Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Nipmuck Trail Marathon 2014

This year has not been an entirely successful one for me thus far.  Don't get me wrong, it has not been bad at all.  In fact, it's been a great deal of fun and I've run well but the inevitable decrease/drop off for PRs, that we all know is going to come sooner or later, might just be upon me.

I didn't PR at the Blessing of the Fleet in July (missed it by 8-9 seconds) but still ran well in the "awesome" conditions for that swelter-fest.  I didn't PR at the Super 5K back in February which seems to be my flattest and fastest opportunity for a go at sub 17 for 5,000m (it's so nice and cold outside!).  I never got the chance to take a stab at my other looming PR of the mile - still stuck at 5:01 (twice!).  My last marathon, last October, was a PR in 2:51 by over 3:00 but it was still short of my goal of 2:49:59.  I did PR at the Clamdigger (5 miles) but somehow, I hate that race--it always leaves me feeling disappointed and I don't know why.

With all of that being said, I sort of arbitrarily signed up in the early summer for Nipmuck Trail Marathon. I do love me some trails and I seem to perform alright at longer distances.  However, I really have my sights set on that sub 2:50 road marathon goal.  So what was there to accomplish from Nipmuck?  Well, the price and the timing were both right.  I'm cheap and the middle of October was out as my wife is running Baltimore Marathon in a few weeks. That limited my options for October marathons so......  Nipmuck it is (was?).

All summer and early fall I'd been running often with Jonny and Seth, two "veteran" Nipmuckaz (just made up that term but it sounds bad ass!), and had the chance to pick their brains about the course, footing, field size, footwear, pacing, fatigue, and everything else in between.  They were both my sages.  Not wanting to break the chain of wisdom and knowledge, I "allowed" them to drive me to Nipmuck and show me the ropes. After the obligatory dark car ride, race discussion, registration/bib pickup, bathroom stops, and chit chat, we were finally ready to roll. The weather was PERFECT for racing-cool/chilly (my toes were numb!), slightly overcast to partly sunny, drying, etc.  I wasn't sure if I felt confident, worried, anxious, apprehensive, or what.  However, after very brief directions we were told "Go" we did.

I took off at a comfortable pace, up the short incline to the turn off onto south side single track and found myself in about 5th place behind, Jonny, some shirtless stud, Seth and another bearded, skinny trail runner that lives off soy, veggies, and mystical chakras.  After a few minutes I moved around the beard guy and then moved around Seth for vision purposes.  I was worried about lines of sight with footing as well as making sure I kept Jonny and the shirtless ripped tri-guy in my field of view.  They were running together at what seemed to be a decent pace and given the fact that Jonny was experienced with the course and pacing, I trusted them. Unfortunately, as I closed in on them and eavesdropped on their long conversation, generally centered around running, I realized I had to piss again.  I held it in for as long as I could and then around mile 4, stopped, pushed (pee, not race pace) as hard as I could.  I didn't hurt myself in the power washer urination mode but I watched the two leaders disappear out of sight.  Damn it! I pushed it (pace) moderately hard briefly to reel them back into sight and then relaxed again, feeling better that I could see them and they were within range.

We reached the southern terminus/aid station turnaround (D) and the three of us came together (45:XX). I took a tiny sip of Gatorade and then we moved back out for the slow climb out of from the river back to the start line (A). I was feeling pretty good still and enjoyed being part of the conversation.  That still is so strange to me -- conversing, like really talking and having a full fledged conversation, during a race is whacky.  But it helped pass the time. I also learned that the obviously fit guy with us was the one and only Samuel Jurek, who Jonny and I had wondered (worried) about. Although he warily evaded giving us his results last year at Boston, ("I did alright"), I knew it must have been a good one (FYI: SJ ran a 2:31...YIKES!).  I was happy we were hanging with him although at that point, none of us were working really all that hard.  It still felt like a peppy long trail run.

At the start/finish (45:31), we crossed into the northern portion which was deemed much more difficult due to elevation ups and downs, despite having slightly easier footing.  The three of us remained together for a few minutes but then Jurek dropped the hammer! He disappeared...and then there was just Muddy and Jonny.  I settled in behind Jonny and although our conversation lessened we still interjected grunts, groans, and negative overall comments and jokes.  I laughed when Jonny complained at one point, as we started to both feel discomfort that we should have just done a long trail run in Patchaug State Forest instead of this.   The continual short ups and downs were starting to really wear on me.  I still had energy but my hips, hip flexors, and entire circumference around both patellae were starting to get sore.  I tried to push it out of my mind as I knew we still had quite a way to go. In addition, some of the tougher climbs and descents were coming up quite soon (around mile 18 or so).

After a bombing dirt road downhill section, we run briefly on asphalt to the Iron Mine aid station.  Jonny and I both bypassed it as we had Gu and handhelds and began what was perhaps the most miserable part of the course.  Removed from the marathon itself, this short but rough section would be really fun to run. However, positioned where it is, it was a bear.  Jurek passed us on his return trip and we each uttered small positive statements.  Damn, he was looking strong and moving!  When we arrived at the stairs to descend to the Boston Hollow station (northern terminus) I almost ate shit.  I slipped twice and nearly fell as my legs were so sore and stiff I struggled with the treads.  I had to hold on to the railing and barely made it into the turnaround/checkpoint.  I took some gatorade, refilled my hand held, thanked the volunteers and Jonny and I took off again.

