Monday, June 8, 2009
2009 Nipmuck Trail Marathon
Nipmuck Dave put on another great event at the Nipmuck Trail Marathon in and around Mansfield Connecticut yesterday. For the majority of runners at this race, the theme is fun. Sure, there were a few fast guys out there grimacing in the front, but most of the field was smiling and chatting for the entire distance.
As with all trail races, this race begins with the pre-race briefing letting the runners know about trail conditions and risks and things like that. You expect to be bored at these things, but Dave's pre-race briefings tend to be good entertainment. This year's rendition was a rap number by Dave and the Muckettes. The motto for this year's race was "Don't matter if you're fast or slow."
After the briefing, we all shuffled over to the starting lines. There are two lines on the road, one slightly ahead of the other. This front corral is not for the elites, it is for the race director, who takes advantage of his position and gets a little head start on the rest of us. It's only fair, trail races are not easy events to direct! At Dave's signal we were off.
I started near the back and chatted with runners I knew and gradually moved up through the pack for the first 6.5 miles. I have never seen so many runners I know at a race before. Nipmuck has a loyal following of some of the nicest and friendliest runners out there. The G.A.C. runners were there in force along with the usual group of hard core veterans from Maine, and a smattering of other familiar runners, many of whom I hadn't seen in years. Kenny was there spectating. I felt bad for him when I talked with him before the race. He wanted to run but had recent eye surgery and had to watch from the sidelines. But as I ran past him at every road crossing, sitting in a beach chair enjoying the beautiful day, I stopped feeling bad for him and started envying him!
The course has us run out for about 6.5 miles then back to the start where we cross the road and do another 6.5+ out in the opposite direction and then back. Because of this we get to see, cheer for, and collide with each other as we head in different directions twice. It adds to the fun!
At my return to the starting area, before starting the second out and back I caught up to Rich and Bob. This was much earlier than I expected to see Bob and I hadn't expected to see Rich at all. So I had a chance to run with Rich a bit before he moved ahead. Then I went back and forth with Bob for a long time. My hip was starting to hurt through this stretch and I finally gave in and took 2 Motrin. I had planned not to take any so I would know if I was making it worse and slow down or stop if I had to. Once the Motrin kicked in, I moved ahead of Bob. He can beat me in a road marathon by a half hour or so, but I can usually finish ahead of him on the rough trails. I wasn't really racing and would have been happy to stick with Bob to the finish, but I lost him somewhere. I waited a few minutes at the turn around but didn't see him so I continued without him.
The entire trail is gnarly single track at it's best. Did anyone NOT fall? I doubt it. There were blood, bumps, and bruises galore. I fell three times due to my right hip injury, I just wasn't lifting that leg over obstacles very easily. My most spectacular fall of my running career happened around mile 20 or so. I was running over a narrow wooden footbridge crossing some mucky water and mud. Somehow I caught my foot and went over forward. I somersaulted one full rotation before coming to a stop on my back, teetering on the edge of the bridge. I had just enough time to think, "at least I didn't go into the muck," before slipping over the side and falling about 3 feet, landing on my back in the mud. A few rocks hit me square in the lower back. This is the kind of fall that hurts everywhere. I just lay there groaning for a minute before gathering myself, crawling out onto the trail, and finally starting to move down the trail again. After I got back into my rhythm, I forgot all about it. It didn't start hurting again until I was finished. I have a huge black bump on my left outer upper arm and a bruised and sore lower back. This morning I feel like I was hit by a truck. Again, all part of the fun!
Heading back over the home stretch I saw and exchanged pleasantries with Bob, Gilly, the G.A.C. girls, Melanie, Joe, etc. as they headed out to the turn around. I love that! Then further down the trail with the stragglers was Craig. He is a running icon. He has run impressive times at many ultras over the years. He has a string of Hard Rock finishes and has completed loops at Barclay. With his long grey beard, pony tail, and contagious smile, he is hard to miss. Everybody knows Craig. He is suffering with a bad knee problem and has been reduced to a walk. Not too long ago he would have been 30 minutes to an hour ahead of me at this point in the race. This day he was happy to be bringing up the rear. He is still out there enjoying the trails with the rest of us and I admire him for that. His attitude is great. So despite his slow progress on the course, I wasn't surprised to hear him greet me with a big smiling "Hey, it's Miss Laurel!"
With two miles to go I realized that despite all the fun I was having, I was going to finish about 15 minutes faster than last year. Then the first leg cramp hit with a vengeance! I involuntarily let out a loud "ARGHHH!" as my right leg shot out in front of me and my foot flexed up towards the heavens. This was followed by a few "EEEEH GADDDD!"s and "UGGGGGHHHH!"s. Runners went past with suppressed smiles, "cramping, huh?" and "I heard you before I saw you, keep it down will you?" from the men. From the women it was a more sympathetic, "I hate it when that happens" and "you don't have far to go," although they also seemed to be suppressing smiles. Apparently I look very funny when I am in the throws of the Electrolyte Imbalance Polka. I pulled myself together, took a hand full of electrolyte caps and finished my water. "OK, I can run," I said to myself, starting to run again "easy does it. Careful...OH MY GODDDDDDDD!!!" this time clinging to a tree to keep from falling to the ground. More runners went by with "I'll send an ambulance back for you" and "you could probably crawl it in from here." These cramps involved hamstrings, quads, and calves. They were incredible! I hadn't seen them coming. I had been taking my electrolytes and drinking plenty. I'm not sure what happened. These were EXTREME cramps. Even I had to laugh a little between the pain at all my thrashing around and weird noises.
Eventually, with a lot of stop and go and a few more wise cracks, I limped over the finish line. Runners who had already finished were seated in chairs in the shade across the street watching the finishers come in. As I walked across the street, I cramped again and this time everyone in their chairs let out a big "OHHHHHHHH!" with those little suppressed smiles. Nothing like a little pain to liven up a party. Steve P. had also cramped at the end and he looked sympathetic as he sat there hydrating and rubbing his muscles.
After drinking a lot and eating as much salt as I could find, I started feeling better. I was soon able to join the lawn chair brigade and have a few cold beers with friends as we watched the rest of the runners come in. The circle grew larger and larger as more and more people finished. About 7 hours after the race started someone started to fold his chair and said something about heading out, and others got up to do the same. Then someone else said, "Craig hasn't finished yet." Chairs went back up, more beers cracked open and conversation resumed. You've got to love that trail running camaraderie! About a half hour later Craig came in with a smile and we all headed off for home.
It was fantastic fun. Falls, cramps, and all. And if the race itself wasn't enough fun, I also enjoyed the long ride to and from the race with Bob in his Porche. I doubt the winners got to ride home in such style!