Tuesday, June 14, 2016

USATF NE Trail Championship 2016

Earlier this spring I was able to race the USATF NE Trail Championship in Andover, MA aka the Merrimack River 10M Trail Race.  Usually the race conflicts with other things, but I had no excuses this year to skip out.  It is a trail race, but races like a track meet.  Because it is the trail championship, part of the ATR series, and also the first trail race in the established Grand Tree Series, this race attracts a ton of fast runners.  Because the course is easy, it attracts a bunch of fast road runners.  I had no expectations in regards to finishing place, even for just the Masters division.  I instead focused on my overall time, settling for a number I thought made sense based on comparisons to other runners - 64 minutes.  My brother Greg who has experience at this race, set the bar higher for me: 61 or 62.  He was adamant that I could be that fast here.  I had plenty of trail racing under my belt already this year.  I was pumped! 

I made the trek up with Mike Galoob.  We got there early, signed up, and decided to walk the first part of the course.  The race begins in a parking lot, but in a matter of feet, narrows to a muddy single track section (that becomes quadruple track during the race).  I made the note to not bother to try to get across on the bridge and just aim straight through the mud.  The trail then meets the river and is a very pleasant path along the shore.  It was more of a trail than I was led to believe, but still very fast.  After our hike, we then headed back out for a warm up, change into racing gear, and strides in the parking lot and grass.  The vibe was more machismo than friendly trail venue.  Super focused speedsters not messing around.  I was a little underdressed for the chilly start temp, but I knew I would be working hard and never cold during the race.  I snuck into the far right hand side of the starting line.  I didn't want to be up front, but I also didn't want to get stuck behind people tip-toeing through the beginning mud bog. 

The race began and it was a quagmire.  Some people fell.  I remained upright and stuck to my plan. 

Here we go!  Tucked into the left corner. 
Straight through the mud I go.  Stink eye from blue shirt. 

Ended up next to Galoob who took the bridge.

Things quieted down.  I was in a decent spot (20th?) of a long single file line, although I felt a little out of place, seeing some of the runners I was with. 

I shouldn't be near that guy in front of me!
The running felt fast.  I was pushing myself pretty hard, but trying to keep my pace to something I could reasonably maintain for 10 miles.  I thought the sorting out was done after a mile or so, but I got annoyed as people continued to pass me at the two mile mark.  I felt like I was in 50th place (exaggerating).  I decided to increase my effort and stick with a group of three runners who just passed me by.  After 3 miles, I anticipated the hills.  I was told there were three in each direction.  I hoped this would be my strong suit, but honestly I also preferred a slower grind to a fast sprint at that point.  The hills went well, but it was hard to catch my breath at the top and crank down the other side.  There were a few tricky descents.  I was reeling in the group of 3.  Then, on the steep hill at the powerline, I snuck by two of them after the pace dropped to a crawl (they actually power hiked and I ran).  Check out the 2:15 mark of this video for the action. 

I continued to trail the last of the 3 in a yellow SRR singlet.  I figured it was only a matter of time and I remained close.  I definitely had put good distance on the other two behind me.  Then as the turnaround neared, I began seeing the leaders coming in the opposite direction.  I was very wary of making way for them.  I was bummed to see that Galoob wasn't as high up as I thought he would be.  I reached the end and had to ask what I was supposed to do (just turn around and run duh!).  I think my split was 30:40ish.  Running against traffic was a bit nerve wracking.  At first, it was scary to see all the competition not far behind me.  Then it was a bit frustrating to not always get cooperation from slow runners much later.  I wasn't as aggressive as maybe I should have been here.  I let the SRR guy get too far ahead at time during the hills, and missed my opportunity on the powerline hill in the opposite direction as I got very close to him.  Check out footage from the above video at the 6:20 mark. 
Honestly I remember thinking that I wasn't giving it my all on my return trip through the hills.  It was somewhat because of oncoming traffic, but really I was tired and I had no pressure from behind.  I couldn't see anybody.  I actually was looking forward to the last 3 miles of flatness.  I knew that I would be able to pick it back up and finish strong.  The SRR guy was putting distance on me and I gave up that fight.  That is until I reached the flat riverbed again.  I clearly was catching up to him.  I found a comfortable gear with quick turnover and just tried to stick with it.  His lead on me was shrinking, but at a painfully slow rate.  My best hope was to make a surge near the finish.  Then I caught a glimpse of someone gaining on me from behind - another SRR jersey being worn by Eric Ahern.  I know him from the TARC 50K (well 40K for me) and few years ago, and that he is a great ultra runner who looks fast.  I wanted to beat him.  There was about two miles left.  Running scared now - I was moving even faster.  With about a half mile to go he caught and passed me.  I tried to hold him off, but I think my speed was pegged.  I could only watch in disappointment as he then battled his SRR teammate the last stretch to the finish.  I made my way gingerly through the mud (almost slipping) and crossed the finish line.  See 9:40 mark of video. 
The finish. 
1:02:12.  I was really happy with my time.  Greg nailed it!  Turns out that I was 14th overall and 3rd master!  Results here.  It felt good to compete so well on a big stage.  The race was more "traily" than I thought going in.  I enjoyed the sprint-hills-sprint format.  I definitely feel like I need a little more speed (complete lack of speedwork probably didn't help) for the flats, but I really can't complain. 



  1. Great recap! And really good result in a pretty deep field! Looks like a XC Meet for an older, more refined crowd. Get those Grand Tree points!

  2. Great write-up, pics, and video. Well done, Jonny.

  3. It sounds exciting! It is certain that this race is interesting. I especially like your video.