The eighth running of the Pineland Trail Running Festival took place on May 25 and 26 in New Gloucester, Maine. The festival is comprised of a series of trail races. On Saturday, a 5K, barefoot 5K, 5K canicross and a 10K took place. On Sunday, the 50 mile, 50K and 25K races were held.
I signed up for the 50K, which would be my first ultramarathon. From everything that I read, Pineland Trail Running Festival would be a good entry point. The trails are wide and non-technical, but there are still challenging, but runnable hills. My only concern was that it was scheduled two weeks after my first marathon.
One of the biggest wildcards going into the race was what the weather would turn out to be. Memorial Day weekend in New England can be cool and rainy or it can be hot and muggy. The week leading up to the race was pretty rainy. We received notification from the race director that when the first course marking were put out on Wednesday that the course was wet and the grass (part of the course crosses through mowed farm fields) was slippery so that we should plan on having wet feet for the duration of the run. But the rain only continued from there, and on Saturday, it rained all day through the 5Ks and the 10K. Plus temperatures were getting lower and lower. The projected temperature for start time was the low to mid-40s with a high for the day in the low to mid-50s. Some places in northern New England actually got snow over the weekend.
When I went to bed on Saturday night, I went to sleep with the assumption that we would be running through mud and that we’d be running in the rain for the duration of the race. I also knew that this was going to be a slow day for me. If you read my Delaware Marathon race report, you’ll recall that I was recovering from peroneal tendonitis (my ankle) for the four weeks before the marathon, so I had not run for those last four weeks leading up to the marathon. For the two weeks in between the marathon, I had managed to squeeze in a few runs and had run a total of about 21 miles (some of them on pretty dead legs). So my goal for the day was not to get a DNF and to enjoy it the best that I could. Beyond that, I threw out all my previous expectations that I had when I initially registered for the race.
So now I had to figure out how to prepare for the race with no experiences to draw from and no friends who are ultrarunners to talk to. Luckily, I had discovered Ultra Runner Podcast months ago and had been listening (and relistening to) it obsessively. [As a side note, I was originally looking for a fall race, but it was this response on March 3 from Eric or Scott of URP that made me choose something sooner: "Nice job on jumping into this wacky sport. I'd always recommend choosing an event sooner than that, but that's me."] Based on the interviews with nutritionist Sunny Blende and my marathon experience, I felt like I had a pretty good sense of what I would need nutrition-wise to be successful. My biggest concern was that I knew that my feet would be very wet and that I was concerned about blistering and tearing up my feet. Eric and Scott had interviewed Dr. David Hannaford (a sports podiatrist and ultraunner), who had recommended John Vonhof’s book Fixing Your Feet: Injury Prevention and Treatments for Athletes, which I had bought. So I spent some time reading his recommendations (one of which was a coating of Desitin Maximum Strength Original Paste).
The schedule for Sunday was the 50M would start at 6:00 AM, the 50K at 8:00 AM and the 25K at 10:00 AM. Since I live just over an hour’s drive away, I woke up early Sunday morning and prepped myself. In addition to the standard preparations of Band-aids to prevent nipple chafing and Vaseline to prevent chafing elsewhere, I applied a layer of BodyGlide liquid powder to my feet followed by a generous coating of Desitin. I then slid into a pair of Injinji toe socks (my sock of choice for long runs) and put on my New Balance MT110 trail shoes (this would be by far my longest run in these shoes so I hoped for the best). I then hopped into the car and drove north, arriving around 6:40. Thankfully the rain had stopped and it seemed like it would be a cool, overcast day for the race.
Once I arrived, I picked up my bib and t-shirt. I then began the waiting game (which is always the worst part of the day). Slowly, more and more runners began to show up (there were 206 finishers for this event). Finally, it was time to start. We were called to the start line for a quick briefing, and then we were off.
It wasn’t long before we got to see the trail conditions that we would have to deal with for the rest of the course. The course is two 25K loops, so after our first loop we’d pretty much know what to expect for the second half of the race. Within the first mile, we were already ankle deep in mud and puddles, and it was clear that there wasn’t going to be any way to avoid it (no running around the edges to avoid them, etc.). It was time to accept the conditions and to embrace them the best that we could.
At times, the mud would pose some significant challenges, especially on the downhills where it was more like skiing than running. Even if I hadn’t set aside any pace expectations prior to the start, it was very evident that today would not be a day to expect a PR.
At the beginning, I felt pretty good, slippery mud and some pretty deep puddles along the course were definitely taking their toll on me. This was compounded by the fact that the course has a fair amount of ups and downs (see the elevation profile below from my Garmin, which also showed an overall elevation gain of 2,270 feet and elevation loss of 2,267 feet). Going into the race, I had made the decision that I would walk any significant hills (at least for the first loop) to save some energy for the second half. So I followed that strategy and trudged forward.
Overall, most of the way through the first loop, I was feeling pretty good. It was at that point, I heard another runner behind me greet me by name. It turned out that I knew another one of the runners. She was running the race with a friend, so I ran with them for the rest of the first loop and the beginning of the second loop. They appeared at a time when I needed a little bit of push, so I was very thankful to have them there. Part way through the second loop, however, I dropped back and continued the rest of the way on my own.
Just under six and a half hours later, I was nearing the finish line. When I was approaching the end, I was greeted by the cheering of my wife and youngest daughter who had drive up to cheer me on after my wife had run a 5K earlier in the day near home. Once again, it was that extra push that I really needed. I crossed the finish line at 6:34 (134 out of 206). Given the trail conditions, the fact that I had run my first marathon two weeks prior and that fact that I was coming off an injury that had prevented me from running for four weeks, I was pleased with my results.
Overall, this was a great event that I would recommend to anyone in the Northeast. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Wide, runnable trails — I never felt like runners were blocking me and I couldn’t get by (even in the beginning)
- Well organized — I have no complaints from registration through completion
- Good number of aid stations that were well stocked (although it would have been great if they had gels so I didn’t have to carry any)
- Well maintained trails
- Hilly, but the hills were manageable (especially if it hadn’t been so muddy)
- Cool cowbell and a nice water bottle for the finishers
- T-shirts, hats, etc. were optional so that registration fees could remain reasonable
- Many “repeat” runners who had run the event in previous years, which is always a good indication of an event worth running
Like many other ultrarunners, I spent the few hours of the race thinking that this would probably be my first and only ultramarathon. Now that it’s a day later, however, I’m sitting here writing this report thinking about the possibility of my next event. I’ve already registered for a fall marathon, isn’t it time to register for a fall ultra too?