Well, that didn't go particularly well. For the third year in a row, my final miles on Oak Hill were absolutely brutal. In 2008, I had some stomach issues and was completing my longest run ever. Last year, I was struggling mightily in the final miles of my first 50k, for which I overtrained and underfueled. Going into Sunday's 25k, my whole focus had been on running strong around Oak Hill. It didn't happen.
The Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival is now a two-day extravaganza with seven races over the weekend with distances from 5k to 50 miles. On Saturday, I decided to bring the Little Lady over to hang out and pick up our race numbers. As you can see, she had a good time:
Jamie Gemmiti photo
On Sunday, D and I returned, and it was all business...eventually. We arrived at the race shortly after 7:00am, in order to give D enough time to prepare for the 50k, which started at 8:00. And, from the moment we woke up until the cowbells rang to start the 50k, I really only focused on D's race. But, once she was away, I could refocus on my race, which started at 10:00.
My plan for this race was twofold: 1. Run 5 consecutive 24:00 5ks, and 2. Run the race just as I ran the Run for the Border Half Marathon in March: open with easy miles, then hammer the final 5. Part #2 first, that strategy had worked so well in the half marathon, I figured it was a no brainer for the 25k. Plus, I'd done more speedwork since then, so the hammer portion should be even more hammery. Now, Part #1. With the rolling terrain I knew that 24, 24, 24, 24, 24 wasn't exactly realistic, but it was a perfect guideline. Five 24:00 5ks, works out to exactly two hours, which I felt was within reach. That was 7:45's for 15.5 miles, which seemed doable based on the fact that I'd managed 7:19 per mile in the half marathon. Additionally, the McMillian Calculator predicted a 2:02 25k based on my time at the Merrimack River 10 Miler. Now, I know trail races don't exactly translate easily, but it was a good guideline. So, going in I figured that sub-2:05 was very realistic, and if I had a stellar day, I could break 2 hours.
I did a short, easy warmup—mainly to avoid standing in the porta-potty line—of about 10 minutes, and watched the sun get brighter and brighter as start time approached. Even worse, were the large plumes of pollen that would blow through the Grove. YUK. During my final race prep, D came through the Grove at 10+ miles into her race looking great. Perhaps going a bit too fast, but she said all was well. I grabbed my handheld water bottle and headed for the start line.
The first 5k is basically all downhill, and it is very easy to go out too fast. With that fear in mind, I placed myself comfortably in the middle of the corral. This put me behind many, many runners in the first mile, but it was the right move. I went through 5k feeling very relaxed and comfortable in 23:10. A touch fast, but nothing to worry about with downhill—just a little time in the bank. The first time through the yurt aid station was a bit of a madhouse since the course was packed, so I blew right through. This move allowed me to catch up to my buddy Nate, who joined me through 10k. We chatted as we moved comfortably through the fields. Admittedly, I had forgotten how much real climbing there is in this second 5k, and shortly before 10k, I was worried I'd slowed down far too much. Not the case, however, as 10k went by in 48:45. Slightly slower than my goal pace, but still fine. I had expected to be slower on the uphills, since I was really trying to stay relaxed and just take what the course gave me. Mellow on the uphills and comfortably quick on the downs.
Passing someone on the inside for no apparent reason. Maine Running Photos photo.
As I had planned, I grabbed a gel at 10k, and my fumbling with the zipper on the pocket of my handheld allowed Nate to get just ahead of me. This was eerily reminiscent of last year in the 50k, when he pulled away from me at this point on the course in our second lap and proceeded to bury the last 15k besting me by nearly 30 minutes overall. Was I in for a repeat of 2009? I didn't think so because I was still feeling pretty good. I knew I just ran 10k, but nothing to be concerned about. I was still focused on staying relaxed and picking it up upon my return to the Grove and into Oak Hill. My buddy Ian (and his ATV), one of the race directors, was all over the course (see, ATV), and I saw him around 11k, at which point I said, "The race is about to start." I must have seen Ian six times during the race. Home course advantages does have its, well, advantages.
I grabbed more water on my last trip through the yurt aid station, not wanting to make the same mistake as last year, since I was only carrying 10 ounces. The fields, and there are about 3+ miles of open fields on this course (per lap), were hot. Not brutally hot, but hot nonetheless. And, the main, but almost imperceptible problem with the fields is the length of the grass. Yes, they're mowed, but the grass is just high enough to somewhat grab your feet and provide some resistance. It's sneakily draining. And, I was starting to feel it. As I was winding around the "new field" (slight course change this year due to the fact that Pineland Farms is indeed a working farm and one of the original fields was being worked), I knew that I was working. No longer was the race feeling easy. I was not going to be a simple flip of the switch and start hammering when the time came. Nope. This was work. That being said, I was very pleased to pass through 15 in 1:12:58. A touch slower than planned, but that had been a good 5k. I said to myself, "OK, you're still in this." Sub-2:05 was still in the cards.
