The XTERRA Florida Trail Run Series got off to a fast start this month, with Eric Koenig and Jessica Wagner running to convincing wins in the season-opening XTERRA Wildhorse Trail Run.
More than 300 runners participated in the event, which was completed on November 6 at Dover, Florida. It was the first of three races in the 2012-13 season for the XTERRA Florida Trail Run Series.
Koenig was the overall winner of the 21-kilometer long course, finishing with a course-record time of 1 hour, 31 minutes, 57 seconds. He finished more than a mile ahead of the rest of the field.
"At the start and for most the race, a thick fog, hung in the air that made the weather cool and crisp - ideal for running," said Koenig, 23. "The course was mostly double-track over short grass with some sandy patches, and started around some soccer fields. However, there was between 4 to 5 miles of single track or off-trail terrain. The single track meandered through the forest and the off-trail terrain was often very technical, following faint game trails through brush, mud, and up and down steep, short, and often abrupt hills. I often had to slow down substantially to look for the next flag marker in the off-trail sections. It was hard to get a rhythm going in the technical part of the course. I was even attacked by vines on a couple of occasions, which held me captive for up to 15 seconds."
Koenig took the lead after the first mile and increased his lead throughout the course. His pre-race goal was to finish in less than 1 hour, 30 minutes, but said after the race that he was satisfied with his time of 1:31:57, because the course offered many challenges.
"When I came out of the woods, and back around the soccer field, I still managed to duck less than 92 minutes, finishing in 1:31:57," he said. "I had apparently extended my lead to eight minutes at this point and set the course record by over three minutes. I felt pretty good about it. Maybe sub-1:30 next year?"
He said his only previous race victories came when he was a runner at Beloit College in Wisconsin. Koenig is now a graduate student at the University of South Florida.
Zvanko Smlatic from Sarasota, Florida, placed second in 1:40:00. Making his performance more impressive is his age - 48. Preston Vaughn from Plant City, Florida, was third in 1:40:26.
Wagner placed 14th overall and was the first female with a time of 1:52:58. She finished nearly 10 minutes ahead of the other females.
"At about mile 11 a guy told me he hasn't seen any other women ahead of me, however I didn't believe him!" said Wagner, 40. "With the different race lengths and all of them similar routes, when I passed women I wasn't quite sure which length of race they were running. Honestly, I wasn't really paying attention. I was focused on going as fast as I could and passing all the guys!"
Wagner resides in Windermere and works as the Senior Membership Director for the YMCA of Central Florida. She placed third overall at this event last year, and second in her division in 2010. "I stumbled upon this race a couple of years ago when I was new to the area and spending many months at Tampa General with a very sick husband," she said. "Running was my only release and therapy! I loved the run and the trail and have done it each year."
Rebecca Reese from Orlando was the second female in 2:05:21, and Cindy Hazel from Tampa was third in 2:11:15.
The Wild Horse Trail Run features four different courses. Koenig and Wagner were the winners of the longest course. Other course winners: Jeffrey Hurd Jr. and Amy Meinig in the 10K, Matt Shanklin and Rae Ann Darling-Reed in the 10 mile, and Jon Howry and Kerri Dienhart in the 4 mile.
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The next race in the XTERRA Florida Trail Run Series will be the XTERRA Trout Creek Trail Run in March 2013. To register for the race or learn more about the series, please visitwww.tamparaces.com.