Saturday, June 6, 2009

from the archives: 2007 nipmuck trail marathon

with all the rain we've had over the past two days, it seemed that tomorrow's nipmuck trail marathon might have more in common with the very wet 2007 edition of the race (a waterlogged glimpse of us at the finish that year (bekkie, joe, emmy, and me) in the above photo. here is my 2007 race report - which was my first time at the race, and my introduction to the term "nipmuck mud" :D

but even dry conditions have their own perils, as my second time on the course proved: in 2008 my trail shoes self-destructed on the outbound leg of the second part of the course!

Nipmuck Trail Marathon
Ashford, CT
Sunday, June 3, 2007

I was up at 4:30, out the door by 5, and met up with Emmy at 5:30 for the drive to the race. We made good time at that early hour and arrived just before 7:30, for the 8:00 start. A sign that read “big girly man race” directed us to take a right at the T intersection to reach the start. But it was the red sticker, “high fall risk” adorning our bibs that got the most laughs! At the pre-race briefing the race director reiterated all the potential gloomy scenarios that could befall us - and he used cut out cars, paper people and squeeze bottle ink to show what would happen to the unlucky runner who crossed I-74 without paying attention to traffic!

After that bit of cautious entertainment the race began without a hitch. The course is two separate out and backs. The first leg runs south, 6.2 miles, to a turnaround and we retrace the trail to the start. The second leg heads north, 7 miles, to the turnaround, then we retrace the trail to finish where we started. Mathematically inclined will quickly calculate the distance equals 26.4 miles - but what’s an extra 2/10ths of a mile among runners? I heard, repeatedly, that the first leg was the easier of the two. The second leg contained most of the climbs, and would be more difficult.

In addition to Emmy, our friends Bekkie and Joe were there. Emmy’s friend Barbara was also there. In somewhat of a surprise, Kate’s friends Jill and Joe jumped into the race at the last minute - both of whom just ran the Vermont City Marathon last week (Emmy also ran Vermont). For some unexplained reason, which would come back to haunt me - I ran without my hat. While filling my water bottles and putting on sun screen I had the hat on. As I was about to close the car door and head to the start, I just nonchalantly tossed it in the back seat and didn’t think anything more about it.

As luck had it, a few miles into the race it began to rain. First, just a light drizzle - but then it picked up until it was a decent rainfall. In the first mile I was stuck behind a long line of runners on the single track. I wasn’t going fast, and had no intention of passing until the trail opened up a bit. The rain began when I finally passed them and started running fast (a relative term). I caught up to a pair of runners that were making good time and fell in behind them. As the rain got stronger, my glasses kept getting wetter and foggier. Every couple of minutes I wiped away the moisture. I just hoped the rain would pass quickly.

Since I was behind some runners I focused on my foot placement - and less on the blue blazes. But soon my glasses reached that point of total saturation that nothing short of a dry towel could fix and I had to slow down considerably to pick my way along the trail. Just halfway through the first leg and I was seriously wet and unhappy. But these conditions are never permanent. The rain let up a mile before the turnaround, my glasses started doing their thing again - namely letting me see - and I was back in business!

At this point the lead runners started whipping past me on their return leg. As we neared the turnaround, one of them said, “careful, you’re coming up to the mud pits!” “We’ve already sloshed through plenty of mud - what could he be warning us about” I thought? Then, as if on cue, we hit a patch of thick sticky mud. “Here it is,” I said to the runners behind me. One veteran in our little line shouted back, “that ain’t it - when we get there you’ll know it!” We had just finished a stretch of trail on a ridge alongside the river and had angled left, away from the, only to now start back toward the water.

