With my impending move to the Netherlands, I have decided that this is definitely the time to get in as much mountain running as I can while it is still an option. The flat courses in my future could be good for PRs, but this weekend I drove up to Sleepy Hollow for the kickoff of that USATF mountain running series.
I was a little confused about the course and ended up running the middle of three loops for my warmup, when I had hoped to run the final loop. This had no effect on the outcome of the race, nor did the fact that I expected Josh Ferenc, the defending champion who is running more and more ultras, to take the race out slow, and so I arrived at the line having run a fairly relaxed warmup.
Maybe after running ultras this race feels like a 100 yard dash to Ferenc, because he practically sprinted off the line, and the whole field went with him. I was seriously anaerobic about 45 seconds into the race, and sitting in 6th place. By 60 seconds in Ferenc had a small gap on us, and no one seemed interested in bridging it.
The first hill flattened for a bit, and then got steep again, and I worked my way into second place, just ahead of Matt Lipsey and another runner. I crested the hill in second, and was quickly passed by that other runner, and I followed him down the other side. He was going at a pace I liked, which should have been a warning sign because after 30 seconds Lipsey and Alex McGrath passed me and I could feel a group behind them (several runners described running in that pack as being very scary, with people flying down the hill quite out of control). I accelerated and stayed near the front of the group.
As the course leveled out and then started back up (at the two mile mark) I passed McGrath and took over second place. All the way up this, the longest climb, I kept Ferenc in sight, but I couldn’t close any of the 20 second gap. Near the top I opened a significant gap over McGrath and Lipsey, and I even maintained it as I started down the other side. For several minutes I thought I would get to the bottom of the hill first, but finally McGrath caught me and Lipsey was right behind.
We ran in a tight pack past four miles and into the final loop. When it started climbing, I again too the lead, only to give it back to Lipsey when we started running on singletrack. I stayed right on Lipsey and we opened a huge gap of McGrath. As we rolled over the top of this loop, Lipsey got a slight gap on me. He then slowed on the last short uphill pitch, and I thought I could catch him. Right at the top of the hill I made one bad foot placement into some mud and I came mentally and physically undone, letting a two second gap grow to almost 10 in virtually no time at all.
From there I kept the gap fairly constant. I thought I was running the downhill well until I heard footsteps behind me. I adjusted my direction to make sure that McGrath would have to pass me on the outside (we were on a wide trail at this point). I could hear that passing on the outside was taking a lot more energy, and I knew that this was the time to throw in a solid move and try to break my opponent. Unfortunately, I didn’t have it to give. McGrath passed me and even made time on Lipsey; they both finished a bit under 41:00, about a minute behind Ferenc. I finished another 15 seconds back.
For me to be successful in mountain races I am going to need to do some downhill intervals on trails. I am not sure this is part of my plan right now, but it is just sad getting dropped every time gravity starts helping.