The ascent was awful.  We both felt awful and it was really discouraging seeing others (Seth in particular) bombing past us. They were flying and we felt so slow -- quite discouraging. We passed more and more people still on their way out and they were all quite polite, helpful, encouraging and positive.  Unfortunately, I could only manage grunts at this point or a whispered " too."
Any descent was killing my knees and legs. When we returned back towards Iron Mine check point, we saw Crutchley coming towards us. He looked fine and despite his encouragement/questioning, I could only moan in response.  I may have mentioned something like "hurts" and we moved on.

At this point there was about 3.2 miles left in the race.  Clearly, if one hasn't already done so,  this is a "normal" time/spot to fall apart during a marathon.  It's funny that despite feeling like a bag of shit, I still managed to will myself forward.  I briefly entertained the idea of stopping quickly at the last real aid station (Iron Mine) but quickly decided against it.  Jonny did pause here to refill, rest, eat, etc. (?) but I just kept going.  I knew that if I stopped/paused I most likely wouldn't be able to get going again and I refused to walk the rest of the way in.  This overall strategy almost backfired on me as I ran openly and stretched out my legs a little on the asphalt section.  When I turned and began climbing the long inclines on the dirt road sections, I nearly lost it.  Somehow, I managed to keep pushing and grinding it out up the dirt road.  I was crushed when I looked up and saw the incline keep going upward but quickly rejoiced when I realized that I had run past the single track turnoff and didn't have to keep going up the road.  I giggled (yes, literally) and doubled back several meters to the single track turn off into the woods.  Fuck you, dirt roads--I'm done with you!

Luckily, I sort of gained a second (third?) wind on this single track section.  I had eaten my final gel back on the asphalt roads and possible felt a tiny boost, albeit possibly mental, at this point.  I was able to accelerate and run sort of faster and more open on this slightly easier section of trails. In fact, I was running so care free that I tripped and took a hard digger on my back/right shoulder.  Instead of lying there I grunted, pulled myself up and immediately started running. The fear of being caught from behind is a powerful impetus to keep on keepin' on.

I continued to feel good less bad during this stretch and was super encouraged by the tenth of mile blazes painted on the lower portions of the trees.  0.8. 0.6. Awesome, I'm getting there! Almost done!  Unfortunately, the world of suffering came crashing back down when I had to climb the last rock face ascent near the end.  I immediately felt super nauseous and came rather close to puking here.  I slowed to a walk "power hike" for about 6-8 seconds here to scale the incline before getting back into gear and bombing (at least it felt like) it down the screaming descent to the finish.

I was so happy to be done.  My official time was 3:31:55 (results here). I was pleased finishing 2nd overall. Very soon after Jonny rolled through and then Seth shortly after him for the WTAC 2, 3, 4 "sweep".

Start/Finish to D A to D 45:50:00
D back to S/F D to A 45:30:00
S/F to Iron Mine A to H 27:26:00
Iron Mine to B. Holl. H to J 31:43:00
B. Holl to Iron Mine J to H 32:35:00
Iron Mine to Finish H to A 28:44:00

We hung out, moved around, ate food, chatted and then rolled out.  I was surprised by how decent I felt only 20 minutes after the marathon and even more shocked by how great I felt the rest of the day and now several days after.  I did have the normal soreness in the hips, hipflexors, etc. but no knee pain which was SUPER encouraging. I was worried about them.  Also, at the time of this writing, (Wednesday afternoon--3 days later), I feel GREAT.  No major soreness at all. This is such a different feeling from a road marathon.  Man, those damn things beat you up and grind you into shit.  Nipmuck pummeled me but the trails are clearly better for your body in the long run.  Although harder than roads, the slower pace and predominantly softer footing clearly is a blessing. Also, as an added bonus, the course officially is 26.4 so I guess I technically ran an ultra! Later in the afternoon I chilled in my garden with a few four Torpedo Double IPAs and reflected on what an INCREDIBLE weekend I had.  My father and I dominated stripers on Saturday and then I ran well in my first ever trail marathon on Sunday, only to find myself sitting in the fading sunlight sipping beers. #winning

Perhaps my favorite part is that since I feel so good, I can't wait to run a little later this afternoon. I did a very easy 2 mile shakeout on trails the day after and then took yesterday (Tuesday) off.  Rarely have I been so excited to run so soon after 26.2. Usually there is a period of a let down or funk.  Hopefully, that is not the case now because man, I love running!

With no immediate plans on the horizon, its just about me and my running. My wife is trying to talk me into jumping into the Baltimore Marathon on 18 October and trying to crush it but I'm too cheap--no way am I paying for that without proper preparation.  Just fun, easy running with beers and hard days/quality but unfocused workouts mixed in as my mileage drops back down again to reasonable amounts (45-60 per week).

Hope I don't get too fat and out of shape before the start of 2015 (and, ugh, the Boston training cycle begins).