The Salomon Trail Run....
....the inaugural race, and I think it is right up there in my favourites list. Simple concept: Bitumen is Boring, have a race in a picturesque and natural environment. isn't the long to ultradistance tradition of trail running here. In this case, the trails, along the Yarra River. Plenty of dirt, rocks, a bit of mud and grass, twists, turns, up and downs, some sets of stairs and trees.
I have no connection to the event other than being a competitor, but it was run exactly the way I like it. On time, accurate and appropriate information, encouragement of good etiquette (which was even followed by the runners) and an almost low key approach. It didn't have the extra rubbish that seems to be creeping into many of the bigger events. Hopefully the series is a success and it is the start of more such events.
Part of the appeal of the day was that I wouldn't know all the ins and outs of the course until out racing. Kind of the opposite to most of my racing. I had a generally idea of the 10.8km, but thought I would just take it as it comes for the most part. The one area I wanted to be familiar with the leading into the finish. If I was lucky enough to be at the pointy end of the field, then I wanted to know what I options I had to leading into that finish line. As a result the majority of my 45 minute warm up was a few repeats over the 500m or so. A few points for passing were obvious, along with a couple of narrow and mildly technical spots which could make the difference.
The race was split into two waves, going 2 minutes apart. The first was for the fast and the second for the leisurely runners. A concept I liked and was followed by the field. After the Bluestone Classic last week I had a couple of take away lessons.
- I went too easy for the first part, and that time cannot be made up easily on a cross country course.
- I can run quite well on a cross country course.
- Stick with the front runners at the start, even if too fast.
- Push the speed when able, and take some reprieve on the narrow section when difficult to pass.
Ironically the race begins on a short section of bitumen. A slight bending downhill, then uphill and onto a gravel path. The pace was fast. I ran faster than I ever start races. It looked like I could get myself in trouble for the rest of the day in just first few hundred meters. However I tried to stick with my race plan and stick with the front guys. By the time we stepped off the gravel and were heading into the trail proper, it was clear I had no chance of getting anywhere near the lead, even if it was just for few meters, regardless off how hard I tried. There were some fast runners today.
Already my legs felt like exploding and were trying to shut things down. I settled back to something a bit more realistic, but felt too fast to last the distance. Surely there would be a section or two of forced reprieve due to the terrain.
Remembering back to this year's Run For The Kids, I reminded myself I can hold a pace that feel too hard for this sort of distance. Mix in a competitive nature and there was no way I was going to give up any positions. Guessing I thought I was somewhere between 12-20th, but really didn't have any idea. My focus moved to ensuring I kept traveling forward as fast as I could. The trail was a mix of everything and my technique felt good. Despite the burn in my legs, I felt light over the uneven surface. Then we hit some stairs. They were steep, but short. I ran with those around me, but by the time I reached the top my legs were inundated with lactic acid. The burn spread from legs and made its way up my back, through to my shoulders and arms. I wanted to vomit.
I had never felt like this so early in a race. It was like I had already race the full distance and tried for a massive sprint at the end. On the other hand I just reversed that concept. How could I keep some reasonable race pace going?
The constant changes, turns, different surfaces, rocks, wet, etc that make the race hard, also seemed to help me struggle out of my over-the-top start. Something I love about this trail running is there is a technique involved. My descending was better than those around me. I gained some recovery with my controlled fall style, plus gained a couple either ground or position on a few downhills. Against gravity was a different story. Here I just had to embrace the suffering, and wonder if that urge to revisit breakfast would become a reality. It was painful, but I a kind of masochistic way I was loving every second of it. As the unmarked kilometers passed by, the urge to slow and enjoy the scenery more got stronger.
I was jolted out of that thought when I almost ended up in the Yarra river. I didn't see a dip in the trail until I was right on it, but my foot hit a dry, dirt covered rock and kept going, when I had every intention of coming to a stop. No choice but to go with it. Skidding forward and dropping further than I really like a tree trunk was in the right spot to prevent me continuing off the narrow trail. The incident cleared my head of the fog induced by the fatigue and pain of racing. The obstacles again stood out, and I felt like I was making some good progress.
Closing in on the final stages was nasty set of stairs. So far I had pushed beyond the intensity my body was used to handling. As a result these stairs felt insurmountable. I seriously wondered if I was going to make it to the top. Part way up the burn, gave way to an almost numb, yet painful feeling and I lost most of my coordination. It was a miracle I maintained something that looked a little like running to the top. Even the flowing, grassy descent afterwards was now hard.
Then onto the section. The race description suggests it is about 800m of flowing, flat, but technical single track. Those ahead of me we now well ahead, but there were at least two closing the gap quickly from behind. Concentration was the most important element now. I zeroed in on making sure each step kept me moving forward over the trail. It was easy to slow on some of the obstacles, but with the right mindset I kept heading towards the finish.
Emerging from the bush onto the final 100m meters, I knew I only had about 10m as buffer. Just managing to hold. I crossed the line in 43:50 for the 10.8km. Just 1 second ahead of the next position. This gave me 16th overall, or 15th in the male 20-39 age group. Not too bad.
The winning time was 37:39, set by Ben Ashkettle who apparently has 10km PR of 28:52.72. No wonder the start was way too fast for me. In light of the quality of those up front, I am happy with my race. Trying different tactics at times exposes both strength and weaknesses. With hindsight, I don't think taking things a little easier at the start would have made much difference. At best I may have gained just one more position.