Sunday, October 12, 2008
Diamond Hill Race Report
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Saturday was a quintessential autumn day in New England. The sun shone brightly in the cloudless, deep blue sky and there was a distinct chill in the air. By 7:30 AM I was on the road to pick up fellow Wapack warrior Kevin for our next challenge, the Diamond Hill-Birchwold 22.5K Trail race in Cumberland, RI. This was my very first trail race in 2006 and I welcomed the chance to return to the place that got me hooked on trail running.
Kevin was pretty psyched as well. He has run a ton of races this year but all of them on his own. He was happy to have company this time, as was I. Kevin and I met a few months ago at a 10K trail race in Hamilton. We later bumped into one another at the Oxford Dam race in August. Later in the month we met for a third time on the Wapack trail. We were both struggling to finish the race. Kevin was dealing with cramping in his quads and I was just plain out of gas. We pulled each other along and made it to the finish line. Kevin even mustered up enough energy to sprint past me in the final few yards. We became “comrades in arms” that day. There’s nothing like mutual suffering to bring people together.
We arrived at Diamond Hill Park with more than an hour to race time. Many people gathered near the starting line soaking in the bright, warm sunshine. I talked with speedster, Paul Young and his wife Emily before the race. I also met Dominic, a triathlete turned trail runner. He was very enthusiastic about his newfound passion for dancing in dirt. Dominic completed the Jay Mountain ultra in July and said it was the most fun he ever had. He said he felt like “Man vs. Wild” star Bear Grylls when he was running in streams and wading through swamps. I thought, “Man, this course will be a piece of cake for him”.
The race was about to begin. Paul took his rightful place up front while Emily, Kevin and myself took to the rear. With a simple command of “go” we were off. We ran on a very short stretch of pavement and then turned onto a meadow and began a climb up a steep, grassy hill. Soon, I found myself in DFL along with Emily and Kevin. We power hiked the hill while most everyone else ran. I wasn’t worried. I knew they would pay for it later.
At the crest of the hill we turned onto a single-track trail that descended and then started to climb again. Emily and I chatted the entire time. Before long we began climbing up the 460 foot high, Diamond Hill along a very steep, rocky, twisting trail. Again I was back to power hiking most of the hill and running when the slope flatted a bit. In front of me a string of runners when up and over Diamond Hill.
Kevin and I were still together at the top of Diamond Hill but I could not see Emily. She had chosen a more prudent pace and dropped back from us. Kevin and I both picked up the pace on the descent passing a few runners in the process. We continued along more single track and then came out to a street in a quite neighborhood. Once I got on the pavement I pulled away from Kevin. I wouldn’t see him again until the finish. After running about ¼ mile on the street the course again turned into the woods.
There was a long gradual hill dropping down to the Diamond Hill Reservoir. The footing was good here so I cranked it up and caught up to two runners ahead of me. Once we got down to the banks of the reservoir the trail was very muddy and there were several sections that were under water. The two runners were hesitant when approaching the water and this gave me an opportunity to pass them. I took a better line around the water and was able to get past them pretty easily. Once I got around them I was running on my own.
I ran the next mile or more trying to catch a group of 3 runners up ahead of me. I would gain on them on the flats and down hills but they would pull away from me on the up hills. This has been a familiar scene in all my races this year. I knew if I could catch them it would be a lot easier to maintain a faster pace than if I continued to run on my own. I finally worked my way up to the group and settled in at the back of the train.
We ran together for the next two miles at a good pace. The guy in the lead was having navigation problems and kept missing the turns. The woman behind him would yell to him that he missed the turn and we would wait for him to backtrack before the 4 of us would head off together again. Things were going well until we caught up to a solo female runner. I guess the woman in my group didn’t like the idea of another female competitor running with us. She downshifted, accelerated and pulled away from female # 2 and the rest of us. The race was on!
I managed to work my way back to female #1 and so to did the other two fellows in the original group. Female # 2 was not as fast and she was left in the dust and debris. We soon came to a small water crossing, maybe 10 feet wide but only ankle deep. I splashed my way through picking up a shoe full of small stones in the process. After the water crossing we ran along single track that crossed several large open meadows. The meadows were pancake flat and it was a nice break from the roller coaster ride we had been on for the past several miles. We encountered another water crossing and unfortunately, more rocks in my shoes. It seems everyone was having the same issue with their shoes filling with stones. The 3 runners I had been hanging with decided to stop and empty their shoes. I would have done the same if the race was longer but I thought I would take a chance on getting blisters and use this opportunity to pull away from them while they emptied their shoes. It was a good plan but about a minute later I noticed my shoes were untied. I had to stop to lace them up. While I was tightening my laces the “3 amigos” ran past me. Damn it! Catch-up time again.
At the 9-mile mark we turned onto a one mile stretch of paved road. This is where my many years of road racing played to my advantage. I slowly but steadily pulled away from my 3 trail mates. Up ahead I recognized Dominic. He soon became my next victim. We exchanged a few words as I passed and I continued to put the hammer down. I wanted to get a big advantage on the road because I knew the people I had been running with were better trail runners than me and we would soon be in the woods again.
At the end of the road was the second aid station. I knew from running this race in 2006 that there was about 5K of hilly trails remaining in the race from here. I stopped at the aid station to have some water. I had been drinking Succeed during the race but I just wanted some plain, cold water now. It hit the spot. I had another. My thirst became my undoing as everyone I passed on the road was now at the aid station. #$%&!!!!
Female #1 and Dominic took off a few seconds before me. I’m not sure what they drank at the station but whatever it was I need to get me some. The two of them were streaking down the trail like a bullet train. Gone in 60 seconds! That’s the last I saw of them. I, on the other hand, was starting to struggle. I ran the next 2 miles with one of the original “group of four”. He and I exchanged leads and offered encouragement to one another when it seemed one of us needed it.
With about a mile to go I took my eyes off the trail to locate the next ribbon. My toe caught a root and down I went. I was able to get my hands out in front of me so the only damage was a cut on my right hand. A little blood running down my hand was a small price to pay for being able to run on such an incredible day. I think the fall must have knocked the cobwebs out of me and I was able to run strong the last mile. I crossed finish line slightly disappointed in my time but still, it was a great day.
I waited for Kevin to arrive at the finish. I knew from previous races that he couldn’t be very far behind. Minutes pasted and still no Kevin. Soon, across the field came Kevin. He had taken a wrong turn and ran at least an extra half to three-quarters of a mile. I guess he liked the course so much he didn’t want to leave it! We hadn’t even finished our post-race refreshment when we starting planning our next race. It looks like the Middlesex Fells Ultra is a distinct possibility.
Keep your eyes on the trail…