2013 North Country Trail Run Review – Finish with Heart!
Last year after throwing in the towel when coming through the first lap at the North Country Trail Run (NCTR) 50 miler I told myself that I would sign up for this year’s 50 again for redemption. But when I finished strong in the Yankee Springs Trail Run Series Challenge this summer I set my 2013 sights on the Run Woodstock 100 which lined up on the calendar 2 weeks after NCTR. So earlier in the summer I changed my 50 registration to a marathon distance at NCTR. While I was sadden to not line up with the ultra guys on Saturday morning I was really looking forward to an easy paced marathon run around the beautiful Manistee trails.
2:00 AM Is EARLY! Holy Schnikes
Yes, that is the time when the iPhone alarm was going off on Saturday morning. This year Susan and I attended a wedding on Friday night thus we couldn’t head up to Manistee until Saturday. So that called for a day trip with some other friends. Thankfully my buddy Jim offered to take his ‘redneck limo’ truck and drive us there. This was great since I didn’t get to bed until midnight. 2 hours of sleep and a planned 26.2 mile run on trails…..oh yeah, ultra training step two. After a little nap in the truck before a stop at a gas station for a bathroom break and some breakfast (Hostess chocolate donuts and chocolate milk, yup…breakfast of champions), we arrived for early morning packet pickup.
7:00 am was the start time of the marathon so once we arrived, got our packets and goodies, it was stay warm/relax time. I honestly didn’t have any, ANY expectations for the race. Peter and I chatted about sticking together for most of the run and treat it just like a normal 30 mile training run. Buuuuuut I know Peter was feeling the itch to pound on the pace a bit since he raced the following Saturday at Old Farts and I too always like the race atmosphere that brings out the competitive side. So it was time to toe up to the starting line and I didn’t want to get grouped into the fast guy crowd as I know that if I rolled out too fast I wouldn’t be happy with that pace on the earlier hills in the first handful of miles. But no one would get in front of us. It was quite comical. So the race director counted us and down and BANG….off we went. Finally the speedies rolled pasted us just before the trail funneled to a single track. This year the beginning of the course had a new spin. They removed the out and back section on the road before heading onto the trail….THANK YOU CHRIS!!! The new section was a .6 mile loop on the trail that was great as you were able to pass through the spectator section before entering the 25 mile trail.
As we rolled by the start/finish section and getting that spectator boost I began to work on settling into an easy pace that would be solid to get past the first section of hills. I knew that in the first couple miles there was a long uphill that usually kills a lot of new runners to the course. And it did. After rolling by the spectators, a handful of guys (Peter included) took off. I was not taking the bait. I figured Peter would be solid on the hills as he is incredible on the ups. Those others that thought they had it, well let’s say they quickly were in my range at the top of the hill. And on the downhills I was able to group right back up with them. I stayed with this pack for a couple of miles as they were solid on pace and especially on the smaller up hills and rollers. I definitely had the speed on the down hills but I wanted to bank that until we rolled into the section of the trail that basically flattens out for a good 5 miles.
Just as mile 6 rolled by and the second aid station, I noticed that the group around me (8 runners or so) all stopped at the aid station. Here was my chance to put a lead on them and to track down Peter. This was the right call as the next 4 to 5 miles were my fastest of the day. I was able to roll past 3 other runners and finally reach up to Peter around mile 11. I thought of keeping that pace but was glad to see Peter and wanted to stick with him as I know I’d need his push on the last half of the course as the hills are pretty brutal. From there on we chatted a bit as we cranked out more mileage and also just zoned out to some tunes.
We both kept the pace real on the flats (8:15s) while Peter pulled me up the hills and I pushed him down the hills. We eventually started seeing other runners on the course, the half marathoners. This was great as I was hoping to see some of my friends out there. But the downside is since it’s a single track it definitely makes passing a bit more challenging. Overall I had no problems with runners recognizing someone passing on their left but I would forget now and then to watch my step when passing in the brush. I ended up rolling my ankle a couple of times thus slowed me a bit. Nothing bad but definitely reminded me that the goal of this summer’s training was a couple of weeks away and doing something stupid today would not be a good idea.
As I expected, Peter was able to hammer up the hills quicker than I could hang on thus I decided to let him roll as he too was having a great day on the trails. This was around mile 21 and I was starting to power hike the hills rather than run through them. During the final few miles it was fun to stroll up to some friends that I didn’t realize where out there and chat/run with them a bit. Giving and getting motivation from runners on the move is always a great time!
I knew that the finish to the course was changed this year. One, they added a section that basically takes you up to the highest point in the park that provides an amazing view of the area. And secondly as you come by the finish line you have to take the same .6 mile loop that we did in the beginning. The lookout section was definitely AMAZING!! I almost, almost stopped to take a picture as I did have my phone with me. But that good ole competitive side spoke up as I noticed my time was at a decent pace thus I kept on moving. As I rolled down the hill from the lookout I started to recognize the trail as three years ago I walked up this section of trail. Thus I knew the finish section was very close. So it was ‘down hill drop the hammer’ time.
As I passed the spectators I figured I had just over a half mile to crank out to the finish so I tried to keep the pace moving as quick as I could as I knew there was another marathoner just in front of me. Well he must have wanted that finish line too as he cranked it up. I didn’t see him until the final turn on the loop but I couldn’t pull the distance between us closer. I will say that finishing at this race is AMAZING!!! So, so many spectators around to welcome and be there to support you as you cross the line. After planning a ‘easy paced’ run, I ended up with a very comfortable 3:38:57. Love it!!!
Amazing Accomplishments by MANY!!!!
The rest of the afternoon consisted of hanging out with great friends and new trail runner friends that I met while we all cheered on and congratulated runners as they came into the finish. So many PRs that afternoon as the weather that day was just perfect along with great trail conditions!
This year’s weather provided a great venue for racing. With Mother Nature cooperating, Chris Nicholas and his crew put on a fantastic event! They seem to take the race experience to the next level each year. From learning from past mistakes and addressing them to providing great bling for an event, this a trail event that you need to add to your to ‘do list’! Northern Michigan in August + amazing trails = a great experience you’ll never forget. Aid stations plus the volunteers that manned them were phenomenon this year! 2014 registration opens up on Monday, August 24, 2013. And if it’s like last year, follow them on Twitter (@NorthCountryRun) as they offered an early registration deal last year that provided you some extra bling. Like shorts, tank top, jacket, visor, shirt, etc. Click here to see there website. Or you can also follow them on Facebook. And if this will be your first time up at NCTR, check out their Facebook mentor page for tips/recommendations.
Gear on the Run (NCTR)
- Shoes – Salomon Sense Mantra
- These worked out great on the trail. They handled the loose sand in areas which I was surprised as their tread is not that aggressive.
- Socks – Wrightsock Double Layer
- Shorts – Salomon Short Tight
- Top – INKnBURN Ink Tech Shirt
- This was the first run with it and as usual these INKnBURN shirts ROCK!!! If you haven’t tried them yet, you need too. Read about my gear review blog here.
- Handheld – INKnBURN Handheld with a Camelbak Podium Chill 21oz bottle
- Music – iPod Shuffle jammed packed with great music!
- Watch – Garmin 910xt
- Glasses – Rudy Project Rydon