MICHAEL LOVATO | Professional Triathlete




Prickly Pear Trail Race

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The soon-to-be world famous Prickly Pear Trail Race took place down in San Antonio today. It’s not quite a world class event yet, but the post-race food might have you believing otherwise. Let’s just say that the beer was flowing, the fajitas were delicious, and the company was great. Sometimes I forget how much fun these Texas grass roots races can be!

Amanda, Fred (of Casa Fred), and I made an early departure for SA this morning, as we wanted to get to the McAllister State Park bright and early. We had chosen to race the ten-miler, and we needed to sign up on-site, and some of us (not Fred) needed to do a nice long warm up.

While Amanda and I were jogging around, testing out the trail, and loosening up our tired muscles, Fred was doing his version of a warm up, which consisted of sitting in the car with the heat running. To each his own, to each his own.

After scouting out the terrain, Amanda and I came to the conclusion that the race course called for a solid set of training shoes, as opposed to racing flats. Each of us was well prepared, and we had both types of shoes with us. I was really looking forward to racing in my brand new Saucony Type A2, as I have been absolutely loving them in my track workouts lately. Alas, it was not to be; this race was rocky and rough… at times. There were plenty of smooth surfaces, but the mixture of roots, rocks, twists, turns, mini-cliffs and hills did not scream out for a lightweight racing shoe.

We donned the heavier trainers and hit the start line.

There were probably 300 or so folks in the ten miler, and there was a 50k running concurrently (with 7:00AM star time, as opposed to ours of 8:30AM). Amanda and I found it odd that there was a large gap between the front line of runners and the actual start line. In triathlons we are used to doing, there is no gap between the start line and the people; in fact, there are usually people floating across the start line prematurely.

We took advantage of the gap, and lined up front and center. As soon as the started said “GO” I was off like a race horse. I had come up with a couple of possible race strategies during my warm up, but for some reason, my mind went blank when I heard him say “GO!”

I think Amanda tried to throw an elbow, and I am pretty sure she was gunning for the title of “first through 50 meters,” but I managed to open up a small gap. I did hear some heavy breathing and footsteps right behind me for a few hundred meters, but for the most part, I was pulling away. Too fast, I might add.

The first mile was on an asphalt path that led us to the real trail. That first mile had one short uphill and one short down hill. The turns were wide open, and the footing was good. Either way, I was a bit surprised to hear my Garmin beep at the mile mark: 4:55. I’ve gone out too hot!

My on-the-fly strategy switching plan was to keep on running, not to look at the Garmin ever again, and to run until I blew up. Or until I hit some really rough trail. I held to the plan pretty well from there. I heard a spectator yelling for another runner not too much after I had gone by my second Garmin beep. Not knowing what my pace was, and feeling pretty spry, I kept on going. I figured I had better drop my pursuer, to prepare for the blow up that was imminent.

Somewhere between beep one and beep two, I found myself overtaking the lead cyclist. One of my favorite things about leading a race is that lead cyclist escorting me. I feel very driven to catch up to him or her. Well, in this case I actually had to call “on your right” to this guy. Poor fella was in a bit over his head with the rough terrain, and his mountain bike skills left a tad to be desired. I passed him, he said “go that way!”, and was back to racing hard! (Amanda later overtook him as well, as he was lying on the side of the trail having crashed out.)

A few meters past the third beep, I quickly calculated that I had about seven more beeps to go. I was nowhere near finished, and I seemed to be slowing. I could no longer hear anyone behind me, and I could no longer hear anyone cheering for anyone behind me. I figured I’d better keep pressing, just in case.

Four beeps came, five beeps came, and suddenly the trail got a lot rougher. There were more tight switchbacks, more whoopty-doos, and more rocks and roots and ruts. And I was running WAY slower now. I had gone out too hot.

I was enjoying the race, because I have got some pretty rubber ankles, so I tend not to worry about the rugged terrain. I briefly thought of Amanda, who was definitely hoping for some fire roads instead of singletrack trail. She’s a bit too cautious for this type of running. I had, however, gone out a bit hot, and I was now holding on.

Beeps six and seven went by, and I caught a bit of second wind. I had no idea of my pace, which turned out to be a good thing. I kept the pressure on, but the combination of terrain and heavier and heavier legs did not allow for the speedy paces I was holding in the first half. I sure did blow my sound pacing strategy! And I was loving it.

Finally I heard beeps eight and nine. I knew this section of trail from my warm up, and I knew some fajitas were awaiting me. I picked it up to finish strong, and to win my first running race since moving to Boulder. Those darn Boulder area runners would have really made me pay for going out too hot.

I just squeezed under the hour mark, a solid time for sure, but well off my early race pace. Duh. I looked through the Garmin splits, and noticed that my 3mile split was right at 15:30 (a speedy 5:10ave). The five miles went by under 27:20, so I was still in below 5:30 miles by that point. But the average sank from mile six to the end. I ended with a 5:59 average, and only 1:25 ahead of second place.

I felt really good about starting the race season out with a win. I had not won a race in several months, so it was very nice to be in that position again. My high lasted for about One Minute Twenty Five Seconds, when that second place runner came across the line. She looked really fresh. Did I look that fresh. Wait, did I say “she?” Yes, I won the race, and a stud of a local woman got second. I mean no disrespect to her, as she was clearly a great runner; I am just not used to seeing a woman get second overall. Way to go for her!

Truthfully, I was actually still very happy with the race. My high was not affected by who got second. A victory is a victory; competition is competition; and she gave one heck of a fight!

3 Comment(s)

Bigun on 3/16/08 said:

mmmm…fajitas…dang, post race fajitas! They know how to throw a race down there in Texas! Fun report – hope your training partners faired well also.

Eric on 3/17/08 said:

Awesome race. Based upon the photos, the woman who was in second was right on your heals from the start. she was a monster runner. Great pics, great report, enjoy that beer mug as an award.

Bolder on 3/17/08 said:

great race report Michael as always.

i thought FOR SURE you were gonna say you got lost after overtaking the lead biker…

thought you were going for some dramatic foreshadowing there, but, great to hear of your win!


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