Thursday, June 17, 2010

Race Report - Boxford State Forest Trail Race, or the Return of Team 'Possum

I didn't even really have plans to run Boxford again this year, but the trail continually calls.  Jack London would be proud.

Mostly I remember the technical terrain, and my lack of eyesight made the race about an hour of concentration and stress.  I try to live as far away from my vision problems so I don't ever think about limits or the like, but then a race like Boxford State Forest or the Blue Hills Skyline come along and my inability to quickly read and react to the terrain significantly slows me down.

Nevertheless, these tougher technical races are great because they are excellent training, and are a way to show myself and others that visually impared runners can throwdown on the trail just as well as anyone else.  I will say that there are others that are worse than I am (less vision or completely sightless), and I am continually thankful for the vision I have, but thankfulness does not give extra acuity out in the middle of the woods!

As far as the race went, it was another low-key and social North Medford Club race.  I really love these races because they are essentially a time of socialization with a trail race mixed in for good measure.  Though all of the other Ultra Gang folks were off to other things, I still saw some familiar faces from last year's trail excursions, and was not nearly as bashful and introverted as I usually am.

As far as the race, eventually the RD corraled the cocktail party, gave us some final instructions, and we were off!

I got out to the front pretty fast knowing that I had a far better chance of survival if I found a pocket of running where I could concentrate totally on the trail and not have another runner's feet giving me less time to see oncoming rocks and roots.  This is one lesson I have learned in 2 years of trail running.  Packs are great on the roads, but running behind people on the trails tends to spell disaster because obstacles appear out of nowhere!

Just like last year, the first mile inspired an ambitious pace on my part, and I cruised through the first mile much faster than I probably should have for a trail 10k - 7:33.  Mile 2 was where I started feeling the effects of going out too fast and suddenly found myself feeling like these first two miles of this race are the longest miles I have ever run - mostly because the early terrain has you constantly monitoring every step and quickly shifting gears to get up and down short steep hills.

The remaining 4 miles were a little depressing because I needed some shorter walking breaks because my legs felt dead, but I only lost a few places, and was able to hold a decent pace while I was running.

All in all, I had two immediate goals:  first, to beat my time from last year (59:27), and second, to break 9:00/mile pace.  I was able to accomplish both amid the walking breaks by finishing the course in around 54:10 (8:44/m).  

Following the race it was more social time with Jim Martin, who I met at Oxford Dam last year, as well as Bob from the Shamrock R.C., and Charles Peabody, another trail circuit regular from last year. Other familiar faces in attendance were Paul Young, Mike from the Lynn Woods crew and many of the Gil's Athletic Club crew, including Jim Barry who taught me a thing or two about finishing kicks and holding people off at the end of races, as he totally smoked me over the last 200 meters to the finish.  It was awesome! 

Speaking of which, I love trail racing because after Jim and I threw down at the end there was a friendly fist bump at the finish... during all the road races I have run over the last few months I have had similar finishing battles with some of the 'roadies' which usually end in scowls.  Need I say more?

Very happy with the time, but really need to build a little more toughness out there.

Just one last side thought... while out on the trail, feeling totally wrecked, my mind started to wander and I began to think about the topic of 'Spirit Animals'.  Jokingly, I mused that my spirit animal was clearly an Opossum because they are known to have less visual acuity than other woodland critters.  Then I thought about how Em has Trail Pixie, and kZ has Team Extreme, and I am thinking, maybe I should start the independent Team 'Possum... I can already see the jerseys now!

Here are just a few of the 'Possum facts I found that make a compelling case:

From and copyright of the National Opossum Society (

* "Solitary and nocturnal: usually slow moving; when frightened and unable to flee may fall into an involuntary shock-like state, 'playing 'possum'." 

* "Hiss or growl and show their 50 sharp teeth when frightened; but, in reality, they are gentle and placid - they prefer to avoid all confrontations and wish to be left alone."

* "Omnivorous: eats insects, snails, rodents, berries, over-ripe fruit, grasses, leaves, and carrion; occasionally will eat snakes, ground eggs, corn or other vegetables."

* "Adaptable; able to live wherever water, food, and shelter exist. At home in trees; uses its prehensile tail to help stabilize position when climbing - it does not, however, hang by its tail." 

Training at night and in solitude, slowly, desire to avoid confrontation, will eat just about anything, and runs in just about any weather, on any surface, and is adaptable.... yep, that sounds about right.

Until next time.....  

Saturday, June 5, 2010

RACE REPORT: Kupenda 5k Trail Race, Gordon College, Wenham, MA - North Shore Trail Series #1

Well it has been a while since my last post, but honestly I haven't been exactly embarking on the most epic of adventures.  If anything, I have been relegated to lots of road running, a little speed work, and some cycling due to a hip/IT Band/Glute soreness that has been dictating when, where and how I run.

Nevertheless, I heard about the inaugural North Shore Trail Series in a few different places, and where I am a big fan of the WMAC's Grand Tree Series, as well as the Eastern New England Trail Race Series, I find I have less and less time to get out to races.  Fortunately the North Shore Trail Series is close by and all of the races are less than 40 minutes from my place, so it seems like it will be a good low key fit.

The series is sponsored by Montrail and is put on by the New England Running Company, a local running specialty shop that has a fantastic selection of trail shoes for new runners and seasoned vets alike.

