JFK 50 Miler

May 29th, 2010 - Race/Race - New Gloucester, ME - 6.2

Day 149 - The one thing that I promised myself when I started this 365 Day Race was that I'd stop running the day that I stop having fun. Today was definitely not going to be that day...not by a long shot.

Rachel and I woke up (late) at 6:45AM for the 2 hour police gauntlet up to New Gloucester, ME for the Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival. We counted at least 20 cars pulled over by Maine's finest as we made our way up 95 North...very slowly, and legally.

I originally found out about the festival when I was looking for a race that Scooter and I could do together. The festival itself is a two-day event. Saturday would host the Canicross 5K, Barefoot 5K, and a regular 5K and 10K. Sunday would be host to the 25K, 50K, and 50 Miler. Basically, it was running nirvana.

My original plan was to just run the Canicross 5K, but noticed that the Barefoot 5K also allowed for a "shod" division. The very popular Vibram Five Fingers qualified for the shod division, and I had been training/road racing in them for the past couple of weeks. Perfect. I could now justify driving the two-hours to run, not one, but two races!

We got to the race site at the New Gloucester YMCA at about 9:30AM (the canicross would start at 10:10AM). It was an odd location, as the Y was set against your typical beautiful Maine backdrop amoung a handful of pristine buildings on a well-manicured estate. The scary part was that all of the dogs and runners had the "run" of most of the "farm" area for the day!

It was pretty warm already (mid-60's) when I rushed down to the registration tent to sign myself up for the canicross and barefoot races. The total cost of both races came out to $55, which to me at the time appeared to be expensive, but 100% (very rare) of the entry fee would go to a good cause.

I quickly proceeded to the porta-john to take care of some last minute business (Scooter too) and then changed into my Greater Lowell gear.

(sorry budddy, this one is taken)

When Scooter and I got down to the starting line, we received a few chuckles and heard a few comments from the peanut gallery, like, "Oh my god! He's so cute!" and "Is he really going to race with you?"

I knew that Scooter could handle the distance, as we've been doing trail running for the past 14 dog years, but just not on a competitive level. I admit, Scooter is not your protypical racing dog, but I would equate him to the main character in "Rudy": He didn't have the look, but he definitely had the heart, and sometimes that's the most important part. This is even more true in an activity like running/trail racing.

(Say hello to my little friend)

My friend, and fellow Masssoles teammate, Katy was also here with her running partner Sasha, a dog rescued from Louisiana. This was also her first canicross race, and Katy made an interesting observation. We were both feeling pre-race jitters! Katy and I are both experienced enough racers to not have these pre-race jitters at a typical race, but this was definitely not a typical race for us.

(Partners in crime, Scooter and Sasha) 

We didn't know what to expect. Were we out of our league against these other "racing" dogs? Could our dogmates even finish the race without issue? I was also truly nervous as Scooter was the smallest and most fragile looking dog out there.

(Which one of these does not belong...)

It didn't help that a spectator came up to me about two minutes before the start and told me that Scooter looked "scared", which made me feel awful as a dog owner. Have I turned into the crazy sports dad, making his kid do something against his will? Scooter was definitely out of his comfort zone. Scooter is a yorkie-poodle mix, but more yorkie than poodle. He tends to be jittery (nickname is Mr. Jitters), and right now he was Mr. Very Jittery.

Scooter's jitteryness was mainly due to the fact that the other dogs in the race were much bigger and much, much more aggressive. Some of them looked like heavyweight boxers at a weigh-in, staring and snarling at one another for dominance. Some of the owners were having trouble containing their teammates' "excitement". I could tell that the race organizers wanted to get the race started before it turned into Michael Vick's basement.

On the sound of the cow bells, man and beast would dart into the woods.

DING! DING! DING!

I didn't know what to do when Scooter just froze in panic! All of the teams quickly passed us as we slowly jogged (more like me dragging Scooter) away from the starting line. I actually almost resigned myself to the idea of just letting all of the other teams go and turn it into just a fun run with Scooter. We had no business being here.

(And they're off!...well, most of them)

And then, like a son trying to make his dad proud, Scooter began his signature trot, which then turned into his signature sprint! The best way to describe his gait is to conjure up the image of cartoon characters running (sound effects and all). His little legs continously turning over like a blur, and his upper body is just there for the ride.

