Breakneck Trail Race

Today was the Breakneck Trail Race. Debbie and I both got to run, which was cool. We missed the race last year because it conflicted with the Vermont 50. This year, it was back on its normal date. It is one of our favorites. The venue, Bigelow Hollow State Park in Union, Connecticut, is one of our favorite parks anywhere. The park has its own micro-climate. It is always 10 degrees cooler and more humid in the Hollow. The trail system is fabulous and the rocks/roots are very challenging.

RD, Karl Molitoris, is the brains behind Breakneck and all of its quirks. It is fitting that the race comes at the end of a long New England trail running season. You either love Breakneck and keep coming back (like a masochist), or you only run it once. The runners fall in one of these two categories. There are no numbers. There is no aid. There are no trail markings. It is the last feature that causes the most problems (even if you run the race EVERY year). Karl keeps it simple. The course is like a lollipop. You run four miles on the Blue/Orange trail to Breakneck Pond. Then, you have options. You have to circumnavigate the pond, but the direction and trail choices are up to you. I’ve gone different ways in the past. Today, I chose counter-clockwise. I also chose to run the “road” rather than hug the pond edge on the single track. The road is a bit longer, but is normally quicker. Not so today. It was very wet and strewn with lots of rocks. This is not a normal road. 

Anyway, after running around the pond, you return on the same Blue/Orange trail to the finish. The section before/after the beaver dam is a boulder scramble. It is very cool and nearly impossible to follow the trail. It reminds me of Devil’s Gulch on the Long Trail in Vermont. You really have to see it.

Karl doesn’t yell “Go!” at the start. He yells, “Breakneck!” I’m one of those masochists that keeps coming back. My first attempt at this race resulted in a DNF and a trip to the Emergency Department at Rockville General Hospital. I got eight stitches in my knee and came as close to breaking it as you can. I literally smashed it into a rock on a treacherous descent. I punched a nickle sized hole and it still creaks to this day. Something still drew me back to “Break-knee.”

I’ve got a big race next Sunday in the Shawangunk Mountains of New York. It involves trail running and road cycling, so I opted to ride before the race today to test my legs and my time trial bars. I attached them last night and don’t ride in that position too often. So, on the way to the race, Debbie dropped me off. I thought I would have an easy eight mile ride to Bigelow Hollow. Unfortunately, I was ill prepared, had no map, no phone connection, and a foggy memory about which roads to take. My ride turned into a 15+ mile hammer session and I arrived at the parking lot three minutes before the start. I got to practice my transition technique as I switched from cycling gear to running gear. My only serious fall of the day was on the way to the start line…yep, before the race even started. My arm only bled a little. 

My pre-race cycling odyssey:

The running race turned out pretty well considering I started it winded, bleeding, and a bit out of sorts. The trails were slick, so I took my time. The one thing you absolutely need to know about Breakneck is that just about everyone gets lost at least once. I probably got lost or at least made a wrong turn or had to stop and think, 15 times. It was that bad, and it was worse for others. 

Debbie passed me but we never saw each other. I was off with John Agosto and another runner on some other trail when she slipped by. I was silent, but the other two were feebly calling out to see if other runners would give them some help. Debbie is a sucker for Marco Polo and every time they called out, she answered. She is too nice. It was comical. Without her, those guys would still be out there. 

I never gained on her, so I settled in and ran most of the rest of the way in the company of a nice runner.I never got his name. We helped each other spot the Blue/Orange blazes and find the turns. Debbie really picked it up at the end and nearly broke the two hour barrier. She was first woman and fourth overall. Not bad. I’ve been getting the best of her at this distance lately, but she crushed me today by eight minutes. Bob Worshamer mockingly asked as we passed each other on the Breakneck loop, “So, are you going to let Deb beat you today.” I said, “Yes.” I knew I had no chance of catching her. I’ll have to get her back soon. First overall was Rob Higley. He was closely followed by Greg Hammett. I think I was sixth, but didn’t check the results. 

Breakneck is famously known for the awesome post race feast. Karl’s mother and sister make many fabulous dishes and there are snacks galore. It was chilly and misting, but all of the weary and muddy runners were enjoying the food. Thanks Karl and special thanks to your family!

My GPS signal gave out with a mile to go, but I project that the race clocked in at 13 or so, with lots of up and down. Breakneck is in the books again. I miss it already.

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