Another Dirty Spokes Win for Haley

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Dirty Spokes Heritage Park 7.5 mi Trail Race recap by Matt Haley

Heritage Park marks the second race of the Dirty Spokes Trail series and it’s typically a bit of a ball buster for me. At, roughly, 7.5 miles it always seems like it’s just outside of my comfort zone this time of year. Going into the race, I’d been logging good mileage in the mid-40s to 50s as part of my typical steady build up and I even threw in a hill workout to try and start working on some strength.

I felt like I ran pretty well at Mayhem on the Mountain, but I figured Heritage park would be a better litmus test for where my fitness is right now. The course is a little more rolling and doesn’t have the same short steep climbs as the last race. Things start out on a gravel road that loops around the park’s large open arena, through the parking lot then past the barn and onto the trails. The majority of the course is run on well worn mountain bike trails with a couple of sections using wider, double-track equestrian trails. Like I said before, it’s a rolling course with a good mix of flat, up, down, and turns before hitting decent climb in the final 3/4 of a mile back up to the arena where the race finishes.

My plan was to stay relaxed early and work my way into it letting the short course (2.8 miles) guys go out and just run my own race. I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations. This is a weird race where sometimes you’ll get a UGA guy that comes down from Athens, hell one year a guy from Australia that was teaching up there showed up and destroyed. Of all the Dirty Spokes races this one is the one that has the highest wildcard factor in terms of competition.

For once I actually got out the door on time. I was in the car and moving at 6:30 to make the hour drive out to Watkinsville and made it out their with plenty of time to get situated. I checked in and grabbed my number then continued my tour of the bathrooms of the lower 48 states – that’s what my mom and dad used to say whenever my brother or I would have to go to the bathroom when we were driving cross country as kids.

It was a cold morning with the temperature hovering in the mid 20s. That wouldn’t be bad for early February under normal circumstances, but earlier in the week it was in the mid 50s and low 60s, so the 30 or 40 degree temperature swing made the cold a little more biting. With the cold and the long drive, I wanted to make sure I got nice and warmed up, so I headed out for a 15-20 minute warm up on the opening section of the course. As I was heading back to the car I ran into Mitch Novy as he was getting ready to head to the start. In true Keene State, ragamuffin fashion I was grabbing gloves, arm warmers, and my jersey all while tying my shoes with about 10 minutes to spare before the gun.

When we made it to the start we both exchanged pleasantries with the usual suspects. It’s really cool to see how competitive the series is through all the age groups for men and women. There are some serious battles that really heat up as it goes along. I love talking with those guys before and after the races. There are some guys and gals that are killing it in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and I hope that I am still out there getting after it like they are.

I told Mitch that I wasn’t planning on going out hard and I was focusing on just settling in and trying to ease into things. Since his race was 2.8 miles, he was prepped and ready to go out hard, XC spikes and all. And go out hard he did. At the guy, my man was gone. He instantly had a 10 meter lead, with a young kid – maybe 12 or 14 – trailing behind him. I was a little behind the young gun while everyone else settled in behind me. As we worked our way around arena on the gravel road, I gradually started pulling the two leaders back in. I was a little conflicted because I glanced down at my watch and we ran about a 75 second first quarter, which was much, much quicker than I wanted to go out. However, I was sitting in no mans land and I’ve always enjoyed running on gravel roads, especially, flat, fast gravel roads.

Roughly a half mile into the race I realized that Mitch had settled in and I decided to try and pull him in and run with him until the split. I pulled up along side of him and we ran side-by-side before dropping onto the singletrack. I pushed ahead to take a slight lead figuring I would be better off keeping the the pace higher and trying to separate myself from the pack early. I was little surprised that Mitch let me open up a little bit of a gap but he kept it pretty close for the first two miles. I think we both realized that we had a nice early cushion and settled in shortly after the mile mark. Just before 2.5 miles we had to cross a small creek (or crick as they say down here). There was a photographer there and after the race I was all jacked to see the picture because a bunch of people put theirs on facebook. Mine did not come out so hot. I felt like I looked so smooth going over it, but that was not the case.

Seriously, what is that? I look like I’m afraid of a spider or something. Embarrassing. Ferenc is going to be pissed that I’m making the jersey look bad, but stay tuned it gets better. Anyway, after the crick we went through the split where I raced deeper into the woods while Mitch made the turn to head back to the finish. From there on out I was pretty much on my own. It’s always hard to tell how far up or down you are on some of these trails that double back on themselves, so each time I caught a glance of someone else I tried to put my nose to the grindstone and get rolling.