I was completely caught off guard and almost let go of the leash. I too quickly picked up my pace in order to keep the momentum going. This was too good to be true! Scooter was racing!

He knew exactly what we needed to do and he lead the way like an experienced pacer. We were in about 30th place at that point, but quickly started hunting down the lead packs. I've mentioned it before in my other race writeups, and it was happening now: Scooter and I were lazer focused, locked into a runner's zone, and working together like two seasoned running partners!

Whenever I fell behind, Scooter would encourage me by sprinting up as far as his leash would allow. Whenever he fell behind, all I had to do was yell his name and give his little squeaky toy (our secret weapon) a little squeeze.

The course itself was now opening up around the 1 mile mark, and the crowded start at the beginning began to thin out to only a few teams scattered here and there. Just when I thought that Scooter was at his max speed, he would surprise me by picking up the pace! I was actually starting to have trouble keeping up with my little buddy.

We slalomed past one team after and another, and Scooter was in killer instinct mode now. Every time he saw another dog in front of him, he would slam on the gas and chase down the team. I guess the pep talk at the start was really working now!

(Remember what we talked about at the start)

I began to notice one common theme among the teams that we were passing. The owners couldn't keep up with their dogs! It worried me at the start when I saw fast looking whippets and retrievers among the pack of teams, but now I realized that dog racing teams were only as fast as the slowest teammate (duh)! The dogmates that we were passing were expending most of their energy dragging their human-mates along. I could tell that most of the dogs wanted to go faster, but that was impossible as they were all anchored to a lot of deadweight.

Scooter and I were running stride-for-stride-for-stride-for-stride-for-stride, and for the most part, alongside each other for most of the race. Every time we passed another team, we both received a nice jolt of adrenaline and began searching for the next team.

Around the halfway mark at mile 1.5, a group of spectators were able to tell me that we were currently in "5th maybe" (we were actually in 6th place)! Scooter and I were averaging a 6:30 pace at this point! Unfrigginbelievable! We definitely had a good shot at placing in the top 3 if we could keep up this pace!

(We show up at the 1:28 mark)

I grabbed a cup of water for myself and Scooter at the first water stop, but I could tell Scooter wanted to just keep going without taking some water. He was new to this racing experience and I didn't want him to overheat in all of his excitement, so I dumped most of the water on the top of his head and off we went again.

Between that water stop and the next water stop, around the 2.5 mile mark, we were able to take down one more team, putting us one spot away from being "in the money"! The final takedown was the hardest as it was on an uphill section of the course. I typically like hill running, but for some reason, I couldn't get the turnover that I wanted. Scooter, on the other hand, was a hill-flatttening machine. His excess energy easily transferred down the leash and right into my legs. I responded by giving it my all, and once again, we were running next to each and on the scent of another team. I SMELL...BACON!!

We steadily began reeling in this other team, but the other team's dog was all over the course because of his very long leash. He was dashing side-to-side, once again, dragging his teammate behind him. The dog was in full Michael Jordan pose with his tongue wagging more than his tail.

Scooter and I waited for an opening, in order to avoid getting our leashes tangled up, and made a move to past. We accelerated right past the dog and owner only to be chased for the next half mile! This dog saw Scooter as a chew toy and was right on his tail. I find it harder to lead than to follow in a race, so I can't imagine what it must feel like to be almost eaten by your competition! Poor Scooter!

We both gutted out the next half mile and eventually got some separation from the 4th place team. It was an awesome sight and sound when Scooter and I appeared from the trail's opening. We heard cow bells and a bunch of cheers when the finish line crowd realized that the underdog had become the wunderdog!

(Who's laughing now, bitch!)

In all of the excitement, I forgot that the team was only as fast as the slowest runner, so I kind of dragged Scooter across the finish line when I did my usual finishing kick. Sorry buddy!

(Take it easy, partner!)


Scooter and I quickly cooled off with a sponge bath and he even got interviewed by a dog magazine! Loving that spot light now, huh, buddy?

With more racing experience, we could easily do this course closer to sub-19 without a problem! We'll definitely be back next year!

