Saturday November 5th, 2011
It had been 6 long years since i'd made the trek down to the GAC stomping ground in Ipswich, MA. Last time, it was a frigged lonely solo race. I had a cold, and i struggled through two laps. This year, after being pier pressured into signing up for the race at the last minute, i'd be running with 6 or 7 ultra buddies along with having many many more miles of training under my belt.
For those unfamiliar with the race the 50 milers and the marathoners all line up on the edge of a massive sports field and take off into the dark. The marathoners having to do an extended lap around the field and down the road n back to make up the extra 1.2 miles needed to tack onto our two 12.5 mile laps through the state park. Grant and I fall in line as we tend to do and shoot the breeze. Our conversation interupts from time to time when the crowd yells from in front. "bench!" or "swingset!" and the pack splits around whatever obstacle blocks our path. One older fella turns with a disgusted look and says to us "This needs a cone!"
Grant, myself, and the rest of the pack shrug, run around it, and go about our day. We laugh about how he must be a road runner, because a trail runner wouldn't get hung up on anything foolish like that.
As we work our way down the road we shoot the breeze about how Grant had just got power back for the first time in a week after the unexpected early snow had knocked out much of southern NH. I told him about how i hooked up my new transfer switch and should be able to power all essential items in my place. Blah blah blah, boring i know, but it helped pass the out and back on the flat straight pavement and before you knew it we had ducked back into the woods.
We were following what seemed like an atv trail just off but paralleling school grounds 50 feet away from where we started. I heard the whoops from a few runners ahead but didn't notice the giant puddle until my left foot was ankle deep. So much for my new shoes being new. Yes, like a fool, i had purchased new shoes after the VT50, but couldn't have been bothered in even putting them on before this morning.
The sun is rising and the trail is slowing lighting up more and more. After shedding a few layers we're finally able to ditch our headlamps and start enjoying the trail. I had forgot how much fun this course was. Funny what time does to the mind. I swore i'd never come back for years after the last time. Leah, Peter, Grant, Loni and I all swapping leads depending on what the terrain was like. One of us would cut off for a bathroom break and the other would jump right into the conversation like we'd been running together for years.
Grant and I started talking about our strategy in the upcoming Halloweenie race. Which then of course turned into a, well lets take our Cinco De Mile run and add food to it. Which soon turned to even more bad ideas. Other ultra runners will understand what running in the woods for 26 miles with 5 of your closest crazy friends will do. Grant mentions his friend that was growing ghost peppers. "Enjoy your colostomy bag," Leah chimes in with the quote of the day. A few turns later and we got to the water crossing. It was pretty awesome. I'm not going to lie. I love water crossings. It really separates trail runners vs road runners. The poor souls that showed up hoping for a flat marathon in the woods would be bitching for the rest of the day.
(Crossing lap 1)
(Same Crossing, Looking back, Loni close behind)
Soon after the crossing you pop out into Al's Cat Lounge where we are greeted with a ton of volunteers and smiling faces. Grant and I joke with the volunteers and how they must be holding out on us because there isn't any beer out yet. "Next lap" we're promised. We top off our water bottles and take off chasing the rest of the group weaving through the single track.
A few miles of single track later, before we popped out into the second aid station, I let the group run ahead and i ran off trail to snap a photo and take a breather. It's spots like this and times like that where i really appreciate to do what i do. Perfect silence. Sun rising the background. Cool, crisp, natural beauty.
(Swamp Mirror Reflection)
Before too long we're heading back to the start. Peter and I having some GI issues were pining for the school and a restroom. We jetted ahead and before long we were crossing the beaver pond that you could hop from rock to rock to get across without getting wet if you were careful.
(Navigating the wet trail)
Back at the start after our first lap the winners of the marathon (two lap-ers) came screaming in. I know, some runners would feel shame, or whatever about these guys. Personally, i have too many interests to train like these guys train. For a road runner, i'm sure there is a cash hand out. To many a trail runner, a win means nothing more than the first pick of sizes at a finishers jacket. And that's why I'm a trail runner.
