Saturday, April 5, 2008

2008 Northern Nipmuck Trail Race

The 2008 Northern Nipmuck Trail Race was a wonderful way to kick-off Spring. My good friend and ultra guru, Jim Campiformio, is the Race Director, and puts on a great event. The weather was almost perfect for trail racing. It had rained for the past couple days, so we knew the course would be slick and wet, but the temp was in the upper 40’s and the skies were overcast (just the way I like it). I was number 95, so there was a pretty good group at the start. Jim said some prepaid folks didn’t show, but there must have been about 100 runners there. I elected to go with a short sleeve top and shorts while many seemed over dressed.

It was fun to see some of my old and new friends. I saw Charlie, a guy I used to coach with in Youth Soccer. Jim’s friend, and former Race Director of Northern Nipmuck, Rich was there. I saw 2 of Jim’s daughters. Scott and Deb Livingston were there as well as Rich Fargo, the Legend of Trail Running in these parts. Rich has won Escarpment more times (8) than anyone in the history of the race. Bruce, a new friend, who is pacing Mark Buongiorno at VT100 this year, was also there.

I had to smile at the start. Jim had everyone walk up a double track slope and told them to turn around. Deb Livingston asked where the actual start line would be located. Jim said, “Right where you are standing…..Ready, Go! Typical Campiformio…I had to laugh. People in a road race would freak if that happened. Trail runners are different folk, and I like them.

The first mile is a long climb which is initially single track, then switches to a swampy double track, then back to single track. Some folks try to sprint out front to get good position. I made that mistake 6 years ago and paid the price. This year I was a little more cautious. I started behind Deb and Scott and in front of the Legend (Rich). Rich passed me before the double track and I passed Deb and Scott. My plan was to watch Rich and see if I could stick with him without blowing up early. He got a bit ahead of me, but I kept catching glimpses of him. He was fairly cautious on the technical terrain, and I would gain ground on him there.

My initial plan was to wear my glasses, since my contacts had been getting very loose (floating around in my eye) while running lately, but the weather looked too iffy for that strategy. I don’t know how I survived, but I absolutely flew down the hills. I took was spill on this section, but it was minor.

I passed 1-2 people and caught up with Rich just before the 4 mile mark (actually more like 3.6 according to all the new GPS gizmos). Rich had taken off his long sleeve top, so I figured he was either suffering or meant serious business.

After the aid station, I was right on his tail and there was a guy right on my tail. We rambled up and down and walked parts of hills. The guy behind me passed us both, and we all passed a couple young guys who made the mistake of hammering the start. Rich would get a lead on me at times, but I’d catch him on the technical stuff. We were near the top 10 at this point.

We started seeing the leaders on this out-and-back course about 0.5 miles from the turnaround (just a guess). I crossed paths with the 3rd place guy and then wiped out hard on my left side while trying to hurdle a big rock. Ouch! About 0.1 miles from the turnaround I saw Rich and another guy about 30 feet in front of me. I caught up to them at the turnaround and tucked in behind Rich on the way back. He had a smooth pace going and I agreed with his choices on walking spots. We had clocked in at 1:07 at the turn, so I knew we were on a good pace. We passed a lot of people who were coming in and cheering for both of us. We were really hammering the pace and I felt really strong. Someone said we were running 10th and 11th or something.

I had meditated this morning on the race. I didn’t meditate on a time or a place, but just visualized myself running with great form and at ease (like a gazelle). I guess the stuff works because I felt like a world-class runner (at least in form). I was moving well. I don’t mention this to brag…it’s just that I am usually a nervous wreck before a race and feel like I am fighting the course the whole way. Today was better.

Rich would get a little lead on me and I’d catch up. It was a crazy game, but I preferred to be the one in back as there was less pressure on me.

I scrambled up the last hill before the ¾ mark to catch up with Rich and then followed him about 150 feet down a wrong path. Arghh! I miss that turn everytime!!!

