The morning began with Breakheart Dan graciously providing me a ride to the race. Fortunately this one was in the town next door, so it was an easy, short ride to the race. As always, we rode up chatting about all things running related and spent a few minutes hoping our trail friends who had ventured a little farther north on Interstate 95 this weekend to take on the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge Races were fairing well. Just about the moment we finished talking about that, a hearse rolled by us on the way North, hopefully not bound for Pownal, ME!
We rolled into the parking lot at Maudsley State Park and the overcast of the early morning began to burn off and the Sun started baking everything in sight, including runners of Irish and Scottish descent that happened to forget their sunscreen. Oops.
It was a little strange pulling into a State Park for the pre-race gear up, only to figure and find that the race you are running is only three miles and there would be virtually no need for gear. Nonetheless, the duffel bag from hell was opened, and knowing Maudsley was the home course of the Newburyport Clippers XC teams, I thought about the possibility of a lighter, faster shoe, since the terrain would more than likely be MUCH tamer than most other trail races.
Though I had done a bit of speed work earlier in the week with the trail shoes, and was longing for my old XC spikes, I decided to keep it real and lace up the Trabuco's, no sense bringing road shoes to a mud fight - no matter how fast they make you feel!
We met up with Trail Pixie and one of her students, Vivian, as Dan and I came back from getting our numbers. I was chatting with Vivian, and looked down at my Garmin to see what time it was, only to find a blank LCD screeen. Uh oh... Sure enough, I forgot to recharge the Garmin and had to toss it back into the gear bag. No hydration gear, no Garmin, damn I was feeling naked!
The four of us headed out on the course for an easy warm up, previewing the first and last mile, as the course was an out and back, with a lollipop second mile that looped through the woods, and rejoined the initial mile, where runners retraced their steps back to the finish. I believe the saying is, "What goes up, must come down", but in this case, the course began with a furious downhill, which meant the last 1/2 mile or so would be UP to the finish when the legs were really feeling it.
We arrived back at the start area just in time to grab a little water, stretch VERY briefly, and amazingly as we settled waiting for the call or gun, we saw the sea of runners before us rush forward, which induced an "Aw Crap!" from all of us in the way back of the pack. I didn't want to get tied into the mob at the start and decided to haul butt around people that approached the initial downhill with a little trepidation. I mean come on! Uneven dirt trails have NOTHING on some of the nasty single track at Overlook and the Blue Hills! I made a quick decision to get my giddy up in gear, and though I might pay for it later, I charged down the descent as fast as possible to find some space to settle into a decent pace. Upon finding the space in the midpack, I made an agreement with myself. At three miles I knew it would be a quick race, and I didn't want to slip into anything conservative, so I decided to run the first mile a little faster than expected and then re-evaluate at the mile marker. Thankfully, there were still slower runners that had gone out too fast, and were a little phased by the presence of a few roots and rocks on the course - I am proud because I used to be that runner, but clearly I have developed my inner trail animal. I may not be fast, but these 'roadies' were plodding in the wild! As Trail Pixie says, "Fresh Meat!".
Understanding the basic outline of the course, I knew we'd arrive at the trail crossing that turns into the lollipop, and this would signal the last .75 or mile of the course. This crossing was quickly followed by the downhill to the stone bridge across the swamp and to the trail back up to the finish. I was still feeling alright, but in that place where my pace was on the razor's edge. Mentally I was doing well, there was that little voice that was begging to back off a little, but I also had those two runners still in my sights. At the very least I didn't want to lose contact with them, even if it meant working the hills and having nothing at the finish.
As I came through the chute, I wondered why I hadn't seen Breakheart Dan or Trail Pixie, usually I am in my chill place of Nirvana at the end of a long trail adventure, and suddenly see a friendly face blasting by me in that last mile. As I circled back I saw Dan coming through the chute. As it turned out I was the hunted in that last mile, but that little bit of mental toughness and persistence staying on the runners ahead of me was enough to keep a hard core trail animal like Breakheart Dan just a few seconds away. It is a FAR cry from our training run at the Middlesex Fells a few months ago where I couldn't hang with ANYONE in the group! Vivian was a little over a minute behind Dan, and Trail Pixie, who was on the second half of a weekend double dip, the first being the Wachusett Mountain Race on Saturday (Tired Quads, what?), came through shortly thereafter.
For both Breakheart Dan and I, it was a great race. Both of us ran paces in the 7:40's, which by no means is blazingly fast, but we both are coming off of a couple sizable trail challenges. Dan spending over 6 hours (6:45) on the Wapack Trail during his MorFun adventure (link here).
We headed over to the parking area to change, where I found my most favorite XC element of all time - mud splatter on the singlet! (grunt, grunt):
We caught back up with Vivian and Trail Pixie and made our way back over to the tent for the awards and raffles. I snuck off back onto the course to snap some of the photos of the course, and found the trails and carriage roads to be very, very peaceful.
Maudsley State Park is such a great area to do a little trail running, or simply to walk and enjoy a day in most any season. It is accessible and quite friendly for pedestrians. The race itself is also a great opportunity to try a little trail running if you have not had the opportunity to do so. I suppose it is challenging if you are used to running on the roads, but the volunteers and fellow runners are friendly, the course is off-road, but features soft pine needles and even a section of wood chips. An excellent introductory race into the world of trails and cross country racing. It is also for a great cause, as the proceeds go toward the Travis Landreth Memorial Scholarship Fund. For those not familiar with the Travis Landreth story, you can read more here, but in a nutshell, Travis was an OUTSTANDING local distance runner that passed away far, far too young. As a runner and coach in the New England region I have had the pleasure to see the Landreth family name still at the top of local and national road races and cross country meets, as Susannah and Molly Landreth both remain active in the local running community. Trav's is an excellent, family friendly event, and shouldn't be missed!
Up next for me is the Oral Surgeon and four empacted wisdom teeth being extracted. If I survive that challenge I'll be heading to race number 6 in the Eastern New England Trail Series. This must be the RunninRob swing of the series, as this one is also a hop and skip from my current habitat, 10k in Boxford State Forest. It is a Tuesday Night and should be really low-key and fun. A great chance to catch up with some trail friends, old and new, and earn a few more series points!
Until next time!