Saturday, May 14, 2016

7 Sisters Trail Race 2016

I woke up at 5:45am ready to race. I'd gotten a decent night's sleep and was feeling pretty good. I got dressed and my things together, then got John up. He, surprisingly, got right up. I had everything set so that he just had to put his shoes on and go to the car, and I would grab his sleeping bag. He walked out of the room to put his shoes on. I grabbed his sleeping bag and then slung it over my shoulder. I immediately heard the sound of something falling and then breaking glass behind me!!! OMG. My first thought was please don't let it be one of their awards!!! I had just looked at one on that table, so I just hoped for the best. I turned around to see a glass vase that some rocks and pussy willows were in smashed on the floor. Although I was relieved, I was still horrified that I had broken something at my hosts' house!! Sarah Keyes heard me yell and came in to see what had happened. She eased my mind a bit, and when I looked at the vase, I realized it wasn't an expensive vase. Maybe the kind you would find something in at a grocery store. Such relief. But UGH!! I still had to tell Amy at the race that I had broken something! Not how I wanted to start off the morning. The cleanup was quick and soon John and I were out the door and headed off to Starbucks en route to the race. I needed coffee, and John needed breakfast. I don't usually drink coffee that close to race time, but I had to have it and hoped for the best.

Still asleep in the morning

Skies looking gray at the race site.

I was surprised to see the sun and blue skies since I thought the forecast was for rain, but then I saw the Holyoke Range we'd be racing on covered in a cloud. Oh ok. There it is. haha. Just a short climb up the road to the start/parking area, and we were in about 10 degrees cooler and a cloud. We were there early enough to get a good parking spot, and then I made the walk of shame over to Amy to let her know about the vase. Fortunately, she was really cool about it and said it wasn't a special vase and not to worry about it. Phew. I checked in at the elite table (I didn't think I belonged with the elite women, but oh well), and the woman checking me in, who I would learn later is Kate Queeney, asked, "Are you the one with Eric's sunglasses?" LOL. I started dying laughing. Too funny to be recognized for that. Got my bib then walked back to the car where I ran into Freddi Pare. I had no idea she would be there. I was sad to find out she ended up with a bad sprained ankle and had to drop from the race. Hoping she heals up quickly!

I procrastinated on a warmup until the last minute, but finally ventured out for a mile. I ran a very short section of the first climb and realized that I hadn't been on western Massachusetts rocks since 2003! I had forgotten how different they were from New Hampshire rocks. Plus, they were very wet and slippery from the week's rain. I was glad I ran up there, even if it was short, because it gave me good reminder of what it was like. Ran back to the car. Said goodbye to John and then ran over to the start. Elite women were starting a minute after the men, so we stood in the corral off to the side while the men started. There were only 9 of us women for our start, and I knew Kelsey Allen, Kehr Davis and, of course, Sarah Keyes, and talked with them and some of the other women fromWMDP. It was a comfortable group to be in, so I felt good about it. The rain just started, and we would end up in a light rain for most of the race. When we lined up in the corral, none of us wanted to be up front. It was pretty funny. Kelsey turned around and said, "Oh come on, guys." Haha. I stayed where I was behind Kelsey, since I knew I would do no better in 4th woman today. The race got underway!

