2011 NipMuck Trail Marathon

Now that’s more like it! My legs didn’t fail me at today’s NipMuck Trail Marathon in Ashford, Connecticut. Rather, I held it together and had a really good race, notching my second fastest time on the rugged, undulating, slippery, and mucky Nipmuck Trail. After some less than stellar performances in the past month, I was able to hold my pace, increase my heart rate and run like I should be able to. It was a fantastic day for the Shenipsit Striders. I love team efforts, and this was a good one. First year Race Director, Clinton Morse, did our club proud and ably took over from legendary RD, NipMuck Dave Raczkowski after 27 years at the helm of this epic event.

We had 214 registrants, but about 50 folks didn’t show for various reasons. I’m sure the rain had something to do with that. Regardless, those that came, enjoyed a wonderful event that was produced by some great volunteers. The aid stations were overstocked, but that’s OK, our club will make the necessary adjustments for next year. We had a few other glitches. The race numbers disintegrated in the rain. I had to shove mine in my pocket when it was hanging by its final pin…and I had six pins to start! Many of the Striders ran the race, which made it even better. Debbie and several others pitched in to support Clint. Clint’s family even manned an aid station. I think the new October date (after 27 years in June) is just perfect for this event.

The wet leaves definitely made for challenging footing, but you are going to have that any time of year on the Nipmuck, especially when the trail is waterlogged. We have had so much rain in Connecticut in the past four months that we are almost getting used to it. The rocks and roots were extra slick today and the wood bridges were greasy. The most dangerous section of the course was the algae/moss-covered wood stairs that go down into Boston Hollow. The steps were treacherous.

I was so happy to be on the trails this morning, but I was even happier to finish. I had just enough in the tank for a big sprint to the line. My race was exciting from start to finish. I only fell hard once, and that came in mile two, which was a bummer. I should never have stepped on that boulder, but I did, and in a nanosecond, I was hugging it. Other than that, and a couple of other minor slips, I made it through the race unscathed; which is what I needed. My races haven’t been “clean” lately. I spent a fair amount of time on the ground at last week’s Vermont 50 Mile ride. Falling off of your mountain bike is never good.

I had a busy work week, but rested as much as I could and only exercised a little. I saved it for today, and I think that paid off. Recently, I’ve had the lungs, but not the legs. Today, I was able to hold my heart rate high and even increase it at the end of the race. Other than a tight left hamstring and IT band,  my legs were good. It hurt, but I didn’t blow up like I have so many times in the past. On the southbound section, I hit the first turnaround at the six-mile mark in 49:54. I made it back to the start/finish at Perry Hill Rd. in 52:12 for a combined 1:52. It is slightly uphill on the return leg of the first section. Then, it gets hillier.

I ran most of the first 12 miles with Ryan Welts. We had fun chatting and plotting our race strategy. It was his first time and my fifth, but I was still conservative. I wanted to make sure I had enough energy for the harder northbound section, and then the return to the finish. I made it from Perry Hill to the northbound turnaround at Boston Hollow in 1:06:24. My cumulative time was just over three hours, so I knew I had a sub-4 if I could hold it together. For a moment, I thought about Dave Dunham’s amazing 3:01 course record. He would have finished by the time I turned around. This is the 19.4 mile mark, and for folks who know marathons, this is where the real running begins. The steep stairs that climb out of Boston Hollow set the tone for the final seven miles. The footing is tricky in spots, and the constant up and down begins to wear you down.

I ran most of the northbound section from Perry Hill on my own. I gapped Ryan, but he was never far behind. When I was headed south again and began the descent from the Natchaug Trail intersection, my Shenipsit Strider teammate, David Merkt, caught me. He was having a fantastic second half. This was his first NipMuck and he ran a very smart race. We stayed together on the rough jeep road until we got to the bottom of Iron Mine Lane. On the climb up to Rt. 89, I put a little time into him, which I extended on Oakes Rd. The final aid station is at the top of Oakes after it turns to dirt. It is 2.4 miles to the finish from there. I ran the whole way up Oakes,and felt strong for being 24 miles into the race, so I was confident that I could pick up the pace. I was sitting in fifth place at that point. The top four were way ahead, but my goal was to hold off Dave and Ryan. I knew that I wasn’t going to catch anyone because I saw the frontrunners at the turnaround at Boston Hollow.

I buckled down and pushed as hard as I could. This was one of the wettest sections of the course. There were several bog bridges that were completely flooded out with shin deep water on all sides. I tramped right through. I never looked back. I hadn’t looked back since passing Dave on the road. So, as I neared the one mile to go mark and heard the sound of another runner closing in on me, I figured it was him. I figured that teammate or not, he wouldn’t cut me any slack. I was sure he would race me hard to the finish. The final .2 of a mile are on a very steep and rocky downhill that I wasn’t in the mood to sprint because it is downright scary, so I increased my pace on every uphill hoping that I would get the time that I would need to hold him off. With .9 to go, I got stung by a bee on my left arm. It was painful, but my legs were hurting worse. I knew that I didn’t have much left and he was hot on my heels.

