Monroe Dunbar Brook Trail Race & Autumn in New England

Today was one of those spectacular autumn days in New England. Our family made a pilgrimage to the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts for the Monroe Dunbar Brook Trail Race. There was so much going on this weekend. Yesterday was the Ironman World Championship in Kona and the Hartford Marathon (a bit closer to home) in Connecticut. Both days, there was a huge cyclocross race in Providence, Rhode Island. Today was the Chicago Marathon, the American Zofingen, and the race I did, Monroe. This was the fifth time I ran Monroe, but the first since 2007. We skipped last year so that I could do the American Zofingen. This year, I chose the easier race, but it was just as fun. I won’t mind if I have to miss in 2010 if I can somehow find my way to Kona. Enough about that for now.

The Berkshires.

We were happy to be back in the Berkshires. The drive up Interstate 91, across Route 2 (the Mohawk Trail), and up River Road; was spectacular. The foliage is at peak and the colors were just awesome. We had great light all day long with intermittent sun, dark blue sky, and beautiful puffy white clouds. Monroe is the third race in the WMAC Trilogy. I did the Mt. Greylock Trail Race earlier in June, but skipped Savoy in August, so this was only the second race of three for me. However, it was my sixth New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series race of the year, so I will once again qualify for the series standings. I can’t envision a year where I don’t run six Grand Tree races. They are so enjoyable, and Monroe is one of my favorites. After reading Buddy Teaster’s Bear 100 Race Report yesterday, I was pumped up to run hard even though Monroe was 1/10th the distance of The Bear. I was also fired up about the folks I know in Kona this weekend and my friends running in Hartford. Race updates were rolling in via Facebook all day yesterday.

Route 2 (The Mohawk Trail) in Autumn Splendor.

Despite a major climb that lasts for half of the race, Monroe is one of the fastest races on the circuit. At 10.5 miles, it is short enough so that you can really blast it. The footing is as tricky as it gets, but it doesn’t seem to slow you down. I would challenge any speedy western states trail runner to test the rocks, roots, and wet leaves of Monroe State Forest. After the race, someone asked me how the footing on the trails was. I replied, “Slippery, but you just can’t worry about it.” You go like heck, put your foot down and hope that you gain purchase. Thanks to yesterday’s rain, some sections of trail were like running on ice.

The Trilogy.

I much prefer the first half of Monroe when you run up and up. The second half is treacherous because of all the descending. My Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS was on the fritz for most of the summer, so I sent it back to Garmin for repair, and for $79, got a brand new one shipped back to me last week. Today, it worked better than the old one ever did. The link to Garmin Connect shows today’s data and the elevation profile. My heart rate profile is particularly interesting because it shows that I was feeling strong today. Anytime I can hold my HR high and then get it to go up even higher with the maximum towards the finish, then I know that I am having a good day. My 173 average was good and my 189 max came right at the finish line. Ironically, my heart rate just kept climbing in the second half of the race, which is mostly downhill. There was a reason for that…

The Trees.

The first half was fun. I prefer the uphill because I can control my footing and my cycling strength works for me. My muscles are made for going up, but not down. Just ask Debbie. I hate downhills. They scare me. I was in fourth at the top of Spruce Peak. Stanislav Trufanov, who finished one spot behind me last week at Breakneck, was chasing me the whole way up the climb. I had a decent gap that I knew he would close on the tricky descent off the backside of the mountain. Sure enough, he caught up to me and promptly surged ahead. I was able to keep him within 10 seconds until we got to the dirt road. I never let him out of my sight. This was good because I knew that downhill speedsters like Rob Higley, Jay Kolodzinski, and Jim Preite weren’t far behind. I closed in on Stanislav by the first stream crossing. He led me into mile seven, before the trail went up again. I passed him and took the lead until the next downhill. It went this way, back and forth, for the remainder of the race.

Gorgeous.

Every time it went up, I got in front. When it went down, he passed me. I was having so much fun and it was evident that he was too. We traded blows like a pair of punch drunk boxers in trail running shoes. Stanislav led me through the second brook crossing. Along the final stretch of trail by the side of the brook, we exchanged positions twice. As we approached the dam, the trail climbed again before the road crossing and the final descent towards the finish. I sensed that my experience would help me, so I surged up the final hill and gave it my all to hold a lead across the pavement and onto the final narrow section of trail. I turned into the tree lined finish chute where tall pines are spaced only three feet apart. You just can’t pass anyone there, so it pays to be in front. If you attempt a pass, you could end up kissing a tree, and in an all out sprint, that would really hurt.

Results.

I swung my arms wide and kicked it hard. The official results show him one second behind, but he was only one step behind. We crossed the line with huge smiles on our faces. We gave each other a huge bear hug, knowing that it doesn’t get any better than that. I shaved five minutes and 30 seconds off of my previous best Monroe time, which feels great because I have only run four times in the past month. Each of the runs were at races, starting with Wapack, then the Vermont 50km, then Breakneck last week, and now Monroe. My minimalist training regimen is efficiently paying off. I swam three times this week, though Wednesday’s session ended abruptly after 15 minutes when the sound of thunder forced us out of the pool.

Awesome Foliage along the Deerfield River.

My time was 1:25:08. Ben Nephew smoked the course and the rest of the field in 1:15:20. He started the race in a dead out sprint and never looked back. Second was Brian Rusiecki in 1:22:05. Third was Donald Pacher in 1:24:23. I was fourth and Stanislav was fifth. The first female was Hilary Greene in 1:42:35. Second was Chelynn Tetreault in 1:48:58. Elaine Allen was third in 1:51:44. I will post the full results when they are available. WMAC put on another fine post race feast. I hung out with our kids while Debbie got in her first real trail run in a couple of months. She felt good. When she returned, we played on the swing set at the park and hung out with friends. There is a chance that my Grand Tree trail running is done for 2009. It isn’t definitive, but if it ended today, then I have nothing to complain about.

Shep Swinging.

The drive home was just as beautiful as the drive there. Kayakers and canoeists paddled on the Deerfield River. We paused to watch some of them come through Zoar Gap, a wonderful spot on the river. Route 2 had a fair amount of leaf peeper traffic. We stopped a few times for various calls of nature. One stop was at one of those schlocky souvenir shops that plays off of the Native American theme of the Mohawk Trail. I would never go to a tourist trap like that, but there was a port-o-pottie on the side of the building and our three year old needed to go. At least I got to take some photos..

Tourist Trap.

The Chief.

Race Results

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