Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pineland Farms Trail Challenge

The Pineland Farms Trail Challenge 50 mile was my first ultra race alone. I had wanted to go for a couple of years but it’s on the same day as the VT City Marathon. I haven’t run VT City in a couple of years opting for the Nipmuck Trail marathon instead which is usually the weekend after. However this year, it falls two weeks after and on the same day as the Girls on the Run 5K for which I coach the Charlotte section. My friend, Aliza, ran Pineland Farms last year and was planning on going back suggested I go with her. My first thought was to do the 50K but Aliza said the course was easy that I should do the 50M.

I ramped up my training to get at least one 30m run in by doing laps around the Hinesburg Town Forest. A couple weeks before the race, I found out Aliza was sick and wouldn’t be going. Since I had already registered, I was committed.

I made a reservation at the Super 8 motel in Freeport which was supposed to be only 10 minutes away from the race. It was the most reasonably priced place I could find that would allow a one night stay since it was a holiday weekend. The front desk person recommended a local Italian place that was conveniently 5 minutes down the road from the hotel.

After dinner I went back to the motel to get ready for the race. I know a race is not the time to experiment but my plan was to use my hydration pack and to refill it which was the experiment part. Usually, I would start with my pack and switch to my fuel belt and keep swapping bottles. However, I’ve found it easier to drink from my pack and still be able to run compared to my fuel belt where I end up walking and fumbling with bottles. I did get my fuel belt ready to go just in case I changed my mind during the race.

I packed a small cooler with my fuel belt, four extra bottles, GUs, Clif Shot Blox, a 32oz bottle of Amino Vital Endurance formula and a small bottle of Coke. I don’t normally change my socks or shoes for a 50m so I didn’t bother with any type of drop bag. I wore a pair of Brooks PR shorts (which was a first as well) with a Brooks short sleeved shirt. The morning was a little chilly so I had a long sleeved shirt on too figuring it would be fine if it started to rain.

It didn’t take long to make a new friend- a runner named Jamie-who showed me a good spot to put my cooler. It was along the course on a section that I would go by twice each lap. Of course I came across not so new friends that were fun to catch up with.

After a short pre-race meeting, we started. The 50m course is a 3.5m loop done first and then three laps of 25k. I started with Nate Sanel, a friend from NH who Jack is coaching, but it didn’t take long and he was ahead of me. I was chatting a little bit with whoever was around and listening to the other runners talking. The first 3.5m went by fine and gave me a feel for the course. It was a wide sometimes grass, sometimes gravel and sometimes a mowed path through a cow field over rolling hills.

I didn’t think to click the lap button on my watch after the 3.5m loop and was getting warm on the first 25k lap. I took my long sleeved shirt off and felt better but still wasn’t in a racing mindset. I tried to convince myself to use it as a training run and stay up with my nutrition better than I usually do. I finally made it back to the start/finish area and was a little disoriented as to where my cooler was but kept going and found it.

I probably wasted the most time at this stop. I refilled my hydration pack but didn’t recluse it properly. When I put it on, it started leaking and running down my back. I took it off and poured some of the fluid out thinking I had overfilled it. I closed it again but it still leaked and then I realized I was closing it backwards.

I got going again and crossed a road to get to the last little loop of the course. This part of the course was a wide grassy path that wound its way through the woods. You could see other runners through the trees but it was hard to tell if they were ahead or behind. The course was marked in 5K increments and the last 5K seemed to last forever. I ran past my cooler as I came back to the start/finish area and went left to start lap #2. I clicked my watch and it said 3:11 for 3.5m and 25K.

On the second lap I found my groove and was feeling better about life. I caught up with a couple of guys who were running the race together. I never did get their names but they helped pull me along. We ran and walked at the same times and sometimes I would get ahead but then they would catch up and get a little ahead of me.

