On Saturday, May 26, Shelly Girl and I headed up to New Gloucester Maine to run the Pineland Farms 50 mile race. We had run the race once before and knew the course would be a good “kilometer” post in our training for Vermont. For the last six weeks we have been spending lots of time on feet trying to build up our conditioning, both physical and mental, and it was time to toe the line and see where we were.
If you have not participated in the Pineland Farms Trail Running festival you should add the event to your calendar for 2013. With a 5k, 5k barefoot, 5k Canicross and 10k on Saturday and a 25k, 50k, 50 mile race on Sunday there is literally a race for everybody. In fact many runners race one event on Saturday and then another on Sunday. Erik and Ian, the race Directors, add a bunch of fun stuff like barbeques and live music plus there are events for the kids. It truly is a running festival and well worth the 4 and ½ hour drive.
Shelly and I arrived early on Saturday and after a brief visit to the outlets in Freeport we picked up our race packets and headed to our hotel for an evening of hanging out and watching an Undercover Boss marathon on TV. Sleep never is easy before a race for us but the morning came and we headed off for the 6 am start.
The 50 mile race is very low key and about 150 runners toed the line. After begging Brian Rusiecki not to lap me, last time I ran Pineland Ben Nephew ran by me like I was going backwards, and a few brief comments about the course the race Director yelled go and we all went.
The Pineland Farms course consists of a 3.5 mile warm up mini loop and then 3 25k loops. Meaning you run everything three times plus a bit of the beginning at the beginning. As you can imagine this type of course has pluses and minuses. The same course can get boring but the repetitive nature does allow you to chunk the race into manageable pieces mentally quite well. On each loop there are 4 aid stations, two of which you see twice and one you visit three times on each loop . You never go far without having aid and Shelly and I both easily handled the race with just one hand-held bottle.
With cool temps to start we tackled the initial mini loop with no problems and got back to the start to start the race in earnest. Pineland Farms is one of those ultras where you feel you should run everything. The course is quite rolling but there are very few hills that are “walkers” and the trail is never technical. In fact, now that I think about it I don’t believe there is one step of single track on the entire course. Pineland is almost entirely road wide trail or cow pastures. Still, this was not a day for racing but a day to avoid being a part of the carnage so we did one thing almost the entire day and that was go slow. It seemed like the whole first 25k loop we were being passed but we just took our time and tried to run/hike like we would be out there all day. About two hours in to the race my various aches and pains started acting up but these are things that seem to always be with me so I was not overly concerned. We took on the first set of fields and Michele began dealing with a small bit of her own aches and pains. Shelly and the sun are not friends and while the day was not excessively hot the open running in full sun sapped a bit of my girls spirit. Luckily, we would tuck back into the woods before there were any real issues and trudged on taking in the beauty of the day, the wonderful fields, the blue sky, the smell of the trees and the company of like minded souls.
About 16k into the loop you circle back to the starting line and then head out for the remaining 9k on the other side of the road. I love this section, the mental boost of running through the starting area and being cheered on by all the family and friends of other runners is great plus it was here where we had placed a drop bag and were always able to resupply. I got in the habit of dropping my hand-held for the last section and I looked forward to this each time around. Plus, my favorite part of the course is the “back” part. There are two open fields and then a bunch of soft grassy trail that always seemed to be going down. We finished the first loop in under 3 hours and made two promises as we started out for the second loop. Go slower and Go slower!
On the second loop I felt great. I took some ibuprofen and my aches and pains were gone, even my feet, which always give me trouble, felt good. It was also on the second loop where we started to become friends with the people at our ability level and we began getting passed by lots of runners. At Pineland the 50 mile starts at 6 am, the 50k at 8 and the 25k at 10. It was close to the five hour mark for us when 25k runners began storming past us. It was kind of cool to see the leaders, you know the guys who have zero percent body fat, run with nothing in their hands for 15 miles and never seem to own a shirt, run up the hills we were walking. We were still about an hour and half from completing our second loop so we just got used to the sound of fast feet coming up on us from behind.
It was on the second loop where we also started advancing up the field a bit. There were about a half dozen runners we simply passed and then another three who we would see most of the rest of the way. One female we will call “Mainer”, cuz she was from Maine. Another we will call “green guy”, cuz he was wearing a green shirt. The third guy we will call “sucker” because he stuck to us for about 20 miles. Mainer did not talk much but she seemed very nice, Green guy was also very nice but he never stopped talking. Sucker never said a word but when we ran he ran and when we walked he walked.
It was somewhere along the back part of the second loop that I felt a soft touch on my shoulder , a brief “hey” and then a bunch of dust as Brian Rusiecki blew past us! Damn! My only consolation was I was about two miles further up the trail then the previous time but still, agh!!! My only other memory of the second loop was when a 25k girl asked Shelly Girl if we only had 2k to go. We were both thinking I wish I only had 2k to go but Shelly said “yes, so you should pick it up” I had to laugh, I am not sure how the girl took it but it was funny.
So, loop three. This is where I fell apart two years ago. I changed shirts, grabbed a hat and off we went for the last three hour tour of Pineland Farms. Almost immediately two things happened, we found ourselves alone in the woods and Shelly Girl started pulling away. With no single (25k) and double (50K) loopers passing us we were now among the last folks on the course. I did not think about it then but looking back I really like that we started first and would end last. At the start of the third loop Shelly had grabbed her iPod and this put a little extra jump in her step. I was not going to blow up so we just adjusted to her being between 10 and 100 yards ahead of me for most of the loop. Sucker found some youthful energy and blasted ahead but we had dropped Mainer and Green Guy and clicked off the kilometers sign that so annoyed us for the first two loops. I actually enjoyed shooting them with my finger gun as we went by. 1K, bang, 2k bang bang, 3k kaboom and so on.
Somewhere along in the back part of loop three Green guy passed me but I did not care and maintained a slow and steady pace. At some point I told Shelly Girl to go on ahead and I just was happy to be running until , out of nowhere, Mainer came up behind me. I know we were not racing but the girl seemed close to 50, turns out she was 45, and there was no way I was going to let this girl catch my girl, who had been waiting a bit for me every few minutes for most of the third loop. So with about 3k to go I assumed race mode to catch up with Shelly Girl. This was so much fun! I could not believe I had so much left in the tank. I passed both Green Guy and Sucker and felt like Brian Rusiecki passing me about three hours earlier. I saw Shelly Girl up ahead right before the last aid station. Shelly had not seen me yet and both of us just blew past the station, because at 49 + miles we were not interested in aid, just being done. I came up on Shelly and she seemed surprised to see me. That made me smile. We ran home as fast as we could and right before the finish Shell reached for my hand and we finished the journey holding hands and with a big hug.
Looking back on Pineland Farms 2012 I am happy to say it was just about perfect. It had all the ups and downs that I imagine will be multiplied by some unknown percentage in Vermont but at the end of the day I walked away thinking what I needed to be thinking as Vermont begins to loom. We are one, hopefully big, step closer to achieving success in July. Of course I have no idea if our training will be sufficient or what day of the race factors will be thrown at us but I know Pineland Farms was a step in the right direction. We went way past why the hell are we doing this and came to the other side knowing that we could. In the weeks to come there is a lot of work to do but Shelly and I have one huge factor going in our favor and that is we have each other to share the experience. I have faith that this will make a difference in July.
See ya on the trail