Last week I ran the 5th Annual Traprock 50k trail run in Penwood State Park in Bloomfield, Connecticut. This turned out to be a very tricky technical trail-run over sharp rock and dirt. It was brutal and tough. I fell three times and crossed the line in 5 hours 48 minutes in 23rd place.
The main reason for my visit to New York state was to see my brother and meet my two new nieces. The nieces, Rachael and Laura, were lovely and very lively, future trail runners for sure. I was also lucky that my visit coincided with the Passover holiday and I was able to attend pre-Seder and Seder dinners with my brother’s wife’s family. This was great food, great company and some nice traditional readings and ceremonies. I was also able to shop for some running gear, see some sites and look out a holiday race. Perfect. Normally when I get out of Mexico I try to find a nice fast flat marathon to take advantage of the lower altitude to have a shot at a Boston marathon qualifying time. But this was the weekend just before Boston and there weren’t a lot of other marathons on. I would have had to travel a good distance South to get to the nearest marathon and in the end I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. The Traprock 50, a 50k technical trail run in nearby Connecticut, looked like a much better option.
In preparation for the race before arriving in New York I had already ordered some running stuff online, a couple of pairs of Sole Armor rock plates from Steep Canyon Running in California. These were meant to help protect the undersides of my feet from bruising when running over rocks in thin soled ‘barefoot running’ style shoes. They really did the trick and I would recommend these to anyone who runs on stony ground with lightweight shoes. I hardly even felt them when they were on and, the Taprock trail would certainly have bruised a lot without these guys. Thank-you Steep Canyon Running.
I also bought a pair of running shoes. Merrell trail gloves, the red ones. These felt great once I loosened the laces to accommodate the Sole Armour. They felt so good that I decided to wear them in the race. This is normally a big no no for runners. The general rule is not to change anything before a race without testing it first in training but what can I say, I guess I’m just a crazy kinda guy.
I managed to find a lift to the race with a couple of local runners from New York. Both were cool guys and properly stoked about the race. Eric Aditya had already ran Mount Kilimanjaro and was looking to do Mont Blanc in the near future. Joe Delano was looking for a Boston Qualifier time. We arrived early and registered and collect our race packs. The race t-shirt was good quality with an attractive design and the organizers really seemed to know what they were doing. I also received a prize for travelling the furthest distance to compete. They actually passed out two prizes for distance traveled since another guy was from Washington State and traveled an extra 100 miles or so. I guess I was the most foreign runner, and I bet the other guy didn’t take the 20 hours plus it took me to arrive by bus and aeroplane. The race itself would be three laps of 17km each, passing runners on the way back. This could easily have been a disaster elsewhere but the course was really well marked and there was plenty of room for passing. The overall climb was over 1,250 meters spread pretty evenly over a course of mostly sharp rock, dirt and some broken tarmac. At the start of the race about 100 meters after setting off we had a sharp turn left up a steep rocky climb. About halfway up the guy in front lurched forward as he hit a rock with his toe. This would be a reoccurring theme of the race. The whole course was rocky as hell and if you lost concentration for a moment you can easily take a tumble. My two additional disadvantages in this area were my natural poor concentration and my massive clumsy feet (size 12 US, 11 UK).
The initial climb lasted about 1km before taking an undulating stony path for 1 km and dropping down steadily for about 0.5km. After this we broke off to the left went over an annoying puddle before reaching a series of large rocky steps rising up about 50 meters. This looked like a real strength sapper and I was happy to let some of the more enthusiastic runners overtake me since I knew I would need the energy later on. After this came a really technical section with a lot of short steep stony climbs and drops. The drops just scared the hell out of me but I was lucky enough to find myself just behind what looked like quite a good technical runner so I tried to trace his steps as much as I could so as not to slow down too much. What I lost on the drops I found I could make up by pushing that bit harder on the climbs. This section lasted about 2kms culminating in a longer steep drop where I completely lost pace with the runner in front to arrive at the road and the first aid station.
