Back in January, before I joined acidotic RACING, I signed up for the Bear Brook Trail “Marathon”, a little 28 “ish” mile jaunt in the woods of Bear Brook State Park. Little did I know I’d get so close to a Boston qualifying time in my spring marathon. A few weeks ago, I decided to try my hand again during the summer. Unfortunately, the only race I could find was six days after Bear Brook. Luckily, I was able to switch to the half marathon at Bear Brook, to save some legs for the Around the Lake Marathon.
What a BEAUTIFUL course. Designer Ryan Welts, also of acidotic RACING, is known for making some of the most difficult race courses in NH, and you can often find him being sworn at by runners as they’re finishing his races. This, however, was an exception. There was one good sized hill in the beginning, (up and down) and the same hill in reverse at the end. Other than that it was the sweetest, most winding buffed out singletrack I’ve ever seen. The middle 8-9 miles ran like a dream.
I was planning on doing this as an easy long run, as the full is coming up in just a few days. So I didn’t taper at all, running my highest mileage in over a month the five days prior. I also did not eat or drink as I would in preparing for a race. I figured I’d just be at easy pace the whole way, and be fine with a handheld of Tailwind, possibly refilling at the last aid station.
We started fairly quickly, and I was recording race footage for the start, so I struggled for the first quarter mile trying to put my GoPro in the pocket of my handheld. Next thing I know I’m running in a small pack about thirty yards behind the main pack, and I notice there are no flags. I remarked on this fact, but we keep running, and I kept getting more nervous. After deliberating for a thirty seconds or so, we shouted to the leaders and turned around. A few seconds later, we saw the turn. Almost nobody made it! Everyone was just following the train of people.
This turn marked the start of the first of two Catamount climbs. See the course profile above. It was slow going for a few minutes, as we picked our way politely around other runners on the way up the mountain. The terrain was pretty technical and narrow, so choices had to be made quickly should an opportunity present itself.
Soon after the descent, I found myself settling comfortably behind a shirtless guy in an bandanna. I can sense I’ll be passing him eventually, but it’s nice to relax even more. This section was the most beautiful roller-coastering single track I’ve seen. It was fun to jog easily to the top of a climb and feel sling-shotted down and partway up the next hill. Near the end of this section, I passed him, and I looked back and saw two more guys behind him, in orange and black shirts.
The next section, looking at the profile, was gradually climbing, but it felt very flat, and I put a little distance on my two friends behind me whenever it straightened out a bit. This section was so much fun zigzagging back and forth and ducking shoulders around trees. I felt myself ease into the zone between east and marathon-effort occasionally through here, but the legs felt comfortable, so I let myself go a little bit. About at this point I passed a man in a green shirt, the first person I’d seen in awhile. This area was the most fun part of the race for me, and I’ll definitely be traveling back to Bear Brook just for long training runs!
At mile 7, at the manned aid station, I asked how far ahead the next person was, and was informed I was in the lead because others had cut off part of the course due to a wrong turn. She sounded a little unsure, but this put a pep in my step as I knew the guys in orange and black were only a minute behind me, and if I did have a lead, it was worth holding onto.
At this point I was pushing the pace into the low end of marathon pace. Not really where I wanted to be, but still comfortable and not anywhere as fast as I would have gone had I been racing it. I kept glancing back to keep tabs on the gents behind me. It’s not often I am in the lead in a race, as an inexperienced runner, but I don’t like it. It’s basically running scared, trying to build enough of a gap to cover for future limitations. In my case, I wasn’t willing to run too hard on the hills at the end of the race, and jeopardize the marathon on Friday. So I figured it’d be more economical to make up some time on the flat section.
I kept my effort on the low end of marathon pace, being mindful of the upcoming race and recovery time, and focused on making my footfalls as economical as possible, to not stress the legs too much. Around mile 9, I saw the last aid station, and cruised on through. I kept glancing back, but didn’t see anyone for at least 1/4 mile. This made me back off the pace a bit as the terrain started rolling more in preparation for the climb. I knew it would take a fast runner to make up 1/4 mile on trails when I was running sub-7 pace, and a fast runner should have been ahead of me already. As I entered the roller-coaster section before the hill, I rejoiced, but then remembered I’d be doing in the opposite direction, and trending uphill. Nowhere near as fun, but not too bad. I let my pace slow further here to keep things under control.
Near the end of this section, I saw a glimpse of someone in black behind me, and clearly gaining. Sometimes I swore I could even hear his footsteps right behind me. I boosted my effort level a little bit, but was soon faced with the hill. It’s really two hills, if you look at the profile. The hill wouldn’t have been an issue if I wasn’t worried about keeping my effort down. But I also wanted to stay ahead! I mixed running and walking up the hill to keep my heart rate in the marathon range, and started running the second I crested the hill. I flew down the other side as fast as the technical terrain would allow, trusting that anyone behind me would be struggling with the footwork in the same way. Fitness and leg speed were no help here.
As I popped out onto the dirt road to the finish, I dropped my effort level until I looked back and saw a guy RIGHT behind me. Really close. Impossibly close. I had no idea where he came from. I swore, and poured it on, running sub-6 up the hill to the finish. He jogged up a few minutes later, and it turned out he wasn’t even racing! So I wasted the effort, unfortunately.
I crossed the line in 7th overall, in a time of 1:49. (My road half PR is 1:36). I saw the top six hanging around eating bagels, and most had been there awhile. They told me they’d missed the whole first hill and cut onto the course further in, shortening the distance, and they told me that I probably won. That was no official word, just runners talking. My official place was 7th, and I’m happy with that, as I wasn’t racing for most of it; I just wanted to enjoy it. (And enjoy it I did!)
After the race:
I immediately jogged over to my car, drank my Ultragen, put on my 110% Compression for recovery, and put my legs up on the dashboard. I stayed for a few minutes, then went back to the finish line and saw a few other finishers finish. I took care of teammate Sarah’s dog Josie for awhile while talking to folks at the finish line, and met some people in person that I’ve virtually connected with, and cheered on the first 25 or so “marathon” finishers.
A few hours later, I went to leave. When I went to my car, the battery was dead. When the battery is dead, you can’t open the trunk. The battery is in a compartment in the trunk. Now, you can access the trunk from the inside very easily, but my car was full of stuff, and had been baking in the sun for a few hours. In addition, you have to lift up the floor of the trunk to get at the battery compartment. After much swearing and sweating inside the 100+° car, I got it done, started the car, and left it running for awhile while I said a few goodbyes.
Then I promptly drove to Mr. Macs, in Manchester, purveyors of the finest custom Mac and cheese I’ve ever tasted. You can get anything you want on it, and it’s not much more for gluten free! After chowing some of that recovery fuel, I drove the hour and a half home for a shower and a nap.
It’s now the day after the race, and my legs feel great. Although I pushed it a bit harder than planned, running easy for most of the early/middle part of the race worked out very well, and I finished with plenty left in the tank. I never got close to threshold pace, so I think I’ll recover pretty quickly.
My fourth marathon, 55 weeks after my first one, is on Friday!