Today we returned to the TARC Spring Thaw 6 Hour Trail Race for the first time since 2012 when Debbie ran it in glorious conditions. Today’s conditions were far from glorious and there was no sign of thawing. Now, that wasn’t a surprise. The fierce New England winter is not over yet and spring may officially start next week, but spring weather is likely weeks away. So why were the conditions so rough for this Trail Animals Running Club event?
The main reason was that the trails were covered in snow…lots of snow. This part of Massachusetts has seen more than 110 inches of snow since November. Sections of the course still had 24 soaking wet, partially compacted, inches remaining. It was ugly. There really aren’t DNF’s in a race based on time, but some of the runners were stopping after one lap, and I don’t blame them. Some took to the roads of Andover, which is ironic because the town is known for its great trails, including the Bay Circuit Trail, which was part of the course.
Well, those trails are buried right now. The best way to walk or run on this kind of snow is with snowshoes, but from what I heard, USA Track & Field rules didn’t permit the use of snowshoes today. Micro-spikes and similar shoe spikes were a common site. Horst Spikes might have worked! Debbie’s small Kahtoola spikes weren’t small enough and they wouldn’t stay on her feet, so she ditched them after one lap, which was too bad. The first lap was the worst for everyone. Most people ran their second lap faster. After the 100 or so starters compressed the snow a bit, the conditions improve, but only a little.
I couldn’t get any traction when I was walking on the trails. They were slippery and treacherous. A few spots where there were stream crossings were actually muddy, which made it even worse. Cold and dry snow (if that makes sense) would have been better conditions. We have had some melting in the past week and it was 37 degrees Fahrenheit during the race with constant rain and intermittent downpours. So, the snow was waterlogged and icy. Conditions really couldn’t have been worse.
Everyone out there, including the volunteers (many from TARC), deserve credit for spending time in the woods on this March day. I brought my bicycle and rode out and back on the roads near the course. It’s worth noting that the roads of New England have been hammered. I’ve ridden in both Connecticut and Massachusetts in the past week and the potholes, cracks, and sand are atrocious. I rode back to see Debbie complete each lap, which was 40-50 minutes for 3.5 miles. The first lap had an extra .5 mile of road added in an attempt to spread out the runners before they entered the single track. Even in dry conditions, other than the first/last 50 meters from the woods to the aid station, this race is all single-track. Today, it was more like half-track. You had to step out of the groove to let another runner pass. After my ride, I did a short road run, and then I went out on the course with my camera to get a closer look at the carnage.
Race Director Emily Trespas got a lot of help from her TARC mates. Yesterday, she hosted volunteers on the trails for a “stomping party” in an effort to improve the conditions. They really had no impact. Runners were constantly “post-holing” which is no fun. If you got off the compacted snow by even a foot, you risked plunging up to thigh deep.
Gregory Soutiea completed eight full laps and the official two-mile out and back for a total of 30.5 +/- miles. Amy Rusiecki wasn’t far behind him at the end of her eighth lap, but she didn’t have a whole lot of time left on the clock and stopped at 28.5. Debbie ran much of the race with Sonja Glaser, including all of the final two laps. Their seventh and final lap was their fastest, which proved that you really couldn’t run as fast as you wanted because the conditions were so bad. Kudos to them for getting seven done in 5:56, just under the six-hour cutoff. It would have been a real bummer if they didn’t finish and lost the mileage. That’s the game you play with a timed race. So, they finished with 25 miles. In the perfect 2012 conditions, she did 34.5 miles. What a difference three years and all that snow makes!
Speaking of thawing, Debbie didn’t thaw out until the end of our two-hour drive home. It is nice that some race proceeds benefit several trail organizations including A.V.I.S., the Andover Trails Committee, and The Bay Circuit Alliance.
Next year, if conditions are similar, let’s skip this ridiculous race and go to the Caribbean instead!