Trail Monster Running
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Monday, October 22, 2007
Later in the day on Saturday I decided that it was just too nice a day not to be at my favorite weekend destination, so I suited up in blaze orange, grabbed a rake and a few hundred surveyor flags and headed off to Pownal to tackle the "O"-Trail. I knew that this trail was going to need the most work out of any in the park, it's a new trail and hard to follow in the best of conditions, but when covered in leaves it disappears. Stephen was the first to describe this trail as gnarly, we have since submitted a formal petition to Merriam Webster to have a photo of the "O"-Trail added to the dictionary next to the word. In three hours I raked about 1.75 miles of trail, and now there is no question about where the trail goes. I was glad that I got a head start on marking the course, and luckily never encountered any gun toting children.
Early Sunday morning I was back at the park and met Stephen, Jamie, Blaine and Randy to run the course in it's entirety. Phil caught up to us about 1.5 miles into the run, apparently he likes chasing us. One interesting thing we discovered early on in the run is that stepping off the trail for a bathroom break can have the unfortunate effect of taking you on a short-cut to a spot further up the course in plain view of everyone else. Of even more interest was the discussion of Dumbledore's sexual orientation and how that lead to the conclusion that we are doomed as a species.
As we ran we were relieved to find that despite all the fallen leaves most of the trail was very easy to follow and wouldn't require as much attention as the "O"-Trail. I can't speak for everyone else but I think it's safe to say that we all had a fun run and are looking forward to the race this weekend.
Immediately upon finishing our run we were greeted by Kelly who had brought breakfast sandwiches for everyone, perfect. After scoffing breakfast and a quick change of clothes we met Jeff and divided up the race course for marking. With arrow signs, flags, caution tape and rakes we split up and hit the trails again to make sure that on race day there won't be any question about where to go. That's not to suggest that you won't need to pay attention during the race, because all the rocks and roots are still there, but at least no one needs to worry about getting lost.
Thanks to Stephen, Jamie, Blaine, Phil, Jeff and Kelly for all your hard work, all the runners at the race will appreciate it as well as every other park user who goes out there in the next few weeks.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
The most significant part of this run for me had to do with plans for the upcoming Stone Cat 50 Mile and Marathon Trail Races on November 10th. After completing the Pineland Farms 50k Trail Challenge this past spring I had great ambitions to do a 50 mile race this fall, thus earning me the qualification to run in the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run next year. This ambition was reinforced later in the summer as I crewed for James at this year's VT100 and witnessed him, Stephen and Jamie complete the race in inspiring form.
Since July I have had a lot of fun running, but what seemed to be missing was the structure and discipline I felt that I needed to prepare for my first 50 miler. For the past 6 weeks I have been vacillating between running the marathon and the 50-miler at Stone Cat. I knew that I was in good shape to do the marathon, but I just didn't have confidence in my ability to go much further. One thing I've learned about ultras in my limited exposure to this aspect of running is that mental strength is equally as important as physical strength, and it was with this in mind that I decided last weekend that I would play it safe and stick with the marathon. I shared this decision with my mother who was extremely relieved, like many of our mothers she thinks I run too much. Funny that I was just thinking that I don't run enough!
The strange thing about making this decision was that I didn't feel satisfied, something was missing. I shared this decision with the guys on Tuesday night and got the kind of response that could be expected from a couple of ultra runners. With honesty, sincerity, and the legs to back it up, they told me that I can run 50 miles. And I believe them. That night I filled out my entry form for the Stone Cat 50 Mile Trail Race and mailed it the next day.
Thank you Emma, James, Stephen, Jamie, Chuck and Erik for your encouragement.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Due to family plans later in the day I decided to get an early start on a 4-hour run today at Bradbury. Phil showed up precisely at 6am and we were off into the darkness. The combination of the blanket of freshly fallen leaves on the ground and the complete lack of natural light meant that the trail was pretty hard to follow. About 15 minutes into the run I realized that Phil and I were running in circles on the Lanzo trail, and it took about 10 minutes before I could get us out! I'm really glad that it will be daylight during the Bruiser. Once the sun came up it was easy to follow the trail and despite all the rain we had yesterday the trails were in good shape and not too soggy.
