Thursday, July 10, 2014

Two Trail Races, the Air Force Cycling Classic, & a New Charity Race Team

The 2014 race season has started off with a bang!  My race calendar is packed this year as I venture into the world of ultra trail running and continue to try to build triathlon strength for the brutality that is the SavageMan Triathlon in September.  So let's get right to the recap of this season thus far....

EX2 Adventures Backyard Burn 5-Miler

My trail running kicked off this year with a 5.8-miler at the EX2 Backyard Burn at Wakefield Park on March 16th.  If you live in the DC area and have any love for trail running, the EX2 Adventures Spring and Fall Backyard Burn series is a must.  With both 5- and 10-mile options for each race around four Virginia parks, these series are always a good time.  The organizers are awesome, the race support top-notch, and the post-race food can satisfy even the pickiest of trail runners.

The Wakefield Park run ended up being a 5.8-miler through the undulating wooded trails.  I pushed it hard from the outset, dodging around the other runners and hoping to stay vertical in the process.  Amazingly, I did.  The last mile or so, I noticed a woman just in front of me that appeared to be in my age group.  So, of course, my competitive side kicked in as I pushed a little harder to get past her.  She had the same competitive drive and stuck right on my tail.  With 25 yards to go, the course split between the finish line for the 5-miler and the rest of the course for the 10-miler.  Naturally, I went the wrong way onto the course for the 10-miler.  My detour only last about two seconds, but it was enough for the woman behind to shoot past me down the finisher gate.

I finished in 57:41 (a 9:44 pace) and finished 7th out of 24 in my age group, just missing 6th place by one second.  I missed 5th place and the podium by less than four minutes, but I felt better about that than missing 6th place by one second!  It just goes to show that seconds really matter in a race...

Fountainhead Offroad Half-Marathon

Another amazing EX2 Adventures race was the Fountainhead Offroad Half-Marathon on May 18th.  This would be my first real trail running test and my longest trail run at that point.  I'd done a couple of trail runs on the Fountainhead course and knew that it'd be a good test for a newly trail runner.    

I stuck to my plan for the most part and treated the race as a training run.  Given this was my longest trail run and race, I didn't expect a stellar performance and I told myself I'd be happy with under a 2:30 finish.  

Boy, did I surprise myself!  I felt great the entire race.  I restrained my competitive fire when people were sluggishly passing me to run the uphills.  But I held my ground, did my own thing, and power-hiked the uphills.  I figured that most of these people either were the 10k folks or were half-marathon folks who'd be kicking themselves toward the end of the race when their legs were shot.  I was right.  

As the race wore on, I started passing people (many of whom passed me running uphill).  Around mile 4 or 5, a woman and I were running close to each other, so naturally we started up a conversation.  She stuck behind me for much of the race, but I lost her the last couple of miles.  I was actually disappointed because I enjoyed running with her.  

My legs felt amazingly good - tired, but good.  So I just powered through and ended up finishing at 2:27:35 - under my goal!  Not only that, but I was 6th in my age group out of 23.  I've never finished that well in any running race.  Once again, I missed the podium by about three minutes, so I need to focus on a bit more trail speed.  For my first significant trail race, however, I'll take that finish!  

Fountainhead trail  
I have to say though, as happy I as I am with my finish, I'm even more stoked about my race wounds. Until this race, I hadn't really fallen down on any of my trail runs.  Around mile 5, however, I was talking to the woman who I ended up running with for awhile and we were trying to figure out if we were still on the half-marathon route instead of the 10k route.  Forgetting that I don't tend to multi-task very well on the trail, I was yammering away and gesticulating with my hands when a tree root reached up, grabbed my ankle, and threw me forward.  I took a pretty good spill.  Fortunately, runners (and especially trail runners) are very kind folk, so the woman behind me and another guy stopped to make sure I was okay.  Not wanting to hold up their race, I thanked them, waved them on, and popped back up.

