Sunday, June 7, 2015

2015 Wissahickon Trail Classic Race Report

Ran one of my favorite races of the year yesterday, the Wissahickon Trail Classic over in Philadelphia.

Race reports from years' past:

Held at Wissahickon Valley Park every year, it's a fundraiser for the Wissahickon Restoration Volunteers, a group tasked with maintaining the park's 2,000 acres and network of trails.  It's a 10k race through challenging terrain, including steep switchbacks, gravel roads, single track, and even a red covered bridge.  Every year the race boasts about 500 runners.

I love this race because I love trail running, and this is a superb trail race an easy 40 minute drive from me.  It's always a nice change of pace from running road races, and the course is challenging, but at 10 kilometers, I don't have to kill myself in training.

The good news is this year, two friends from Who's Up decided to do the race as well, so we carpooled over and arrived at 8am.  We got there early because parking can be a bit chaotic for this race, especially as nearby Chestnut Hill College's parking lot was closed due to an alumni event.  So we had plenty of time to get our bibs, visit the port a potties, and do a warm up run.

I had mailed in my registration last month before the price increase, and also hoping to save the online processing fee, but it apparently never arrived and I had to register all over again and pay the full $35 price.  Still a bargain, though, considering the race experience delivered, not to mention the post race amenities.

The race starts on a wide gravel towpath.  Veteran racers know this will lead quickly to an uphill trail, so the start of the race is a madcap dash and struggle for positioning before the course narrows considerably.  That first trail is a serious reality check as it shoots straight up before leveling out into a sunny meadow.

Because I don't do trail races enough, I always forget how frustrating it can be to have your pace dictated by the terrain and those in front of you.  The pace constantly fluctuates as the trail changes and as you approach runners ahead and determine how best to pass them.

I tried very hard to hold myself back in the early stages of the race, because I knew the last mile was a slow and steady climb before abruptly devolving into insane hairpin turns while dropping severely in elevation.  I wanted to be ready for it and be able to go all out towards the end.

I took the uphills slowly without walking, and absolutely charged the downhills, picking off runners where I could.  I find myself particularly adept at the quick thinking and fancy footwork required to take the downhills at such breakneck speed.  After crossing the covered bridge, the course teases you with a half mile back on the gravel towpath.  Here you can kick it up a notch and zone out for a bit at a consistent pace.  But then comes the final mile...

I picked off one last runner as I entered the final uphill and was working on another, but I was running out of steam and just couldn't reel him in.  I was shocked to come shooting out of the woods into the homestretch to see the clock still under 50 minutes, and charged at the finish line with all I had.

Last year I came in 66th place with a time of 53:57, while this year I improved to 39th place with a time of 49:45.  I was ecstatic that I'd run so well this year.  My goal this year had been to improve on my time and place, but my secret goal was to place in my age group for the first time.  Sadly,  this race is so insane that I didn't even crack the top 10.  Oh well, there's always next year.

After exiting the finishing chute I high fived the guy who had come in before me.  The race director then came up and addressed me by name and told me he'd keep an eye out for the check I'd mailed, and would contact me if it came in.  After the rudeness I experienced at the last race I attended, I appreciated his kindness and attention to detail.

Kim and Erik finished shortly after I did, and we sat round rehashing the race, mostly talking about how tough the course is.  There was a fantastic post race spread, including bottled water, bananas, bagels, oranges and Clif Bars from Whole Foods, and about a hundred different pizzas from a local pizzeria.

After eating and drinking our fill, we took a picture for good measure, then headed back to Jersey.

If you're in the Philadelphia area and are looking for a good trail race, or even just an alternative to the normal road races, I highly recommend this race.  It's a challenging course through a beautiful urban park, it's incredibly well organized, and the post race amenities are incredible.  There aren't any gimmicks to this race, it's just a serious race for serious runners, for the love of racing.

Thanks for a great race, guys.  I'm already looking forward to next year.

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