Trail Monster Running

Visit the official TRAIL MONSTER RUNNING website for information on upcoming group runs, local trails, trail races and more, including the Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival and the Bradbury Mountain trail Running Series.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

2008 - Year in Races

As 2008 comes to an end I've been reflecting on my races from this year and thinking about what I want to do in 2009. I put together a list of all the races I participated in during the past year, and have included Fat Ass and other non-paying events in an effort to see where my strengths are, thus helping me make better decisions about the events I participate in in 2009. For each race I listed my time, place and a "place-percentage". This information turned out to be useless.

I can say that my best finish was at the Stone Cat Trail Marathon, and that was one of the most satisfying races of the year. But every race has a different feeling. My first 100 miler was satisfying just for having completed it, although I came away thinking there were many things I could have done differently that would have allowed me to do better. The Bradbury Trail Running Series races were great, even though I never raced particularly well because I was always worn out from everything that went into putting on each of those events.


GAC Fat Ass 50K 31 miles

5:24:01 (11/27 - 40%)


Mid-Winter 10-Mile Classic 10 miles

1:08:42 (92/692 - 13%)


TMR Fat Ass 50k 32 miles

6:49:01 (1/3 33%)


Bull Run Run 50 Miler 50 miles

10:13:45 (83/265 31%)


7 Sisters Trail Race 12 miles

2:33:28 (60/241 25%)


Back Cove Weekly 5k Series 3.1 miles

0:21:24 (14/109 13%)


Back Cove Weekly 5k Series 3.1 miles

0:21:20 (23/142 16%)


Bradbury Scuffle 6 miles

0:47:53 (14/62 23%)


Back Cove Weekly 5k Series 3.1 miles

0:20:24 (23/150 15%)


Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run 100 miles

22:54:04 (44/266 17%)


Bradbury Mountain Breaker 9 miles

1:21:59 (17/67 25%)


Back Cove Weekly 5k Series 3.1 miles

0:20:37 (21/103 20%)


Back Cove Weekly 5k Series 3.1 miles

0:20:15 (27/109 25%)


Bradbury Bruiser 12 miles

1:47:40 (18/73 25%)


Vermont 50 Mile Ultra Run 50 miles

9:27:06 (42/205 20%)


New Beginnings 5k 3.1 miles

0:30:35 (96/143 67%)


Stone Cat Ale Trail Marathon 26.2 miles

3:46:19 (13/184 7%)


Blackstrap Hell Trail Challenge 6 miles

0:54:48 (12/26 46%)


Fat Ass and other Free Miles Raced (8 events) 81.4 miles

Paid Entry Miles Raced (10 events) 281.4 miles

Pavement Miles Raced (2 events) 13.1 miles

Trail Miles Raced (16 events) 349.7 miles

Total 2008 Mileage Raced 362.8 miles

I was hoping for something that would say "you finish higher up the field in shorted distance trail races so that's what you should focus on!" But there was no consistency or patterns in the numbers I came up with. So what I took away from this information is that I should focus on events that are fun. I remembered that running is supposed to be fun, and it is fun when you don't take things too seriously.

This past fall I started to get the road marathon bug after seeing friends taking part in a number of fall marathons, so I started to look for a road marathon to do in the spring. When I looked at a schedule of all the races I wanted to do in 2009 I realized that a spring marathon would conflict with too many of my favorite trail races, and I also realized that running through 14 miles of mud at the Muddy Moose, or 12 miles of treacherous rocky hell at 7 Sisters is far more enjoyable than trying to PR at a road marathon. So I scrapped that idea and decided to stick to trails.

2009 Race Plans

01.01.09 Hangover Classic 10k

01.10.09 GAC Fat Ass 50k

02.01.09 Mid-Winter 10-Mile Classic

02.28.09 TMR Fat Ass 50k

03.28.09 I’ve been married for 10 years and my wife still doesn’t have a Fat Ass 50k

04.11.09 Merrimac River Trail Race

04.26.09 Muddy Moose Trail Race

05.03.09 7 Sisters Trail Race

05.24.09 Pineland Farms Trail Challenge - 50 mile

06.28.09 Cranmore Hill Climb

07.12.09 Bradbury Scuffle

07.26.09 Escarpment Trail Race

08.09.09 Bradbury Mountain Breaker

09.13.09 Bradbury Bruiser

09.19-20.09 Iroquois Trail Ultra – 100 miler

11.08.09 Stone Cat Ale 50 Miler/Marathon

Many of these dates still need to be confirmed. I'm sure there will be a few other events that come along through the course of the year. I hope Jeff leads us through more Hell at Blackstrap, and that Chuck gets something going at Hedgehog, and Peter has an easier time getting events off the ground in his neck of the woods, and that the Maine Woods Trail Marathon returns next year...

