Dam Trail Race
Hodges Village Dam
Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010
11.5 miles (rocky, rooted technical trails of all varieties)
Finish: 1:26:26 (~7:30 pace)
10th Overall of 100
4th Place M40-44
Carrying the theme “Trails, Trails, and More Trails” further, I decided to put the Dam Trail Race in Oxford, Massachusetts on my race calendar. The race was appealing for its distance, set at 11.5 miles, since it would step me closer towards a trail marathon later in the fall. Making it a sure thing was that many friends from the Mountain Goat Series would be there.
The course, according to race website, was “well marked” and “rolling… covering a variety of terrain in the Army Corps of Engineers Flood Control Project” at Hodges Village Dam. “It’s about 11.5 miles long, through woods, water, and uneven ground.” In another place it said: “This is NOT a road race. You WILL get wet, and possibly muddy, scraped and bug bitten.”
This, I would find out later, would all prove true – unfortunately the scraped part, too.
After a 2 mile warm-up over the beginning part of the course, I said hello to friends and listened to pre-race instructions from the race director. Before long, I was on the starting line with, among others, fellow Goon and eventual race winner Jim Johnson (Taz). We messed with Ross Krause of RunReg.com by telling him his shoes weren’t tied tight enough. Ross checked and rechecked until he ran out of time. “Go!” The race started.
The first half mile of the course was on a wide soft dirt trail littered with small rocks. For fast running, I took the line where rocks were fewest. Along the dam we went, with the short race branching off into the thicket of the wooded area. Not long after, the long course veered off to a smaller trail that went up 30 feet directly into the forest. At this point I was still getting my bearings with the terrain but otherwise feeling good with what I guessed to be a Top 10 placement in the race.
As the course went deeper into the wooded area it got extremely rocky and technical. Full attention went to foot placement. I was neither gaining nor losing ground to others. I considered this a win in my quest at becoming a better trail runner. I wasn’t quite gliding over the trail, but I was at least holding my own and feeling strong and confident.
At about fifteen minutes in the course turned hillier with less rock, something more aligned to my strengths. The less technical trails enabled me to pull away from the guy on my shoulder and at the same time close the gap on a guy in yellow. Just as I pulled behind Yellow Guy, the course got more technical again, this time with more roots than rocks. I sat a few paces behind Yellow for the next 10 minutes. The going got tricky when the 11.5 mile course merged with the 5 mile course. Sometimes we had to carve our own trail to get around a slower runner in the 5 mile race, but mostly the 5 milers were happy to give way. Many would even chase us with encouragement.
At what I estimated to be the halfway point, the terrain flattened over a trail of dirt covered by loose rocks. This section was a go-between to another more technical and hillier section of the course. It was here where my leg speed shined. I pulled even with Yellow Guy and, after exchanging a few words, took the lead.
The course then went up into a different section of forest. With Yellow Guy on my shoulder, I led the way up and over rooted trails. I thought briefly about letting him go in front of me, for I knew him to be better on more technical trails, but when I slowed on one section, and then another, to give him the light of day, a free pass to take the lead, his inaction told me that I was the one now setting pace. The course was tricky but extremely well marked, so I had no problem leading the way.
The next time the course flattened, I put a gap on Yellow Guy. Noticing this, I decided to gap him even more. If he couldn’t see me, I reasoned, he wouldn’t run as hard. This was my chance to make the move stick. To this point I was feeling very strong, even fast. At times I felt smooth, but I knew that a few misplaced roots or rocks would change that. Either way, I was running from a position of strength. On a race this long, I knew that if I could hold pace, not fall off with a slowdown, I would start picking off others. And that’s exactly what happened.
Maintaining a hard but steady effort, with breathing on edge of control, I came around a corner and was surprised to see a guy standing in the middle of the trail. He was not a runner; he was a volunteer, and he was pointing toward another trail to his immediate right. “Through the river,” he said with a knowing smile. Without breaking stride, I banked the turn and, sure enough, had my first ever river crossing in a race. So exciting it was that I high-stepped like a little kid and shouted: “Yeah!” Water came up to my shorts line. I shouted again: “This is awesome!”
On this sun-drenched warm morning with low humidity, my feet were dry within five minutes. That’s when I caught glimpse of another runner up the trail. As I worked to close the gap, I noticed that he was closing very quickly on another runner. On the higher points of the trail I would look ahead of them to see if there were any other runners within striking distance. The hunter always performs better with its prey locked in sight. On top of the first hill, I saw no movement aside from the two ahead of me. But on the next, I saw movement. If the two guys in front of me were in 5th and 6th place, this guy was 4th.
