Dam Good Trail Race is a 5 year old race organized by two sisters, Doreen and Michele. It's local, homegrown, family-friendly and well-organized.
Calling Letchworth my home course is a bit of a stretch as it is about 35 miles south from my house and I've only had about two handfuls of opportunities to run there. There are plenty of places closer to me that I run much more frequently. But it is a place that feels familiar and comfortable. I like running in Letchworth.
Comfortable and familiar home life is not always easy, however. I told myself I was going to run a fast time and that I was capable of running a fast time. I forgot to tell myself that it would be hard. Familiarity, it seems, has a funny way of helping one overlook preparation and perhaps in addition, mistake experience for ease. This I would come to know as one of my lessons for the day.
I have previously run this race in Kinvara TR2 and have run this trail numerous times (including Sehgahunda 2014) in Salomon SpeedCross3.
However, I really wanted to take out the Nike Kiger and see what they could do for a race at this distance. I haven't had much experience in them, my longest run being a 8.5 mile slow loop around Thirteenth Lake in the Adirondacks.
Given my distance from the course, conditions can be different from my local weather. Reports early in the week, from a fellow runner noted "mostly dry with some firm mud." But rain was forecasted for later in the week.
Previous successes in Sehgahunda and the expectation of a slightly muddier track than ideal for the Kinvara TR2 ultimately pushed me to the SpeedCross3.
I'm a little bummed that I didn't wear the Kiger. In retrospect, this would have been a great opportunity to really get into them. I may have over-thought the shoe thing a bit.
The course starts and finishes at the Dam in Letchworth State Park. Between the start and finish is a 7 mile out and back lollipop run that takes you along the eastern edge of the Genessee River. The well defined single-track trail provides breath-taking scenery of the gorge and equally breath-taking, rocky and rooty terrain including a few climbs into and out of stream crossings amounting to about 1,000 feet of uphill. On this day, with regards to breath-taking views, the park treated us to something truly special.
Thursday morning, a day after my feel-good showing at Dirt Cheap, a fog descended over me. This was not like the fog that would later greet me upon my arrival at Letchworth and nearly floor me in the middle of the race. This fog was one that was threatening to keep me in bed. More specifically, my sinuses . We have some interesting weather here in the Northeast and when pressure changes or humidity rises and falls, my sinuses respond with aplomb. I battled as best I could with sinus rinses all week, but I was still clogged and stuffy when I rolled out of bed on Saturday.
Despite those sinuses, the story of today's race starts at 5:25am and begins with an O'Brien rarity... a fairly well executed morning routine. I slowly ate 3 hard boiled eggs (which in another stunning development, were prepared the night before) brewed and drank some coffee, remembered a cooler and all my "fridge water", easily moved my previously packed gear into my already gassed up car. And at the expense of sharing too much, even managed a pre-race bathroom break.
In short, I got on the road without sweat or swearing! Easy street.
Upon reaching the Mt.Morris exit on route 390, the extremely bright sunrise was replaced with the thickest of fogs. Cars slowed to 40mph. People stopped passing on the dashed line. I had to use my windshield wiper. The abrupt transition was absolutely remarkable.
More fun that the highway drive, was the arrival at the Dam Site parking lot. It was a merriment of barely visible techwick ghosts going about their pre-race rituals. As start time neared, the majority of the fog burned off and the ghosts transformed into trail runners ready to take on 14 morning miles.
The first few miles of this course are mostly dry and flat allowing an adventurous runner the opportunity to stretch their legs. Myself, I did what I normally do when I am well-prepared, relaxed and feeling like I could have a good race... I go out fast. My target pace was 9:30/mile and my pace for the first miles was 30 seconds faster.
At about mile 3.5 I ran down a small hill and back into the fog. When I turned along the little ridge that descends down into a stream bed, I actually had to stop and with what little breath I had available, heard myself say "whoa."
The morning sun was blazing through the canopy and creating shafts of light that illuminated the cascading fog.
