A week after the San Jose Rock 'n' Roll Half marathon, I was up and ready for a trail half marathon in Pacifica, CA. I knew the course well from another race held by a different promoter. I had done a race prep run 2 weeks before and developed my strategy. I did recovery runs leading up to the trail marathon, giving a day of rest the day before.
I lined up at the start scanning the field. There appeared to be a handful of strong runners, my eyes scanning to feel them out to sense who I should watch out for. The gun went off and I surprised the pack by sprinting ahead. I did this because of the trail race being largely on single track paths. If I stayed with the pack, I'd risk getting stuck behind runners with a slow pace and would have to spend more energy passing them. I could hear a couple of chuckles as some runners murmured that I was foolish to do such a thing. I knew the strategy was risky, and this is what I was hoping for, for runners to think it was and hold back.
I found myself alone through the first mile. Moments later, a runner passed me with a pace I felt was too strong to handle. If I was going to give chase, I would do so on the descents. I maintained fast feet turnovers as I weaved up to the summit. Just moments before reaching the summit, I heard the footsteps of a runner trying to catch me. His breathing was heavy. He had spent good effort trying to catch me, and I would use this to my advantage. As soon as I reached the summit, I attacked the descent immediately and did not stop attacking. By the time I reached the bottom of the first climb, he was no longer behind me.
I weaved my way through the second climb, which was quite short compared to the first climb. As I made my way to the bottom, I saw my chaser coming halfway down. I had at least a minute on him. Rather than try to create a bigger gap on the flat section, I took this segment as a recovery interval, saving my strength for the third and final climb. The switchbacks seemed to be endless; trying to count them would lead to deliriousness. I kept a conservative effort with a fast turnover. The last thing I wanted was to have dead legs for the final descent. I reached the summit and went straight into attacking the descent. As good as it felt, I kept reminding myself that I was being chased and remained vigilant. I imagined every sound I heard was a runner nipping at my heels trying to catch me. I wasn't taking anything for granted and pushed the attack down to the bottom. I gave a final push to the finish line, claiming second place and a drinking glass as my prize.
In a way, running is like mouthwash. If you feel the burn, you know it's working.
Be well and run on!