Apr 302012

The 2004 Muddy Moose was the first trail race I ran in the US, just a few weeks after Emma and I moved to Maine from Scotland. Today was the 6th time I’ve run this race, which is more times than any other race I’ve done. Why? That’s a good question. To be honest, the course isn’t that great. Apart from a 1/3 mile stretch of single-track it’s mostly logging roads or Jeep trails with about 3 miles of dirt road. The whole race course is a bit contrived, I don’t think anyone ever says “hey, lets go for a nice run on the Muddy Moose course”. Races like 7 Sisters or the Escarpment Trail Run are seriously rugged races on legitimate trails that people hike or run throughout the year, but Muddy Moose puts people on terrain that no one would ever set foot on outside of this race. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad race, if it did then I wouldn’t go back almost every year along with so many other runners, including some of New England’s best trail runners.  The Muddy Moose seems to strike a perfect balance between absurd running conditions, good competition and the youthful joy of a good romp in the mud that people, myself included, find compelling.

On a personal competitive level I’ve also had a goal of breaking the 2 hour barrier at this race for a number of years:

2004 – 2:06:58
2005 – 2:02:51
2006 – injured and didn’t race, Jim Dunn broke 2 hours
2007 – 2:00:35 so close!
2008 – ran the Bull Run Run the week before so didn’t race
2009 – 2:14:57 the hot year
2010 – 2:07:33 under-trained
2011 – ran the Big A 50k instead

More than just about any other race course I’ve run this one seems to be effected by the weather (snowfall during winter and rain during spring) in ways that dramatically impact finishing times. While we all know that the early spring was unusually dry this year we had some heavy rain recently that left me uncertain about what to expect. I knew it wouldn’t be as wet as some previous years so I was optimistic that the combination of a solid winter and spring of training with a somewhat dry course would add up to less than 2 hours.

I was definitely a little nervous before the race today, mostly because of my goals, but I also bumped into Michael Wade and Steve Wolfe before the race. Not that I should get too hung up on what other people are running, but they were two faces that I recognized and I was guessing that they would be shooting for a similar time as me. I haven’t actually done much racing with either of them, but knowing that they are both solid 3 hour marathoners (and I am not) had me wondering if it would be wise for me to try and run with them. I took a fairly conservative position at the start, behind Steve and Michael, well behind the really fast guys (Tilton, Johnson, Freeman), and behind the pack of much younger guys who were mostly doing the 4 mile race. I really hoped to take it out easy today, but in typical gIANt style I ended up getting frustrated with the pack and kicked into a high gear pretty early.

The first 1/10th mile is on paved road, then downhill on a dirt road for a half mile before we enter the woods. Last fall there had been substantial logging in this part of the woods so the trail was nearly impossible to identify with a layer of woody debris scattered across a thick base of mud. Not long into the nastiness I found a runner coming straight at me, apparently going back to retrieve a lost shoe. I bumped shoulders with Steve as people seemed to be going every which way and that’s when I decided to just go for it. Screw the pussyfooting and just blaze down the middle of the mudfest. This worked to get me through the crowd, but also had me concerned that maybe I was burning through a little too much energy too soon. I also was starting to regret pulling away from Steve and Michael, figuring it was only a matter of time before they caught back up to me and I didn’t know if I’d be able to hang on once they passed.

At mile 2 the 4 and 14 mile races split off from each other and the big kids run along a stretch of dirt road for just over 1 mile. I turned my heavy wet feet over as quickly as I dared, not wanting to lose any of those places I so boldly took, but also trying to be mindful about not continuing the trend of going out too hard. As we neared the end of the dirt road my watch beeped a mile split and I looked at it for the first and only time during the race: 7:03. I wasn’t sure what to do with this information, it was a flat mile on hard packed dirt road so of course it should be fast, but was that too fast? Too slow? No time to analyze, it was time to climb. 200 feet up in about 1/4 mile on a “trail” covered with slippery dry leaves. I ran what I could, but it wasn’t much.

