(excerpt from NipMuck Trail Marathon application)On Sunday, June 1, I ran my first trail marathon: 26.4 miles on the NipMuck Trail in northeastern Connecticut. This year marked the race's 25th year anniversary, and some of the runners looked as though they had been running it since its inception: in the last third of the race, I caught up to a lean, muscular, grey-haired fellow who informed me that he had recently celebrated his 79th birthday. And it took me four hours to catch up to him. Hope I'm still dodging roots and rocks and landing softly in muck when I'm approaching my octogenarian age!
This photo of the inside of the port-a-potty, taken by running photographer Scott Livingston, really captures the spirit of the race. Race director "NipMuck Dave" brings an in-your-face humor to the event that keeps die-hard trail fanatics coming back. The application declares that "All complaints about getting lost will be laughed at." Fortunately, the trail is very clearly marked, and Dave manages to round up scores of volunteers who really make the event possible. Many, many times during the race I thought I was done; my legs would lock up in protest and insist they couldn't take me another step. A few minutes later, I would stumble upon an aid station, load up on Gatorade, potatoes, bananas, and chocolate, and somehow I would get through another hour.
A trail marathon has been an aspiration of mine ever since I discovered that such things existed, which I think was back when I was living in Anchorage and hiked Crow Pass, the site of the infamous Crow Pass Crossing, a trail marathon rife with black bears and bees and water crossings. I never did run that marathon, and at this point probably never will, but NipMuck was an incredibly exhilarating--if excruciating-- experience. Trail races are, in my experience, more informal affairs than road races: they have to be, as the measurements are inevitably imprecise, a runner's performance is subject to any number of obstacles, from twisted ankles to wildlife to slippery rocks, and it's even possible to lose your way, in spite of the bright blue blazes. After a few hours, you begin to hallucinate a bit, and it's easier than one might think to get turned around. But the genuine camaraderie that one encounters on the trail gives an exhausted runner a mental push. While it is a race, and folks are vying for position, the runners look out for one another, so you never feel as though you are out there alone.
The application states that if you add an hour to your slowest marathon time, you'll get a rough estimate of your NipMuck Marathon time. This was pretty true for me: I managed to finish in 4:54, which allowed me to meet my goal of running in under five hours. But holy hell! I was more tired and sore than I have ever been in any other marathon, including Boston, which always does me in. When I called Bryan to tell him I'd made it out alive, I was biting my lip to keep from crying. But when it was over I proudly carried my souvenir trophy--a piece of wood with a blue blaze painted on it and a laminated piece of paper that read "25th Annual NipMuck Trail Marathon--to the car and drove my aching body home.
When I ran my first marathon, my friend Amos said, when it was over, "Now you never have to do that again!" I felt that way immediately following NipMuck, but now I'm starting to think about shunning all road races and sticking exclusively to the trails. So maybe another NipMuck will make the race calendar. We'll see how I feel when I recover. . . .