I ran my first race in more than a year this past weekend. The Shellburg Falls 10k was pretty low key, and “just” a 10k (and I don’t mean to denigrate 10k’s, but ultra distances are more to my liking), but a great course and a lots of fun.
I only decided for certain to run this just the day before, still unsure whether my leg was healthy enough to “race” on, even though I’d had some really good runs of 10+ miles while in New Zealand. But the race was free, Pain Train had been trying to talk me into checking out the Shellburg Falls trails for more than a year, and Luvin’ offered to pick me up and do the driving. So off to the races it was.
I told myself, and others, that I was going to run SLOWLY, and aim for last place. In reality I didn’t know what I’d do. I hadn’t tried to run fast all year, but I’d managed to push it a bit when running up hills and was fairly confident I could do that without risking injury. For whatever reason, the uphills have been much better on my leg than flats sections or down hills. I asked Mike about the course on the drive in, and found out, roughly, that the first couple miles were mostly flat or down hill, then the middle section had a long, tough climb, and the end was mostly downhill again. So I figured I’d run really conservatively for the first section, then if I felt OK I’d try to push it a bit on the uphill, and after that, just wing it.
I took a good long warm-up, jogging really slowly and walking up a hill or two. I’ve found my leg does a lot better if I start with an easy warm-up, followed by some stretching. So that’s what I did, and it seemed to work out OK. The race started a few minutes after nine. As planned, I started off easy – probably a bit too easy. Within a half mile or so we came to a creek crossing with two options – a narrow foot bridge (clogged by runners crossing one at a time) or getting your feet wet. I chose the latter – actually an easy choice, despite the cold temps – as my shoes were already soaked prior to that start. (I’d gone for a run my last day in New Zealand, in a heavy rain. I threw them in a plastic bag before packing them… and of course I didn’t take them out of the bag until race morning). From there the course moved into single track, and began a long, easy, fun descent. I was feeling good and moving well, but It was sort’ve tough passing people on the single track, making me think perhaps I’d started a bit too slowly. On the other hand, maybe that was a good thing.
At the bottom of the hill, the course ran along a forest road for a while, past a waterfall below us, and back onto single track. The single track pass behind another waterfall (really cool!) an climbed a good bit on the other side before passing the water station on the other side. I didn’t get any water, but did toss my jacket to Dennis, who’d come out to watch with his wife, who was running the race.
A short flat section brought us to the big climb. I was feeling pretty good – though breathing pretty hard – but stuck with my plan to see if I could push it on the climb. At the bottom there were 4 or 5 in a line walking the steep bit. I redlined it a bit to work past the group (which included Guy and Gaby from Corvallis), and suffered for a few minutes after that while the ascent continued.
At one point a group of people in front went left (on the logging road) while I went right (on the trail). I wasn’t 100% sure I’d gone the right way – but pretty sure. I tried to holler but they didn’t hear – and it looked pretty much like the trail and road would merge again anyway, so I didn’t worry much about it. They did eventually merge – much further up the hill than I expected – and I had chosen the right path. But I don’t think it made much difference, time wise, whether one took the road or trail. When the road merged back with the trail, there was one guy who got back on course about 20 yards in front of me. Not that I really cared if I’d missed the turn, but I decided I’d do my best to pass him and beat him to the finish, just so I didn’t have any reason to whine about anyone going off course and beating me. I was pretty tired from the climb, so I go within maybe 10 yards of him, and then just stayed there for a while, letting him set the pace and have the stress of being chased. After a while he must’ve gotten sick of being chased, as he stepped aside to let me pass, than fell in behind me. I didn’t want him to think he could hang with me, so I pushed really hard for a few minutes to build a bit of a gap between us.
From here the course joined a logging road again for a long, flat to slightly uphill section. The guy behind me wasn’t yet too far back, and I could see another guy dressed in powder blue shorts maybe 100 yards ahead of me, and another not far ahead of him. I didn’t know if I could catch them – but I figured if I could stay in contact until the downhill, I’d have a chance. At my best I’m not a bad downhill runner - not that I’m at my best right now – but I figured if the two in front were roadies and the downhill was good and technical, I’d have a shot. On the flat I pretty much stayed on pace with them, and put some distance between me and the guy behind me. My leg felt great, and my lungs weren’t totally spent, so I went into full chase mode once we hit the downhill. Three or four times I found myself getting within striking distance of Powder blue, who wasn’t far back from the next guy – only to see them put on a good burst and pull back ahead. Each time I thought I’d lost them for good, only to find myself gaining again, and then have them pull away again.
Finally I finished the trail and dropped onto the last section of logging road, which I knew from my warmup was only a few hundred yards from the finish line. To my amazement, I was once again within striking distance of the two in front of me. In hindsight, they may have been playing a bit of cat and mouse with each other, each trying to save something for a final kick, which allowed me to repeatedly catch back up. As soon as I thought I had a chance, I went all on an all out kick. I gained a bit, and got within maybe ten yards, by which time they’d gone into a kick as well, and showed they both definitely had more left in the tank than I. I tried to stay with them, but couldn’t hold on, and they finished 6 and 8 seconds ahead of me, respectively. I was so blown that I didn’t even notice who beat who to the finish line.
I ended up in 20th place out of ~130 starters. Not bad I guess, though nothing spectacular, especially in a low key event where most people aren’t “racing”. And while I really wasn’t concerned about where I finished, it was still fun to get competitive and “race” against others and push hard, especially near the end. I think that makes sense. And it was sure fun to run hard again, and make it hurt in a GOOD way. It’ll be even more fun when I’m in shape for it. Hopefully my leg continues to improve over the winter so I can race a lot more in 2010!