My first race of the season is in the books! Fortunately, I’m off on the right foot and am already looking forward to more. After accomplishing my first 100-mile month in March (106), I’m feeling good about 2015.

helena valley regulating reservoir trail run
Not an mid-race selfie.

On Saturday, I ran the Early Bird 5-mile run here in town. It wasn’t too large – 100 participants – but definitely a great course of single-track dirt path circling the Helena Valley Regulating Reservoir, which supplies Valley irrigators during the growing season. There is definitely some great scenery with the Elkhorn mountains to the south and the Big Belts to the east and north. Weather was great with temperatures in the low 50s, a little wind and not too much sun.

I never really know where to start in the race. I mean, really, it’s one of the most awkward parts of a race for me. Do I move toward the front to avoid the slower runners? I tend to feel intimidated with runners who must be decked out in the latest running gear and look like they must run as a primary form of transportation. That guy wearing a jersey from a previous marathon (we’re only running 5 miles today!)? Count me out! Will I be too slow for the people behind me to pass? What if I get caught up in the mob of grandma-walkers?

Anyway… I get over the awkwardness every time as soon as the clock starts, so I’m not sure why I worry about it. The race course started out just fine as we started out on gravel road for the first .75 mile. Everything was just fine as we strung out. Nothing to worry about at this one.

I definitely have to represent the ranching community at my races and was sure to wear my Team Beef jersey for this event. If you haven’t seen them before, there’s a big, juicy steak on either side, which usually provokes a few lustful stares and comments during the race. Sure enough, we weren’t past the first mile mark before someone commented about being hungry for steak. Gotta represent our favorite protein!

The next three miles were easy, single track trail with several places to pass. Had to be careful of all the prickly pear along the trail, though. Light rain the day before had caused the cactus to swell a bit. There’s nothing worse than finding a cactus spine stuck in the side of your shoe in the middle of a run.

2015 early bird 5 mile run helena montana

I’m actually really proud of my pace. Each of my miles was within 12 seconds of each other.  A fairly straight line across, with the exception of a few hesitations as I dropped into the draws surrounding the reservoir. All through the course I could keep an eye on the lead runners and was surprised to find I was actually keeping up with the lead pack (relative) by the 2.5 mile marker – an anthill I had noted on previous runs. I could count 8 folks ahead and within reach by that point.

The last .75 miles has a bit more climb to it and, having run the course the previous weekend, I knew would take a little more energy to gain ground on the folks in front of me. But I gave it a go. The final stretch would break out of the single track trail, back to the gravel road and take a sharp turn back downhill to the finish. I caught up to the heels of the gal in front of me as soon as we hit gravel and broke out in a sprint to catch the guy in front of me. There was a fair amount of distance to make up. But I didn’t have quite enough room. I ended up on his heels, literally a second behind on the books, as we came to the finish and there wasn’t enough room before the cones to pass him.

2015 early bird 5 mile run helena montanaTurns out I finished the race and crossed the finish line sprinting a 4:42 pace. I do believe that’s the quickest speed I’ve ever recorded, and for the last .15 miles, too! My race pace ended up being 7:55 – something I can be proud of, which definitely beats my usual training pace of 8:30-8:40. Great, now I know I can speed things up a bit.

I ended up finishing 6th in the mens race and 11th overall with a pace to be proud of and something that will be used to set new goals for the future. I still can’t get over the fact that I couldn’t find the time during the previous 4.85 miles to make up some ground instead of finishing on the heels of a top 10 finish. There’s always next time!

P.S. – I actually won a door prize this time. A certificate for the intro class at the new crossfit box in town. I’ve been receiving encouragement to try it out from roommates and friends. The box owners work with us on water policy in the state. There must have been some back door dealings to get me that pass. Now I have one less excuse to start crossfit. The next class starts next week.

Next race: Prickly Pear Land Trust’s Don’t Fence Me In
Date: Saturday, May 9
Location: Downtown Helena, MT
Distance: 12k
Terrain: Hills… (My pace won’t be near 8 minutes. Not even close.)