Saturday, April 12, 2014

April 12 (Saturday) - Merrimack River Trail Race

Photo by Emily Trespas

April 12 (Saturday) - Headed down to the River Trail in Andover, MA for the Merrimack River Trail race (10 miles) (results).  Despite doing nothing of quality and only near 50 or so miles per week, I decided to race this weekend and not miss another chance to at least get into a race situation and give my brain some exposure to racing again (even if my legs weren't going to cooperate).  I didn't think a 5 miler or 5k on the road would do me much good with the way I was feeling.  So I figured a 6 minute pace (or so) effort on the trails at a longer distance may be better.

The weather was nice and warm and the trail was relatively clear.  I headed out for a warmup with Kevin along the first mile and a half of the course.  The legs felt banged up as usual and I couldn't really fathom how I was going to push them at 'race pace' but I was about to find out.  On the starting line was Brandon Newbould, Kevin, Sam Jurek, EJN, Ethan Nedeau, Tim Cox, and a few others I was worried about.  Looking at Brandon and Kevin, I knew I would be in contention (if I had a miraculous run) for a strong 3rd place.  As the race began, I found myself quickly in around 7th place as I was being elbowed pretty aggressively by a shirtless older (older than me anyways) gentlemen who got a pretty good start.  I got wrangled back into the line that immediately hits the single track about 20 feet from the line.  If I have one complaint about the race course, it's that.  I know it's tradition, yadda yadda, but the course (like any other) should give you just a bit more time to at least play out a little before going immediately into tight single track.  It's like a stair climb race for cripe sakes.  You take 2 steps, then are at a dead stop almost as you go into single track.  Just my two cents.  Everyone has them.

After stretching out the first 100 yards or so you head straight into the underpass of Rt. 93.  Under this on the far side was a mountain of snow and ice.  The flagging went directly over the side of it, which made for a very slow, one at a time, pass through.  There was apparently a bypass to the right of this, on the other side of the bridge support (pictured at the top), but that really wasn't much faster as you had to tip toe along a thin/tight stone path and make sure not to fall in the river in the process.  As I got to the bridge, I saw someone disappear to the right of the bridge support.  Kevin went straight up and over the ice (he was leading).  Behind Kevin was about 4 others in front of me.  I knew that they would have to queue up in front of the ic,  wait for the person in front,  and scramble over.  I took the 'high road' and went up the slope to the very top, and came screaming down the little trail path that was to the far left.  It was probably 'off course' and to the observer, it looks far slower and longer to go that way, but I did it anyways and to my surprise, I came down right behind Kevin, now in 2nd place.  Brandon appeared from the right and ducked behind me in 3rd.

We continued now, in single file, following Kevin. I knew the pace was slow. I could feel it.  I ran 59:08 last year and even that felt slow.  This year, I knew by mile 1 that no one was breaking 60 at this pace.  I figured Brandon would blast on passed us sooner than later.  But he sat.  Mile after mile, I stayed right behind Kevin as we ran 5:30s or so for the first couple miles and then got a little slower as the course played out and got a little tougher.  There were slick bridges (every bridge I had to tip toe over and a couple times I almost went down after losing my footing) and slippery, muddy sections.  I saw Brandon go down once on a climb.  I inadvertently threw my arm out and nailed Brandon in the number (right in the middle of his chest) as I slipped off a slippery board that spans across a muddy section that is muddy all year.  It was a bit rough in spots, but still the course was in great shape compared to what I'm seeing back home.

All 3 of us passed up and over the power line climbs, which are short, but steep.  At about 4.25 miles or so (in the '5' miles out and back course), Brandon made a move.  Kevin didn't go.  I stayed behind him.  I was pretty pumped that I made it to the turnaround without issue.  My legs were bothering me, but no more than usual (even at the 'faster' pace).  I was confident as we turned, that I could eventually go around Kevin and at least get 2nd. I'm not sure why.  I had no basis for thinking that.  He's been training like a mad man this winter/spring.  But I just had a feeling he was slowing and by the way Brandon took off and left us out of view in the span of a mile, I figured it was close to time I went around Kevin and started pushing back towards the finish.

Photo by Michael Quintal - Associated Press - North Andover Division

As we started climbing back up from the turn around, Kevin was moving OK on the ups but he was tip toe-ing on the descents.  He shouted back at me to go around him if I wanted.  He said he wasn't feeling good on the downs.  I let him know that I was content where I was at the time (we still had some climbing left) and that I'd go later on if needed.  We worked together for another half mile or so, up and over all the steep ups and downs.  A couple of stream crossings we had to hop over seemed to take the steam out of his race.  He also rolled his ankle hopping over a log.  I felt he was having a tough time and I felt great (all things considered).

Somewhere around 6-6.5 I decided to go.  I went around him on a down and pushed.  I know every inch of the course and knew I had a little up and down to come, but I was feeling great and decided to go.  In the span of a half mile or so, I had completely dropped Kevin.  On some of the peeks back, I could barely see him. I put a lot of space on him and started to focus on just holding 2nd.  This could have been my big mistake.  I was 100% sure I was at least going to get second.  I had no doubt.  I pushed on and eventually by 7 miles, I could see Brandon!  He looked to be almost jogging up ahead through the woods.  As I passed by some of the runners who were still on the course heading out, they even told me that he wasn't that far ahead.  By 7.5 I thought that I may be able to get close.  By 8 miles I thought I was possibly in contention to win.  By 8.5, that tone changed.  I started to peek back and noticed to my surprise (even as I was still gaining on Brandon) that Kevin was starting to charge and come back to me.  I had been asleep at the wheel and got content at catching Brandon, but not holding off Kevin. I was slowing and had lost momentum.  By the steep uphill near the 2/8 mile marks, Kevin's footfalls were now in earshot.  I could hear the very recognizable clearing of his throat as he was breathing.  It was only a matter of time.  

Right as I hit the 9 mile mark, I moved over a bit and Kevin blew passed me.  I told him that Brandon was just up ahead and he could catch him.  He responded for me to go with him.  I think if I made that decision, I would have maybe finished differently, but hindsight.... I told him I was done and convinced myself that I was.  I am just not in race mode yet and I folded.  I settled and Kevin took off on his torrid pace.  He was killing it over the last couple miles.  Something inside of me was pleased to see it, even though I knew I was throwing in the towel for no reason other than I didn't want to feel the pain that he was obviously feeding off of.  Over the last 5 minutes, I watched as he pulled away and moved closer and closer to Brandon who was almost in arms reach now. In the end, I rolled across the line almost 2 minutes slower than last year in 1:01:01.  38 seconds behind Brandon and 22 seconds behind Kevin.  My prediction of no one under 60 was definitely spot on.  I was pleased about finishing where I thought I would before the race... but had mixed feelings about thinking I was not only going to be 2nd, but also might win, not even 20 minutes earlier... All in all, I was definitely pleased I could actually run faster than a jog, which is what I've seemingly been doing for that was a plus.

Photo by J-Paw

A cooldown on the course again w/ a good pack of guys, mostly talking w/ Sam Jurek (who fell and was all bloodied), for about 2 miles...  15 miles for the day.  I knew that would be my last run until Monday. I was fully planning on not being able to walk on Sunday :).

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