Team Dandies (vegan marshmallows) has competed as a full-fledged team in the past, but this race was to be our debut with this specific line-up (dropping Ryan, adding myself). We had been swapping workouts via our Twitter account (@dandiesracing) for the past month and with that motivation I tricked my teammates into signing up for this race, as I knew I was going to run it regardless. Stupidly, they complied and the stage was set for TOTAL DOMINANCE! Or something like that. I just wanted to run another race, my first since the Chicago marathon, and a fun, low-pressure one like this.
We met up and chatted just before the start of the race, did a few warmups and then lined up at the start, me on the line and the other two tucked somewhere a little further back. Sizing up the competition, I saw a few unfamiliar faces and grew a little concerned about the effort I might have to expend today. I wanted to run as fast as I could, but I don’t think I had it in me to duke it out if it came to that.
In uneventful fashion, the race director circled in front of us on his bike, verbally counted the race down and at “Go!” the first line of runners leaned forward and began the first paved circle around the park before entering the woods. I instantly found myself running alone, unsure of the number of runners behind me or their proximity, although soon after the start I heard one of my teammates scream wildly from the pack, “Go SCOOOOOTT!” I continued around the park feeling a bit of race start stress, but overall felt my pace was in control as I made my way towards the woods.
We took one last turn before the woods and I managed to catch a glimpse of the second place runner about 5 or 10 seconds behind me. I was relieved to know I was making distance on the competition and that if I didn’t blow up, I may be running against my own abilities and not fighting off someone else’s intentions.
Going into the woods alone I navigated the stretch of stairs that led us down to the bottom before sending us over a winding group of wet and slippery wooden bridges. I slowed my pace and kept my footing solid in fear of smashing to the deck like a drunken pirate. This, of course, was just the beginning of the fun for a trail race like this.
Leaving the decks we entered some stream crossings that were aided by floating bridges which shockingly sunk into the creek when you landed on them, completely throwing off the footing they were designed to give. I almost went down on the first crossing, but managed to stay upright and keep going. The course remained flat for the next stretch, but as trail races go, was marked less by a groomed trail and more by random pink flags strung from trees or stabbed into the ground, leading a loose and wandering path through the foliage. Your only hope was to pick a flag in the distance and run towards it, hoping you didn’t pull yourself into a camoflouged swamp of sorts. Oh wait, I did that.
With shoes decently soaked I found my way back onto a snaking, but groomed trail and worked my way through the bending trees and rain-dampened dirt.
Running this race before, I warned my teammates about the sewer drop off, where you are given the option of going the “easy” way (up and around the drop off) or the “hard” way (jumping 3 feet down into a oily, sludgy water/mud) and then back up the other side. I actually anticipated this portion of the course and was excited to crash through it, so I was a little taken back when I came upon the drop off, the “options” sign was missing. There were only flags that led us left of the drop off and up out of the woods towards a neighborhood road. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, I avoided the flags and jumped feet first into what I thought would be gross, but stable sand before jumping up the other side. Little did I realize how much water had already drained through the area and when I landed felt my feet sink clear up to my ankles in the goopiest mud you can imagine. I’m only lucky I escaped the drop-off with my shoes still on my feet (other runners didn’t have such luck on the course). Adding insult to injury, when I came up the other side of the drain off, a course volunteer yelled out, “No! Man, up here!” The drop off wasn’t even part of the course anymore. Crap.
I bounded back up the through the woods in an entirely ungroomed barrier of saplings, vines and groundcover, finding my way on the neighborhood road and still running alone. I knocked out that distance before hitting a downhill that dropped under an overpass at a near vertical degree, steep enough to necessitate ropes extending the length. I barreled down and headed into the dreaded stretch of sandbar that grabbed at your feet with every step and sucked the power from your step like heightened gravitational pull, still picking my way through the woods following the periodically placed pink flags.
I popped out into the 2nd neighborhood stretch before entering another park that would bring me to the turn around point, now fully confident that no other runners were making gains on the gap I had set at the beginning of the race. Still following the cones and flags set out to mark the course I made my way through the park with a few off-course ventures that were quickly righted by the race volunteers directing me back. Some flags were along the groomed trails while others were placed at the top of seemingly vertical hills or almost randomly hung where others haven’t walked in years. All I could do was point myself in the direction and try not to slap my face into low hanging branches.
Coming out of that section of woods I found myself running against the traffic of the slower runners still navigating the first half of the course, trying to acknowledge their compliments and encouragement as I passed by. It took a lot of concentration to gauge who was going to move out of my way and who I would have to move for as so many of them had dropped their heads and were looking at the trail more than anything in front of them. Concentrating on squeezing between trees and other runners I ran right past yet another turn on the trail and was saved only by a race volunteer who directed me back on course. I was now free from the runner traffic.
I navigated the last wooded portion of the course before ascending the very last hill that rose and rose unceasingly, punctuated by large rock steps that punched at already spent quads with each bounce. I had just enough to push through the top of the hill and made a fast, but controlled push to the finish line, unchallenged by any other runners, just as I had hoped. I came across the line at 32:42.
I ran this race hoping to get a gauge of fitness, even though that’s somewhat difficult on a course as varied and difficult as this was. I just wanted to know how it would feel to run hard at a sustained distance…and i sure found out. Granted, I am very satisfied with the effort, but it certainly felt harder than I would have liked. I fought through my skyrocketed heart rate that hit earlier than I wanted, but found myself able to recover further in the race and push it back up when needed. I know now I have a lot more work to do to get back to feeling fast. I need more speedwork, more hills – which is difficult to do on a treadmill at 5 in the morning – and then I’ll feel good again. It’s just a matter of forcing my body to relent.
In all, I’m pleased with the race, the effort and the TOTAL DOMINATION 🙂 of Team Dandies, as Keith came in at 28th and Dan rolled in at 30th. It was a good showing for us and we are now looking ahead to the Muncie Tri-Relay on May 14th. Dan will be taking on the swim, Keith the bike and me finishing off with the run. Team Dandies FTW.
Holliday Park 5 mile Trail Race
Keith – 28th Place
Dan – 30th Place
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