Towards the end of the second lap I found out their goal was to finish around nine hours. I looked at my watch and started doing the math. We were just under six hours with one lap to go. I completed the second lap in 2:43 and figured if I could maintain this pace then I could finish under nine. That was all I needed to keep going. The two guys pulled off to the side where their stuff was and I kept going figuring they would catch back up to me but I never saw them again until the finish line.

After a quick pit stop, I saw a woman ahead of me who I spoke with at the race start and I knew her goal was also to finish under nine hours. She became my next carrot. I wasn’t going to push my pace too much to catch her but I was hoping that she would slow down with fatigue and I could catch her. I caught up to Jamie whom I met that morning. His feet were hurting him with plantar fasciitis and slowing him down. He told me how the woman in front, who had her husband pacing her, had passed him and the husband wasn’t nice about it-cutting him off on the trail so the wife could have the preferred path. Jamie also told me he noticed the husband was carrying a fuel belt and asked if he was muling for her. The husband smiled and didn’t say no but did comment she was only drinking at the aid stations. He said he reported it to one of the race directors who happened to be out on the course and is a friend of his. I figured if the directors did something about it then great but if not then I was satisfied knowing I finished all on my own.

It wasn’t until we reached the last 5K that the husband looked back and saw me. It took a moment to figure out what color number I had and then he was urging her on. I kept my pace figuring he could push all he wants but she’s only going to go so fast and in my mind they were cheaters. I knew that I was going to finish under nine hours which to me was as good as winning.

Finally the road crossing was in sight and around the corner was the finish line. I thought about dropping my hydration pack at my cooler but decided to keep it on as my own personal symbol that I carried my own stuff. I crossed the line in 8:40:?? And about a minute behind the woman I was chasing. I was immediately awarded a cow bell and a pint glass which a friendly volunteer was more than willing to fill with beer for me. I passed on the beer feeling a bit overwhelmed with the finish line activities of gathering my prizes, tearing off my bib number, music blaring in the background, staying in order exiting the chute and then having to decide on a beer flavor.

I exited the chute and ran into Nate. He introduced me to his family and told me he had a great race finishing in 7:40 and tenth overall. They were getting ready to leave but I told him he had to call Jack. After Nate got done, I talked to Jack and then went to get some food. Paul Lowe, who had won the 50K race, was there and so I hung with him while I ate. The 50m awards were coming up so I decided to stay and watch. Brian R and Amy Lane won overall in record setting times. Then the age group awards started and my name was called for the Yard Woman category which is 35-44! The woman who finished ahead of me won the next age group but she didn’t receive her plaque.

I went back to the car and got my running bag to go take a shower at the YMCA that’s there. It felt good to be cleaned up and have fresh clothes on for the ride home. Overall, the race was well organized and run and I’m happy with my performance. It’s a race I would certainly go back to.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Seven Sisters

Seven Sisters May 2009

This is a race I love to hate. The only person I’m competing against is myself and in order to keep it in perspective-I have to treat it as just a training run with 100 or so other people.

Jack and I drove to Amherst, MA the night before and spent a nice evening with Todd and Dee Walker. Todd grilled up some veggies, chicken and sausage for our pre-race meal and spent the evening catching up. It was hard to believe that Todd has never done Seven Sisters. We got a good night’s sleep, ate breakfast and headed out to the Mt. Holyoke State Park. We were greeted at the park by a familiar face putting in some volunteer duty as parking attendant-Leigh Schmidt. We got a good parking spot, chatted for a moment and made our way to registration.

I love to hate this race because it’s so challenging. The course is 6 miles out and back on a single track trail that goes over the Mt. Holyoke Range. With 3700 feet of climbing over the 12 miles, flat areas are few and far between. The only reason I do this race is to rip my quads apart on the downhills. Of course, the uphills are good to get the heart pumping at or near maximum.

