Saturday, April 16, 2011

Race Recap: The Run of the Mill 5K

As Saturday's race approached, things weren't looking good for the Run of the Mill 5K. The weather was slated to be stormy all day Saturday. "Bring a towel, a hat, and a change of clothes," Chad suggested on Facebook. But when Chad showed up at my door at 7:20 to give me a ride to the race, it seemed for a moment that our fortunes were changing. The rain had stopped, and the weather websites showed the rain holding off until well after our 9:00 start.

We arrived at the lovely Murray's Mill just before 8, and had to wait a few minutes for the volunteers to get organized so we could sign in.

We hoped this sign wasn't foreshadowing our race pace

Fortunately, we still had plenty of time to preview the course, which we'd never seen before and hadn't been able to find a map of in advance. The race website says it's "run on mowed fields and trails around the beautiful and historic Murray's Mill." How hilly are they? How rough? We didn't know. In fact, we had a hard time figuring out where the course was: No one seemed to know for sure. Finally someone pointed us in the general direction we'd be running, so we headed off on a preview/warmup run.

Here Chad runs the wrong direction around the first loop of the course

At one point along the preview we had to make a hairpin turn around a fence and run down past the mill. It seemed clear enough at a leisurely preview pace, but this turn ended up being less obvious at race pace. One thing was certain: It really was a beautiful course, running along open fields, the shores of a pristine pond, past the historic mill, and through lush forests. And the rain seemed to be holding off.

We ran what we were pretty sure was the full course, which Garmin measured as 3.2 miles. In fact we had run the first loop backwards, but that turned out not to matter much. It was 8:45 a.m.; all we needed to do now was find the starting line.

Where's my corral?

As you can see from the photo, it was next to an old barn. Since it was a cross-country course, they lined us up all in a row, about 35 people wide and only 2 or 3 deep. We could see the finish tents from the start, and while the race director was making final announcements, a huge gust of wind blew one of the tents across the field below us. We all giggled as the timing crew chased it down. Finally everything was tied down and they started the race.

It was the sort of start I hadn't experienced since my days on my high school cross-country team: A mad dash across a field, everyone trying to establish position before the trail narrowed. When the dust (or mud, as the case may be) settled, I was in third place, with just two highschoolers in front of me. As I climbed the first hill through a field and headed back down the other side, I could hear footsteps behind me. I hoped it was Chad, and in a few more moments my hunch proved true, and Chad was next to me telling me I had a good shot at third overall. As I grunted an acknowledgment, I was thinking he might have a better shot. My timer beeped indicating Mile 1 was over: 6:59. Not bad for a trail race.

Chad noticed the highschoolers up ahead were looking a little lackadaisical. Maybe we could catch them. We seemed to be gaining ground on them as we passed back through the mill area near the start. Chad had pulled about 10 meters ahead of me, and the two leaders were perhaps 20 meters ahead. They ran straight past the fence where we were supposed to make a hairpin turn! Or maybe we weren't supposed to turn there. There were no course spotters directing us, and there was no sign indicating a turn. The trail crested a hill and headed back down towards the start-finish area. This was definitely not right. I could see Chad and the two highschoolers heading towards the finish line, but the timer turned them around. Chad later told me he asked him where they were supposed to go. The answer: "I don't know."

At this point, before I got to the finish area, I just stopped running. I stopped my Garmin too. Clearly I had no chance of a PR or a decent placing. Then someone who looked authoritative pointed me back towards the fence where I had thought we were supposed to make a hairpin turn. I decided if I couldn't finish the race at least I could direct the other runners the right way, so I sprinted back to the point of the turn and yelled at the runners who were heading the wrong way, telling them to turn around. I had directed about 5 or 10 runners when Chad and the two highschoolers came running up the trail. "C'mon, Dave," Chad said. I figured the runners behind us could now just follow along, so I decided to join back into the race. I started my timer and took off. Soon we ran past the historic mill. Since our times were shot, Chad and I decided to stop and take pictures:

Chad still isn't sure this is the right way

I think this waterfall is quite picturesque

Just kidding! We actually took the pictures during our preview run. Next we ran up a narrow trail and between two old millstones:

You'd think the trail goes straight ahead; actually it goes to the right

Along this section we regained our stride and started to pass the slower runners. After we passed what should have been the original two-mile marker, we were down to the original group of four leaders: A highschooler in a UNC shirt, another one in a gray shirt, Chad, and me. I could hear another runner not far behind me though. My 2-mile split, which was really rather pointless since it involved me stopping and restarting the timer, was 7:17. Now we were running through a wooded area on narrow trails. Here's another shot from the preview run:

Chad weaves deftly through the trees
Then we ran across a boardwalk:

Lovely! At the end of the boardwalk, there were two spotters pointing us to the right (why couldn't one of them have been stationed at that hairpin turn?). I asked them if there was anyone ahead of our group, and they said no. I was still in fourth place! But I was also starting to drag. I could see Chad ahead, neck and neck with UNC guy. Gray shirt guy was still ahead of me, but not by much. Whenever there was a sharp corner, he cut it much closer than I dared; the grass was longer in these rough areas and I didn't want to twist an ankle. This meant he gained 5 or 10 meters on me. I could still hear another runner right behind me, so I did all I could to maintain my pace. With about 200 meters to go, Gray shirt guy took off in a sprint. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to pass him, but I didn't want to be passed, so I picked up the pace as well, finishing in a dead sprint.

The results are posted here. My official finishing time was 26:19 for an 8:28 pace. But that didn't count the extra half-mile or so we ran when we went off course. My partial Garmin plot records a 7:20 pace. Chad said he recorded over 3.6 miles in what is supposed to be a 3.1-mile race. Overall, I was fourth. Chad was second overall. I didn't get an award because the race only gave prizes for first overall and first in each 10-year age group. So "UNC guy," 14-year-old Dakota Lewis, got first, Chad got first in the 40-49 age group, and "Gray shirt guy," 14-year-old Jordan Thompson, got first in the 11-15 age group. The guy who was right on my tail, Jason Hoyle, won the 20-29 age group.

After Chad picked up his trophy, we headed home. Naturally we stopped along the way for some DART-brand coffee!

Notice the label in the center of the lid!
Overall, a strange race, but a beautiful course, and an enjoyable overall experience. I'd like to come back next year and give it another shot now that I know the course.

My incomplete Garmin record of the race is below:

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