Monday, May 29, 2017

Thom B 52k Trail Run 2017

With Cayuga Trails 50 just over the horizon, I signed myself up for the Thom B Trail Runs 52k. The small, local race is a four-looper around Hammond Hill State Forest. It would serve as a supported long run three weeks out from CT50, giving me a chance to test out gear and fueling in a race situation. One week prior to the Thom B, I committed to throwing caution to the wind and actually racing the 52k rather than running it leisurely. Hayley and I were leaving the next day for a week's vacation in the Pacific Northwest. I figured I wouldn't be running much during the R&R and would have plenty of time to recover from a harder 31-mile effort.

With that in mind, I find myself at the starting line on a drizzly Saturday morning, staring up a rutted-out, mud-soaked dirt road with the goal of running under 5:00.

T-minus two minutes to liftoff, and all of the sudden RD Joel,comes roaring up Hammond Hill Road in a rented box truck. He hops out the cab way too cheerfully for someone who's getting soaked in the rain at 6:58 a.m. and has already been setting up aid stations for the past hour. Joel—alter ego Mr. Hector, har har—hollers some pre-race announcements about how all us mild-mannered trail runners become fools the second we pin on a race bib, and reminds us not to do anything foolish like getting lost in the forest. Our main job is to ensure that the Search and Rescue team stays bored all morning.
Joel is joined by Co-RD Shelly "Miss Management" Merino, and then one of the runners is then introduced as a personal friend of Thom B. He tells a story about training for a marathon with Thom "Bugs" Bugliosi, a top-level local trail runner who passed away at a young age in 1991. (The race is held in Thom's memory.) After a round of applause, Joel casually instructs the antsy group "okay, now get out of here." 

We immediately begin running, jogging, and slogging up the sloppy slope. Scotie Jacobs blasts off like a rocket and rounds the first turn. I don't expect to see him again until the finish. Mike Welden—a Rochester guy who recently ran the Breakneck Point 42k in under 6:00, and is therefore way more fit than me—storms the hill as well. I keep Mike in my sight until the first left turn into the woods, where he then vanishes into the winding singletrack. I soon find myself alone in third place, where I hope to remain. 

A solid night of rain left Hammond Hill State Forest in less-than-desirable conditions. Some spots along the trail contain ankle-deep standing water, and there is plenty of slick mud that will get churned up all butter-like by the third and fourth loops. Not that thick, shoe sucking muck, but the watery, slippery mud that can end your day with a grapefruit-sized ankle if you forget to tread carefully. If the 52k runners fail to mash things up enough, the 13k and 26k runners are sure to finish the job when their races start three hours later. 

Four miles into the loop is a section of trail I dub Crocodile Mile. It's a very fast and runnable downhill where you can really open up and gain some momentum, descending into a soft bed of pines. Rather than an inflatable water pool, a sizable mud pit sits at the bottom to kill whatever momentum you just mustered up. I try to plow right through in the Altra King MTs, but it's like trying sprint down a runway made of flypaper. 

I finish the first of four loops in 1:08—well ahead of 5:00 pace, but way too fast to be sustainable. Earlier in the week I had run a single 7.8-mile loop in nearly the same time, and it felt like a ton of work. This time it feels easy, but I know I won't be able to hold the pace. Joel tells me Scotie already has an 8-minute lead, and that Mike is about 3 minutes up. There's still no sign of anyone behind me. 

Mid-way through loop two, I catch a toe and face-plant a mere inches from disaster. Upon rising and wiping away some mud, I realize my face hit the dirt only a few inches from a fresh pile of manure. Yikes. Nothing is hurt except my ego, and now I can brush it off on Crocodile Mile. Holy crap, Mr. Hector and Miss Management forgot to warn us about that one!

The next several miles are uneventful as I try to maintain an even effort on the rolling hills. There are no major climbs and the entire course is runable, but it never stays flat for very long. I finish Loop 2 in about 1:13, giving me 2:21 for the first half.

I can tell I'm slowing significantly on Loop 3, wanting to walk hills that I'd previously run, and really pushing myself to keep running. By now the rain has stopped, but I can feel the mud sapping my energy as I struggle on some of the slicker sections. My main motivation is to avoid getting caught and giving up third place this late in the race, as I did when I ran the Thom B in 2014

"Fourth loop, same as the first. I little bit slower and a little bit worse." I finish Loop 3 and learn that Mike is 7 minutes ahead. I can still take third and break 5:00, but I'm gonna have to work for it. Throughout the entire loop I brace myself to get passed, but the blow never comes. With a few miles to go, I expect Phil Maynard to come screaming by en route to victory in the two-loop 26k. Instead, I charge hard downhill for the final two miles without seeing a soul.

I finished the 52k in 4:57, only about two minutes ahead of the next finisher. Digging deep on Loop 4 paid off then. Soon after, Phil came flying in to win the 26k in just under 2:00. Afterward, Mike told me that he crashed hard and walked quite a bit on his last loop, finishing only one minute ahead of me. I'm not sure I could have run a minute faster even if I knew at the time how close I was to nabbing second. (Race results.)

The Thom B gave me the confidence I need as I begin tapering for Cayuga Trails. The gear combo worked well—all my own food packed in the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 3 Belt, and a 20 oz. Ultimate Direction handheld. The Altra King MT did pretty well in the muddy conditions, but I plan on wearing the Salomon Sense Pro 2 at Cayuga where the course will be much drier.

The Thom B is the Finger Lakes Runners Club's first trail race of the season. Thanks to Joel and Shelly for putting everything together, along with the rest of the FLRC volunteer crew! 

Some mischevious imp tried to lead poor Boris astray.

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