I came into the race on Sunday with a lot of miles under my belt, but doubts about my endurance due to lack of long runs (2.5+ hours). Despite reading blogs and getting first hand accounts of the Nipmuck course, I wasn't sure what to expect. Adding to my nervousness/anxiousness was the pressure I was feeling to post a fast time. Simply just finishing would not suffice, but what was a realistic time? It was a long few days leading up to the race....
I awoke at 5AM on race day after a few hours of sleep. I had already packed my things and was ready to head out to meet Seth for our commute. I checked the weather and noticed that the 30% chance of a rain shower looked like it was now 100% and more than just a shower. Oh well. I chuckled thinking how I thought just a couple days earlier the course would be nice and dry. I picked up my normal pre-race breakfast of an egg and cheese bagel with hash browns and a small black coffee. Seth arrived and we soon were off to Ashford, CT.
The ride was uneventful and dark. It began to rain lightly as we neared registration. It also wasn't as warm (humid) as I thought and I debated my wardrobe. I thought I wouldn't wear a shirt since it was going to be raining, but it seemed too cold not to. I grabbed my bib, which included the dreaded red High Fall Risk sticker. Really? We bumped into fellow WTAC teammate Mike Crutchley and then spent the next 45 minutes in my car sheltered from the steady light rain. With 10 minutes to go we ventured out into the elements for the pre-race instructions. We placed drop bags along the trail (I had a pair of Nike Frees in case I wanted to switch out of my trail shoes, dry shirt, and dry socks). My body felt good, my nerves were calm, and my only concern was my glasses - would they stay clear for the race.
We lined up 100 yards or so down the road. I introduced myself to Chris Hayhurst - last year's winner and a guy my brother Greg has battled in the past at Pisgah. I also said hi to Stanislav Trufanov who I knew ran 3:40 here last year and was somebody I planned to keep my eye on during the race. Seth lined up next to me and we were off.
Me and Seth at the start. Photo by Crutchley.
Chris was still talking to me for the short stretch on the road before speeding away in the woods. I had no illusions of sticking with him. What was strange was that I seemed very alone in 2nd place right away. I couldn't hear any close footsteps, and any voices seemed off in the distance. The woods were dark, and the trail was hard to navigate with so many fallen leaves. The trail has plenty of blue blazes to follow, and on a day like this, it was welcomed. Still, it was a mental challenge to have to look up and away from my footing to make sure I was still on course. The trail was single track, and it seemed like the wet leaves were hiding plenty of wet roots and rocks in many sections. Other sections seemed really runnable. I reached the Rte 74 crossing and fumbled my way over the guardrail and over to the other side. Soon I was along a brook and the trail seemed wide or non-existent. I followed the blazes. The trail then ran west and climbed for quite some time. I thought I was told this direction was all down hill?
It was on this stretch that I felt very alone and possibly lost. I was following blue blazes, but was I on the right trail? I could see or hear no one. The trail I was on was very runnable, but I was keeping my pace a bit conservative. I was super pumped to see a course marshall at a road crossing. Still on track! The woods then went from mostly deciduous trees to evergreen. I again was having trouble following the trail. It just wasn't visible. I just ran to the next tree with a blue blaze. And then I hit a roadblock. A large tree was across the trail. I began to run around it, but then couldn't see the next blaze. I panicked for a second and backtracked. I figured out which way to go and continued. Soon I was along a stream and saw Chris Hayhurst pass me in the opposite direction. I was close to the turnaround point. Sweet! But then I could hear someone behind me. Glancing back it was Stanislav. This gave me an adrenaline rush and I picked up my pace. I was now racing!
I reached the turnaround aid station and had to ask where to go - run around a cone maybe? Nope. Just either stop at the tables or head back on the trail. I didn't need anything so I kept going. I could see many runners very close behind me, including Seth in 4th place. Way to go! I stuck with my faster pace on the way back. I enjoyed exchanging pleasantries to the runners as we passed going in opposite directions. Even though the trail was narrow, everyone just stuck to their right, and there were no issues. I also got a break from focusing on where the blue blazes were as I could just see the runners coming at me. The trip back to the start/finish area was rather uneventful. I took a GU at 1 hr and 1.5 hrs. I drank water from my handheld. Energy was good. My feet felt a little tight, but no major issues.
I reached the start/finish area to the sound of applause and ringing bells. I tried to remember what I needed to do. I grabbed two more GU's, threw out my trash, had my handheld refilled with water, and drank a very small amount of Gatorade. I then took off. I glanced at my watch and I was at 1:36. I then remembered I was going to take off my shirt since it was soaking wet and I didn't care to deal with chaffing for the rest of the race. I quickly stopped and dropped it on the side of the trail still close to the finish area.
