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.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Muddy Moose Race Report 2012

The 2004 Muddy Moose was the first trail race I ran in the US, just a few weeks after Emma and I moved to Maine from Scotland. Today was the 6th time I've run this race, which is more times than any other race I've done. Why? That's a good question. To be honest, the course isn't that great. Apart from a 1/3 mile stretch of single-track it's mostly logging roads or Jeep trails with about 3 miles of dirt road. The whole race course is a bit contrived, I don't think anyone ever says "hey, lets go for a nice run on the Muddy Moose course". Races like 7 Sisters or the Escarpment Trail Run are seriously rugged races on legitimate trails that people hike or run throughout the year, but Muddy Moose puts people on terrain that no one would ever set foot on outside of this race. That doesn't necessarily make it a bad race, if it did then I wouldn't go back almost every year along with so many other runners, including some of New England's best trail runners.  The Muddy Moose seems to strike a perfect balance between absurd running conditions, good competition and the youthful joy of a good romp in the mud that people, myself included, find compelling.

photo by Josh Spaulding
On a personal competitive level I've also had a goal of breaking the 2 hour barrier at this race for a number of years:

2004 - 2:06:58
2005 - 2:02:51
2006 - injured and didn't race, Jim Dunn broke 2 hours
2007 - 2:00:35 so close!
2008 - ran the Bull Run Run the week before so didn't race
2009 - 2:14:57 the hot year
2010 - 2:07:33 under-trained
2011 - ran the Big A 50k instead

More than just about any other race course I've run this one seems to be effected by the weather (snowfall during winter and rain during spring) in ways that dramatically impact finishing times. While we all know that the early spring was unusually dry this year we had some heavy rain recently that left me uncertain about what to expect. I knew it wouldn't be as wet as some previous years so I was optimistic that the combination of a solid winter and spring of training with a somewhat dry course would add up to less than 2 hours.

I was definitely a little nervous before the race today, mostly because of my goals, but I also bumped into Michael Wade and Steve Wolfe before the race. Not that I should get too hung up on what other people are running, but they were two faces that I recognized and I was guessing that they would be shooting for a similar time as me. I haven't actually done much racing with either of them, but knowing that they are both solid 3 hour marathoners (and I am not) had me wondering if it would be wise for me to try and run with them. I took a fairly conservative position at the start, behind Steve and Michael, well behind the really fast guys (Tilton, Johnson, Freeman), and behind the pack of much younger guys who were mostly doing the 4 mile race. I really hoped to take it out easy today, but in typical gIANt style I ended up getting frustrated with the pack and kicked into a high gear pretty early.

The first 1/10th mile is on paved road, then downhill on a dirt road for a half mile before we enter the woods. Last fall there had been substantial logging in this part of the woods so the trail was nearly impossible to identify with a layer of woody debris scattered across a thick base of mud. Not long into the nastiness I found a runner coming straight at me, apparently going back to retrieve a lost shoe. I bumped shoulders with Steve as people seemed to be going every which way and that's when I decided to just go for it. Screw the pussyfooting and just blaze down the middle of the mudfest. This worked to get me through the crowd, but also had me concerned that maybe I was burning through a little too much energy too soon. I also was starting to regret pulling away from Steve and Michael, figuring it was only a matter of time before they caught back up to me and I didn't know if I'd be able to hang on once they passed.

a dry course this year?
At mile 2 the 4 and 14 mile races split off from each other and the big kids run along a stretch of dirt road for just over 1 mile. I turned my heavy wet feet over as quickly as I dared, not wanting to lose any of those places I so boldly took, but also trying to be mindful about not continuing the trend of going out too hard. As we neared the end of the dirt road my watch beeped a mile split and I looked at it for the first and only time during the race: 7:03. I wasn't sure what to do with this information, it was a flat mile on hard packed dirt road so of course it should be fast, but was that too fast? Too slow? No time to analyze, it was time to climb. 200 feet up in about 1/4 mile on a "trail" covered with slippery dry leaves. I ran what I could, but it wasn't much.

Once at the top of the escarpment I managed to get back into a run pretty quickly and the course then dropped back down about 250' in the next mile on nice dry trail. There were three runners ahead I was attempting to chase down, and another two or three right on my heels. The next 1.5 miles were a gradual climb up about 400' on terrain that was more rugged, although not too wet. Just before 5 miles the course branches off to the left where we run one side of a loop before re-joining the mostly out-and-back course. Then at about 6 miles there is a 1 mile loop that can be run in either direction and serves as the turn-around point in the race. It's also the wettest part of the course.

