A Rat Race To Kick Off Easter Weekend
It has been a full two weeks since I ran the 2018 Rat Race now that I find myself sitting down to write this report. It is a shorter distance race: a 20k that is made up of running two laps around a 10k trail loop. I decided to run it and register for it rather spontaneously as I was unaware of it until I saw an announcement that it had been rescheduled for a week after the originally planned date. I saw this announcement about a week and a half before the newly scheduled date. The timing of the newly scheduled date serendipitously worked out that on the morning of the race I would be driving right past Wells Mill County Park in Waretown, NJ where the race is held. I figured “why not run a 20k on my way to the in-laws’ house for Easter?”. I couldn’t come up with a good reason to say no to that. I thought racing a 20k on some new trails would be a great way for me to push myself harder on a mid-distance run than I normally do during a training run. The entry fee was pretty reasonable at $30 for day of registration. In addition to all this, I would get to explore some new trails that are only about a 40 minute drive for me from home.
This was a smaller race than most I’ve run, both in the number of runners and distance. Including all three distances offered (20k, 10K, and 5K) less than 70 runners showed up. This could be in part due to the race date being rescheduled. I’m not writing this as a positive or a negative, but simply reporting it. In many ways I prefer smaller events over ones with huge crowds: parking isn’t an issue, day of registration is no problem, and they usually provide a better opportunity to chat and hang out with other runners at the finish. However, even for this race being a pretty small gathering in general, the crowd at the finish line seemed especially small. I would guess that in about an hour’s time from when I finished until after I ate a sub and some cheese balls before leaving, there were at most around 40 people including race volunteers/staff, runners, and spectators. My only explanation for the severe lack of a lively finishing celebration is that the majority of runners were running the 5k and 10k distances and most of them finished while nearly all of us running the 20k were in the midst of our second loop. I’m guessing that the majority of them finished their distance, got their fill of the subs, and headed out before any of us made it to the finish. Maybe I’m griping a bit here where I shouldn’t be, but found it mostly surprising and also a little disappointing that so few stuck around to cheer in the 20k finishers.
|The scene at registration at a park in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.|
I’m approaching this report a bit ass backwards, but I like to get complaints (however minor they may be) out of the way first. So let’s go back to my arrival at the park. Wells Mill County Park is just a few miles off the Garden State Parkway, making it barely out of my way as I traveled north on the parkway to visit my in-laws. Day of registration was painless and quick. I got my bib and awaited the start on a beautiful early spring day. I hung in with the lead group from the start of the race until about the first mile mark. We covered that at a 7 min/mile pace. At that point the group started picking up the pace a bit. My goal for the race was to run all 12 miles of it as hard as I could for the entirety of it without blowing up. With that plan in mind, I decided not to push too hard too early by chasing them. Without picking up my pace to keep up with the leaders, I was still able to keep the last runner of the pack in sight until about the 1.5 mile mark when the course cuts off of the fine, gravel maintenance road it had followed and hops onto some single track trail. From there the last of the lead pack was out of my sight.
Having never been at this park or seen any of the trails before, I really had no idea what to expect. All I knew for certain is that the course follows some trails that circumnavigate a lake. It turns out that the lake is much smaller than the trail network that we used to run around it. In fact, I don’t think the lake was actually visible through the trees until the last mile or so when the trail runs right along the edge of it. Even lacking lake views for the majority of the sixish mile loop, the trails were still pleasant and pretty fun to run. There were many more hills than I was expecting. There weren't an big climbs, this is still South Jersey after all, but many quick ups and downs which made the course interesting and forced me to stay focused.
|The start/finish area.|
During my first trip around the loop I was still catching glimpses of the last runner from the lead pack. After the first loop, the course hops back on to the straight gravel maintenance road that we ran in the beginning. This is the only section of the course where you can get a good look ahead for any amount of distance. Unfortunately, no runners were in sight ahead of me. I decided to try to crank up my effort for the second loop and see if I could catch anyone on the single track during the second loop. I was pushing and giving what felt like my maximum effort as I covered the miles and saw the familiar sights during the second loop. I developed a side stitch early on this loop and it continued for the majority of the lap. It was a bit surprising for me when I felt it because I usually don’t push to that exertion level during most races because most races I run are a much longer distance. During those races my goal is to only push as hard as I think I can maintain for the duration of 30, 50, or 100 miles which is never to the level of developing a side stitch. Nonetheless, I expect to incur a certain amount of pain and discomfort during any race so I did my best to bear it and continue to run through it.
When I hit the last mile or so of the loop, a stretch through a wetland area near the lake populated with Atlantic white cedars, and I hadn’t caught sight of any of the runners ahead of me I figured my chance of catching them before the finish was pretty slim. I was bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to catch any of them; I crossed the finish line in fifth place with a 1:40:33.2 finish time. Later after looking at the official results it was even more disappointing when I saw that I was only about a minute and a half behind the runner who finished just before me. It’s easy to second guess things in the moment, but it’s even easier (and probably unhealthy) to second guess decisions and question your effort after the fact. Being aware of this, it’s exactly what I did. Even in doing this, I know that I gave my best effort during the second half of the race and it wasn’t enough to do better than fifth on that day. Regardless of placement, a bit of disappointment, and the second guessing there were many positives I took from the race. I put in a hard 12 mile run. I got my first race of the year out of the way which I feel helps resolve some of the pre race nervousness in future races for the rest of the year. Lastly, I discovered some new trails with a few hills not too far from home for me to revisit. And I did it all en route to our family’s Easter weekend celebration.
April 22, 2018