Sunday, April 26, 2009
10th Annual Muddy Moose Trail Race
To run or not to run, that was the question I posed to myself in the last few weeks leading into this race. After the disappointment at McNaughton in Illinois (yes, ONLY 100 Miles), I was unsure of how I wanted the few weeks between then and Massanutten to play out. During last Sunday's Dirty Moose Adventure race, it was very evident that I am tired and struggling to recover from my 100 mile effort and lack of subsequent training. It was after that adventure race that I finally made the decision. As I sat around the BBQ grill at Chris Dunn's house and listened to the boys talk about heading up to Muddy Moose, I figured what the hell... why not go up there and at least hang out? The decision was easier knowing that my usual gang of buddies was going to be there as well. With Josh, Nate, Adam, Steve, the boys from Acidotic Racing and the usual trail running crowd coupled with some friends from The University of New Hampshire I knew it was going to be a great time. I even convinced Sarah to come along and try her luck at the 4 mile distance.
I had zero expectations on the day. No time goal, no place goal, no pressure. The only goal I actually had was to run 14 miles. But as the race developed, and the heat of the moment took over, the race evolved into much more then I expected. I've run this race twice previously and I know the ins and outs of how the course looks. It is very easy for me to visualize and remember some of the shorter courses, especially in having the opportunity to think critically of some of the 50 and 100 mile courses I run. As I told a few of the gang pre-race; go right when you get to the loop and once finished you can hammer back to the finish. The course is a lollipop course, an out and back with a 1 mile lollipop loop at its furthest point. I hold my experience with the course close to my heart as I take great pride in knowing the ins and outs, as is with many other courses. If anything, I knew that my race strategy here would be the same as in the past. Nice and easy on the way out, right at the loop... hammer it home; following my own advice.
As the race was getting ready to start, all of us runners gathered in the driveway of the Kingswood Regional High School. Nate asked me where the starting line was, I pointed to it and he replied, "that's where I want to be" and off he went. I kind of sauntered into the starting area with everyone else, huddled together like a can of sardines in the unusual April heat wave. The temp was topping out in the mid 80's all ready and the sun was truly beating down on the pavement. We listened to the RD's final instructions before he yelled for us to "GO!" The wave of runners took off down the road. I couldn't even see Nate but I did see Adam up ahead. Steve tried to hang with me for a little bit but it was obvious to him early on that I had a plan. At this point in the race, my plan was to run ahead of the pack and get to the mud pits before everyone else. Getting there with a large pack of runners tends to be disastrous as one ends up getting caught in an absolute melee of people going through and around the mud. The pace slows exponentially and this is truly a spectacle to avoid.So as we headed down the driveway and through the golf course, I made it a mission of mine to stay ahead of the crowd. As we made the turn onto the trail, I passed Chris Dunn of Acidotic who was sure to give me an ear full for being a sand bagger. I had mentioned to him my desire to hang back and enjoy the run and not planning to run fast... this was still my plan, and I was up front early, but I explained to him the need to beat the crowds to the mud.
After making it through the muddiest sections of the course and out onto the long dirt road I fell into a comfortable groove with a small group of runners, a few of whom included Chris Dunn and a couple of the guys from Trail Monster Running in Maine. One of the trail monsters joked about the upcoming hill and challenged me to run it offering $1 if I could make it to the top without walking. Of course you know me and as we took the turn to take on toughest hill on the course, I id my damndest to get to the top without walking. About 3/4 of the way up, I placed my hands on my knees and continued with a brisk walk. I heard the guy in the back "I see you walking!" I laughed as I carried on at a hurried pace. I must have passed 6 or 7 runners on this uphill alone. I LOVE hills and it showed today.
As I hit the top, I walked briskly gasping for air trying to refill my depleted lungs even managing to jog in short bursts while I recovered from the climb. Shortly after this rocky ledgy section, the trail monster caught up to me at which point I introduced myself, "If I had known you were Sherpa John, I would have never challenged you on the hill." I got a chuckle as we carried on together. We got to the loop and they elected to go left while myself and a few others took off to the right. We had all been running the same pace so it was going to be interesting to see who comes out on top. I headed off to the right which maintains a high trail before finally dumping down into the beaver swamp. In the swamp the water was knee to thigh deep. I trudged through as hard as I could and emerged on the other side. The cool water invigorated my legs that as I emerged on the other side, I took it to the hill leading back up to the fork.