I made a b line for the rest rooms before anyone else came to our drop bags. Peter was close behind, as was the rest of the gang. I promised that we wouldn't leave without him. Funny part of the day was when one of the volunteers said. "Breakfast is on." while pouring a massive pot of bacon into a warming dish while i was getting some water. I of course looked at my running mates and said....bacon?? And of course went for a strip or two. "Protein, fat, salt. I'm down in all of those." I joked with the aid station crew.
(Everything is better with bacon, even marathons!)
With daylight on the first part of the second lap it seemed like everything was new. I got to snap a photo of the corkscrew tree/vine that was a bit hard to see on the first lap.
Loni was shocked that she was keeping up with us. She is not the fastest runner, but currently she was the most trained of the group. She hadn't gone out of the gate too fast, but like the wild cat description i gave her many a month ago, she'd closed the gap. And passed us with silent grace while we'd fool around in the aid stations.
(Sunny Single track)
Loni volunteered to run through the water crossing on the second lap before us to record this pretty awesome footage. Leah and Peter out in front. Then Grant and I playing like a couple of kids. It's pretty awesome.
Like last lap, you ran just far enough to warm up your legs from the crossing and you'd pop out at the first aid station of the lap. This time I needed water in my pack for the first time. While the friendly volunteer poured the pitcher into the bladder i had taken out of my pack he asked me if there was anything else he could get me?
"Yeah, how about that IPA you promised on the last lap?" To which i didn't get a smile, but a shocked, "OF COURSE!" I said id' split one with that guy, pointing ahead to Grant further down the table, still in shock of how responsive he was. "Anything else i can get you? a shot?" I smirked...."sure what the hell." Before i could finish answering the fella had called around the ez-up tent to another guy. Who emerged and said, "you want some 'booka?" in the thickest accent i have ever heard. I'm 18 miles into a trail race, the sun is out, i'm running with my best friends. With the biggest smile i had on my face responded to this guy, "is the sky blue?"
Loni and Peter had headed down the trail. Grant, Leah and I were enjoying the open bar. Marathon? What Marathon? God we're a bunch of jokers.
(Beer at mile 17? What "wall")
Uh oh, i started hitting a sugar low and the pack started pulling away. I took a recap of what i had eaten all day. Only one gu, 2 strips of bacon and two drinks. I quickly slammed down 2-3 GUs and chugged a bunch of water. This is what i ALWAYS run into when i do these race with a group of people. I lose track of what I need to do and blow up. Today obviously was no different. So i paused, looked up and took in the scenery as the sugar and carbs got into my system.
(Looking skyward as the gang pulls ahead)
As the much needed fuel starts hitting my system i start to run again. I catch the gang quickly and just as quickly, surprising to me, i dart ahead. WAY ahead. And i actually wait at the next aid station for a good 5-6 minutes for the rest of the gang to catch up to me. I later find out that Leah had a rock in her shoe and was digging it out on the side of the trail.
Leah darted in and out of the aid station like a rocket. Peter was amazed and said that he had to get her before she burned out miles from the end. I said it was ok, and that she'd slow down on her own terms, and that she had other things on her mind. But like a stubborn father protecting his offspring, like my father many a time with me, he went after her and slowed her down. It made me really miss my dad and i was bummed he couldn't have been here today.
(I think the flagging on the tree sums it up)
After passing through the last field we could hear the honking in the distance. THE CAR! that i had rememberd so well. The mascot, the horn, the corney music, the booze! The memory of 6 years prior came flashing back to me as i rounded the corners.
(Cat Coffee Car)
Cat - "What can i get you guys? Coacoa? Coffee? Kahlua?"
Me - "How about one of them there PBRs my furry friend?"
A beer and a few turns later the 4 of us were crossing the finish line. I was about to hand my gear to Leah and run back out to see where Loni was only to find out that she was seconds behind us. We were all a little bummed that we didn't see her first and we could al finish together. A few hamburgers and hot dogs later we all parted ways until another time. A new yearly staple? Perhaps?
Leah - 6:27:28
Peter - 6:27:28
Grant - 6:27:28
Josh - 6:27:28
Loni - 6:30:52