Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My Most Recent Race: The Skyline Trail 7 Mile, Milton, MA, July 8

At the top of the first climb, already out of breath!

The Blue Hills, situated south of Boston, is the setting for almost all of my trail running, at least in training. I usually get out there at least once a week, perhaps twice if I am lucky and/or training for an upcoming trail race. Thus, you would think I would regularly run the Skyline Trail 7 Mile Race, held each July at the Blue Hills, run on the very trails on which I regularly train. The reality is that for one reason or another (schedule conflicts, injury, not in trail running shape), I have never been able to make it to the starting line, until this year.

The Skyline Trail consists of steep, rocky, rooty terrain, up and over the spine of the modest peaks that constitute the range. Although the climbs are not long, they are steep, they are rocky, and they are relentless. Add a humid day with temperatures in the upper 80s, and you have the makings of a challenging race.

Should I have had an advantage in knowing the trails and how tough they were? I think so. From overhearing some of the conversations among the 75 runners on hand, many did not know the difficulty of the course that lay ahead. Right at the start we encountered a nasty two-thirds of a mile scramble up to the weather station, followed by a plunge straight down the other side to the Hillside Avenue road crossing. Most of the remainder of the race was a repeat of that layout.

I fell back into the pack despite going anaerobic on the initial climb. Since I am much better at downhills than the climbs, I tried to hold my place on the ups and then really let it go on the descents. The problem was getting past the other runners on the narrow trails. It seemed to make little sense to pass a runner on a descent, only to have he or she (mostly hes) go right by again on the following uphill climb. Eventually I found a rythym that worked.
At the halfway I turnaround I was amazed at how much more quickly I was covering the ground than I do in training. I thought a time close to 90 minutes would be a good result, given that it takes me 15 to 20 minutes longer in training to do this distance, even on a cool day. But I was ahead of even that optimistic goal as we headed for home. Jockeying back and forth between a group of other runners, my goal was to beat as many of them as I could. Eventually, I put all but two behind me, one of whom pulled way ahead. Back at the weather station, all we had left was a straight shot down the ski slope to the finish. As I edged up to my last, lone competitor, steeling myself for a sprint down the mountain, he said, "You go ahead; no way am I running hard down that."

I was disappointed and relieved at the same time, although I still pushed hard down the ski slope. I had not looked at my watch, reluctant to see if I was close to going over 90 minutes. As it turned out, I crossed the line just as the clock turned over 1:26. That was good enough for 24th place overall and third in the 50 and over category, although it netted no prize in this low key event. The winning time was a scalding 1:05 by national-class trail runner Ben Nephew. As we sat around after the race, everyone seemed happy that the race was done by late morning, as the temperature had soared past 90.

So I finally had the chance to run a race on "home" training ground. Maybe next year I can break 1:25 and perhaps even win the 50 and over division. In any case, watch out! I'll be one of the runners bombing down the descents.

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