(The picture that should go here is found here).
This past Sunday, five Trail Monsters invaded New Hampshire for the Exeter Trail Races 10 miler. Joining me were Floyd Lavery, Joe Wrobleski, Alosaurus Morisson, and new TM Andy Kiburis. The race is an important team event as the results are included in the emerging New England Dirt Cup, which at this point is a competition between two teams, Acidotic Racing and Trail Monster Running. In short, the race was a most excellent adventure: 1) the trails make for fun running, 2) 10 miles is a great distance, 3) the course was well marked, 4) the competition was fierce, and 5) the raffle had great prizes.
1. Trails - The trails are a hybrid between old and new school. The system is an extensive network of wide singletrack, similar to the trails on the mountain side at Bradbury (course of the Bradbury Mountain Breaker), and much wider than the narrow, new school singletrack on the non-mountain side of Bradbury (e.g. Bat Cave trail). But the course was quite a bit windier than the typical old-school trail. Much of the trail was very rocky - not loose rock but large, angular rocks deeply buried in the dirt (kinda like icebergs). But the lack of loose rock generally meant the footing was very, very good, although many foot plants were necessarily on top of angled rock. The trail was wide enough in spots that choosing one's line through the rock was probably an important component of race strategy. Some of the trail was very rooty as well. There were also many, many bridges, including several quite long but narrow boardwalks winding their way across very swampy looking water. Definitely not wheel-chair accessible terrain. Finally, the terrain is not very hilly, it's not flat, it's just the hills are very short. But there is one really short, steep hill near the end of the race (when you least need it, of course).
2) 10 miles is a great distance for a race. I like to run fast through the woods; it reminds me of being a kid. And running fast on windy trails like these is twice the fun (the new-school bat cave or O-trail are too windy for fast running!). And one can run pretty fast for 10 miles without dying. Perfect.
3). The race directors marked the course by marking with painted white lines the many, many trail intersections and painting big white arrows on the trail in the direction of travel. The big white arrows turned out to be very easy to follow. The white lines made me work a little harder than caution tape; at one point I zoned out and crossed a white line after I went straight through an intersection instead of taking a 90 degree left turn. I immediately recognized this but my rhythm was interrupted. This is what makes it trail racing, of course.
4). The competition was fierce. There were 45 finishers in the 10 miler and I finished 15th. Damn! And I thought the Pineland 25K was competitive. My strategy was to follow Chris Dunn of Acidotic for the first 9 miles (he knows the trails) and then wave good bye as I left him in my vortex wake. Chris started out at what I thought was too fast, so I let him get a little ahead of me. After about 1.5 to 2 miles, I was running alone; about 50-75 yards behind Chris and the cluster of runners he was with and some unknown distance ahead of whoever was behind me. Andy Kiburis passed me about this point and joined Chris's crowd. I thought about just quickly closing the gap and running with them since we all seemed to be going the same pace but I decided to remain patient. I slowed and even stopped at an aid station at 4 or 5 miles(?) for a drink (again, I was being patient). At another point something seemed to have dropped from my body and I stopped for a second to figure out what it was (I didn't find it and quickly moved on). And at two points I made incorrect turns, both corrected immediately. Anyway, these little 2-3 second perturbations added up and I realized that I had lost Chris.
But I did catch up and pass an Acidotic racer who got dropped from the pack in front. This felt good as two AR runners passed me in the Oak Hill section at Pineland. But I wanted to catch Chris and at least 4 times I passed people walking the course or working the aid stations and asked "how far back am I" but failed everytime to get an answer. My astonishment at this lack of critical information was captured beautifully in a photograph by Brent Doscher. Finally someone said I was "2 minutes" behind the next pack. Schiesse. That's a lot of distance to make up with about 2 miles to go. My idea to really hammer the last two miles didn't come to pass. But I picked up the pace a little, figuring I'd never close a two minute gap. Good thing I didn't hammer it because I soon came to the one really, steep (but short) hill and I was glad to have the energy to run it. At this point, I caught and passed Floyd who I think went out a little too fast. With maybe 1/2 mile left I did hammer it and was surprised by how good I felt. I crossed the finish line in 1:15:44, which was under my goal time of 1:16:xx (which was Steve Wolfe's time from last year) - pretty remarkable given that I've never run the course. Was it the same course as last year? But my goal of passing Chris never happened - I ended up 45s behind him. Good race Chris! I'll see you at Mt. Washington.
5. The raffle, Race directors Ri and Sarah did their legwork and acquired some nice schwag for the raffle including six packs of some microbrew beer, various water bottles and water bottle belts from Nathan Sports, Road IDs, and 12 pairs of GoLite shoes! Sweet - I won a Nathan water bottle belt.
Overall a great event that should attract more and more runners every year.