On Friday morning, I was 90% certain I wasn't going to run the 2011 edition of the Bradbury Bruiser. However, after successfully negotiating five miles at The Brad without hurting my already gimpy ankle, I bumped the odds up to 50%. On Saturday, I felt really fresh running 5 miles pushing the kiddo in the BOB. So, the odds became a bit better. I packed up my gear with the intention of running on Sunday, but I hadn't fully committed even when I arrived at The Brad. Luckily, I was distracted by making final race preparations, helping with registration and setting up the finish area. Before I knew it, the time had come to race, so I just made my way over with the rest of the crew. I guess I'm running.
I lined up a couple rows back, and at the cowbell, I was surprised to find myself taking off at race pace. I was very nervous about completely wrecking my ankle, so I made sure I could see where I was landing at all times. Going into the first section of singletrack, I was right behind fellow Trail Monster Dave Roberts and was feeling very comfortable with the pace. Scott Hornney was just behind, and we chatted as we negotiated the Island Trail. The roots were certainly a concern, and I took all the corners fairly wide since it seemed all the gnarliest pieces were on the inside. My gait was part run, part tiptoe. Cautious doesn't fully describe it.
It was a huge relief to reach the end of the Island Trail. Not that it's much less technical on Lanzo, but it's a bit more open and less twisty. I was also stunned with my time at this point: 14:55, which was nearly identical to last year, when I was in a much better race mindset. And, it was clear on this day that I was not in a race mindset. I remember thinking at one point when I could feel a number of guys behind me, "Ugh...I guess I'm racing." Not a good way to perform at a top level.
Shortly after the ridiculous mountain bike bridge on Ginn, I passed Dave as I felt like I was moving a little better on the uphills. Jeremy jumped around me a few seconds later looking like he was out for an easy jog. I tried to stay with him for a bit, but he was moving far too well. It was at this point that I realized that acidotic Racing's Dan Dion and Rich Lavers were right behind me. "Ugh...I guess I'm racing." Dan stayed with me as we entered the Bat Cave Trail, but Rich had fallen off the pace a bit. After nearly running into a handful of mountain bikers who seemed confused by the sight of people not biking, Dan and I turned onto the Snowmobile Trail together. He and I had been chatting back and forth sporadically, and I was both pleased to feel very comfortable at my present pace and to have not rolled my ankle. And, to my surprise, I caught a glimpse of Jeremy up ahead. I yelled to him, "Jeremy, come here!" but he didn't oblige. So, I decided to pick up the pace and try to catch him. I was feeling fairly strong on the uphills and was able to drop Dan and come within a few seconds of Jeremy as we turned back onto the singletrack of Ginn.
Ginn and the subsequent turns on Fox West were really my downfall. It's very rooted through those trails, and I was having trouble finding good lines. I never rolled my ankle, but I slowed considerably. Jeremy became a distant memory, and Dan caught me shortly before we crossed Old Tuttle Road and stayed right on me all the way to the final aid station. Physically, I was still feeling pretty strong, and it definitely helped to have him pushing me. Coming out of the aid station and onto the Knight's Woods Trail, I picked up the pace. That hill is my least favorite in the entire park, but I knew that if I had any chance of staying ahead of Dan, I needed the largest advantage I could get before the O Trail. I dug down on this section and felt like I was really pushing hard for the first time all day. I was able to gap Dan and give myself a little cushion going into the O. I made that fateful left-hand turn at 1:14:47 on my watch and totally stunned to see that it was faster than last year by about 30 seconds. I was well-within myself and tiptoeing around the countryside.
Less than a minute into the O, it happened. I rolled my ankle hard. I hobbled for a few steps, said a few choice words, and started walking. I only walked a few strides, though, as it wasn't the complete blow-up I feared, which let me know that it was going to hold up for the rest of the race and beyond. Sure, it's injured, but the strength is returning. "I'm actually going to finish!" Of course, only moments after all these happy thoughts another runner went flying past. "Ugh...I guess I'm STILL racing." I could see that Dan was not far behind and just past the totally unnecessary mountain bike playground bridge, I stepped aside to allow him, another runner and a back-from-the-dead Rich Lavers go past. I soldiered on, but I knew I was being caught again. Fellow Trail Monster, Randy Woods and another runner went by. Well, that's six places lost in the first half of the O. Just keep tiptoeing.
Ian and I marked the O Trail on Saturday morning, and this really helped my mental state. Last year, which was also the last time I was on the O, I struggled with every step of the labyrinth, but this year, I actually enjoyed it. I had a good idea of where I was and how far I had to go. Granted, people were flying by me, but I basically knew what to expect from corner to corner. Of course, I did overrun a few corners and get off course a couple times. It's impossible not to in the O. During our course marking expedition, Ian had pointed out to me a tree that signified one mile to go. Shortly after I passed that tree one race day, I caught Dan, who said something to the effect, "Where the hell am I?" I told him I had a rough idea, but he didn't want to know. Clearly, the O had broken his spirit because physically, he'd been running strong all race. That's why the O is so tough. Of course, I didn't stick around to help and tried to tiptoe a little faster. I hit the final rock outcropping and knew I was almost done.
As I popped out onto the Knight's Woods Trail, my good buddy Nate Alsobrook had walked back to cheer me on. I said to him, "It's hard to run that trail on one leg," and glanced at my watch. I had about 30 seconds to break 1:40:00. "All right, I guess I'll sprint." I was happy to find plenty of pop in the legs and motored across the line with a smile on my face in 1:39:54 for 17th place.
Unlike the Breaker last month, my legs definitely felt race ready. Clearly, the limiting factor was the ankle in both strength and my cautiousness. The care was warranted, though, as I really needed to come out of the race without further injury. Mission accomplished. In fact, on Monday both ankles were equally sore, which is to say, not very. My head wasn't in race mode, but that will come. It's encouraging to feel a little bit of fitness coming back. Without the ankle injury and with a little more focus, I'm confident I would have run at least 3:31 faster. I lost a ton of time and five places in the O, but there really wasn't anything I could do about it. I wasn't really running for a lot of it. But, all in all, a very good race/non-race for me, and I'm stoked I decided to run.
A lot of great races out there and also a lot of blood, bruises and other maladies. People were really going for it this year, apparently! Once again, D had a terrific race, finishing second and wrapping up the series title on the women's side. Really happy for her, even though she thinks it's "silly." And, despite "never" running well at "his races," Ian had a huge PR, and his head has swelled to unheard of proportions. Deservedly so. Trail Monster Running once again took the team title, and 72!!! people earned Bad Ass status for completing all three races. A great way to wrap up the summer series. Now onto the Bradbury Mountain Snowshoe Series!