Then the morning got steamy. The middle miles of this course test that aforementioned adventurous runner's legs. If you went out too fast, chances are you will find out some time between mile 5 and 9.
This is because there are a number of steep descents and long climbs. The lollipop turnaround is often wet with a special kind of mud that is both sticky and slippery which tests the leg muscles while adding a few extra ounces to your shoes for the run to the finish. After the turnaround, the long climbs become steady descents and the steep descent becomes the biggest climb of the day.
Besides having to stop for a minute or so around mile 7 to unsteam my glasses (LASIK... my kingdom for LASIK!), I was doing pretty well up until mile 10 when I suddenly felt completely sapped of energy. I knew I was drinking a little less than I should have on account of not being able to breathe through my nose, but I had a feeling I might be in trouble when I went to wipe my hand on my shorts and noticed they were absolutely soaked. My pack was also dripping wet, as if the bladder in the bag had sprung a leak. Only it hadn't. All that moisture came from me! I had drank about 25 ounces of water and taken two salt tabs and two AccelGels at this point which on most days would have been good enough. I was drained.
But Ho! What Luck. At that moment, I happened upon the bountiful offerings of the sirens at the aid station! 3 swedish fish chased with orange slices and some Gatorade thanks to some Dam Good volunteers. My woes lasted a mere 2-3 minutes.
Feeling refreshed and encouraged, I put back one more S-Cap and moved on towards the final 4 miles, making a mental note to go a teensy bit slower (yeah right, ask me how I did there) and feeling like I still had it in me to improve on last year's time.
Thanks to the out and back nature of the course, I was able to revisit the area that had struck me with such awe just an hour ago. The cooling fog that once swirled around my head had was gone, but the rays of sun still shone through the canopy. Reminiscent, but hardly equivalent. Another lesson for the day, spending 5 more seconds to take in the fleeting beauty of mile 3.5 might have benefited my overall run, but definitely would have been good for the soul.
The twelfth mile brought on a small calf cramp, which is highly unusual for me. What made it more unusual was the cramp was brief and seemed to bounce around to all corners of my legs; left and right calf, hamstrings, quads and the capper... the hip flexors. At that point I had slowed my pace so much that my Garmin indicated I had reached my recovery Heart Rate.
So miles 13 and 14 were nothing special. A sufferfest of the legs needing to walk when the mind wants to run, of watching the cheaply gained early seconds be given back as costly late minutes, of thinking back on past decisions instead of focusing on the moment. (Didn't I say I learned that lesson already?)
The finish of the race is always made better by a smattering of intrepid spectators who ventured into the trail rather than wait on the finish line. And to those spectators, I say HURRAH! and Thank You. After 14 miles, the runners get spread out and those last miles can get pretty solitary. In my case, I needed to have a few people remind me that I was doing something cool and that I should have a bit of joy about it... One fine fellow told me "Just about 500 meters or so. Looking Strong", I thought "I'm not the only one who needs the LASIK." Then I thought if he believes it, so do I. Surprisingly, I was cramp-free and could have run another 2 miles... but I'm thankful I didn't have to.
In the end, I was only about 90 seconds slower than last year on a decidedly tougher day.
WAIT. REALLY. LESS THAN 2 MINUTES SLOWER. THAT'S IT?!
I let myself be miserable for 24 minutes of a 135 minute run (almost 20%!) and spent a lot of energy thinking about what I could have done differently at mile 4 when mile 4 was long gone. I might have only been 90 seconds slower, but I gave up more than that.
And therein is the final and most important lesson I hope I learned...
Luckily for every runner at Dam Good, there is an encouraging group of friends, an awesome squirt gun and delicious baked goods waiting at the finish line to help you remember why you run in the first place.
Thank you Doreen and Michele for this race.
Thank you to the volunteers. Thank you to those who ventured into the trails with tables and jugs and oranges and swedish fish. Thank You to the fellow runners who gave encouragement as I passed by. Thanks to MedVed for what I am sure is vitally important support.