Nov 132012

by Tom Whitaker

This report is coming a few weeks, well more like over a month late, but I do want people to know just what a great event the Hidden Valley Trail Half Marathon really is. Although I didn’t sign up for it until a couple weeks before the event, I was really glad to spend a Sunday morning racing along wet and muddy trails out in Jefferson.

I’m sure the location may have kept the field to a small size, around forty, but it took me less than an hour to get there from Freeport, especially since there was no traffic and although the location is Jefferson it is the far south side of that town, almost in Alna. Yah, sure almost in Alna still sounds far away but I grew up near these parts so for me mentally it was fun to race in a place close to my childhood home.

I was also drawn to the race because I personally know the race director, Gary Hayward, who coordinates most events at the Hidden Valley Nature Center. A great, great guy who is totally down to earth, and I credit him and his family with encouraging my love of the outdoors and so as I ran into him a couple times and him asking if I was going to race and me saying yes, I really had to come through with my promise. I only really hesitated as I was planning on running the Big Brad 50 mile Punisher the following week. A half marathon race before an ultra didn’t sound like a good idea, but if I was smart it shouldn’t be a big deal.

Sunday morning I got to the Center under heavy fog and walked the dirt road to the starting area still in my jeans and Bean boots. Gary was there of course to greet me, and he was far from alone, as there seemed to be more volunteers than runners to help other runners get themselves ready for the race.

After I returned to the car and got myself all ready I jogged back to the start area to warm up the muscles and look more like a runner than one of the volunteers in fear that I may be put to work. I was excited to catch up with Gary’s son Chris, who was a few years behind me in high school, and a part of the trio that were first able to run the 100 Mile Wilderness nonstop. Another of the trio was also in this race, Nicholas Ernst. I had never met him before, and in meeting him tried my best to convey my admiration of his and Chris’s accomplishment.

Shortly before take off I asked Chris if he was going to run or race. He said he would see how he felt, but I could tell the competitive side of him was going to race. Me, I kept telling myself over and over again that I was just going to run. Six days away from an ultra was not a time to go for the gold. Although… there was another former high school friend, Matt, at the race, who was on the wrestling team with Chris and I. I used to be able to beat them all, now I was certain that Chris wouldn’t flatten me but I didn’t want to get beat at this race by Matt. He was not a competitive runner, which further motivated me. If he was really good, I could just let him go and even he would understand that.

With all that I couldn’t believe how fast the field took off at the starting shout. I let a group of about ten really sprint it out and I quickly made my way past a few and made sure I was putting Matt away early. The race did start on the dirt road for just a short distance but the pace was still fast once it turned to trail. I kept the pack in sight telling myself I still shouldn’t be running this fast. A few twists and turns, minor ups and downs and I was still charging right along. I was carrying all the gear that I would be using at Bradbury so my plan was not to stop at any aid stations which was hard because the people there were so nice and encouraging. Besides the aid stations, there were also volunteers at intersections to help direct the runners. It was at one of these points I ran past Ian Parlin and Xar who had been doing much more than just acting as crossing guards. Ian could tell my pace was fast, and reminded me to save some for Bradbury. That was in my mind but it really helped to hear it. So, I let up, a little, and was soon passed by another runner. No big deal. There were a couple others in front of me who weren’t able to stay with the lead pack either, or who just knew better. I couldn’t count but I figured I was right around top ten. I also began figuring that maybe around two hours would be good. Two would mean I would have plenty left for Bradbury. I hoped I would have plenty left.

The trails continued to wind through the many trails at the Center, which are primarily there for cross country skiing. Not as well groomed as Twin Brook, which made for a much more fun trail run. Last year this race was almost a ski race as it got postponed once because of snow until after Thanksgiving which was then reduced to a ten mile race because of more snow. I had wanted to race last year but got a vicious stomach virus that sadly made me also miss out on Thanksgiving leftovers.

