A few months ago, after hemming and hawing over several options for big fall races, I decided on the Bimbler's Bluff 50k despite the fact that it was held only two weeks after the NipMuck trail marathon. It was pretty close, pretty cheap and seemed like it would provide a suitably more difficult challenge after the fast trails of Pineland. On that last point I was definitely correct.
The lead up to this race didn't go as planned. A knee injury cropped up three weeks ago - I battled it at NipMuck and did little running in the aftermath, hoping it would heal up for Bimbler's. It didn't, the knee persisted in feeling "off" and I went into this race worried about how it would hold up. I knew it would be an issue and turn the race into a slog. I just hoped it wouldn't derail the race in the first few miles.
I left the house at 6 AM and enjoyed the drive west, racing the sunrise as the sky slowly lightened. I got to the parking lot with about 40 minutes to go, feeling pretty good, until a series of self-inflicted calamities made me question yet again my decision to run this race. First of all, it was pretty damn cold. All I brought was a t-shirt. I hadn't considered hats and gloves (luckily I warmed up quickly on the course.) I also forgot my powder, useful for keeping my feet blister-free. Too late now, I thought. No point in worrying about it. Let's just put the trail shoes on and have at it. Wait. Where were my trail shoes? I started searching through my bag but I already knew the truth - I had left them at the house. All I had were my Asics Cumulus - a shoe with 625+ miles on them which had been relegated to my everyday work shoe. Welp, it was 20 minutes until race time and it was either those or my birkenstocks. Guess they were getting brought out of retirement.
So finally I'm ready to go and I realize I can't find my car key. It had fallen between the seats and I spent five minutes looking for it. 15 minutes. Time to go!
Despite these boner moves I made my way to the starting area in my tractionless Asics and chatted with TNT Pat Quinn who also had just completed NipMuck. Everyone lined up, we got some announcements and then we were off on a quick loop through the field in order to spread the field out before the singletrack.
|Once more unto the breach dear shoes!|
My goal was to take it easy from the get go and run my own race. I wanted to keep my knee in check for as long as possible. The first couple miles were technical and then the course switched to some wide dirt trails with some big slow climbs/descents. I did my usual power-hiking the hills and was surprised how compact the 6-10 guys were at mile 6. We were all within a couple hundred yards of each other. A few big hills seemed to drop most of them back and by mile 9 I was in 7th with a Yellow Shirt guy up ahead and no one in sight behind me.
The course has a lollipop shape, with about 8 miles north along the "stick" followed by a clockwise loop up around the Bluff before taking the stick back to the finish. Though a 50k in name, it's actually around 33 miles - a fact I'm glad I was aware of prior to the race. The aid stations were well stocked but sporadic and race instructions made note of the significant distance between some of them. I downed a cup of gatorade at each of them, while filling my water bottle and eating some candy and salted potatoes. Then I'd grab a couple bananas for the trail. I took a gel every 45 minutes or so.
The climb up the Bluff at mile 10 was very steep and not runnable. Finally there were a few short flatter sections but then I'd hit another hill and powerhike. Once it leveled off, I was able to take in the views which were quite impressive. Yellow Shirt hadn't stopped at the aid station at the base of the bluff but I managed to pass him on one of the these climbs and move off ahead of him. Unfortunately by mile 12 my knee was beginning to ache and make itself known. The pain escalated quickly and by mile 13 it really hurt. It seemed to be coming from the side of my knee and along up my thigh - my IT band? I began to hike much more moderate hills as the pain was significantly less when I walked and then suddenly a guy in a black shirt passed and quickly put distance on me. A few moments later I stopped to take a leak and Yellow Shirt went by. I expected that I'd be passed more and more as the race wore on and I tried not to worry about that. Realistically I was looking at a very long day on the trail so I took some tylenol and continued on at a run/jog, taking it one foot at a time.
Thankfully miles 14-17 were downhill which seemed to help the leg. Yellow Shirt was off in the distance but I could still see him here and there. At one point the trail passed somewhat near a house and a woman and her teenage kids had come out to watch the race. But they just stared at me with their big dead eyes as I passed. No clapping or cheering. Nothing. It was pretty creepy. Moving on and I eventually the course came upon an actual paved road and the aid station at mile 17. I really appreciated the break here and I stayed probably 90 seconds, drinking and snacking. The volunteers here (and at every aid station) were super friendly and helpful. Finally I detached myself from the buffet and resumed my run. I was only halfway done.
The climbs out of this aid station were pretty brutal and I did a lot of walking in this section before resuming my shamble run. The next few miles were part of a woodland park which was clearly much-used, with lots of nice signs and well groomed trails. I came upon a goodly number of people here - mountain bikers, couples with dogs and children - all pleasant diversions to distract me from my misery. Up until now the course, infamous for its dearth of trail markings, had not led me astray. The course had veered from one trail to the next but the orange flags and banners were used appropriately and did a good job of keeping me on track. But I was about to finally take a wrong turn when luckily another runner overtook me at just the right time and pointed out the correct one. Then he sped off ahead at a pace I envied while I resumed my powerhike.
My leg pain had somewhat subsided by now and I found myself in a good rhythm. My pace was never in danger of breaking 9 minutes and the hills slowed my movement considerably but I was still pushing forward all the same. 10 minute miles didn't seem that bad, considering the discomfort I was dealing with. When I reached the mile 20 aid station, I was delighted to see they had S-tabs. I ate one and pocketed one for mile 25. I also grabbed some gels even though I didn't need them. Because I am a greedy packrat.
Now began the long lonely return trip on the "stick." Thankfully this was generally downhill with some wide dirt roads/trails. A good thing too because my form was going to shit and I was stumbling as it was. While dirt roads made the running easier, they were very draining mentally. On the way out I had other runners around me. Now there was nothing but long stretches of road in either direction. Only the occasional wispy orange ribbon tied to a branch reminded me that I was still on track. The course veered back into the woods and I began to covet the last aid station with a deep, dark yearning. I knew that it signaled two miles to go. But where was it? Endless singletrack was wearing me down and my slow plod continued as I slipped and struggled over the rocks. Finally up ahead I saw people ringing cowbells. Motivational Signs had been laid next to the trail. I emerged into a parking lot that had been transformed into a wonderland of people, food and drink.
With more snacks and the enthusiastic crowd cheering for me I was ready to finish this thing. The last two miles were tough as the dreaded muscle cramps finally made themselves known. I could feel the quads ready to seize if I looked at them funny. The last mile was the final test. At one point I stopped and had to search for about 30 seconds to find the trail. And then I had to navigate a terrible rock garden which finally caused my left quad to begin the charlie horse dance. After a moment it loosened enough that I was able to continue. Finally the road and buildings came into sight beyond the trees. As I came out of the woods I was surprised to see Yellow Shirt up ahead, crossing the finish line. I hadn't seen him since mile 17 but I almost caught him again!
|Nice swag and the best bib number courtesy of my last name|
So I finished in 5:13:09. An incredible time considering the knee issue I battled for the majority of the race. I had feared that I was going to end up walking much of it but the discomfort became manageable and the last 10 miles were moderate enough to allow me to finish "strong." The Asics held up their end of the bargain and I emerged from the race blister-free. For my troubles I earned an abnormally large pint glass and a voucher for a free beer at a local pub. I promptly went over for a beer and a burger before making the trip home.
Prior to the race Bimbler's wore heavily on my mind. I wasn't sure if I was going to even start it, let alone finish it. I knew that there would be pain and suffering - and there was - but I'm so pleased that I completed what I set out to do. Now it's time to let my leg heal properly so that I can look forward to beating the hell out of myself again in 2015.