Salomon Trail Series Race 3: Silvan 14.3km

The easy days leading in seemed to be what I needed. Not exactly a taper, but enough to get my tendon and leg issues under control. Pre-race I was still aware of a certain level of stiffness and the generalised low grade aches that goes with a heavy training phase. So I gave myself a long gradual warm up of 45 minutes to get everything primed. On the start line I felt more relaxed than usual.

My knowledge of the course was based on the info on the race website and the areas around the start and finished I covered during my warm up. I brought my racing flats along in case the surface was more straight forward than the previous two races. After the recent rains, a lot of the tracks had turned to sludge and trail shoes with grip was definitely required. Looking at the times for runners I knew from last year, I guesstimated that if I ran okay I'd probably hit a bit under 75 minutes, and sub-70 would mean I was firing.

All runners will gather in the start / finish chute in Silvan Regional Park in the wide grassy parkland facing away from the dam wall. Once under way, runners cross Stonyford Road and then veer right to pass around the back of the some water tanks and then continue up a gradual hill on a wide double track. 
I positioned myself in the third row from the absolute front. This is the longer race for the series, and I knew I had plenty of opportunities to pass and work my through the field, but a bit too lose if I went too ballistic at the start. Down the grass, through the car park, a short stint on Stonyford Rd, and then uphill. My predictions had been right. Plenty absolutely hammered from the start and continued that into the hill. I settled into what felt like the right effort. It felt comfortable at this point, but wouldn't be later on. Halfway up what is a short climb for the day the positions started drastically changing. The hill was long enough to punish those who went exceeded their fitness early.

Soon after a left hand turn, the track descends down a gradual hill on a nice single track through the forest to re-emerge back at the water tanks where you keep right and continue along undulating singletrack. 
The single track down was smooth, flowing and soft underfoot. Perfect running. With the limited passing opportunity here I relaxed and let gravity do the work. Further downhill the track became slipper and muddy. Not overly steep, but enough to challenge technique and footing. I found a perfect rhythm... land, slide (wait for it..) grip.. step..... and repeat. Completely different to road running, but having the confidence to allow the mud to give way before the shoes gripped had allowed me to work further up the field.

At approx. 4.2km mark you will join a 2WD road until you reach the water point at approx 7km point.
Feeling good, but working hard, this section was more about running fitness rather than technical skills. The moderate descents were still my strong point compared to those around me. Yet, I would consider myself somewhere in the middle when heading more towards the sky. Some nice running in a scenic area.

Soon after the water point, the course starts a steep climb up a rough 2WD track until the ‘Killer Climb’ at the 9.5km point that sees you climb up 80m in the space of 400m (you will know it when you get there!)...
...and this is where the race really changes. Before I got here, my plan was just to find a rhythm and not try anything spectacular. Let the terrain take care of the intensity and wait for the shorter climbs and descents to make my moves. Well, I underestimated the steepness. Also traction was an issue. The surface was clay, hard pack underneath a slippery top layer. Trying to run put the intensity through the roof, and was too high in some parts, plus using any level of power in the toe off often resulted in slipping forward. My hands got a workout here. For the majority of this climb I power hiked, instead of running. A handful of runners moved ahead of me, a couple dropped off behind and most stayed the same. I thought it interesting that I was traveling at the same speed as other attempting to run while I hiked. My calves to a beaten through this section.

Once atop the ‘Hill from Hell’ you’ll have a couple of slight undulations (chicken feed by comparison)... 
Chicken feed? Maybe not as long, but these "slight undulations" were my weak point in the race. The ascents were just as steep, a mixture of hiking and ugly running pushed my heart rate right to it's maximum and slaughtered my legs. The steep, but relatively short downhills could have been handled better. While I technique in this area as improved even more since the last race, when I exceed my technique I lose a huge amount of speed. The slippery clay surface had me take a couple of minor falls, and with the added stiffness my legs had now developed I lost the ability to relax and run well. Instead I stutter-stepped my way down. Losing plenty of places along the way. One last climb followed by a short section of mild single track allowed me to relax and refocus my head.

...and then join the short course runners for a rather steep, 800m descent down a 4WD track before they turn left to follow a different route whilst the long course runners keep going along a nice single track through the ferns, then along Stonyford Road and into the finish in the parkland.
A nice wide track, with a fair mixture of surface depending on the line you chose. Plenty of room to mix the short and long course runners. I was back in form, and made up a lot of lost ground here. Two others match me through the section and it just felt so good to be hammering at ridiculous speeds down such a steep slope. Comments from some of the short courser's in the vein of "how do they do it?" were an ego boost, and seemed to add to my confidence and allow me to get a little more speed here.

This next section of single track was magnificent. Ferns and bush encroached on the path, and the footing was heavily challenged with fallen trees, logs, pot holes, twists and undulations. I loved it. No passing opportunity, but working with good technique had the three of us catch the next group ahead.

Soon it felt like we were spat out of the single track and onto the dirt road. The dirt road back to the finish was flat by comparison to the rest of the race. Here I just dug in and despite my lung trying to leap out of chest, my legs behaved themselves and picked up the pace. Everyone was in a different state of running ability. Some couldn't muster anything more and they fell behind. The group we had caught stretched out immediately. I think only one managed to stay in front of me from here to finish.

Over the grass and into the finish chute. I knew I'd run well and was happy to see my time of 1:09:51. Sub-70min... I was firing. That gave me 18th position overall and 16th in the 20-39 year age group. Better technique and fitness showed themselves. Of course there is still a lot of room or improvement, but I am traveling in the right direction for the Surfcoast Century. This was by far my best performance in the Salomon Trail Series. Plus, I feel like my body is handling the battering of the race better. No signs of injury, or indicators of prolonged recovery the day after.


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