I set out yesterday a little later than usual for a 7 mile rail trail run along Hop River. It was about 11:00 am and lightly snowing. This is one of my favorite courses because it's an out and back one with a gradual uphill in the beginning to the 3.5 mile mark. On the way back, you can pick up the pace and finish fast.
Because of the weather, there weren't too many people on the trail. Several runners passed me as I was doing some pre-run stretching. I set out and passed about 4 couples walking the trail all bundled up. With my insulated running pants, knit hat, light gloves and three shirts, I was perfectly dressed for the conditions. I saw one mountain biker guy going down the hill. He looked colder than me. I'm sure the snow and wind had something to do with that.
I reached the turn around point in 29:29. I was happy with that pace given the conditions. The snow began to come down slightly harder as I headed back to my car. At least the wind was at my back now. At the 4.5 mile point, I heard someone approaching from behind me. I thought it was another mountain biker at first. As I turned to greet the person, I realized it was a runner and he was hauling ass. We exchanged hellos and chatted for several seconds as he continued at a fast pace. I tried to keep him in sight, but it wasn't easy. There are a number of straight sections on the trail and some turns too. At around the 6.0 mile mark, he was out of sight. By trying to keep him in view, I pushed myself harder than usual. That was okay because I had planned to do 4 runs this week, but with Christmas activities I didn't have time to run on Friday as planned.
I covered the return trip in 27:41, slightly less than a 2 minute negative split. Upon finishing, I took a quick walk around. That's when I noticed that fast guy over by a car doing an assortment of post-run stretches. I walked over and complimented him on his pace and he returned the favor. After a minute or so of talking, he indicated that he was training to run the Boston Marathon this spring. He said that he was shooting for around a 2:21. Now there aren't too many people around here that can do that kind of time.
As it turned out, I had been running on the trail with Eric Blake, the two-time U.S. mountain champion. This is the very same guy that won the Mount Washington Road Race in 2006 and 2008. I think he came in second the last two years. It was kind of nice to rub elbows and talk a bit with him. He seems like a nice guy. Small world.