Ever have one of those dreams where you just can’t manage to walk up a hill? No matter how much you try you just don’t go anywhere. That is the last 2 miles of the Muddy Sneaker 20k trail race in the High Tor Wilderness Area, and the picture above tells you all you need to know about what it feels like.
I’ve done my share of trail running and much prefer it to running on the roads or even on the canal path, but I have not done much in the way of trail racing. Also when I run on trails I tend to choose pretty mild trails, like the ones around Mendon Pond Park. I’ve raced plenty of cross country which often incorporates trails, but they are rarely single track and they are never what trail racers would call technical and what I would call rocky and rooty. The Muddy Sneaker was my first real experience racing on trails, and it was some introduction.
Now in its 15th year the Muddy Sneaker 20k course winds around a mountain making several trips up and down with a high of 1900′ and a low of 750′. It is a mix of grassy logging roads, rocky single track, muddy single track, several stream crossings and lots of logs to jump over and duck under.
The picture above gives you a good idea of what large portions of the course looked like, although that crossing was the easiest. One of the crossings was about 20 feet wide with an ice shelf extending out over the water about 8 feet on each side. The ice shelf promptly collapsed when another runner and I stepped on it at the same time.
Going into the race I figured I could run 7 minute pace. I have no idea why I thought that, I guess I assumed the ups and downs would even out and the mud would just slow me down a little. At the very least sub 1:30 seemed very doable, and I was actually on pace to run well below that until I got to mile 10. From mile 10 to 11 the course goes from 1060′ down to 750′ across the largest stream/river crossing then back up to 1120′. From mile 11 to the finish doesn’t get any better, the course climbs another 500′. For the first time ever I was forced to walk during a race. I simple could not lift my knees high enough to do anything that would qualify as running for long stretches during those final 2 miles. If you watch starting at around 9 minutes into the video below you’ll get some idea of the steepness of the accent.
When I hit the mile 12 marker I stopped and looked behind me. Coming up the hill was a runner who had dogged me the whole race. I had lead for most of the race, except for a few minutes early on and a few minutes around mile 6 when Alan Evans zoomed by me on a steep downhill. I had really hoped I had put enough distance between me and Alan over the last 6 miles, but alas I had not. I was forced to push hard the last .4 miles.
It was without a doubt the hardest few minutes of running I had ever done.
In the end I managed to hold off Earl for a 1st place finish with a time of 1:31:30. Aside from the great long sleeve tech shirt, socks and glow in the dark Nalgene bottle that everyone got, I also won a great hat and a pair of Saucony Peregrine 4 from Medved. I need to thank Eric Eagan for encouraging me to try out some trail races, and I can’t wait for Medved Trail Madness in a few weeks.
A special thanks to Alex Tong for the pictures!