A Gray Day

I've been in a bit of a running rut lately. Numerous reasons, but suffice to say that I haven't been doing much running and when I have it hasn't been worth writing about. Today I was running solo at Bradbury, and the conditions really weren't very good for doing anything outdoors. It was warmish for late December, the snow was a mess, crusty some places but then like mashed potatoes is others. The sky was gray and there was a heavy fog. Despite the conditions it was good to get out for a solid 2+ hour run and spend some time thinking.

One of the down sides of an early season snow is that it covers the ground before the ground has a chance to freeze. The result is that you can be running happily along when all of a sudden one foot comes down, breaks through a layer of crusty snow and ice and plunges into icy water up to your ankle. Not only does this throw off your stride but you're left with a very cold foot and often a scraped up shin as you push forward through the jagged edge of the ice. Eventually your other foot will post hole and things even out.

time: 2:13:02 (2:21:19)
distance: 14.93 miles
pace: 8:54 (9:28)

weather: 38 degrees, overcast/foggy

conditions: soft snow covered trails

gear: Inov-8 Roclite 315 with screws, wool socks, thin tights, 2 long sleeve tops, Source 1.5l hydration pack, thin gloves, buff

One of the things I was thinking about on today's run was my blog. A few weeks ago I ran with a few other people from somewhere to somewhere else, and then back again. When I got home I wrote a report about the run complete with a map, like I often do, and put it up here for everyone to read. The problem is that I forget that anyone can see what I post, and on this particular occasion it turned out I was running on private property and I didn't have permission to do so. I soon received an e-mail pointing out some of the problems with what I had done, so I immediately took down the account of my run and realized that I need to be more careful about where I run. It was brought to my attention that snowmobile trails are built and maintained by snowmobile clubs, and that those clubs have permission from the owners of the land they cross to use the trails. This does not, however, give runners the right to use those trails on private property.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stone Cat Marathon Revisited

In case anyone thought I was making up the part about the festivities at Al Cat's Lounge (aid station) 17.5 miles into the Stone Cat Marathon I found photographic proof.


Thanks to Lori for "letting" me use her photos.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Blackstrap Hell, The Movie

Thanks to Blaine for stopping long enough during the run to capture all this video footage, and thanks again to Jeff for creating this event.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A week of runs and what I wore

All the wet weather we've been having lately has made a mess of all my shoes. I don't want to sound like I'm complaining, because I don't mind the mud too much, it's just that it would be nice to run on something else for a change. At least there is a lot of diversity in the mud on each of the trails I've been running lately.

Pineland Mud
15.7 miles at Pineland on 11.29 as I mentioned in my previous post. Very muddy by Pineland standards but the shoes came out looking relatively clean. There's a lot of sand in this mud so it doesn't stick too much. These are my "newer" Inov-8 Roclite 315's which I've had for over a year, worn them for two 50 milers and they're still holding up well.

Bradbury Mud

On Saturday 11.30 I met Chuck, Danielle and Ryan for a 10.75 mile run at Bradbury that included a lap of the Breaker course, the first half of the Scuffle course and finishing up by running the first few miles of the Bruiser in reverse. This was a fun run and my first opportunity of the season to bring out the screw shoes. The ground was partially frozen so the mud factor wasn't too bad, but it certainly was present. There wasn't much ice but just enough on some exposed rocky sections to make me glad I had the hardware in my shoes. These are the Inov-8 Roclite 315's I got in May 2007, they've seen many rugged miles and are starting to show it, but they still feel good. I'm amazed how well they have held up over the past year and a half, I'll probably wear them all winter.

