As I navigated the twisting, hilly trail filled with jutting rocks, exposed tree roots, narrow bridges, muddy patches and occasional streams, a runner wearing a Marine Corps t-shirt stayed a few strides behind me, leaving me to decide where the route went, how to best deal with the various obstacles, and what pace to keep.
I was perfectly fine with his strategy, although it might have been nice if he had said hello or offered to lead for a while. Even when I carefully crept along on some of the more rugged stretches, he stayed behind me. When we passed another runner that was obviously struggling, he told them to pick up the pace – as if our pace of maybe 15 minutes a mile was something special.
When I got to the split where I needed to decide if I was going to do a 7K or 15K, I wimped out. The trail was taking a toll on my knees, and I had a half marathon in less than a week. Plus, if it took me too long to finish the 15K, I could have been run over by cyclists competing in a six-hour endurance race that started an hour and a half after the run.
The path smoothed out as I hit the last portion of the 7K. The guy who had been following me the whole time ran past me, then turned around and gave out a loud “Ooh-Rah”. I suppose I could have taken it as a challenge and raced him to the finish line. But, at the time, it just seemed obnoxious.
I got the last laugh. Apparently a few years younger than me, he didn’t place in his age class. I, on the other hand, was the only 7K runner in my age group. As I collected my winnings (a case of Power Bars and some samples of Paul Mitchell Tea Tree products), the small group of runners insisted I get on the top step of the podium. Knowing how tough the trail was, the smattering of cheers actually felt sincere.
If I had opted to do the 15K, I would have finished out of the money. The top three in the 15K 50 and over age group finished around the same time as I finished the 7K.
The race, held at the Camp T. Brady Saunders Boy Scout Camp, was part of the prestigious Xterra Trail Run Series. The Dirtapalozza weekend included the runs, the cycle race and a number of other events.
Goochland County is about 30 miles west of Richmond, just far enough away to be more rural than suburban. It has a population of 17,000. Its vibrant West Creek Business Park includes a CapitalOne office that employs 5,600 people.
75 runs downs, 59 to go.