Saturday it rained. And rained. And rained. When I left the Bradbury Bruiser course on Friday afternoon, the trails were immaculately raked and marked. And then the rain and wind on Saturday once again consumed the trail. The leaf cover and wet conditions left the runners with a very fun, eventful race course on Sunday morning.
My brother, Chris, and I arrived at Bradbury State Park just after 6 AM. We were a couple minutes late due to a planned and necessary stop at Dunkin' Donuts for a box of Joe for all our volunteers. The morning temps were in the high 40s with a clear sky. Perfect for a trail run. As we drove up, we were met by Ian Parlin, race director extraordinaire, and fellow Trail Monster Jim Dunn. They had camped out the night before to get a jump start on race preparations. I forewent the campout and watched the Sox on the tube and enjoyed the comfort of my warm bed. We immediately set out to get the start/finish line set up and to lay out the aid station supplies. The park rangers were kind enough to aid us in delivering the water to the stations using the park's ATV. This was not the first and only help the rangers provided. They were incredibly valuable to us and we could not have made this happen as easy without their support.
The pace out the gate was quick but restrained as Phil DiRusso took the lead. Following him were a few quick runners including Tom Page, Scott Ellis, Tom Tero and a couple other strong runners. In the mix also was Ian and myself. The first mile through through the Lanzo extension included some hooting and hollering from the lead pack as the snaking line of runners weaved back and forth through the woods, offering glimpses of runners behind us a number of times. The pace was an 8:02, which is no easy feat given the lateral movement this trail requires. Ian and I agreed that the pace was a little quick and of the eight or so runners that were in the lead, all of us held back as Phil and Tom Page took off. They would not be seen again until an unfortunate wrong turn presented them to us on the "O" trail.
Later during the slow, second mile (the slowest of the day until the "O" trail), more runners broke from the pack, leaving Ian, Tom Tero, and myself running together. The pace we settled into at this point was a much more reasonable 8:46 as we all tried to figure out how much to throw at the trail this early. Despite still being early in the race, the field of 100+ runners was starting to thin out. Up front Phil was pretty much alone with Tom Page, Dave Roberts, Scott Ellis and a couple others not far behind keeping the pace quick. As we passed the first Aid Station, manned excellently by Jimm Dunn, and headed onto the Ragan trail at mile 3, Ian decided he was going to ease up a bit. Tom and I turned up the pace as the Ragan trail provided a nice running surface (and a pretty cool raised bridge) and we clocked a 7:55 as we felt the runners ahead of us slipping away. As we entered the Ginn trail and mile 4, we sped up and ran a 7:35 as we reeled in Dave Roberts.
About a quarter of the way into Mile 8 I was greeted with a surprise. I found myself being diverted from the well worn path that I had run every training run to heavily covered trail that weaved its way through the woods. This was completely new to me, as well as Ian I discovered in conversation later. Apparently this was the result of the course check we had commissioned before the race started from a well-intentioned mountain biker. The trail we were running was mountain bike trail, and well marked I should say, but not one we had planned to use during the race. I was momentarily stunned and quite afraid that this was a cruel trick from the local resident who had removed markings from another part of the course the week leading up to the race. My fear that the rest of the course had been tainted and rerouted was unfounded as we eventually were directed back onto familiar territory. All told this only added maybe a tenth of a mile to the course and despite my shock, I still managed a 7:28 mile.
Dave Roberts and myself once again reconnected and later in Mile 9 we caught Scott Ellis. I was surprised to see Scott as he is a fantastic runner who has posted some great results at some very difficult races, including winning the inaugural Pineland Farms 25KM last year. This mile was done at the mildly more conservative pace of 7:55 as I mentally prepared for the arduous task of tackling the always daunting and never tamed "O" trail. (I really wish I could find someone to explain the origin of the "O" name.) Mile 10 was even slower, run at an 8:38 pace, as the approach to "O" became imminent. It was about half way into this mile that we reached the final aid station (number 4) where Jeff Walker and family were serving up some tasty water and Gatorade. As I always carry my own "juice" I did not have need to stop but I did unsuccessfully try to communicate with Jeff. What I tried to say was "thanks" to Jeff and ask of the whereabouts of the runners ahead of me, especially Phil DiRusso as I was really pulling for him, but this all came out garbled from my tired body. It's never too late to say thanks, so "Thanks Jeff."