Hash Run
Later on Saturday I participated in my first ever Hash Run. It was brilliant. We started out by meeting in a bar and knocking back a pint before heading out on to the streets of Portland to follow chalk marks on the sidewalk in search of the correct route to lead us to more beer. Emma and I lead the way for much of the run which meant taking a few wrong turns and then doubling back to the back of the pack. Things worked out well with our group of about 16 people coming together at the beer stop, then again coming together right at the bar that was the finish of the run. Apart from a few dribbles of beer the Brooks Cascadias that I was wearing stayed pretty clean. I alternated between 3 pairs of these shoes for the VT100 this summer, since then I use these shoes for mostly road running, they're a bit too bulky for trails and not as flexible as I would like.

Twin Brook Mud
Tuesday nights at Twin Brook have proven to be the muddiest of all. That place has miserable drainage with many puddles of standing water that have been there all summer and a general saturation that just won't quit. My shoe of choice for this kind of stuff is the Inov-8 Mudroc 290. I bought a pair of these in 2003 when Inov-8 only made one shoe. I got my second pair in early 2007 and was delighted to find that the shoe remained unchanged in 4 years. The only reason I got a new pair was because I realized that the first ones were too small, apparently they're not supposed to fit like climbing shoes. These are some amazingly durable shoes, especially for something so lightweight. I suspect I'll still be running in these 3 years from now.

Hill Repeats
Wednesday I was in the mood for hill repeats. That means I was in a bad mood and needed to take out some aggression on the road. I decided to wear my racing flats for this workout. I bought these Asics DS Racers in 2005 when I thought they would make me fast. Turns out you have train to be fast and shoes don't make that much difference. I stopped wearing these shoes because trail running made my feet a lot stronger, thus wider and they didn't fit so well. I took the insoles out of these and they fit a little better, but still not something I would do more than 3 or 4 miles in.

Grocery Shopping
Thursday night I wanted to get in a 7 mile run and I needed to pick a few things up from the grocery store so I decided to combine the two. Working on the "less in more" premise for footwear I'm trying to do all my shorter runs in minimalist shoes. I picked up these New Balance 790's about a year ago because I thought they looked kinda cool. They didn't fit so well when I tried to run in them so they haven't seen much use, but after removing the insole recently they feel pretty good. For a shoe that's intended for the trail they have a useless tread, but they work fine on the road, nice and soft, more comfortable than my racing flats and probably a bit lighter. Two pounds of steak and a couple cans of beans made the run a little more of a workout.

More Bradbury Mud
Friday I ran home from work, about 2 miles and I wore my newest Inov-8 Roclite 295, the same shoes I wore for the VT 50 and Stonecat Marathon this fall. These shoes feel fine on the road, but they excel on the trail so I took them out to Bradbury on Saturday for a good 13 mile run. They were much happier there and so was I. We ran out of the park along the Snowmobile trail, hit the power lines and stormed up a nice hill. From there we spotted a nice looking sand pit and decided to run around in the sand for a while, up and down the piles. For any onlookers I'm sure it would have appeared strange to see 4 adult men playing in a sand pit, but it was a lot of fun. From there we cut though a campground, bushwacked a bit and then eventually got back onto the trail we had run out on. Blaine took the lead as we got back to the park and the pace picked up, I think he likes to see whether or not the rest of us can hang on to his speed. We did our best and I had a lot of fun winding around on the single track trails.

Snowy Roads

Sunday (today) I planned to go to my parents house for lunch and decided to run there. There was about an inch of snow on the ground when I left and it continued to fall for the entire 16 miles from Portland to Freeport. Luckily it wasn't too cold or windy so the run was quite pleasant. The snow wasn't too slippery but it did make things less efficient than a road would normally be, the Cascadias felt like a good shoe for these conditions. I will probably end up screwing one of my 3 pairs of them for icy conditions. Despite the weather I managed to maintain a pace just under 8 minute miles, but I was pretty tired when I finished. Ready for a big tukey dinner and some birthday cake.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pineland Half Ass 25k

A few days ago someone on the KickRunners forum suggested that on this long holiday weekend people go out and participate in a virtual Fat Ass 50k (or Half Ass 25k) and report back to share stories about where they ran. I didn't really plan to participate in this "event" until I arrived at Pineland this morning and decided I was in the mood for a 15 mile run, why not make it 25k and say I took part.

