Good Race Day or Great Training Day?

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Hey kids! Got another little race to write about for you all. On October 17th I got to take part in the 5 Peaks Trail Race taking place at the Ark, Mike Caldwell’s property near Low, Quebec. I’m most used to racing on snowshoes out here, but any time of the year, this is a great place to get some of the lead out by pushing myself to the limits. This was my second trail race with 5 Peaks during this summer season, and I had my eyes on possibly trying for a podium finish. But then again, what else is new? If you’re not shooting for podium, you’re not really racing are you? Ha ha. Short of giving it all away, I’ll let you know I finished just off the podium. Unfortunately, the other unfortunate part of this race is that I have no pictures from the event, or even a custom map to share. So all you have to do is read the next few paragraphs to get a sense of the event.

The first time I thought I might have a shot at the podium was when less than a week before the race, Mike put out a plea for more racers to sign up. Apparently, on the Monday before the race, a total of 28 people had pre-registered! I was one of those, and shocked that there were so few others. After all, it’s late in the season, temperatures are nice, and there aren’t as many races to contend with. Given those odds, I figured I’d have a better than average chance of winning at least my age category. Of course, that posed another quandary for me. Biggest race is 2 weeks away, and I didn’t want to risk stress injury or going too hard. What to do?

Well, those questions were soon put to rest when I showed up at the venue on Saturday morning. There appeared to be throngs of people waiting to sign up on site, as well as many more just milling about. When all the sweat evaporated at the end of the day, the numbers were pretty good indeed. 106 racers ended up taking part in the 2 races, split evenly between the 6k and 12k events. Not to mention that some of the real hot dogs were on site. That definitely made me less inspired to really push hard. In order to warm-up for the race, I joined one of the best in some hill intervals. It truly got the blood flowing, but also gave me a hint about how the course might be this time of year.

In a word? Leaf-covered! Obviously raking leaves isn’t really possible over kilometers of twisty trail in the woods. That meant that any false steps off the trail could lead to any number of untold perils such as rocks, roots, or holes. When covered in leaves, any of these could lead to a nasty sprained ankle, or worse. Before starting the race, I ran my warm-up with no ankle support. After seeing the risk, I quickly made the choice to throw on neoprene ankle braces on both feet, to lower my risks. Of course, I’m not the only one who saw those risks. Apparently, Mike had gotten up at 6am, and walked the entire 6km course with his leaf blower to clear the path of most of the leaves. The result? Well, in Mike’s own words, this was the single best marked trail going.

After the warm-up and clothes change, we all congregated outside for the starting gun. As the numbers pre-registered were so low, Mike had canceled official timing and presumably photographers as well, so all racers had to start at the same time, and no timing chips were being used. However, none of that mattered when the word ‘GO!’ was yelled. All 106 participants quickly moved into their own little worlds of pain containment for those going for the win, and to scenery enjoyment for those just out enjoying the day in the woods.

Early in my race, I was pushing pretty hard, and tryng to stay in touch with the lead pack. However, I quickly decided that might not be a good strategy with 2 weeks to go till Hamilton. I dialed my pace back slightly, and just focused on a good solid pace, treating this like a real rigorous training run. Even at that, I managed to twist both my ankles on the first lap, with one of the twists resulting in my stopping for a couple minutes while I walked it off. That was scary. I contemplated really slowing down for the second lap, but my competitive spirit wouldn’t allow it, and I managed to pass a few people on that lap that had slowed down.

Funny enough, even though I thought I had slowed way down, my 2 laps were pretty much at the same pace. When I finally crossed the line, with my arms in the air, I found out that I finished the race in 13th place overall. Later on, I discovered that I also finished 4th in my age category, which would have been classified as 3rd if you eliminated the top 3 overall finishers. Not too shabby. However, not one to rest for too long, I actually had volunteered to run a 3rd lap, to act as the safety sweep, since Mike didn’t have anyone filling that roll. It worked out for him, and for me, since I was supposed to run 24km in total for training, and he needed the sweep. Of course, that would still leave me 6km shy of my needed run. I just figured that with the added workload of being in a race, and all of it offroad, I earned my right to stop.

When I finally got back to the finish line for good, everyone had finished, and it was on to the awards. I may have walked away empty handed on that front, but I still had a great feeling of accomplishment, and truly enjoyed my race. This was the biggest turnout Mike had ever had for a race at the Ark, so he was pretty pumped as well. However, he pleaded everyone to register earlier next year, otherwise he might need to cancel the race outright, which would be an absolute shame. Another thing that I learned / decided is that I really love trail running. I was pretty sure, but thinking more about it, I now know why. When on the road, you spend all your time just staring ahead, bored out of your gourd most of the time. Music is the only thing that I find makes it bearable. When trail running, you need to be 100% focused on the terrain, since there is always more risk involved. I found that running 18k offroad was not boring in the least, and I think I could easily do a lot further. In fact, my new thinking is that I’m definitely ready to tackle an off-road ultra next year. Stay tuned to find out what my 2010 plans might include 🙂

Till then, I’ll say sayonara, as I now have to get back to resting in preparation for my attempt at 3:10. I’m going to need a lot of positive vibes from all of you to get through it. Toddle-ooo for now!

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