April 27, 2014

Race Report: Spring Backyard Burn Series (4 Races)

After a winter of running through the polar vortex and managing a surprising 170 miles through the first couple months of the year, it was time for early season racing. The first races this year were with EX2 Adventures Spring Backyard Burn, a series of four trail races in northern Virginia. Though I didn’t put in much trail work or speed work in the offseason, it was a very successful series, and I touched every step on the podium.

Race #1: Hemlock Overlook

Per the race website, “Hemlock Overlook, located along the banks of the historic Bull Run, feels surprisingly remote for being so close to Washington D.C….This challenging race course consists mostly of hiking trails (including the Bull Run Occoquan Trail), old dirt roads, and open fields. Competitors will run over rocks and roots, cross a few streams, and up some hills.”

It was a bitter and cold morning to kick off the series, with volunteers out early throwing salt on top of ice lining a section of roadway. Due to some heavy snow and trail damage the week prior, the race organizers modified the course to do a “prologue” loop around a small lake before heading out on the traditional loops in the second portion of the course; this change meant crossing a concrete drainage spillway twice, running straight through a few inches of cold water. After the prologue and plunging through the water, racers made their way up a steep incline and started the rolling hills of Hemlock. This was my first experience with this course, and it was certainly a challenge. I came through the first few miles in first overall, but unfamiliarity with the course and my lack of winter trail work was taking its toll. I encountered a lot more elevation change than expected and had to pull back a bit on the final hills, falling to second place about 1.5 miles from the tape. The final mile was technical rock-hopping and I caught the end of the race on their first loop of this section, so there was a lot of traffic to fight through and avoid. Through the traffic, up a muddy incline, and across the finish line in second place overall, my best finish to date in the EX2 BYB series.

Results:    42:28 (5.5 miles)
Podiums:  2nd Overall  |  1st Age Group (M30-39)

Race #2: Wakefield Park

Unfortunately the original race date encountered a winter blast of snow and was postponed to conflict with the Shamrock Half Marathon. It was too bad, as missing an entire race was a blow to my series point total that I couldn’t recover from, and I was looking forward to testing out the STABILicers in a race environment.

Race #3: Fairfax Station

Per the race website, “Fountainhead Regional Park is situated along the banks of the Occoquan Reservoir in Western Fairfax County. This race course is beautiful and consists mostly of hiking trails (including the Bull Run Occoquan Trail), horse trails, and old dirt roads. Competitors will run over rocks and roots, through several streams, and up some hills.”

I was familiar with the Fountainhead race course from a prior 5-miler and also from a hilly trail half marathon, so I knew the early miles were rolling hills and the final miles had a few steep climbs. I went off with the lead pack right away to take advantage of the easy first stretch along a paved road. A quick right turn had competitors bombing down steep embankments, through mud pools, and up root-covered climbs. Through these technical sections I picked off a few runners on the inclines, moving up to third place overall. As the pack came out of the first section of trail and back onto the roadway headed towards the water, I made another move and quickly got on the heels of the lead runner. I made my final move after a steep descent that had us both come to almost a standstill to make the 90-degree turn at the bottom. Legs searing from the descent and sudden directional change, I decided the leader must be hurting as much as I was, and I figured a mental move now would be to throw in a quick sprint to put some distance between us. It worked and I gained a 10-yard advantage, which I continued to push out through more technical descents, a stream crossing, and a log bridge. As I approached the final mile of climbing, I lost sight of the pursuers on some straightaways and held a bit in reserve, taking the final hills with a smooth cadence and eye on my back. I came through the finishing chute in first place overall!! My first overall victory at EX2 and my first overall victory in racing after a string of bridesmaid finishes.

Results:    36:25 (5.0 miles)
Podiums:  1st Overall  |  1st Age Group (M30-39)

Race #4: Prince William Forest

“With 15,000 acres, 37 miles of hiking trails, and 21 miles of biking accessible roads and trails, Prince William Forest Park offers the perfect setting for a trail running race. The largest park in the Washington DC metro area, this hidden gem lies just south of the city. This race course has it all, from single-track hiking trails to fire roads to open areas. Come experience the natural beauty and tranquility of this amazing park.”

The PWFP course was the least technical of the series, starting with an out-and-back on a road and spending quite a bit of time on fire roads and gravel paths. I ran the race pretty much tape-to-tape in the top three positions. I tended to grab the lead or make progress in the few technical sections, and lost ground on the easier roads. Unfortunately, the tall guys ahead of me were able to really use their stride on the abundant roads, pulling away in the latter half of the race. And it didn’t help my pursuit when I fell hard in the final mile, but at least the race photographer didn’t catch my tumble. I came through in third place overall.

Results:    33:47 (5.1 miles)
Podiums:  3rd Overall  |  3rd Age Group (M30-39)

The Verdict

Unfortunately, by missing a race, I dropped to 2nd place in the overall points series. If I was able to run Wakefield in the top 4, I would’ve managed the series title as well. But oh well, it was a great BYB series, and I brought home more pint glasses than I know what to do with.