We had a pretty good sized group today that included Jim, Jamie, Lily, Dom, Valerie, Dora, Chris, Jeff and Erik O. We headed out on the usual route which follows the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge course, minus the field loops. Although the weather forecast I saw said it was going to be about 30 degrees at 8 this morning it felt warmer in the sun so many of us left some of the additional layers behind and more were to come off shortly. I was wearing short tights, a t-shirt and light jacket, thin gloves and a baseball cap. I tried to include as many bright colors as possible since this was the last day of "regular" deer hunting season in Maine and we saw quite a few anxious looking hunters out and about on our way to Pineland, even though hunting isn't allowed at Pineland it looked like they had the place surounded and we heard more than one gun shot while we were out running. About 45 minutes into the run I took of my jacket and finished the rest of the run in a t-shirt. The dark shady parts of the trails were still pretty chilly but for the most part it was comfortable t-shirt weather.

The trail conditions were the worst that I have ever seen at Pineland. They really weren't that bad but by Pinelnad standards they were a mess with fallen branches, downed trees, washouts, mud, and standing water all over the place. It made the run a lot more fun. The maintenance crew will have a lot of work to do in the next few weeks before the snow falls in order to get the trails ready for ski season. Hopefully we'll get a few more weeks of running in before that happens, although there are plenty of people, some of whom were running with us today who can't wait for the snow to fall.

At about 9.5 miles we returned to the parking lot to drop off clothing, grab a drink, change into shorts etc. and a few people decided to call it a day there. Eight of us headed across the road to the Oak Hill trails but our numbers continued to drop and by the time we reached the end of the loop it was just me, Jim, Jamie and Jeff. These trails were in much better shape than the first 9 miles of our run and didn't seem to be affected by all the recent wet weather as much as the rest of the trails. Jamie and I had talked about repeating the 4+ mile Oak Hill loop a second time to get close to a total of 18 miles for the day but both agreed that a shorter loop on the Campus Loop trails bringing us up to 15.5 would be enough to leave us feeling satisfied with our workout for the day.

I felt good throughout the run and despite the more sloppy than usual conditions was able to maintain a good pace. I finished feeling like I could have easily gone on for another 5 miles or so at that pace but it's only been 3 weeks since the Stone Cat Marathon and I want to make a gradual progression back up in my mileage. I do need to get a few long runs in pretty soon though, before I know it January will be here and it will be time for the GAC Fat Ass 50k on January 10th. As long as the weather cooperates I should be able to get a few 20-24 mile runs in between now and then which should be enough.

time: 2:21:03
distance: 15.7 miles
pace: 8:59

Today I got to try out a new pair of sunglasses I just bought. Last week Jeff was singing the praises of the Optic Nerve Photomatic glasses he got from EMS and I decided that I needed to get a pair. I specifically went for a pair that was slightly different from Jeff's, but it turns out that within the past week Jeff lost his other pair, and then bought new ones just like the ones I bought. Oh well. The great thing about these glasses is that the lenses darken and lighten depending on the amount of light around you so when you're on the trail going in and out of the woods and the light is constantly changing so are the lenses. Pretty good for about $50.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Aqua Slam

Since Emma is still dealing with knee problems resulting from running her ass off in the VT50 like 8 weeks ago she isn't doing much running and is spending more time at the gym. On Tuesday she went to Aqua Slam class at the Y and I went to Twin Brook for my own Aqua Slam. It had been raining hard all day and I knew that the usually moist trails at Twin Brook would be severely flooded, but Jim reminded me that Trail Monsters never call off a run because of the weather:

Neither rain nor sleet, wait that is for mailmen.

When pure polly is in trouble I am not slow, wait that is for underdog.

What we got here is a failure, wait that is cool-hand-luke.

OF COURSE I AM GOING! (that is from Jim's Running Bible!)

I like to think that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. The stormy weather, complete with 40 mph gusts, was really bad for driving but turned out to be just fine for trail running. After something like the Hell Run a little rain, wind and mud isn't really a problem. It was actually quite warm for a late November evening and I decided shorts were in order.

