It was an unseasonably cold day for late March, cold enough to necessitate ear warmers, gloves, and arm sleeves. Many racers were clad in leggings and long sleeve tops. I was the only one in a singlet and split shorts. One female racer remarked, "No matter how cold it is, there's always some guy in a singlet and split shorts..." Guitly.
I lined up near the front of the pack, and as the RD gave us the go, I shot out in front with a couple other runners. One was 5k participant who quickly faded behind. The other was Benny, a young, tall Belgian with a long-legged stride. After about a half-mile of smooth road, we shot into the sweet, single-track trails with me up front. I wasn't planning from the start to be the front-runner; that's just where it felt right to be at the time.
After another half-mile, it was pretty clear that the race for overall winner was going to be between just Benny and me. We didn't trade places at all. He just stayed right on my shoulder and let me set the pace. The trails were what I would call "fast technical." They were hilly and zigzaggy enough to keep me on my toes, but not so rooty or rocky as to keep me from going fast. And with Benny on my back, I was not of a mind to slow down.
|Benny the Belgian chasing me as he did the whole race.|
I kept thinking to myself "this guy is young, and young guys always go out fast. After a few miles, he'll fade." He didn't. I almost wished he would pass me so that I could chase him for a change, but I wasn't going to just give him the lead, so I kept pushing.
The undulating trail took us up to the base of Spencer Mountain at the halfway point, and some of the hard climbs and rapid descents really began to wear on us...or at least on me. After 6 or 7 miles, the Brussels Sprout was still on me like syrup on a waffle. This is the part of a race that Greg McMillan would call the Go-Zone. It's far enough into the race that the distance and the pace have taken their toll, but not close enough to the end to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is where the strong racer makes his move and separates the men from the boys. That's exactly what I was trying to do: separate the man from the boy. Whenever I would see an opportune stretch of trail, I would surge in an effort to drop Benny. No joy. He never let more than one or two seconds separate us. He was tenacious.
When I knew we were only about a mile from the finish, I had a foreboding feeling that Benny had me right where he wanted me. I just knew he was going to stay in my pocket and try and out-kick me. I did not like the prospect of trying to kick against someone half my age. All I could do was push the pace and try to make him work to keep up.
We broke out onto the smooth road again, just over a quarter mile from the finish, and the challenge was on. The sun was at our backs, and I could see Benny's shadow creeping up as he made his move. I surged. As we made it through the final sprint, I screamed as I let out everything I had. It was just enough. I beat Benny for the overall win by 1/3 of a second. It was the closest and most consistently competitive race I've done in...well...ever.
Despite the feeling of being chased the whole time, the trails were super fun, and I had a great time. I'll be back next year.