During the 3 1/2 hour drive to Connecticut I put together some race goals for today.
1. Run the whole thing. Unless there were spots that were absolutely too technical to run, I didn't want to walk any of the course today.
2. Use the race to work on uphill and downhill form and efficiency. This course was said to have many many steep ups and downs throughout the whole run. I wanted to put them to good use.
3.Run equal splits for the first and second halves of the race. It was an out and back course and I wanted to pace myself to be just as strong at the end as at the beginning.
4. Finish in about three hours. I had looked at previous years race results and saw that runners of about my ability had been running 3:00-3:10.
5. Don't fall.
6. Feel good and enjoy myself the whole run. I know this can't be forced, but I'd do my best!
The light rain showers had ended and the temperature was about 45 degrees at the start of the Northern Nipmuck 16 miler. The course started with a long steady climb, which warmed me up quickly. I wore two light long sleeve tops and medium weight tights, and I had a light pair of gloves tucked into my waist band. Most people had on less clothing than me, but I hate to be cold.
I ran the first half of the race trading places with Deb Livingston. I should just leave it at that so all of you who are familiar with the Northeast trail running scene will be extremely impressed. But the truth is that she was taking it easy today because she is expecting her second child. This gave me the opportunity to see a very gifted and natural trail runner up close and learn a few things. Her downhill running is truly amazing. She is incredibly fast, sure footed, and smooth on the downs. It is really beautiful to see. I tried to match her pace on the downs which meant I had to increase my turnover and also increase the length of my strides. The moment her foot touched the ground she instantly and effortlessly pushed off into the next stride, so I tried to do the same. To stay with her on the downs I had to trust my footing and just let myself "roll" down the hill. When I did it right, it was much easier and faster than my usual short fast choppy downhill steps. Also, after a little practice, I started feeling like I had more control and I was less likely to fall. Funny that letting go more made me feel more in control, but it really did! Deb and her husband gave me a few more pointers on downhill running after the race as we walked back to the cars. They are both very friendly and open people.
I ran up all the hills except for a few times when I had to walk a few steps until I could get around the person in front of me. There were a lot of hills, actually very little flat. The hills were relatively short, but very steep. It was a very fun course and perfect for the training I wanted to do today. I checked my watch at the turn around and tried to hold my pace and effort steady for the return trip.
I ran for a while with a guy named Frank. He told me a lot about the Javelina course which I plan to run in October. He gave me a lot of useful information and I enjoyed his company. Eventually I had to let him go on ahead while I took a pit stop. I had fun working for the next 15 or 20 minutes trying to catch him again. When I finally got him in sight it looked like he might be starting to cramp up. When I caught him he confirmed that his calves were cramping. I stayed with him for a bit and then went on ahead.
With about 6 miles to go, the temperature started dropping and it started showering lightly. Then it got even colder and started raining harder. I pulled my sleeves back down from my elbows and put on my gloves. I was moving along well and stayed warm and comfortable. I got to the last aid station with 4 miles to go. there were two young guys working the station. They had plastic cups filled with Gatorade, water, and soda set up in exceptionally tidy rows. I lifted a cup of coke and it slipped out of my wet glove and surprisingly, spilled almost every cup on the table and soaked both of the men. I'm still not sure how I did that. One of the guys turned to the other and said, "I told you stuff like this would happen when the runners came through the second time, all delirious and hypothermic." I grabbed the only cup of coke still standing, said sorry and thanks, and took off for the home stretch. I felt remarkably fresh and strong all the way to the finish.
I went straight to my car and changed into dry clothes so I wouldn't get chilled. I enjoyed the post race pizza and delicious homemade soup while standing near the fire pit talking running with a friendly bunch of people I had never met before. I also got to talk with Dan, from snowshoe racing and Barbara, one of the toughest runners I know. The runners that were coming in after me looked very cold and miserable, complete with blue lips and the shivers. I was lucky to have finished before conditions got too bad. Race organizers and volunteers had a tough day out there in the cold rain. Thanks to them Northern Nipmuck went off without a hitch. It was an awesome race on a beautiful and challenging trail. I'll definitely do it again.
So, how did I do with my race goals?
1. I did run the whole way except for a few steps here and there when there were runners walking in front of me.
2.I am very happy with the hill training I did today. People have TOLD me over and over again how to improve my downhill running, but having someone SHOW me made a world of difference.
3. I ran the first half in 1:24:30 and the second half in 1:30, not equal splits, but there was rain and a lot more mud on the way back.
4. I got an unofficial finish time of 2:54:30, so I met my time goal.
5. Despite slippery wet rocks and roots, I never came close to falling! I love my Salomons.
6. I had a blast and finished feeling that I could probably continue running for another ten miles.