Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pineland Farms 50-Mile Trail Challenge Race Report

Like the previous two years, some benevolent God smiled on New Gloucester for the third annual Pineland Farms Trail Challenge. Unlike the prior two runnings, this version included a 50 Mile option on top of the traditional 25K and 50K. I had run the 50K the past two years, posting pretty good results (5th place each year in times around 4:12 and won my age group both times) but I had very little idea of what a 50 mile race would be like on the course. I should state for the record that I have run a 50 mile training run out at Pineland. This was during last summer's training for the Vermont 100, but this was my first race. To add to the mystique of what this race would have to offer, this was only my second attempt at racing 50 miles. So I entered this race expecting some surprises, and I did not disappoint myself, especially when I thought I saw Papa Smurf. All told, I had a great race. If you would have asked me to tell you about the race after mile 40, I would provide an entirely different assessment!

I arrived at Pineland near 5 AM to give myself time to set up our little camp for the day (sun shelter, chairs, etc.) and to pick up my race packet. Sitting in the registration area when I arrived was my buddy, Jamie Anderson, suited up in his new Trail Monster singlet. As I pinned on my race number and got things in order, we chatted about Jamie's upcoming Western States 100 and my pacing duties, as well as game plans for the day. As we were sitting there chatting, my buddy and Vermont 100 pacer Brian walked in. He is recovering from a nasty case of plantar fasciitis and was planning on running a few miles of the start with me. If there was an All Star league of 100-mile pacers, Brian would be an excellent inductee. About 15 minutes before the race we all headed over to the start area where runners were congregating for the 6 AM start.

The Pineland Farms course consists of a 25K, or 15.5 mile, loop. The 50 mile course consists of three loops with an additional 3+ mile loop at the beginning that brings you back to the start. Each loop consists of two sub loops which are divided by the Start/Finish line. Therefore, a runner in the 50 Mile race passes the finish line 6 times. On a hot day when you are exhausted and being chased by smurfs, this is sheer cruelty and demands the most of one's discipline to keep running. I can attest to this fact.

As the gun went off at 6:05 AM, there were roughly 70+ runner for the inaugural 50 Mile race. Included in this group was Leigh Schmitt, the winner of the 50K for the past two years. There was no doubt in my mind that this was his race to lose, and he did not disappoint. The start was a bit chilly so I donned my Moeben sleeves (awesome product that is very much like cycling arm warmers but with the added touch of pockets on the upper arm to stash a gel, some S-caps, or the like). They were perfect to combat the chill on my arms while allowing me to display my new Trail Monster singlet. This was in fact the first race I have ever run as part of a team (and one our team would have won if not for a freaky shoe choice by a team member - you know who you are!!!).

Toeing the line, I had no idea what game plan I was going to follow. I had somewhat settled on the idea of just going out easy with Jamie and hanging with him for at least the first lap. I am pacing him in a month at Western States so I am always looking for opportunities to "practice". However, once the cow bell went off and we got a mile in, I couldn't stand watching scores of runners go by so I severed the cord and ran my own race. Brian joined me just before we completed the first mini three mile loop and ran along for the next few miles. At the Yurt aid station near mile 6, I stopped for a bio break which turned into an epic struggle with the toilet paper roll (never be the first in a new porta john if you need to get out fast) and I wasted about 5 minutes. By the time I emerged for fresh air, Jamie and Emma had caught me again. Hating the thought of losing all that ground, I turned up the pace and raced through the terribly cambered fields for about 15 minutes before catching the group I had been running with. My legs were feeling really good at that point so after emerging into the Valley Farm Loop around Mile 8-9 I split from this rag tag group and set out on my own.

It wasn't until about Mile 20 that I caught up with the lead woman and eventual women's winner, Aliza LaPierre of Team Inov-8, that I had company. I ran with her for the next 15 or so miles. Her consist pace was really helpful in keeping me focused and moving. She motored right up the hills. At this point I had resorted to power walking the hills and then I'd catch her pretty immediately on the downs. This is a similar tactic I used at VT 100 and will continue to do so in future 100s: walk the ups and run the downs and flats no matter how tired. It works well for me.

