Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Soapstone Mountain 24k Trail Race

On Sunday I headed down to Stafford Springs, CT for the Soapstone Mountain 24k Trail Race (results) put on by Deb Livingston and the Shenipsit Striders.  This race is the 6th race in the 2010 WMAC Grand Tree Series.  It was my second go at it, as I had also done this race last year (one day after the Bedford 12k) and finished 3rd behind a course record run by Brendan Callahan (BAA) and Ben Nephew (CMS/Inov-8) who stuck it to me over the last mile and got me by 10 or so seconds.  This year, I didn't race the day before, and am in better shape than I was this time last year.  My game plan was to try to stick to Ben for as long as I could and then try to make a move over the last mile, which is out on the access road between the mountain and the start/finish area.

(Photo on left by Scott Livingston.  The rest of the photos in this entry, courtesy of Mr. Scott Mason.)

I headed down to the race solo, on a beautiful morning and arrived about an hour before race time, at the Shenipsit State Forest.  It was looking like a great turnout and the weather was much much better than last year.  I headed over to registration where I got my pick of some t-shirts from the past ($5 bucks for one from 2005 vs $15 for 2010 :) )...  I met up with Steve Wolfe (who has a very good account of the race) who was a little reluctant to do any sort of warmup and pulled up a chair beside the car and started to have his breakfast and do some preparation for the task ahead (i.e. tape, anti-blister treatment, etc.).
 I headed off for a couple miles of warmup over the last stretch of the course.  This is where Ben Nephew stuck it to me last year and I wanted to get more familiar with the section I was planning on making my move on (if I was close to him at the end).  Out on my warmup I saw Scott Mason making his way up the Soapstone Mountain access road.  He'd be up there taking pictures, which is always a great treat.  I do wish he was able to race, but it's always great to have some quality shots after the race :).... I made my way back, slipped into the 212 x-talons, and headed down to the start.  Just before the race, I ran into Ross Krause and Ben, who was coming off of Seven Sisters and the North Face 50 Miler, but said he was feeling really strong and had done some good workouts this week.  Good news for him, to have recovered that quick...but bad news for me because he's one of the best trail/ultra/mountain/snowshoe runners in the country, and it's no easy task staying close to this guy, especially on the downhill and technical sections (which this course is full of).

As the gun went off, Ben and I headed out to the front, with a few others not too far behind.  I let Ben go ahead and planned on staying close for as long as I could.  He looked really strong and loves taking charge so I let him do his thing.  He's far more experienced and knowledgeable of not only the Soapstone course, but also trail running in general, so it was best to let him blaze the trail for as long as possible.  My plan was to try to use my kick towards the end of the race because it has a long stretch of access road at the end, which may lean in my favor if I can be close enough to him at the end.

By the time we hit the single track section off of the first part of access road, Ben and I were pretty much on our own.  We chatted a bit back and forth about the trail conditions, the newer part of the course that we were on (changed from last year apparently, but I didn't remember), and we reminisced about last year's race against Brendan Callahan. Not too soon after we tackled the first single track section, we turned up the road a bit and back onto a second single track section that led up what is the steepest climb in any race I've ever done.  Up the face of the mountain we went, in almost a hand over hand climb up a 50+ % grade (easy) may have been even steeper.  And it was LONG.  Ben and I took our time up it, and I was thinking that it was a blessing that this climb was in the first couple miles.  As we got to the top and across the summit, under the tower, and back into the woods for the descent, we ran by Scott Mason who was grabbing shots as we passed.

From this point on, the course was long, winding, rocky, rolly, occasionally muddy, but was in far better shape than last year.  Ben and I just stayed within 10 feet of each other and talked back and forth about racing, courses, etc. for the first 50 or so minutes.  After that, it got quiet.  I felt really really good and felt like I was conserving a lot of energy by not leading and going crazy with my erratic pace.  The course has a lot of small, steep climbs and a few longer ones at the end, and these would prove to be challenging, but I kept Ben directly in front of me and felt stronger and stronger as the race went on.  Ben was chugging along and was dead quiet.  I couldn't hear him breathing hardly at all, but occasionally he'd let out a loud sigh.  That was about it.  That was usually just as we would crest an uphill section.  After that, he went back into a pretty silent breathing pattern, so I imagined he was also just biding his time and waiting for a showdown of kicks at the end.

At around 1:15-1:20 or so, I asked Ben how we were doing for time because I noticed him looking at his watch.  He quickly said 'we're doing fine' and I figured we were probably a bit behind because the pace didn't feel anywhere near as fast as last year.  Around this time I started to realize that I felt like I had just started the race.  Call it a second wind, maybe, but I felt fresh and rested and had a lot of confidence going into the last section of the course.  As we hit the last couple of steep climbs back up the other side of Soapstone (two separate climbs), I stayed right behind Ben and knew that this is where he toasted me last year.  When we reached the top and neared the road, I mentioned up ahead that we were running a good time (I was estimating how much time was left) and that we need to keep up the pace.  He quickly said 'yep' and then I realized he was breathing a little heavy for the first time all day.  That was when I started to get ready to make a move to see if I could get some distance on him. I knew it was a huge chance, as he can run trails like it is nobody's business, and the longer the race, the more it plays to his favor.

When we hit the road for the last push to the finish, I immediately moved out and started to pull ahead (same thing I did at the Busa Bushwhack 10 miler last year).  This was a paved section for maybe a quarter mile or so of downhill before you cross the road and get back onto the gravel access road we started on.  I'm estimating that this section took about 5 minutes or so before it hooks up and connects back to a single track section of trail that winds up to the field near the parking lot and the finish.  Through this part, I opened up my stride and ran enough to try to keep some padding between Ben and I, but he was still hanging back there and close enough where I really wasn't sure if he was going to come back on me or not.  As I raced up the last single track section, I passed Scott Mason again, taking pictures, and pushed to the finish.  I came across in 1:39:03.  I ran 1:38:37 last year, so I was 26 seconds off of last year's time, but that's pretty close for a 24k, and also the course is a little different and according to Ben, may have been a bit longer.  Ben came across only 26 seconds back in 1:39:29.  Ross Krause came off of a rough go at 7 Sisters to finish in 3rd place in 1:48:19.  He ran very well at 7 Sisters, but wrecked a few times and was banged up going into Soapstone.

I won another sweet rock from the Shenipsit Striders and had a blast doing so.  I really love this race and love running up front w/ Ben, who definitely keeps me on my toes. I still have never seen someone descend down insane terrain as fast and hard as that guy.  After some grub and conversing w/ Wolfey, Scott Mason, Ross, John Peabody (TNT) and a few others, I finally hit the road for a pretty nice 2 hour drive back home.

Top 10 (CMS in blue):

Place    First              Last      M/F      Age        Time     GT %   

160 Total Finishers.

Full Photo set by Scott Mason.
Full Photo set by Scott Livingston

Next up will be Northfield Mountain this weekend.  This is the first race in the 2010 USAT-New England Mountain Series and is race-directed by Dave Dunham.

1 comment:

  1. Nice race Jim. I like the Soapstone course alot. Good luck at Northfield this w/e.