I pushed on up the hill at the other side to join quite a flat path toward the turn around the 5 and half kilometer mark. This was just about the least stony and fastest section, but about half way along I hit a stray stone and went flying. I really took a tumble and was amazed to see that I hadn’t cut my hands. I was shaken but not really winded or too badly injured at all. Approaching the turn we passed the leaders who really seamed to be tearing through the course. My feet had taken a battering but I was still feeling good and managing to keep up a 6 minute per kilometer pace. After the turn I picked up the pace and managed to overtake a couple of runners before reaching the road again and the second aid station positioned back to back with the first. I skipped this station to push up the next hill which broke off from the outgoing trail to the right. This was a steady but very stony climb and I was able to put some distance between me and the runner behind. I continued pushing on but frustratingly couldn’t see any runners ahead. The course was very well marked but the effort of looking out the markers without any runner ahead seemed to sap my energy. At this point I was starting to feel a bit of sunburn without any protection from the bare trees still stripped from winter. After a while the trail climbed up to skirt the edge of the cliff. This reminded me of my aversion to heights and I had visions of tripping on a rock over the edge or being caught by a freak gust of wind and plummeting to my death. At one point the edge was marked with yellow tape at waist height. This gave me visions of a Final Destination type accident scenario with the tape blowing over my head and dragging me over the edge with a change in the wind. Luckily this didn’t happen.
At the end of the cliff section we snaked over a bridge and climbed parallel to a broken tarmac road where we could see the leaders again. Already quite far ahead. Around this point i was passed by a couple of runners who came out of nowhere. And another at the aid station at the turn. Damn. Down the tarmac I picked up my pace a little by matching my pace with another runner who just passed me. The tarmac went up and down before turning to rejoin the original route at the first decent, which we now had to climb. This was just run-able at this stage of the race, but slowly. I was overtaken again, maybe a couple of times, as I took the climb slowly. The leaders passed us on the way back on the start of their second lap. The undulating section at the top of this was painful as my feet kept kicking rocks as we ran into more of the leaders.
I carefully descended the last dip before the finishing straight to complete my first lap. The way back up was tough. I met Eric, one of the guys who I took the lift with, who had twisted his ankle but still managed to shoot on ahead. In fact, quite a few runners overtook me this lap. I stopped for food at the first and second aid stations to try and re-energize for the final lap. The technical sections of the course were really beginning to hurt my legs and the fatigue was making it harder and harder to concentrate. After the second turn at the 25km mark I picked the pace up a little to around 7 minutes per k, but I was still being passed. Turning into the third and final lap was mentally the toughest point in the race. As if to punctuate my feeling of despair and despondency in this moment, two runners passed me silently on the first climb. I never climb well, so I wasn’t going to chase them. At the end of the second climb (the big stairs) I decided to chase the last runner to pass me. This was the turning point in my race as I managed to match his pace for a good distance. After the turn he asked me to me pass. For the next climb and cliff-side section I was on my own. I sped up on the next stony flat section and at around 43 km I fell again. This time I wasn’t so lucky and cut my hands right on my finger tips before rolling onto by backside . Ouch. I poured some water onto the wound to clean it and it stung pretty bad. The blood was dripping out of me but at least it woke me up a bit. After this I really picked up the pace and actually started running faster than my previous lap. I overtook four runners on the tarmac section but at this point it was slow motion racing. Like boxers slugging it out in the ring after 15 rounds. The last runner I overtook came right back at me and I fell again cutting the side of my hand open. The last five kilometers I struggled back up the hill and fought over the undulating section before the last dip. I crossed the line in 5 hours 48 minutes coming in in 23rd place of a field of 101.
Overall I felt the race was very well organised and the course was excellent if you don’t mind technical trails. It was pretty easy to pass runners going in the opposite direction and the atmosphere was really good with plenty of encouragement from the other runners. We were also lucky with the weather and I felt the field was very strong, certainly at the front. They also managed to patch my hands up pretty well and gave us hamburgers and and a beer glass. Would definitely like to run this one again if I get the chance. Happy trail running!