The entrance to the "O" trail comes approximately at mile 9.5. It was here that I saw Kelly's dad, Phil, for the second time. He had kindly driven well over an hour to be the videographer for the race. He got some great footage of the start and finish, runners weaving their way through the Lanzo extension, and of runners entering the "O" trail.
Shortly after entering the "O" trail, Dave Roberts and I took a wrong turn across a somewhat obscured barrier of boulders and downed trees onto an adjacent marked trail, which actually was the end of the "O" trail. After 9.5 hard miles, it becomes very easy to ignore trail markings and get confused. Keeping one's focus is a fundamental "have-to" and skill of trial running. Ian received an email from a runner who acknowledged how trail running is unlike a typical road race in that it is as much about mental stamina as physical stamina. You have to keep your wits about you and your head up at all times scanning the trail ahead of you to make sure you are headed in the right direction. Unfortunately there were a number of runners who did not follow this basic tenet and were met with frustration and confusion as a result. Fortunately, 99% of these runners laughed it off and chalked it up as a great experience and lesson for the next trail race Ian and I conjure up.
Back to mine and Dave's wrong turn. I noticed the misstep immediately and steered Dave back in the right direction. This is part of the reason I decided to run. I was very divided about whether I should run as I was one of the co-directors (albeit not an equal to Ian's amazing race directing talents). Ian and I thought it would be good if we were on the course to help runners avoid this mistake. In this case it helped. Dave and I once again were pounding the trail but at a much slower pace. The first full mile on the "O" trail took us 9:55. This trail is crazy gnarly with all kinds of twists, bumps, turns, obstacles, and switchbacks. You name it, the "O" has it. Still, we made good time and once Dave caught sight of Tom Tero through the woods less than 50 yards in front of us, he smelled blood and went after him.
We did eventually catch Tom not too far up the trail and in the final mile we ran into the lead pack who had become hopelessly turned around on the trail. Phil was unfortunately part of these wanderers and he decided to drop out at that point due to his perceived notion of fairness. While I think he was too harsh on himself and he definitely deserved the win, he stepped aside and let the remaining four of us battle it out. The lead group now consisted of myself, Tom Tero, Tom Page, and Dave Roberts. This group was not going to give up easily with the finish so close. However, as we made it to the same spot where Dave had gone wrong near the "O" entrance, the four of us went the wrong way again simply due to going too fast and not paying attention. We quickly resolved our mistake as Tom Tero and I recognized a downed birch tree laying across the trail and turned everyone around and got us back on track.
After backtracking to the right trail, the race was on. Each of us in the lead pack of four could taste victory. Despite this incredible motivation, the pace of mile 12 slowed to a 10:15, largely due to our slowly trying to correct our mistake of taking a wrong turn. I would have sworn I was running my 10K road pace of about 6:00, but no such luck. It is really difficult to judge pace as trees "whiz" by you, you jump boulders, and skirt tree roots and stumps. There was some jockeying for position as Tom Tero took a slightly more aggressive approach to passing on the narrow "O" trail. He went for the lead by risking a run just off the side of the trail to pass Dave and Tom Page, who had joined us on the "O" trail when we came across Phil. Tom Tero's stunt and excellent trail running ability paid off and he was in the lead as we exited the "O" trail and entered the Knight Woods trail for the final quarter mile to the finish. No one could outkick Tom T. and he crossed the finish line in 1:41:31, just a fraction of a second in front of Dave Roberts and Tom Page. I was a close fourth three seconds behind these very impressive trail runners. Most impressive was that none of them wore a coveted bruise from the course!
To all our surprise, there was one runner at the finish line who had crossed the line seven minutes ahead of us. As I thought I knew who had gone off the front of the pack at the outset of the race and I was sure that no one had passed me, I went to investigate. It did not take any Sherlock Holmes expertise to discover that this runner had taken a wrong turn (let's call it a very, very innocent shortcut) and missed part of the trail. He was a very gracious person and stepped aside for Tom Tero to assume the position of victor of the first annual L.L.Bean Bradbury Bruiser 12 Mile Trail Race!
Shortly after our sprint finish, scores of runners started arriving. In fifth place was Scott Ellis, just under thirty seconds behind me and then a minute later we welcomed the arrival of the women's first place finisher, Catherine Sterling of Kent's Hill. Ian finished in an impressive 1:44:18, good enough for 8th place. Ian's wife Emma, running under the pseudonym of Gnarls Barclay (like the naming of the "O" trail, I do not know the story behind this), arrived a few minutes later and snatched the second place women's title.
The post race festivities included great grub. The chili was a big hit, despite my brother's best attempt to burn it and the fact that he used a stick found in the woods to stir it. Unlike most races, there were no fruits or similar health foods allowed at this feast. Since this was a grueling 12 mile trail race, we decided during pre-race planning that all the runners could afford and would appreciate the luxury of some home baked goodies like brownies, cupcakes and rice krispy treats, which were made by my daughter Riley. (Note to other race directors: there were tons of bagels left over but not a crumb of a brownie was to be found.)
The awards ceremony was held at the finish area and was attended by a good number of runners and their families, despite the chill in the air. Best Costume and Bruise awards were voted on by the crowd and happily accepted by the winners. Age group awards were picked up and the crowd slowly dwindled to the hard core cadre of volunteers that made this race tick. Jamie, Chuck, and Kate scoured the list for runners that might still be on course while my brother and father-in-law started breaking down the start/finish area. Other volunteers like Jim Dunn, Scott Ellis, and Eric Boucher (loads of thanks to these guys) made their way back on the course to pick up markers and clean up the aid stations.
It did not take long for a couple of helpful mountain bikers to find one of the missing runners and the park ranger rounded up another. There was still one runner missing more than four hours after the start so Ian and I ran the "O" trail to find him. I started my search at the end of the "O" trail and after about 10 minutes of running with no sight of this runner, my thoughts turned grim and I was getting worried I was going to find him unconscious on the side of the trail. Luckily this scenario did not play out but I did find a mountain biker who said he had directed a runner onto the Knight Woods trail which should have led him back to the finish. As I finished running the"O" trail I met Ian coming the opposite way and I turned around to run the trail a third time that day to pick up all the flags and tape. After about another hour of running and collecting, I made my way to the finish to find my exhausted brother. I also received word that the final missing runner had been found...on Route 9 walking away from the park still lost. Jeff Walker saw him, stopped his car and gave the guy a ride back to the park. And all that time this guy's wife and dog were waiting for him at the park. Ian had the bright idea of sending him an unclaimed age group award, which was an L.L.Bean gift card, with the suggestion he buy a GPS!
With the last surveyor flag tucked cleanly into my car with the pot coated with burned chili, my brother and I bid farewell to Ian and headed home. Since Sunday, I have thought a lot about how great it was to see this race go from a little thought to a full blown race with over 130 registered runners and 108 race day competitors. Tonight I watched the video my father-in-law took and was excited to see that almost every runner he videoed had a huge smile on their face. I have been running seriously for almost six years and this is the most I have given back to the sport of running which has given so much to me. Ian, myself, and all our friends that helped us get this race from conception to reality have aided in spawning a new phenomenon in Maine and that is Trail Running. I suspect we are here to stay and in a big way. See you on the trails...in Maine!
Check out a preview of the Bradbury Bruiser video. Footage includes the start, runners traversing the Lanzo trail, and the close finish. A full video with footage of all runners on both the Lanzo and the entrance of the "O" trail, as well as each runner's finish will be available somewhere soon.