I must admit that starting the third lap was extremely hard. Seeing all those nice, clean people eating MY hamburgers and drinking MY beer was tough. But I soldiered on, now in the company of Aliza's husband who was pacing her the last lap. I hung with them until about mile 41-42 when I stopped at the last Yurt aid station for a refill. At this point I was pretty overheated and was filling my bottle with water and ice at every stop. I had failed to eat properly early on and this had left me in a pretty good bonk. Also, I had started ingesting Coca Cola at about mile 30 so the sugar spikes and crashes were pretty obvious. The only way to combat this is to keep drinking the junk. Luckily it did work wonders on settling my stomach. The potatoes dipped in salt were pretty good too, but at this point it was too little, too late. The rest of the race was a struggle, and one I endured by my lonesome. My vision started getting freaky in the Campus Loop and continued into the Gloucester Hill and Oak Hill loops. I was having a hard time focusing and I was stumbling ever so slightly; enough to worry about finishing. A couple times Papa Smurf actually tried to trip me up, yet I kept motoring.

As I passed through the start on my way to the other side of the road for the final loop I really wanted to pull into my tent and go to sleep. (This was when I saw a friend with what appeared to be six beers in his hands yelling encouragement to me and if I had the energy I would have run over to him and taken "my" beer back!) Passing the finish line so many times is really cruel and unusual punishment. Anyway, I moved across the street and ran in a daze until I got to the Oak Hill Aid Station where my buddy James was working and I saw the "antifreeze" on the table. It has been probably 10 years since I last drank Mountain Dew and good thing. James filled my MD cup with ice and I downed it quicker than a shot of tequila. After sitting there for about 10 seconds, James asked me not so kindly to vacate his space. So I did, but not before grabbing a handful of M&Ms! Boy were they good. Mile 47, the last pre-Mountain Dew mile was run at a +13 Mile pace. The last two miles, post-Mountain Dew were about 3-4 minutes quicker. I finished strong and happy, carrying my two kids across the finish with me as I have done at every "big" race since Ironman LP. (This was the first time Riley wanted to be put down because I was "stinky".) The finish line was a blur and I talked to many of my friends but really have very little recollection of the conversations I had 10 minutes after I finished.
Very strange.

At any rate, my time of 7:50 was a PR (my first 50M was the JFK 50 in November 2006 and was done in something like 7:54 and the course is considerably easier than Pineland). This finish was good enough for the 34 and Under age group title for the 3rd year straight but not quick enough to even be considered in the same hemisphere as Leigh Schmitt's unbelievable 6:35 something. It also earned me another one of the coolest trophies out there (by my opinion): a trail shoe footprint in "mud" and another cow bell medal! You just can't have too many.

Despite how I felt, this race was a tremendous confidence booster for my pacing duty at WS 100 and my race at VT 100. All told, I had a great race. If you would have asked me to tell you about the race starting at mile 40, I would provide an entirely different assessment! Good times.

If you are so inclined, check out the results at the Pineland Trail Challenge website. If you are even more inclined, sign up for one of these three races next year or if you raced this year, upgrade to the next distance. This is the best directed race in the New England, designed and run by runners for runners. Oh yeah, there's free beer.


Jamie said...

Great report, Stephen! Way to tough it out there in the end and fight through it. You are oozing with talent. Glad you didn't hold back and you ran your own race. I would have felt like crap if you hadn't.

I'm really stoked you're pacing me at Western States, we're going to have a blast out there. See you this weekend.

mindy said...

Congrats on a fantastic, impressive race Stephen. If I could use one phrase to describe your life philosophy, it would be "What are you waiting for!?" Everyone should live with this in mind.