Saturday, April 11, 2009

No Fun At Northern Nipmuck - A Race(?) Report

What can I say? Except for the cold and rain, the mud and water, the two hard falls and several close calls, the frostbitten fingers and the unwanted bathroom break, I had a great time! Actually, I ran a miserable race in miserable weather. I even surprised myself how badly I ran and can't remember ever wanting a run to end as much as did this one. Just a bad day all around.

Heavy overcast sky and a light mist accompanied me on the 90 minute drive to
Bigelow Hollow State Park. Was this a warning sign of things to come? By the time I arrived at the park the mist had stopped but there was chill in the air. I was running a little late so I had to scramble a bit to get to the starting line about a half mile from the park. I opted for a long-sleeved shirt and shorts but in my haste forgot my gloves in the truck. I would pay for that later.

I got to the starting line with a few seconds to spare. I saw
Michelle and Dave and we exchanged greetings right before the race began. There was about 30 yards of flat running before we started to climb up Coye Hill. I was planned to run with Michelle and Dave but got stuck behind a large bottle-neck of runners when the trail quickly changed into a narrow single-track causing me to fall behind. I could see them up ahead but not wanting to push the pace so early in the race was never able to make up the distance. As it turned out I never would have been able to stay with them the entire race. I really faded the last 4 miles and finished well behind them.

Seconds before the start.

Nipmuck is an 8 mile out-and back course that is a constant roller-coaster of long climbs and descents with plenty of rocks and roots thrown in for good measure. There were also several water crossings, most of them fairly narrow, with enough rocks conveniently poking their heads above water to serve a stepping stones for the trail runner with a dislike for wet feet. This author included. The second 4 miles of the course has many long stretches of narrow, twisting single-track with brush scratching you the entire way.

A 16 mile roller-coastr ride.

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One of the easy water crossings.

I never felt very good during the race and was having a hard time on the hills. On one of the steep descents along a series of switchbacks I stepped on a long, slick root and went down hard. Fortunately, most for the fall was absorbed by my butt so not much damage done. A short time later, similar situation, same result! This time I didn't use my butt to break the fall but still no serious damage. It did make me very cautious for the rest of the race and I took it very slow on all the downhills.

One of many steep descents.

About 6 miles into the race I got a very uncomfortable rumbling in my gut. I knew I was in trouble and would have to get off the trail soon. I was in a long section of narrow single-track with heavy brush on both sides. There was no way to get out. Finally I couldn't wait any longer and bushwhacked my way down a small hill. I could hear several runners go by during this time. By the time I got back on the trail I could see or hear no one. I thought for sure I must be DFL (dead f-ing last). And then the rain started!!

Typical terrain.

At first it was just a light drizzle as I made my way to the aid station at the turn around point. Eight down, eight to go. The station was well stocked with water, coke, several flavors of Gatorade, pretzels and my favorite, Mike and Ike's candy. I lingered for a while, chatting with the volunteers under the canopy as the rain picked up. A group of 4 runners came in together so I wasn't DFL after all. I was getting cold by this time so I needed to get a move on.

Stuffing my face at the half way point.

On the return trip the rain went from light to heavy. I was soaked from head to toe. My fingers were very cold and a ghostly white. I regretted forgetting my gloves and vest in the truck. I wanted this race to end and I still had about 6 miles to go. I had been running alone all this time but eventually worked my way back to someone. Her name was Marija and we got to talking which made the time out there a little more enjoyable. She told me she ran the VT 50K last fall and thought Nipmuck was a harder race. That made me feel a little better but the feeling didn't last for long.

Many moss covered rocks to run over on this day.

Me and Marija made our way to the final aid station 4 miles from the finish. A quick drink and we were off again. She was starting to struggle so I took the lead from her to see if I could pull her along. She took a hard fall on a slick root, (Oh yeah, I can relate) and that seemed to take the wind out of her sails. She said she was OK but we all say that. I told her to walk a bit until she got her wind back and I stayed with her. A few minutes later we started running again. Marija kept falling back and I would wait up for her. Eventually I had to leave her because I was just getting too cold. I ran/walked the final two miles slogging my way through the ever increasing mud on the trails.

Friendly volunteers smile as Marija decides what to drink.

I was happy we got to run OVER this one.

Descending Coye Hill I could see the finish line. Cold and wet I crossed the line and looked at the timing clock. I was shocked to see I ran over 40 minutes slower than I did in 2007. My times have dropped off significantly since injuring myself that summer. I walked back to the parking area and stood by the fire to warm up my hands. It felt great! Laurel was there and we talked while she waited for her friend to finish. She's a super lady and I wish her well on her 100 mile race next month.

Next up for me is a 10 mile race in Blue Hills. Maybe I can redeem myself.


  1. Oh, Dan, sorry the run was a sucker! Darn! I know how much you were looking forward to this race. On the bright side, it sounds like you got to meet some great runners, and I have no doubt that this run has made you stronger and more prepared for what's ahead this season (think Wapack)! Don't sweat it! I bet you'll rock Blue Hills! Ana

  2. Woah, Dan, you had quite a day out there in "Bigelow Hollow"; your adventure sounds very "Wind in the Willows" with a combination of Toady and Badger! I am glad you had someone to run with for awhile, too! You built dome good mental durability on this one! Oh my, the course looks challenging (like steeper DRB?) yet a but glum (in your pix) with the rain. Icky Sudz on the slippery roots. You had your share of mud in CT! I love the moss photos...I have that thing about moss, you know. finally, I am glad you landed on your rear end of all the possible options.

  3. We were thinking of you at Merrimack Dan! It was just one of those classic New England Spring days that should be outlawed! I am fighting a cold too because I also took the minimalist approach to gear. Sounds like an interesting course, too bad the adventure was just raw! See you at the Blue Hills!

  4. Hi Dan, It was good seeing you at N.N! I've had those races where I wished I'd never stepped up to the starting line, sounds like you had one of those days. It's good mental training to get through a struggle like that. I hope you have blue skies and sun for Blue Hills. Don't know how I missed the Mike and Ikes, I love those things!

  5. Hey Dan,

    I could feel the cold and frustration while reading. I envy you though because I was not able to run at all.....a tough run is better than no run any day!

    I agree this adventure can only make you much stronger and you should view it as a great training effort.

  6. Hey, if you train slow, you race slow, and I haven't done any up tempo running all year.

  7. Dan,
    I have blog envy ; ) your pics are so cool and your report really let the reader feel like they were there...I was there I know but your report reminded me of things that I did not really think about until I read your may have been a tough day but it is the tough days that really come to define you...sticking it out when you are cold and have runners gut (awful) and just feel well poopy (literally ; ) I wish I could ahve seen you and gabbed but had to rush off to a doctors appointment in Boston..haha let me tell you the people in the waiting room thought I was nuts..wet, smelly and covered in mud!

  8. 'What doesn't kill you makes you strong!' Whenever I quote Nietzsche my wife points out that he died insane. Congratulations on simply living to tell about it! See you in the woods.


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