So, I ran the Thomas Chamberas XC race at Great Brook State park last saturday in the tropical storm. It wasn't that bad really. If I were just outside standing around in shorts and a T shirt, I would have been chilly, but it was warm enough that a simple warm up kept me comfortable. It had rained all night, so the trails promised to be as wet and sloppy as pig wrestling contest. It was lightly raining during the race, just to keep things fresh.
Now, I'm not sure if it's a characteristic about XC races over road (running) races, but the participants at XC races seem to be faster. The morning of the event, I was checking the details on the web, and happened to check last years results. I couldn't believe how many runners broke the 5:00 min pace last year. Well, I know I'm no 5:00 min runner, and have never even broke a 6:00 min pace, but I love running trails. There are so pitifully few real XC races around here that actually incorporate technical running sections, I was compelled. I really loathe the 'xc' races that use golf courses or groomed walking trails. I run the rocky, rooty, muddy single-track trails at the weir hill/osgood hill/half-mile hill conservation area of north andover often. There is actually about 4 miles of somewhat technical single track along lake chadwick from the southern tip of weir hill to the osgood trail head, and I've put together a 9 mile circuit on my mountain bike that doesn't use any trail twice.
Anyways, the turn out at the Thomas Chamberas race was better than I had hoped, maybe 150. Many teams were there, including some sort of navy ROTC team from southern mass. MVS was there in force, and it was nice to see many people I hadn't seen all summer, since I tend to concentrate on bike racing during the summer.
Well, The start was going to be interesting. I couldn't get any assurances from the promoter that the course was actually 6K, so the pace listings was in question. Well see when the gun goes off.
And, the gun went off. The rabbits went out. The hounds chased. And they _were_ fast. I couldn't count how many runners were in front of me, and I went out as fast as I ever had. I held my spot for about the first half mile, then began to fade. I'm not surprised, I really haven't been running a lot, not nearly enough to be competitive. I had forgotten my hrm, so I had no idea what my time splits were. But wait, there were no markers anyways....Gee, how hard would it have been to put up mile markers?
Now, I almost always use electronics in running races, but usually train without. This is completely opposite of the bike. I train on the bike with a power meter and hrm/computer but go commando in races, I don't need the distraction. (by 'commando' I mean with sans electronics, not sans underwear. No, wait, I don't wear underwear on the bike either, nevermind). So saturday I was racing strictly by bio feedback. I've been racing bikes for 20 years, so I know what my body is telling me. After the first half mile, it was telling me "hey, stupid, knock it off". I had to back off the pace.
Then we hit the fun part of the course, the single-track section. For the un-initiated, the term 'single-track' can be interpreted as 'wide enough for one person'. It's roots come from motocross though, where the course is only wide enough for one bike (i.e. a vehicle that can ride in one track), and passing is difficult to impossible. Generally speaking, single-track has obstacles like roots, rocks, holes, and tight turns. This section did not disappoint, and for an added bonus, it was all uphill! This is my element, and I caught up to the line of runners in front of me with ease, and actually had to back off in order to prevent running into the guy in front of me. It would have been difficult to pass through here, not to mention rude. I wasn't going to win this race, and anyone I passed here would have passed me once we left the single track anyways.
Sure enough, once we got out in the open, people came by me again. I held my spot through the next section of technical stuff - more up hill with roots and rocks, but wide enough to pass. Unfortunately, I'm not a very good up hill runner, and the section wasn't technical enough for me to take advantage of, so it balanced out. This lead into the woodchuck trail loop. From here to the finish it's rolling terrain, very wide, not technical, though the mud was everywhere. The only advantage I had was that I run downhill well. I've noticed in the past couple of years that I've taken up running that I generally pull away from whomever I'm with on downhill sections. I held my spot again through these downhill parts, but around the 3 mile point on the course its mostly _up_ hill. Advantage lost. More people passing me.
Coming out of the woodchuck loop, the course flattens, not technical at all. Now I'm with runners more matched to my pace. At the top of the hill out of woodchuck, I get passed by one runner. I pace him until the first section of cornfield when another runner comes by. It's a woman, and she attempts to pass me through a mud puddle.
She slips, and falls on me.
I keep her up, we both barely break stride.
She apologizes, I say 'no biggie'.
She starts to pull away.
I can pace her.....
We catch the last guy that passed me just as we go onto the short section of pavement. There's a course marshal calling out places, he says '52, 53, 54' as we go by.
The woman starts to pull away on the road and I can't follow.
I stay with the guy we caught.
We get back to the cornfield for the last few hundred meters, and the runner I'm with takes the lead. I let him.
We catch one last guy rounding the last corner.
I can sprint. I'm not going to say I can win any track events, but I've always been able to dig out something decent at the finish. We came around the last corner and I dug in hard. I pass the first guy I was with, then pull alongside the last guy we caught.
He digs in, matching my pace.
I keep up the tempo, he fades.
I'm catching the woman that fell into me......nope, not gonna do it.
With another hundred meters, maybe I would have got her.
There's no timing at the end, No clock. I have no idea how I did. I have no watch. I ask the woman I almost caught, she has no watch either. The time keepers were under a tent at the finish, so I snuk in behind to see if they had any info. They had positions and times, no plate numbers. I figured the guy that was calling out places had me at 55th, and I passed two so I should be about 53rd. 53rd finished in 22:37. OK, do the math real quick
Brain not functioning on that level yet. I jog around for a bit, stretch out. Go back to the car. Open the calculator on my cellphone. Wait...a 6:07 pace? damn....that's good!
I go back to the timers and ask about the distance. I'm told it's 6k.
"really? Like, right on?"
"no, we're not sure, it's probably a little short"
"like 50 feet, or 500 feet?"
I probably came off as one of the annoying guys that bother time keepers while they're trying to do their job. I made sure there weren't any people coming in while I was pestering him. He was most cordial.
"well, we tried to GPS it, but we kept losing the satellite under the tree cover, we did it a few times, and it kept coming up to really close to 6k. It's not off by much"
"ah, OK, thank you"
I try not to be one of those guys that bug the time keepers. I've promoted enough bike races to see how annoying those noobs who try to grab the clipboard out of your hands are. Hell, it wasn't like me bothering him would change my placing, and he didn't have the order of finish by race number anyways, so I kept it short and polite.
On my agenda for the fall:
1) After all the tress are bare, do the course with my GPS.
2) Send them an email with the info, and suggest that they put up mile markers as well, volunteer to assist with that (never criticize without offering solutions, it just makes you look like a dick).
The results finally come up. They have me 55th, not 53rd. OK, so the marshal that was counting of placings at 1K to go was off. They have me finishing in 22:44, I look over to the pace column......12:37.
I look at at the whole pace column, it seems everyone had a pace between 12:00 and 12:59.
The time keeper was right next to me.
"how'd you calculate that pace?"
"finish time divided by distance"
"yeah? so every one ran a 12 minute pace?"
He stopped posting the pages and looked at a few of the sheets, then raised his eyebrows.
"According to this, the entire field finished somewhere between 45 and 50 minutes" I said with a snicker.
He turns and announces to the crowd " ok everyone, ignore the pace column".
Turns out my pace was 6:09. That's very good for me, and is in fact a pace PR. The best I've done to this point was a 6:10 last fall at the TIP 5k in lawrence. So, even if the course was short by 100 yards/meters, that makes the pace still in the 6:15 zone. I can live with that, and quite happily!