I've run this loop in both directions and have been part of a lot of debate about which way is faster. I chose the counter-clockwise direction which features a gradual, totally runnable up, steep technical drop, then a short gradual climb. I think this is faster than the other direction which has you running (or attempting to) up the steep part. Kevin Tilton disagrees with me, and he set a course record today so maybe he's right. Anyway, when I was roughly half way around the loop I saw two of the three guys I had been chasing coming towards me, but I had no idea if they were still ahead of me at this point, and when I exited the loop I couldn't see anyone in front of me so who knows.

I did close in on another runner who had done the loop the same direction as me, but two others came up from behind and we had a fairly tight pack as we cruised back down the long, gradual 1.5 mile hill. This part was the most fun of the entire race, but all this fast downhilling was taking a toll on my legs. When it came time to switch gears and head back uphill I had a hard time making the transition. The lead woman in the race passed me and I couldn't keep up with her running pace. Luckily I was able to hike at a pretty good clip so I didn't slip too far behind, and I managed to keep ahead of the other guy who had been chasing me down. Back up to the escarpment, too tired to think about enjoying the view, I started to stress about what was going to happen when we hit the dirt road, and then the 1.5 mile mudfest after that. Down the slippery dry leaf-covered drop I managed to pull away from my chaser, and back on the dirt road I tried to catch back up to the lead woman and the other guy ahead that she had passed.

I was putting in a tremendous effort but my legs just weren't responding the way I wanted them to. My shoes, socks and gaiters were soaking wet and caked in mud making my feet feel heavy and sluggish. Looking at my splits after the race I see that I ran the dirt road mile in 7:58 on the way back, 55 seconds slower than the way out. Of course there were 7 gnarly miles in between, but I'm not sure if that's good or not. At the time it definitely didn't feel good. Lucky for me everyone else must have been suffering as much as me because I managed to hold my position.

photo by Josh Spaulding
From the dirt road we turned back onto the mudfest trail for 1.5 miles of soggy slogging. On the way out there were probably less than 50 runners ahead of me, but on the way back I was running through mud that had been churned up by all 225 people on the way out and however many people there were ahead of me on the way back. What kept me going was the fear of an acidotic runner catching me in the final stretch of the race. Serves me right for going out too fast, but I really didn't want to drop a place after running well for most of the race.

There were several groups of volunteers along the course and I was able to gauge the distance of the runners behind me by the lapse in time between them cheering for me and the next person. It was uncomfortably close, but I didn't dare turn back to see who was there. I wasn't about to take my eyes off the mud and splintered forest debris in front of me.

When I finally came out of the woods and hit the dirt road it was only 1/2 mile of uphill "sprinting" to go. I actually managed to close in on the guy in front but didn't have enough to catch him. The combination of chasing and being chased served as great motivation throughout the race and right up to the finish. I didn't look at my watch until after I crossed the line, having absolutely no idea of what my time was going to be and I was totally surprised to see that I had broken the 2 hour barrier by a substantial amount. While there was definitely less water on the course than in some previous years the mud seemed to be just as thick and nasty as ever. I'd like to think that my time is mostly due to better training, but I can't totally discount the course conditions, and of course give credit to the other runners who motivated me from in front and behind.

photo by Deb Wolfe

time: 1:50:09
distance: 13.14 miles
pace: 8:22
place: 16/93


weather: high 40's, sunny, windy

conditions: thick mud, not much water, plenty of dry trail

gear: Inov-8 Roclite 295, Inov-8 gaiters, socks, shorts, singlet, hat

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Last Long Run

I am so ready to taper.

This high (for me) mileage thing is beginning to take a toll. Luckily I don't have any injuries or significant aches and pains (except for my little broken toe, but that doesn't count since it's not a running injury). It's not that I don't enjoy running a lot, but I'm looking forward to a few easy weeks and then getting on with the Peak 50. My last long run on Saturday at Pineland felt like hard work, tougher than any of the other 10 long runs I've had in the past 4 months (5 runs between 20 and 25 miles, 5 runs between 29 and 31 miles). In theory I should be getting stronger and the long runs should be getting easier, but as my overall mileage has increased in the past two weeks I think I'm reaching the limit of how hard/far I can push myself in training. Now I just need to rest up for the big race.

