The morning of Saturday, May 10, saw the inaugural running of the Thom B Trail Runs 52K. The event itself has taken place for the past 14 years as a 13K and 26K that are part of the Finger Lakes Runners Club Trail Circuit, but this was the first time the four lap, 52K race was held. The plan was to shoot for a five hour finish, while using the race as a long training run to test gear and fueling strategies for the upcoming Cayuga Trails 50 three weeks later. I did not intend to race hard today, and aimed 5:00, or 1:15 per loop.
At 7:00, fourteen trail enthusiasts took the starting line for the four loops through Hammond Hill State Forest in Dryden, NY. Consisting of dirt roads, single track, ski trails and snowmobile trails, I was expecting a muddy slogfest due in no small part to the heavy rain of the previous two days. After a few words of caution and a few more of thanks, the early morning din of chirping birds and rustling leaves was suddenly disrupted by the RD's shout of "Thom B says go!" followed by the shouts and cheers of the fourteen of us runners.
The course started off uphill on a dirt road. The leader took off and (spoiler alert!) I never saw him again until the finish line. Another runner and I settled into a "chase" pack at a comfortable pace and chatted for most of the first 13K / 7.8 mile loop. To the delight of my shoes and socks, the mud was minimal and the trails were entirely runnable. Towards the end of the loop, I took a short walking break and dropped back into third while keeping the second place runner in my sights. A short time later, as I came into the aid table at the end of loop one in 1:12, I glanced second place rounding the corner on the dirt road incline. After quickly refilling my water bottle I was off again, but the other runner was already well out of sight.
I began walking more of the inclines on the second loop, as I realized the 1:12 opening lap was way too fast. I needed to conserve energy and water. I slowed down enough for a 1:18 second loop, hitting 2:30 at the halfway mark, right on pace. It was around the 3:00 mark, midway through loop three, where the wheels fell off and I crashed hard. At mile 18, I felt as if my energy was quickly depleting and by mile 20 I was all but finished. Up to that point, I had been fueling solely with the homemade Xocolatl Energy Balls from Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run. I felt unable to stomach another ball and downed half a PBJ at the next aid station I came to, then proceeded to slog through the rest of loop three in 1:24. My fiancee Hayley met me here for some encouragement, and I gained a short-lived resurgence of energy. Less than a minute later, I was once again walking up that damn dirt road.
With a 5:00 finish all but impossible and second place nowhere in sight, I decide to push on through loop four and simply try to maintain a third place finish. I hadn't seen another runner since the end of loop one, and had it in my weary mind that third was pretty much wrapped up. This still seemed the case until mile 29, when I was promptly dropped by a 52K runner who was running along with a 26K runner at a pretty decent clip. I struggled to keep them in view but decided it wasn't worth an all-out effort at this point. Soon after they pulled away, I was passed again and fell to fifth. I walked for a bit and finally made one last push during the final mile, all downhill, finishing in 5:36.
Coming down the final stretch I definitely looked better than I felt.
(Photo: Dan Lopata)
Although the race was tougher than expected and I finished much slower than what I thought was manageable, it was a positive experience none-the-less. As a "B race," the 52K was a solid final long run before officially tapering for the CT50, and allowed me to test my new Ultimate Direction handheld bottle. Even better was the sense of camaraderie on the trail with the other runners, volunteers and spectators. It felt as if everyone was there to simply enjoy the outdoors while keeping the competitiveness to a minimum. Walking slowly back up the trail to the parking lot with a fellow trail runner, I took one last look around to appreciate what a spring morning in the woods had to offer.