Saturday, April 3, 2010

2010 Northern Nipmuck Race Report - The Curse Continues

The 2010 Grand Tree Trail Race Series kicked off today in Union CT with the very hilly Northern Nipmuck 16 mile trail race. The bright sunshine and unseasonable warm temperature coupled with the late (10am) start time made for some tough running during the second half of the race. The heavy rains that fell here early in the week left their mark on the course. There was ample water and mud with several water crossings of varying depths and widths giving runners a chance to cool down and rinse off mud-caked shoes.

Much like the New York Yankees have the Boston Red Sox number, the Northern Nipmuck course holds a curse over me. In 2007, I was in 3:12 road marathon shape yet only managed to struggle to the finish line in, you guessed it, 3:12! That’s 10 mile under marathon distance mind you. In 2009, I had a rough time from start to finish, falling a few times along the way and crawling home in 3:51. This year the curse continued.

Out and back on the Nipmuck Trail.

I was determined to run better this year even though I’m probably in about the same shape I was in at this time last year. As in not very good. After a short warmup, I met Michelle and her friend Tom at the start. It was Tom’s first trail race so I joked with him about picking an “easy” one for his first. We started at the rear of the pack which was a mistake. After about 50 yards the course narrows to single track and heads uphill. This created a huge bottleneck that kept us from doing much running in the first mile. My first mile split was close to 17 minutes as a result of all the single-file uphill walking. Much like the 7 Sister’s start I hear.

Tom, Michelle and Cheri before the race. Some guys have all the luck. Next time, Tom takes the photos.

After the initial climbing, Michelle, Tom and I started to coast along passing several runners ahead of us when the opportunity arose. We stuck together until Tom had to make a bathroom break. Michelle said she would wait up but I kept moving, albeit slowly. As Tom ran deeper into the woods Michelle ragged on him saying, “You’re a man, you don’t have to go THAT deep into the woods.” I responded, “Maybe he does!” I slowed my pace down (yes, I have a slower than slow gear too) and Michelle and Tom were soon on my heels. I guess Michelle was right after all.

Raging river by aid station #1

About six miles into the race the lead runners were already coming back. It made for some congested running on the tight singletrack trail. Greg Hammett was the first to come through with Jim Johnson right on his heels. I put my money on Jim but he ended up taking a bad spill shortly after and ended up finishing second. Ben Nephew was 3rd and Brian Rusiecki placed 4th. The results aren’t posted yet so that’s about all I know for now. Anyway, back to my sad tale of woe. (Update: results have been published)

They don't call it Nip'Muck' for nothing.

We reached the turnaround at mile 8 in about 1:40. I was still feeling good and thought I would have a good chance of holding that pace for the second half. It turns out I was overly optimistic, by a real lot! I left the aid station with Michelle, Tom, our new friend Cheri, our new nurse friend (name unknown) and a few other runners that we grouped up with. I was bringing up the rear as usual. Things were going well until mile 9 when the wheels started to fall off.

I’m not sure what happened to me but all of a sudden I couldn’t maintain the group’s pace on any of the uphills and I was slipping back a little on each climb. I went from feeling good to feeling weak in a matter of minutes. I lost contact when we encountered a water crossing. I was slow getting past it and they disappeared up and over another hill. From then on I knew it was going to be a long, lonely slog to the finish line for me.

Hills, hills and even more hills.

I’m pretty sure I walked as much as I ran in the final four miles. Yes, it true. I had to walk all the hills and even some of the flats. My hamstrings were cramping and I was nauseous. I was in the hurt locker and there was no getting out of it. I kept waiting for a stampede of runners to blow by my sorry arse but it never happened. I think I wasn’t the only one out there having a difficult time with the course and the heat. Much to my amazement I even passed two people in the final miles. They were walking too but not as fast as me. I think I have more experience with walking than they do!

After much suffering I could hear some chatter through the wood so I knew I was getting very close to the finish line. I took baby steps down the last rocky descent not wanting to take a digger so close to the end. I hobbled across the line in 3:40. It took me two hours to run/walk the final 8 miles meaning my 2nd half split was 20 minutes slower than my first! WOW, I stunk up the trail worse than a barn yard cow with the runs. But at least I had fun. Or did I?

On the drive home I noticed an unusual looking passenger riding in the back of the mini-van ahead of me. The hairy beast was giving me the evil eye even though I wasn't tailgating. I would have flipped him the bird but I’ve become mellow in my old age.

This is not something you see every day on the Mass Pike.

Yes, it's real and it's spectacular!

Next up for me is the Merrimack River Trail Race on 4/10. It’s only 10 miles so I should stink only 5/8 as bad as I did today.



  1. I was all set to be sympathetic and caring...then I saw the Llama! LOL!!! If THAT didn't make your day...

    Really, though...coming from the cold, raw time of we have had as of late I wouldn't be too hard on yourself over your race yesterday in the HEAT. Our bodies haven't had time to aclimate yet.

    So...what's the verdict for 4/17? Ya know, we are all planning our races around being in your precense... ;)

  2. Dan, you've had a low mileage previous months, plus the high temps (hrr!)...I would not worry about this! Look at it as a prep run for your next race! Good luck!

  3. Dan, I wish I could have been out there with you all! What a heat and humidity immersion for early APril! Your wheels spun off? I would have pick them up and screwed them back on my with pocket-running wrench.

    I love this Llama. Perhaps on route to a Meetup.
    Have llama will travel.

  4. Thanks all. I'm not really bummed about it. I just enjoy making fun of myself. I only pick one or two key races a year that I actually RACE. All the others are just hard training efforts in my eyes an another opportunity to hang with a lot of great people.

  5. Well, as I see it, you ran faster than you did the year before, and only dropping 20 minutes for the second half doesn't seem that bad considering the state of crapulence you found over the last few miles! Hopefully I'll see you next week if my broken parts allow me to do so! PLUS, remember Merrimack ain't quite 10 :-)

  6. The heat was definitely a factor. But isn't it a great race?! What an awesomely challenging course for early season!!! Love this race. BTW, I was a half hour slower than last year and still loved every minute of it.


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