It is hot and I pace a little, watching the 50K and 20 milers go. There is a very large part of me that wants to be in that field, but I promised myself something like moderation for the first half of the year, and this is the last race of that self-imposed sub-marathon/ultra season. The fall will be different. But more on that later.
I walk back and forth to and from my car, checking my phone. There is nothing there and there should not be, but I need something to pass the time.
I talk to the race director and he informs me that the course record holder will be racing today and I think that I will not beat him, because running can be starkly stratified in that there are and always will be people who are simply faster than you. I am secretly excited however, since I've never lined up with him, and I want to see exactly how much faster his faster is, and whether I might begin closing that gap, since I am 11 years younger.
There is also the Missouri runner who beat me in the 5K the week prior. He is also fast and I do not expect to beat him today. I wonder out loud if my fortunes would be different if the race were longer, and the RD and I agree that maybe it would be, but that today it is likely a race too short. Third, then, I joke.
I see another thin young person who looks nervous and hungry and is wearing salmon colored Adidas Adios 2 which is a shoe not commonly seen on slow people. He is young however and I do not recognize him, so I imagine that he will surge early and fade as quick. I am slightly nervous however because I see speed in him, and do not want to place 4th, because these things matter far too much to me.
There is further milling about and I warm up in my usual fashion only today, it feels better than usual. I am eager to start and stand off to the side of the START banner, pacing. I eventually make my way over to the line, shake the Missouri runner's hand, and face forward.
We start and thank god, because this, this is life, all of it, grinding up a hill and there are a couple hundred or so behind you, four in front, and you think that maybe that pace is not too fast, catch and pass one, then turn on to the trail. There it is a climb for a mile, twisting about and strewn with large and loose rocks and intermittent horse shit, before plunging us down at five-minute pace, quads screaming, ankles popping, eyes bleary, fucking alive.
I think of cycling and it occurs to me that this place I am in is not strategically sound. There is the breakaway ahead, composed of the CR holder, and the kids wearing the Mizzou singlet and Adidas Adios, respectively. They glance back on occasion but after two miles I am still not closing the 20-yard gap. Even on the switchbacks I see no one else, but know that the proverbial pelaton is churning behind me, a mass of runners collectively in pursuit. And I am in between, running alone. This is not where you want to be, typically, but I assess things and find that I can converse with myself, that this pace is not aerobically taxing, but fuck, my legs just don't have enough pop to close the gap.
I decide to hold, and hope for a straggler off the front. Shortly after the 5K mark, there is a downed tree blocking the trail, CR Holder and Adios Kid both surge after it, and Mizzou Singlet cannot answer. He glances back often and I am happy every time.
The middle miles are fast and less technical, new and smooth mountain bike trail with banked turns and rolling hills. There is speed to be had only I have little; still, I try. I concentrate on a high cadence and good posture, feet spinning, hips forward. And relax. We are not yet half done.
When we are just past half done we spend perhaps a quarter mile on pavement, running on top of a damn before entering the trail again. Mizzou Singlet is perhaps 50 yards ahead but I observe that his cadence does not appear as high as previously and that he is still glancing back.
A left turn and the smooth, winding singletrack resumes. I am gaining rapidly now and dial it back. When I pass I want to have enough energy to surge, to dissuade a counter. I wait for a clearing and the next aid station before passing. He tells me Good job and I say Good job and we discuss briefly the ass kicking the prospective first and second place runners are dealing us. He lets me by and I do indeed attempt to go a bit hard now, as the remaining miles are again hilly and technical.
I hear from the 50K runners that I am beginning to lap that the leaders are about five minutes ahead of me and so I attempt to stay aerobic, not to sacrifice third for an impossible attempt at second. I only regain a real attempt at a racing stride for the final hundred meters, because it is always important to finish strong for the literally TENS in attendance and to make sure you look good for the camera on hand because I decided I was going to race sans shirt, because it's fucking July, ok?, not because I'm some deluded narcissist, but because it just feels good, man. I hate running with crap. I love running without crap. Simple.
Anyway. 3rd place. 1:17 or so, which is pretty fast, I think, unless you're one actually fast reader I can think of in particular, in which case, I, uh, was sick. And I tripped. A lot. And did I mention the horse shit?
But enough about the past. Let's talk about the future. On September 14, I'm going to run a trail marathon at Clinton Lake. This is my hometown course and I basically died the last six miles last year and actually, impossibly, missed a turn. Embarrassing? Let's just say I've thought about it every day since. So this year, I'm going to run < 3:33, and break the course record.
It's on the internet, so it has to be true.