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Last Minute Race

“Oh Crap!  They started without me!”  I exclaimed out loud as I completely missed the start of the XTERRA Oak Mountain Xduro 21k Trail Race.  I had ran a bit long on my warmup and had went back to meet up with my brother, not realizing we were so close to the start of the race.  He had informed me as I reached him that I was short on time and we both had started running for the start line.  Before we reached it, we heard the crowd cheering.  The runners were taking off.

Two days prior, I had made a last minute decision to visit.  Earlier in the week, my Aunt passed away (I love you, Madelyn) and I had pressing stuff at my day-job preventing me from leaving for the funeral.  Needless to say, I thought about driving (6+ hours), but just didn’t think it was feasible to do giving many factors that I won’t dive into here.  Alba suggested that I fly, so I pulled the trigger on a plane ticket, around 8pm, Friday night for a Saturday morning flight.

I was already registered for a local 10k trail race (Rumble in the Woods) for Saturday and a demo mountain bike ride on Sunday.  Going to the funeral was more important to me so I texted Dutch to have him pick up my unused race packet (if he could).

I also tried to get the earliest flight out on Saturday and earliest flight back on Sunday.  Maybe I could still hit the demo ride.  No chance.  All of the flights were booked.  The earliest I could leave ‘Bama would be 1pm.  Leaving that late in the day opened up a Sunday morning that could be filled with a race.  After buying the ticket, I started poking around and found the XTERRA trail run being put on by Dirty Spokes.  The best I was hoping for was a road 5k or something similar.  I never thought I would have found an XTERRA trail run.

As I was running to hook up with the start of the race, I reached the pack just as it was leaving the parking lot.  That put me square at the tail of the pack, pulling up the rear, in last place.  Great.  If I was to do good at the race, I had to pass 150 or so people to get to the front of the pack.  To make matters worse, we were hitting single-track REAL soon.

I took off around the outside of the crowd trying to pass as many people as I could while we were still on the road.  I thought it would be smooth sailing, but just the contrary.  Instead, I had to dip, dive, duck and dodge around people.  This was not a good thing.  By the time we hit single-track, I had only passed about 1/3 of the crowd.

The first 4 miles of the half-marathon were the worst.  A series of straight up and straight down hills was a tough way to start.  For you XTERRA triathlon folks, this is the same 4 miles that make up the tail-end of the Southeast Championship race.  Trying to pass folks that thick on the trail proved quite challenging.  I spent more time on the trails edge, digging my way through leaves and pine straw then I did on single-track.  It was the only way I could get around them.  I’m sure as I huffed and puffed past folks they were thinking that I was nuts and starting out way too strong for a 13+ mile run.  I was thinking that too.

By the time I hit mile 3, I had passed the largest bulk of the crowd who had all begun to walk most of the steep, sketchy hills.  I came upon a water stop and asked how many folks were ahead of me.  The person responded quickly with “four”.  EXCELLENT.  By the way, when racing, you can determine (for the most part) how much trust to put into a bystander or volunteer by how quickly they answer a question.  In my experience, I have found that if they take too long to answer, it means they have to think about it or just don’t know.  If you get a pause, an “um” or a mixed answer, simply discard it as unreliable.  Drop it like a hot potato and just don’t think about it anymore.  You’ll only play mind games with yourself.

I could see two guys within the distance running together.  Reeling them in became a priority.  While doing so, every hiker, bystander, volunteer that I came upon on the trail, I would ask them how many people were ahead of me.  Everyone said “four” with the exception of one hiking couple who hesitated, then answered with “three”.  Discarded.

The two runners ahead of me would slow way down on the hills, many times walking towards the top of them as I started climbing from the bottom.  I would stick to running the hills allowing my heart rate to spike. At this point I had done so already getting to the front of the pack, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt too much more.  As soon as the two runners would top the hill, they would sky-rocket down the other side.  When I would reach the top, they weren’t anywhere in sight.  At the next hill, we’d repeat the same pattern.

It wasn’t until the first gravel road that we dumped out on that I caught them.  As I approached them from the rear, I told them, “I was trying to catch you guys so I would have someone to talk to.”  They both mumbled something, but I couldn’t hear them well enough to make it out.

We ran together for a while as I chatter-boxed behind them.  I didn’t get much conversation out of them.  On the next large climb, I passed the younger of the two as he started walking.  At the top of the climb, I passed the other gentleman as he stopped to fiddle with his shoe.  It was mile 5.

The younger of the two runners, Dylan McPhee, caught back up to me and stuck with me for the rest of the race.  We chatted quite a bit about the course, previous races he had done, XTERRA triathlons, MelRad, you name it.  At 17, he had already played many sports and had recently been turned on by cross-country running.  This was his first half-marathon, and in my eyes, he was doing outstanding while sitting square in 4th place overall.

With only 3 miles left, I dumped the remaining fluids out of my Nathan Speed 2 hydration belt, and prepared to pick up the pace.  Dylan asked if I was dropping weight.  “Absolutely”, I replied.   I slightly picked up the pace over the next couple of miles and Dylan matched it.

With about one mile left to go, Dylan passes me and increases his pace to try and put some distance between us.  He seemed to be slowly pulling away from me as I conserved a little.  I knew what was coming up trail-wise and tried to plan out my attack to reclaim 3rd place.  However, somehow I miscalculated and we were approaching the end of the single track sooner than I had planned.  Seeing the parking lot ahead, I went into a full sprint.  As I turned onto the pavement, it appeared that I was closing in on Dylan, but the distance between us was too great.  I finished fourth overall and first in my age group.  Matthew Carter, the other person I passed when passing Dylan also hung in there for 5th place and first in his age group.  Congrats fellas!

I can’t say enough about the Dirty Spokes crew.  They put on an amazing event that was extremely organized.  Race day registration was a breeze and went very smoothly.  The trails were marked very well with color-coded arrows for each race and course.  The fact that they put on a 10k run, 21k run and off-road duathlon at the same time was a great feat.  Big thanks go to all of the volunteers as well as you all are an integral part of what makes the race great.  If you’re looking for a great race, I highly suggest that you look into one of the races put on by Dirty Spokes.

Check out the full results.

Be a Warrior,

Marcus

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