And so we headed back down to Saratoga for another running of the Fall Back 5 mile trail race. We have run this the last 2 years, but this year I would be running it alone. Katie’s knee had been bugging her for a while now, and she decided the previous weekend that it would not be wise to try and run on it. Bummed as I was she was kind enough to drive down with me to watch me run.
The day turned out to be a really nice, albeit a bit chilly. The sun peaked through the cloud cover all morning offering moments of warm amidst the gusty wind. Trail conditions were also really great, with the usual wet spots being next to the springs.
The Race I had been planning for this race since the Jay Peak 25k in September. I knew that a 5 mile trail run required much more speed and stamina, so I tried to get in a good number of hard tempo training runs…because I actually wanted to race this race. No putzing around—I wanted to push myself.
The bullhorn went off and I jumped off the line with the lead runners, settling in behind them. Across the open grass, onto the wide trail and then…”wait, do we go right?” The trail was blocked off by a yellow tape? Hmm, well f it. Each runner hopped the tape (the last of us tearing it down) and headed off down the trail. I hoped this wasn’t foreshadowing of problems with the course. Sadly it was.
I hit mile 1 right at the springs, water gushing up on the other side of the river and the smell of sulfer in the air. We bounded up a flight of stairs, getting a nice view of the river below. Then the course headed into single track—one of the reasons I love this race is the gorgeous single track that weaves around the park; its beautiful.
I pushed ahead of a runner, but made sure that I didn’t over exert myself. I knew that top 5 was out of the question as they had all but pulled away, but I could still keep an eye on the two runners right in front of me. I stayed right behind them as we hit the single track around mile 2 where, 2 years prior, a dog had kept a number of runners at bay. I was still wary that something might happen, but thankfully all was calm. As we headed out of the single track we crossed an open grassy area of trail that bisected it; I noticed that the trail had suddenly become unfamiliar. “Shit, this doesn’t look right.” I said out loud. The guy right ahead said that it would suck if it wasn’t. Then I saw the guy farther ahead of us turn left onto a dirt road, but hesitate and look around. “Damn.” I said, “This is the wrong way.” I immediately turned and headed back to the grassy trail, telling another runner that we had to go back. I turned back onto the open grassy area and took off.
But now I had suddenly moved up two places. I felt bad. Should I have waited? Should I slow down?There wasn’t anything I could do now but run the race. Back into the single track, out across the parking lot and then across a wide field, and then around a few trees. At mile 3 I glanced over my shoulder and saw that I had put some distance between myself and the two other guys. My lungs were starting to burn a bit, and my legs were feeling drained, but I knew that a hill awaited me…so I pushed on.
Then I hit one of my favorite parts of the course: a steep winding section of single-track switchbacks where you could almost swing around the trees when you hit the corners. I felt giddy as I descended—happy for the terrain and happy because I knew the end was closing in.
I ran across a park road and then through a little gully next to a stream. Weaving through some more single-track I came out along another park road manned by a volunteer. I didn’t need him to direct me towards the mile 4 sign which lay at the foot of the hill I had been fearing. Last year I had to power hike it, but not. this. year. damn it. Legs turning fast, arms churning, breath exploding out of me I blew up the hill (or was it a saunter?) remember to continue my fast turnover as I crested. I so desperately wanted to walk but I knew I was almost there. Rolling single-track greeted my exhausted body in the form of numerous quad killing ups and downs, winding me around and around and spitting me out by another park road. This one, I knew, was close to the end of the race. I ran along that road and then went back into a short 200m section of wide dirt trail. Then I was out by the beginning (see the the last yellow triangle before the finish).
I pushed down the gravel path and tried to breath. As crossed the finish line I had no idea how fast I ran or what I placed, but I felt exhausted and happy. A damn great run.
***Update: results have finally been posted, and mine was 34:14. Good for 6th place, but still 2 minutes off my best time. I will have to work hard to get back that speed.***