Because of the time we wasted early on in the run we didn't have time to run the complete Bruiser course before getting back to the parking lot at 8am to pick up any new arrivals. So we skipped the "O-Trail" and got back to our cars at 7:50, just enough time for a quick trip to the summit. The view from the top of Bradbury was worth the effort it took to get up there, equally as breathtaking as the steep ascent.
For the second half of my run I thought I'd start where I left off on the Bruiser course, checking out the "O-Trail" to see how hard it would be to follow the most gnarly trail in the park now that it was covered with leaves. Generally the trail was in pretty good shape and not too difficult to follow, but about halfway through I got sucked into some type of mobius strip of a trail that I just couldn't get out of. I started out in a clockwise direction and before I knew it I was covering the same ground running in the opposite direction. This happened at least twice before I eventually sat down and scrawled out a Euclidean equation in the dirt and calculated where the trail was supposed to go. By the time I got out of the "O-Trail" I still had well over an hour to run but my legs were getting tired from all the math. I did manage to get in 4 hours but came away from it feeling pretty wiped out.
Following my run I met Randy, an enthusiastic runner who has signed up for the Bruiser but is pretty new to trail running. Hopefully he'll join us for some of our regular runs soon.
Later in the day I got together with a large contingent of family members for our annual pumpkin carving festivities. This year I had running on my mind...
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Thursday night was a different experience, a different kind of enjoyable. I left work in Portland at 5:30 and headed to Bruce's Burritos in Yarmouth. I had never been there before, but James raves about their food and has managed to work out a deal with them to provide chili for after the Bradbury Bruiser, so I thought it was about time to check them out and see what's cookin'. I got to Bruce's just before 6 to find a mob, a happy, hungry mob. I decided that perhaps this wasn't the best time to meet the owners and talk chili, but it did seem like a good time to get a run in and TB wasn't far. By the time I got onto the trails all the soccer moms had packed up their minivans and it was getting pretty dark, it wasn't long before it got very dark.
I was enjoying a quiet and peaceful run at a comfortably quick pace, confident in where I was going so I wasn't concerned about the fact that my headlamp only illuminated the trail about 30 feet ahead. All of a sudden there was a deer standing there within my little cone of light! She looked at me like... well you know, and then bolted, immediately followed by 3 others. It must be part of their routine, after the screaming kids get hauled off and things quiet down the deer come out to graze in the fields. I guess they weren't expecting a trail monster. The only problem was that they turned and ran back into the woods, and because of the loop that I was running I was afraid that I might cut them off. I finished the C-loop and repeated the A-loop without encountering the deer again, but the whole time I was on-edge.
I don't mind running alone, but in the dark it's easy for your eyes to play tricks and your mind to wander. After the deer incident it seemed that the forest came alive as I became super-aware of what was going on around me, convinced that I was going to find some other creature of the woods on the trail in front of me. After about 20 more minutes, when I had nearly forgotten the deer, I came across what I thought at first was a small black bear. Luckily I remembered the first rule of bear encounters: YOU DON'T HAVE TO OUTRUN THE BEAR, JUST YOUR RUNNING PARTNER. Oh shit, I didn't have a running partner tonight...
Turns out that it was just a piece of black plastic culvert laying on the side of the trail, but I swear it looked like a bear!
Another 20 minutes later and I finally began to think rationally as I was approaching the dirt road that leads back to the parking lot. As I crossed the big wooden bridge and climbed the last small hill my headlamp caught 4 pairs of eyes watching me from the field. This time I knew who it was, the deer I had spotted earlier finally found a quiet spot for dinner. So I switched off my headlamp, wished them goodnight and made my way back to my car by the light of the stars.
Now it was time for my dinner. I drove back to Bruce's and picked up 3 of the best burritos I've ever had. I've got a good feeling about that post-Bruiser chili!
P.S. If you're running with Blaine, expect to be bear food.
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Black Mountain of Maine 5k Trail Race, Rumford, ME
Our first event of the weekend was a 5k trail race we've been wanting to do for several years. We knew it was going to be small and low-key but it turned out to be pretty well organized and a fun but challenging course. Shauna came along to race as well as James with his daughter, niece and puppy. Rather than having us run up the downhill slopes this course was on the nordic trails, similar to Pineland in terms of the hills but with a slightly more technical surface.
