As for me, the race was the last of the year and I was interested to see how my body was holding up. Going into the race I hadn't done much intense running and was trying to balance healing with sustaining an acceptable weekly mileage total to maintain fitness. This tactic didn't turn out to be the best!
At the start of the race I let the front pack go almost immediately. I could tell these guys were ready to demolish each other on the trails and I wanted to run at my own desired pace for the technical section. At the start of the trail I felt great and began settling into my usual quick steps, pretending the trail was just a long obstacle course. It was really nice to be back in the northeast and to see the difference in landscape.
Slowly I began reeling people in and made it to about 6th place with a mile to go on the AT section. This is where I began to hit a bulk of the early starters. While dodging between two men I caught a rock with my left foot and lunged forward, slamming my right knee into a large, pointed rock. My initial reaction was more frustration than pain. After about 25 steps I began hobbling and felt my knee locking up. So I began an awkward looking sort of shimmy down the trail as a few of the elite guys passed by.
At the break between the AT and the C&O canal, I ran past my dad and he told me to stop for a second to assess the damage. I had a bloody welt the diameter of a quarter on my knee, and a massive desire to puke. I think this was the point where a lot of people had seen me stall and thought I would drop. After a few minutes of encouragement from bystanders I decided to see how I'd feel in a mile and slowly began hobbling toward the towpath.
Once I got on the path I felt a large rush of adrenaline and was able to get into a pretty solid rhythm. At this point I was probably running 6 minute miles and felt pretty good. I soon caught up to USA teammate Matt Woods and we began running together for the next 7 or so miles until the adrenaline left and I was forced to ease off the pace. Watching him surge forward, I felt a bit disheartened at not being able to join the fun at the front of the pack.
Normally I would have been extremely frustrated at the turn of events. However, I was happy to be taking part in the race and had resolved to finish regardless of time or place. The fatigue I was feeling made it difficult to sustain a pace, but whenever it became too much I simply walked and waited to catch my breath... taking in plenty of scenery as I walked along.
At one of the aid stations I hung out with my crew for an extra minute and enjoyed a Yuengling beer. It was fun to take a step back from the usual competitiveness and just enjoy the atmosphere for once, not to mention a beer I haven't enjoyed in a few years.
Towards the end of the tow-path I found Matt Woods hanging out at an aid station. When I asked him what happened he said he had blown up. I told him to join me and we began clicking off the final miles of the race in a slow but steady fashion. I think we were both relieved to only have 8.2 miles to go.
Finally at the last aid station I felt the itch to finish and thought I could finish strong. I left Matt and picked up the pace. My finishing time was somewhere around 6:23, not terrible but not anything to throw onto my list of top performances. I think I can do better, and this race is one on which I'd like to devote an entire training cycle.
Things I learned: 1) Although the trail section is short, it is a vital part of the race. I need to dedicate a bit more time to running extremely technical trails before running this race again. 2) Even though I didn't have a great race, I had a great weekend with friends and family, and actually got to spend more time with them while making the race fun. 3) David Riddle is a badass!
Now that the season is over I am planning to take a month off of any sort of physical exertion aside from hiking and the metabolism-boosting Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving Day. I'm also going to use my time and energy trying to get my hands into a few more volunteering opportunities as well as ranting on the blog about races, fads, funny stories, etc.