Wednesday 10 July 2013

Dahlonega Firecracker 10K - Damp, but no squib

It's a bit of a tradition for us to spend some time each Summer in the Georgia mountains and enjoy a bit of hiking, hot weather (or cool weather for my Texan relatives), and catching up with family.  Last year, we happened to be over for Independence Day, and enjoyed the fireworks display in Suches so much that we decided to come back for more of the same this year.  Since the race calendar has been a bit light, we searched for local races over the holiday weekend and found the Dahlonega Firecracker 10K.  Only around 30 minutes from our holiday base, it looked ideal.  It would be over by breakfast time, before the Georgia heat set in.  So, we signed up, sorted out a bit of red, white & blue for the occasion, and got ready for some hot running.

Sporting patriotic colors, complete with Betsy Ross stars.

Race day didn't dawn so much as begin to get less grey.  The remnants of a tropical storm were working their way slowly up from Florida, and appeared to get stuck in north Georgia.  The 3rd was pretty much a washout, leaving the holiday celebrations postponed or cancelled all over the region.  The race wasn't affected, but sadly the patriotic pets competition wouldn't be providing any post-run entertainment.

As the fog lifted and the heavy rain fizzled into an occasional drip, we milled about by the University of North Georgia drill field.  I imagine we were probably the only ones feeling hot with temperatures in the low 70s (20s C).  Our pre-race warm-up was more vigorous than most, but I wanted to hit the long downhill at as close to race pace as possible.

Shortly before the start, we had a brief chat with eventual winner Jonah Holbert, who would be aiming for the mid 30s and was trying to get an idea of who would be nearby.  His target was out of my league, as was his festive outfit.  He had specially ordered a stars & stripes skin suit, easily out-stripping my Betsy Ross stars and patriotic Dirty Girl gaiters.

University of North Georgia
Nic & I started together, to give my dad half a chance of getting a picture, and then I eased my way through the small field over the first half mile.  At the 1mi point, I was already pretty hot, and was amazed and thankful to find a water station.  I drank a few sips to quench a thirst that would have been sorted earlier if I'd remembered to put some water in the car, and carried on down the steep hills towards Yahoola Creek Park.

The park offered a chance to see the race unfold ahead of me, as we wound through a few little out-and-back sections.  Jonah & I cheered each other on each time we crossed paths, which was pretty often as he sped his way around the course.  He had led from the start and had a pretty solid gap by half way.  The ladies race was a bit closer, but the field was already spread after just a couple of miles. This was the only reasonably flat part of the race, and I quickly confirmed that a Spring of running ultras had left me without much basic speed.  I could comfortably push at a reasonable half-marathon pace, but just couldn't get my legs moving at 10K pace without the assistance of a nice gradient.  Those with good flat speed were enjoying this section, and I counted 10 runners ahead of me, with the gap growing.  I had a chance to cheer on Nic (& be cheered) as I left the park and returned to the hills - this time going up.  Some gentle encouragement from my biggest supporter was enough to get me putting in just a little more effort.

In a slightly twisted way, I enjoyed running up the road out of the park.  I'd spent most of the past few months walking up hills, and it was nice to run hard up a hill and know it was only a couple of miles to the finish.  I started to pull back a few runners, and used the thought of a top-10 finish as a motivator to keep working hard.  I had the feeling that I was the leading Masters runner, but it's hard to tell during the run - some people look much older when they race!  I figured that a "fastest old git" prize was pretty likely, but couldn't be sure so just tried to pick up as many places as I could before we got into the lap around the drill field.  The final sprint down the hill to the line kept me in 9th - it wasn't the fastest finish, but was enough to keep anyone from catching me.  As I'd hoped, the guys in front looked a lot younger when stationary, and I picked up my first age-group win.

In the end, the 10K field was pretty small, with fewer than 70 braving the threat of weather that thankfully held off for a few hours.  The route isn't easy, with plenty of ups and downs to test the legs and lungs.  The festive atmosphere was great, especially with most of the 5K runners getting into the spirit.  It's certainly a race I'd enjoy doing again if we're in the neighborhood!
A medal winner at last!

Happiness is another age-group victory!

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