Tuesday, June 18, 2013

TARC 100

The Trail Animals Running Club from Boston decided that there needed to be a 100 mile race in Massachusetts. So Josh Katzman and Bob Crowley created one. They also held a 50 miler at the same time. 25 mile loops repeated four times (twice for the 50 mile, duh) with very minimal elevation change; start it at night so the heat isn't much of an issue until the end of the race; add in a few aid stations, a drop bag at the start/finish and mile 4.5 and go run 100 miles. Simple enough. Better yet, slap on a cheap price tag and you've got a really great thing going!

Photo Ron Heerkens

After my Massanutten fiasco, I needed some redemption and this seemed like as good of a time as any: I still had a high level of fitness, I wasn't sick, and seriously, why not just get a redemption race over-with rather than string it out.

I signed up the week before, figured out a carpool with David and headed up there on Thursday night amid tornadoes,  pouring rain and generally unpleasant weather. Boston also got rain...which is relevant to the story. David and I slept a decent amount on Friday but just lounged for the most part (I'm still unsure of the connection between David and the guy who lived there) before heading out to the park in Weston, Mass where the race was held.

The VHTRC had a decent presence with 6 or 7 runners coming for the inaugural event. Skipping menial details of what kind of bagel I ate with "blank" amount of minutes before the start time...the pre-race meeting started at 6:30 where the race director told us about a little mud out on the course. A little mud. He also told us that volunteers were out on the course all night in the pouring rain marking the course. This course's map looked like a nightmare with more turns than anyone would care to count. Though, out of all the races I've run, this one was marked the most effectively. There was no way anyone could have gotten lost. They did an awesome job at that. 

At 6:57 we all lined up on the starting line awaiting the start. There were A LOT of starters. Especially for a first year race. I was very impressed. I think there were about 280 starters between the 50 and 100. At 7:00 pm on the dot, we all took off....some of us much faster than others. Seriously. People bolted. The majority of us made our way around the initial 4.5 mile loop in a very loose pack before getting back to the start/finish and starting the bigger loop; though, not before getting our feet nice and wet in several spots on the mini-loop. I felt very relaxed, and a little bit distant. I just made sure that I ate when I needed to, drank when I needed to and took care of myself nice and early.

The turn-filled course. 
After reaching the start/finish I grabbed my head-lamps and headed out very relaxed. I ran with Glen Redpath, Jack Pilla and Eric Ahearn (fast marathoner, first 100) and several others who I knew to be reasonably fast guys. Amid the normal banter we slopped around in the mud that was about shin deep in some spots, the creeks that were waist deep in some spots, and the sweet sweet single track. Somewhere in there, we switched on our headlamps and the crowd thinned. Glen and a handful of others went ahead, some fell behind, and some spent a few more minutes at the aid stations than others.

Towards the middle of the first loop I needed to relieve my bladder so I pulled off the side of the trail to pee. I knew Jack was behind me about a minute but it was dark and I figured he'd just pass - no questions asked (this is not at all uncommon BTW). I heard him coming up behind me but just as he passed me he tripped on a root and narrowly missed landing in my stream. We each had a chuckle and moved on.

I finished the first loop having no idea where I was in the pecking order. It was 25 miles in, and I didn't care. I switched out my gel flask, added the Heed powder to my bottle and moved on. So far, the mud was "noticeable." Even "very inconvenient" in spots, but the magnitude of the toll the shoe-sucking mud was taking on the field of runners was unbeknownst to me. After the first loop, roughly 60 runners dropped out between the two races.

The second loop was run entirely in the dark. I ran every step I could, nice and easy, just being patient. One of the coolest parts of the course were all the times you cross paths with other runners. No one had any idea where the other runner was in the course or where exactly they were, but all night you could see headlamps to your left, right, above and sometimes below you. You never felt completely alone in the woods. 

Around the 35 mile aid station I came upon Jack and Glen running together. I stayed with them for a bit and left to run my own race. Jack stayed with me for a bit but as we were fording one of the deeper streams he jammed his leg on a stump. The scream he let out was undeniably one of agony. He said he was fine so we moved on. I didn't get a good look at it but I know he wrapped it in a big bandage and later dropped because of it. I finished the second loop in the lead. The top two 50 milers had finished and my shoes were filled to the brim with grit, grime, mud and pebbles. At the start finish I took off my shoes and rinsed them out, took out the insoles to rinse those off and made sure my socks were clear of rocks. It only took about a minute per shoe, but it was well worth the time.

While I was doing that, Glen came into the aid station and we left together. We did the 4.5 mile section together and I could gauge how he was doing. When we got back to the start/finish I ditched my headlamps and left quickly. I knew Glen was a very strong runner, and would surely finish very strong. So when I left I didn't look backwards, I didn't ask aid station workers how far back he was (until mile 90), I just kept running. 

