What a flash back the Wintercross 5k race was this weekend in Guelph. I had not competed in a XC running race since my high school days and I definitely had a blast reliving those days. There are so many unique characteristics of these events that make it much different than your usual road running race, the grass/dirt trails, spikes on the shoes, the commonly cooler weather and the team atmosphere. A nice change from my routine on the pavement or treadmill.
I started my morning off arriving much earlier than required as I thought it was a 9am start. My race, the first of the day, actually was not scheduled until 9:45am so I had lots of time to prepare and even had a chance to walk the 2.5k loop to grab a visual of the great course.
I would say half the trail was covering the dirt service road (with some mulch fill) and the other half along the short, matted down grass paths of the Guelph Arboretum. There were some smaller, yet steep, hills to negotiate along the loop but it was relatively flat with the biggest test coming right at the end of the loop or finish, depending on which lap you were completing.
After doing the full inspection, I picked a place out of the wind to get changed into my gear. When I took out my spikes, I realized the tiny studs that came with the shoes were a little on the short side. I promptly went over to the vendor tents and, thankfully, the first place I went to had a large assortment for sale so I made the switch. By the time I had put on my running gear and stretched, it was about 20 minutes to gun time.
I decided to head over to the course to warm up where I could feel how sore and tight my lower quads were from the intervals on Thursday. When I went through Thursday’s workout, I figured this may be the case but I wanted to keep my training schedule on track and just use the 5k race as part of the tune up for my next goal.
As race time approached, there was a huge gathering on the very wide starting line. The event was announced as a sell out capped at 200 runners and everyone seemed to want a piece of the chalk. Along the line, large teams of school aged kids were already marking their spot and ready to have run. I did not want to be a fun wrecker by pushing them back so I grabbed a place along side of the eager little racers and toed the line.
By the time we were sent off, several other older racers had bunched up beside me so it was a tight start. On the gun, I needed to get out to the front to avoid the crowds once we were to funnel onto the trail about 150 metres from the start. With the speed of the youngsters, this was not an easy task but I managed to get up into the top 20 or so in time for the narrowing of the course.
We were out very quick as a group. I would love to tell you exactly how fast I was going but I had a brain cramp earlier in the morning and totally forgot my watches. Luckily, I knew Tyler Lord was racing the 5k (from reading his blog) so my plan (as of the car ride to the race) was to follow him as closely as possible. He is a very smart athlete with his pacing and has always hit the finish line before me. If I was able to stay near him I should run a respectable race.
Around 200 metres into the run Tyler pulled up beside me so I had my rabbit. We had a lot of younger athletes still out in front of us but I did not worry as I was sure many would burn out down the trail. There are very few runners under 20 years of age that are patient enough to run 5k races at an even pace as they tend to go out too fast and fade towards the end. I know this all too well from my own experiences back when I was a teen.
Cruising along, I continued to mark my pacer, staying just a few metres back as we made our way around the slightly rolling loop. My legs were not quite as fresh as I would have liked but I was hanging in there. At the end of the first lap we had the burner of a climb that wound through the start area. This took a little more out of me than expected so I started to fear I was going too quick. My competitive spirit had to take over now as there were so many runners that would have passed me if I was to let off the gas.
Thankfully, it was just over 2k to the end when everything started to really hurt. With my training efforts, I knew I would make it but I wanted to defend my current position. As Tyler made his way past a few more athletes, I was also able to make the same move and before I knew it I was getting very near the final climb and I was still only a few spots back of my fellow multisport athlete.
Finally, I could see the dreaded 150 metre climb up the grassy hill to the tape. I was hoping to just cruise at my current pace up the slope to finish under control but I suddenly heard some chasers making a move on my right. I was not about to give up my spot in the last couple hundred metres so I threw on the jets and started to pull away from the attack. During this sprint I was able to grab one more spot of my own as I hit the line in a clock time of 18:03.
That was good enough for 10th spot overall and 2nd in the 30-39 Age Group (the overall winner was in my AG!). It was also a PB for an actual 5k distance race so I was very happy to see some more progress even at this point in the season.