As we emerged from the bushes, literally lining the banks of the river was a long muddy stretch of mud - there was no mistaking that this was the mud pit! It was broken up by a wooden bridge - and just beyond it - perhaps the only inch of dry land and/or rock in the area - stood the race director! It was a narrow, one-person bridge that had to handle two-way traffic! The turnaround was just beyond this torturous stretch of mud and water. All I kept repeating to myself was “Thank God it’s not raining now!” I needed every ounce of vision to avoid falling into the river. Not that I could have gotten any wetter - I was already completely soaked.

I crossed safety and reached the aid station in 1:13:05. A lot slower than I had hoped, but intact! On the return trip, assuming the rain held off, I had to pick up the pace. As I made way back out of the mud pit and back to the trail, I said hi to Emmy who was just approaching the mud pit. It was the same spot that Bekkie and Joe had seen me when I neared the mud pits. The major shock was down the road when I saw Jill and Joe sitting off the trail, back to back - with Joe obviously in serious pain! They said help was on the way - and as I approached the road crossing, the race officials were on the way to help Joe. I learn after the race that he was taken to the hospital with either a sprained or broken ankle.

It started to drizzle again just as I completed the first leg. The inbound portion took me 1:08:23. I said hi to Bekkie and Joe, who were about to head out on the second leg. I picked up five minutes on the return trip - but at this rate, more rain would make a sub-5 hour finish unrealistic. I had some orange slices at the first aid station, but now I switched to watermelon and pretzels. I didn’t linger because I wanted to capitalize on whatever dry weather we would get. So I crossed the road, with a fistful of pretzels, and took off on the second leg of the race.

This portion began with a decent uphill climb. A half mile or so from the trail head I caught up to a string of runners that included Bekkie and Joe. I fell in behind them and, while we weren’t going fast, we were moving forward at a decent pace. At one point, just before we crossed a small wooden bridge, one of Bekkie’s friends turned her ankle. That was pretty scary and she was clearly in some pain. But while it slowed her down, she still kept moving forward! Then, once again, the rains came and I started the same routine of wiping my glasses every few minutes. But this leg wasn’t as technical as the first and I found it much easier to get good foot placement.

I completed the outbound leg in 1:40:08 - for a time of 4:01:37. If we ran the inbound leg in 1:30, there was a shot at a sub-5:30 finish. At this point I was running with Bekkie and Joe. So the three of us set off on an ambitious target of a sub-5:30. It was doable - but right at the edge of doable! We ran back at a “conversational” pace. Which I enjoyed tremendously because Joe (a two time finisher of Vermont) shared his Vermont 100 stories with me as we made our way to the finish. Coincidentally, Emmy ran the second leg with her friend Barbara (a seven time finisher of Vermont) and they also talked about Vermont. If logistics work out, Emmy will come up and pace me for the last 50k in July.

Thankfully the inbound stretch was rain free. Bekkie spotted the one mile to go marker at 5:21 - which gave us 9 minutes to squeeze in under 5:30. Joe was determined to do it - and I was game too - but there were at least to decent climbs in that last mile. It was fun - and stressful - watching those 10th of a mile markers click by as we sped along. But try as we did, it took us 15 minutes to get that last mile in the books. We ran down the hill and finished in two second intervals; 5:36:26, 5:36:28, and 5:36:30 - a veritable nail biter, Bekkie first, Joe second, and me to round it out! My split for the inbound was 1:34:51 - five minutes faster than the outbound portion.

All kidding aside, Nipmuck was a blast! I can’t remember the last time I had that much fun getting so wet, muddy and dirty in the woods! We waited for Emmy to finish - she came in just after we did in 5:52 - also smiling and happy! She had someone take a picture of the four of us - each soaked to the bone and legs covered in mud - but her camera was waterlogged and the picture came out with us covered in a ghostly haze. I had two hot dogs and a grape soda - but what I really wanted was a hot cup of coffee (which had to wait until the drive home). We all got little tree stumps with blue blazes as finishers awards. A quaint touch, to an otherwise rugged day.

here are some photos from the 2008 nipmuck trail marathon.
here is my race report from the 2008 nipmuck trail marathon.

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