(Please welcome the newest member of the Greater Lowell Road Runners!)

Even after all of that, I still had another race to run! I looked at my watch and I had roughly less than thirty minutes before I had to "toe" the line for the Barefoot 5K.

I slipped back to my car and slipped on my KSO Five Fingers. It was really warm at this point (70's), so I got rid of my dripping wet singlet and opted for just the shorts.

(Anything less would definitely be uncivilized)

I got into the starting chute with 60 other barefoot contessas (34 of them going o'natural, and 26 opting for the Five Fingers).

The run with Scooter actually help me loosen up a lot, but I knew that if I didn't pace myself properly on this run, I would definitely be dead by the final cow bell. The biggest advantage I had at this moment was that I already knew the course. I had just completed it 30 minutes earlier.

DING! DING! DING!

Man and beasts were once again off and darting into the woods. There's something about trail running (especially barefoot) that brings out the pre-historic in all of us. Most of the runners were whooping and hollering at the top of their lungs like a bunch of indians as we made our way into the woods. This isn't the first time I've witnessed this, and it only happens at trail races.

I was now free to do my own thing without Scooter dragging my carcass around, so I ran with the lead pack for about a half mile before we started to disperse. The lead guys were all barefoot with the exception of one guy wearing FF's directly right in front of me. I started to only focus on those wearing FF's, since that was going to be my division.

I can't recall the last time I paid so much attention to footwear (or lack thereof) during a race, but I was doing it today. I was passed by another runner at the 1.5 mile mark, but was relieved to discover that he was shodless. I was now sitting in 6th place overall and still 2nd place in my division at this point. I just needed to hang on for another mile in order to place in the top three in my division.

The other FF runner in front of me had taken off and was out of my sight, so I knew that I probably had no shot at placing first in the shod division. I then heard footsteps directly behind me, and they were the unmistakable sound of FF's hitting paydirt. Dammit! I've got to really earn it today.

Using the knowledge of the course to my advantage (rolling hills, with steep downhills immediately following every uphill climb) I bolted up every hill after mile 2, and recklessly slammed on the gas pedal on the other side. 

I managed to spook a bunch of regular 5Ker's still out on the course (they had a 10 minute head start on us!) when I came flying down on a particulary steep drop. I even scared myself as it brought me back to my mountain races last year. Trust me, mountain/trail racing is a lot more fun when you're not wiping out during a downhill freefall, going 15 miles per hour (4 minute/mile pace).

(Last year at the Cranmore Mtn Double Climb (and fall))

I eventually sneaked a peek during a haripin turn in the course (only time I ever allow myself to look back during a race) to gauge my distance. GULP! I was only about five seconds in front of 3rd place FF man with less than a quarter mile to go!

Another good thing about knowing the course is that you know exactly when to expect to be close to finishing, and when to start your final kick.

Once I saw the same trail clearing that I had seen 50 minutes earlier, I really kicked it into a higher gear and popped out of the woods dashing like a mad man. I rounded the final turn, passing a few more regular 5K'ers, and right down into the finish chute!


When I spoke to the 3rd place shod finisher after the race, he said that I had him beat on the downhills. Phew!

I even got an opportunity to share the limelight with Scooter with my own post-race interview for a running magazine. Supposed to hit the stands in September...

Overall, it was an awesome day of racing, and Scooter and I walked away with a lot of hardware.

Along with our cool looking trophies, Scooter also received a new bungie leash courtesy of the great folks at http://www.noonsackracing.com/, and I walked away with a new pair of KSO Trek Five Fingers courtesy of the fine folks at Vibram (my brother included).

(Cool looking trophies)

Good luck to all those tackling the longer distance races on Sunday, including the Rain Man himself, Dane L.!

FYI, Vacationland has become my favorite place to race! Sub-3 hr marathon at Sugarloaf two weeks ago, my Boston qualifer last year at Portland, and now this gem of a running festival! Tough to beat!

INTERESTING UPDATE: It looks like Scooter stayed up in Maine for the 50 Miler:



3 comments:

  1. Thanks, Richie! Still waiting to see how you guys did in the longer distance races!

    ReplyDelete
  2. It was a great write up...and Scooter sounds like he was a great running partner.

    ReplyDelete