Today, Saturday, September 5th is race day. I can't say I've been looking forward to this since I've been injured. There are risks. The risk of making the injury worse, maybe even bad enough to keep me out of the New York Marathon. Another risk is running a poor race and having my ego bruised. Injury or not, I expect to win my age group. I may not have any right to expect a victory, but I do.
I kept to my race routine. Eating toast and a croissant with coffee on the drive to the race. Listening to the radio, or at least pretending to, I say outloud the good workouts I've had despite the injury. I recite to myself that I've been smart to mix cycling with running. I tell myself that I've run this distance 4 times and have gotten 3 first places and 1 second place in my age group.
Checking in, I get my number, go to the bathroom and walk back to my jeep. I pin my number on the shirt, put on my trail shoes and do some stretching. All around me are other competitors. College students and their friends, older men wearing their team gear, preening and talking about big races to come or big races they've done in the past. Women chattering away about anything not to do with racing. Like a show, it goes on all around me, but I am not a part of it. I am in my shell. The same shell I've entered before races since I was 11.
The starter yells "go" and the runners in the 30K and 50K start up the hill. It's a steep hill and I concentrate in taking short quick steps and breathing regular. The first part of the race is a 20K loop that goes up and down for long stretches. My glute and quad are fine, I'm surprised. Gradually the crowds thin out. Coming down through the forest to the feeding station, I grab a cup of energy drink and run back on the course. My split time is good and the pain is not so bad that it doesn't slow me down.
The last 10K is really grim. I have to focus eveything I have in maintaing a pace. Something that is hard to do when the hills are so steep that walking them is just as fast as trying to run. I deal with it, passing some men, all younger than me. On one downhill section, a woman passes me and I don't see her after that. It didn't bother me, I have my own goals. On a downhill section, my calf cramps up and my foot catches a tree root. SPLAT! I go face first on the ground. I'm stunned and a little scraped up and dusty all over. Still, I get up and go back running. Not much choice, really when you think about it. 2 miles to go and I try to keep up with two male runners but eventually they gap me and I don't keep up.
Coming down the last stretch, I catch up to two women running for a team from Auburn which I can tell by reading the back of their shirts. I keep a steady pace and resist the urge to showoff and sprint past them to the finish. One of the nice things about trail racing is that its not road racing and this is one example, they enjoy their moment undisturbed. I look at the clock at the finish and am a little shocked. 2:59, a new personal record by six minutes. I didn't expect that, not with all the walking I did.
As I'm sitting on a bench eating my chili (another trail racing tradition) two of the guys that finished in front of me ask me about my race and how old I am. When I tell them, they're surprised. One of them says "when I'm as old as you, I hope I can run as fast as you did" which was a compliment, I think. The results are posted and I am happy to learn that I finished 18th overall and 1st in my age group. It was a happy drive home.