Saturday, December 12, 2009

"For Those About To Rock" - Middlesex Fells Trail Race (Dec. Edition) - 8 Mile - RACE REPORT

"Stand up and be counted for what you are about to receive."

"Hail, hail to the good times, 'cause rock has the right of way. We ain't no Legend, we ain't no cause, we're just livin' for the day."

- from ACDC's "For Those About to Rock"

First, I would have posted this sooner, but the sudden passing of Larry Olsen really made me want to hold off on posting something that would bump the news down 'below the fold'. Nevertheless, I imagine Larry wants us all to keep running and living, so alas we move on, but will never forget.

Saturday, December 5th brought the last race of the Eastern New England Trail Race Series and, as the cliche goes, the series saved the best for last.

The Middlesex Fells is quite unsuspecting because it vaults up out of the earth mere miles outside of downtown Boston, and offers terrain that is great preparation for hiking and running in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for the city dweller or suburbanite. The most rugged of the trails in the Fells is the Skyline, roughly a 7.5 to 8 mile loop that has plenty of rolling hills, and rocky running, offering a couple of spectacular views of the city in the distance and, on a clear day, the Blue Hills to the south, which also have a Skyline Trail with a similar notorious reputation.

Race director 'Bogie D' has to limit the race field based on necessity and park regulations, but this race isn't for all trail runners. In fact, most of the time I am out on the Skyline I wonder what possessed me to want to run on such a trail. Outside of the terrain and smaller field, this race really deserves to be on the docket of ENETRS races, and with a season that features 24 events over close to 9 months of the year, runners clamoring for series points this late in the season have to earn every single last one.

The race is really a microcosm of the trail running community as a whole. In addition to the 8 mile, Bogie offers an Ultra Race on the same course, and those only up for one loop around the Skyline are privy to the wonder of seeing the Ultra runners negotiate the same terrain for 3 to 5 loops. It really is quite impressive, and it is one thing to want to run 40 miles, but it is completely different wanting to do it over this tricky terrain where the trail runner is forced to be ever vigilant or risk getting a face full of granite.

The 'Gang' was out in full force at the Fells, with Breakheart Dan, Trail Pixie, Streph, and myself running in the 8 mile. kZ, Trailgrrl, Cookie Monster, and Paully Barefeet were embarking on the ultra:
(The 8 mile crew)

I knew the race would be a challenge for me, since I haven't been able to really embark on any long runs of more than 5 or 6 miles since getting injured, and I looked at this race as a way to challenge myself, enjoy the trail with some friends, and generally get past my certain visual limitations and perceived lack of physical fitness. My goal was just to hang with someone during the race, and I caught up to Breakheart Dan within the first mile, but his feet were way too hot for me, and I let him go (more realistically I got dropped!). I ran alone for a while, and then after a wrong turn down another trail, and then some backtracking, I found my way back to the Skyline by catching sight of kZ, Trail Pixie, Streph and Cookie Monster. I stuck with them for as long as I could, and then after a couple snags I bid them adieu, dropping off the pace, hoping I might be able to catch back up later on.

The undulating terrain, with leaves and rocks is a little hard on my eyes, which slowed me down a little, but it is part of the race, and I still managed to hold on to 12 minute/mile pace for the first three miles, which was great news in my book, since I knew I would be over joyed with finishing the course in 1:30 to 1:40. Yes, 12 minute miles do seem really slow, but the Skyline is super technical, and having run the trail before I knew what I was getting myself into:
(The rocky road to....)

The fourth mile was a bit tougher, and when I reached the Stone Tower atop the hill that overlooks Boston, I stopped for a few quick shots:
(Overlooking Boston)

After posing with the city, I got back to the course and found one of the ultra runners cresting the hill and heading in my direction. I didn't know the name of this runner, but after 4.5 miles of being beaten by the same trail, runners get that sense of brotherhood through doing battle with the same beast. We teamed up for the technical stuff right after the Boston overlook, and generally chatted. I thought about breaking our conversation and putting a little more push in my effort, but I was having too much fun getting to know another great personality on the trails.

I hate to be the guy that rants about how running trail races is so much more different than running the roads, but where else can you substitute your own silly desires to run fast with basically getting to know a stranger? It just doesn't happen often enough in life, and we are generally conditioned to not talk to strangers as children, only to have it manifest in unhealthy ways in our adult lives.

Glen and I talked for the remainder of the race, only briefly breaking off when I decided to sprint the final flat section to the finish, but besides series points, and time with my old friends, I found a new face I now know on the trail, and no doubt will see and run with again.

I think I finished 33rd of 37 runners in the 8 mile, with an okay time of 1:53, but clearly the experience and the opportunity to get to know a fellow trail warrior for the second half of the race was truly my award.

Following the race, I joined Breakheart Dan and Trail Pixie, as they cheered on our ultra friends. It, again, was great to hang out with people at the aid station well after our race was over and share some good spirited conversation in less than tropical weather. Bogie always puts on the best races, and if you don't laugh when you are around him for more than 5 minutes you certainly have a problem!

If you are up for the challenge, I highly recommend this race, either in the Spring or the Fall, and Bogie also puts on the MorFun Wapack race later on in the Spring, which is not the be missed if you are into more rugged terrain and elevation gain.

So what is next for this trail runner? I really am not sure. Probably a good time to heal up and think about 2010, but I'll save the speculation for another post. Nonetheless, I think I am going to stay off of the racing circuit until next year rolls around!

Happy Trails!

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