Mind you, this was my first race. Ever. I knew there was a marked course over at Camp Saratoga, as I had run it a few times before (and gotten off-course almost every time). There's a loop near the beginning, and both of the junctions can be confusing if you don't have your wits about you. There's also a hard right turn right after the only road crossing that's easy to miss if you're not paying attention.
Fortunately, today I did have my wits about me, and I stayed on course. I wasn't entirely sure where the course ended, but I knew from a picture on one of the sites associated with the course that it ended somewhere on the parade ground. So, I guessed. I had intended on stopping at the posts that used to hold a volleyball net, but I ended up running to the hanging grills instead.
The course itself is hilly, with a few steep ones at the very beginning that almost always have me walking as fast as I can (which today felt faster than normal). After that the course goes up and down a bit, with one climb just past the second junction of the loop that also had me speed walking (actually I think trail runners are supposed to call it "power hiking" or something like that). Anyway, I made decent time through most of the course, keeping my pace roughly between 11:00 and 12:00 (my intended range, and the range that I had decent success with last weekend). As I got into the last kilometer, on the hilliest and most treacherous part of the course, I pushed a bit harder, and started running up the hills. At the end I was watching the watch, trying to figure out where the end of the course was supposed to be.
I should probably explain that last bit: the course is marked with white markers that say "5K". There's one bit of trail that appears to have been added specifically for the racing route, and the rest of it follows the roads that we used to use to walk and drive around Camp Saratoga when it was still a Boy Scout camp. On the last section, the 5K route dives down to a single track hiking trail that runs beside Delegan Pond that used to serve a few of the campsites. It rushes past the cabins, bends left around the pond, crosses the dam, and then exits out onto the parade ground. After that, it isn't marked. So, I guessed.
I crossed the "finish line" at around 36:09, giving me a pace of 11:34 for the course, which the GPS measured at 3.13 miles (a hair over 5K, but GPSs aren't always accurate). After that I went for a walk to cool down.
Most interesting of all, for me, was the psychological aspect of this. I wasn't racing against anyone, and yet I was, in a sense, since a winner will be chosen from the entrants into the race. While I was eating my lunch beforehand, and getting my gear together, I noticed that I was visibly shaking. I managed to calm myself down some, but I was definitely still in a competitive mood / mode. The psychological aspects continued on the trail, as well. After the first mile I felt like I was moving at a snail's pace on the trails, despite the fact that I was running the entire time (minus the few short hills), and generally moving very well given where I'm at, physically. I know that I could have run faster, but I also knew that if I ran too fast, I would end up having to walk a lot, which would throw off my overall pace.
Anyway, this event was also a chance for me to try out fueling a bit. The short of it is:
Swedish Fish: bad. Too big and too chewy. Hard to chew and swallow while running. The smaller ones might be OK, but I think I'm going to try out other options.
Fruit leather: possibly good. I brought two along but didn't eat them until I was done. They were OK to eat then, though I did notice that the wrapper has to go immediately into a baggie. Stowing it in a pocket is just asking for trouble, due to the inside of the wrapper being insanely sticky.
I hadn't intended on fueling at all until around mile 2, so that I would have an extra kick on the last bit. Around mile 1, however, I started feeling sluggish, so I opted to fuel early. I had intentionally gone the sugary route since I knew that anything complex just wouldn't be useful on such a short course. It worked, I guess, but I still have a lot to learn about fueling. I'd rather not fuel at all on these short courses, but after last week's run I've realized that I need to pay more attention to it, and figure it out.
Also, my lumbar pack was a bit big for a race. It's great for general trail running, since it'll hold a lot of gear, but when it comes to a race, which is generally supported, I think something lighter would be better. Maybe just a water bottle and something to hold a few essentials.
Finally, while the race was fun, but I can't help thinking about everyone who was injured or killed during this past week. Especially the poor guy who had both of his legs blown off and shown for the world to see, Jeff Bauman, and the victims killed outright by the blast: Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, and Krystle Campbell. Even for those not physically injured, I know that the psychological injuries can cut just as deep, and take just as long to heal, if they ever do. To anyone and everyone affected by this, my heart goes out to you. It was such a senseless, horrifying, and despicable act.