October 19 brought about the seventh, and final, race of the Wisconsin Trail Assail Series by Silver Circle Sports. I didn’t intend on being series eligible this year (4 or more of the 7 races), but once I had a few under my belt, how could I not go for it?
The Sweetest Day race returns to Nashotah Park, and is the only repeat course of the series. You may remember my race report from last time I ran here for the Mother’s Day race. That race was actually turning out to be super important. It was the second of the series, but I had opted for the 5k, meaning it wouldn’t count to the 10k series standing. Coming into Sweetest Day, I trailed the guy leading my age group by 5 points. I had never lost to him head-to-head, but he had run one extra race; meaning if he finished the 10k at Sweetest Day, I wouldn’t be able to make the pass for the series win.
A benefit of series races is that you have a good understanding of what runners you should beat, and who should beat you. In the 10k, I knew Chris would be there, and would likely beat me. I saw another runner named Cole at the start, and figured if he was running the 10k (he was) he would likely win the race (he did). Eric was there as well, and this was my chance to take the series against him on a head-to-head level as he had gotten me at Lapham, and I the next two.
Due to the size of the race, this one is a staggered start. The Half went out at 8, and the rest of us went out 10 minutes later.
The start of the course is flat and downhill, making it really easy to get sucked in (like I did in the Spring). In the last two trail series races, a big focus of mine was running strong, even, and at about 90%. At Pike Lake, that worked great. At Minooka, I had to work harder on the last lap to secure my top 5, and here…well we’ll get to that.
We went off around the field and Cole, Chris, and three others took off to the front. Quickly I found myself a few meters ahead of the chase pack, but nowhere close to the leaders. And then about 400m into the race, my car key fell out of my back pocket, so I had to go back to get it. From no-man’s land back to the chase pack.
I quickly pulled back away, and felt Eric come with me. My legs were moving good, but I could tell not at 100%, which was fine after my workouts and a non-goal race. But I didn’t know how Eric was feeling, and the competitor in me didn’t want to lose to him.
Still in the first mile, we hit the straight downhill through the pine trees (best part of the course). I could see ahead of us a runner (not in the race) running with a dog. And off leash dog. You know where this is going. When I passed the runner, his dog ran up next to me, then in front of me, and stopped. I had to stop until he grabbed the dog’s collar (which really was only a few seconds). I threw my arms up in disgust, but didn’t make any comments. Eric did though.
Yes, that all happened in the first mile.
The second mile sees a few inclines, but mostly more flats. On one incline I consciously thought I was working too hard. But I was also gaining on another runner. I gradually worked my way up to him, glided past on an uphill, and never saw him again. Turns out he was in the 5k, so it didn’t matter.
The third mile is easily the toughest part of the course, with the most, and the biggest, hills at Nashotah. Running strong and in control was the name of the game. That’s what I did on the backstretch, still worried/wondering where Eric was in relation to me.
Getting to the start/finish/halfway point from the last hill seemed like an eternity (it was literally .4 miles) because the start/finish was in a different spot that before and was a little further down the path.
Still, I split the 5k the same as I ran the 5k in May, except this time I didn’t go from a 6 minute first mile to a 7:30 last mile. Run strong and consistent.
As we looped around the field, I took a glance to see where Eric was. Close, but not a threat if I stayed strong. I saw one of the guys from the lead pack at the finish line, and he told me there were 4 runners ahead of me. I knew Chris and Cole. And I knew one guy in the Half who had rejoined the course (the Half goes on a different trail for a bit) right by me. But was the other guy a Half or a 10k?
I ended up running Mile 4 almost the same as Mile 1, except without the unplanned stops. And I was all by myself. In the pines I caught a glimpse of Chris, but unless something bad happened to him, I wasn’t gonna run him down.
Somewhere in Mile 5 is where the Half course splits off. As the course marshal made sure we went the right direction, I listened to see if she said anything to another runner soon after me. Not hearing anything, I knew I had opened up a decent gap on Eric.
The hills were back in Mile 6, and I took them a little more casual this time, resulting in my slowest mile of the race (still faster than my slowest in the 5k). After getting to the top, it was downhill/flat to the finish. I also had some back of the pack Half runners to keep my focus. I churned through the last part of the race in a strong 6:51 to bring home my finish in 44:37.
Turns out, that would be good enough for a third place finish, and first in my age group.
More importantly, the result meant that I had chopped off time in each of the trail races. Granted, the trails also go from hardest to easiest (in the ones I did) so that should be expected.
After checking to ensure my placement; the next result I checked for was the guy leading our age group in the series. Nowhere. He wasn’t there! Giving me the age group series win (I checked the official tally today). Turns out, he opted for the Half.
The Trail Series may be a wrap, but my series runs are just getting started. This Sunday marks the beginning of the Wisconsin Winter Run Series, and two weeks after that marks the beginning of the Chilly Willy Winter Series. Two 5k series. Fourteen races. I’m pumped.