Just before 9am, everyone started gathering at the bottom of the trail. I got towards the front of the crowd. It’s an uphill start with boulders to go around, loose rock to slip on and tree roots to negotiate. I’m sure the leaders run right up it but for me it’s a speed hike. Fortunately I didn’t get stuck in any bottlenecks or behind anyone I couldn’t get around. It didn’t take long to get the heart pounding and warmed up. A lot of people were passing me but I figured I would be passing some of them on the way back. Shortly into the race, I could feel my foot slipping around in one of my shoes so I stopped to retie it (it was also an excuse to stop and catch my breath). The rest of the way out was uneventful. The crowd eventually thinned, I let people go by me and tried to find a groove. Of the few people I met, one knew my Stowe ski school supervisor proving once again it’s a small world. I’ve only done this race once before and remembered a couple of things about the course: 1) it is hilly and 2) it includes running around the porch of an Inn that’s at the top of one of the mountains. Dee had biked up to the Inn with a friend and cheered me and the other runners on. The views of the Connecticut River valley are spectacular.

I was glad to finally reach the turn around point and have a quick cup of Coke. It wasn’t until the way back that I finally found a groove and settled in. I did manage to pass a few people on the way back-including the guy who knew my ski school supervisor. I caught up to few other runners to run in to the finish with. I knew I was close to the finish but my previous finish time had come and gone and the legs were getting shaky on the rocky decent. I tried not to slow down too much but I still finished about 9 minutes over my previous time.

Jack was waiting for me with the camera at the finish line. He had a good race finishing close to the top. We got something to eat and caught up with friends we haven’t seen all winter. It was a good race and more importantly a good training run. My legs weren’t nearly as sore as I thought they would be after so I’m either in better shape than I thought or I didn’t push myself hard enough. I’ll find out as the season progresses.

Northern Nipmuck 16m Trail Race

April 2009

Northern Nipmuck 16m Trail Race

5am is pretty early to be on the road. But we were for the four hour ride to Connecticut to run in the Northern Nipmuck 16M Trail race. We pulled into the State Park around 9am and found a place to park in the same lot we parked in last year. The day was overcast with the threat of rain later in the morning. With the temps in the 40’s, it was hard to decide what to wear-shorts or tights? A long sleeve or short sleeve shirt? A jacket? The day was expected to get a little warmer and I remember being overdressed two years ago (the last time I ran this race) so I opted for shorts, a short sleeve shirt and a jacket in case it rained. I also decided t o use my hydration pack so I wouldn’t lose time at aid stations and not have to deal with fuel belt bottles.

Once I had everything, I made a quick trip to the woods and went to the start area with Jack. We ran a little bit of the way to start warming up and Jack took off up the trail for some more. I went part way up the first hill to remind myself of the terrain and to practice a little downhill running.

I hung out near the start line not wanting to be to be right at the front but not too far back either. The pre-race talk was brief and we were off. It’s uphill for the first mile and a half so it didn’t take long to warm up. It had been raining so the trail was muddy and had puddles I was going around to keep my feet dry. This was my first time for any real trail running this year so I was feeling like Bambi trying to find good footing, run the down hills fearlessly and just not fall.

The course is eight miles out and back with an aid station around the four mile mark and at the turn around. I got to the first aid station without falling and glanced at it as I went by. With the recent rain, the stream crossings were a little tricky and the roots and rocks were a bit slippery however I made it to the turn around unscathed. I did spend a minute or so joking with my friend, Glen Redpath, who was volunteering and enjoyed a small cup of Coke.

Shortly after starting the return trip, it began to rain. It didn’t bother me too much as the course is all in the trees. I was glad to be wearing a jacket. By now, I had finally found a groove and was slowly picking people off that had passed me at the start. I think I moved up 5-6 places and was pulling some guys behind me. I finished two years ago in 3:16 and was hoping to finish somewhere close to that. 3:16 came and went on my watch and the finish wasn’t in sight. I knew I was close because I was cruisin’ down the hill we went up to start. A couple of the guys I was pulling passed me. I let them go and tried to pick up my pace. The last section of hill is rocky so the footing can be tricky but there was the finish and Jack standing under an umbrella. I finished in 3:20 which I’m happy with and it was fun seeing some familiar trail running faces. Hopefully, this is the start of a successful season.