With .4 to go, I spotted Dave Hannon in front of us. His big lead had dwindled to nothing and he was going slow. I felt bad about blowing past him, but I’ve been in his shoes many times. I picked up his spot, but didn’t want to settle for getting passed in the final stretch, so I poured it on. I thought it was Dave who was right on me and figured I would have to let it all hang out in the final .2. The downhill came and I just let it rip. It was insane. Several spectators cautioned us to “take it easy” and “be careful.” I just shut the fear of falling out of my brain and ran as hard as I could. I held him off and pumped my fist as soon as I crossed the line, bursting onto Perry Hill Rd. I instantly turned to congratulate Dave and realized that it was Ryan who was racing me all the way to the finish. I felt better about beating a friendly competitor than a teammate. I gave him a huge handshake. We both were beaming. That is what racing is all about. He said he was cramping a bit in the final mile and that the pressure I applied on the uphill made a difference. My time on the clock was 3:54:45:66 and his was 3:54:45:96. 20/100ths of a second separated us after 26.4 trail miles. Note that NipMuck is .2 longer than a traditional marathon. Just because.

My GPS captured most of the course. Some sections are too twisty for a GPS to get accurate mileage. Despite that, the data is revealing.

Dave Hannon was behind Ryan by 18 seconds and Dave Merkt was another 40 seconds back to round out the sub-4 runners. I sat on a cooler for a long while until my legs stopped aching. It was a great day. My time was about six minutes slower than my previous best, but I am really happy given the wet conditions and my conditioning. The race started dry, but by the five-mile mark, heavy rain rolled in. It poured on us for about an hour, which made the already wet trails even wetter. But, in the second half of the race, the air-dried out a bit. By the finish, there were patches of blue sky showing through the trees. That made it so much more fun for the spectators and volunteers.

I have a good runner’s high that should carry  me into another busy work week ahead. Ben Nephew had a fantastic run to take the overall win in 3:17:36. He was followed by Samuel Jurek in 3:30:26. Third was Brian Rusiecki in 3:35:17. The first woman was Karen Benway in 4:02:43. She was followed by Amy Lane in 4:19:26 and Brittany Debord in 4:25:12. I’ll post the full results when they are online.

Once again, this race was special because of the volunteers. Clint put in a ton of work to pull this off and I’m sure he is looking forward to a rest. Debbie helped Clint, took photos, and minded our children. Our kids were hanging out all morning in the mud, so by early afternoon, it was time to get our 2-year old a nap. We weren’t able to stay and see the final finishers, including NipMuck Dave, but it looked like many other folks were hanging around to see more runners cross the line. The Nipmuck Trail is part of the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail network that is managed by the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, of which I am a board member. The CFPA donated Walk Books and water bottles that we randomly awarded to finishers. Everyone had a chance. Races like NipMuck, Northern Nipmuck, Soapstone, Breakneck, Traprock, and Bimbler’s Bluff wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the great work of the CFPA volunteer trail crew. The Nipmuck is maintained by five trail managers: John Hankins, Michael Rice, NipMuck Dave, Robert Mancini, and Chuck Sack. Fittingly, NipMuck Dave has the sections that the race is run on.

Race Results

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Fantastic run and bike involving an end-to-end trip on the @ctforestandparkassociation #quinnipiactrail with @trailrunningmom We visited a bunch of conserved forest land including #sleepinggiantstatepark and we rode the Farmington Canal rail trail. #shenipsitstriders @horstcycling #teamhorstsports #trailrunning #cycling 🏃🏽‍♀️ 🚴🏽
‪Over the last 10 weeks, I filled my Subaru’s gas tank four times. In the prior 10 weeks, I filled it 13 times. I’ve gone to work every day @horsteng but my other travel stopped. Both the pandemic and my cycling have been major factors. #carfreecommute #cycling #sevencycles ‬#teamhorstsports #horstengineering #bicycle
Friday evening date with @trailrunningmom 💕 🚴🏽 #teamhorstsports #cycling
A good day on the #nipmucktrail with @trailrunningmom We went End-To-End from the southern terminus of the East Branch to the northern terminus at the MA border. #shenipsitstriders #teamhorstsports #trailrunning 🏃🏽‍♀️
The weather during this week’s rides (and run) has been absolutely frightful. The pictures show the various “calms” before and after the various storms. My timing has been good. #carfreecommute #teamhorstsports #shenipsitstriders 🌍 🚴🏽🏃🏿
#running #boston
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