When I arrived at TB Blaine and Jeff had already been out for a few miles and confirmed that one of the twin brooks was flooded and impassable. To be honest I was tempted to try but decided that I would save my death wish for another day. Jim joined us and we headed off into the woods where we hardly noticed the rain, except that which had soaked the trails all day long. After about a mile Blaine dropped out, I think due to a calf issue, I think he said something about cooking veal for dinner but it was hard to hear with all the splashing and mud squishing.

Jim asked if the pace was faster than usual but Jeff reported the pace was normal, it was just the 5 extra pounds of water he was carrying that made the run feel harder. That and the fact that we were running through either standing water or thick mud at all times. After complaining about chest pains and other life threatening concerns (but not the weather) Jim decided to go home and cut up a fallen tree that had blown over in the storm. Oh yeah, I should also mention that the trails were strewn with fallen tree branches which we had to dodge or hurdle and hope that no more fell on top of us.

After Jim left Jeff and I picked up the pace a bit, either that or the wind was on our backs. We ran for another 15-20 minutes just to make sure we didn't leave TB with any dry patches on our clothes. I thought the run felt great and I really enjoyed it, in fact I think it was the best I felt running since before the Stone Cat Marathon. I hope it lasts.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

New Trails! Cathance Preserve

Today we were running in the non-town of Topshizzum, lead by the S-C-O Double Tizzle.

Scott generously offered to lead a group of Trail Monsters around one of his favorite local trail systems, the Cathance River Nature Preserve. This was my first time running here and it made me wish I lived a little closer so I could run it more often. So these trails aren't actually new, just new to me.

I met Jamie and Jeff in Falmouth and we drove up to Topsham together where we met Scott, Kevin, Mindy, Ryan, Danielle, Chuck and Blaine. It was a bit like a bloggers convention, a few people who had never met before but had seen each others blogs. After standing around in the freezing cold for what was probably only a few minutes but felt way too long on this windy morning we set off from Mt Ararat HS on our adventure. I was quite excited about getting to see some new trails for the first time.

Scott's route took us up and over the little Mt Ararat and then through the Highland Green development before finally hitting the trails of the Cathance Preserve. These trails were a bit like the single track of Bradbury, but with the addition of a quick flowing river that added a lot to the beauty of the trail. I think it even brought a tear to Mindy's eye, or that could have been the wind chill making it feel like it was only 12 degrees.

The trail surface was technical, and would have been somewhat challenging in the best of conditions but when you throw in ice, collapsing frost crevasses and a thick covering of fallen leaves... oh, and the fact that most of us had never run here before, it made for some very challenging terrain. Although it would have been nice to stop and enjoy the view along the river it was really too cold for that, and it would have been nice to watch the water flowing as we ran alongside it this was the kind of trail that demanded constant focused attention. Especially at the quick pace we were running.

We turned at about 5.5 miles when we hit the edge of the preserve, since it's still deer hunting season around here we didn't dare venture outside the preserve. Scott lead us back on a similar route with a few variations to show us some more trail. It was all great stuff and I hope he'll slow down again for the rest of us to give us another tour, perhaps when hunting season is over so we can do some more exploring.

We ended the run with just under 10 miles in just over 1.5 hours. As much as I would have liked to hang around and chat we really started to feel the cold as soon as we stopped moving so we all went our separate ways. Blaine and Chuck went out for another 13 miles or so, and I would have liked to join them but thought I should give the marathon recovery a little more time before stepping my mileage back up. It's only been two weeks.

A question for any Garmin users/geeks:

For some reason when I import my GPS data into Google maps I don't get the whole route in one piece, it's broken up into two separate routes. When I tried importing my route from the Stone Cat marathon in came in as something like 10 separate routes and I couldn't get them to display all at once. Anyone out there know how to fix this?

View Larger Map

If you click on "View Larger Map" you'll get a full screen version of the map above, and in the left hand column there should be the option to view the other part of today's route (it looks like the results of a Google search).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Blackstrap Hell Trail Challenge

I don't know if Hell is really the right name for this event, Hell isn't supposed to be so much fun. I guess if you're not a Trail Monster then you might find these conditions Hell, but everyone I saw seemed to be loving it.