Once at the top of the escarpment I managed to get back into a run pretty quickly and the course then dropped back down about 250′ in the next mile on nice dry trail. There were three runners ahead I was attempting to chase down, and another two or three right on my heels. The next 1.5 miles were a gradual climb up about 400′ on terrain that was more rugged, although not too wet. Just before 5 miles the course branches off to the left where we run one side of a loop before re-joining the mostly out-and-back course. Then at about 6 miles there is a 1 mile loop that can be run in either direction and serves as the turn-around point in the race. It’s also the wettest part of the course.

I’ve run this loop in both directions and have been part of a lot of debate about which way is faster. I chose the counter-clockwise direction which features a gradual, totally runnable up, steep technical drop, then a short gradual climb. I think this is faster than the other direction which has you running (or attempting to) up the steep part. Kevin Tilton disagrees with me, and he set a course record today so maybe he’s right. Anyway, when I was roughly half way around the loop I saw two of the three guys I had been chasing coming towards me, but I had no idea if they were still ahead of me at this point, and when I exited the loop I couldn’t see anyone in front of me so who knows.

I did close in on another runner who had done the loop the same direction as me, but two others came up from behind and we had a fairly tight pack as we cruised back down the long, gradual 1.5 mile hill. This part was the most fun of the entire race, but all this fast downhilling was taking a toll on my legs. When it came time to switch gears and head back uphill I had a hard time making the transition. The lead woman in the race passed me and I couldn’t keep up with her running pace. Luckily I was able to hike at a pretty good clip so I didn’t slip too far behind, and I managed to keep ahead of the other guy who had been chasing me down. Back up to the escarpment, too tired to think about enjoying the view, I started to stress about what was going to happen when we hit the dirt road, and then the 1.5 mile mudfest after that. Down the slippery dry leaf-covered drop I managed to pull away from my chaser, and back on the dirt road I tried to catch back up to the lead woman and the other guy ahead that she had passed.

I was putting in a tremendous effort but my legs just weren’t responding the way I wanted them to. My shoes, socks and gaiters were soaking wet and caked in mud making my feet feel heavy and sluggish. Looking at my splits after the race I see that I ran the dirt road mile in 7:58 on the way back, 55 seconds slower than the way out. Of course there were 7 gnarly miles in between, but I’m not sure if that’s good or not. At the time it definitely didn’t feel good. Lucky for me everyone else must have been suffering as much as me because I managed to hold my position.

From the dirt road we turned back onto the mudfest trail for 1.5 miles of soggy slogging. On the way out there were probably less than 50 runners ahead of me, but on the way back I was running through mud that had been churned up by all 225 people on the way out and however many people there were ahead of me on the way back. What kept me going was the fear of an acidotic runner catching me in the final stretch of the race. Serves me right for going out too fast, but I really didn’t want to drop a place after running well for most of the race.

There were several groups of volunteers along the course and I was able to gauge the distance of the runners behind me by the lapse in time between them cheering for me and the next person. It was uncomfortably close, but I didn’t dare turn back to see who was there. I wasn’t about to take my eyes off the mud and splintered forest debris in front of me.

When I finally came out of the woods and hit the dirt road it was only 1/2 mile of uphill “sprinting” to go. I actually managed to close in on the guy in front but didn’t have enough to catch him. The combination of chasing and being chased served as great motivation throughout the race and right up to the finish. I didn’t look at my watch until after I crossed the line, having absolutely no idea of what my time was going to be and I was totally surprised to see that I had broken the 2 hour barrier by a substantial amount. While there was definitely less water on the course than in some previous years the mud seemed to be just as thick and nasty as ever. I’d like to think that my time is mostly due to better training, but I can’t totally discount the course conditions, and of course give credit to the other runners who motivated me from in front and behind.

time: 1:50:09
distance: 13.14 miles
pace: 8:22
place: 16/93


weather: high 40’s, sunny, windy

conditions: thick mud, not much water, plenty of dry trail

gear: Inov-8 Roclite 295, Inov-8 gaiters, socks, shorts, singlet, hat

 Posted by at 8:23 am

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