With a race named 'Stone Cat' I thought about a pity play of words for my title. What I got was a blank screen so on to Plan B–the actual race report.
Last week I left Colorado for Maine to meet up with my brother and his friends–all who live in Portland, ME. I landed just at sunset allowing me to get a good look at the city as we flew over it at the water's edge. The setting sun provided a final glow to the trees still wreathed in their fall colors. While I had been concerned that a marathon in November was foolish due to weather impacts I was happy to see fall was still noticeable in this part of New England.
We headed directly out of the airport towards Ispwich, MA, or at least one of the towns adjacent to Ispwich. From my perspective one town looked like the next with their quaint architecture clashing with stripmall generica along the road as we sped by in the night.
Dinner was at a local Italian restaurant, the name of which I failed to note, which was near the Comfort Inn–our abode for the night. The food was good as was the service. Fellow Trail Monsters, a Portland running group, joined us for dinner. Ian was running the 50 M while Emma was crew support.
Once back at the hotel I prepared my clothing and gear for the early morning alarm. The forecast was favorable with lows in the upper 20s and a high of 50. Excellent running weather. Sleep came quickly even with the jet engine sounding heating unit in the room. Ear plugs will now be part of my race kit.
The hotel opened up breakfast at 0430 and fleece and Lycra clad runners descended on it. We quickly drained the coffee urns and came close to overheating the waffle makers as breakfast was consumed in preparation of the race. Pancakes were waiting for me in the room as Tim had cooked up a batch before leaving Portland the day before. The perfect pre-race food for me.
We arrived at the school in the predawn cold and proceeded to squeeze into their small gymnasium. It was tightly packed and difficult to keep out of the way. I enjoyed the people watching and listening to the many strong New England accents. I certainly wasn't in Colorado any more.
The race start was typical of many trail events, it was a 'gun' start. Even though we didn't move for a couple of minutes the pack of both 50 milers and the marathon quickly headed in two directions. The 50s went right down the trail while the rest of us looped around the school to gain the 1.2 miles needed to add to the two 12.5 mile loops of our course. The single track trail from the school field into the woods was a bottleneck that we could of done without. But being a trail race no one was worried to the point where they cut through the frosty bushes to get ahead. There would be plenty of time for passing ahead.
The course alternated between single track deer trails and old 4×4 dirt roads. Just when I would get tired of one trail type a fork in the trail would switch me to the other. Tim and I lost sight of Mindy ahead of us within the first hour. We continued running together the first loop. With the slower pace on the trail we were able to talk as we ran which is not typical in races of 1/2 marathon or shorter from my experience.
The first rest stop was Al Cats Lounge. Bacon was frying, pancakes were grilling and the volunteers were very quick to get you resupplied and on your way. There were too many choices. But with Tim's pancake breakfast I topped off my water bottle, had a slice of bacon and hit the trail. I could of stayed much longer. The trail was very well marked except for one spot that I wasn't certain if we went left or right as I saw flagging tape both directions. I recalled the trail map showed one spot where the course almost looped back on itself. We correctly chose to go left. This uncertain spot was eliminated by more signs I noted on my second lap.
The second station, Fast Freddie's Cafe, sneaked up on me. I was focusing on the trail to minimize the toe stubbing quality of the rocks and roots on the path when another well stocked rest stop appeared. A band was playing music while pancakes and other goodies were being offered. The volunteers were just as helpful as at Al Cats.
Shortly after we started to see runners going in the opposite direction for the first time. They were the pack leaders already heading out on their second loop. Mindy passed by, perhaps 10 minutes ahead of me, looking strong and fresh. The third and final supply station was at the start/finish line where Jamie, another Trail Monster, was assisting with practiced ease.
I headed out at a faster pace wanting to test the altitude advantage I had running almost 6000 feet lower than where I train. For a while it was very noticeable until mile 24 when my legs started to really give out. This race was a training run for me. I had only run farther than 20 miles once, the weekend before, so without a taper the Stone Cat was a long run. I hope to regain my running endurance to be able to attempt longer runs this winter and into spring.
The last two miles were slow with a few walking segments. The miles still passed quickly and a final burst of energy enabled me to run strong the final stretch to the finish where a finishers jacket was awarded instead of a medal on a ribbon. I didn't know what time to expect for this race since my rough trail practice was limited this year. I thought between 4 and 5 hours was likely, and it was as my time was in the middle.
The organizers, the volunteers, the food and the trail all made this a very enjoyable race. I will give serious thought to attempting the 50 mile race in the future. Thanks also to Mindy and Pete for their Maine hospitality.
Get out and Explore the World!