Today was the 27th running of the NipMuck Trail Marathon in Ashford, Connecticut. NipMuck holds a special place in New England running history, and it is the oldest trail running race in the region. NipMuck has a wonderful tradition and that tradition has been carried forth for its entire history by its venerable Race Director, NipMuck Dave Raczkowski. NipMuck Dave has been at the helm of the race since its founding and he has set the standard for race directors. His quirky approach to grassroots race production has made him a popular figure in the tight-knit New England trail running community.
In recent years, the race has become an increasing challenge for him to direct, and since the 25th running two years ago, he has sought to scale back the production by limiting the number of runners. NipMuck has drawn runners far and wide, and finishing it has been a badge of honor. Today, NipMuck Dave formally announced that in 2011, he will step aside and be succeeded by Clinton Morse as Race Director. Clint is on the board of our running club, the Shenipsit Striders (Debbie is the president), and has helped out with the Soapstone Mountain Trail Races for several years.
He has big shoes to fill at NipMuck, but will likely make some changes so that he can put his own imprint on the race. Look for some positive changes in 2011, including a more open race entry process, and remember that change is good! Both Clint and Dave are excited about the future of NipMuck.
This year’s NipMuck was Debbie’s first big objective of the year. Eight months removed from the birth of our second child, she is still very much in transition mode. As a breast-feeding Mom, it is impossible to perform at the highest level, but she is intent on not just regaining her pre-children form, but on reaching a new level of athletic performance. It will likely take a few more years, but the journey is underway.
Today, she met one objective and fell short of another, but the conditions weren’t suitable for running a fast time. She won the race in 4:11:40 or so. The official results won’t be available for a day or two. She has a couple other NipMuck victories from her seven previous times running the race. We were talking about this on the way home and she honestly doesn’t remember how many she has won, but she has taken home the coveted apple pie at least twice before. When it comes to statistics, we have different approaches. I track my goals and my past results, while she is much more laissez-faire with the whole competitive thing. Nonetheless, she has a burning desire to succeed. Her time goal was to break four hours for the first time. Her previous personal best is 4:03:20, which she ran in 2008. She has broken 4:05 on three occasions, but sub-four remains elusive. For most runners, NipMuck runs at least one hour slower than a road marathon.
It was extremely hot and humid today with the temperature in the low-80′s (Fahrenheit) and the dew point was more than 60%. It was so humid that it seemed as if it would downpour at any moment. Instead, there were only sprinkles. It didn’t downpour until severe thunderstorms rolled through the area around 3:30 P.M., well after most of the runners had finished. However, there were likely some runners still on the course since the cutoff is eight hours and I know that several runners were going to need all the time available in order to finish.
Debbie hit the six-mile turnaround in 50 minutes, the 12 mile aid station in 1:45 and the Boston Hollow turnaround in 3:05, but couldn’t hold it together. She faded a bit in the final six miles, but was still very pleased with first woman and another NipMuck victory to cherish. Only three weeks removed from directing the Soapstone Mountain Trail Races for the eighth time, she hasn’t been able to get the long distance training necessary to build her endurance back as quickly as she hoped. Our Brazil trip allowed for a good taper, but I’m sure the travel took some snap out of her legs.
Regardless, she was excited to spend the good part of a day on the gorgeous Nipmuck Trail, part of Connecticut’s Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail system. The men’s winner was Dave Herr, a talented distance runner who has won many top area races. I chatted with Dave when he finished. He was dripping with sweat and a little groggy after pushing himself in the heat. He too was pleased with his result. Brett Stoeffler avenged last year’s DNF (sprained ankle) by grabbing second spot and he looked fresh at the finish. Matt Estes ran a workmanlike race, passing several people in the second half, to finish third. The second female was Kerry Arsenault, who is a past NipMuck champion. As mentioned, full results will be available in the next few days and I will post a link.
We saw a lot of friends today, which is another reason why we love this race. I hope to be back running the Muck next year, but today, I had my hands full with our kids. I still managed to take some photos, but I only made it to one aid station because the napping schedule didn’t work out. After seeing the runners go through six miles, we returned to the finish so that we could see them pass through at the 12 mile mark and then watch them finish.
For me, the most thrilling storyline of the day (other than NipMuck Dave’s swan song as RD), was Richard Busa’s attempt to become the first 80-year-old to finish the race. Rich is a legend in New England. He is a Korean War Silver Star recipient, airborne trooper, late-life runner, ultramarathoner, and an inspiration for many people. He was out there again today, giving it his all. I saw him at the 12 mile mark, and wished him luck, knowing that we would have to leave before he finished. I’ve been thinking about him all afternoon, especially after the big t-storms rolled through, and I’m anxious to see if his name graces the results. I’m proud of my athletic accomplishments, but if I can run or bike like Rich can when I’m 80, then I’ll be suitably stoked.
Next up for us in the New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series is the Mt. Greylock Trail Race on Father’s Day. I hope to be recovered from Ironman Brasil so that I can give it a go. Debbie should be fine in a week, though I know her legs are sore right now. She has several 50K’s planned for late summer and fall, so today’s 26.4 (yep, just a bit longer than marathon distance) should help her with the preparation.