2023 Northern Nipmuck Trail Race

After 13 years, I returned to run the Northern Nipmuck Trail Race in Union, Connecticut. The classic Grand Tree race had a 10 year hiatus, but returned in 2022 after Race Director Tony Bonanno resurrected it. The past two years, it’s been run with a small field.

It was my 9th time doing the race, but first since 2010. I last wrote about it in 2012. Debbie ran it that year, then didn’t run it for the 10 year period that it wasn’t held. She returned to run it last year and was thrilled that Tony and the Shenipsit Striders brought it back. It has always been one of her favorite races. Our club already promotes the NipMuck Trail Marathon and Nipmuck South, so we have the ‘Muck covered.

I was last on this gnarly section of the Nipmuck Trail in April 2020 when Debbie and I ran the Nipmuck End-to-End during the mad COVID-19 Fastest Known Time (FKT) craze. That was an epic adventure. We ran the entire trail including the sections used for all three Striders races plus the defunct Breakneck Trail Race.

My first Northern Nipmuck in 2002 (21 years ago!) was a major fail. I was just starting to run tougher trails in an attempt to keep up with Debbie. My cyclists legs hadn’t yet been conditioned to trail running. I don’t think they ever will be, but at least I can finish now. That day in 2002, I got a ride back to the start/finish after bailing at the 12 mile mark (twin tubes aid station). My legs just didn’t work anymore. It was humbling. I didn’t return until 2004, but then six consecutive finishes culminating with that 2010 race.

My best time was 2:22:15 in 2009. Today, I ran my slowest ever time, a 2:44:55, but that doesn’t matter. At 50, I’m happy to be out there running and feeling good. Today’s conditions were kind of normal for late March on the Nipmuck Trail. It rained most of the day yesterday, so the trail was soggy in spots and slippery most everywhere. It warmed up nicely from the high 30’s (Fahrenheit) to the high 40’s. The sun shone brightly, so the south facing portions of the trail dried up a bit.

This section of the trail is very undulating. My GPS tracked about 3,000 feet of vertical gain and 3,000 feet of loss. It’s rocky and there are lots of roots. Debbie was the first woman in this small field. She finished seven or eight minutes behind me. I felt good. I went out conservatively. I would have liked to have a negative split, but there is more climbing on the way back. I think I got to the half way point in 1:21 or 1:22. The race was always listed as 16 miles and very well may be that long. There is so many sharp ups and downs and so many sharp turns, that it is hard for a GPS to capture all the distance. My watch said 14.88 miles, but who is counting? Miles six and 10 were my two fastest. The grade adjusted pace was the same for both. Now we are talking nine minute miles on what is the “smoothest” and fastest section of the course. This is the same section of trail. Mile six on the way out and mile 10 on the way back.

Of course, right after you run a “fast” nine minute mile, the next mile is over 11 minutes. That’s Nipmuck! It isn’t just that this section is hard; it is also very beautiful. The moss covered rocks are awesome. The trees are fantastic. The trail crosses through the Yale Forest and also Hull Forestry’s property. You don’t run through Bigelow Hollow State Park, but that is where you park. The park is one of the most lovely in the entire state. It’s worth checking out.

A year ago, we were in Delaware Water Gap for the TAMMANY 10. That hurt. I’m glad we opted for Northern Nipmuck this year. It was a much more manageable distance for me. Kudos to Tony and the Shenipsit Striders volunteers. If he hosts us again in 2024, I’ll likely be back.

Race Results https://ultrasignup.com/m_results_event.aspx?did=101217

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