The ninth race in the 2012 Gold Country Grand Prix was the Cystic Fibrosis 5K, sponsored by Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and held on the trails at Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley. The course started down rolling gravel road and alternated between rocky single track and dirt fire road before climbing to finish where it began near the headworks of the main mineshaft. The shade of ponderosa pines and oak trees ensured that the 9am start did not result in excessive temperatures, which I was concerned about after my runs on Catalina Island last week.
Twirly dropped me off at ten to nine and I hustled over to the registration table to get my bib and tote bag. Warming up was truncated due to the 14 miles I planned to run after the race (my marathon training called for 17); I just did some strides in the parking lot to get my heart rate up before the start. I looked around to see who was participating from my age group and saw that Machen, whom I am chasing for second place, was present, but Kevin (chasing me for third) was not. Coming in, my strategy was to stay ahead of Machen and not let Kevin get more than a spot ahead of me, and Kevin's absence made things simple: go out on Machen's hip and stay there until it is time to kick to the finish, that way I could reserve my energy for my long run home and still make up a couple of points on second place. Twirly made it to the start line in time, but did not get any successful pictures of the herd as we charged down the gravel road.
Even though I was near the front of the pack, the cloud of dust became uncomfortably thick during the first half mile. I started as planned, right on Machen's hip. It seemed that every time I slowed to ensure I stuck with him, he slowed as well. We yo-yo'd back and forth as the descending road became single track and it was obvious I was going to have to abandon my lurker plan and just go out and hold a lead. The trail had become fast and I felt comfortable using my new downhill skills to build a gap while I could. My first mile clicked by at 6:57, and I knew that climbing back up that hill was going to require some energy. A quick check of my body (good, no niggles) and surroundings (no footfalls or heavy breathing behind me) gave me enough confidence to back off a bit for the relatively flat second mile. I found myself running with the familiar faces of the top women and the other usual second to third place men aged 30-39 & 50-59. The second mile went by at 6:59.
As I expected, the last mile required some power hiking, and at that point I let my fellow racers pull away up the hill, as I had no one giving chase (at least not Machen!). I picked up the pace as I neared the finish, and clocked a 22:23, 18th overall, my third fastest 5K and second place for my age group. Second place in the Grand Prix is only three points away with two races remaining. A lot depends on which race Rob, the first place runner (clinched the lead by dozens of points) decides to run. I can accrue enough points for second place if he opts for the 5K's. Since my goal is a top three (which is secure as long as I show up), and I am focused on marathon training, I will likely not be too competitive in the final two 10K races. Just like today, I have a long run scheduled on the next race day, and the final race in the series, the Turkey Trot, comes just ten days before the marathon.
The volunteers and course marshals were really helpful and supportive. Quite a few were from the local tri-athalon team, and their encouragement was heartfelt. There was plenty of Gatorade and water at the finish, but no aid along the course, which was not too much of an issue due to the shade and comfortable temperatures.
After the awards ceremony I pounded a bottle of water, ate a Chia Surge gel and set off to run 14 miles home. The long runs are beginning to hurt more near the end, but my recovery is getting shorter, so I think everything is in order for the Bizz Johnson 50K next weekend!
Here is the Garmin data from the race: