Much of this post is lifted from a blog I wrote for my newspaper.
Sitting around our tent site last summer the tense and unreal evening before the Vermont 100, local Connecticut runner Kerry Arsenault dropped over to tell Chuck and Grace and me that her husband, Jerry Turk, was planning to direct a 50K (31-mile) race called Bimblers Bluff on October 26th right here in Southeastern Connecticut.
I took a flier and kept the race in the back of my mind during the intervening months, knowing that I was planning to run a 50-miler just two weeks later, but thrillingly tempted by the possibility of running an ultra just 45 minutes from home. The race was to be run entirely on trails in and around Guilford and Madison, CT.
About a month ago I bit the bullet and signed up. Having just run a pair of races in the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire I was feeling cocky. I thought to myself, “A 50K here in mountain-less, gently rolling shoreline Connecticut – piece of cake!”
Oh how wrong I was. I had failed to take into account just how narrow and rocky and rooty and twisty and oh, so difficult-to-find the trails in Guilford and Madison can be.
I talked my friend Susan into running with me, telling her that I was not planning to break any records, but merely to indulge in a long, leisurely training run in the woods. Had we known just how long we were going to be in the woods, I’m not sure we would have gone ahead. Ultimately I’m glad we did, and I had fabulous time. Susan, however, is terrified of getting lost and felt tortured for much of the run. She was a trooper (for the most part).
We arrived at a Guilford elementary school gym just in time for the pre-race meeting and joked with Stonington runner, Davnet, her husband, Paul, and our trail friend Nipmuck Dave about how slow we all were. We gathered for the start and took off comfortably in last place, where Susan and I stayed for most of the day.
I have never in my life gotten so lost on a course. It was confusing and poorly marked. We hadn’t run 2 miles when we got lost for the first time. We had run about half a mile off course before realizing that we hadn’t seen any of the pink ribbons that marked the course in quite a while. We backtracked with our new friend, Marv from Colorado, telling ourselves how lucky we were to have gotten lost so early in the race, and how we would all be much more careful to look for pink ribbons. We eventually found the trail, only to head off in the wrong direction, running half way back to the start before realizing that everything was looking a little too familiar.
Alas, it was to be a full day of losing the trail and searching for pink ribbons. But the weather was perfect – crystal blue and warm after a week of forecasted rain – and the forest was lovely with the yellow leaves backlit against the trees.
Our pace was excruciatingly slow. We were running at a snail’s pace to begin with, and all of the route finding and rock dodging slowed us to a near crawl. Suffice it to say that it took us almost 3 hours to get to the second aid station at Mile 10.
The aid stations in this race were outstanding. All of the volunteers were cheerful and encouraging, especially to the pour souls in last place. Each time we came to an aid station (there were 5 on the course) I would stagger in gasping, “We’re alive!”. The volunteers joked with us, filled out bottles, and tried to feed us. I was eating only one piece of salted potato at each station, trying to run on a minimum amount of food to keep my poor stomach from getting sick. This strategy worked. During all of the 9 hours we were out on the trail, I only felt sick for about 10 minutes near the end, having finally indulged in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup with 2 miles to go.
The climb up Bluff Head after Aid Station 2 was epic (at least by Southeastern CT standards). Once at the top we could see for miles into the lake and rolling hills below. The view was remarkably reminiscent of Vermont.
I was chomping at the bit by now to go faster. But this would have been dumb. I kept reminding myself that this was a training run. Stone Cat in 2 weeks! Stone Cat in 2 weeks! Susan's ankle brace was killing her and this, combined with lots of little climbs, was slowing us down to a walking pace for long stretches. Every inch of me wanted to go faster.
Around mile 20, I started to up the pace and Susan and I briefly parted ways. Half an hour later I got a call on my cell phone: Susan saying she had lost the trail and was hopelessly lost. I ran back as quickly as I could, maybe a mile, yelling SUSAN! into the woods over and over. She called me again to tell me she could hear me. She somehow followed my voice back to the trail.
I had meanwhile gotten a bit lost myself. In my crazed state of mind, I missed a critical turn and was now looping back, still on the course, but now in a section we had run hours ago. I backtracked, found the crossroads and thankfully got myself back on the green-dot trail I had left. I was now, however, several minutes behind Susan. She ran/walked slowly until I caught up and, hugely relieved to have found each other, we stayed together for the rest of the run.
She owed me her VERY LIFE! Though, on second thought, she wouldn't have been out there in the first place if I hadn't talked her into running with me.
The last 8 miles or so were a repeat (more or less) of the first 8, so we did not loose the trail nearly as often toward the end of the race. We found one guy at a road crossing wandering up and down looking for the way back into the woods and we ran with him for a while, figuring six eyes looking for pink were better than four.
A quarter mile from the finish we popped out onto another road, having missed a turn on the trail a few yards back. We spent about 10 desperate minutes asking neighbors and construction workers where the elementary school was. Finally a woman stepped out of her house and directed us back onto the trail.
The finish line was a glorious sight. Susan’s kids were there to cheer us on and seeing their smiling faces was absolutely delightful. We both received a cool Buff (kind of a headband-hat type thing) as a finisher’s award, as well as bags of bagels and cider (if you stay out long enough you get to take home the leftover aid station food!).
All in all, I probably ran between 35 and 37 miles. The course itself was long (32.5 miles) and I ran at least three extra miles off it. Even so, I had a great day in the woods. I loved the race and will definitely be back next year with the detailed course description (available on The Bimbler’s Sound Web Page) tucked into my pocket.
I have a year to convince Susan to join me. She says NO WAY.