|Photo finish (for a mid-pack position)
The combination of mud, ice, snow, rocks, scree, hills, drops and gnarly roots steadily transformed my state of mind from happy to miserable over the course of today’s 3.7 mile race. In the end it came down to a full tilt sprint to the finish line where I was beat out by half a step (for about 70th place), much to my chagrin.
The XTERRA event at Stillwell had its challenges both on the course and in the planning. None of this was the organizer’s fault. First, due to significant budget cuts affecting Long Island’s state parks, we were locked out of the public bathrooms. This left us with a single Porta-Potty for the 200+ participants, race staff and spectators. Although that caused delays they weren’t measurable and we started only eight minutes later than planned. The other big challenge was the amount of slick ice that remained on the course. A decision was made yesterday to cut about a mile of trails from the route for safety purposes. That said, there were still a lot of treacherous conditions and I saw at least one person limping past the finish line in obvious pain from a tumble on the course.
After a detailed description of the route that helped the runners understand the need to stay on course, they blew the air horn and the 130 or so participants made their way swiftly across the field and into the woods. I was having a blast at that point. My Helly Hansen Trail Lizards were made for conditions like this but when I hit the first of many icy, muddy, twisty trails I thought about how easily a person could trip and fall. With dozens of tightly packed runners jockeying along the singletrack, one misstep could have caused a very large accident. After a while I got used to the course and realized that the black trail is like a roller coaster that goes up or drops every 30 seconds or so. I also realized that I’ve consciously avoided much of this part of the trail during recreational runs because it’s so tough.
With half mile to go in the race, the guy in front of me yelled back and said “we’re almost there!” I was very pleased to know that and also glad that they cut the length of the course because I was really feeling exhausted at that point. When we hit the main open trail I could see the finish line but the effect of running on a thick layer of icy snow was jarring and we all stepped gingerly as we leaned in for the final 440. Once we passed the trail head and hit the field I heard a few runners behind me. When we got closer to the finish I could hear the footsteps of another runner determined to beat me over the line. We finished our sprint with a photo finish but I think I lost by a nose. I was so glad it was over and my wife and kids told me that many of those who crossed the line ahead of me had said it was a really rough, slippery course and it was the toughest race they’d ever run. I’ll agree with that.
Official results have not been posted yet but I did maintain a 9:20 pace according to my Garmin. Considering that Stillwell usually costs me 30-45 seconds a mile against my road running pace I was happy with that result. Well, another race run and a tough one at that. The Marcie Mazzola 5K in April is my next competition and compared to today it seems a piece of cake. But I don’t assume anything in a race so training for that race will begin soon enough.