My plan was to use the G.A.C. 6 hour race as another test of my recovery from plantar fasciitis and a cervical spine condition. I planned to run the 3 mile loop course in Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield at an easy pace and monitor my arch and neck pain. Earlier in the week I completed a 6+ mile trail run at Breakheart Reservation on difficult terrain and did not have any negative side effects. The loop for the G.A.C. run would be on easy non-technical trails. I thought I would be able to run at least 3 loops and possibly a 4th if I ran conservatively.
I arrived at the park a little later than planned. I called my friends Mary and Robyn who I was meeting for the run. Mary and I had been regular weekend training partners until I got injured last year. Robyn and I also logged many miles together during our lunch time runs in Boston. Both are accomplished runners with numerous marathon finishes, including many Boston Marathons over the years. Mary has also coached many new runners to successful first-time marathon finishes. Robyn has even finished a 50 mile trail Ultra in the rugged woods of Minnesota. Both had just arrived at the park around the same time as me. We all laced up out trail shoes and walked to the starting area.
The weather on race day could not have been better. The sun was shining brightly, there was very little wind and the temperature was a comfortable 55 degrees. This being just a training run for us the start should have been uneventful. There was no need to get to the front of the starting line and race to the narrow trail head. We stood in the back of the pack waiting for the start signal. The race started with a simple “GO” from Coach Gilly. I looked down at my wrist to start my Garmin and noticed I wasn’t wearing it. I then realized I left it on the hood of my truck while it acquired a satellite fix. I yelled to Mary and Robyn that I forgot my watch and had to go back to the parking lot to retrieve it. They both looked at me in amazement with a “Way to go Dan” look on their faces. So as they headed off into the woods with the rest of the pack, I ran in the opposite direction to my truck. Thankfully, my Garmin was where I left it. I grabbed the watch and headed back to the starting line. I noted that 5 minutes had already elapsed on the finishing clock. I then walked an additional 2 minutes as I fumbled with my watch trying to get it set correctly. I had a lot of ground to make up.
I would have to run the first loop much harder than I planned if I was to catch up with the pack. I was hoping I could get a glimpse of where my friends were on the course. I was passing slower runners and searching for Mary and Robyn through the long line of runners whenever the trail straightened. I could not see either of them. There was no way I could make up 5 minutes on them in a 3 mile loop. I knew I couldn’t maintain this pace for more than one lap if I wanted to complete 3 of 4 loops. I decided to run the first 3 miles hard and then slow to a manageable pace whether or not I met up with Mary and Robyn before then.
As I worked my way through runners, I meet up with Emily Trespas. I first met Emily last fall at the Stone Cat 50 miler and marathon. We were there supporting some friends running the fall classic. Emily took some nice photos at the race. You can view them HERE. We chatted for a while but got separated as the trail got more crowded with other runners. She is a nice person and I hope to see her again at future races. Emily went on to finish 50K at the race. Great job Emily! (Complete results HERE.) A short while later I caught up to my friend Larry. Larry is a regular at the weekly summer cross-country and trail races at Lynn Woods Reservation. He is a very determined runner, tough as nails, in my opinion. He always runs with a lot of heart. I hadn’t seen Larry since last summer so it was a pleasant surprise to run into him here. We discussed how many laps we would attempt to run today. We both said we would be happy to do 3 or 4. I later learned that Larry did 5 loops (15 miles). Hey Larry, keep up the good work!
As I was completing my first lap, and approaching the start/finish line, I saw Mary and Robyn standing nearby. I was happy to see them knowing I would have company for the next lap. We stopped at the aid station for a quick drink and some pretzels for me before heading out for our second lap. Robyn took the lead and picked up the pace once the trail widened. Robyn is mainly a roadie (don’t hate her for that) and I thought she would be taking it easy. I was wrong! We were passing many runners all the while Mary and I were thinking “Why so fast”? She was really moving. I thought maybe she had a bee up her shorts. Or am I just getting slower…Hmm? Despite the quick pace, the run was going well until suddenly and unexpectedly Robyn’s toe must have caught a rock. She fell hard onto the trail. I though for sure she would be hurt. Fortunately, she landed slight off the trail on a grassy patch. She had some small scrapes and a little blood, but nothing major. We laughed it off, sort of, and were on our way again.
As I said earlier, the course was easy, relatively flat with some gentle slopes and only one steep, short climb. I wanted to walk the steepest hill. Not because it was very difficult, but because I was worried running on such a steep incline would cause problems with my plantar fascia. The ladies were kind enough to walk up the hill with me although I knew it must have been killing Mary to do so. She is like the Energizer Bunny on hills. I mean she can really tear it up. If you don’t believe me check out my Countdown to Northern Nipmuck post.
The next two laps were uneventful. I was just trying to hold back Mary and Robyn. This was a training run for us but they can get pretty competitive at times. If they see a female runner ahead of them they usually will pick up the pace and run her down. They weren’t interested in doing that today so I was thankful. We debated about doing a 5th lap but I was feeling lucky that I had made it to this point with only a slight pain in my right arch. I didn’t want to press my luck going any longer and perhaps making my plantar fasciitis worse. We all decided to call it a day at 12 miles.
G.A.C. events are always a great time. Their organization, volunteers and aid stations are the best of any trail races I’ve run. I had a great time running in perfect weather with two good friends. I was encouraged by the lack of pain I had during the run. After all, I have been trying to heal from my injuries for 10 months. I have been very careful with my training, pushing my body when it seemed capable of being pushed, and resting when I felt that was the best course of action. Perhaps this run was an indication that I am finally turning the corner although I’m not completely out of the woods.