I tried to keep a good pace. I was very alone and it was getting dark again. I told myself that the 7 miles out were going to feel long and just try to relax. The trail was more hilly, but easier to follow. I noted how many minutes it took me to get to the first road crossing (20) so that I would know what to expect on the way back. I quickly reached another road, but the trail didn't cross it, rather it followed it. Hmm. I think I remember someone talking about this. I kept seeing blue blazes so I kept going - downhill for quite some time. Then the road became paved and climbed. I hoped I was on course. Eventually I saw cars in a parking lot and some guys setting up aid station tables. I noted the time from the finish (30 minutes) said hello and kept running.
The trail was wide at first and then returned to single track for the duration. It was also very hilly, mostly uphill in this direction. The light rain was becoming steadier and eventually my glasses got wet. I tried cleaning them a couple of times, but it was useless. My vision was crappy with them on or off. This was mostly a problem in low lying areas (hidden rock gardens) and treacherous descents. If anything, my visibility issues were a nice pacing tool, since I was still alone in 2nd place, and my legs felt great. I was also doing well energy-wise. I continued to take a GU every 30 minutes and sipped water as I went (not a lot, but more than I'm used to). I managed to run up the super steep ascents which reminded me of the Pisgah race, but not as long. I then crossed paths with Chris Hayhurst again. I was relieved to know I was getting close to the turnaround. The trail began descending and I finally opted to take off my glasses. I hit the famous staircase and made my way down to the aid station.
I drank two small cups of Coke and had my handheld refilled with water. I then was off again. My time was 2:36. Before the race, I was worried about the last 7 miles, thinking that I would blow up or just break down during this section. But I was feeling so good, and just knew I wouldn't have any trouble keeping up my pace and finishing rather strong. Visibility was going to be the major hassle.
It continued to rain harder and harder. The first person I encountered in the opposite direction was Seth! I was incredibly happy for him and this pumped me up. I did check my watch to see what my lead was (5 or 6 minutes I guessed). I then hit the train of oncoming traffic, more spread out now, and people weren't as chipper as before. Everyone was drenched. The trail condition was deteriorating and I was glad I was finishing up. I knew that if I could keep this stretch similar to the way out, I could finish sub 3:40. Once I made the long climb out of the hollow, it was mostly downhill. I was able to stay on course. My legs still felt good. I couldn't see much. It kept pouring.
I was looking forward to the road section (and the relief it would bring), and therefore it seemed to take a long time to reach. I had my first fall - tripped over who knows what, fell, and kept sliding. I wasn't hurt and jumped right back up. At the aid station near the road I stopped to get my handheld refilled since I had to dump out my bottle (got dirt in it during my fall). Who do I see there - Crutchley! We high fived and again I was pumped. I knew that he was going to be out there in these miserable conditions for a long time and I was happy to see he wasn't going to give up. My time was 3:08. It took me 30 minutes to get here on the way out. I needed to do it again to finish sub 3:40.
I ran the roads well, including the steep dirt climb. I re-entered the woods and tried to push my pace. I hit the final road crossing and again noted that I was still right on pace from the way out. 20 more minutes. The trail was mostly a stream at this point. I could do this. I hustled as best I could, but the anticipation was tough. I fell again. I almost slid off the trail a few other times. I knew I was very close. But then the trail climbed. It kept climbing and climbing. Finally near the top I slid on a giant wet rock and scraped my glasses (in my hand) and my chest. I couldn't worry about anything at this point. I needed to finish.
A few more turns and then I reached the finish banner and a few cheering spectators in the woods. I had to ask if I was done. I was. 3:38:02. 2nd place. Crazy trail and weather conditions. I couldn't have been happier.
I stumbled around chatting with Chris (3:23) and some of the race helpers, and then realized I was getting cold. I began hobbling to my car when I heard the 3rd place finisher arriving. It was Seth! He did it. And crushed his time from last year by 30 minutes. Unbelievable performance by him today. I made it to my car and got into warm, dry clothes. I went back down to the finish and got some delicious veggie chili (I was beginning to bonk). I wandered around the woods to find my shirt. I chatted some more with Chris and the RD Dave Merkt. Finally I was getting really cold again (still raining and the temperature was in the high 50's) so Seth and I collected our prizes (pies!) and made the journey back to RI.
I'd like to thank the Shenipsit Striders for hosting such a great event. I can't wait to run this race again.