At roughly the one mile mark there was a hefty old man in a plaid shirt calling out splits, 5:58 was what I heard, and although I didn't believe it I decided not to double check it against my watch. Trying not to get girled (even by my own wife which I knew was a bold attempt) I pushed hard through the hills, picked off a few of the younger boys and managed a 5th place finish (out of 44 competitors, many of them children).
Giant Parlin 20:39 1st in age group
Emma Barclay 21:18 2nd female overall
Shauna Baxter 22:37
James Demer 35:54 wore his VT 100 shirt which took the fun out of beating him
North American Wife Carrying Championship, Sunday River, ME
This was our second year taking part in this event, and despite having run a race just a few hours earlier we felt the need to improve on last year's performance. We were one of the last teams to register which meant we were one of the last to compete in a head-to head heat against another couple. This also meant that we got to see nearly everyone else run the course, but this didn't help to settle our nerves. It seemed that an unusually large percentage of "wives" were getting dropped or "husbands" collapsed, some at the hurdles, many in the water pit, even a few at the start line.
Our plan was soon revised, lets just get through this without going down. The couple we were paired up with were also runners, a rarity in this event actually. They took off fast and we chased, catching up at the first log hurdle but they strategically crossed in such a way as to prevent us from mounting until they had completed the obstacle. They were first to the water pit but we made up ground as we waded through the waste deep muddy water. We were almost neck and neck as we approached the second hurdle but once again our competitors got a leg up first and we were forced to climb over after they cleared the 39" high log. We put in a strong sprint to the finish but the course just wasn't long enough for us to catch the other team.
We never got to see our official time or finishing place overall, hopefully the results we be posted online soon. I was just happy to get through it without dropping Wolverine (Emma's alias, intended to psych out the competition). I'd like to see that other couple take us on after they've been married for 8 years, if they ever get married.
AUDIO SLIDE SHOW
A word of advice: if you're going to go out to dinner on Columbus day weekend in Bethel, make a reservation, or be prepared to drink a lot of beer while you wait for a table. We took the later option which turned out to be a good way to finish up the day. We got up Sunday morning feeling somewhat refreshed, but definitely looking forward to our third event of the weekend.
20th Annual Summit Challenge, Sunday River, ME
This was another race we've wanted to try but never got around to doing before this weekend. Although last year after the Wife Carrying we ran to the summit of Barker Mt. we weren't sure exactly what the course of this race was going to be, or even how long the race was. All we knew was that we had to get from South Ridge lodge to the summit of Locke Mt. We were surprised to find that the registration fee was only $8, and equally surprised that there were only 21 people lined up at the start for the 20th annual running of this race.
Within 1/4 mile it seemed that everyone had taken their place and not much changed the whole way up. Unlike some of the other mountain runs in New England with sadistic race directors this was a pretty easy uphill race with little to no walking required and several areas along the way that leveled out and allowed you to open up your stride, even if just for a few hundred feet. At a point when I could tell we were almost as high up as we could go the course turned from the dirt service road we had been on from the start onto a great section of single-track with all kinds of sharp and slippery obstacles to navigate. But I was right, we were near the summit and before long we popped out back onto the dirt road for a very short sprint to the finish line.
I was a bit disappointed that none of the 7 guys who finished ahead of me bothered to cheer me in, even though they were all sitting right there at the line looking fresh and relaxed. I was also disappointed that there wasn't even so much as a cup of water on offer at the finish. The only refreshments available were back down at the bottom of the mountain in the absurdly overpriced ski-lodge cafe. What do you expect for $8 ? Well, when only 21 people show up and 2 of them DNF there are a lot of prizes to go around. We both came away with nice fleeces, a pair of 1 day ski-passes and for finishing first female Emma (aka Gnarls Barclay) got a 2-day "ski and stay" package!
Giant Parlin 40:49 1st in age group
Gnarls Barclay 41:03 1st female
Annie Baxter 47:39 2nd female
Thanks for the photos Jim.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Tuesdays 6:00 pm
Twin Brook Recreation Area, Tuttle Road, Cumberland
5-7 miles on double-track trails with small rolling hills
Headlamps, gaiters, skis, and snowshoes may be required depending on conditions
Saturdays 6:00 am/8:00 am
Bradbury Mountain State Park, Hallowell Road, Pownal
5-25 miles on technical single-track trails with rocks, roots, hills, mud, bridges…
Winter running is done on an extensive network of snowmobile trails
Pace ranges from calm and conversational to downright dangerous.