Jeff reminded me after the run today that it was only one week ago when we were out having a beer that we concocted the idea of a free and casual race for our fellow Trail Monsters on the land of the Blackstrap Hill Preserve in Falmouth. Luckily Jeff knows these trails well and had even made an attempt earlier in the year to establish a "real" race at this location, so he had already done a lot of the ground work (unfortunately some people in that town don't think running on these trails is a very safe thing to do). So all we needed to do was get the word out, do a little course marking and hope that a couple people would show up.

Jeff immediately jumped into action, ignoring his chores at home, and in no time produced a course map, a website, and devised an incredibly sophisticated/mysterious formula for predicting how long it would take someone to run his course based on their finishing times at other local races. The idea was that this would be a moderately competitive group run, not quite a race, and would try to strike the fine balance between extreme physical effort and a friendly walk in the woods. The plan was to start runners off one at a time, from slowest to fastest in an effort to bring everyone together at the end. Jeff's plan worked brilliantly with most people finishing no more than 3 minutes outside of their predicted time. That's even more impressive when you consider that no one, not even Jeff, had run the course in it's entirety before race day and no one was fully prepared for the severity of the wetness on the course (participants had to make a stream crossing just to get from the parking lot to the start line!)

I was amazed at the number of people that responded to our last minute plans for the event, a total of 26 runners showed up, plus 2 dogs. No one was safe from the water and mud. We all had wet feet before the start and it sounded like most people, myself included, fell in at the first stream crossing about 1/4 mile into the race. We all continued to get wetter and muddier as the run went on. I'll let the photos I took during the run do the talking for me, and share the experiences of a few other participants:

Another fun twist to the event is that we asked all participants to predict their finishing time, and then run with their watch faces covered. George Alexion was the winner in this category finishing just over 1 minute off his predicted time! Brett Hellstedt was a double winner by being the first person to cross the finish line and also running the fastest time overall (handicap races don't always work out this way). Shauna Baxter ran the fastest time for the women.


Thanks Jeff for all the hard work that went into putting together such a fun event on very short notice. Thanks to both you and Cacky for hosting the after-party, I'm sure you'll get the results posted as soon as you're finished cleaning up after all of us!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stone Cat Trail Marathon Race Report - Going for Gold(schlager)

I was feeling a little nervous going into the Stone Cat Marathon this past weekend. This year there were four races that I planned to take seriously (BRR 50, VT100, VT50 and Stone Cat), and a whole bunch that I was doing just for the fun of racing or as training for one of the big ones. But none of the previous big ones really went the way I had hoped. The thing about ultras is that it's cool just to finish, and it doesn't matter what your time is. The problem is that I had goals, beyond just finishing, for each of my first 3 big races and I didn't get what I wanted. I always go into a race with 3 goals, one that's very ambitious, one that's realistic, and one to cover my ass in case things go really bad.

After getting two 50's and a 100 under my belt this year I felt like I had learned a lot and that I had every right to expect to do well at the Stone Cat Marathon. All I had to do was rest up after Vermont, do a few shorter fast runs, a couple of long runs and I'd be fine. The problem was that I had fairly consistent knee pain throughout the 6 week period between the VT50 and Stone Cat. The pain wasn't really that bad, I tried not to complain about it too much, but the mere fact that it was there at all had me worried about missing another goal at a big race.

In the week leading up to the race I began to prepare myself mentally for that moment in the race when I may have to decide: Do I DNF and save the knee, or fight the pain and try to make my goal? I hoped it wouldn't come to this but I felt that I needed to be prepared in case I had to make that tough decision. After the VT100 I know that I can push myself through just about anything no matter how much it hurts, but what's the point? Is a slightly above average race finish worth risking an injury that could keep me from running for weeks? I know what the answer is but I've never DNF'd before.

Friday evening I left work a little early and headed down to Danvers, MA to the official hotel of the Stone Cat Trail Races. I ate dinner on my own since there was no official pasta dinner this year, and later in the evening Erik joined me at the hotel. Sadly, Emma wasn't able to run in the 50 miler this weekend due to knee pain far more serious than my own that has kept from doing much running at all since her third place finish at the VT50 six weeks earlier.

