Today was my second short race of the year, the 2nd annual Foothills Drifter 6k, held at Lake Conestee Park. It’s a short trail race, with about 1 mile of pavement and the rest twisty singletrack. We had almost 3 inches of rain this week, including rain all day yesterday and a thunderstorm at 4 am this morning that kept me awake for a while. As the race director said, last year the course was snowy, this year it was flooded. It is a twisty loop with only 250 ft climbing and equal descent.
For perhaps the first time ever, I got lost trying to find the start, but a helpful gas station attendant got me there with plenty of time to spare. The weather at the start was 40 deg with misty rain, perfect temps for singlet, shorts, arm warmers, and light gloves. There were about 200 runners, including a few guys who looked very fast and made my think my bib number (3) might be the expected finishing place. I normally finish short races such as 5k’s with too much energy, feeling I could have gone faster. I decided this time to really go balls-to-the-wall right from the start, figuring that there is no way I can outrun my endurance (i.e. even if I go too fast and die, my good endurance will keep me moving).
The first 100 yards are downhill on road before the singletrack starts, and I found myself in 3rd place. The trail almost immediately started twisting and turning, which would continue the whole race, with a fair amount of roots and other tripping hazards to make the race fun. A minute later, the puddles arrived. They were up to 20 ft long and covered the entire width of the trail, so we all plunged in. I would say 20% of the course was either puddles up to ankle deep, running water, or super-sloppy mud, so I loved it. About a half mile in, my feet slipped out as I tried to navigate a puddle-covered turn, falling side-first into the 6” deep water and completely soaking my clothes (nothing like a 40 deg bath to wake you up). I hopped up, squeezing the water from my gloves, and charged on. The difficulty of following right behind 2 guys, coupled with my fall, gave me adequate incentive to take the lead. On a short uphill I charged into first place. We reached mile 1 in 5:54, which seemed very fast to me given the technicality and puddles on the course. I was happy to be that fast, and, while breathing rather hard, felt strong.
During the next mile I continued to pull away from the other runners. The course has a few almost-180 deg turns, which allowed me to see that I was distancing myself from everyone else. I was glad to be leading, especially on the wet turns and particularly on the wooden (read: slippery) bridges and boardwalks over the swamp. There were a number of locations with spectators cheering and taking pictures, which was also nice. The constant turns were enjoyable and kept me energized with multiple changes of pace. Mile 2 was 6:17, and I knew I was working harder than my road 5k a few weeks ago. Mile 3 was more mud, bridges and singletrack and passed in 6:19. The last .6 miles is on pavement, so I pushed hard and finished at 5:43 pace. Total time was 21:53 for 3.6 miles (6:06 avg), 21 seconds ahead of 2nd place and almost a minute faster than last year’s CR. I was appropriately tired but very pleased with my effort, especially how I ran as fast as I could. I would definitely say this was a better effort than my 5:28-paced 5k in January, and more enjoyable by nature of being a trail race.
The finish was awesome- the sponsors have tons of prizes and a huge raffle. Everyone gets a shirt and smartwool socks in their bag. Then, they give prizes to 3 deep in each age group. I won a nice hydration pack plus a free pair of Salomon trail shoes for the overall win- sweet. They also pulled my name to win a Suunto watch in the raffle, but had them give it to someone who hadn’t won anything yet. The overall race organization, course, course markings, and especially the awards were top notch- I’d highly recommend this as a nice trail race… as long as you want to have a fun time and don’t mind getting very muddy.