Monday, April 5, 2010

Northern Nipmuck 16 Mile Trail Race

Saturday I opted out of a local 5k (or two) and decided to jump on down to the Northern Nipmuck 16 Mile Trail Race (results) in Union, CT.  This was the first race in the 2010 Grand Tree Series put on by the WMAC.  I will do a few of these races this year but am most likely not doing enough to compete in the series.  I knew Ben Nephew and Greg Hammett were doing this race and was figuring that Brian Rusiecki would also be there too, so my goal was top 4.  I  figured I'd have some fun, get muddy, and get a long run in (at least 18 miles w/ a warmup)...I headed down solo (about a 90 min. drive) on a picture perfect Spring day.

I headed out for my warmup w/ my CMS teammate Greg Hammett, who has run this race a few times in the past.  Greg is one of the top trail guys around and he's also been tearing it up on the track all winter, so he's been in great shape this year already... He smoked me at the 10 mile championships a couple months back and I knew he'd be the one to beat.  He gave me some pointers as we ran the first mile or so of the course. It was fairly wet from all the rain we've gotten in New England over the past month but not as bad as I thought it would be.  The weather was fantastic.  It was warm, no wind, and bright sunshine (Scott Livingston told me after the race that they've run this race in flurries and 36 degree weather in the past!)...

As the race went off, 100+ hearty trail monsters headed up the immediate incline and settled into place. I got right in behind Greg, and Brian and Ben were hanging on right behind. Other than thinking Ben would go out like gangbusters, it was playing out just as I had expected.  At first, it seemed like we were crawling along, but I kept telling myself it was a long, tough race and it would probably be a smart thing not to go out too too fast.  A couple miles in, Greg seemed to pick up the pace a bit and I stuck right behind him.  We all hit the first of 3 aid stations (the first aid station is visited on the way out and the way back) together and I took some water and Gatorade (it was getting HOT!).  After that, we hit a couple of climbs (the course was a lot of steep ups and downs) and started to put a little bit of distance on Brian and Ben (who had moved up to 3rd place).  Just as I thought Greg and I would be establishing a little cushion, we missed a turn.  Ben and Brian caught right back up and yelled over to us to get back on the trail.  They let us cut back in and re-establish position and we started to hammer again.  Not too much beyond that, Greg and I started to put a little distance on Ben and Brian. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that those two were maybe running a smarter race by reserving energy for the 2nd half of this out and back course...but I didn't want to lose Greg and hung on no matter what pace.

As Greg blazed the trail, I felt pretty comfortable and in control. My plan was to just stick to him as long as possible and see what happened at the end.  I was slipping every once in a while and had a couple of close calls, but for the most part, I was handling the footing OK.  I went with my new Roclite 295s and really felt they were a good fit for the distance.  I should have maybe went with an 8.5 instead of a size 9 because my foot was sliding forward a bit on the steep downhills and my toes were starting to hurt (good thing I had just recently cut my toenails!).  Greg and I hit the 2nd water stop/aid station at approx. 8 miles and it's basically touch the table and turn around.  After that aid station, it is quite a climb back up a very steep cliff to the trail again.  As Greg and I crested the top, Ben and Brian were not too far behind.  I was actually surprised at how close they were, but Greg commented that they were not as close as I thought...I guess with the amount of time it took to get to the top of that climb, it just seemed like it was closer than it was.

About another mile or two after the turn around, we really started to hit oncoming trail traffic.  Folks were beginning to run against us pretty steady at this point.  Somewhere around here is where I took a nasty spill.  I tried to avoid a runner coming in the opposite direction (on a trail that is about 6 inches wide) and I stepped into a small brush that was basically like stepping on some tripwire.  I immediately went slamming down on rocks and bashed my right arm and knee.  Even as a kid I don't remember ever falling down that hard in my life.  I yelled out a couple of expletives as I got back up and tried to catch back up to Greg.  It didn't take me too long to catch back up, but it was slowly getting worse from that point on. I hung on for maybe another mile or so and then I just started to fall to pieces.  I wasn't sure what was wrong.  I didn't think it was the spill I took, and I knew I wasn't really hurting cardio-wise...but I was steadily becoming more sluggish and it became harder and harder to keep pace with Greg who seemed to be hammering at this point.  With about 3 miles to go, I realized that I was bonking pretty good.  I had gone by the last aid station within striking distance of Greg and had grabbed some Gatorade in a feeble attempt to get some last minute energy but it wasn't to be.  I 'announced' to Greg that my day was done and told him to keep kicking arse.  He tried to get me to hang on but I was tanking hard.  I started to walk on most of the steep uphills at this point and even found myself walking on the flats at the tops of the uphills.  NOT good.  It was Savoy circa 2008 all over again.  I would run a few steps and then found myself walking again.  I remembered the 2 GUs I had pinned in my shorts and had them both within the same 5 or so minutes...I'm not sure if they helped or not.  With maybe a mile and half to go I was just waiting for Ben and/or Brian to catch me.  I was even thinking of Ross Krause who I had seen in 5th place after the turnaround. He's always dangerous and had a great snowshoe season so I was know thinking that 5th place wouldn't be out of the question.

