"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." -Teddy Roosevelt
New Gloucester, MAINE -- The objective for Sunday's Pineland Farms 25k Trail Race was pretty straightforward...PR. In fact, back in December I had identified it as one of my Top 3 goals for 2010. Following a very good winter and productive early spring I felt my fitness (and most importantly...my health) were precisely where they needed to be. Now all I needed to do was perform. Before leaving for the event I wrote four numbers on the back of my left hand; 22, 44, 1:06, and 1:28. Those would be my 5k time targets for 7:05 pace through 20k. From experience I know that the last 5k is more about survival than pace but I figured if I hit the 20k split I would be in excellent position to run sub 1:54 (the PR I set last year). The record field of 320 trail runners set off under clear skies, with a light breeze, and temps in the high 70's. Pineland Farms held true to it's name with thick clouds of pine pollen blowing everywhere. The first 5k is mostly downhill and I fought the temptation to put too much 'time in the bank' instead sticking with the plan to be patient in the first 15k. I hit the 5k mark in 21:15...about :45 fast, but fine considering the terrain and the excitement of the race start. Breaking longer races down has always helped my focus. Because this course has the 5k's marked, it's logical to deconstruct the race into five 5k races. With so much focus before the race on the last 5k I actually forgot how challenging the 2nd 5k was on this course. The elevation profile tells the story. Nearly half of the elevation lost in the first 5k is regained in the 2nd 5k and my 10k split reflected it. Actually, around the :46 mark I thought they had either forgotten to place the 10k or it had blown down because I was sure I should have seen it by then. Then as I crested a small hill in the Valley Farm Loop I saw it...:48. I quickly rationalized that my 7:05 pace target had a little extra "cushion" built into the PR attempt so I stayed patient and turned my attention to the next 5k. With most of the elevation gained, the 3rd 5k is a cruiser and I managed to find a comfortably hard rhythm. Just before the 15k mark, at the Valley Farm aid station, I caught TRIAD Racing's Mike Wade. An incredibly talented runner and winner of aR's Pemi Wild Ultra in '09 I was pleased to have caught him but unsure as to how long I could stay with him. I enjoyed the few minutes of conversation and then was a little surprised when he let me go ahead. At the 15k I looked at my watch; 1:07. I had made up 3 of the 4 minutes lost in the 2nd 5k and now squarely back in the game. Just shy of 17k we passed by the START/FINISH area where I exchanged my two 10 oz bottles of HEED and took two ENDUROLYTES. Due to the warmer temps I was purposely aiming for 20 oz/hour of HEED and through the first hour I was right on point. As I crossed the road I had roughly 8k to go but these were certainly the toughest kms on the course. Just before the 20k mark, on a gradual descent, Mike passed me. He looked refreshed, fit, and strong. Bewildered, I wondered for a moment what he had been doing for the last 5k? As the endless ups and downs continued, the 20k was finally in sight. I hit the mark in 1:29:30, ninety seconds behind but still in great shape to pull off the PR. Then it happened. After 21,000+ footstrikes I failed to effectively place left foot to hard surface instead kicking a baseball sized rock on a gradual decline sending me hurtling violently forward in a hands toward the ground "I'm going to graham" catastrophe. In a good news bad news sort of way I saved the faceplant...but the sudden lunging forward sent both hamstrings into spasm. Although I was able to continue to run, the pace was slowed considerably but the stage had been set for an epic physical collapse. In the final field with less than a km to go it happened. My left hamstring seized bringing me to an abrupt halt. I reflexively bent forward in a attempt to relieve the cramp but it actually made it worse. Standing back up I quickly ran through my contingency plan for such a calamity...but I hadn't planned for this. The best I could do was finish the ounce or two of HEED in my bottles and walk as quickly as I could. Runner after runner ran by encouraging me "hang in there...the end is near". Oh how right they were. Within in three minutes of stopping I was able to continue running but with a cadence that looked more like shuffling on egg shells than trail racing. I ran across the finish in 1:58:11 (37th overall). I was actually closer to my worst ever finish (2:01 in '08) than my PR (1:54 in '09). Two disappointing individual efforts in a row, Pineland and 7 Sisters. Both results affected by cramping. Time now for a lot of reflection and a renewed effort to strengthen that weakness. On the team front, the very talented 4 from TRIAD put a whoppin' on us beating us by just under 20 minutes.
