|Cool shirt and pretty sweet award.|
I got up bright and early Saturday morning. The weather forecast had been unseasonably mild with some rain. OK, no it would be muddy trails this time and not frozen ones. My goal was to just take it easy, but not too easy. While it as a training race for me, I did want to make sure I pushed just a little beyond an easy pace.
I arrived at race check in about 45 minutes before the race start. Even though the race took place about an hour's drive from Huntsville in the Bankhead National Forest, it felt like a local race. Lots of running friends of mine were milling about discussing their goals for the day. Once again, my goal was to stay with DeWayne Satterfield early on to try to have some of his racing smarts rub off on me:-) Well, that only partially worked. 3 miles in, I realized he was definitely running in another class and I fell back. I ran the next 3-4 miles with one of the Nashville hooligans, Jobie Williams, before I had to let him go, too. Alright, I guess it as time to try to settle into my own race pace, whatever that would be.
I peeked at my watch and decided I would try to stay within a certain pace range as long as I could, hopefully avoiding a major drop off in pace as the race progressed. Once again, I was only partially successful. Plenty of horse encounters ensured that I did push too hard. I also took the time to actually take in my surroundings, taking mental pictures way more than usual and I was glad I did. It was a beautiful day for trail running and even though I knew I would start to struggle just a bit with the warmer than expected weather, I was very thankful for the weather on this day.
I walked through the early aid stations pretty quickly, grabbing fluids and a couple of pieces of banana every time. Other than that, I was mostly on my own. The field of runners had stretched pretty quickly. I would see a runner here and there, but wasn't quite sure early on if they were even in the same race as me. By the third or fourth aid station, I passed my first runner. He had dropped out, even though I assured him that he had all day to finish this thing. By the last aid station and as we were about tp get on the dirt road taking us the final 3 miles to the finish, I had caught up with the runner in 4th place overall, who was struggling with some muscle cramps, largely due to the warmer than expected conditions, I'm sure.
I said hello, told him to hang in there and continued to pass him with conviction. I wasn't that light-footed anymore either and I had no desire to have him catch me again before the finish. I continued my run and as I peeked over my shoulder, I noticed another runner moving fairly quickly and gaining ground on me quickly. What the...where did he come from? Are you kidding? I just moved into 4th overall and now this kid is chasing me down? I don't think so. I picked up the pace...and so did he. I pushed a little harder...and so did he. Crap...there is still at least 1.5-2 miles to the finish. I can't hold him off that long, can I? Just keep pushing, don't let him pass you. I could hear his friends cheering him on as we passed them, he was still 100 yards behind me as we were .2 miles from the finish. I kept pushing. I crossed the finish line in 4 hours, 36 minutes and 47 seconds. When the kid crossed the finish line we high-fived each other. He was certain we were running sub 7 min pace for most of the final stretch. I agreed that it definitely felt that way, but I knew better. I thanked him for pushing me to the finish line. Moral of the story? The kid wasn't even in the same race as me, he was running the relay, which explains why I never saw him early on in the race. Oh well, he certainly helped me push myself to a sub 4:40 finish time:-)