Race Report: Merrimack River Trail Race 2016

There aren’t many races that I feel compelled to do every year, but this race was such an exceptional experience, I’m adding it to the list to try to do whenever possible. It was challenging enough to feel like a real accomplishment, fun without gimmick and an experience I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Short Version: 1:16:20, 12th woman overall.

All smiles post-race. Should have taken a shot of my shoes...yikes.

All smiles post-race. Should have taken a shot of my shoes…yikes.

Long Version:

I got to the race at about 8:00 am and after a quick porto-potty stop, headed out to warm up on the trail and was happy to find that at least the first mile (and thus mile 10) were totally runnable. The first few feet of the course were seriously muddy but then it opened up to dry pine needle or sand trail. I did 2 miles, took my Gu and a couple more sips of coffee then got in line to pee again. This is when I knew the race was going to be a blast. The Race Director, who is clearly a native given that I didn’t hear an “r” uttered all day, started heckling in the porto-potty line that everyone was on a time limit. It cut through the anxiety (although it was a pretty low key crowd) and made me relaxed going into the race. With just a couple minutes to go to the start, I decided to lose my long-sleeve because I was worried about overheating. EXCELLENT call on my part.

I knew the race funneled down to single track quickly, but when I saw the distance between the start line and the trail, I realized it was really quickly. Like 15 feet. I didn’t even bother to position myself near the front and decided I’d just try to get through the start cleanly (fall-wise, mud-wise was a foregone conclusion) and deal with the rest in the first mile. Although we did slow down significantly, I was running free within 30 seconds and didn’t have any trouble with traffic til much later in the race.

Given that I have a 10,000 meter on the track this coming weekend, I tweaked my race plan a bit to make sure that I didn’t totally crush my legs. From my course research, my plan was to tempo effort the first 3 (which were allegedly flat), survive the middle section then tempo effort the last 3. My knowledge of the course profiled was a bit off but I was proud to go through the first two miles in 6:27 and 6:28 and feel in total control. The course got harder in the 3rd mile with some mud and a few bigger hills and my pace dropped to 7:19 while my effort stayed constant. Mile 4 was even harder with hard but manageable climbs and some descents that scared the LIFE out of me. Area of Improvement #1: Learn how to tackle terrifying downhills. Enormous apologies to the guy behind me when I hit the brakes before sliding down the steepest hill I’ve ever attempted to run down. (This would become like the 4th steepest hill I’ve ever run down shortly…) I finished mile 4 in 7:41 and was proud that I was holding my pace. Trail running is fun!

Too soon, Sarah. Mile 5 starts with a bang. And by a bang, I mean a sandy climb called Powerline Hill that necessitates walking and occasionally the use of hands and knees. This is the first time I’ve walked in a race since Junior High and by later in the race, I was kicking myself for ever resisting it. By the time I got to the top of Powerline Hill (incidentally where spectators and cameras were…can’t wait for those photos), I was literally seeing stars and had some moments where I wasn’t sure my legs could go on. Incidentally, I wish I’d had a heart rate monitor on because I’m pretty sure it would have identified my actual max heart rate. I was stumbling over the trail, just trying not to fall down. Of course, what goes up must come down and I started down the other side, just praying I wouldn’t fall down because I was pretty confident I’d never get back up. Just about this time, the lead runners started coming back towards us so we started the game of “get out of the way.” In trying to get out of the way for a group of guys, I rolled my ankle hard enough to make it numb for a couple of miles, which impeded any hope of feeling confident over the terrain. As I made my way towards the turnaround, I realized that it had flattened out again and urged myself to pick it up. Area of Improvement #2: Don’t give up time on easy parts!

I went through the turnaround, was almost caught up to the woman ahead of me when I stepped in serious mud and SQUELSH. Off came my shoe. I had this ridiculous moment where I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do and literally stood there for about 10 seconds considering my options. Once I got it back on, I took off again but had lost sight of her and let my gap ahead of the next woman essentially close. I also realized that I’d forgotten to hit the split on my watch at the turnaround, so decided to just let it run til the mile 6 marker. At the next river crossing, I jumped into mud and SQUELCH again, as my left shoe ripped off. Area of Improvement #3a and 3b: Tie your shoes tighter than you could ever imagine and learn how to deal with river crossings cause clearly, mud isn’t the answer. My split for those two miles? 18:53. Seriously. It was hard…

The return trip over Powerline Hill and the rest of the big hills in mile 7 was much better as I stopped trying to run them and powerhiked them like everyone else around. SO much more comfortable. It was tricky to navigate around runners still heading out but people were incredibly polite and stayed to the side, although I’m sure my flailing arms and sliding feet encouraged some of that. Again, apologies. Rookie. Area of Improvement #4: Know when to hold em, know when to fold em walking wise. Mile 7 passed in 8:07 and I started to think I might just survive this race. Mile 8 was much more runnable although jumping onto bridges on tired legs was a little more sketchy than on the way out. I went through Mile 8 in 7:51 pace and as we hit the flat sections, picked it up to tempo pace, cruising through Mile 9 in 6:59. My last mile is what really made me so fricken proud of myself. As we hit the last mile (which is definitely the easiest in the course), I shifted gears again and worked on quick turnover (a feat in soaked shoes) and pressing onward while keeping things at high tempo effort and came home in a 6:32 last mile, just a couple seconds slower than I went out. I crossed the finish line in 1:16:20 with just the biggest smile. (This may have actually been in my head, I’m not sure what my face looked like…)

Coming into this race, I had hoped to run around 1:10 but after seeing the course, I realize that I was unprepared from a technical (and likely physical) perspective to do so. My downhill running skills are poor and I didn’t do a good job on the way out of managing my energy. All of that is not to indicate any unhappiness with how yesterday went. I’m brand new to trail racing and I’m thrilled to both have such a good experience and to feel pretty normal today, minus very tired quads. I didn’t think I was particular fit going into this race and although I’m clearly not sharp (see, giving up time on flats), my fitness is actually in a good place and I’m excited for the races ahead.

Splits:

Mile 1 6:27

Mile 2 6:28

Mile 3 7:19

Mile 4 7:41

Mile 5/6 18:53

Mile 7 8:07

Mile 8 7:51

Mile 9 6:59

Mile 10 6:32

 

2 thoughts on “Race Report: Merrimack River Trail Race 2016

  1. foxrunsfast

    That sounded like so much FUN!! So different!! Loved the honest recap and major kudos to you for picking it up so much at the end!!!!! Would have loved to have known your max HR 🙂 but sounds like you certainly got your effort to that point!!! Nice job!

    Reply
    1. Runner Under Pressure Post author

      It was a blast! I mean, there were certainly some moments where I regretted having gotten myself into it but it was so fun to race with few expectations and just enjoy.

      Reply

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