I entered the Naked Bavarian 20 Mile Trail Race as a chance to have one of my Boston Marathon training runs be outside, without having to bring my own Gatorade with me. The Naked Bavarian fit perfectly in my training schedule, (and was like $30) so I said “Why not?” and signed up.
Unfortunately, the race had to be postponed three weeks due to snow – so instead of being my first 20 of the cycle, it now fell into what would have been a cutback week, and on a weekend where my first-grader had a birthday party to get to in the afternoon.
“Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll just slot it in as the third 20, and then have a fourth 20 the next weekend, and I’ll be EXTRA prepared for Boston. And I’ll run it relatively quickly – if I can average sub-9s for the race, I’ll be able to get back in plenty of time for the birthday party.”
So, with that in mind, I lined up at the start of the 20 miler at 9 AM. The 40-miler race had started at 8, and the marathon distance at 8:30, so I was feeling a bit like a slacker as I spent that hour in my car listening to podcasts and eating tootsie roll fruit candy.
The race director was very prompt, and we started at nine – on the button – cruising through about a quarter mile of parking lot to the sound of oompah music before we hit the quiet of the trails.
The Naked Bavarian was held in Blue Marsh Park, on a big lollipop course for the 40 and 20 milers (the 40 milers did the lollipop twice). The first and last section was a seven mile stretch, with a seven-ish loop in the middle.
The seven out was mostly gently rolling and slightly mushy single track – with some of the single-track being about a half a foot wide and deeply rutted into the hills, offering a bit of technical challenge – but all-in-all it was very runnable – for a trail race.
After the first mile, I was in the lead, with a shadow pack of about three/four guys one or two seconds behind me. Bombing through some nice trail hills, I didn’t manage to put any distance on any of them, but by the time I got to the first aid station and gulped a cup of Gatorade I had a more significant gap – five or ten seconds. I pushed on, and at the second aid station, at mile seven, I had a decent fifteen second gap – which I gave away immediately by crossing the road and trying to go around the loop counter-clockwise, when we were supposed to go clockwise. Called back by the aid station volunteers, two guys had passed me while I was on the wrong path.
I caught them on the road section, crossing a small bridge, and passed them to take the lead again, going up a trail into the hills again. Mile 8 was up that hill, down the backside, then onto an extremely runnable old overgrown road/gravel path, where I put some real distance on the guys behind me.
At this point, my goal in the race morphed from “average 8-9s so I can get home in time for the classmate’s party”, to “Dammit. Now I have to try to win this thing, don’t I?”
So I poured on the speed on the runnable sections, muscled up some hills, danced nimbly along a cliffside, then bombed down the back of a real good hill – and stepped on a patch of ice, had my legs go out completely from under me, spun around and busted my chin on a rock. After yelling some choice words, and scaring the 40-miler (the first 40-miler I was to catch that day) ahead of me, I got up and continued on. Soon I was forced to a walk up a monster of a hill (I think the locals call it ‘ski-slope hill’), and trudged past the 40 miler, who gasped at my appearance. “You might need a band-aid,” she said.
I touched my chin. A big splotch of blood came away on my hand. I tried the other hand. Yep, still free-flowing. “Awesome!” I said, overcome with the runner’s high.
The aid-station workers at mile 10.5 or so stared at me as I came up. “You need anything?” they asked, peering at my chin. “Some gatorade?” I said.
Crossing another bridge-thingy, I was on the north side of the lake, and due for three and a half miles of flattish running. This was good, because I needed some flattish running. I started passing lots of 40 milers, and not just the hiking back-of-packers. Those miles felt good, and clicked off in sub 7:30s – I think this is where I really built my lead.
I hit the bottom of the loop, and the second-to-last aid station – the one that had originally saved me from going the wrong way on the loop. “That’s the 20 mile leader!” one of them said to the other.
Heading back into the stick of the lollipop, I felt pretty good. I knew what was coming, roughly, having seen it ten miles before, in reverse. I knew there were two or three good hills, but it was all pretty smooth sailing. Plus, I was in countdown mode – “less than 10k to go – less than 5 miles to go – less than 4 miles to go”.
There were some pretty expansive sections where I could see a quarter mile or so behind me, and I couldn’t make out anyone within sight, so I was feeling alright about the win, too. Running a little scared, still, but feeling like I probably had at least a minute lead at that point.
Before the race I was talking to one of the other guys lining up at the starting line, and I had said “Yeah, 80% of the way into a trail race I always lose focus and twist an ankle or something.” At mile 16 I checked my split as my watch beeped (“7:30 – awesome!”) and then thought “Huh, this is 80% of the way through the race.” And then in about a quarter of a mile I kicked a root and went down for the second time that day, straight into a mud puddle, cutting both knees.
Despite this, I continued on, but was forced to a power-hike by three successive hills, one each mile. By the last one, I was almost crying and looking behind my shoulder the whole time, convinced I was going to lose the race within sight of the finish. The last hill I remembered, as my watch clicked over to 20 miles while I was walking, barely moving, pulling myself up tree-trunk by tree-trunk. I remembered barreling down it within the first mile of the race, two and a half hours before, laughing out loud to my fellow lead-packers, “This is going to SUCK on the way back!”
I had made a bargain with myself at this point. Actually, I had made several bargains. If I won, I would take a three week taper before Boston instead of doing a twenty the next week. Bargain one. Bargain two, when my watch hit “20”, I would sprint it in to the finish.
Halfway up the hill, my watch beeped twenty. I walked slightly faster. I looked back over my shoulder… no one was there. I reached the top of the hill, and shambled into a jog. I cleared the trail, and was back to the quarter mile of parking lot. I glanced over my shoulder again. No one. I began to believe I would win.
I turned onto the grass, heading for the music. I crossed the finish line, arms held as high as I could. 2:45:09. 8s on the nose. Cruelly, the “20 mile race” was actually more like 20.7 – at least that’s what my GPS says, and I’m sticking with it. It felt, of course, like 30 or 35.
A minute and a half later, one of the guys who had passed me at 7 came in, still looking strong. Three minutes later, third place came in. 8 minutes later, the first woman came in, in fourth overall. Most of the chase pack of four/five guys had fallen off more than 30 seconds per mile.
Salt encrusting my face, legs wobbly, first place trophy in my hands, I made my way to the car, stopping for a potato pancake (which I first thought was a hamburger, in my stupor) and a Smore. The Smore was incredible, and I’m super grateful for the ladies who thought to bring them along. And I made it back home with like an hour to spare before the birthday party.