March 11, 2012

Race Report: Backyard Burn (Wakefield Park)

It was a crisp, cold morning for the second race in the EX2 Adventures Backyard Burn series. This week the course was set-up at Wakefield Park in Annandale, with a 5.6-mile and 10.05-mile option. I spent a good portion of last year's marathon training running on the horse trail beside the W&OD Trail, so I have logged some miles off-road, but most of them were straightaways and easy, there's never been any boulders or trees to really worry about. So this being my first official trail race, I opted for the shorter distance.

Race Day

I arrived early, picked up my bib number, and stayed in the car with the heat on to combat the 35-40 degree weather; it was around this time I started to rethink my decision to go with just short sleeves and arm warmers. The pre-race check-in went smoothly, and I took advantage of the free coffee to keep warm. The race briefing was short and uneventful, although they did have a company with a remote-operated camera on an RC helicopter, so the eye in the sky was hovering about 20 feet overhead, filming and taking pictures.

Both distances were on the same course, with a short prologue leading to a 4.5-mile loop that the shorter distance ran once and the 10-milers ran twice. The first mile and a quarter was on a gravel road and then a jeep trail and some grass, nothing too technical and a good opportunity to do a lot of passing before the singletrack trails. Passing by the first aid station, the course turned into the woods, with singletrack trails made up of varying surfaces, everything from damp/sandy smooth trail to man-placed rock and broken concrete. There were a few stream crossings but nothing where a well-placed foot couldn't avoid the drink.

Most of my trail training has been on fairly straight trails or at least trails with minimal sharp turns. The Wakefield course had a lot of sharp turns, including some extreme switchbacks that had me reaching for trees to swing around. There were several times where I got caught up with speed, turned a corner wide, and had to take evasive action to avoid a poorly-placed tree or undergrowth.

About 3 miles in, I was in a good pace group of about four runners, putting a gap between myself and the chase pack behind. I was getting a bit concerned about going out too hard, so I pulled back the pace a bit and ended up running about five seconds behind someone coming off the group of four. I paced with him for a mile or so, through some technical turns, until the final three-quarters of a mile when I had caught up and was pretty much tailgating (sorry!); he asked if I wanted to overtake and I reluctantly did so...he was at a good pace and I wasn't sure how much faster I really wanted to go. But I was definitely tailgating too close if he had to ask, so probably poor trail etiquette on me. I said thank you and pushed a bit to open a gap. The woods slowly opened back up to the jeep trail (photo below) with a half-mile to go. That's when I kicked in any remaining energy and accelerated into the finishing chute.

The Results

5.6 miles :   39:23  |  7:02/mile
Placing :   Overall 9th  |  Age Group 5th

Though I was unsure of my pace and my effort at times in my trail debut, I ended up quicker than anticipated, coming through the finish line in 9th overall. At first I wasn't sure how that time held up in the trail world, especially for a non-technical course. After about 15 minutes of milling about, I checked on the board and what do you know, I had cruised in with a respectable placing. I could not have been more pleased with those results, especially since I felt tentative on the course. To be honest, I had a lot of feelings about more than just today's race; it was my first race since my injury-slowed Marine Corps Marathon, the first time pushing myself in the months of recovery, and I well exceeded my expectations with no pain on course. Really gives me hope for a decent 2012 season, as the lingering hip issue hopefully continues to fade.

The top five finishers in each age group received awards of EX2-branded pint glasses. It was a little odd to be included in the M30-39 finisher photo in the 5-spot, standing next to the podium, but hey, I'm not going to complain about getting a pint glass.

When my wife saw my pint glass she commented, "Fifth place, you got something for fifth place? You don't even get anything for fifth place in MarioKart." That's my support system right there, haha.

The Swag

Registration for any of the Backyard Burn events comes with a t-shirt for the series featuring nice multi-color graphic on the back, heavy on the race series and light on the sponsors. So that was a nice bonus...we all know I only run for free shirts and bananas. Another nice addition was that Swim Bike Run Photography was on hand, just as they are for the Pacers races, taking shots of the race; they always get high-quality shots and their prices are decent.

And the post-race tents were really impressive, some of the best in the business. The sports doc I've been seeing for my hip (Positively Chiropractic) was there as a sponsor; they manned the first aid and recovery tent, and to avoid a line they had a sign-up sheet for free post-race active release therapy and massages. So that was a great benefit; sign up sheet meant I could grab food while waiting. It was great to see Dr. Kathy and her team and get some quick (and free) work done on my hip and hamstrings to limit the aches and pains later. But I did feel bad for them; it's one thing to bend me around like a pretzel in their office, it's another to do it after a race when the patients are sweaty and the socks aren't fresh. Lucky Foot was also there doing some video recording and gait analysis with an iPad.

The food spread was overwhelming; outside the traditional Gatorade, water, and bananas, they also had Papa Johns pizza, trail mix, M&Ms, granola bars, cookies, Oreos, popcorn, chips, bagels, oatmeal, hot chocolate, coffee, soda...pretty much anything you would ever need. I didn't even make it all the way down the table. The hot pizza was an especially nice post-race snack, taking care of a few fuel needs and lunch at the same time. All I needed was a beer (I got to that later at home, with my new pint glass of course).

The Verdict

EX2 Adventures is a great organization, put on a great race, and I was impressed by the set-up, logistics, volunteers, and post-race festivities. The entire event had a laid-back and fun feel that is missing from a lot of oversold road races. I will definitely be back for future fall and spring Backyard Burn races.