Erik and I woke up at 4:20, joined a big group of runners in the hotel for breakfast and headed off in the early morning darkness following a long line of cars for the short drive to the race start in Ipswich. 50 mile runners got preferential parking right at the start, but marathon runners had to park half a mile away and get a shuttle (some guys minivan) to the start. I got my things together and decided to jog to the start, this would be my warm-up. When I arrived at the school gym to check in the atmosphere was like a family reunion, one or two annoying uncles but great to see so many familiar faces and to catch up on the races that everyone else has been running. Unfortunately I spent most of the time before the start waiting in line to use the bathroom.

Gilly (namesake of the GAC) made a few announcements about course changes this year and confirmed that the distance was accurate. It turns out that the 50 miler I ran here last year was actually closer to 53 miles! He also reminded us that if you have to go to the bathroom during the race to "bury your shit!" Gilly has a great way of lightening the mood before the race start. We all filed out of the gym just after the sun had come up and the race got under way at about 6:25 am. The sky was overcast but the temperature was surprisingly warm for this time of year, great conditions for running.

All runners start together but after a few hundred yards the marathoners branch off to complete what is supposed to be a 1.2 mile loop before rejoining the regular 12.5 mile course for two laps. This first short loop took me exactly 7 minutes to run, I often set out too fast but there was no way that I was going that fast. I was immediately disappointed that this race might end up being a little short but there was nothing I could do about it. Shortly after getting back onto the 12.5 mile loop portion of the course there was a major moment of confusion at an unmarked intersection. I followed several people straight along the trail but immediately had a flashback to last years race when I thought we turned right. I knew there were going to be course changes this year but I would expect them to be marked. I immediately announced my intentions and turned around to go double-check the intersection for markings, a few people followed but others kept going. When I got back to the intersection it was a clusterfuck of stressed looking runners, but I was sure that we were supposed to turn right. Andy Hall was right behind me at this point and he agreed so we headed off together leading a group of skeptical runners. After about 1/2 mile we finally came to a course marker indicating a sharp left hand turn, uphill and onto single track. I knew we were on course now so I took off quickly up the hill. This was not a good way to start a race that I was trying to take seriously, but I figured that this was a good opportunity to separate myself from the rest of the marathoners, or at least the ones who weren't already way out in front of me.

From here on out the course was well marked and most of it looked familiar so I settled into a comfortable pace and set my sights on catching up to the 50 milers ahead. One unique, and not so favorable aspect of this race is that even though we all start together the marathoners (most of whom are running a faster pace than the 50 milers) have to work their way through the slowest runners on single track trails. Maybe that's the GAC's way of punishing us for choosing the wussy race option.

By the time I reached the back of the pack 50 milers they were strung out enough that I didn't get held up too much and could pick them off 2 or 3 at a time. When I reached the first aid station, Al Cat's at about 4.25 miles into the big loop (5.5 total), a lot of people went to the table and stopped for fuel, I had plenty of Gatorade in my handheld bottle so I ran right through picking off one or two marathoners in the process. Although I was trying not to go out too fast I was looking for any opportunity to get ahead by running smarter, but not necessarily harder.

Once I got through the bulk of the 50 milers it was pretty quiet on the trails. There had been a lot of rain in the week prior to the race but the trails were in pretty good condition. The ground was completely covered with wet leaves, but my Inov-8 Roclite 295's provided great grip and I didn't find myself slipping at all. Generally the trails weren't too wet, but there were a few puddles on the course that couldn't be avoided. Well, they could be avoided, and I saw a lot of people tiptoeing around the sides but is was easier and way more fun just to run down the middle and splash through the mud. Dry feet are overrated.

With the "alone time" on the trails I began to notice some discomfort in my right knee about an hour into the run, pretty much when I had been starting to notice the pain throughout my training. It wasn't bad to start off with but I knew I had close to 3 more hours of running ahead of me and it wasn't likely to get any less painful as time wore on. For the time being I pushed on at a steady pace knocking off the miles at about an 8:30 pace - although I wasn't actually looking at my pace at the time, just trying to run what felt right.

