Official time: 1:41:02. Overall place: 9th.
Postponed almost a month due to snow, it was finally time to wrap up the 4th Season South County Trail series. Big River is a massive management area with a labyrinthine network of trails and the idea of a 13.1 mile race had everyone pretty excited. Those dreaded Tuesday Night Turtles had already wrapped up the team series win, robbing this race of some of the drama, but a 1/2 marathon in the woods is no joke and everyone was amped up regardless.
My online buddy Chris came down from New Hampshire for the race, happy to run on snow free trails. I did a warm-up with him and Shira on the New London Turnpike (a long dirt road) and briefly checked out the initial single-track portion of the race. Then we all mingled around the starting area, waiting for Mike Galoob to draw us to the start line. Mike gave a brief overview of the course (there was also a 10k option that ran at the same time) and indicated that due to the length of the race there wouldn't be the ample course markings we've been accustomed to. All intersections were marked but we'd have to be on our toes to stay on course.
The race began and I stayed near the front - I wanted a decent position before we hit the single track. Once in the woods, we formed the inevitable train of runners for about a 1/2 mile or so. By then the field began to spread out - I zipped past my buddy Chris and TNT member Patrick Quinn and that was the end of my passing for the race. There were two guys off in the distance ahead of me but I wasn't gaining on them and was content to run at what felt like a hard effort.
I could hear a couple guys behind me and around mile 3 I was passed by Gazelle and FiveK. I wondered what took them so long - reading Tom's blog I found out that they were taking it easy on this run. Ha! They moved out ahead of me and looking back I didn't see anyone else. I continued to run my race, keeping my teammates in my sight for a while. Around Mile 4 I caught a branch between my legs which smashed my right calf hard. It throbbed for a few moments but then improved as I ran. After a tough climb to the Hopkins Hill log, I was happy to see Muddy snapping pictures. I grabbed a gel at the aid station and enjoyed the descent back towards Carr Pond.
After descending, I made my only big misread, going left instead of right. I stopped, looked around for the flags and figured it out fairly quickly but Gazelle and FiveK were seemingly much further ahead by the time I got moving again. They were gaining or had already passed a shirtless chap and were heading up the opposite side of a ravine as I made my way down. That's the last I saw of them. By the time I scaled that same hill, they were gone. Other than a brief glimpse of someone around mile 7, I spent the rest of the race alone.
Now at the halfway mark, I was really starting to feel tired. I was especially beginning to feel it in my calves and feet. For the first time it occurred to me that two days prior I had ran 13 miles at a fairly decent pace. My recent mileage was catching up to me. Mile 8 featured some smooth downhill that gave me a little pep and was followed by another Muddy sighting. Then some more uphill robbed me of that pep. The Stone's Sister Morphine popped into my head and hung around for the rest of the race.
I began to yearn to see the Mile markers. 5 miles to go. 4 miles to go. The course became twist after turn. There would be long stretches without flags making me wonder if I'd gone of course. Eventually though I'd always come upon them. Around mile 10 I could feel a blister beginning to form on the bottom of my right foot. After mile 11 I was fairly secure about my position though I had no idea what that was. Top 10 maybe. Who cares, I just wanted to be done.
The last two miles seemed endless. Often it looked like the trail was approaching the road only to veer back into the woods. Mick Jagger kept singing in my ear about a doctor with no face. Finally the trail spilled back onto the New London turnpike and it was a short jaunt to the finish line. 1:41 or so. That's a solid time I can be happy with on this tough course. Trudged over to the tables and began to feed. The notion of a cooldown soon faded as I inhaled slice after slice of pizza. I soon found out that not everyone was able to stay on course. Jeff, Tom and many others ended up taking wrong turns, often to rejoin the course but not before missing large chunks of the race.
Despite navigation issues, everyone seemed to have a good time. The weather was beautiful and it was a perfect day to run out in the woods. Thanks to Mike Galoob, his family, Ben Folsom and everyone else who worked hard to make this trail series a great success. I hope we get another chance to race this course next year. I think with some fine tuning, this could be one of the signature trail events for Rhode Island.