Fancy graph of my weekly mileage this year courtesy of RunningAHEAD:
My graph
I'm in a vaguely recognizable pattern of three weeks high, one week lower mileage. A few things (like a broken toe) have come up along the way to mess with my plans a little bit, but overall I'm happy with the way my training has gone over the past four months. One thing I realized is that my first three really long runs each came in a week following one of my lower mileage weeks, so I was somewhat rested going in. The 50k I ran at Blaine's 1 More Mile For Sunshine came after a 54 mile week. Saturday's long run followed a 77.4 mile week (my highest mileage training week ever), so perhaps its not surprising that I was feeling a little tired.

Saturday morning I arrived at Pineland at 7 to meet Jim and get in a few miles before joining the 8:00 crowd. We ran a shortened version of the 10k course down to the yurt and back. The weather forecast I had seen online called for temps to remain around 50 degrees all morning, overcast sky and a high chance of rain. Perfect long running weather. It was definitely cool and overcast but what I hadn't anticipated was high humidity. By the time Jim and I returned to the YMCA parking lot at 8:00 we were both soaked with sweat.

I swapped my handheld bottle for a loaded hydration pack and we set off with a large group on the 25k course. Once our group got back to the Yurt people went in all different directions as some didn't want to run the fields, others ran a modified version of the fields, while Julia, Laura and I stuck precisely to the race course. Laura cut her run a little short before returning to the Campus Loop, and Julia kept going to the Oak Hill side while I stopped off back at the car to top up my fluid and food supply. 15.5 miles down and by now the clouds were breaking, the sun was coming out and it was quickly warming up. I took off my shirt to wring out the sweat, put it back on and continued alone to the Oak Hill side.

When I got to the Gloucester Hill cut-off I saw Jim and Julia coming up the hill so I took the cut-off and joined them, although it wasn't long before Julia pulled away. Jim and I plodded along. We returned to the cars at 19.5 miles and I filled up my pack with the last of the water I had with me. I think I had gone through about 3 liters already. Jim and Julia were done for the day so I prepared to head out on my own when I bumped into Linda who was just heading out for an hour long run. Perfect timing and her company helped take my mind off the increasing heat. Not that it was particularly hot, just a lot warmer than I had planned for. We ran the complete Oak Hill loop which brought me up to a little more than 24 miles.

When we returned to the cars I was so ready to be done. My hydration pack was empty and I didn't have any more water in my car. Luckily I was able to fill a water bottle at the YMCA. After giving up 23 miles into my long run last weekend I needed to push through this one so I headed back downhill to the Yurt along the 10k race course and then struggled back uphill for the last 3 miles of my run. I didn't get enough water from the Y so I was forced to drink - and run - very conservatively to get through these last miles without bonking. I managed to keep it together but moved at a very slow pace with a lot of walking on hills I would ordinarily run.

I had hoped to get in 31 miles today, wanted to quit at 19, and when I got back to my car at 30.5 I said good e-fucking-nough.

time: 5:03:11 (stopped watch at 4 stops at the car)
distance: 30.5 miles
pace: 9:56

weather: low 50's, cloudy and humid to clear sky, near 70

conditions: dry, firm trails

gear: Inov-8 X-Talon 212, socks, shorts, t-shirt, cap, Nathan HPL #020

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Big Mileage

I've always considered myself to be a low-mileage runner, even when training for an ultra I rarely seem to log as many miles as many other runners I know. However, for the past four and a half months I have stepped it up a little bit and have consistently averaged just over 50 miles per week, which for me is a lot. Over the past few years I have had a handful of big weeks, but I have never sustained this kind of mileage for this amount of time. It's also worth pointing out that I have quite a bit of variation in my weekly mileage, ranging from about 25 to 75 as I go through cycles of building up and recovering. Lately it seems that I have plateaued and a lot of my runs haven't been quite what I hoped for; for some runs it's speed, others distance, or just the feeling of being a bit worn down that has me feeling that my training for the Peak 50 isn't going quite as well as I'd like.

On the other hand, I'm still putting in more miles than I ever have before when training for a 50, and I've had some pretty good races so far this year. So perhaps it's my expectations that are a little out of whack. Part of this might have to do with my being more aware of what so many other people are doing for training since so many of my fellow Trail Monsters are training for spring ultras. It's great to be able to be inspired by others, but I have to be careful to run what works for me and not get caught up with other peoples plans.

