Trout Creek Trail Run 15K
I wasn't sure what to expect from my second trail race of the year. Although I was slowly getting stronger, this event was three times as long as the 5K I had run back in February, and I had only recently increased my long run to nine miles. Plus, this was an unfamiliar course that I would see very little of before the start. My primary goal was to finish, running as much as possible, and otherwise just do as well as I could.
It was a cool morning for Central Florida (40 degrees), so I brought some cold weather gear along and settled on shorts, gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, a cap and my new polarized prescription sunglasses for a combo of sun and cold protection. It turned out to be a pretty good balance, as the course would consist of both shaded trails and wide-open berm (dirt) roads.
One thing that was slightly unusual in this race was that the start and finish were not close together. I wanted to ensure I was familiar with the starting area, and scouted that out early. However, this cost me the chance to check out the last mile of the course, and I later wished I had a better idea of where I was in the last mile.
The start itself was unique - straight up a short but steep climb up to the top of the berm. The 15K and 5K started simultaneously, with the 15K runners heading left and the 5K runners heading right, sharing the same finish. I placed myself near the very back. At the start I swallowed my pride and began this race by... walking. I joined a few others in this approach. I just felt that the race was very long for me, and I did not want to start by pulling some muscle from the get-go, on a cool morning when I had minimal warm-up (at that point 15K was enough running). Once up on the berm, I began running conservatively, with nearly the entire field in front of me, the leaders already distant. The course followed the berm for a short distance, then turned down into the woods among the palmettos for most of the first 5K. It was narrow at first, more crowded than I was used to, but having other runners pull and push me along really helped. I kept things relaxed for the first three miles or so and felt pretty good.
And then something totally unexpected happened. A long, low bridge over a stream was flooded and completely underwater. The course did not detour around this obstacle. Two women in front of me paused, and conferred on whether to remove their shoes or just go for it. Somewhat stunned by this whole development, I paused momentarily too. I could pretty much tell running through this would completely soak my socks and shoes, and I would face about 10K of running with wet, heavy shoes. On the other hand, taking them off would cost time at both ends of the bridge, to say nothing of exposing my bare feet to whatever lay under the dark water. Another man quickly caught the three of us. I kicked myself for delaying and ran on into the waters, which soon covered the tops of my Asics, well up my shins, and deep enough to slow my pace. The water soaked through and was cold. And my shoes were heavier. I told myself that everyone would have to deal with this same issue.
I actually still felt pretty good until we reached the middle of the race with an extended portion out in the open, up on the berm. I tried to pick up the pace a bit and found I did not have another gear available due to my lack of speedwork to that point. A few guys passed me here, so quickly I wondered if they were out doing some speedwork of their own, not running a 15K. What were they doing behind me before?
The last 5K was back on trails and grass and I tried to make up some time despite feeling far from fresh. Most likely I was just minimizing the slowdown process. With a lack of mile markers, it was hard to tell my pace or exactly where I was. At least the turns were generally well-marked. There were four water stops, and I used all of them and seemed to stay hydrated ok. The last mile included another surprise ( I had heard something about this on the web, so it wasn't really a mental shock, more of a physical one). A steep, narrow hill the size of a sand dune, with a trail up it so steep and narrow I had to walk up it, and down, for fear of toppling on my wobbly legs. The finish came soon after, with a long straightaway perfect for unleashing a final kick. I picked up the pace but I was too far back to even give someone else a good push to the finish.
The finish area featured a DJ and good food and drinks. I had done all right for myself this day, though the race results told a sobering story. I finished near the bottom of my age group, and many men and women with 5, 10, and in some cases even more years on me, had crushed me today. These Tampa-area trail runners proved to be a tough group indeed. The overall winner, a men's masters runner, set a new course record. Congrats to the race director, Jim Hartnett, on a great event.
Pros: well-organized race and well-marked course, four good water stations
Cons: if I'm being picky, and maybe a trail newbie... very few mile/distance markers (exception - a good one in the last1/4 mile reading "it's monkey time!")