Elite women's start. I'm behind Kelsey.
I ended up lining up perfectly. Kelsey and Kehr went right up front with Sarah falling in behind them, and I was right there in 4th... where I would stay the whole race. I had been advised by a friend who was adamant about not going out too fast, so I stuck to that. I got right into a comfortable spot and didn't even worry about the 3 in front of me. The first climb was tough, but I held back and didn't kill myself. The woman behind me caught up to me just before we crested the top, but her technical downhill skills must have been not as sharp as mine because I lost her immediately. I never even saw her again until I passed her on the way back. I felt like I was moving ok, and I felt good. My legs were burning, but it was a good burn. Like the burn you should feel. Not a fatigued burn. I was happy about that. I wasn't too far behind Sarah for most of the first 1/4 of the race, but never saw Kelsey or Kehr until they were on their way back. I felt content where I was. Since I'm a really good downhill technical runner, I pushed it on those sections and then power hiked up most of the really steep, longer climbs. I ran up the shorter, less steep ones. I wanted to conserve my energy for the way back. This race was no joke, but I have to say that it was exactly what I expected, and I was loving it. It was awesome! So my kind of race. I was hurting a lot, but I was also in that place where I could laugh and smile through it all. A few guys from wave 1 started to catch up to me, and one young guy in particular, I would run with for almost 5 miles total (I looked him up later to find out his name was Michael Hanley). He was better on the uphills, and I was better on the downhills, so we kept switching places on every up and down. It was kind of funny; we were laughing about it. He ended up behind me for the rest of the race but technically beat me because he started after I did by about 3 minutes and his finish time was about 1:15 minutes faster. Playing leapfrog with Michael helped push me a little bit to keep up on the uphills. Thinking I still had about 2 miles to go, the course started to lose elevation for a long distance and the front of the pack began to pass by. That's when I realized I was almost to the turn around. It was a mile (on my watch; which I know isn't accurate!!) less and right around 5 miles. I knew my watch would come up short, as it always does in a trail run, but I didn't expect it to be this much. Maybe I would have pushed a little more on the way out, but I'm not sure that would have been good. If anything, it probably helped hold me back as to not kill myself for the way back. This just meant I would know better on the way back what the mileage was. When I hit the turnaround, I was feeling good. I knew I had a huge climb back up and would be going against the crowds behind, but I was ready for it.

Just before the turnaround. Just passed by Sarah Keyes and Jeff Hixon. Photo by Ben Kimball.
The climb didn't seem as bad as I thought, but the crowds of runners thickened and the somewhat slippery trail was becoming more and more like a mud pit. I knew then that my split for the way back would be MUCH slower than the way out. I had had a high goal of a sub-2:20, but as I got about half way back, I started to have doubts. I didn't care too much, though. I was still feeling really good and started to pass quite a few of the elite men. I just felt so strong even through absolute burning legs. I was thinking the whole way that this course was a mini, almost identical, version of the Duncan Ridge 50K in Georgia that I've done twice. It so strange how similar it was. Shorter distance and shorter ups and downs, but stretch that out and you have the Duncan Ridge Race. So even though I had never run this race, I felt at home here. This was my kind of race. I was loving it through all of the pain.

It was nice knowing the course on the way back, so I knew where I was the whole time. What was hardly recognizable was the trail, which had turned to mud. I still moved quickly through it since I'm experienced in that. The light rain and cool temps made it so much better. I would take that weather over heat any day. It was actually the perfect weather. We finally crested the top of the last climb, and I really started to book it. The downhill was super technical, but my trail legs were right on the money to where it was almost automatic with where to step. I didn't even have to think about it. At the bottom, we were directed on a single track trail that wound its way through the woods and back to the parking lot where the finish was. I came through in at 2:23:05 and 4th woman. Perfect! I'd take it. Not my high goal, but not my low goal of 2:30 either. I was happy with it and feeling great.

I kept walking to the car to see John waving at me. He had his dub step music going, and I felt good enough to dance with him. I had been beaten up, but not like Big River. I still felt ok and thought, "That was awesome." Good sign. And I knew that I had to make the trek back to the this race whenever I could; it will stay on my tentative yearly calendar for awhile, I suspect. I talked to Kelsey for a little bit before changing clothes and going over to the post race food. She ended up with the win, which I figured. She's such a great trail runner, and I've enjoyed racing her the last 4 years.

Once I was dressed, John and I picked up my award for winning my age group. WOOT. 40 was good for something. I was psyched. I won a Patagonia wool half zip. It paid to be old today. haha.

Award for being first old lady

Muddy shoes from the race

We didn't stay long after that, and I told John we were going to hit the Northampton Brewery before heading home. I was able to thwart his complaining by telling him it was Mother's Day. He hadn't known this, but he now knew he had no argument and had to comply. Haha. :) So off we went. The weather was beautiful out so we chose to sit outside on the deck. I only had one drink since we had a long drive, but it was nice. I got a Black Cat Stout which was alright. Needs more umph, though. I also got a pizza I really had no appetite for, so I took most of it home.

My hair was actually in knots under that hat. It had gotten so tangled while running that I couldn't even comb it out. I'm sure I looked like a huge slob.
The drive home was long, but not bad. We were home by 5pm. John went over to his friend's house to play while I took the dogs on a walk up Heavenly Hill. I needed the walk since the drive had left my legs stiff, but I was actually out of breath the whole way up. haha. By the time I was back at the house, I was STARVING and finished up my pizza, had a few more beers then crashed for the night.

Full Race Results Here

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