We were running a wee bit late out of the house on the way there, and it took a while to find someplace to stow the car at the race, so my warmup was a little lacking at just under 9 minutes.
That’s all right, though, since the humidity meant that it didn’t take much to warm up my muscles anyway and it did it’s most important job: it cleared my head.
I still felt tired and woozy on the drive over to the race despite resting my eyes most of the way (obviously, Erin was behind the wheel.)
While warming up and standing at the stating line, I saw a few people that are normally much faster than I am on the roads, and one person that I thought looked familiar and who warmed up in a BAA singlet but whom I hadn’t met…maybe I had seen him in New England Runner at one point? Turns out that he was Mike Dowling, a 2:34 marathoner. (That’s another way of saying that he’s a lot faster than I am.)
So…now that the race is growing so rapidly, and is bringing in the faster runners, how is that going to affect my race strategy?
Turns out, not so much. The course was a little different this year than in year’s past due to some trail maintenance on Fox East, so in the first couple miles you get to stay on the snowmobile trail quite a bit longer and cut out some of the single track.
The additional wide double track meant that my normal strategy of going out in front of everybody so that I could be the first to the narrower and more technical trails was going to be a little more difficult, and the faster guys on the starting line meant that it was going to be that much more important.
So, it was time to line up while Ian Parlin gave his pre-race instructions. He included the normal directions about trail etiquette and how the course is marked, and also shared the story about Chris Douglass and why the race is in his memory.
This type of trail race was the sort of thing that Chris loved, and he died in a car accident a few weeks before the first Scuffle.
His family has been very involved with the race right from day one. Quite a few of them ran and/or volunteered this year, including his mother who won her age division!
I took a front position on the far left of the starting line despite the slight turn towards the right at the beginning so that I could go out as fast as I wanted and not have to hurdle a large stone that sticks out of the trail around the corner on the right side.
The race starts on one of the Knight’s Woods Trails, and I went out as hard as I could for the first quarter mile to build up an early lead and kept up a pretty hard pace the rest of the first mile or two.
Coming up on mile 2, I heard Mike coming up on me on some of the easier single track, but then we turned onto the Bat Cave trail. This trail has pretty technical single track and a lot of loop backs, and with the previous night’s rain it was a little slick in places.
My goal was to put in a surge after every blind corner so that I would stay out of sight completely and wouldn’t give anybody behind me any motivation to try and catch me late in the race.
It worked. I believe that this was Mike’s first trail race, and he wasn’t familiar with the course while I’ve run it many times.
The race was basically a time trial the entire way, especially once I’d gotten a little ways into this initial stretch of single track. Knowing which corners I needed to slow down for, which would have trees I could slingshot around, and which turns really weren’t that bad so that I could maintain my speed helped me stay upright and maintain my momentum. It also helped that I know where the roots and rocks are so that I could easily choose my path.
I spent the next couple of miles comfortable that I wouldn’t be caught, but pushing as hard as I could to open as large a gap as possible before reaching the aid station where you leave the single track to get back onto the snowmobile trail.
The aid station is around 3.75(ish) miles. I didn’t waste any time, but blew past without even thanking the volunteers. (I knew them both and figured that I could catch up to them after the race and thank them then.) I thought that it would be better to keep up my pace than to worry about getting water.
My biggest concern was that one of the faster guys from the starting line was going to get onto the double track and run me down once we were away from the technical parts of the course. I didn’t want to lose.
The trail rolls a little uphill for a third or half of a mile past the aid station, and goes through a few good sized mud puddles that had filled in from the storm but were still smaller than in years past. Then you get a good mile plus stretch that is straight down where you can really fly. I didn’t want to get caught.
The way that I see it there’s basically 2 key strategies to winning this race. First, being the first to the single track, and second, using your finishing kick 2 miles from the finish when you reach that downhill stretch.
You don’t know you’ve hit that downhill right away because it isn’t straight down at first, but being able to make use of that trail won the race for me the first time I ran it and has stood me in good stead the last two years. If they can’t see you when you reenter the Knight Woods at the end, then there’s less motivation to try and catch you.
I was still alone, but I kept imagining that I might hear somebody behind me and kicked as hard as I could right through the finish.
I came in under 40 minutes for the first time, about a minute faster than the first year I ran the race. Some of that I think is because you have a longer stretch of double track at the beginning, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the course was a little shorter as well. My goal next year is going to be to break the course record on the original course so that I don’t have to worry about it’s legitimacy.
I wound up winning by about a minute, which was good for a loaf of banana bread and a $50 gift certificate as a prize. Trail Monster Running won the team event, so I also got half a case of Smutty Nose which I shared around at a post-race BBQ.
I hung out at the finish line and gave a high 5 or shook the hands of probably 90% of the finishers (I took a small break to help Ian out with the results). A lot of people must have fallen today, since at least a third of the people had sandy/muddy hands and palms.
Everybody cheered really loud when she crossed the finish line, which she powered right through the chute and actually collapsed into my arms.
Thankfully, I caught her, since I wasn’t expecting her to just fall over since nobody has ever actually done that to me before. I think she might have actually been aiming at Ian, though, since she repeated the maneuver for him once she had gotten back on her feet.
Thankfully we got some rain the night before the race to muddy up the course a little bit since it’s been way too dry lately. The rain was enough to drive away most of the deer flies, who were only in evidence at the finish line and who didn’t bother me at all during the race.
I wore my Nike waffles during the race, which were a little slick in some of the muddier spots but I stayed upright the entire way. I wound up skiing probably 4 or 5 times but always regained my balance quickly without losing too much momentum.
There are two more races in the Bradbury Trail Running Series, and this year I plan on actually running all three. So far, the Scuffle has been the only one I’ve been able to compete at.