Amesbury, MASSACHUSETTS--The Hoppin Mad Mud Run wasn't on the schedule at the start of the year...but it's sure to find it's way on the 2011 event calendar. I received a typical mass e-mail from one of the race organizers about a month ago describing this first year event. The pitch was pretty straightforward...get together a team of 5 and join us for one of the craziest and muddiest races east of the Mississippi. Oh, and there will be beer and pizza at the after party. Team, mud, beer, and pizza...those are the four magic words for aR. With not a lot of arm twisting we were able to put together two teams...aR-BLACK and aR-RED. Tim, Brent, Ri, Dwight and myself would race aR-BLACK while Sarah S., Mike S., Mike O., Peter, and Michelle (currently a friend of aR...but we're working on that) would race as aR-RED. The course was described as 10k with military-style obstacles and a mud pit at the finish. Teams would have to crawl through the mud together with the captain crossing the line last. Simple enough. A quick assessment revealed that Dew was probably our weakest runner but in that group "weakest" is a relative term. Knowing he had recently run the Boston Marathon and having raced with him before I expected nothing less than everything he had. He knew that his time on this course would be our finish time and yet he was undaunted. We decided that I would set the team pace for the first 4 mile road run portion of the event. Ri & Brent would help Tim pull Dwight along. With an incredible turnout (over 600 competitors), the event organizers opted to start groups in waves. Assigned to wave #9 we would have 27 minutes to wait after the first group went out. When it was our turn, we headed out hard running roughly 6:00/mile pace over the rolling country roads. Dwight did an incredible job and hung tough until we hit the off-road obstacle filled final two miles of farm land. The course designer had us negotiate a series of obstacles including a creek crossing, two 5 foot high walls, wooden hurdles (to climb over and under), a couple of low crawls, and of course the final 20 meter mud pit. I can't tell you the last time I had so much fun racing so hard! I almost wished the entire 10k was filled with obstacles. As we were waiting for the awards ceremony to start we were fairly confident that we had a chance at a podium finish even though none of us had started a watch. When some of the preliminary chip timed results were posted we were shocked to see our finish time as 1:08. Our guesstimated clock time should have been closer to :45. With the multiple wave starts I assumed that the finish time hadn't been adjusted and that they would correct it when they did the official results. After enjoying some Flat Bread pizza and hilarious race recaps it wasn't long before the awards begun. They started with the overall team result and shockingly we weren't called...at all. Now we knew something was up. Waiting until the entire 20 minute award ceremony was complete I approached the RDs to inquire about the results. They listened to my explanation and then asked what our bib # was. When I told them they had the explanation right away...our chip had been faulty and they had known it for some time. To their credit they brought us the equivalent prize schwag and cash without hesitation. For the record, when the official results were released earlier this week our time was 45:56 and was only :15 faster than the co-ed runner-up Sibling Rivalry. Despite the handful of logistical foibles, the RDs have an ingenious concept and a surefire winner. They are promising an expanded schedule of these races in the future and you can bet aR will be back in 2011 to defend our title.
Amherst, MASSACHUSETTS--It's been a while since I had my rear end handed to me like the 7 Sisters Trail Race handed it to me today. Just a complete arse whoppin. About the only saving grace was spending the day (uh, sharing the agony) with teammates. aR had a strong showing with six athletes including Ri, Ryan, Steve W., Rich, Geoff, and myself. The light rain and overcast skies pre-race should have been an omen. The clouds definitely burned off with temperatures soaring into the mid 80's. Not having run this race before I was completely at a loss as to a race plan (probably another omen). Steve and others had filled me in on the course but no measure of words could have prepared me for the killer climbs that lay ahead. The start was exactly as described...10 feet of running before the entire line of runners began immediately walking uphill. Rich stayed close and we picked our way up the first climb. I was feeling very strong for the first 6 miles to the turnaround arriving at the end point around 1:12. I had lost Rich and passed Wolfe somewhere between 4 and 6. As I was leaving the turnaround aid station Steve was rolling in and hollered that he was coming after me. Shortly before the 8 mile mark, while negotiating a steep rocky ascent, my quads began to seize. I knew right away that it was going to be a long 4 miles to the finish. I picked up my hydration and Endurolyte rate but with very little success. While I could shuffle along on some of the flats none of the ups or downs were runnable for me. It wasn't long before Wolfe caught and passed me. He encouraged me to tag along but the conductor had already punched my ticket on the pain train. I refilled at each of the water stops on the way back and even stopped to pee. Looking at my watch as I summited the final climb, with only a treacherous basalt scree descent to the finish, the watch told the entire story. I crossed the finish line in 2:49:12. I was over :30 slower on the way back. When I finished and sat down both of my quads went into a hyperspasm from hell and I laid on the ground for 20 minutes with my legs straight until the cramps abated. Although I think my nutrition was adequate, I think my pacing was way too fast. I should have hit the 1/2 way mark closer to 1:15ish. As I write the results are not posted, but Geoff was around the Top 10, Ryan the Top 25, and Ri just outside of that. Wolfe finished 4 minutes ahead of me (1:00 if you subtract the time I took to pee). In the only real trail mishap of the day, Rich took a 'Graham' on a descent within the final 3 miles and suffered a deep laceration on his forearm. After he fell he was so spooked that he walked the rest of the way. Roughly 4 weeks until Pineland Farms and I need to find my mojo again.
"Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction." - William James