Organizers of the series are definitely adding some creature comforts for the series, as this was the t-shirt and bib for the race:

Thankfully this association with the store provides an opportunity for packet pickup the day before the race, which as you'll see was huge on days like today!

So fast forward to the morning of the race.  My eyes open first to the sound of a massive deluge and the crackles of thunder outside.  Not a problem, because as a trail runner, I love me some mud!  Realizing it was only about 6 or 7 in the morning, I decided to close my eyes for a little more rest.  

The next time they opened I saw it was 8:55.... AHHHH!!!!!!  Thankfully I had pinned my bib to my shorts and packed Friday night, so it didn't take long to get out the door.  I actually arrived with more than enough time to stretch and do a few striders before the 10 a.m. start, so it turned out to be much ado about nothing.

I knew right from the warm up jogs that I was going to have a tough time.  The air was still very juicy with humidity - dewpoint of 69 degrees!  I have also been fighting tooth and nail with my allergies for close to three weeks, so breathing was also not exactly pleasant.  On top of it all, my legs just felt dead.  No spring, no bounce, just blah.  

Eventually the R.D. gathered us on the familiar Gordon College Quad, as I had done numerous times in the past for the Pop Crowell Invitational Men's 5 mile XC race, as well as the Commonwealth Coast Conference meet, which were held twice on the Gordon trails when I was running for Eastern Nazarene College.  I got up front hoping to get ahead of the traffic, and as the gun went off, I realized I probably would have done well just to back off a couple rows.

The 5k followed the exact progression I was accustomed to from college meets - Around the quad, on the access road to the trail head, dirt and gravel path to the woods, and then the first section of wooded trail with the pond on the right, to the left turn and climb up into the woods.  The mile marker was exactly where it had been the last time I ran on the course - as a College Senior during the conference meet - but instead of coming through the mile in 5:30, as I had back then, I had no watch or split reader to let me know.

Fortunately there was a sign showing the mile mark, and a friendly fellow with a watch - I don't believe in bringing my Garmin along for 5ks - mentioned we went through in about 6:40.  This was actually great news for me, as I had hoped that I could run about 7:00/mile pace, but figured I would have to be more realistic based on the humidity and the state of my legs.  Nevertheless, having run the course, I knew the first mile was typically the fastest, and the second mile was that reality check.  

As we headed off into some scenic single and double track, I realized how these trails are sneaky technical.  They are not anywhere near the trouble of trails like the Blue Hills Skyline or Northern Nipmuck, but if you aren't careful there is typically a root or rock waiting.

In it's entirety, the race features a nice mix of grass (beginning and end on the quad), gravel/dirt roads, and wooded mountain bike trails.  It really is a decent course, and quite runnable.  As mentioned above, though, the mountain bike trails are wide enough that there probably isn't any 'true' single track, but there are a few sections where you have to concentrate on your footing and pick a line.

During the second mile I was just trying to hang on to the pace I was running.  There were runners around me, but we were all spaced out just enough, and everyone seemed to be running the same pace.  We came to the two mile mark and I was just toast from the humidity and having nothing in my legs.  I wasn't really near anyone to get a split, nor did I care.  The funny thing is that in college when you get to the two-mile mark, you head back up to the quad to run a loop and then repeat the same course through the woods.  The 5k course sends you off in another direction through more single track, which was completely unfamiliar to me, and included a section of soft beach sand... Runnin' Rob's dead legs did NOT approve!

Following the soft sand encounter, I was mentally done.  I didn't want to stop and walk, but that was probably the biggest mental battle I had to fight.  The goal was just to keep the legs moving to the end, no matter what.  It really was a day where I could relate to what Steve Prefontaine said about running a race to see who has the most guts, and today I was just content trying to get to the end.  Typically I'd dig deep to catch the runners ahead of me, though, today the digging deep was just to get to the line and not quit.  No guts there!

Eventually the trails spits you back out to the paved access road at the trail head, and you run up to the quad... short steep hill to get there, again my legs had nothing... and then once around the quad to the finish.  There were 2 or 3 runners ahead of me that I could have gone after, but I truly had a single gear in my legs.  I could hear people cheering for someone behind me, and I just hoped he or she was suffering as much as I was, and I wouldn't be getting passed.

I came to the line and finished with 22:10 on the clock, but nothing has been officially posted.  As far as racing goes, I feel like I got into a position at the 1/2 mile mark, and passed one person, so it was quite uneventful in that respect.

Post race was pretty cool.  There were a lot of road runners and newbies at this race, so it didn't have the same festive feel as other races typically do, but there was a good collection of NETT, Wicked R.C., Team Gloucester, and the Lynn Woods crew folks.  

I didn't make any friends when I mistakenly called 'Mike' from the LWC 'Paul', which was an epic fail on my part, and let's just say Mike resembles Vin Diesel, and was not happy I had confused him with Paul.  I pleaded from my life. :-)

Nevertheless, I was glad I ran.  Not real happy about the performance, but racing was a nice change of pace from simply training without any general purpose.

Next up is the 'Run for the Hills' 10k Trail Race at the Pingree School in South Hamilton, MA, where I met fellow 'Ultra Gang' members kZ and Breakheart Dan for the first time a couple years ago.  That race was typified by bugs, sweat, and lots of roots, and will make today's 5k look like a walk in the park.  But it is another opportunity to see how far I have come in a couple years of training and racing.

Until next time, and I must say it is so nice to be back on the trails!