"Good morning, here's the news. And all of it is good.
Good evening, here's the news. And all of it is good.
... And the weather's good." - Carbon/Silicon, "The News"
Two weeks after calling an end to my ultrarunning year and three after breaking a finger, I tried to return to a 5K runner's mindset and headed to Wirth Park in Minneapolis for the Trail Loppet. I had a little of the old excitement, where I'm ready to do battle and prove this old warhorse is capable of one more charge. That faded a bit when, arriving very early, I saw last year's winner, Zach Handler, a guy who reminded me of someone, but I couldn't think who (after the race, I had to laugh when I realized he reminded me of Groundskeeper Willy from "The Simpsons.")
I went out for a warm-up, something foreign after all the ultras I've done and planned to run the whole course. After a while, I found I was on the companion 1/2-marathon course and I had neither the time nor energy to do that much, so I cut some corners... and got lost. Fortunately, the park isn't huge and there were other runners, so I stopped a guy with an Austrian accent, asking the way to the beach and I was soon at the starting line with Teutonic efficiency. My clothes were already dripping wet, as it was warm and quite humid and I was regretting not bringing lightweight shoes for the race.
I got a chance to catch up a bit with Colin Gardner-Springer and looked through the list of entrants to see if Jeff Allen was going to run, as he's been my competition in short races this year in the old guys category. He wasn't, so I had a good shot of scoring 100 points in the MNTRS even if I had a bad day. As race time approached, it appeared all the fast guys were in the longer race. Could this be another surprise, like Trail Mix back in April?
The gun went off and so did about 10 guys, doing the traditional cross-country sprint before the trail narrows. We were under 5 min./mile pace, which I knew was suicidal, but I wanted to scout the competition. The "fat" guy didn't worry me, nor did the high-schooler, but some of these might be my age - and none were running two weeks after the Superior 100. And some were chatting while I huffed and puffed.
There's some reasonably tough hills in the first mile and I had to push myself not to walk them as I intentionally did in the 100 miler. Then I passed people while flying downhill where the path allowed; there are places where the path is narrow enough that I brushed plants on both sides. There's also a few very short sections (think yards) of highly technical footing, as well as some very flat easy sections, especially in the last mile, including a long cement sidewalk.
I missed the mile marker, but I know it was fast. I passed a few people and hit the 2 mile in 15:56, causing me to wonder if this was much slower than it felt or an inaccurate measurement. Winning was out of the question, even though I could see the leaders; I just needed to beat the guy with a few gray hairs to be sure of my age class.
Coming toward the end, I made a move to catch two guys ahead of me. One would be easy, one hard, but this is where I shine. Part of me was screaming "Go!" but part was saying "No" and part "Whoa" (or maybe "woe"). The other guys had been holding energy in reserve. I couldn't catch the first by surprise and blow by him, as he sped up and we both chased down the other one, who must've heard us coming. They beat me by less than 2 seconds. My time was 21:52, 51 seconds behind the winner. I was 7th overall, first master, in a race where my time would've been second in previous years. As soon as I finished, I knew I could've run much faster. Still, not bad for not training for it.
After finishing, I went back along the course to where the two races separated. The first 1/2-marathoners were long gone, so I was looking for familiar faces. I helped direct runners (at least two went wrong and I turned them around) and cheered for those I knew - and for those 5K runners who looked like they needed to know they were past all the hills.
I saw Wayne Nelson and decided to cool down by running the 1/2-marathon with him. We joked about whether or not that qualified me as a bandit. Trying to stay out of the way of those actually racing, I stepped to the side and got a shirt full of thistles, which I took several minutes trying to remove; eventually, I took the shirt off and carried it. I sped up, way up, probably running faster than at any point in the 5K, to catch up to Wayne again. Fortunately, I went fast enough to avoid the swarm of bees that plagued other runners (this must be my lucky day). The course goes by the finish line, so I quit at the 6 mile mark. My right hand rapidly swelled and turned color.
After the race, I ran into a lot of people I hadn't seen in years, some who needed time to recognize me. I haven't aged any more gracefully than I've run gracefully. It does, however, allow me to add an old friend's name to my blogroll, though Pam's blog is not about running.
Okay, I admit it, I'm a city guy and this is a city race. It's a good one to add to your calendar if you're looking for a change from pristine lakes and campgrounds. It's fairly well-organized, if expensive for the distance and with a long delay before the awards. It's close enough to home for me that I was home by 1 P.M., where my mail awaited me. My hospital bill and my property tax refund both came and were within $10 of each other.
And all of it is good.
Turns out that there was a mix-up in the original results. Chris Taylor, the "guy with a few gray hairs," finished in 21:21. He's in his forties, so I should send him my medal; he's also in the MNTRS, so I didn't get my 100 points.
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