Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Race Report: Nipmuck Trail Marathon

Relentless Forward Progress ― Bryon Powell On Sunday October 4 (2015), I ran the Nipmuck Trail Marathon (26.4 miles), which was my first full trail marathon and my 6th marathon overall. Prior to yesterday, my longest trail race was a 30k (18.6 miles), which--ironically--was on my first day of training for Nipmuck: June 7. At Goodwin, I developed some confidence that I would successfully complete a trail marathon with the right amount of training. Sunday was a great weather day for a race, which was a bit of a surprise given the recent gloomy forecasts. As it turned out, the sky was clear, and the temperatures perfect for running (40s F to start, 50s F to finish), with a slight breeze. We really couldn't have asked for better weather. There was some concern for the condition of the course, given the recent heavy rain and wind, but it turned out the course was in almost pristine condition.
The race starts on Perry Hill Road, just for about one hundred feet, and then turns south onto the single track Nipmuck Trail. I dressed in shorts, a long sleeve shirt, buff, and gloves; but warmed up quickly, to the point that I wondered if I had overdressed. I pushed up my sleeves and exposed my fingers (my gloves are designed to do that) and managed to moderate my body temp and felt better. I felt even better as I approached miles 5 and 6, as the temps seemed cooler in that area of trail.
The run to the mile 6 turnaround was just as described in previous race reports--a conga line. I didn't mind, as the so-called conga line was running a comfortable pace for me, and helped me not overextend myself too early in the race. My goal was to get to mile 12 (the Start/Finish line) strong and fresh, which I did. The first 12 miles peeled away almost without noticing and I was onto the upper half of the race. I remember thinking, "the real race begins now," as I came through the mile 12 aid station. I dumped my long sleeve shirt, gloves and buff on my way through, which turned out to be good decision. I was quite comfortable for the remainder of the race. During training, I was concerned about how the hills would feel in the upper half of the race, as they start immediately after crossing Perry Hill Road. As it turned out, the hills felt fine and I was quite fresh and ready to tackle them. It's a pretty easy 4 mile jaunt to the next aid station (Iron Mine Road), and I found myself daydreaming a bit, which is probably why I face-planted early into the second half of the race. It was a good wake-up call and I worked on refocusing. I wasn't hurt, and didn't need to try my luck a second time. My brain continued to be a bit fuzzy and I noticed myself miscalculating my location on the course. By the time I made Iron Mine, I regained my focus and was eager to push on. The crew at the Iron Mine aid station was comprised of my club-mates from the Willimantic Athletic Club, and they were a welcome sight. I felt fine going into the station, but I made sure to look super perky for their benefit. I didn't want to look anything but strong and happy. As in all of the aid stations, they asked, "How are you feeling?" I replied, "I feel good, and I feel strong," which was the truth. The run from Iron Mine Road to the next aid station/turnaround point (Boston Hollow Road) becomes more hilly and technical. I focused on getting it done, and found myself at the turnaround in what seemed like short order. I even recall looking at my watch about a mile before the turnaround and being surprised I was at mile 18 so soon. I felt no sign of a wall and was enjoying myself immensely. There's some serious climbing in the two miles before the turnaround, and just getting them done seemed to be keeping me focused and not really paying attention to the distance. Approaching the Boston Hollow aid station, you have to climb for a while--then descend some tricky wooden stairs, which feels somewhat sadistic. Climbing them on the return trip isn't any better. Once I made my way into the aid station, one of the volunteers offered to fill my hydration pack. I hesitated, not knowing whether it was low. He said, "You might as well fill it here, as at the next location (a drop), you'll have to bend over." I looked at him, paused for effect, and deadpanned, "That sounds exciting..." His eyes grew wide and he blurted, "That came out wrong!!" We had a good laugh. I loaded up on the potatoes (my favorite) and cookies, sucked on an orange slice, and made my way back up the hill. The climb out of the valley is steep and my heartrate/breathing were very heavy. I managed to get past the steep climbs and descents and began to return to my race pace (I called it my "all-day pace"). Heading south, I encountered many runners desperately seeking the turnaround and even one who was asking everyone, "What is the cutoff? What is the cutoff?" Nobody seemed to remember. Another fellow, about 2 miles from the turnaround, seemed perplexed: "I MUST be getting close." Eh, sort of buddy. Once the trail leveled out to some extend, the trip back to Iron Mine seemed to pass quickly. I made sure to trot in with good posture and tried to look fresh. Volunteer Jack Fulton asked, half kidding, "Back already?" I took it as a compliment. Again my club-mates asked how I was doing and I indicated I felt really good. Jack joked, "I'm sorry it's almost over for you." I love it. After Iron Mine, there's a dirt road hill to climb, and I made sure to run for a bit until out of eyesight for the aid station. I walked the remainder of the hill and settled in for the last 4 miles of the race. I found it strange that I didn't hit a wall or even feel fatigued. Apparently this was one of those races where everything came together. I thought for sure that the last 2-3 miles would be a slog, tripping and falling; but, it went just fine and the miles passed quickly. The last mile is marked on trees in tenths (though some seemed off), and I was pleasantly surprised when the 1 mile marker appeared. My watch was off a little, probably from the tree cover. As I whittled it down to the last quarter of mile, I started to listen for the cheering of the finish area. I also chose my steps carefully, as I didn't want an injury that close to the finish. A couple of people were hanging out just in from the finish and said something along the lines of, "Nice work runner!" Perfect. Approaching the finish line, I heard a cheer go up and people yelling my name. A few friends were waiting, along with my daughter and her boyfriend, which was a welcome sight. It felt amazing to finish the race and to still be strong. Normally after a marathon, I plop face down in grass for a half hour and rest; but, I didn't feel the need this time. My finish of 5 hours and 23 minutes was nearly 2 hour slower than my road marathon PR, but it's to be expected on trails. I was warned that a trail marathon would add at least 1.5 hours to my usual time. What a great day!

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