This race signifies, to most, the beginning of the trail race season in New England. This would be my third attempt at the race and hopefully my second finish. My training has been going very well since the New Year and this was to be a good test to see how things were going before my first goal race of the season, Wapack 50 miler May, 12.
My legs had felt quite heavy all week after a series of three hard runs last weekend including the Gilmanton 5k road race. But at the end of my run on Wednesday which included hill repeats I was thinking I should be able to put in a hard effort come race day.
We piled into the Subaru at 6:30 to make our way down for the 10 o'clock start. It was in the low 40's when we arrived at Bigelow Hollow and we scuffled our way over towards the registration tent to collect our numbers. On our way over we saw many familiar faces and chatted a bit while we shivered off the cold. After some catching up with friends we got our kits on and did an easy jog down the park road to find a good spot for a nature break and get warmed up.
I had heard rumors that there was a change to the start of the course and was curious if it would thwart my chances of running 2:10 which would be 7 minutes faster than last years time. We made our way across rt 191 and gathered at the race start area, Soon after RD Jim Campiformio gave us the low down on the new start And I positioned my self a couple rows back behind Gregg Hammet and Ross Krause who I knew would most likely take 1st and 2nd.
In years past the course turns off the forest road immediately and heads straight up the hill attacking the end of the ridge that the out and back course runs along. But, not this year, we'd be heading down the double track a ways and climbing up to the ridge on forest road and rejoining the Nipmuck trail at about mile two.
We took off at a quick pace I looked down at my Garmin a few hundred yards down the road and it confirmed the pace was quick (6:12). I tried to settle into a rhythm and not get caught up in the excitement. About a mile in we started to climb up to the ridge and I could see I was starting to slowly reel in a few runners and I locked my focus onto Ultra star and owner of some 2:10 Nipmuck finishes Jack Pilla. As the grade steepened I was careful not to push too hard this early on the race but I wanted to be with Jack as we made the turn onto the single track. I caught him as we crested the last steeps and we exchanged a few words and on one nice downhill I pulled ahead and BANG there was the right turn onto the Nipmuck trail.
I was feeling strong and settled into a rhythm again making sure to take some fluids in on a regular basis. The descents were sweet, I was flying and having a blast! about a mile down the trail I caught up to Justin Contois and settled in behind him as he picked up the pace as I caught up to him. I felt like I was drafting and knew it was still early in the race and I should conserve myself. Shortly after as the we came upon a technical section I caught a glimpse of 4th, 5th and 6th place runners Derek Jokobski, Godrey Bergen and Mike Mazotta. I knew as we descended down towards the edge of the lake we were approaching the aid station at the midpoint of the course. I quickly took a few slurps from my handheld and stopped to refill it with Gatorade as the 4 others continued on.
After the aid station the course continues down the road for a tenth of a mile or so then turns up into the woods to climb back up onto the ridge. It wasn't too long until I caught back up to the four who'd left me at the aid station and we carried on for a bit that way with me trailing. I was happy with the pace, it was comfortable, but soon after Justin started to lose contact so I passed him and ran at Mikes heels but soon he too was struggling to hang with Derek and Godrey.
When I had a chance on a downhill I passed Mike and reeled the two others in. I had noticed that these two weren't as strong in the technical stuff so I formulated a rough strategy to overtake them when we reached the most technical section of the course near the turn around try to force them out of their comfort zone and wear them down, Let me say I have never felt so strong and collected at a race where I could actually think up a strategy! So I did just that and they hooked on.At the turnaround I filled my bottle with more Gatorade and headed back up the steep hill to regain the ridge and Derek and Godrey were right on my heels. I started to second guess my decision to lead and asked them a couple times if they wanted to pass, they declined.
About three quarters of a mile before returning to the midpoint aid station they blew by me like I was standing still on a steep climb. There was nothing I could do, I leaned into the hill and tried to accelerate to stay with them but all I got in return was some serious leg burn. So, I let them go and settled into a strong rhythm hoping that they would blow themselves up.
| A quick stop to fill my bottle and I was off in pursuit! The last four miles at this race are HELL, somehow you forget all those fast descents you'd enjoyed on the way out were now turned into brutal quad burning climbs. I hunkered down and got to work, only throwing in a few walking strides on the steepest of the climbs. where it was level I was still moving fast and could still let myself fly on the descents. Soon I saw the logged area which I remembered marked the beginning of the descent down the finish, As I rounded the corner on the last of the climbing there was 6th place leaking oil all over the trail. I motored by him and yelled for him to stay with me. He picked it up and was on my heels and I wondered if I should have kept my mouth shut. I leaned down the hill and really strided out. After looking down at my Garmin to see my pace was sub 6 I saw 5th place coming into view and decided i wouldn't be happy with 5th. We motored by him and ran the last tenth down the hill into the finish chute. My plan had worked, I was ecstatic!|
So 4th place it was for me, but not by much.My time was two seconds faster than last year on the new course which is .9 longer so thats a big improvement and I think equates to a 2:10ish finish on the old course.
I hung around at the finish cheering people across the finish line and waiting for Kristina to finish.
Well, 14 minutes later, there she was ! First Woman! and 16th place overall. This was a break through race for her and I'm so excited to see how her season unrolls as she hones her new found Super Powers!!
Photos courtesy Scott Livingston.