This week marked my return to racing after my post-Lean Horse recovery period. It was a long, slow recovery and I was looking forward to stretching my legs again. My return to racing came at the Sundance Trail 10K in the Bearlodge Mtns. of Wyoming, which is the 4th race in the inaugural Black Hills Trail Series. I had run this race last year and been somewhat humbled by it, finishing in 55 minutes and change. The course is almost entirely single track and is an almost constant uphill for the first few miles before leveling off and then heading back downhill to the finish (it's not a pure out and back, but a "lollipop" with a loop at the end of an out and back). Anyway, more on this year's race later...
Monday - Rest, played basketball at lunchtime.
Tuesday - 10 miles.
Wednesday - 6.3 miles.
Thursday - 9 miles.
Friday - 6 miles. Took one dog out for 4 miles and the other for 2 (one is in much better shape/much skinnier than the other despite the fact that they get the exact same amount of food and exercise....they could be a case study on canine metabolism).
Saturday - Sundance (see below)
Sunday - 13.25 miles. The weather forecast called for high winds to move into the area on Sunday and I hoped that I would be able to get the run done in the morning before they hit. I didn't. Running uphill into a 20-30 mph wind isn't much fun, believe it or not. I managed to get a decent run in regardless, but the very second I stopped I suddenly felt every bit of effort I had put in at Sundance the day before. Good thing I didn't stop until I got back to the house.
Total - 50.75 miles
Okay, back to Sundance. I made the trip over to Wyoming solo because, unfortunately, my kids had a soccer game at 11:00 and the race started at 10:30, which means I had to miss their game to race. Of course, my son picked this game to have the best game of his short soccer career by pounding home 7 goals. He damn well better do that good again next week so I can see it :)! Anyhow, at least this year I knew what I was getting into with this course. Last year, I had no clue and pushed way too hard in the uphill section, eventually having to walk to recover. This year, I knew to play it safe early on and then try to push the pace on the return leg. Of course, pushing the pace on a single-track trail riddled with rocks, roots and stumps is a little different than pushing it on a road course.
As we lined up for the start, there were a handful of people I was fairly certain were faster than me, so I started behind them. The field of 53 actually spread out very quickly after the start and the single-track never really felt crowded at all. I quickly fell into the top 10 with a couple of people in striking distance ahead of me. Having run this last year, I knew that the worst section of trail was the hill affectionately known as "Bitch Pitch", which comes just past the 2 mile mark and is about 300 meters long and steeper than hell (which any runner will tell you is really steep). We hit the pitch and I passed a couple of guys I had been following since the start and then started power hiking like everyone else. Well, everyone except my co-worker Don, who is the only person I saw who actually ran the entire length of the pitch. Damn mountain goat. At the top, the course leaves single-track for the only time and follows a Forest Service road for a short stretch to the next section of trail. I was able to use my road legs on this stretch to catch back up to, but not quite pass, Don. But, as soon as we hit the single-track and resumed going up, Don pulled away. I was also following a local woman, Tanja, I've raced closely a few times previously. As the trail started its descent, it became apparent that I wasn't getting any closer to Don, but I was hanging with Tanja. As we ran downhill I focused on keeping up with her....well, that and not tripping over something and doing a swan dive headfirst into a tree. For awhile it seemed as though Tanja and I were pretty much alone, as Don had pulled well ahead and I hadn't noticed anyone within striking distance behind us for awhile. But then, with about a mile to go, we came around a switchback and I suddenly noticed that there were two guys closing the gap on me. By this time, Tanja had begun to pull away from me. I started pushing the pace to keep ahead of the my two pursuers and consequently started regaining ground on Tanja. By the time we reached the last quarter mile or so of trail, it seemed that I had lost them again, but Tanja had also lost me. It seemed as though I was pretty secure in whatever place I was in, so I kind of just put it on cruise control. Right before the finish, the trail crosses a road and then there's about 20 yards more trail to the finish line. It wasn't until this very final stretch that I suddenly realized that there was someone right behind me and gaining fast. I kicked the final 10 yards or so and just managed to finish ahead of two more local runners, Carlos and Gary, who had somehow managed to sneak up on me (no, I wasn't wearing an ipod, just totally zoned out in my own world).
So, final stats (unofficially): 53:32, 8th overall and 3rd in my AG (which didn't really matter since it turned out they only gave awards to the top 2 in each AG, which really sucks because they were cool handmade coffee mugs). But, I did win a door prize in the raffle, a hooded sweatshirt with the race logo on it. And, I think I might now be in first place in the men's under-40 division of the Black Hills Trail Series thanks to the previous 1st place guy not running this race, but I'll have to check out the updated series standings before I know for sure. Oh, and they had a great BBQ including ice cold Fat Tire at the finish. All in all, a good day on the trails.