The crowd gathers in the moments leading up to the start
The race began with us heading down and to the right. I started on the left side of the road, but worked my way over to the right-hand side before turning right on a road which took us around and behind the lodge. Working my way past other runners, the road soon gave way to a paved pedestrian trail. I was a little slower here than I wanted to be, but I couldn't find a good opportunity to eclipse the runner in front of me. Fortunately, we were back on the road in short order, and I was able to pass him up and establish my pace before turning onto another pedestrian trail 0.6 mile into the race.
On the road, before turning onto the pedestrian trail
We would take the pedestrian trail to the turn-around point three miles away and retrace our steps to the start/finish line. The race was largely uneventful for me along the pedestrian trail. As I neared the three-mile mark, I decided to count the runners as they passed by me, now headed in the opposite direction toward the finish line. After concluding I was in the top 40, I made it my goal to stay there for the remaining three miles. This was a hilly and winding trail, and, as I began to feel its effects on the return trip, I contemplated the tenuousness of my position.
My daughter on the same stretch of road
Not long after reaching the five-mile mark, I could hear the commotion at the finish line. That was music to my ears. How I wished I was there now. Instead, I was fighting to maintain 38th place. A runner had overtaken my position earlier, before I passed him back as he paused at the water station. But he was now in front of me again and running good. Coming down a switchback, I took a quick glance around at the trail behind me and saw no one. My position seemed secure. Shortly after turning onto the road again for the final 0.6 mile of the race, I observed a young female runner doubled over in a coughing fit at the top of the hill. Passing on her side, a weird and inexplicable mix of sympathy and envy overtook me. I felt bad for her and yet coveted her non-running status. And similar to how yawns are oftentimes passed around among people in close proximity to one another, I felt as if I, too, could have become sick had I stuck around.
Turning onto the road for the final 0.6 mile
I was now in 37th place and noticed I was quickly gaining on two others. They were downhill from me, and I knew I had only a small window of opportunity before the road leveled and began to climb again. I pushed it downhill, afraid that perhaps I was going too hard, and eclipsed the two runners. I kept pushing, trying to put as much distance between them and me before the road turned uphill for the final time. Ascending the hill, I could not outrun the sound of feet behind me. I was running out of gas, but I didn't want to give up the position for which I'd fought so hard. Ahead of me was the fellow who had passed me twice earlier in the race. He seemed to still be moving along fine, though I had shortened the gap by a considerable distance. I couldn't believe my eyes when he suddenly stopped running with the finish line in sight. I remembered having done the exact same thing last year at the Over the River 8-mile race. I lost a position over that, but I was so exhausted, I didn't care. I imagined this was how this man was feeling now. As I passed him by, I continued running hard up the hill, determined to stay at least a step ahead of the runner behind me.
Gun time was 50:00; official chip time was 49:52
I did maintain the 34th overall position to the finish and crossed the line at just under fifty minutes, one second ahead of the runner behind me. Being 34th out of 115 finishers sounds respectable, but I was way in the back of the pack, 7th out of 8 finishers, in the men's 40-44 category (incidentally, the man nipping at my heels down the finish placed 2nd in the 30-39 year-old division). I had run hard and never let up, while giving it all I could at the finish, so I felt good about that. And my time of 49:52 was 4:19 quicker than last year, another cause for celebration. My daughter would pull in about eight minutes later and take 3rd place in her division, just as she had last year. Upon her finish, we headed into the lodge for complimentary Taco Bell burritos prior to the awards ceremony. It felt great to sit down and reflect on our day at Tims Ford. This was, as we've come to expect, another successful and well-orchestrated state parks run!
Faster than last year by 1:32
After the race, food awaits in the lodge behind us