I did manage to catch up with one runner, who was introduced before the race as he was an exchange student from Germany studying at Gould Academy where Chris works. Chris told me he was a very good runner and so I was a little surprised to be catching him slightly less than halfway in. I chatted with him a little as he messed around with his headphones, and when he made a move on me to really pull ahead I let him go thinking in the back of my head that I would see him again.

I continued to move well without exerting myself and being sure that I was eating and drinking quite well. I tried my marshmallows early on to make sure they settled well over time and it was a joy eating them well chugging along in soaked feet somewhere in the woods of Jefferson, maybe even Alna, Maine.

In addition to the volunteers generosity, they seemed to be around nearly every bend taking photos. I told one to be sure to send a photo to my wife to prove that I was actually there in the race. I was in good spirits, but was about to get in better just past the halfway mark.

The most viscous hill was at about mile 8.5 and goes straight up to one of the yurts on site that are available to stay in anytime of the year. Really the only part of the course that I couldn’t run but was still fast enough to catch another runner and put my sights back on the Gould student. I hung off him for awhile, noting that he really wasn’t used to this kind of sloppy footing and so when it got worse for him, it got better for me and I got by him for good.

Coming into mile ten, I spotted Nicholas Ernst. The trail got real level and straight and as I caught up to him and chatted a little he told me his legs were spent. I was still feeling fresh and moved on telling myself not to be a super hero, even though I just kind of passed one.

The trail took a turn near a large pond and there were now less than two miles to go. I was enjoying it all when I hurdled a small tree and then came down on my right foot twisting my ankle. “Auughhh,” or something like that not so candid I said out-loud. Not now, I had been mostly smart all day, I didn’t need any injuries. And I did like most of us trail runners do when we turn an ankle. I kept running. A few little hobbles but soon got my pace back and began thinking more about finishing in under two hours than worrying about some silly ankle sprain like I’ve done so many times before.

The trail moved away from the pond and up a little hill leading to an old woods road. It was here I spotted two other runners. One of them I could see struggling with his footing and so I knew he was easy prey. The other was a Debbie Morneau, a very good runner who had once won the MDI Marathon. After I got past the young man who I could tell didn’t have anything left for the mile stretch I increased my pace a little to catch and pass Debbie.

Soon after I was near the finish area when a volunteer said to me, “Five.” They were just the greatest. And then it was all over. My body felt very little strain of running a trail half in under two hours, and although this was a very positive thought in my head, I also could do the math that over thirty seven more miles still awaited me in less than a week.

I met my goals of not straining my body, beating an old schoolmate, getting my feet totally soaked, supporting Gary and his organization and reuniting with him and his family. It was also completely worth sticking around for post race activities. The veggie chili made by Gary’s wife Connie hit the spot on that day, and there were other treats to send me home on a full stomach with my insides all nice and warm. I was also thrilled to win my age group and when given a choice of prizes, I didn’t even look at how much some of the gift certificates were worth. I went straight for the growler of beer donated by Oxbow Brewery. Chris and Nicholas were also winners of growlers and it was a privilege to have my photo taken with the hundred mile boys and our growlers. I would save mine for a week and enjoy it while icing my legs recovering from the Punisher.

Besides Ian and Xar being there to help out, it was good to see another Trail Monster there in Nate. I wish there were more Monsters there and I hope this report will inspire more to put this race on the calendar next year. Really a great, hometown kind of feel event put on by some wonderful people who seemed to enjoy the event maybe even more so than the runners. And I’ll be the first to tell you, it won’t ruin you before any of the Big Brad Ultras!

  3 Responses to “Hidden Valley Trail Half Marathon – Tom Whitaker”

  1. Congrats on the sweet run(s)! Great report(s).

  2. Great report…sounds like a fun race.

  3. Nice job, Tom! And fun to read your write-up of the race! Maybe next year we’ll make our way up there. Maybe the growler of Oxbow beer would be enough incentive for Ryan 🙂

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