Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dances with Mud

The 2011 edition of the Mudders and Grunters five mile trail race is in the books. Organized by the Taconic Road Runners Club, this fun little race has been on my calendar for ten years. It has grown from a tiny club event into quite a competitive race with nearly 500 runners, some travelling hours to get there. For a taste of the race, here are some photos I culled from the internet:

I also found a short home-made video someone posted:

My race ended up being about exactly what I expected: I did not get a great start, because the young bucks just move too fast for me. However, as soon as we hit any technical stuff, I can reel them back in. I was about 30th at around the half-mile mark, closer to the top 20 by about 2 miles, and passed a few more during the remaining 3 miles to finish a fairly respectable 17th on the day, out of 423 runners. That is actually my worst-ever placing in this race, not surprising given my current state of fitness and my age. However, ironically it wasn't my slowest time ever on this course - I ran almost a minute slower way back in 2001. So I haven't lost it completely!

There were more downed trees on the course this year than I remember from years past. In fact, we twice had to sort of wriggle our way through a tangle of branches laying across the course. That meant coming to a near-stop twice and crawling/scrambling/pulling ourselves over/around/through the limbs. Fun, but definitely not helping with overall elapsed time. Ditto for some of the muddy sections, which were appropriately goopy and stinky, as only swamp mud can be.

The water crossing was about average in depth, but rather darned cold this year - or is that I don't manage to remember how darned cold that thing is every year? I do think that I am not aggressive enough leaping into that stream - check out Ben's aerial hi-jinks in the slideshow above. There is another funny aspect to that water crossing: somehow it doesn't feel all that cold when you're IN the water, but a few seconds after you get out, it kind of hits you ... and hard. My toes curl up, I start breathing in shallow gasps, and I almost want to rip off the cold, wet clothes I'm wearing - only that sounds cold too! It takes me about 30 seconds to get re-focused on the simple of act of running the final half-mile to the finish, on my cold-numbed and thus wobbly legs.

I wanted to send kudos to a couple of old friends who ran great in this race. Kevin Shelton-Smith, who at age 51 has been running lifetime personal bests on the road, finished 12 overall and first in the 50-59 age group. Nice work. Not far behind, George Buchanan was 14th overall and second in that division. At 17th overall, I am actually lucky to be still age 49, because I'd have been 3rd in their division, but managed second in my YOUNGER age group. Those two guys are really strong trail runners - and lest I forget to say so, Kevin had actually raced a 30k trail race on the day before, and had come in second overall in that event. I can only envy that kind of fitness right now, because my only real goal for 2011 is to avoid the injury bug. That requires me to take more easy days, and not to push my hard workouts too hard. I'm not willing to take the risk of hurting myself in order to maximize my fitness, at least not yet. Maybe later this year, maybe next year, but not right now. I'll keep at it and do what I can, but I'm not pushing myself back to the sidelines again if I can help it.

A final note on this race: my 17 year old son Max came along and gave it a shot. I was slightly worried that he'd lack the fitness to make it the entire way, but he seemed enthused. I lent him some gloves, a hat, some trail shoes, and he stomped through the swamp like the rest of us. By the end of the day, he finished in 157th place out of 423 runners, on literally no training whatsoever since last October. I'm proud of him for that, and as we stripped the muddy clothes off of our shivering selves back at the car, it really made me happy to hear him already plotting to come back next year and bring friends. Now that would be really, truly great.

Update: I found another video of the race, featuring the Race Director and some of the craziness. Enjoy:

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