Friday, June 15, 2012

Race Report: Flirt With Dirt 10k

Flirt with Dirt Bling
Last weekend I did something that I almost never do. I ran a race that was less than a half marathon. Lately I have been concentrating on longer distance races, so this was the first 10k I have done since this same race a year ago.

As you can guess from the name, Flirt with Dirt is a trail race. It is located in a small park just a mile or two off the freeway in Novi, MI. This race is put on by Running Fit, which you might have noticed if you have been following my posts, is my favorite race organization. It is the second race in the "Serious Series," which includes a race from the Trail Marathon weekend and one from the Legend set of races, which is coming up in August. Those lucky runners who complete the three races, pick up a Serious Series beer glass. This can be added to the collection of coffee mugs that one might earn as age group award at the races in the series. One of my goals in life is to replace all of our glassware with Running Fit items. So far I have a martini glass and four coffee mugs. 

The Running Fit bus
There is also a 5k race, as well as the 10k, and between the two races the number of runners is limited to 600. Still, it does have the feel of a small race. The course starts and finishes at the top of a fairly steep hill. The start is on grass, followed by a short stretch through a dirt parking lot and down a dirt road, and then onto some really nice single track for most of the race until runners pop back out onto the grass to run up the steep hill to the finish.

Having had some experience with short distance trail races from running the Winter Trail Running Series in California several years back, I know how important it is to get out fast in a race like this. I lined up close to the front of the pack.  I was planning to attempt to average about an 8:40 pace, but lined up with the 8:30s to get a good spot at the start. When the horn blew to start the race, I took off. At the start, it was pretty hectic. For the first hundred yards,  my main concern was to avoid tripping on the steep downhill and rolling to the bottom like a sack of potatoes.  Simultaneously I was also trying to avoid being trampled by all the testosterone amped men who had started around me and keeping an eye on the women who were out ahead of me.

We swept down the hill, around a large field, and poured out onto the parking lot. Jer was there waiting and cheered me on. I was still smiling at that point, so I gave him a smile and a wave. We turned a corner and headed toward the single track. I looked down at my watch and saw that my pace was 7:40. Yikes! That was pretty fast to go out in a trail race, but I really felt it was a good strategy with the single track coming up.

When I got to the single track, I tried to pull it back just a bit and settle in. This park has really nice trails, similar to the ones I run at Lake Lansing North on Thursday nights, so I felt pretty comfortable. It soon became clear that I had done the right thing and placed  myself correctly, as I was only passed by a few men and two younger women once we hit the single track, and I only had to pass 2 or 3 people to get into the slot where I could run comfortably at my pace, one of whom was a woman.

Things went along pretty smoothly through the early miles of the race. The course has a lot of interesting switchbacks on the trail that result in views through the trees of lines of runners at various spots, but you can't tell if they are ahead of or  behind you. For some reason (probably oxygen deprivation from the fast start)  it struck me as funny, and my brain filled in some Benny Hill music, which almost made me laugh out loud.
(In case you don't remember the Benny Hill theme song. It's just the thing to have stuck in your head during a trail race)

About 3.5 miles into the race, I started to hate life. Although I did not remember hills from the year before, they were sure enough there this year. All of them were runnable, especially for a 10k, but since I am horrible with uphills, they HURT!  I knew I was slowing down some and was extremely dismayed to be passed back by the woman that I had passed earlier. I was also extremely dismayed to see that chances were good that she was in my age group.

I tried to stay with her and managed to keep her in sight for the rest of the race, but I could not catch her. Mile 4.5 to 5.5 was pretty painful, partly because I had gone out a bit fast, partly because I am just not used to the fast running at this point, and partly because short fast races just hurt!  She stretched out the lead a little bit. At mile 5.5 I toyed with the idea of trying to catch her, but by that point, I just did not have enough left to pick it up.

The finishing hill of the race was just as painful as I remember. Runners come out of the woods to the cheers of the crowd and have this vertical grass hill between them and the finish. Seriously, it is like climbing the Alps. Thankfully it is only about 25 yards long. I crossed the finish line in 55:05, which was about 90 seconds slower  than my time from last year.

I found the woman who had passed me and congratulated her. She had finished in 54:42. Just as I suspected, she was also in my age group. She had been the age group winner for the previous two years in the 50-54 age group. I had been second the year before in the 45-49 age group, and I was second this year in the 50-54 group. One thing that made me feel a little better about the slower finish was that  this year I was 51 out of 377 while last year I was 106 out of 333, so maybe times were a little slower this year, possibly because of the heat.

I wasn't happy with my time, but felt I had run the race well. I am not as fit as I was last year at this time. My Bayshore results had already told me that. The IT band problems which had caused me to cut back on my running in the six weeks following Green Swamp had cut into my fitness and also taken the time away in the training cycle where I should have been running more hills and starting to work on some speed. Given those factors, the result was not terrible. I am hoping to see lots of improvement in speed later in the summer. 

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