I left my house early to begin the 80 minute drive to the race. It was a cool morning, the sky gray and threatening to rain. As I continued my drive west along the Mass Pike the clouds began to break. By the time I arrived at the Hodges Village Dam parking lot the sun was shinning. Unlike the past few days, it looked like we would have a nice, sunny dry day. The week preceding the race saw heavy rainfall in the area. In nearby Worcester, streets were flooded and many basements filled with several feet of water. I expected the trails would still be wet and muddy in low lying areas.
A little before 9AM we lined up for the start of the race. The RD thanked us all for coming and said this year had a record number of entrants. He usually has about 60-70 registered runners but this year it was over 100. That made me feel good since the proceeds from the race goes to a good cause, the French River Connection. I noticed a runner by the name of Kevin standing nearby. I met Kevin at the Essex County Greenbelt 10K trial race a few weeks earlier. We were both thankful it was much cooler today than when we last raced. At the 10K, the temperature was in the mid- eighties with very high humidity. Whew!
The race started with the usual “GO” and off we went. After a short downhill from the parking area we ran along a flat dirt road through an open grass field. I settled in near the back of the pack and tried to get into a comfortable rhythm. I was using the race as my long training run for the week. I didn’t want to start out too fast. After a half mile or so we turned into the woods.
The next few miles were made up of twisty single track. The trail really snaked it’s way through the trees with very few straight sections. It was very cool! The were no monster hills but constant small ups and down along the way. The trail was in very good condition, still tacky from all the recent rain, but not too wet. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of puddles on the course but you could find a way around most of them if you wanted. I took it easy for the first few miles running with small groups of runners and then passing them when the trail allowed it. I continued with the strategy for the rest of the race.
At 4 miles there was an ankle deep water crossing about 10 feet wide and thick with mud on both sides. I ran through the water with a quick, high knee lift hoping to keep my feet from getting bogged down in the mud. It worked! I then came to a large open field. A wide path had been cut through the tall grass, wildflowers and weeds. When I looked ahead I could see a long steep climb up to the power lines. When I got to the base of the hill I realized it was even steeper than it looked from a distance. I tried to run it but with the loose dirt and stone, and the difficulty of the incline itself, it made more sense to power hike it. Everyone ahead of me was walking so I didn’t feel bad about joining in. Much to my surprise I passed several people on the climb.
After the climb it was back into the woods for some more twisty single track. It was here were I noticed I was being tailed by another runner. Whenever I past a slower pack of runners he would follow. When I settled into a group, he settled in to. Now I know this was supposed to be a training run but this guy was starting to bug me. After a few climbs and descents over some rougher terrain I noted he was slower than me on the hills. I decided I would make a move to gap him on the next downhill. I soon got my chance and accelerated down a rock and root strewed hill. When I looked back he was far behind and I never saw or heard him again.
Flying down the hill took the bounce out of my legs. I hooked onto the back of three runners and slowed down a bit to get the life back into my legs. We ran together for a short time before we came to a small river around mile 7. We were directed by a volunteer to make a water crossing. The three runners I was with didn’t look all that excited to get wet but I charged head long into the river. The river was approximately 40-50 feet wide and nearly waist deep in the middle. The cool water felt very good on my weary legs and seemed to revive them. I was out of the river and moving easily once again.
I spend the last 3 miles picking off runners one by one although they were few and far between at this point in the race. Finally, I could hear cheering up ahead and knew I was getting close to the finish line. Up one last short, steep hill and I was back to the parking lot where the race began. I finished 4th in the 50-59 age group, less than 3 minutes behind the 3rd place finisher. Not bad considering this was just a training run. It felt good to get a longer race under my belt even if I didn’t run it all out. Next stop, the Wapack trail race in three weeks. That one will be so much harder!