After taking the last three months of 2009 off from running completely (due to injury) I’ve slowly been working my way back into shape. I built my mileage up gradually starting in January, then added some short tempo runs in March & April and finally mixed in some track workouts with my running club The Gate City Striders beginning in May. I also tried out some early-season races to help me gauge my fitness level in adverse conditions and see just how far I’d come. Well, based on my mixed (at best) Race Results, it turns out I still have a long way to go just to get back to where I was even late last year.
Nevertheless, I signed myself up for the Pineland Farms 25k Trail Race in New Gloucester, Maine. This race would not only be twice as long as any race I’d done so far this year it would be just short of my longest run of the season to date. However, the motivating factor for me to run this race was not for the individual results but rather for the potential for team glory. Because, as luck would have it, the PF25k had a team race component and the gauntlet had been thrown by my friend Steve Wolfe and his buddies over at Acidotic Racing. They were headed up to Maine en-masse to dethrone the host (and defending team champion) Trail Monsters Running and take home their pine trophy title.
So, not being satisfied with merely running the race myself I set about putting together a GCS uber-team the would not only be capable of taking out aR but also be able to handle anything the other area running clubs in attendance could throw at us, as well. It took some time, but I finally convinced 3 other guys to join me in this quest. They were: Todd Callaghan, Justin Soucy & Denis Tranchemontagne. I had no doubt that Todd could handle the terrain and distance at Pineland having just completed the Boston Marathon in 2:44 before deciding to head off to run the USATF Mountain Series in preparation for his attempt on Mount Washington. Justin & Denis were having strong racing seasons so far, but it remained to be seen if long-distance trail running was something that suited them. I knew that I could hold my own here, but from the start it was clear that I was the “anchor” on this team of Gate City speedsters.
Race day dawned warm and sticky. During my 2-hour drive up from Nashua I hoped that the clouds above would continue to remain in place and keep the day from getting even more unbearable. As a “big” guy (6’-4” & 192lbs) heat is definitely not my friend. When I reached the race venue I was pleasantly surprised to feel a slight breeze that seemed to cool things down a bit. However, that breeze also carried with it the pungent aroma of burnt wood (timber fires from Quebec) and a cloud of yellow dust (tree pollen). My disappointment soon faded as I grabbed my bib number & sweet cool max race shirt and quickly spotted Steve Wolfe & Chris Dunn setting up their tent. Later Todd & Justin came around and much later (after enlisting Richie Blake to fill in - “just in case”) Denis showed up.
I did some light running just to get limber and find a shady place to relieve myself. Then I returned to the Grove and settled into about the tenth row of runners for the pre-race announcements. By this point the sun was winning the battle with the clouds and things were beginning to heat up. Thankfully, without much fan fair, the cowbell was rung and we were off down the trail. I had done some pre-race research (as I usually do for such things) and discovered that this course was mostly down hill for the first 5k, but then got really rolling from then on including some big climbs after the 15k & 20k marks. So, I took it out easy and gave my legs some time to get under me.
The first 5k went according to plan. Todd (who had started in front) was out of sight. Justin (who passed me during the first mile) was quite a ways in front and Denis (who passed me during the second mile) was just ahead running slightly behind Steve. My 5k split was 20:52. A bit fast, as I was hoping to average 22:00/5k which would get me in at around 1:50:00, but I still felt well under control. Over my shoulder on some of the hairpin turns I could see that Chris Dunn was marking me a bit. Chris was a Pineland Farms veteran and I knew that he’d have a few tricks up his sleeve before this day was through. As expected, the second 5k went by much slower coming in at 24:51. There were some rollers and quiet a bit of open field (read: hot, grassy & sloped) running in that Valley Farm section and I wasn’t about to run myself out of gas this early in the race. However, after the 10k mark I did decide to pick it up a bit since the terrain was a bit more favorable (down) and I wanted to see if I could gain any ground on Steve & Denis while trying to hold Chris at bay.
Towards the end of the third 5k I was feeling the effects of the heat a little and started to give back a bit of real estate. I popped a couple electrolyte tablets at the Valley Farm aid station and was surprised to see Chris right on my tail. I hit the 15k mark at 21:56 and it wasn’t long before he came chugging past me. As he went by, he offered some words of encouragement and told me to be patient. I gladly took his advice and let him go on ahead as we climbed the Campus Loop hill that wound back up to the start/finish area. As we came through the Grove I knew I had just 5 miles to go. So I downed a Hammer Gel, sucked back some water, cast off the singlet & sunglasses and set about trying to catch back up to Chris. I had a feeling that we each were the fourth (and final) scoring members of our respective teams. So, at the very least, I wanted to keep him in sight. And maybe, if it came down to it, try to out kick him at the finish. When we crossed the road into the Oak Hill section of the course he had about a hundred yard lead on me.
Luckily the gel did the trick and I started reeling him in. Now, the plan at this point was to stay on his tail for as long as I could before I made my move. Unfortunately, my legs had other ideas and I flew right by him on a slight downhill section. Whoops. 5k to go and now I was the hunted instead of the hunter. I passed the 20k marker in 21:42. So, it was at this point that I decided to hammer as much as possible and try to put some distance on Chris to keep him from thinking about walking me down. That tactic lasted for less than a mile as we quickly hit some un-relenting ups. I slowed a bit but still tried to maintain the same strong effort. Finally we popped through some trees, and I could almost taste the finish. However, we still had to do an entire circuit of one last hay field before we could cross back over the road to the Grove.
It was at this point that I noticed I had been running fairly closely to Floyd Lavery (a former GCS member and now a member of Trail Monsters). I decided to focus on Floyd and hang on for dear life as we made our way to the finish line. We crested a slight rise and I started my kick. I flew across the road and I could feel Floyd hot on my tail. I skirted some trees and other runners passing in the opposite direction and he was still there. I saw the finish banner and reached down for one last burst of energy. I crossed the line completely spent and a mere breath ahead of Floyd. As it turned, out we both finished with exactly the same time – 1:55:50. But, I got 31st overall and he took 32nd. Not quite the time that I had hoped for but given the day and my lack of long races going in I was pleased with the result. Chris ended up finishing a few minutes after me and I later found out that he’d seized up with leg cramps during the last mile.
I ambled over to the tent and found Denis, Justin & Todd practically giddy with excitement after having run such a fantastic event and having put up some very impressive times. Todd ran a 1:40:13 finishing 4th overall, Justin ran a 1:46:15 finishing 9th overall & Denis ran a 1:50:25 finishing 17th overall. Richie rounded out the GCS scoring with a 2:25:50 far exceeding his pre-race expectations. The Final Results showed that we each came in ahead of our Acidotic Racing counterparts and took down the team title by nearly 20 minutes! We also set a new 25k team course record of 7:12:43 in the process. An improvement of nearly 13 minutes over the previous team best!
Later, we toasted our good fortune (and our running mates over at Acidotic) at the free beer tent and basked in the glow of the sun, the blue grass music and the victory. The entire experience up at Pineland Farms really couldn’t have been any better. The race organizers did a fantastic job of putting on this race as well as the other 6 races that made this weekend-long trail running festival one of the destination events in our area. Whether you like the short stuff (5k & 10k), the long stuff (25k, 50k & 50m) or the wacky stuff (barefoot 5k & canine-cross 5k) this is the place to be. And, as we sat in the grass enjoying our brews the plans for next years trip to Pineland were already percolating in our heads.