This weekend I had the pleasure of participating in my first Stone Cat Trail Race at Willowdale State Forest in Ipswich, MA. I say first because I have every intention of returning next year. There were so many things about this event I enjoyed from the trails, the other runners, the amazing volunteers and the local cuisine.
Tani and I arrived late afternoon at the local Comfort Inn. For $59 a night and just 11 miles from the start it was a perfect recommendation. We checked in and drove to the start to make sure we knew how to get there in the morning. Then the fun began. After a short rest we were off to Woodman's for dinner. As always Tani did great research on where to go for dinner and Woodman's was said to have the best seafood. They did not disappoint. While this may not be ideal for a typical pre-race meal I could not resist (you could always go there post race too).
Fried clams, fries, onion rings, NE clam chowda, lobsters and Sam Adams. (Twin lobster special to the right was only $19) The food was great and the people were friendly.
Race day the alarm went off at 4:30am. I was meeting my friend Pete and his girlfriend Laura in the lobby at 5am to head to the start. Pete getting his number for his first 50miler (left) and the 2 of us a few minutes before the chilly 6:15am start (right). I believe the temperature at the start was in the low 20's.
The 50 miler Pete ran and completed in 9:42 ("way to go Pete") consists of four 12.5 mile loops. The marathon I ran was 2 loops after a short 1.2 mile lap around the school the race began at. Both races start together and then separate as the 50 milers hit the loop and the marathoners take a lap. This works well as it helps to reduce crowding early on in the race.
Pete and I wished each other luck and off we went. After the school lap the course takes you on a really nice ride combining mostly double and single track with lots of rolling hills and twisting trails. There are rocks and roots along the way but nothing too technical. Although as I found out its easy to get distracted and find the roots and rocks the hard way (more on that to come).
During the first loop I tried to take it is easy and get to know the course. I only passed on the double track, always settling in at whatever pace was being dictated by those in front of me on the single track. I also took time to stop and take a few pictures during the first loop (below).
As always Tani was there with a big smile and encouragement for me as I came to the end of the first loop completing the 13.7 miles in 2:07. I always feel energized after seeing her at my races. While the time was slower than I hoped I was feeling really good with plenty of energy. I felt a sub 4 hour was easily within reach and I was going to push hard and maybe even get close to 3:50. I did forget to mention 2 missed turns on the first loop which cost me time. The first one I was fortunate to catch on my own after a minute or two (for some reason the guy behind me decided to just let me go, I thanked him later). The 2nd one I had just started chatting with 2 runners Lauren and Cindy. Fortunately for the 3 of us there was a runner (Kurt, at right in red. "Thanks Kurt")behind who saw us as we were about to head down the back side of a hill and yelled out.
I saw Pete at the beginning of the 2nd loop, he had arrived a few minutes before me. He was still getting ready as I was exiting and had found someone to run with so off I went, feeling great. About a mile in I caught up to Lauren and Cindy again and ran some of the single track with them and when it opened up I went by. Everything was going perfectly, the temperature had risen into the low 40s, the sun was out and I was moving well. And then around mile 16 it happened.....I remember how easily I felt I was moving one moment and eating dirt the next. In the blink of an eye my entire run changed as it felt like someone had driven a spike through my big toe as one of those roots snuck up on me. I spent the next couple of minutes trying to get myself together and walk it off. Lauren and Cindy ran past stopping briefly to see if I was OK, I thanked them and told them to get going.
As I shuffled along the next mile or so I slowly felt better although uncomfortable. I was able to get back into a decent pace with a bit of a hitch. As I came up on the Al Cat's Lounge aid station it definitely helped. Music blasting, BBQ going, and everything from grilled cheese to bacon was available. Not to mention the dude who greeted me (photo right). Not sure of his name but he had a big smile and tons of encouragement (yellow shirt is Lauren and grey jacket is Cindy by the way).
I said my thank yous and kept moving, never stopping to eat or drink as I had what I needed. My foot was hurting but I was feeling better and the doubts were starting to go away. Unfortunately more roots and rocks kept jumping out of no where as I went down 3 more times over the next several miles. By mile 21 I was really struggling. At this point I actually stopped running and thought the best I could do was limp in the next 5 miles. After a few minutes of walking I realized it would take me close to 2 hours to finish at this pace and all of it would hurt like hell. Not to mention I knew Tani would be standing there freezing and worried. So I did what I could to pick it up, hobbling, shuffling or whatever to finish as quickly as possible (which also hurt like hell:). In the end I finished around 4:24. I have to say despite not finishing with the time I wanted this was amazing. Once again this experience showed me as did my first 50 miler back in September that when you think you can't take another step, YOU CAN! And look at everything I had waiting for me at the finish:
Tani above right.
Home made corned beef hash (at right mmmmmmmm!)
And a big fat toe (behind all the hair bottom right). Turns out I have a bone spur and arthritis (that should make the next few decades of running interesting).
FYI the race winners were:
Aliza LaPierre 7:19:15
Brian Rusiecki 6:27:55
Courtney Bell 3:58:48
Ben Nephew 2:54:45