Sunday morning I made my way down to the Shenipsit State Forest in Connecticut to run the Soapstone Mountain 14.5 mile trail race. Soapstone is race # 6 on the Grand Tree Trail Race Series schedule. Of course I didn’t make the trip alone. Along for the ride to conquer “Killer Hill” was my trusty side-kick KZ, running our fourth trail race together this season. Next weekend he’s on his own though. I’ll be coasting through an easy 5K at Trav’s while he’s grinding out 50K at the Pineland Farms, his 3rd 50K in 3 months. Dude’s got a death wish!
Kevin preps for the start.
I was totally unprepared for the weather that greeted us when we arrived at the race. It was cold and damp with a raw wind whipping across the grass field where the race registration and bib pick-up was held. I was cold but happy. This is the type of weather in which I usually run well. The lines for both pre and post-registration were very long so I new the turnout must have been large (169 finishers). Of course I got in the wrong line and stood there freezing my butt off for at least 5 minutes before I realized my mistake. I was a little surprised when I saw Jim Johnson waiting in post-registration line. Jim is a speedster on the roads and dominated the 2009 Granite State Snowshoe Race Series leaving the competition in his rooster tail. Now he’s turned his talent to trail racing? Watch out Ben Nephew! (Double J finished 3rd overall, 10 seconds behind Nephew.)
Me and Michelle after we learn there is much mud on the course.
I was somewhat concerned about the getting lost on the course after reading two 2008 race reports by Ben Nephew and Steve Wolfe. Both got lost at last year’s race adding at least 5 minutes to their overall time. (Ben still won!) Steve was running with the RD and still got lost! How does that even happen? Maybe the RD was embarrassed by getting lost on her home course because the trail was now well marked with many freshly painted, bright white blazes on rocks and trees.
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The race start was a 5 minute walk from the parking area through the woods. I lined up somewhere mid-pack with KZ, “trailgrrl” Michelle and “Nipmuck” Dave. The first mile was a fast dash down a dirt road that gradually lost elevation. I kept my pace in check not wanting to go out too hard only to pay for it later. Been there, done that, bought the tee shirt! The second mile was a mix of wide and single track trail with a series of small ups and downs. I was still running very conservatively here but that didn’t prevent me from tripping over a rock or root and falling to the ground. I didn’t think I had done any damage but after the race my finger was sore and badly swollen. The feeling was the same I had when I dislocated a finger this past winter. I still had good range of motion so I don’t think I dislocated it. Probably just a bone bruise.
Just crusing along, until I fell!
Around the two mile mark I looked up to see a string of runners climbing an extremely steep and long trail up to the top of Soapstone Mountain, or “Killer Hill” as the locals fondly refer to it. There was no running here, just a long, hard power hike up this ½ mile, 33 degree grade with more than 450 feet of elevation. If you wanted to slow down your competition all you had to do is reach out and grab the ankle of the runner in front of you. It was that steep! Not only would that have been poor sportsmanship but foolhardy as well. The trail was so steep the person you just tripped would end up steamrolling you on the way down!
Just grinding it out.
Although I was huffing and puffing I handled the climb pretty well (for me) and recovered quickly at the top. The fact that this climb came at mile 2 instead of mile 12 made a huge difference to me. I never would have recovered from it if the hill came late in the race. Running under an observation tower, we immediately descended the mountain on a steep, rocky trail. At the bottom of the hill KZ made a pit stop and I didn’t see him again until after the race. I later learned the ankle he injured at MorFun Wapack last week blew up on him again during the race.
Miles 4 – 7 were constantly rolling but overall there was a net elevation loss over the 4 miles. I continued to run at a moderate but comfortable pace passing runners along the way but never getting passed by anyone. I think it was around 7 miles when the trail turned into a rocky, downhill stream. Yes, we ran in the stream! Usually I run very slowly under these trail conditions but today I ran headlong down the stream/hill dancing from one wet slippery rock to another flying past many cautious runners in the process. I actually found running this way easier and less tiring than trying to tiptoe my way around the rocks and roots. Way more dangerous though!
Miles 7.5 – 10 involved a lot of climbing and I maintained my motivation here by picking off clusters of runners grouped together but moving slower than me. I’m sure I passed 15 – 20 runners in the course of 2 miles. I stared to feel some fatigue setting in at mile 10 so I tucked in behind a runner that was maintaining a decent pace and picking very good lines through the technical sections. I followed him for 2 miles until he went off trail to let me pass. My time sucking off him sadly came to an end.
At mile 13 there was another long climb up twisting single-track. By now I was tired and had to take some walking breaks to make it up the 300 foot hill. My spirits were lifted when the volunteer at the top of the hill shouted “Nice job, it’s all downhill from here.” He lied!!! There was a wicked drop down from the hill, and some more downhill running on a short paved section of road but the rest of it was uphill. Maybe the volunteer thought it best to keep the truth from me. Perhaps he was right. I’m not telling!
Breaking out of the woods and onto a grassy field about 200 yards from the finish line I started my kick to see if I could pass 2 more runners ahead of me. I really didn’t’ want to do it but they were too close not to try. They didn’t have anything left, or didn’t have any interest in more pain, and I went by them easily. I was more than happy with my finishing time since it was about 30 minutes faster than I though I would run based on my other race performances this spring.
It was definitely a day of surprises. Soapstone IS a challenging course but I was surprised that there were several very runable, non-technical sections suited to my style of running. (A former road runner with decent speed “back in the day.”) I was surprised that I finished so close behind Michelle who has been kicking my A$$ big time the past few races. To be fair, this course played more to my strengths than hers. She is more of a mountain goat than a speed demon. Not that she looks like one. A goat, that is! I’m certainly very surprised that I ran under 2:34 but I think the cold weather helped me out. I run much better in cold weather vs. the hot stuff. Overall a great day considering I just wanted to roll over and go back to sleep when I woke up at 5 AM Sunday morning!
Race photos by Scott Livingston HERE
Race Results HERE
Trav’s in 5 days…..