Sunday, May 16, 2010

Soapstone Mountain Trail Race

I've always wanted to run the Soapstone Mountain trail race.  Well, at least since I've been running trails which is a long time.  Why haven't I run it previously?   I guess I got hooked on ultras and stopped running shorter races.  I'm much more competitive at longer distances, but lack of training time has required me to re-evaluate.  So, this year I will be an ultra pacer and a trail racer.  Having knocked off Northern Nipmuck and Seven Sisters, I was keen to see how I would fair at Soapstone.

First, Deb and Scott Livingston and all the volunteers (including Goat and Dagmar) did an awesome job.  The course was well marked and I only missed one turn (more on that later), but it was not a major issue.
I was excited to run for a few reasons: 1. I can finally wear my contact lenses again, so I could actually see some things.  2. It appeared that this course would be more runnable than 7 Sisters or N. Nipmuck, and it was!  3. I felt liked donkey dung the day before 7 Sisters, and my performance showed.  I was exhausted that week and had not been running.  This would be different as I had put in 3 runs this past week and my stress and energy levels were much better.

So, I had a few goals in mind as usual.  First, I looked over the previous year's results and figured I had a reasonable shot to break 2 hours if things went well.  I figured that would give me a Top 20 finish.  More importantly (putting aside the numbers), I just wanted to run a smart, solid race and feel good about it afterwards.  I was really hurting after the previous 2 races and did not finish terribly strong.

I had planned to start off easy and try to keep Rich Fargo (who I affectionately refer to as the Legend based on all his trail running victories in years past) and John Agosto (Shenipsit Strider V.P.) in sight.  It takes about 4 miles to warm up and get my breathing normalized, and I didn't want to crash and burn.  The race started, and it seemed like 30-40 people bolted off like maniacs.  Later, Dagmar said I was one of them, but I really tried to run at a reasonable pace.  I tucked in behind John A. and watched the Legend (Rich) pull away from us.  I hung behind a small group and took it easy walking up to the summit.  People passed, but I knew I'd see them again.  On the descent, I passed John A. and a few others and found myself leading a small pack.  Great!  Now I have to watch for the trail markers.  This went well for awhile until I missed a turn.  As soon as I missed it, I suspected something was up.  After a couple hundred feet down the trail, I saw the Legend running towards me asking if we were lost.  Yep, it appears we are.  Rich wasn't sure so turned and kept going the wrong way while the rest of us backtracked.  Once we found the turn, I let out a big yell to Rich and hoped he heard me.  Meanwhile, I was now at the back of a group of 6 runners that I had worked hard to distance.  OK, no biggie....just be patient and work your way back up there.

I moved my way up gradually, and then saw John A. take a hard fall.  Ouch!  He bounced up and tucked in right behind me, so figured he was OK.  Before I knew it, I was back in front leading this group toward the halfway point.  I heard some heavy breathing (which is a surprise because my breathing was damn loud) come up behind me, and turned to see the Legend pull up beside me.  Damn, the dude is strong.  I acknowledged his impressive ability to catch back up to us, and then asked how far he thought we had run.  He thought we were around the 6 mile mark which indicated that we were on sub-2 hour pace (50 minutes had elapsed).  I felt pretty good about it, but wondered if I could hold it together at that pace.  The Legend slowly pulled away, and I tried hard to keep him in sight.

I stopped for a drink at the 7 mile mark and lost sight of Rich as I suspect he didn't stop for water.  After descending a wet stream bed, I caught a glimspe of Rich and another runner.  I had been seeing this young, tall kid with a white shirt for awhile now and wondered if I could catch up to him.  Never did!

On the return, John A. and another runner were on my tail.  I stopped briefly to get a sip of water at an unmanned aid station, and they caught up to me.  I stayed a couple steps ahead and just tried to stay with my pace.  I was tired, but felt like I could keep it together.  I told myself to think positive, relax, and run at my pace.  This seemed to work as I put some distance on the others.  A little while later, I heard another runner behind me, but he seemed to be a little way back.  At that point, I lost the trail again and had to stop and look around.  The runner caught up to me just as I saw a trail marker and off we went.

This young guy with a Nathan water pack hung on my tail for the rest of the race which was at least 4 miles at that point.  He was with me step for step.  We didn't talk at all.  My stride felt good and I was determined to run my race whether he passed me or not.  With 2.9 miles left I grabbed a cup of water, and he went to pass just as I started to run again.  We each tried to oblige the other, and he insisted that I go first.  He said, "I like your pace".  OK, no problem, let's do it.  I knew we had to go back up the mountain, and tried to pace myself.  After awhile, I saw Rich come flying down a hill and thought, "OK, this must be our ascent".  It was, and then it was our turn to fly down the hill.  I'm a reasonably good technical runner, so figured I could put some distance on him at that point...but he hung in there.  We then hit the pavement, and I figured he would make his move.  I pushed hard knowing we were near the finish.  He still hung in behind me.

I charged as hard as I could, and saw Clint walking along the road.  I begged Clint to tell me how far to the finish and he said less than 1/2 mile.  Great...just keep it together.  The guy was still right there.  I hit the last uphill into the field and sprinted toward the finish.  I crossed the line and my time was 2:00 from what I could tell from my watch.  Nice!

The young gun pulled in about 10-20 seconds after me, and we gave each other a big fist bump and a pat on the back.  It always great when you battle it out with someone and then bond with them afterwards.  We chatted and he thanked me for setting the pace and letting him run off the back.

A few minutes later John Agosto finished and we also celebtrated our good runs and shared some thoughts.

The Legend had finished a couple minutes ahead of me, and immediately started talking me into running Escarpment.  Umm!  Let me think about it.

While eating a bit of awesome vegetarian chili from Deb's Mom, I learned that I had finished 17th place overall....not too shabby.  When the results came in, I learned that I finished 4th in my age group, and the first 3 places get awards.  I wasn't disappointed though.  I ran a good race, felt good afterwards, and even feel quite good many hours later as I type this post.   No stomach cramps or nausea.  Life is good!

I did not run with a waterbottle and was glad I did not carry one.  There was plenty of water on the course.  An electrolyte drink would have been nice, but I really didn't want to carry the weight.  I was concerned about bonking, but managed to keep it together.

Overall, a fantastic day!  The Shenipset Striders put on a great race, and I really enjoyed the course.  While quite technical, it is very runnable.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will definitely be back.  I recommend this race to all.  It's great for the neophyte as well as the seasoned veteran.   There is also a shorter race (6K?) called the Sampler which should be an excellent intro race.

Great weekend!  Hope you enjoyed the awesome weather as well.  Now, off to planning the next adventure!




Dan said...

Great race Steve. I love that course,except for the first hill! :-)

Dawn A said...

Sounds like you've still got it. Good idea to try running without a bottle. Thanks for the report.