The mud was becoming really difficult and made me realize that it turned this very easy course into one that was actually pretty difficult. Aside from the mud it was VERY runnable and I made sure to keep running everything in the third loop. On some sections there were large fields we had to cross. They really were very peaceful. High grass with a heavily traveled trail across them made for a good spot to glance over my shoulder to see a minute or two behind me. I always expected to see Glen's red hat and jersey bobbing towards me, but I didn't.

I started lapping a few of the runners while I was on the third lap. We exchanged pleasantries but I didn't feel  much like talking. To be honest, the third lap was lonely. I didn't spend any more than a few seconds at any aid station and I just wanted to be done running.

Arriving back at the start/finish completing 75 miles, Josh the RD was there and he helped me with rinsing out my shoes and insoles. I wanted to make sure I could run the last 25 without any issues (at least to start). Josh was a brave man even coming within 20 yards of my shoes at that point. They'd been wet for many many hours and I can't imagine how they must have smelled.

I ran the 4.5 mile loop and passed a few more people, always exchanging "hellos" and "good jobs." Despite the circumstances of the race with the mud and difficulty, I had an immense amount of admiration for the people who were just starting their third loop. They were in for a looooong 2nd 50 miles but they were smiling and laughing and talking with the people they ran with and looked like they were just having a grand old time...all while their feet were in the process of rotting.
Josh the RD

Shortly after I left the start/finish for the last 20 miles my left knee stopped bending. It was really painful, but I just figured it was because I'd twisted my right ankle on the second loop and unknowingly favored my left leg. I realized that as long as I was running, it was manageable, but walking made me want to puke, so I didn't really have a choice. When I arrived at Ripley #1 (I think about mile 85ish) I stopped moving my leg to fill my bottles and eat a banana. It was probably the worst decision I made all day; my knee froze.
I limped out of the aid station seeing stars and I instantly felt the pain all the way into my stomach. I knew if I could just get momentum for running again, I'd be fine, but the momentum just wasn't there. I came up on a group of 3 guys just as we came up on a fairly deep stream (upper thigh depth) with a sign that warned "unstable rock wall." Two guys opted for the rocks, a guy with a pony tail and green shirt opted for straight through the water and so did I. Green shirt made it across before I did but as I got to the deepest part of the stream my foot slipped beneath a rock and twisted my left hurt knee. I must have let out quite the yelp because the pony-tailed man didn't miss a beat. He immediately turned around and offered a hand. I took his hand and he yanked me straight out of the water. It all happened so quickly and my vision started blurring the pain was so striking. I think (and hope) I muttered a "thank you" before leaving. I knew that I had to start running before I had too much time to think about my knee. So if you're reading this, green-shirted-pony-tail man, thank you.

I continued on and left the Ripley #2 (mile 90) aid station after finding out I had about 20 minutes on Glen. I left just after a couple guys. I reached them just after a stroll across a big field that gave way to some really deep mud. On one of the big spots, I fell into a mid-thigh deep hole under the mud and it tripped me enough to cause me to belly flop and plunge my hand-bottle deep into the muck. The two guys behind me made sure I was okay, I thanked them and ran on. If it's a secret so far, I appreciated all the help from the people on the course.

The rest of the section until I reached 97 I was looking over my shoulder. 20 minutes would be a lot to make up but it would be doable if Glen decided to burn it, and I knew it was not beyond him to do that. From the last time I left the Gun Club aid station (97) I knew as long as I kept running I could win. It was a very relaxing feeling, even though I wasn't relaxed. I reached the last mile, and the insane amount of mud that it held. I didn't waste time dancing around the sides. I was now covered from shoulders to the soles of my feet in black mud. I had nothing to lose, nothing to hold back, and no reason not to swim in the stuff.

I crossed the finish line in first in a time of 19:35:46. Not a PR but given the day, I'll take it.
Photo by Topham Photography

To add to the dramatics of the race, Padraig Mullens caught Glen and took 2nd in the last 3 miles finishing in 20:09:05; Glen Redpath rounded out top 3 with 20:15:46. On the women's side, Donna Utakis 1st in 22:37:27, Sara Walsh 2nd in 25:26:37, and Katya O'Hagan was 3rd in 26:40:17.

There were about 135 finishers between the 50 and the 100 with an attrition rate of 60%. AND 100% finishing rate for VHTRC. What's up!

The TARC 100 was a first year event, but ran very smoothly and professionally. Thank you to the RDs, the volunteers and especially Josh, who cleaned my shoes and socks and dumped water on me at the end. Way above and beyond RD duty.