Saturday morning I woke up early to get my race gear together, drive up the ski hill, and watch a bunch of high school kids kick butt on the same course that I would be attempting to survive later that afternoon. It was just a little intimidating watching a bunch of in-shape kids suffering over the course!
I spent an hour watching the races and then headed down to the start to warm up for the citizen’s race, the whole time accompanied by a weird little weather system that rotated through sun, thunder, rain, and more sun. Lucky for me the weather stopped on the ‘sunshine’ setting for the grown-ups’/non-team race so we spent our time on the start line getting crispy instead of shivering in the rain like half the high schoolers had. As I warmed up I watched a stream of HS kids with ice packs, scrapes from falls, and mud-covered back milling around – not exactly what you want to see when you’re up next!
Before the start we had a brief moment of silence in the start area for the race’s namesake, a former local HS runner who had passed away several years ago, and then gathered together on the line to honor his namesake race with what we hoped would be some gritty racing efforts. The field was small but there were a few gals in the mix who I had raced before, so I knew I’d have some women to chase over the 5k course.
The starter counted us down and I false-started a little before the gun (oops!), but found myself swallowed by the group half a stride in. We all spent the first 50m or so bumping elbows and nudging each other through the narrow start, but then sorted ourselves out by pace as we broke onto open road for the second 100m. The race then turned onto dusty single track for a long 1-mile grind up the hill. At this point I had one girl (a 12yo trail-running prodigy), a HS age boy, the WhiteShirt gal from the last race, and a middle-aged man ahead of me and was pleased to have a few people to aim for during the race.
Unfortunately, WhiteShirt pulled off about 400m into the climb, just as she had last race. On talking to her post-race I learned that she’s a former soccer player and doesn’t warm up for races, so usually has a really rough 1st mile. Ouch I went by her, a bit disappointed to have suddenly lost the next nearest woman, and at now having to be the one in front getting chased! I turned my sights on the middle-aged guy ahead of me and focused on keeping my pace up over the remainder of the climb.
At the 1 mile mark the course levels out and then pounds down a wide dirt maintenance road for about half a mile. The HS kids were now volunteering on the course and their cheers of encouragement were welcome as I focused on spinning my legs and not falling flat on my face on the bumpy, packed dirt. I skittered around the turn at the bottom and climbed back up for a bit, and then got directed onto a narrow grassy trail through some fancy vacation condos and back out onto the dirt. I hadn’t caught sight of WhiteShirt coming out of the last turn, so started to think that I might actually hold her off for a second place female finish behind the speedy 12 year old, who was now out-of-sight up ahead.
The last mile of the course looks nice on paper with a steady downhill, but in reality is made brutal by the mix of downhill and unpleasant surfaces. The first half is downhill on rough dirt with loose rocks that require some extremely precise footwork to get through without risking injury, and the second half is a quad-destroying steep downhill on a rock-hard paved bike path into a brief uphill finish. I was alone at this point with the man ahead of me out of sight around the bends and WhiteShirt too far back to see behind me. I tried my best to roll down the final asphalt segment while my legs whimpered and my lungs struggled to breathe through the jarring impacts. The finish finally came into sight around the last hairpin turn and I stumbled through, relieved to have avoided my standard habit of getting caught at the end and happy to see that I’d succeeded in beating my goal of sub-24 minutes with a 23:55.
I cheered in WhiteShirt, who came in smiling with a few members of the soccer team that she coaches (yea, she probably could have caught me if she’d wanted to…) and a few other friends running the race. The post-race people-watching was pretty hilarious as a bunch of stiff-legged high school kids weaved between exhausted adults, all of us now suffering from the same quad-wrenching ascents and descents.
I shuffled through a painful cool down and drove home to recover, only to see a message from a friend who I’d been messaging before the race:
“You should definitely come race the [NextSkiTownOver] XC race. I’ve heard it gives that course a run for its money”
Oh lord, what have I gotten myself into with these high-altitude, mountain-town XC races???