This Saturday my race schedule took me north to Andover MA for the 19th Annual Merrimack River 10 Mile Trail Race [results]. The MRTR is race #2 in the WMAC Grand Tree Trail Race Series and coincidently an out-and –back course like last week’s Northern Nipmuck Trail race. I’m not a huge fan of out-and –back courses. For one thing, I dislike covering the same ground twice in a race. It’s also hard to maintain any type of rhythm or consistent pace when you are constantly stepping off trail to let everyone ahead of you pass. On the other hand, it is cool to be able to see the race as it happens and encourage friends as they run by.
I got to the race early enough to head out for a three mile warm-up. It was a bit on the cold side with a strong wind along the river but I knew once I got to racing I would be fine in shorts and a short sleeved shirt. I introduced myself to Krissy K who was standing at the side of the trail getting ready to photograph the race. About a mile into the warm-up I was caught by Jim P and his teammate Tom. I had conversed with Jim through email a few times but never met him in person. I ran the remainder of the warm-up with Jim and we had a pleasant conversation. He’s a cool guy, also fast, he finished 5th.
With about five minutes before the start of the race I made my way to the starting line. I was thinking about my horrible race last week so I decided to go to the back of the pack. I mean WAY back. That turned out to be a mistake and it cost me about a minute in my overall finishing time. When the gun went off I was only able to run about 20 yards before I had to stop. The 221 runners were all trying to squeeze into the trailhead at the same time and those to the rear, like me, had a long wait. I walked a little, stopped again and repeated the process a few more times. By the time I finally got moving I had 1:50 on my Garmin but had only covered 0.10 miles! Talk about going out easy.
The first (and last) three miles are basically flat single-track trail along the bank of the Merrimack River. Passing was difficult here but I was able to slowly work my way up though the field of runners. I had to stop a few times in the first two miles because several runners were very tentative about running through the water and mud on the trail. I guess they didn’t want to get their fancy shoes all dirty ;-). I was feeling very comfortable with my pace but wanted to hold back a little knowing the middle four miles are very hilly and the climbs would take some of the wind out of my sails. Once I hit the hills the fun would begin.
Hill climbing is the weakest part of my running but I managed the hills pretty well at Merrimack. I only stopped to walk some part of two of the longest and steepest hills. Oh, and the power line hill too. How could I forget about that one?! It was very steep but mercifully fairly short. Once over the power line hill it was more flat running to the 5 mile turnaround point. I hit the halfway mark in 46:15, thanked the volunteers at the aid table and headed back the way I came.
With five miles already run, the climbs on the return trip seemed longer and steeper than they really were. It was here where I had to take a couple of walking breaks but I was still moving at a brisk pace. I managed to catch a few more runners over the hilly sections of the course. I hit the flats with three miles to go and I steadily picked up the pace and set my sights on the few runners ahead of me. I figured I had a good chance at catching them and that’s just what I did.
The final 3 miles were the fastest of the entire race for me and I made the return trip in 43:51 for a total time of 1:30:06. Not speedy by any stretch of the imagination but I was very pleased that I felt strong throughout the entire 10 miles and didn’t falter too much on the hills. Even taking into consideration the minute I lost at the start of the race I still ran negative splits by over a minute (45:15 vs 43:51). The plantar fascia in my right foot was a little sore after the race. I think it’s because I got up on my toes when climbing some of the hills. I usually try to spare my PF by running flat-footed uphill but it was impossible to do so on some of the steeper climbs on the course.
Post-race I headed over to Dylan’s with Emily, the Tuesday Night Turtle gang and the legendary Richard Busa. We had a great lunch, a beer or two (but who’s counting) and a ton of laughs. The TNT is great bunch of folks and the 80 year old Busa is an inspiration to all runners, but more important to me, a genuine good guy. Keep at it Rich!
The 2010 Merrimack River race had to be the most photographed trail race ever in New England! Check out all the fine pics by the following photogs: