Heading into the race weekend, I was fortunate to be assigned to man the L.L. Bean tent during the packet pick-up along with A.G. Gillis, as our company had become one of the race sponsors this year. I was pleased to meet many new faces and pass on a little first hand experience as this would be my ninth year running the event.
Saturday morning, the family jumped into the mini-van along with Wild as he would be leading me in the Canicross 5K. As we pulled in, the Triffits pulled in right behind us. Neither Ryan nor Danielle would be running that day. I accused them of being my Strava stalkers. We were all happy to be there but especially Wild. He could barely be contained wanting to greet all the other competitors. Some of them weren't all that friendly and he wisely kept his distance from those.
After walking him around for awhile, hoping he would take care of business, we finally headed into the starting corral. It seemed similar to lining up horses for a race, the excited ones waiting almost for the last moment. I kept us a little toward the back as I didn't want to be in the lead. Part of that was strategy as I knew how much he liked to catch up to and pass other dogs.
Sure enough as the race began, Wild was soon darting past many fellow canines. Although he was in a harness with the leash around my waist, I still took hold of the leash as the pack was thick and he didn't understand that although he could run under other leashes that I didn't quite have the same clearance as he.
We were doing quite well advancing until one other husky turned around and came towards us. The lady began to apologize, saying her companion was a lead dog on a mushing team, and then the next thing I knew our leashes were wrapped around one another's. I grabbed Wild's harness and unhooked him from me, untangling the leashes losing some time. Soon enough we were back on our way with Wild eager to make up for lost time.
His pace only quickened, and although I worried that would affect his pace later in the race, it was too much fun to try and get him to slow down. I managed to quickly glance at my watch which had us at under a six minute mile pace. He didn't even slow down for the first couple of small hills.
Wild did slow his pace once we were past the main pack and there weren't as many dogs in front of us. When we got to the first aid station, I spotted some water bowls kindly set up for the pups and had him stop to take a drink. He drank more than I expected, costing us a little more time but I was more concerned about his health than beating the field.
The weather was just about perfect, a little warm but not so bad that I was greatly concerned about his thick husky coat. Still, he just had to stop at a couple of other puddles to re-hydrate. Luckily there were a few more dogs in front of us to catch before we started the climb back up to the starting area.
Coming up the hills, we were running all alone, surprising considering there were over one hundred and fifty contestants in the race. As we neared the top I could see one team in front of us, hoping that Wild would see them as well in order to have him pick up the pace. We did pass them once on the flats and I started giving Wild lots of encouragement knowing the finish line was just up ahead.
I greatly enjoyed seeing the finish line and hearing the crowd. I was more pleased to spot my family cheering us on and I continued to encourage Wild to the finish line.
We crossed the line in 22:22 and I immediately lead us to our gear where I poured Wild a tall bowl of water. He had given it his all and lied down as he drank from his bowl, practically sticking his entire head in his bowl. I was surprised as he turned down some treats and focused on his water. I sprayed some water on him with a mister and then sat down with him letting him know how I proud I was of him. Last year we had managed to run this race in about twenty four minutes in monsoon like conditions that had made the trails like a mud pit. That race was lots of fun, but it was nice to walk away with a PR and a dog that made the whole family proud.
We made a couple of stops on the way home where I eagerly awaited watching the European Champion's League final. At halftime, Maggie and Quinn helped me set up the tent in our backyard, and then they proceeded to play with the neighborhood kids while I enjoyed the overtime of the game. Not thrilled about the outcome, but pleased the match didn't end in penalty kicks.
After a pasta dinner, the kids, Wild and I headed out to the tent giving Mo the house to herself for the evening. Wild still must have been tired from his race as he settled in pretty well. Even the kids were asleep at a reasonable time and I myself enjoyed a good night's rest.
I arose about the time the fifty milers were beginning their day's journey at Pineland. It was a relaxing morning and I took off for the race shortly after Mo' got home from her run at Wolfe Neck State Park.
I was pleased to catch up with some fellow Trail Monsters before the race, especially pleased to be able to congratulate Ian Parlin on the birth of his daughter Iona who was at home with his Bad Ass Running Mama Emma. There was no need to warm-up, rather than just get ready for 25K. In my mind I was going through my race strategy, which was to go slow, reason being that I have a much BIGGER race coming up in a couple of weeks and there was no need to punish my body when I had greater goals in mind. I have run a race at Pineland every Sunday of Memorial Day, so this was nothing new and I had no intentions of goal setting. I even said so as much to another runner as we were lined up in the starting corral waiting for the race to start. It was probably the first time I had ever said out loud, "I want to set a personal worst today!" I just wanted to enjoy the course. I even packed my camera in my waist belt along with some grape Cytomax and a few Honey Stinger chewies.
I set myself sort of in the middle of the pack and made no effort to move up in position at the start. Well, I did start to pass some runners after I had run slightly off the main path in order to get my shoes a little muddy. I took the first couple hills with little effort and then broke out my camera for a few shots. I noticed the battery was low, something that I hadn't bothered to check on before I left home.
I intentionally splashed in another puddle after crossing the road, trying to enjoy being on a trail rather than pavement. One runner said I was a little crazy and I replied that I needed to get muddy in order to prove to my wife that I was actually in the race and not just escaping domestic tranquility for a few hours.
Back into the woods and I just kept moving at a comfortable pace, intentionally not checking my watch. I was feeling fine by the time I came into the first aid station for a quick drink of water and then off through the fields. Usually the sun beats down pretty hard on runners on this part of the course but there was a slight overcast and the air felt cool enough so I wasn't dreading these fields as I usually do.
As I approached a big climb, I spotted a man named Martin who had told me during packet pick up that he was attempting his first fifty miler. I had ran near him for awhile a couple of years ago and noticed he didn't wear a watch. Kind of a strange thing in this age of GPS technology, but as I was catching him on the hill, as he began to walk it,I noticed that he still was watchless. I slowed to his pace and checked in on him. He looked and sounded good, and I told him as much but peeled away from him as we headed downhill and I decided to attack the climb that immediately followed.
Another stop at the Yurt station for a little more water and then back to the woods for once again more climbing. I felt fresh, so I slowly ran up and tried to maintain a steady pace upon hitting some more gentle terrain. I was a little back and forth with another runner and as we came out to another field we struck up a conversation. Mostly about being a parent and a runner. Not an easy thing to do, especially if you are running races other than local 5K's.
The hills continued to come and I felt little discomfort running them. So after another stop at the Yurt I began to challenge myself by picking up the pace on the hills and running comfortably on the infrequent flat sections. I did occasionally check my watch but did not bother on any calculations as to when I would finish.
Another aid station after some more fields and back into the woods. It would be a couple miles to get to the starting area and some big climbs. I was catching some runners, not thinking much of it until I recognized a couple of runners ahead of me. It was highly unusual to see Jim Dunn and Stephen Wells running together. Usually Stephen would be well out ahead and Jim would be somewhere slightly behind me. I told myself I must be having a decent race by pacing myself behind Jim and not breaking down my body. I knew that Stephen hadn't been training very hard but I was still pleased to catch up to a runner of his talent.
I was even more pleased that I felt fresh coming into the starting area after some good ups and was more encouraged to have some Monsters cheering me on. As I crossed the road to the Glouchester Hill side I gave my watch a serious look for the first time. I was at just under an hour and half and quickly calculated that if I was able to keep up the effort that I had a shot at a PR. I tried to shake that idea out of my head, as that was far from my original goal but damnit I felt good. I felt really good. Usually I dreaded this part of the course as it would take away any energy I had left, but I didn't feel like that was going to happen today.
My pace did increase as the course was not quite as rolling and I was catching up to some other runners who I thought were moving along quite well.
One guy said he hated downs just as I caught him and soon we were on one of the steepest downs on the course. I let inertia take over and cruised on the ensuing flat area and then up another small hill. I was surprised that some of the people I was passing were wearing white race bibs, indicating they were also running the 25K. I started to see more and more longer distance runners as my pace did not falter nor did my body. One that I was pleased to catch up to was John Rodrique who has so kindly agreed to be a pacer for me in my upcoming race. We exchanged pleasantries and encouragement, he even gave me a small pat on my back and I felt that I really had to now give all my effort to finish this race in the best possible time that I was able to.
My body did now start to feel the efforts that I had been putting forth, but my mind was stronger and I was right around the two hour mark coming into the last aid station. A big loop through a field and a road crossing were all that stood between me and the finish line now. Really I knew that I would practically have to sprint if I were to beat my PR. I passed a few other runners and told one who was huffing a little that we only had one more hill. It was on that hill that I glanced at my watch indicating 2:04 and that I would fall short of my PR. Still, I kept forth the effort and the Triffits were the first to give me cheers as I spotted the finish area. I told Ryan to get ready for John, as Ryan would be pacing John on his final lap towards fifty.
I'm usually not one to sprint to the finish line as it doesn't really matter in distance racing, but I had the energy and now wanted to get the best time possible even knowing I would not PR. So I came in at 2:05:31, about a minute off my PR but feeling so much fresher than any previous efforts.
I continued to hang around the finish area with other Monsters enjoying the food and beverage supplied to the runners. The sun had managed to break free completely by now, something that was becoming evident in the latter stages of the race. I wished I could have hung out there all day but I had family waiting at home and actually had to be at work in a few hours. So I walked, not limping, back to the mini-van which had an engine light come on after I started it up. Apparently, it was not feeling as fresh as I was at the moment. Still, whatever was wrong was not enough to prevent me from getting home. Maybe I'll have to make note of that before my next race, that there is still always enough left in you to get to the finish even when warning lights appear. Until then, I'll keep remembering this day's philosophy of fun, enjoyment of the course with friends and family and who knows maybe there will be something greater than a PR at the end of it all.