There's something to be said about a race that starts at 6:15am. How many times can you say you ran a marathon, drove an 1hr home and still made it back by noon?
Saturday was a beautiful day in Ipswich, MA for the Stonecat (results) Trail Marathon (and some sort of 50 mile thingy). Temps were hovering near 30 but it was sunny, clear and calm. I opted for shorts, a long sleeve coolmax shirt and my new sleeveless acidotic RACING shirt. Perfect choice as I was comfortable the entire race (except the waiting at the start...that was cold). I decided to go with my INOV-8 Mudroc 280's which also turned out to be a fine choice as well.
I carried a hand-held water bottle (which I normally don't like to do), along with some Endurolyte tablets (which I took every 45 minutes) and 3 Stinger Honey gels (which I took every hour). I had studied the map and very detailed course directions with distances and picked out a few mile markers (2 mile and 10 mile) I could use to check on my pace, mostly to make sure I wasn't going out to fast. That all fell apart pretty quickly.
At 6:15ish we were off. The marathoners and those other guys all started together but the shorties quickly veered off to add the necessary 1.2 miles to our total distance (since the loop course was 12.5 miles). The secondary affect was to separate us to ease congestion on the early trails. The plan was to check my pace at the 2 mile mark and adjust as necessary. Unfortunately when we got to the 2 mile mark my plan was already shot: my watch had stopped somewhere in the first 2 miles. So much for my plan...
Plan B - stick with some runners and see what happens. Ben Nephew and Greg Hammett took the early lead and separated from the rest of us pretty quickly. The chase pack (I use that term loosely) consisted of about 6 of us and was led by Garry Harrington early on. We caught the tail end of the 50-folks just after the 2 mile mark and spent the next 2 miles getting past them on a pretty tight single track. Looking back I 'm glad they were there as it kept our pace in check. Otherwise we would have smoked the first lap. Once we got past the packs of 50-folks I settled into the back of our little pack (mostly). At times they got a bit ahead (100-200yds) but I managed to reel them back in throughout the first lap. I suspect this led to my less than stellar performance on my second lap but more on that later.
The course was described as muddy and we were told we would get our feet wet. It was a little muddy but all of it was avoidable. The wet spots were a little tougher but also doable as long as you were willing to walk carefully over wet (almost icy) sticks and logs. Me, I was willing to walk a bit for dry feet. There were lots of ups and downs but no killer hills (thank you!). I'd say the majority was single track and the rest double track (60/40). I think its amazing people can run as fast as they did since most of the single track was constant back and forth switch backs (is that redundant?). It was very hard to maintain any speed through these sections. Although I never got off course, there were times I thought I was. The course was well marked but with all the leaves on the ground most of the trail features were now gone. It wasn't always clear where to go. Not a complaint, just a comment. Like I said, I didn't get lost (but others did, even some veteran Stonecat racers).
Ok, back to the race. The first lap flew by. I felt very comfortable and enjoyed my position in the back of the back in 7th or 8th place. It stayed this way until maybe mile 10 or 11 and I moved up a few spots. Actually, I think the other guys fell back. By the time we got back to the start/finish area for the completion of the 1st loop I was solidly in 6th place. My time for the first 13.7 miles was 1:38 something (around a 7:10 pace). Andy King, Mark Engerman (2:44 at Baystate) and his training partner Jeff Hunt were running about 30-50yds ahead of me at the turn as I stopped and refilled my bottle. By the time I was off again they were gone, never to be seen again. No matter how hard I tried I could not even get them in sight again and ran the entire second lap all by my self. No one in front and surprisingly no one behind.
The second lap was MUCH harder, physically and mentally. I really wishI had someone to run with or chase. I kept hoping I'd eventually catch up to someone but it just never happened, well almost...
I totally lost track of my pacing and really felt like I throttled back a bit. In all fairness, I think the physical aspect of the race had more to do with my pace slowing considerably. I didn't realize how much until after the race. I was definitely getting tired, with my hammies and calves starting to tighten up. No cramps, just everything getting tired. My feet were really getting tired and sore too. All the rocks and roots were taking a toll on my feet. I really didn't feel any blisters developing until 2 miles from the finish. The strangest thing happened. I was running along all fine (mostly) and then it felt like a little water balloon exploded in my shoe....and then instant pain. I suspected (and later confirmed) a blister had developed and then popped between two of my toes. It was a painful finish but I pushed on knowing I only had a couple of miles to go.
Finally I entered into the soccer field for the last 200yds to the finish. I was running pretty well coming in and then I spotted a runner just ahead. At first I thought it was a 50 miler but when he reached down and grapped his hamstring I put 2 and 2 together and recognized him as Andy King. He was hobbling and hurting. I definitely picked up the pace and hoped I could sneak in with 5th place instead of 6th. 5th overall sounds so much cooler than 6th! I passed Andy with about 50yds to go and immediately almost felt bad. Did I make the right choice? Should I have let him finish ahead of me?
I finished in 3:18:23. Overall I was very happy with this time and generally have no issues with it. I ended up running the second half (12.5 miles) in 1:40, which is pretty close to 8 min/mile. I guess I slowed way more than I had thought. That part was initially a little disappointing until I told myself I only ran one training run over 2hrs and that was the Friday before the race. So I'm happy again :-)
The GAC folks are amazing and put on a terrific race. No sooner had I crossed the finish line and a woman walks up and hands me my finishers jacket. So? Well, she's checking the name and number of each finisher, matching it to a list and making sure everyone gets the proper size jacket...just like we specified. Pretty slick.
I told Andy after the race I felt kind of bad but he didn't seem to mind. He had been limping in for some time, probably expecting someone to finally catch up to him. The way I look at it is 1) it is a race and 2) I didn't finish any different if he wasn't there. I always try to finish strong and run hard until the end, whether I'm racing someone to the finish or not.
I hung out for a while watching the marathoners finish and some of the 50 milers finish their 2nd of four laps but it was actually cold when you were just standing around. I also had two kids who were playing in soccer playoffs and all-star games so I decided to head back to Merrimack.
No results posted as of Sunday but you can refer to mye previous post for at least the top 12.