I told Rich which way to go, but he elected to try to bushwack across rather than go back up. I dropped back one place at this point which really bummed me out as I had worked hard to put distance on that guy.

We pulled into the aid station together, but Rich was nowhere in site. The weather was getting warmer, so I made sure to take a good drink before heading off.

The young guy got ahead of me out of the aid station and I had to be patient and wait for a chance to pass. I knew we had several uphill sections and wanted to make sure I didn’t blow up and blow the race.

I would speed walk the steep hills and he would run without gaining anything on me. I loved the fact that I was conserving energy per Coach Jimmy’s instructions. Our pace was slow though and I needed to pass. I took a chance and he graciously let me slip by near the top of a big hill. I quickly put some distance on him and was running alone.

I had one more big climb and then it was all downhill. I looked at the clock and thought I would come in around 2:20 depending on how fast I ran the last downhill section.

I continued to be conservative on the up hills (possibly too much) and walked a bit on the last one. I checked and saw no one in sight, but worked the pace on the rolling sections to be sure to stay ahead.

I finally made it to the big downhill and opened it all up. I ran as fast as I dared and just prayed that I would not fall. A wipe out at this speed could mean a trip to the hospital.

After surviving the single track and flying through the double track, I had one more steep, technical downhill. I blew through it and was elated to see 2:18 still on the clock as I hit the finishing stretch. I think I finished under 2:18:50 (9th place) which was good work in my book. There was no one anywhere in front of me, so there must have been quite a gap between me and Number 8.

The other guy and Rich came in a couple minutes after me. We complimented each other on good races, and then headed back to the food tent. Jim puts on a good spread, but there wasn’t much for a Vegan to eat. I had a bagel and pretzels and a couple bottles of water. Jim was helping a young gun who had really gashed his leg pretty good. We also heard that one of Charlie’s folks broke an ankle (or something of that nature). Bummer!

This race was a test of my fitness and I passed with flying colors. I ran 2:30 and felt like hell afterwards in 2002. This time I felt fairly fresh and know I could have run a few minutes faster.

My goal was to see if my training and diet were paying off and I was very pleased with the results. I rested well this past week so that I could put in a good effort. My body has been taking a beating from all the mileage and hard training, so it was nice to have a break.

It would be nice to see if I could break the 3 hour mark for the marathon now, but I’m not sure how that will fit in with my training for VT100.

At times, I question whether I’m wasting a lot of time with this running. Now, I’m racing guys half my age, and wonder if I should be doing something more important with my time. There were times today where that did not matter. I was flying on the trails and it felt great. I ran with a Legend, and that felt great….Rich is 5 years older than me and runs to work and back everyday (including all 5 days this week). So, finishing ahead of him by a couple minutes is also a testament to him. Can you imagine how fast he would run if he rested for a couple days?

Nevertheless, 15 years ago Rich was winning the big races, and I was happy to put in my 2-5 miles a few times per week. I never considered myself a gifted runner and never expected to be finishing races near the top. I was happy just to finish. Today’s race meant something to me. It was probably like Billy Crystal signing a 1 day contract to play with the Yankees except this was real. I was running with the best because I had earned it. I put in the miles and now I was one of them. No, I didn’t hang with the young bucks up front, but I finished in the Top 10 and was one of the leaders in the 40-something crowd. It felt great!

I know that the longer distances treat me even better, so my hopes are running high for VT100.

I said goodbye to Jim and told him he put on a great race. W talked about doing a training run together and I said that would be great….just like old times!


BillRunz said...


Great summary of your race! You pumped me up just reading it. Sounds like you are peaking really well for VT100 - you rick, buddy!


Ultra Steve said...

Thanks Bill! I didn't realize you were reading the blog. Hope to catch you guys for a training run sometime soon.

Scott said...

Great race report Steve! I would agree with you that your training and diet are obviously paying off, as your run was incredible! I hope some off your ability rubs off on me during a training run...

Great blog!