The Bradbury Scuffle may be my favorite race of the entire year. It's short enough (6 miles) that you don't have to stress about the distance or your training, and it's not too tough (no major climbs) so you can just enjoy the singletrack and all the twists and turns. In short, it's fun. Additionally, this year, I'd volunteered to help Ian direct the race. In reality, he has it dialed in, but I like to think that I was at least able to help him relax a bit on race day. Plus, we had so many volunteers come out to help that things went very smoothly even with a record number of finishers: 147!
Going into the race, my mindset was that I'm definitely training through this race. I did run easy on Saturday, but other than that I'm in a building mode. No specific training or taper for this race at all. My legs were clearly a touch tired after running the Baldfaces on Monday and "racing" a 5k on Tuesday. So, I hoped to run well, but didn't expect anything spectacular.
After the pre-race set up, I snuck in a quick 1-mile warmup. It was humid. Temperatures had moderated from earlier in the week, but I knew that it still wouldn't be all that pleasant out on the course. Ian rolled through the pre-race announcements, including the reminder to all that the race is dedicated to Chris Douglass who was tragically killed in 2008. I never met Chris, but it's clear that his spirit lives on. His entire family comes out to volunteer or run the race. It's pretty special.
The start of the race was wild. Not only were there more entrants than ever, but there were more fast entrants than ever. The race went out shockingly fast. Way too fast for this guy. The initial downhill no doubt exacerbated the fast pace, and I watched a number of people pass me as I tried to settle into my pace. It wasn't time for me to race yet. I just wanted to stay relaxed and comfortable. After the turn onto the Snowmobile Trail, however, reality started to set in. I had really found my pace and moved up through the throng of runners that didn't realize the race wasn't just a half mile downhill. At this point, I was running with Tom Whitaker who is coming off a great 50 Mile race at Pineland. I congratulated him on his race and asked him how his recovery was going. He sort of dodged the question, so I assumed his legs would still be a bit tired. Ian was just in front of us, and I focused on him knowing that if I could stay with him through the more technical sections of the course, I'd have a good day.
Once onto the singletrack, I ended up leading a small group (five or six) with Tom right on my heels. Tom was clearly feeling good as we chatted a bit, mostly in Princess Bride quotes. (Oxygen debt makes you do crazy things.) As we wove through the Batcave Trail, we eventually hit the downhill section of it, and I heard one of the guys in our train say to another runner, "I'm not a great downhill runner, so let me know if you want to pass." At that point, I threw in a little surge and our group of five or six was down to just Tom and I. At this point, I felt like I had shifted from comfortable and relaxed to racing. I was going harder earlier in the race than I had planned, but I decided to just go with it. It was at this same point, that I saw Ian just ahead of us. I never expected to actually catch him on the technical portion of the course, since he's a much better technical runner than I am, so I decided to just focus on running behind him. We passed a handful of runners as we made our way along to Ginn. They had all clearly gone out too hard or were just not as comfortable on Bradbury's technical terrain. It was because of this traffic that I gapped Tom a bit.
The well-known strategy for this race is wait until the aid station to let it rip. At the aid station, the course turns left onto the Snowmobile Trail, and it's approximately 2 miles to the finish. The real technical running is behind you, and there is a significant downhill to come. I came into the aid station, just behind Ian and John Lamneck, a runner I know from the North Conway area who always seems to be just ahead in every race we run. Instead of stopping to drink like those guys, I grabbed a cup, dumped it on my head and took off. I couldn't see anyone in front of me, but I was hoping to change that.
When Valerie and I went out to mark the course on Friday, we made sure to take the course straight through all the deep puddles on the Snowmobile Trail. However, it has been so dry, the puddles were nonexistent. Imagine my surprise to find some deep puddles on race day. Saturday's rain had added a new element to the course, and the deep puddles only energized me as I tried to chase down the runners I couldn't see. Eventually, I did see a couple runners ahead of me and really focused on trying to reel them in. I didn't dare look back assuming that Ian would be right on my heels. With each step, I was closing in to the runner in front of me. I kept staring at his white hat. As I reached the new bridge, I could hear footsteps behind me. I never looked back, though, and I couldn't tell if it was one guy of five. I was totally surprised to see Tom go cruising by me with more Princess Bride. Apparently, he had recovered quite well from his 50-miler. I couldn't match his turnover, and he pulled away. I expected more runners to be with him, but he was alone. Now, it was just me chasing down the white hat with a mile to go.
From having run the course many times, I know just how painful the hill in the final half mile can be. I practically crawled up this hill last year. I was determined to run well on this hill no matter what. The white hat was still in front of me. Sometimes 10 yards. Sometimes as much as 50. The head games were on: "You can get him." "You're never going to catch him." I kept alternating between those two thoughts. In the middle of the hill, the white hat passed another runner who had started walking. When I was just about to pass the walker, he started running again. He was about three steps in front of me and wasn't running slowly. He went from walk to my pace very quickly. (Maybe I wasn't hammering as hard as I thought.) Immediately, I thought, "Dude, you're not going to get beat by a guy who was just walking." I gathered myself and went by him convincingly. I figured if he had been walking, I could break his spirit if I went by hard. Hey, no friends on race day.
Because of this acceleration, I closed the gap on the white hat. It was decision time: "Is this too much too soon?" I really wasn't certain. I decided to just go for it. Unfortunately, so did the white hat. We were getting close to a quarter mile to go at this point, and for one final time, I thought, "You're never going to catch him." I was just about all out, and he was still a few yards ahead of me. I'd been chasing the white hat for so long that I had to give it one last shot. There's one final left hand turn, and I saw him go a touch wide. It was the smallest of openings, and I started sprinting as hard as I could. I was really hurting, but I wanted to make another decisive move. I snuck by him on the inside and used the subsequent downhill to really open it up. Stephen Wells was cheering for me on the final right hand turn, and I was all out. By rights, I should have completely blown up, but I held it together through the finish in a time of 46:28, good for 20th place overall. Tom really put the hurt to me in the final 1.5 miles to finish 22 seconds ahead of me. The white hat was 7 seconds back.
Admittedly, I surprised myself. I didn't expect to run as fast as I did or feel nearly as good. I felt in control the entire way and could accelerate and really push it when I needed to. A bit of redemption for me this year, as well, running 4 minutes faster than 2009. That being said, the field was clearly stacked this year, as I finished 2 places lower this year despite the much faster time. Speaking of my 50+ minute race last year, Danielle easily topped that this year with an awesome race. Who needs speedwork? :) Great day for a number of other Trail Monsters, as well. On top of all that, my sister completed her first ever trail race and had a blast. All in all, I'd say the Bradbury Scuffle was a complete success. Thanks again to Ian for putting on a great race, and all the volunteers who made it all possible. Now, it's onto the Bradbury Mountain Breaker. I better get in some hill training, if I want to duplicate my success.