Sep 132011

By Danielle Triffitt

Friday night, Ryan asked me what my race strategy was. I was sitting in 1st place in the women’s standings for the series, with Julia only about 1 1/2 minutes behind me. He wondered if I was planning to just run my own race and see what happened, or stick with Julia and just make sure I beat her to keep the series win. The second idea didn’t sound like a very sporting race tactic to me, and besides, even if I did that, who was to say that it wouldn’t backfire? Nope. I was planning to run my own race. And run hard. Yes, Pisgah is next Sunday, but what the heck? I mean, what could go wrong?! (In all seriousness though, this year the course was muddy and slick and with all the twists and turns, and rocks and roots, there were a lot of people with seriously bloodied leg, arms and torsos and one guy who likely broke his wrist. Ouch. It’s not called the Bruiser for nothing! I feel lucky to have escaped unscathed!) Of course, I was feeling a bit of pressure with 1st place in my grasp. I am not used to this sort of pressure! I mean, I put pressure on myself, but I wasn’t used to all my friends knowing where I stood, and being in contention for 1st in anything running related. This was a new feeling. I wanted to do the TMRs proud, and not screw up 🙂

With this in mind, I was a bit frazzled this morning. Jessi came by to watch Sam for the morning, and although I knew she was in good hands and was going to have fun while I was gone, I was once again finding it hard to switch from “Mom” mode to race mode. I did a 1 mile warm-up, said a few brief hellos, stood in line way too long for the bathroom way to close to start time, and then made my way across the street, where I lined myself up, once again, with Jim and Julia. I noted Natasha was there, and figured, well, there is at least one woman who will beat me (cue, foreshadowing).

The key to the Bruiser is to get in a decent starting position off the snowmobile trail and headed into the Island, the first intestine-like stretch of trail that starts less than a mile into the race. I got into the singletrack off the snowmobile trail ahead of Jim, and with Natasha right on my tail. We lost Jim pretty early on in the Island and lost track of Julia too, but Natasha stuck to me like glue and became my partner, me ahead, her just behind, pushing me, prodding me to run faster. As we were running on the small uphill after mile 3, I saw Blaine just ahead – poor guy, he had twisted his ankle early in the race, although he rallied nicely to finish strong. I think it was around this point that Natasha and I got into this little void, just her and I running along. No one clearly ahead or behind. Odd. I didn’t want to let up at all with her right on my tail. I knew if I did, that she would blow by me and that would likely be it. So I chugged along. We ran mostly in silence, but when we popped out onto the snowmobile trail a bit before mile 7, she pulled up next to me and we chatted the whole way to the top. Gotta love trail racing 🙂 I headed back into the singletrack first and we ran along, together still.

Finally, somewhere around mile 8.5 or so, in the final singletrack stretch before the last aid station, she passed me. I knew it was coming. But once she sprinted past, I faltered a bit. I figured I would take a gel at this point, in the hopes of getting a final boost before the O Trail, but honestly, the stretch of Knights Woods trail up to the O was just plain painful. And then, the last, endless stretch of the race that is the O was all that remained. I tried to keep the pace up. But the quick twists and turns, and little ups and downs slowed me down. I couldn’t get into a rhythm. I could see people weaving through the trees all around me. Were they ahead? Or behind? And how far? Who knew? I was alone for a while, but finally, a chase group of 5 caught up to me. Three passed me, including Nate Pike. The other two stayed behind. I tried to stay with Nate, but failed. I just kept focusing on keeping moving, forward, toward the end, toward the light at the end of the tunnel. And finally, finally, finally, there it was! The stone wall! Just one last corner and I was at the end. Woohoo! I came in at 1:50:11, slower than last year by about 2 1/2 minutes, but somehow 2nd woman?! Where was Natasha? Turns out she got totally lost in the O Trail, and wandered around in there for a full 1+ hours before finally popping out and finishing the race. Poor girl! Talk about a bad dream!

Although slightly disappointed to not beat last year’s time, I was still happy with how I raced. I’m thrilled to have come in 2nd today, and to have managed to keep my spot in the series. I never would have thought I would ever win the series. I feel a bit silly about it in a way, but I guess that’s what happens when some of the fasties don’t do all the races and/or don’t show up 🙂 Many, many thanks to Jim, Julia and Natasha for pushing me in the races, and to Ian and Ryan and all the volunteers for making the races possible. Definitely an incredible series! And with lots of friends to boot. Can’t beat it!

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