Upon reaching the fork I noticed I had just barely come out ahead of the trail monsters and even better... my buddy Adam was right in front of me... the race was now about to change. As I crested that hill off of the loop I yelled at Adam, "Lets go Wilcox... get the lead out!" "Holy cow, where did you come from?!" he exclaimed. It didn't matter where I had come from, I was here now and the race just changed. Adam and I immediately picked up the pace and started pushing each other down the hill. To this point in the race I had run at a comfortable pace right around my threshold. To this moment, I have no idea how I found anything extra in my tank and started racing Adam, call it adrenaline, but whatever it was, I had it. As Adam and I pushed each other down the hill we saw Steve then Josh. They gave us added motivation as Adam and I scurried along. I chased Adam downhill as closely as I could. Still no sign of Nate, I assumed he went the same way on the loop or was way far ahead. At the next aid station Adam stopped to fill is water bottle, this was my chance to pull ahead a bit and create a gap. I took off out of the station and darted down the trail at a pace just above threshold, I was gasping for air and tensing up with 4 or so more miles left to run. I took the hard left turn and stared at the deepest puddle on the course, everyone had gone around.. I wanted to run through it to not waste any time. As I stepped into the coffee like pond, I heard the race volunteer yelling to me that it was two feet deep. I kept trudging along until I kneed a root or something in the water, my foot caught hold of it and I fell forward. I was completely submerged in the water. I pushed myself out of the water, drenched and chilled to the bone... my camera was now broken.. and I was pissed... the race just changed some more.
(The Final Shot)
As we got out of the puddle we headed up the next steep hill. I was drenched but continued to look back for Adam. After my mis-step he had caught up to me again. As I forged up the hill, I hiked as fast as I could trying to keep my distance. As we crested the top, Adam took off again, ahead of me on the next downhill section. "You're cruising on the downhills Adam! Simply Amazing!" He replied, "Don't worry, you'll catch me," and at the next uphill, which was at the ledges, I did. But as we climbed the hill leading up to the ledges, I looked up and saw a runner above us making some kind of motion with his arms. I would later find out he was making the pac-man motions.. the "chomp chomp." It was Nate.. I had told him in the days before the race that I really like to pour it on on the way back to the finish, eating other runners like Pac Man. And as we moved past him, I was in a state of shock. I never expected to catch Nate. I yelled out while clapping, "Mr. Sanel! What the hell is goin on?!" He replied, "you really don't know when to shut up." I can't say that I wasn't expecting his response to be so negative, but regardless Adam and I moved ahead of Nate as we tried to encourage him to come with us. He declined... and we forged ahead.
As we topped out on the ridge I thought my gap on Adam was a bit larger then it was. I asked a runner to step aside while I past him on the left. The next runner was Chris Dunn, my team mate from Acidotic.. I sang the Jaws theme as I came up on him and he let me pass... then out of no where Adam comes BLAZING past me in a burst of speed heading into the next downhill section. Adam took off down the hill as I gave chase yelling at him how much I hated him. I gave chase, yelling for Dunn to come along for the ride, he declined. As we made our way out onto the long road section, I watched as Adam ran strong up the hills, putting a bit of distance between us. I started to wonder how long he could keep this pace up for... hell... I started to wonder how long I could keep it up for. I started to really get tired and dizzy given the heat. But I LOVE heat.. I love it... most of my best performances happened on days where its been hot and humid and I was quick to remind myself of this as I struggled to hang on to Adams lead. I called more for Dunn to catch up to us and run it in... he yelled for me to go.
As we approached the last aid station I kept looking back for Nate, hoping he might have caught up a bit, but honestly running hard to stay ahead of him. As Adam hit the aid table, I was hoping he;d pause for a break.. but he didn't. He grabbed a cup and kept going. I yelled, "You asshole!" I could hear him laughing.. I ran to catch up to him as he ran strongly back towards the mud but as we entered deeper into the mud pit, Adam quickly slowed, he went to a walk and said, "Its all you." I didn't believe him so I kept pushing and pushing, and it was awhile before I looked back again. I looked back and saw no one... I looked ahead and saw more runners... I figured... "What the hell... might as well try to catch them too." I ran my butt off through these final mud holes wrking my way back to the final road through the golf course and down the driveway. I thought of years past when I had run this course, pac manning my way up through the ranks on my way back to home. I had no idea where it had come from today and then I finally wondered if I could break 2 hours. I poured whatever I had left on as I made my way down the home stretch. I remembered 2 years ago when I ran here 1 week after having run my first 100 miler, stalking other runners as best I could after only having run it in 2:33... but today was MUCH different. I sprinted to a 2:02 finish, my 2nd best of 3 times here, missing a course PR by 4 minutes.
I came in 20th out of 123 finishers!
If I can save the pictures off of my camera I'll post them here. I'm sending the unit in to get fixed. I'm pretty bummed about it. I'm pretty bummed in general. I'm not sure why. I kicked butt at a race I entered hesitantly with zero expectations. But then again, thats always been the key hasn't it? I show up, run my own race and let the cards lie where they may. Patience goes a long way. I again prove to myself that 70-100 mile weeks are not entirely necessary, and maybe a big heart and a smart head on your shoulder are the keys to success in these events. You don;t need to be "fast," but more patient and knowledgeable of the course and yourself. Listening to my body was the key to this race and I'm glad I'm still able to do it smartly. Maybe this is going to be a great year after all. My next race?? 100 Miles in Virginia.. BRING IT.