Once I made it through four miles, I had a pretty good feeling that I was well in control. I have been trying to take some of the things that Coach Quinn talks about to the team into my running, with the main theme being that ‘it’s about us’. It doesn’t matter what the other team does or what anyone else does as long as we/I do what I’m supposed to do. My goal in that is to stop worrying about what’s going on behind me and just focus on the road/trail ahead of me. It’s probably not a coincidence that I run my best when I’m focused on what I need to do versus what the people behind me or in front of me are doing.

I tried to stay focused on racing, but I ended up just kind of settling in and going into cruise control for the second half of the race. I felt like I was doing a good job of pushing the pace on some of the flat sections, but I was feathering the brakes a little on the downhills. We’ve had a good amount of rain down here over the last month or so and a lot of the downhills were pretty washed out which had me a little worried about rolling an ankle.

Heritage Park has a ravine/gully type feature to it with creek, sorry crick running along the bottom. The course runs down to the crick in the first half of the race, crosses it, then works its way along side before crossing again and then climbing back out of the gully. By the time I reached the base of the climb back out I knew I had the win sown up. To try and get myself going again I wanted to finish under 50 minutes, which meant I needed to make the final climb and finishing stretch in under five minutes. This stretch is a little more than a half mile, so I felt like it was doable, but I ended up cresting the climb and coming out of the woods right around 50 minutes and finished the 7.5 mile race in 50:21.

That Untapped hat looks good on the top step

I was happy to get the win. I don’t think I’ve ever won at Heritage Park before. Like I said, it’s a tough race for me fitness-wise and a lot of times you get one or two guys that are just straight up faster than me. I thought I’d be able to run a little bit quicker, as I’ve run in  the 48s on this course before, but I’ll chalk that up to trying to shake people and/or chase people down the last couple of years. I entered the race hoping it would give me a better idea of my fitness early in the year, but came out of it just as unsure as I was before. I feel like I’m set up better than I was last year though.

I spent a ton of time during December and January trying to get my hamstring right. It’s still tight every now and again, but I’m in a better spot than I was at this time last year. I’m still working on it, but my mileage is much better this year. I’m probably not quite were I was going into 2013 but I feel like I’m closer to that than where I was last year, which is a good thing. My first goal race is still more than a month away, so for now I just need to stay course and keep working.

Overall Heritage Park was a success. It was a solid run at a good tempo and most importantly it was on singletrack. I need all the practice I can get on singletrack and technical trails going into River Gorge. Next up is the Thrill in the Hills half marathon on February 20th. I’m not viewing that as a race, more of a long workout. Obviously, I want to perform well, but I know I’m not quite ready to race that distance. That being said, it will be a really good tune up a month out from River Gorge.

Here’s what the race looked like on Strava

After the race I drove over to Watkinsville proper and stopped at Jittery Joe’s for a nice hot cup of coffee to refuel for the ride home. I went with their Tour de Force dahhk roast and dropped a spoonful of Untapped maple in it and munched on a maple waffle. Jittery Joe’s is a really cool coffee shop based in Athens, in fact I think there is only one outside of Athens (I could be wrong). I started drinking coffee during training camp this past year and we have a few of their varieties at the office so I’ve really come to enjoy it (always with a shot of maple syrup of course). They have also been long time supporters of the cycling community, which I think is pretty cool.

After my post-race snack I headed back home and met up with Amanda for some lunch before we headed downtown to check out Ponce City Market and walk around on the Beltline. There were a ton of people out walking around, which I was little surprised by since it was cold for Georgians. After we we worked up an appetite walking around we headed to Mellow Mushroom for pizza and beer which was long, long overdue.

Sunday morning I decided to go for a recovery ride on my sweet new Cannondale CAAD10 instead of running. I rode nearly 40 miles due to a slight miscalculation of distance from home. It was a really fun ride, probably a little hillier and further than I should have gone, but I really enjoyed rolling along on my new ride. Apparently buying a bike the day after a “snow storm” is the way to go since I got a good deal on her.

My sweet new wheels!

I rode over to the Buford Dam, which is a really cool spot to ride. There’s an awesome stretch of rode that goes over the top of the dam, overlooking Lake Lanier to one side and the Chattahoochee River on the other. The dam is one of those earthen Army Corps of Engineer dams like Otter Brook or Surry in New Hampshire, so I enjoy the few minutes of nostalgia.

This was originally published on Matty Haley’s blog: Certified Rollers. Check it out to see how Wild Endurance fares down south.
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