I hit probably the last climb on the course and interestingly saw Greg up ahead (I hadn't seen him in a while).  He was also power-hiking and seemed to be tiring, but was still out of range.  The only way I was going to catch him now was if he completely bonked and had to stop.  That would probably be the last time I'd see him though.  As I got to the top, he was no where to be seen. I went off course a couple times over the last mile as I kept losing the markers.  Sitting behind Greg and letting him blaze was easy.  Now, with me having to make the navigational decisions in a state of exhaustion, I was getting sloppier and sloppier.  I was still amazed that Ben hadn't run me down yet and was just in waiting mode.  As I came down a steep incline which was like descending down the face of a cliff into a river bed, I passed a group of 3 or 4 hikers who told me that he was '45 seconds' ahead.  I was amazed at how far back I had fallen and didn't think I was going to make it.  I had gone from feeling great at 9 miles, to feeling like hell in the span of just 4 more miles.

When I hit the muddy and partially flooded fire road, I knew I was only a few minutes at most, from the finish. I glanced at my watch and saw 1:58 and change and thought I may (amazingly) still have a shot at a sub 2 hour run.  I started to haul (which was easy considering it was all downhill from there).  I do believe that if it hadn't been so wet and soft over this last half mile, I would have definitely been under 2 hours (but then again, I still would have been almost minute behind Greg if not more).  I came down and through the finish in 2:00:30.  The 3rd fastest time in the history of the race (and there have been some very good trail runners who have tackled this course).  Greg didn't miss the infamous Josh Ferenc's course record by much (just 16 seconds off). I ended up 49 seconds behind Greg, which is a lot closer than I thought I was going to be.  It looks like we ran a similar last mile (as I was approx. 45 seconds behind him when I saw those hikers). Ben finished up not too far back in 2:02:44 and Brian ended up 4th in 2:10:35 (he had run a 50 mile race last weekend and was definitely feeling the affects).  Overall, a great day for CMS (top 3 OA) and good for Inov-8 (top 3 OA wore Inov-8 shoes), as Ben rocked his f-lite 220 PKs, I ran in my Roclite 295s, and Greg took the win in his discontinued Mudroc 280s.

My cooldown consisted of 2 slices of pepperoni pizza, some pretzels, a can of lemon-lime soda, and some H20 before heading back out on the road.  I only fell asleep twice on the way home...not bad for a 90 minute drive after a tough 2 hour slog on the trails.  Definitely a fun day and a great race.  I hope to try to crack the magical 2 hour mark next year (maybe)!

L-R: Nephew, JJ, Hammett

Top 10 (CMS in blue):

1GREG HAMMETT   321:59:417:29
2JIM JOHNSON    322:00:307:32
3BEN NEPHEW     342:02:447:41
4BRIAN RUSIECKI 312:10:358:10
5ROSS KRAUSE    302:17:598:38
6TIMOTHY COTE   342:21:558:53
7JACK PILLA     512:23:268:58
8DONALD PACHER  372:24:169:01
9RICHARD FARGO  512:26:339:10
10DAVE MINGORI   422:28:149:16

112 Total Finishers.

All time (since 2000) sub 2:10 at Nipmuck:

11:59:25Josh Ferenc2008
21:59:41Greg Hammett2010
32:00:30Jim Johnson2010
42:01:28Dmitry Drozdov2007
52:01:43Matt Estes2006
62:01:50Matt Estes2004
72:02:44Ben Nephew2010
82:03:10Matt Estes2005
92:03:15Greg Hammett2008
102:03:19Greg Hammett2009
112:04:36Brian Rusiecki2009
122:05:35Ben Nephew2008
132:06:55Leigh Schmitt 2002
142:09:31Peter Keeney 2002

Ben and Greg post-race w/ some Inov-8 models for your viewing pleasure...

Happy Easter to all...


  1. This is my back yard when I last lived back there. Lived in Woodstock, ran through Bigelow all the time, loving the trails there and the lakes. Beautiful place. Those trails there are tough. Impressive run considering the tough patches you went through.

  2. JIm, very fast time considering the fall you took and going off course a few times. You should try to run 6 races (if you can fit it in) because you have a great chance of winning the series.

    I had the same issue, feeling fine at mile 9 and then all of a sudden having no energy. I think it was the heat. The Nipmuck course has a way of sneaking up on you.