Here's a summary of what I got up to in my highest mileage training week (although I didn't get in as much as I had planned). Oh yeah, I think I broke my little toe last Saturday night which lead to an unexpected rest day on Sunday 4/8.

Monday: Twin Brook - with Emma and the dogs
time: 50:37, distance: 5.8 miles, pace: 8:43
Easy paced run to test out the toe and make sure it wasn't badly damaged. There was some pain but not enough to significantly hinder my running.

Tuesday: Twin Brook - TMR TNR
time: 46:50, distance: 5.5 miles, pace: 8:34
Slightly quicker than the day before, but still a comfortable pace. Toe was still purple and swollen, and a little sore when running.

Wednesday: Roads from home
time:  2:35:00, distance: 20 miles, pace: 7:45
Since I was racing this weekend I couldn't get in back-to-back long runs so I opted for a mid-week long run, and went with roads to go easy on my toe. This was a pretty lousy run, the first 10 miles went by in 1:15 and the second 10 in 1:20. I had really hoped to maintain a consistent pace throughout but I felt crappy in the second half, even walked for a few minutes because my breathing was labored and my heart-rate felt too high. Felt pretty beat-up afterwards which I suppose is not surprising since this was my longest road run in quite a while.

Thursday: Leighton Hill - with the dogs
time: 46:15, distance: 5.25 miles, pace: 8:49
At the beginning of the week I said I was going to avoid hills and technical trails to make sure my toe had a chance to heal, so I'm not sure why I decided to head to Hardy Road and run a loop through the Skillins Tree Farm, power lines and up the first of the Three Bitches. I guess it's because the dogs like to run here. It was a fun run but my toe was a bit grumpy. My quads were pretty sore from yesterday's road run and the hills didn't help.

Friday: Roads from home
time: 43:36, distance: 5.45 miles, pace: 8:01
This was an easy road run just to try to shake out the lingering soreness from Wednesday's long run. Felt good apart from the tightness in my quads.

Saturday: Merrimack River Trail Race
time: 1:12:17, distance: 9.37 miles, pace: 7:42 (plus ~3 miles of warm-up and cool-down)
Ran a good race and got a course PR by nearly 3 minutes (previous best 1:15:05 in 2009). My legs still didn't feel as fresh as I would have liked, but at least my toe wasn't an issue. Definitely lacked strength on the uphills which come in the middle of the out-and-back course. After running right around a 7 minute pace for the first 3 miles I slowed on the hills in miles 4 and 5 and then pretty much hit a wall during mile 6 when I ran a 10:03 mile. I think the hills are steeper on the way back than on the way out, but still... I couldn't climb. It was hard to get my pace back down for the flat finish but did manage to get it close to 7 minutes for the last 1.37 miles. Finished 22/240 which I'm pretty happy with. I can't help but wonder if I could have gone a little faster had I not done the 20 mile road run in the middle of the week, but this wasn't my goal race so it's all good training for the 50 miler.

Sunday: Falmouth Trails - with Jeremy and Tyler
time: 4:16:21 , distance: 23.19 miles, pace: 11:04
My plan was to run 25-30 miles, but decided I'd go with what felt right rather than trying to get the numbers for my training log. I definitely wasn't feeling fresh when I met Jeremy and Tyler at 7AM, although I was pleased not to have any significant soreness after the race, just not super perky. Jeremy had a pretty sadistic plan for 35 miles that would take in all of Falmouth's best hills and gnarliest terrain. The first part of our run was a nearly 12 mile loop that brought us back to our cars for refueling. The second part of the run turned out to be an 11 mile loop, mostly on snomo trails that were new to us. With warm temps and big hills I was sweating a lot and drinking more than I was used to, and as a result ran out of water around mile 21. Jeremy tried to get me to refill my pack and go out for a few more miles but when we returned to the cars at 23 miles I felt ready to stop. My energy level was actually pretty good, my biggest concern was that after running 2 miles without any fluids I was in a state of hydration deficit that would be hard to come back from if I kept going. Maybe I would have been fine to keep running once I drank, but I decided that I'd rather end the week feeling good instead of running myself into the ground and needing to take more time to recover afterwards. The little toe was definitely complaining about the technical terrain, but it really doesn't effect my running. Tyler had turned back around 17 miles, to finish off with about 20, and Jeremy continued on for another 12+ miles after I stopped.

I came very close to hitting a total of 80 miles this week, but I'm glad that I decided to listen to my body instead of becoming a slave to the numbers. 77+ miles is still a lot for me.