If my goal today was to run the perfect tactical race and take second place, I ran the perfect race.
I haven't run at Joaquin Miller in a couple years, but I remember the gist of the course. Up, rollers, down, up, rollers, steep down, gradual up to the finish.
I arrived early, nice to get in my extended hour-long warm up. But the best part about getting to a trail run early is missing the always long line for the bathroom. Something about the pre-race jitters that gets the bowels working over time.
Running the shortest distance of the day always stings a little. Like when the smiley middle aged couple asked me what race I was running, I almost felt bad responding "Ah, just the 10k." I didn't add I was trying to win.
My strategy going out was pretty simple. Don't try to win it on the first hill, settle into a good pace on the rollers and keep contact with the leaders. Charge the down and catch up, push it up the hill then fly down Cinderella Trail. With a little luck, I would either be ahead or close to the front for the final stretch, which plays to my grinding strength.
The "gun" went off and from the start it was pretty clear there were really only four of us in contention. I settled into fourth, trying to stay out of the red on the way up. I hit the flat sooner than expected, and quickly passed Mike Lopez to move into third. You won't find a fitter (and more upbeat) 55-year old on the trails. On the switchbacks I could see first and second place, so settled into a rhythm and worked on getting my breathing back into the yellow.
At this point, I probably could have pushed it and caught third place, but I was content to hang back and run my race. Discipline is one thing, but I spent the next four miles focusing on the ideal time to move into second, rather than making sure I knew where first was. I am a good lion, and in hindsight should have pushed into second and set my sights on first, rather than hoping by the time I got around to moving into second, first would be within striking distance.
We hit the aid station, I grabbed some water and ran out into the sun. My shirt came off and the trail got crowded. As we descended into the lollipop, we started catching the pack of runners doing the longer distances. I am used to navigating crowds like this, but the timing of all this passing was definitely suboptimal. We were on a very technical and steep downhill section, with roots and rocks knifing out of a narrow single track. I did my best to be polite and respectful, but some people are just more aware than others.
I try to have nothing but love for other runners on the course, but running with headphones on single track just isn't smart. You are totally unaware, and you become a danger to other runners. And to yourself. As I went to pass a woman, I warned "On your left!" in my kindest tone. But her earbuds blocked my voice. As I moved to pass, she startled and tripped. Faceplant. "Oh shit." I stopped to make sure she was OK. She was, and got up to start running again.
I don't know what else I could have done. I felt bad about it, but at the same time if you are running out there, you have to know its a race and be aware of what's around you. The entire thing transpired in about six seconds. From there until the bottom, I resigned to hang back in third and look for my opening once the trail cleared out.
As we started the climb, I had a mind to push it and make my pass. But passing on steep climbs takes a lot out of you. So I was content to just keep my distance and make my move at the top.
I didn't want to go a whole lot faster on the climb, but in hindsight I should have realized that I hadn't seen first in a while, and with only two miles left I had a lot of ground to make up and time was running out.
The top came sooner than expected, again. All these long climbs I have been doing make these 300ft-ers seem like bumps in the road. Steep bumps, but bumps nonetheless.
At the top, I took it easy for a 100 yards to get my breathing down, then started setting up for the pass. My legs hadn't felt springy the whole race, a combination of a hilly back-to-back last weekend, two hard boxing workouts Wednesday and Thursday and me starting to transition from distance to speed training. I let it get to me mentally, convincing myself I had to save my legs for later in the race.
And here was later. I skipped the aid station, knowing I only had 15 minutes or so left and most of that was downhill. On a small rise after the aid station, I saw second laboring and I turned it on. He acknowledged it with a "nice move" as I blew past, doing my best to look strong and put distance between us. And what I realized as I charged the small rise was that I actually had a lot more left in my legs than I thought. I just hadn't been pushing it hard enough.
I raced down Cinderella, hoping beyond hope that I'd see first around a bend and have a real race to the finish. Talk about a fun, but technical downhill sprint.
I hit the bottom alone, and didn't see first until I could see the finish line. He was already done. Not that far ahead, but already done.
I cruised in at 50:30, a touch above my goal of 50, but still respectable at just over 8 minute miles. First beat me by a minute. I minute I know I could have made up if I had been chasing him, instead of second.
But overall I'm happy with the race. Another tactical lesson and ultimately if I am not happy with a second place finish, I am really not out here for the right reasons. That said, second doesn't feel anywhere close to first.