A plan of attack formulated: I would finish closing the gap on these two guys (5th and 6th), who were now running together, but instead of passing right away, I would sit behind them for a minute so that I could rest. Then when the trail permitted, I would make the pass, and I would make it with authority so that neither would be able to come with me. And then, with 4th place in sight, I would work on closing the gap and take him well enough before the finish line, which was by now only 2 miles away. That was the plan, anyway.
Without wasting time, I launched into the first phase of the plan by closing the gap on the two guys immediately in front of me. The three of us were running back to back to back. I was content with the slightly slower pace as it allowed me to recover. My plan had been to sit tight for a minute to rest and then make a move. But not even 5 seconds on the back I was already thinking about making a move. Before my mind had time to put thought into action, that’s when it happened. Bam! I hit the deck. Both knees crashed to the earth with the full force of my body hauling along at a sub-seven minute mile pace. I hit the ground so quickly that by the time my initial reaction of lowering the shoulder to roll out of a crash took effect, I was already squat on the ground. So there I was, skidding along the ground on my right side, and then the roll started. I had to laugh at my sorry self because all it did was cover my side and back with dirt, as if I hadn’t had enough on the front. It’s funny the things you think about when you’re in the slow motion video of a hard crash.
After coming to a stop, reality caught up with me. I was laying on the trail, covered in dirt, and I couldn’t feel my right knee. I wasn’t even sure if I could feel any parts of my leg. Things were no longer in slow motion. One of the runners, having heard me tumble, came back to see if I was okay. He tried to help me up. “I’m good,” I told him, “I’m good.” I couldn’t get up. I still couldn’t feel the leg. “Go, seriously, man. I’ll be alright.” Off he went.
As he scampered off, I figured that with this being single track trail, the first thing I should do is get myself to the side, because within a few minutes others would be coming through. That’s when I noticed the stump of a tree off to the side. It was as good a place to sit as any. Only, now the hurt was entering the knee and, sadly, I couldn’t even drag myself off the trail. Give it some time, I thought to myself. And that’s what I did. Then again, I didn’t have a choice.
A minute later, now at least three minutes after I had gone down, I heard a noise. Another runner was coming up the trail. It was Yellow Guy, who I had been running with earlier. I was surprised to see how much time I had put on him. He stopped, helped me to my feet, and resumed when I told him to keep going.
Now on my feet, I started over to the tree stump beside the trail. As I was moving, I started getting feeling back into the leg and knee. That’s also when it became easier to put pressure on the leg. While steadying my body to a stand, it occurred to me that no matter what happened to me injury wise, I still had to get my carcass out of the woods. And so I tried to walk. It hurt. But I was able to make progress as long as I did not bend the right knee. Like a zombie trudging along with a leg dragging behind, I made my way along the course. A minute later a young kid came whizzing by without saying a word. Then another went by. And a minute after that, two more did the same.
By this point I was walking quite normally even though I still felt the knee. With the two runners still in sight, I decided to attempt a slight jog. It was more of a limp jog with an occasional hop, but I was moving… and moving far faster than walking. In fact, now I was right behind the slower of the guys who had just passed. A few minutes later, the knee started feeling better. By now I guessed that there was only a mile remaining, and so within reason I picked up pace to capacity of control. I didn’t want to injure further; but I wanted to make ground. And now I actually passed the slower guy back. A had a silly moment where I thought about recouping another position in the race by going to get the other guy, but I knew better. Or maybe not, because I stayed on his tail the rest of the way to the finish line.
Finish came in 1:26:26, which was good for 10th place overall. My estimation was that I had lost 6 to 7 minutes during my little face plant powwow in the dirt. I learned later that the 4th place guy I saw up ahead on the trail during the race just before I bit the dust was 1st place in age group. Two other 40+ guys passed me while I was down leaving me with 4th in the Master’s category.
After crossing the finish line, I saw my friend’s Ken and Angel. Ken took a picture of me with blood dripping down my left knee – not the one I was worried about that took a bigger brunt force – and dirt covering my right side. I’ll post that when I get it. After telling them about my fall, I immediately set out for ice for the knee and a beer for me. Both of us needed it.
The race was very low key but exceptionally fun. The course was far more technical than I thought – and, really, than many thought, and it took a lot out of me from the constant dancing around stones and roots, but it was extremely well marked and laid out with a variety to keep it entertaining. I would most certainly do it again. But my “scrapes” will have to heal first.