I ran the 8th edition of the Black Squirrel Half Marathon on Saturday. To minimize crowding, runners went in waves. Ruth dropped me off at the Lory State Park office 10 minutes before my wave's 7:00 a.m. departure time. I jogged for seven minutes to reach the starting line, pulled up my Buff, found some empty space between the other runners, and tightened my shoes. With only a sixth of last year's crowd, the mood was quiet. Nick Clark had to raise his voice only a little to brief us on the course. He gave a shout-out to the crews on the Cameron Peak Fire, counted down from 10, and we were off.
Conditions yesterday were excellent. Sunny skies, clean air, and 43 °F at sunrise. The course's lower elevation trails can be muddy after wet weather, but had drained and were firm and only a little tacky. On the mountain we saw one patch of snow and several puddles. My new Nike Terra Kigers are more suited to dry conditions, but I had no traction problems.
I went more slowly on the climb than I last year. Strava says I covered the Quad Rock climb #4 segment (3.5 miles, 1128 ft D+) in 43 minutes and 27 seconds, a minute more than on 2020-09-07. I had started near the front of my wave and passed one other runner on the climb. I shaved 20 seconds off my best time on the descent and arrived at Arthur's Rock trailhead only 34 seconds off last year's pace.
The last 4.5 miles of the race have always challenged me. Saturday I suffered from hip and hamstring tightness. Despite needing to stop twice to stretch, I finished the final segment one minute and 32 seconds faster than last year. My official time for the race: 2:18:07. A new personal best by 32 seconds.
My form slumped in the seven weeks between the Never Summer 100k and Black Squirrel. It's been hot and smoky and I've had a sinus infection brought on by irritation from inhaling soot. I found it hard to run even 20 miles a week and harder to do any intense workouts. Would I have liked to have taken a better time? Yes. To be honest, despite my intention to develop into a gracefully aging person, I'm a little disappointed. Still, I did the best with what I had on race day and that's the most important and durable measure. I had fun and appreciated the chance to be outdoors breathing fresh air and feeling alive. Thank you, Nick, Brad, and all you generous volunteers.