Saturday, July 19, 2008

Greenbelt Trail Race - Dog Days of Summer

The race start was at the Pingree School in Hamilton, MA and would traverse the trails and horse paths of the Pingree Reservation. The course was described as mostly single and double track trail with reasonably good footing. I’ve been a little bored with my usual running locations and was eagerly anticipating setting foot on some never explored terra firma.

I knew it would a tough day for me even as I waited in line to pick up my race number. The temperature had already exceeded 80 degrees and the humidity was very high. There was some relief in the shade but standing in the sunlight kicked my sweat glands into high gear. I have been experiencing a lot of difficulty running in the heat lately, more so than in past summers. I could only hope the trails were under dense tree cover.

As we lined up for the start of the race I went over my race strategy in my head. “Go out slow due to the heat and keep going slow until you cross the finish line”. Simple enough, I thought. Later on I would be asking, “Why don’t I ever listen to myself”? Off we went, taking a lap around a soccer field, then over a wooden footbridge and into the woods. It had rained the night before but the trail was in very good condition. The first mile was a roller-coaster ride of small undulating hills, if you can even call them that, mostly single track with very few rocks or roots. The only obstacle was a series of 5 or 6 mud holes spaced closely together. While most runners ahead of me hesitated and tried to tiptoe around the muck, I chose the more direct approach and blasted straight on through, moving up a few places in the process.

The second mile was much like the first with the addition on a few steeper climbs and down hills. I managed to run these pretty well passing a few folks along the way. The trail descended into a low swampy area where you could really feel the dampness of the day. The single track trail was lined with a multitude of ferns on both sides. The pools of water were green with algae and pollen. It was dark and sort of creepy. I was expecting to see the Creature from the Black Lagoon at any moment!

By the time I finished the second mile, I was beginning to feel the effects of the heat, humidity and my not so prudent pacing. What happened to my go out slow plan? I tried to maintain pace but then I hit the longest hill of the race. It was a struggle to keep moving but I made it to the top (barely) without walking. I continued over more roller-coaster hills and then came to an open field. The grass was about three feet tall with a wide path mowed for the runners. The field was exposed to the full sun and I felt a blast of hot air coming into the sunlight from the shade covered trail. The decaying grass, and the evaporation of the previous night’s rain, only added to the already oppressive humidity. I wanted to get off the field a quickly as possible. It wasn’t long before I turned into the start/finish area, completing my first lap. You mean I have to do this all over again? What fun!

The second lap was my demise. My paced slowed and I struggled on the smallest of inclines. I was not alone. I caught one runner by the name of Rob walking up a short steep hill. (check out Rob's
blog, Tracks of a Trail Runner) We stayed together for a while and traded war stories. He ran the WMAC Skyline trail race last weekend and his quads were rebelling on lap two. No matter how bad his quads were feeling, I couldn’t stay with Rob for very long. He pulled away from me as did a few younger female runners. I eventually made it to the finish line a little worn but happy to have been a part of the Essex Country Greenbelt Association’s inaugural trail race.

Stick a fork in me. I think I’m done.

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