Just before the 15k point marks the return to the Campus Loop—the bottom of the Campus Loop. The stretch from the bottom of the Campus Loop back to the Grove is essentially all uphill. It rolls a bit through the "cloverleaf" section, but, really, you're climbing. Just past 15k, I saw Chris Dunn of acidotic RACING on a piece of trail above me. I marked the time, and realized he was about 5 minutes up on me at this point. And, based on what I knew he was hoping to run and past results that meant I was having a solid race. Or at least I had been up to that point. The climb took a lot out of me, and I knew deep down that Oak Hill was not going to hurt. I just had no idea how much.
Coming into the Grove. This is the last time I would look alive. Christine Racine photo.
Coming through the Grove, I tossed my water bottle to Valerie's husband Rick, since I'd drained it. (Rick was crew chief extraordinaire for Valerie who was running the 50 Mile.) It was actually my plan all along to kill the 10 ounces in the first ten miles and rely on the aid stations around Oak Hill. I figured that if I was running hard, I wouldn't really need all that much water at this point. It was go time. I picked up the pace crossing the road more to test the waters than anything, since I wanted to grab a drink at the aid station before headed around the final circuit. Things felt cautiously good. Cup tossed aside I picked up the pace again and tucked in behind a pair of guys moving a steady pace. They had passed me on the climb before the Grove, and the pace was one I hoped I could maintain. And, I didn't manage to hold it...for about a half a mile. For much of the race, I had been a few strides behind my friend Jeremy of Atayne, but he disappeared at the last aid station for a "pit stop." I was unaware of this because he soon passed me. After the race, he told me that he said something to me, and my response was less than cordial. I don't remember the details of our exchange, but we were climbing a small hill (just passed the old, now removed, field), and I do remember thinking...well...it wasn't good. My legs weren't interested in moving forward, especially on the hills. Any little uphill in the next stretch was tough. Luckily, the majority of the first part of Oak Hill is downhill. But, then you hit Gloucester Hill.
Gloucester Hill is officially were it all went bad. My legs, specifically my quads, literally stopped working. They didn't cramp. They didn't get heavy. They didn't tighten. They just stopped. It was as if I had no quads. More than once in this section, I wobbled and nearly fell over...on the uphills! It was gruesome. I'm estimating at least 30 people passed me in the final 5 miles. One of those people was fellow Trail Monster, Alan, who did his best to bolster my spirits and my pace. He reminded me to use my arms, which was a huge help. Unfortunately, my arms are not exactly, well, strong, so by the time I was circumnavigating the never ending field of sorrow that makes up the very end of the race course, my arms and shoulders were really cramping. I was not enjoying my day. Let's just move on and never speak of this part of the race again.
I crossed the line in 2:13:59, 90th out of 320. If you're crunching the numbers out there that's 1:13 for the first 15k and 1:00 for the final 10k. That's painful...on a number of levels. Remember Nate leaving me at 10k? Yeah, he beat me by over 15 minutes. I'm not running the same race as him here next year. And, to put my epic collapse further in perspective, Jeremy, who passed me with 5 miles to go, finished more than 8 minutes ahead of me.
Jeff (who had an AWESOME race!!!! 1:52 and change!) and Alan met me at the finish, and I was on a mission to clear the finish line, crawl into our tent and try to collect myself in time to help D come through the Grove for her final miles on Oak Hill. A funny thing happened on the way to the tent: I fell over. My legs just gave out. I felt fine...you know, as fine as you can feel after all that suffering...but without warning I hit the deck. It was very odd. I did manage to collect myself (with plenty of help from Jeff and Alan) and make it into a chair in our tent. Jeff was nice enough to bring me a couple orange slices, which made me feel like it was halftime of a youth soccer game and much better all at the same time. However, he also informed that D had dropped out of the 50k. Not a good day for Team Snowplug.
After much wound licking, some food and some wonderful, delicious beer things slowly returned to normal. On the positive side, I did PR on this course by over 5 minutes. I guess that's a good thing...right?
Proof that even with awesome facial hair, things don't always go your way. Ian Parlin photo.
Finally, huge, huge props to Ian and Erik for putting on a fabulous weekend of trail running foolishness. The races are first class, and the atmosphere is second to none. Great work, guys.
Oh, one more thing: Valerie kicks ass!!!!! Watching her finish the 50 Mile had to be the highlight of my weekend.
Up next: Mt. Washington. Yeah, with my stellar uphill performance at Pineland, running to the top of the highest peak in the Northeast should be no problem...