we were off. The race started off on a paved bike path but before too long we were heading up a dirt (mud) service road and then onto single track trails. By the time we hit the service road and started working up the hill, I was sitting in 4th place, with the lady in 3rd place right in front of me. As we progressed up the single track, I was able to pass her and take over 3rd. By that time, the two guys in 1st and 2nd were already building a gap and I had little hope of catching them. Also by that time, I had what seemed like 10 pounds of mud adhered to each of my shoes. We'd hit a rocky stretch and it would all break loose and then just build back up the next time we hit dirt. For the first half of the race (it was 3.7 miles long) it was generally uphill. Once we topped the hill we ran along the ridgeline for a ways, which was flat to rolling and then it was back down. At some point I noticed that another guy had passed the girl who I had taken 3rd from and he was gaining on me. As we started to head downhill some, I saw the two leaders not far ahead of me and naively thought I was gaining on them. Turns out there was a loop in the course after which we crossed back across the trail and then headed downhill parallell to the trail we headed uphill on. So, they were actually even farther ahead of me than I thought. In any case, I held onto 3rd hoping that I could maintain that lead until we got off the trail and then I was confident I could use the road runner in me to outkick the guy who was gaining on me. Well, my gap didn't last long and before I knew it he was flying by me on a nasty downhill. I'm still too novice of trail runner to really hammer the downhills, especially on rocky single track, and it was even worse with the muddy conditions that had me sliding every time I tried to open up. But, I did manage to keep the now 3rd place guy in sight and when we finally got back on the paved bike path at the bottom of the hill I opened up my stride and starting reeling him in. With maybe a quarter of a mile to go, I caught up to him and just tucked in behind and waited to make my move. When I saw the finish line clock up ahead, I felt him start to surge a little, so I made my move then, matched his surge and passed him. He said "good job" as I passed (I had done the same when he passed me earlier, for the record) and I assumed that meant he was done. That assumption turned out to be correct; he didn't make another move and I finished a few seconds ahead of him in 31:52, 3rd overall and 2nd in the Men's Open division. Oh, and today is also my 31st birthday, so I ran a 31 minute race on my 31st birthday.
So, I scored myself 9 points in the Men's Open series standings. Honestly, if the dude who won today (over 4 minutes ahead of me) runs the entire series, I have no prayer, especially considering I'll miss one of the races because it's the same day as the Missoula Marathon. In any case, it was a great time and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series, and more trail running in general, even more now.