Monday, October 3, 2011

Hanging Tuff

Riding high on the comeback wave I headed down to Saugus last weekend for the Tuff Ten Trail Race. Wait?! A trail race in Saugus!? Who knew Saugus had trails?! Yup, right off Route 1. Just past the “Ship” and the “Leaning Tower of Pizza” is Breakheart Reservation. A 640-acre hardwood forest with jagged, rocky outcroppings, two fresh-water lakes, and a rambling section of the Saugus River. I know, surprised the heck out of me too!

This grueling 10k race is put on by Dan Scotina and the folks over at the Saugus River Watershed Council. I had wanted to do it last year, for its inaugural run, but hadn’t recovered enough from Clarence Demar to even think of attempting it. The course is a mix of single and double track trails, dirt fire roads and short sections of paved path. It starts and finishes at the Visitors Center near the south entrance of the Reservation and goes over every one of the parks seven rocky hills!

The first climb was right out of the gate – literally! 50 yards on the paved bike path, a quick right hand turn and then up, up, up a steep rocky trail to the top of Breakheart Hill. And, while my heart wasn’t “broken” when I reached the top, it certainly was pounding! I tip-toed around the summit while being careful not to over-do it and was passed by one guy on the way down. I offered him room to slide by telling him it was too early for me to “race” in what I figured to easily be an hour-long event.

The conditions were warm & humid and by the second climb at the start of mile two, I was drenched in sweat. It was on that climb that I was passed by a runner in road trainers. How he didn’t slip and fall on the wet, grassy incline (and subsequent rocky decent) I’ll never know. Anyway, I stayed on his tail for the next two miles along the rooty, Saugus River trail letting him guide as I got my legs under me. I passed him just before the water stop and heard a loud groan when the he found out that after 30+ minutes of running we were only half-way!

After the water stop was a steady climb to the top of Eagle Rock overlooking Pearce Lake. As I crested the ridge I heard footsteps directly behind. Looking back I saw the guy who passed me at the top of the first hill. He had apparently gone off track just after the second climb and had been working hard to get back up to the front ever since. We ran together under the powerlines, through the knee deep water crossing and onto the toughest section of the course – The Ridge Trail.

This trail was a bit difficult to follow, as it seemed that somebody had removed many of the fluorescent pink marking ribbons prior to the start of the race. What made it even more challenging was that there were 4 summits to negotiate in this final 2 mile stretch. I stayed with the “lost” runner for about a mile and a half, but fell back a bit on the last climb. At the top, I went straight (instead of left) and ended up on a narrower trail that eventually ended in some thick brush. Frustrated, I backtracked, found the trail again a couple minutes later and continued on. 

The final decent was a hair-raising plummet back to the bike path and the finish. Despite the “walkabout” on the last of the seven hills I finished in 1:04:57 (10:28 pace) which was good enough for 6th overall (out of 60) and second in my age group. On top of that I walked out of there with some pretty sweet schwag. Free coffee & power gel samples, a copy of Trail Runner magazine, a nice tech shirt, a $20 North Face gift card (raffle #1), a pair of trail socks (raffle #2), and a hand-held water bottle (age-group award). Not bad for a $25 race-day entry fee and a 45 minute trip down to Saugus!

I would definitely recommend this race to anyone who is interested in some seriously hard-core (but fun) trail racing close to home. It was well worth the trip and I’ll most certainly have it on my calendar for next year! Next up (this year) are some local XC races and probably a few more trail races like this one. I made it though this race with my skin (and  hamstring) in-tact and I'm looking forward to mixing it up a bit more in the woods before the snow flies. 

Welcome Fall, I’ve been waiting for you!


  1. Michael, Great report!
    Happy you had a good time but sorry you went off trail on the Ridge. I should have told everyone to "just follow the orange blazes." Remind me next year! Oh, and thanks for putting out the word. I hope we can grow this race and raise more money for youth education programs.


  2. No problem. It was my own stupidity. Near the top of the climb I came upon a runner who had started early and kind of just followed her. I would have seen the turn if I were paying attention.

    Happy to run and help!