Time again for the NipMuck trail marathon. This would be my third year in a row running it. I had an incredible race last year and afterwards I was ready to take a break from this race but I netted myself a comped entry so once again I found myself towing the line in the middle of Nowhere, Connecticut. Unlike last year, we wouldn't be running in the chilly rain, though 's Saturday's weather did mean that there would be some slick leaves underfoot.
The previous weekend I had some pain appear in my right knee out of nowhere and I had taken it easy leading up to this race. Two weeks after NipMuck I was scheduled to run Bimbler's Bluff 50k so I didn't want to completely trash my legs in this race. And the knee issue had me worried that I might not finish at all. So while I had great plans to keep it in check and treat this race as a hard training run, I also knew that a race is a race and I'd probably be trying my damndest regardless and that's exactly what happened.
It was clear and cold at the starting line and I thought Jonny, Muddy and I were making a statement standing around in our little singlets until Sam Jurek sauntered up, shirtless and looking like a damn GQ model. Race Director Dave Merkt casually shouted "Go" and we were off. I was in third entering the woods and Jonny/Jurek took off ahead. Muddy soon passed me and surged to join them. By mile 1 I had already put distance on most of the field, save for one guy in a yellow Shenepsit Strider jersey who was sticking right to me.
|WTAC well represented - Photo by Mike Crutchley|
The newfallen leaves hid the trail well in places and there were a few spots where I had to slow/stop and look up to find the blazes. For most of the first leg (the course is two out-and-backs which I think of as four legs) I was able to see my teammates' singlets off in the distance which helped me stay on course. The three frontrunners had just left the aid station turn around and I wasted little time there, only grabbing a banana bite before heading back. Yellow shirt seemed to linger a moment longer at the station and I found myself alone.
I was surprised how much time was between us and sixth place. It seemed to take forever before I passed him. In fact, there was a lot of space between me and the top ten. I didn't think I was working too hard, my only concern was my knee which was feeling fine so far. Soon I was passing throngs of runners which is always helpful to keep one's mind off the slow ascent in the second leg. After passing the last few folks, I missed the blue blazes and followed an old dirt road off course. I came out on a road and saw the volunteers about 100 yards away. So I just ran down to them and continued on. All-in-all the trail section I skipped made a direct line towards the volunteers while I basically just ran a right angle so I don't feel like there was any advantage to my wrong turn.
Crossing the start line at 12.5 miles, I was beginning to feel it. The volunteers at the start, as with all the aid stations, were great and quick to offer assistance or a kind word. They commented on my singlet - WTAC was well represented today and all the aid stations noted how we made up 3 of the top 4 spots. The hills start almost immediately in the third leg and I adopted my usual powerhiking method. I was looking forward to the downhill dirt road section around mile 15 but as I approached it I realized my knee was beginning to ache from the effort. The smooth road section was appreciated but as I pulled into the Iron Mine station my knee was pretty uncomfortable and I knew the rest of the race would be unpleasant. I just hoped I wouldn't completely fall apart.
Post Iron Mine the course is tough with big climbs with reduced me to a walk. I was moving pretty well on any downhills but I also knew I was slowing down from the knee. After the last of the painful hills there's a nice gradual downhill towards the aid station. Here Jurek passed me, looking very strong and with a sizable lead over my teammates. Jonny and Muddy passed me a couple minutes later - they were still running together which I envied. I took my time on the stairs heading down to the aid station and grabbed some more bananas and M&Ms before beginning the final leg.
Unlike last year when I felt great (when I passed him I had told Crutchley that I was "running out of my mind") this final seven mile stretch was very tough. My right leg hurt now - I realized I wasn't extending that knee as much and now my quad began to ache as it attempted to compensate. I passed yellow shirt followed closely by another guy - I estimated I had about five minutes on them. Would it be enough? Soon I passed more and more folks - they were all very supportive and I appreciated their comments. I tried to give 'em back as best I could. But now I was in grunt mode and wanted to be done.
I was dreading the climb back up the dirt road and I walked each of the hills. I was able to keep a jog on the long slow climb next to the llama farm and I was still passing folks heading out on these last few miles. I didn't feel my knee now - it was all quad pain. With about a mile to go I made a slight sidestep and my right calf almost seized up. I stopped briefly to massage it but I could tell that both legs were ready to lock up completely if I made a wrong move. Tentatively I began running again, hoping my legs could hold together for one last mile. They did, but it was a difficult mile and there were final hills that I walked slowly up.
I almost took a digger on the final descent down to the finish but managed to avoid wiping out. This was a very tough race and I was so glad to be done. There were some impressive performances today with Muddy finishing 2nd in 1:31 and Jonny finishing 3rd, taking four minutes off his time from last year. At the time I didn't think much of my performance - I was just beat, dog-tired and happy to be finished. Now a couple days removed, I can look back at finishing 4th and with a near minute PR and I'm very happy with how it all played out. Here's a good breakdown of the four legs:
|I wasn't 100% in 2014 but I still shaved almost a minute off last year's time|
I knew I wasn't as fast on the last leg as 2013 but a little post-race analysis showed me that it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought. I was four minutes slower this year but considering that I was battling the janky knee/quad for the last seven miles I'm very pleased with this time.
After the race I changed into dry clothes and did my old man walk over to the food table where I gorged on vegetarian chili, cookies and twizzlers. Then we sat around for a while, applauding the runners as they trickled in before we made the drive back to Rhode Island. Another fine NipMuck adventure was in the books and it was a great day for WTAC as we took 2nd, 3rd and 4th place. Props to Mike Crutchley for delivering me my new WTAC singlet and for snapping some good pics. Not to mention finishing his third NipMuck Trail Marathon. Badass. Will I be back in 2015 to make it four in a row? We'll see.