Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Nothing But Love for Trail Running Community: Pineland Farm 50 race recap

Sometimes the races in which we give up our pace goals are the ones we receive so much in return.

I headed into the Pineland 50 with two loose goals 1) Aim for a sub 9-hour finish 2) Do not destroy my body so I could resume training for the Vermont 100 by Thursday or Friday. I achieved one of those goals.

As is often the case in trail running, the day was defined by so much more than goals, pace, and splits. Years from now I will remember the immense amount of support I received and love I have for the trail running community.

Pineland has been on my radar for a few years partly because the trails are not technical and therefore very runnable. Last year, I emailed Erik Boucher, the race director, letting him know I would like to run it with a few sighted guides. He replied immediately and said “Yes, and let us know how else we can support you.” They even printed “GUIDE” and “BLIND” bibs for me and the team. Perfect and much appreciated.

Pineland Farms is in Maine so I knew I would need to recruit a few guides outside of my current network (who I am asking to travel to VT to guide me). Nicole Ponte was the first to respond and even though she had never guided before she volunteered to take on two of the three 25k loops. Really?! Well alright then.

Amy Rusiecki, who first guided me at Ghost Train, jumped in a few weeks before the race when the other guide who kindly responded to helping me out got injured. Even though Amy was already committed to pacing a friend, she said yes to my request. What a beast.
Nicole and I did a short shakeout/practice run Saturday morning while Jill was running the 10k and declared ourselves ready to roll.

About five miles into the first loop, Amy and I started chatting with a few runners about the Vermont 100. I cracked a joke about how I heard negative things about the race including the race director. Amy concurred in the affirmative (#realnews-Amy is the VT 100 RD). One of these runners was a guy named Nat who was also using Pineland as a VT 100 training run. We casually chatted for a few miles in which I learned Nat is a two-time Ultra Ironman finisher. I’ve heard about these people but I didn’t know they ACTUALLY existed! Complete bonkers. As I was running behind Amy, Nat would here and there call out a few rocks/roots and let me know if I was drifting too close to the trail edge. With no training Nat was a natural at providing guiding support.

After a few what Nat and I ended up calling “Amy Flats” (hills that Amy was trying to pass off as flats and get us to run up instead of hike) we stopped at an aid station. With Nat out of earshot and knowing that guiding 30+ miles is both mentally and physically challenging, I mentioned to Amy that it would be so cool if Nat would join us for the second loop.

As we neared the end of the first loop I floated the idea to Nat and he quickly agreed to hang with us and to soak in all the “positive vibes.” We swung back to the start/finish line, thanked and wished Amy well and took off on the second loop. I was 10-15 minutes off my 9-hr pace and knew I worked hard to get there. So I decided to bail on the pace goal and simply enjoy the run.

I’ve trained over 50 sighted guides through my day job with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired and United in Stride as well as guides for my own runs. Not every guide is created equal. I am always blown away when someone jumps in with such eagerness and willingness to help and absolutely nails it. This is what Nicole did. And as Nat and I joked throughout the day, she did it with a smile ALL day long. You could hear her love and enjoyment of the trails in her voice and guide calls.

Embrace the mud! PC: Nat

The Pineland trails are sweet. A nice mix of 10-12 foot wide dirt trails, grassy farm land (soaked in water and mud due to the rain), with very few roots. We passed a few small waterfalls and every runner we met was having a great time.
Nat did in fact hang with us the entire time and was incredibly helpful complimenting Nicole’s guiding. I often run behind my guide on single track trails and sometimes veer off trail a bit. Nat was invaluable in running behind me and subtly suggesting when to stay left/right.

We chatted about work, other trail races, and the beautiful scenery all around us. We ran with a guy named John (I think that is his name) from Maine for the last five or six miles. It was great to see John pull away from us during the last mile and finish strong.

I finished in just over 11 hours. Not where I wanted to be but the experience, friendship, and trail love far outweighs any time.

I am thrilled that Amy has yet another race experience as a guide and is ready to not only direct VT 100 but also guide me for the first 15 miles. Nicole is now part of the sighted guide family and may even help at VT 100 and I hope more races in the future. Although no lead guide experience, I would feel more than comfortable with Nat as my guide. And I cannot wait to see him in Vermont and soak in as much of his positive energy as possible.

The people are what make trail running such a special sport and is why I love being a part of it.
My memories of Pineland are not about how fast I ran (or didn’t run) nor my finish time but the people I shared the trails with. I will forever remember Amy saying as we neared the first section of mud “We are going straight through it and will have the most fun playing in the mud today.” And Nicole telling me to run left and right for over 30 miles and effortlessly climbing all the hills. And rounding numerous corners to hear Lucy cheering me on and rocking the cowbell. Although nasty, Jill helped me pull off my mud/water soaked socks mid-way through the race.  And coming through the start/finish area and soaking in the crowd’s cheers and energy. And Nat getting absolutely jazzed when I taught him the “3, 2, 1, jump” method when we can upon a raised water culvert (I swear that culvert got bigger as the day went on).

Finally, thank you to Jill and Lucy for your unwavering support. You got up well before 5:00AM to get me to the start line, ran to numerous aid stations to cheer me on and help with fuel, and crewed me at the transition points. Thanks so much.

See you on the trails!

Topo Athletic Terraventures
Nathan Vapor vest
Injinji toe socks

Post-Race Beers
Mix of Maine local beer including Mast Head, Liquid Riot, Lone Pine. 

Finishing w/ the entire team! L to R: Amy, Nicole, Nat & Lucy

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