Race Report(s): Fall Back Yard Burn Series

Look Beat During Race 2 at Laurel Hill

I ended my 2011 race season with the 5 race, 10 mile trail Fall Back Yard Burn (BYB) Series.  The wonderful EX2 Adventures puts on this BYB Series every Spring and Fall, with 4 (spring) or 5 (fall) races over 8 weeks.  They offer up a 5 mile option or a 10 mile option for each race, which is held at different state and national parks throughout Northern Virginia.  This was my first time running any of the BYB races, so instead of writing 5 different race reports from similar trail races, I thought I would do an overview highlighting the highs and lows of each.  So instead of a ‘race report’, you can consider this more of a ‘series experience.’

After reading several horror reports all over the twiorld (Get it?  No? Ok.) about the Hot Chocolate 15k at the National Harbor last Saturday, I can’t stress enough how great of a race EX2 Adventures puts on.  I would recommend to anyone running any of their races.  They come across as very well organized and do a great job at making everyone feel welcomed.  All of these races had about 350 runners, and EX2 offers up prizes for the top five in each age group.  For anyone new to the trail racing world, they would be a great place to start.

Race 1:  Prince William Forest Park

This was one of my favorite races for a few reasons.  For starters, this is a beautiful park.  Being the largest in the DC Metro area, and so close to the District, I can’t believe I don’t come down here more often.  With so many great trails to explore, it offered up a nice mix between fast smooth fire road and more technical singletrack.  While it was one of my slowest races, this course didn’t have the God awful hills of some of the other locations.  Prince William was also the only course that didn’t loop back on any of the same trail.  10 miles of true trail running bliss.

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this race, but after the pack thinned out a bit, I joined up with a few other runners and we ran almost the entire race together.  A few of those people I would end up pacing with on several of the other races.

Race 2:  Laurel Hill

Laurel Hill is new to the BYB series, and while I definitely enjoyed the race, I think I’m going to place it as my least favorite.  It is located on the grounds of the old Lorton Prison.  The start and finish were located right next to the prison walls, which made for an eerie pre-race brief on what turned out to be the chilliest of all the races.  I think what I disliked most about this course were all of the repeated loops.  Most of the trails wound through old farm lands instead of through wooded forest, and unfortunately we were limited to running several of the loops multiple times.  As you can see above, it looks like they were working hard to cram in 10 miles worth of running.  Laurel Hill also at times felt more like a cross-country race than a trail race.  Running through big fields isn’t really my cup of tea.

Race 3:  Wakefield Park

Thinking back on this race, it all seems like a blur.  I was hurting bad all 10 miles, with some major cramping, stomach issues, and leg fatigue.  While I really liked the course and the park, this was the only race I wasn’t happy to be running.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get out of my head.  I took two stumbles, fell way behind the group I was pacing with, and never got into a groove.  Out of all the races, this one somehow turned out to be my fastest, but it leaves me wondering how I could have done if I wasn’t feeling so bad.

We took two laps around another beautiful park on almost entirely smooth, flat trail.  Just look at the difference between the elevation charts from this race and what I think was the toughest race 5:

Race 3: Wakefield Park
Race 5: Hemlock Overlook

It was flat, fast, and would have been a great course for me to go all out.

 Race 4:  Fountainhead

I’m disappointed to report I didn’t run this race, giving me my first ever DNS.  The days after race 3, I was feeling an awful pain in the bottom of my foot.  The week in between races just wasn’t enough for me to fight that pain without fears of making it a lot worse.

It sounded like an awesome course though!  Here is what the EX2 Adventures Website had to say:

Fountainhead Regional Park is situated along the banks of the Occoquan Reservoir in Western Fairfax County. This race course is beautiful and consists mostly of hiking trails (including the Bull Run Occoquan Trail), horse trails, and old dirt roads. Competitors will run over rocks and roots, through several streams, and up some hills. This course was a new addition in 2006 and became an immediate hit.

Race 5:  Hemlock Overlook

I think I heard chatter about Hemlock at every race.  “Oh just wait until Hemlock” I’d hear one racer telling another after the first complained about a hill.  “We’re saving all the caution tape for Fountainhead and Hemlock” the race director would joke at ever race briefing.  And while I had to chuckle at the buildup, it lived up to the hype.  It was, without a doubt, my favorite course of the series, in that ‘this hurts so bad I want to drop at every corner, but my feet are having so much fun’ kind of way.  With the exception of race 4, this was by far the most technical, offering up several sections of super rocky rough singletrack.  Similar to a few of the other races, this course consisted of two 5 mile loops, each hosting two pretty brutal hills.  Along the Bull Run Occoquan Trail, runners spent a lot of slow time running along the very rocky creek bank.  The combo of the tough hills, rocky trails, and a few creek crossings caused me to run my slowest of the races, but probably what I would consider my best effort.  If it wasn’t so far outside the city, I would go back there and run this course any day.

What I learned:

This might sound a little odd, but I think for the first time I really learned how to race.  I’ve always set out to push myself, achieve new PRs, and see where my limit is, but let’s face it, I’m a mid-packer whether I like it or not.  But with the EX2 races, where they give the top 5 in each age group a pint glass after every race (sometimes it felt more like little league where everyone left with a trophy), I knew I could actually be a fighter.  After a 6th place age group finish the first race, I saw who my competition was, and I went after them.  And let me tell ya, as someone who has never really cared how the other racers around me were doing, it was a lot of fun trying to stick with other people or picking off other racers!  I ended up bringing home 4 pint glasses from the other races and the overall series.

This series was just how I wanted to end a great season.  The race director Jim seems like a great guy, and EX2 Adventures is a top notch company.  Well done guys, I’ll definitely be back.

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