As I started to run, my right knee felt pretty sore and for a few minutes I was concerned that I'd bruised it too badly.  When I looked down, I saw blood streaming from both knees.  At that point, rather than freaking out, a feeling of "damn, that's pretty badass" surged through me.  So I pushed on and finished the race with some bloody knees.  

A happy finisher...


and bloody...
My new saying:  It ain't a race unless you finish muddy and bloody.  

The best part about this race, however, was the fact that it was my first official trail race on behalf of my new race - Team Rescue Tails!  I'd done the GW Parkway Classic 10-mile road race as my first official road race for the Team a few weeks earlier and did a blog post on our Team website about that race.  But given my focus this year on trail races and ultras, I was particularly excited to be running my first significant trail race wearing my Team Rescue Tails t-shirt!  

I'm so thrilled and honored to be part of this Team.  It's no exaggeration to say that this is a dream come true because for quite some time, I'd been wanting to set up a charity race team for the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.  Finally, after months of work and thanks to the tremendous help of other passionate folks, the Team is up and running.  Our goal is to fundraise to benefit the League and all the animals it helps.  I see great things in our future and I look forward to the Team growing throughout the year.  So please check out my fundraising page and the Team's website at   

Air Force Cycling Classic

Mixed in with all my trail running and ultra training are some long bike rides.  I need to work on my bike strength in preparation for the SavageMan half-iron triathlon this September, which is dubbed as the toughest triathlon (or at least the toughest half-iron).  More on that later...

So as part of my training rides, I signed up for the Air Force Cycling Classic in Virginia on June 7th.  The entire event hosts two days of rides over the weekend, with a challenge ride for regular folks like me on that Sunday.  The course is a 15k (just over 9-mile) loop starting in Crystal City and going up into Rosslyn, Clarendon, and around by the Air Force Memorial.  With that short of a loop and all the riders registered, I envisioned a full-on chaotic crashfest...but I was pleasantly surprised.  

The race was controlled chaos and I actually felt very safe and in control the entire time.  The race goes off at 7:00 a.m. and you can start any time up until 8:00 a.m.  You must be off the course by 10:00 a.m.  You get a medal depending on how many loops you do:  3 loops or less is bronze; 4-5 loops is silver; and 6 or more loops is gold.  I was shooting for 5 loops and the silver.  

My friend and I waited to start until some of the crowd thinned out because I didn't need to get caught up in someone's wheel as we slow-rolled our way through the starting gate.

Yeah, no way in hell was I jumping in the middle of that in the beginning...
Great view riding up to the Air Force Memorial....
Once I got past the start line though, it was pretty smooth sailing.  The 9.3-mile loop took us up route 110, into Clarendon/Rosslyn, then back down to the Air Force Memorial.  There were only 2 little climbs that were enough to slow you down for a bit, but other than that, it was a fast course.  I was surprised at the variety of cyclists - everyone from kids with their parents to elite athletes gunning for the gold.

For a few moments, I thought I could push it hard enough to get six laps...but I slowly realized that I wouldn't make the 3-hour cutoff.  Next year, if I start right away and push it a little harder, I think I could go for the gold!

So in the end I got my 5 laps for the silver medal.  I finished in 2:46:17, which was good for 17th out of 78 female age 40-49 riders.  That number is a little deceiving, however, because it includes all those female age groupers who did at least one lap.  Out of the 19 females in my age group who did 5 laps, I was 12th.  My pace was 16.8 mph.  To get 6 laps next year, I'd need to pick that up significantly to 18.6 mph.  A tough feat....

Me with Cherry Cervelo and my silver medal after the Air Force Cycling Classic...
With these races under my belt I feel like the 2014 racing season is off to an awesome start...but I have a lot to improve upon.  My biggest goal, however, is to gain recognition and support for AWLA's Team Rescue Tails.  No matter what my personal accomplishments may or may not be this year, I will consider the year to be a tremendous success if Team Rescue Tails continues to grow and raise money to benefit AWLA.  

Next up on the list is my first ultra trail run:  the Rosaryville 50k on July 20...

Please share how your race season is going....I'd love to hear about your accomplishments! 

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