I don't even remember if I stopped at the second aid station, Fast Fred's at 7.5 miles (8.7 total). I probably did slow down long enough to refill with Gatorade. The 5 mile stretch from here to the start/finish area and the end of this first 12.5 mile loop went by uneventfully, enjoyable but not much to talk about. As I finished the first lap it was great to see Jamie helping out at the aid station. We said a quick hello, he refilled my bottle and I was on my way. It was hard to believe that I was more than halfway done with the race. Just like when I started my 4th lap of the 50 miler last year I set off on my second and final lap this day with a renewed sense of energy. I knew that there was a good chance I was going to slow down during this lap, but I had enough of a cushion that I knew breaking 4 hours was guaranteed as long as my knee pain didn't get too much worse.

The biggest hills of this course, which really aren't big compared to the ones you get in VT, come early in the 12.5 mile loop which meant I put my knees under a lot of strain in the first few miles of the second lap. I was trying to run hard and the result is that I really started aggravating the knee situation.

I channeled the music I had been listening to on the drive to the race and focused on the trails, the trees, the weather, the wet leaves. Anything but my knee, this had been my downfall last year in the 50 when I couldn't stop thinking about the pain and I let it get the better of me. Not this time. What's the point of doing this if it's not fun? It's not worth taking things too seriously. I may come away from this with a limp but damn it, I want to be able to say I had fun in the process!

One of the great things about the people of the GAC is that they're great at lifting your spirits if you're feeling down in a race, if you're feeling good when you pull into one of their aid stations then be prepared for a lot of fun. I knew when Al Cat's aid station was coming up (17.5 miles) and I was so looking forward to it. The trail was quiet now and even though I was having fun on my own a little extra kick never hurts. Since the runners were now spread out all over the course I think the volunteers at the aid station were more happy to see me than I was to see them. It helped that I knew most of them, and also that they'd probably been drinking adult beverages for a few hours. I almost wished that I needed more than a Gatorade refill, but I did stop to chat for a few seconds. I got my bottle and was about to head out, I turned to thank them all for their help and caught Al's eye from behind the makeshift bar that was set up on a card table next to the aid station. "Can I get you anything else?" he offered.

"My knee is aching," I said, "can you give me anything for the pain?"

Al poured me a big shot of Goldschlager in a platic cup. Out of nowhere one of the volunteers asked me "Are you going to run for President?"

I tossed back the shot and declared "Parlin - Palin 2012!"

I ran off into the woods with a warm feeling in my belly and a smile on my face. This is how a marathon should be.

A few non-runner-types that I know seem to think that just because I have run a few 50's and a 100 mile race that a marathon should be easy. What they don't understand is that with any race it's all about how you pace yourself. The point is to finish with nothing left because you poured it all out on the course. If I finish the marathon feeling good enough to go run another lap then I know that I didn't truly race the marathon. For the next 8.5 miles I made sure that I was going to have nothing left in the tank when I finished. I'd like to say that I picked up the pace in these final miles, but that wasn't the case. In fact, I logged some of my slowest miles of the day in these late stages of the race, but I was going as hard as I could. Even when my knee started to scream and my calves threatened to cramp I kept pushing it. I knew there was very little chance of actually injuring myself, I just had to suck it up and keep pushing.

I started to wish that there were a few more people on the course to give me something to chase. I occasionally came across another runner, a few pretty fast 50 milers who were hard work to get past. I thought to myself, and even said out loud to one of them "You're running twice as far as me I should be faster than you!"

Finally, with about a mile left to go in the race the lead woman in the marathon sidled up next to me. I had met Laurie at breakfast and talked to her briefly before the race. She was moving well and got a few steps ahead of me. This was just the motivation I needed to work a little harder. Being married to a woman who is faster than me at pretty much any distance I have no problem being girled in a race, but I hate losing a place in the last mile of a long race. We battled it out for a few hundred yards but with a half mile to go I kicked in the afterburners and took off. I was a little afraid that she was going to catch me and that I wouldn't have any more to give. I didn't dare look back, just pushed as hard as I could. It turned out that last half mile was done at a 7:20 pace, just fast enough to get me across the line ahead of Laurie. Thanks for the motivation!

As I slowed to a walk after crossing the finish all the pain I had been denying during the last few miles began to wreak its revenge on my knee. I limped to the sidelines and sat down to catch my breath. Finally a race where I met my goals. I had fun and I ran well.

Official time: 3:46:19
8:38 pace
13/160 finishers


Thanks to Emily Trespas and Frank Colella for "letting" me use their photos and embellishing them, and good job in the marathon!