You gotta love TARC, a.k.a. the Trail Animals Run Club, a group of trail runners (I'm not sure if they are exclusively ultra runners) up around Boston. They are finally bringing more races to our area. And these are just my kind of races: low key, low entry fee, no schwag, and everybody contributes to the aid station tables. They are more like Fat Ass races than big, produced ultras, commonly run in loops with a single aid station at the start/finish.
This is the first year of their series, and they put on several great races spanning May to December. I ran the Summer Classic 12-Hour back in August and loved it. Last weekend was the Fall Classic.
This was a 50K comprised of 5, 10K loops. There were also 10K, half marathon, and marathon options. All in all, I'd say there were probably 100 or 150 people at the start. It was chilly in the morning but promised to get up to 80 later in the afternoon, unseasonable for mid-October in Massachusetts. After much hemming and hawing, I started out in shorts and a short-sleeve top with a sweatshirt over it all, which I promptly regretted and ditched after the first loop.
I ran the first three loops with Dan, whom I had met briefly at the Summer Classic. I have been a fan of Dan's blog for years, so it was nice to finally run together in person. The first loop, the getting-to-know-you loop, was fun. I love discovering new trails. This was definitely a suburban trail. We ran through a schoolyard, up a power line trail, past people's backyards, and then out to the highway. The trail literally ran mere feet from, and slightly below, the screaming traffic on I95, the major east coast interstate connecting Maine to Florida. I could have reached up and touched the far edge of the breakdown lane. Dan and I pretended the traffic noise was a flooding mountain stream. One continuous roaring waterfall.
Stay on the road up there, babies. Stay on the road.
After following the highway for about a mile, the trail cut in and up. This course was surprisingly hilly and slow. Lots of ups and downs, lost of twisty turns. We then encountered a labyrinth. This part of the trail must have been a moto-cross course for bikes. We ran back and forth around switchback turns, up and down dirt half-pipes, with other runners vrooming at us then veering one way or another at the last second. It was like a video game. We probably covered almost a mile within just 100 square yards. It was dizzying and weird.
The trail then went through an old dump site complete with a bulldozed berm which we skirted across. We pretended the berm was a high mountain ridge. We were cracking ourselves up. Such funny runners!
We ran through some nice single track, through a high meadow, and then boom!, we were back on the powerline trail, back through the schoolyard, and back to the start.
The second loop went much more quickly. We picked up with another TARC runner, Rob, for a while, also a blogger, and we were passed by Emily Trespas, who was running the half marathon, testing out her injured hip. These three all knew each other pretty well, so I just ran along and mostly listened to the chatter. I just love ultra runners.
I guess I should mention that here on the second loop (the SECOND loop!) we were lapped by the first place runner, Adam, in the Old Dump section. I had met Adam a couple of years ago carrying a twenty pound rock along the Pittsfield Peaks 53M course (anyone who carried the rock for the last miles of the race would win something like $200, and evidently Adam needed the rent money). He is young and wicked fast. He went by so fast I didn't even recognize his smiling face.
We didn't let it get to us. We shook it off. We're slow. So what!
Dan and I stuck together for the third loop. By this time we were in a pretty good rhythm. I let Dan lead as much as possible, because whenever he was behind me, he kept tripping. What were you looking at back there, Dan??! I was still feeling okay, but not great. Just like at Pisgah a few weeks before, I could tell that this was not going to be my day. My stomach was upset from the get-go, and I started to get a headache on the third loop. The day was heating up. I was taking in plenty of water and eating lots of Honey Stingers as well as salted potatoes (my fave) at the aid station. But my energy was definitely on the wane.
Toward the end of the third loop we ran into Emily running the other way, getting in a few extra miles after finishing the half marathon. She turned around a ran with us, and that got us going. New blood in the group.
Dan dropped after the third loop. His IT band was acting up, and he didn't want to get into trouble with another long lay-off. I contemplated taking my iPod with me for the fourth loop, but decided I'd save it for the 5th, which turned out to be the drive home.
About half a mile into the 4th loop, I met up with a very mellow dude, feeling groovy, running in what looked like slippers. "These loops are just flying by," he told me.
"I guess," I said, slugging along the powerline hill, not feeling very well at all.
"It's so freaky. I'm just feeling my breath and moving along. Man, these loops are just flying by." And with that I started walking and he was gone.
Fifteen or twenty minutes later, running along in almost-misery, I started catching a whiff of something in the air. Something that I would not necessarily associate with trail running. Something I would associate more with college dorm rooms and Grateful Dead shows. No! No way!
Yup, sure enough, I came around the corner and was met full in the face by a cloud of pot smoke. Pwwwwwwaaaa. My groovy friend and another guy, an old guy, were passing a meaty spliff back and forth on the trail, sending all the second hand smoke my way. There was no one else in sight.
"Dude, that right there is a freaking huge, ig.....ig.....ig.....ig....igneous rock! Bwaaaa haaa haaa haaaa!" They were killing each other.
What to do? What to do? I'm no prude, but I was not feeling up to running with these two stoned guys. Unfortunately they were running exactly my pace. So I picked it up for a while and dropped them. And then I started to feel really bad. My head was pounding. My stomach ached terribly. I just felt weak.
I have been tired in ultras before. But the quality of that tired feeling, so similar to how I had felt at Pisgah, was something new. I just wanted to stop and lie down by the side of the trail. The world was swimming around me. (And no, it wasn't a contact high....) This was not right.
I finished the lap with lots of walking toward the end, and dropped out. I didn't want to do the death march for the last lap. After sitting in a chair for 20 minutes sipping ice water I summoned the energy to walk a mile to at least finish the marathon.
Back at the finish line the only thing that looked remotely appealing at the aid station table were the corn chips. I sat down with Emily, who was still there cheering people in, and through mouthfuls of corn chips I told her about the guys getting high on the trail.
"Oh, yeah," she said. "That's So-and-S0. He always gets high in these races."
Emily stopped and looked at me, took in the scene. "Looks like you have the munchies."
Hee hee. I freaking love ultra runners.
I called the doctor Tuesday and he advised me to get another Lyme test. I had been exhausted in the weeks leading up to the race, and to fall apart twice in a row after just 20 miles is not typical for me.
The test came back positive. I'm back on the Doxy for another 30 days. I'm hoping to be back in good form for Stone Cat 50 in November. Wish me luck!