I have wanted to take part in the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge for the past few years, but since it is on Memorial Day Weekend and I am rarely home I haven’t been able to until this year. I can now see why everybody raves about how great it is.
This is a tough race. It is made up of 25 kilometer loops, where runners can run 1 loop (25k), 2 loops (50k) or a 3½ mile mini-loop and then 3 full loops (50 mile).
There are a lot of turns (click map above for PDF download.) The course is very easy to follow, with plenty of surveyor’s flags and arrows pointing which way to go. When in doubt, you always turn left and can’t go too far wrong.
There are a couple of short but very steep downhills each loop, but otherwise there isn’t anything that individually would seem very difficult. However, you can never rest on this course. You are always climbing or descending; there are no flat sections to this course at all:
You run for 95% of the time on dirt trails in the woods or on a mowed path through the numerous meadows in the area. The meadows were actually much tougher than the woods, because the footing wasn’t nearly as good with many bumps and holes that really beat the hell out of your ankles.
For anybody looking for a challenge, I have to highly recommend this event. It may be very challenging, but the trails are beautiful and are a lot of fun to run on.
And, of course, the race is extremely well supported. There are 4 aid stations, which you run past multiple times each loop. In effect, there are a total of 8 aid stations for every 25 kilometer loop that you run. Each aid station is stocked with anything that you might want during the race, from water, coke, mountain dew, and gatorade down to potatoes with salt bowls, 12 pounds of gummy bears per aid station, s-caps, pretzels, PB&J sandwiches, skittles, and even hand sanitizer and sunscreen.
Being in Maine, the weather can be a bit unpredictable, but this year it was pretty close to ideal for most of the day. The temperatures got up into the mid-60s with some humidity, but some clouds rolled in with some sprinkles and showers late in the morning to cool off the runners. The 50 milers still had to contend with the heat and humidity once the sun came back out, but for the majority of the runners it was great.
My wife and I got there shortly after 5:00 in the morning to help set up aid stations and to set up some canopies that we brought with us. It took a few trips to cart all of the supplies out to the 2 aid stations that we helped set up (Valley Farms and the Yurt) and in the process the 50 mile race got started.
I amused myself by yelling out the 50 milers how great they all looked as they went by, since they were about 1¼ miles into the race at that point.
Brian Rusiecki got off to an early lead, which he would build up throughout the day. (In fact, he ran 50 miles at a faster pace than I ran 50 kilometers.)
We were still setting up the Yurt aid station as he came by the 3rd time on his first lap. As I got ready to return the jeep and get over to my car so that I could get ready for my race, the race director was also about to head back up and was just waiting to see him come by. Apparently, we was constantly finding himself just missing Brian by a minute or two as he ran the course.
The First Loop
After making my way to the starting line, Ian gave a short and humorous pre-race speech to the runners and then the cowbell was rang and we were off!
The first few miles are predominantly downhill, and my goal going into this race was to run as fast as I felt I could comfortably run until my marathon from a few weeks ago caught up to me. Then I’d slow down.
Of course, that meant that I went out pretty quick. I quickly decided to dial back the pace a little so that I didn’t have to run alone, and formed a lead pack with a few other guys. Then we came to another downhill stretch and I just let loose and decided I’d worry about running with others later.
After about 3 miles, the lead pack had formed again and I was running with Leigh Schmitt, who held the course record, Dave Hannon, and Dave Herr, whom I had met at the Pisgah 50k back in 2007 (which he won, by the way.) Paul Young also joined the lead pack a few times in these early miles, who had also beaten me at Pisgah.
That’s some good company to be keeping.
The general tone of the race during these miles was that I would run out ahead of everybody on the downhills (since I didn’t really want to slow myself down and I’m pretty familiar with the trails here) and then they’d slowly catch up to me on the uphills, whereupon I’d maintain whatever pace we’d then find ourselves running at.
I was feeling really good.
I only missed 1 turn during the entire race.
I’ve never run the actual course before, but I have done quite a few training runs out there with the Trail Monsters. At the bottom of a short hill before you get to the Yurt aid station for the 3rd time, I am used to going straight on the trail. I was moving too quickly to be able to make the turn out into the meadow so I ran right past the sign and had to turn around and run back a short ways. (This actually turned out to be easier than the 2nd time I came through here, as the turn was a bit rocky and it was some tough footing when I shot through the correct way at full speed.)
About 2/3 of the way through the loop, you pass around the back side of the start and finish area where the post-race BBQ takes place. A lot of my friends were there getting ready for the 25k race so they all cheered me on as I came through (I was still in the lead.) About a quarter of a mile later we passed the “Final Mile” aid station (which actually is in the final mile on the second time you go by it) and it was manned by more of my friends so I got another round of applause and cheers as I passed them. Leigh wondered when I was going to be elected mayor.
While running through this loop (around 10-12 miles into the race) I warned the guys that they shouldn’t be pacing off of me, since I fully intended to slow down once my marathon from a few weeks ago caught up to me. I was still feeling good at that point, but I knew that it would happen sooner or later. Once we hit Oak Hill, which is a very steep downhill drop, I left the guys behind and put a bit of a lead on them until we got back out to the aid station again.
From there, I refilled my water bottle that I had been carrying and gave the names from the pack that was about to come out to the volunteers so that they could cheer them on by name too. They actually came back out before I finished filling my water bottle so I got to run through the last mile of the first lap with them.
We finished the first lap in about 1 hour and 45 minutes, on pace for an 11 minute course record and allowing us to get onto our second loop about 15 minutes before the 25k runners began their race.
The Second Loop
I was still leading at the start of the second loop, although my back was starting to tighten up a little and my rear right check was definitely getting sore. Over the next 4 miles, I actually ran a little faster or at the same pace as I had for the first 4 miles of the race, but I knew that I didn’t have that much left in me. Dave Herr and Leigh picked up the pace about 17 or 18 miles into the race and I let them go, finally relinquishing the lead.
Dave Hannon was feeling a bit tired at this point and fell back, although he caught back up to me and left me behind about 4 miles later. I steadily slowed down and began walking for 10-15 second stretches far more often on the hills. It was still fun, but I was getting ready to finish the race.
The meadows were really beating up my ankles, so I was pretty happy to get back to the trails that lead back to the finish line for the final 5 mile stretch through Oak Hill. A few minutes before reaching the start/finish area, Mark Goettel came streaming by as the 1st 25k runner. He would go on to win the race by almost 5 minutes; the second place runner didn’t pass me until I was on the other side of the road 4 or 5 minutes later.
You may notice that other than filling up my water bottle I haven’t mentioned the aid stations too much since the race started. Because I was carrying my own water and gel packs, I didn’t really make use of the aid stations other than to drop empty gel packets as I went by. I got a few cups of gatorade along the way, and at the Final Mile aid station I refilled my water bottle on the 1st loop and then left it behind on the second loop, but otherwise pretty much just ran through all of the aid stations without stopping. Next year, I think I’ll run a bit slower and make better use of them.
As I ran through the Oak Hill loop the second time, the 25k runners started to pass me. 9 or 10 of them must have passed me in all, although it was pretty obvious by how fresh most of those front runners seemed that the majority of them were not in my race. I did ask in a few cases just to make sure, though, and I gave a few a good scare as they passed me right before a downhill section where I would run back up on their shoulders as we descended and they’d think it was a new 25k runner.
Coming out of the woods for the last time with about a mile left to run is a great feeling. I was able to buckle down and give what I had left to the course as you go around the last meadow. I even managed to outsprint Dave Herr in the last few hundred meters as I crossed the road and ran down to the finish line.
And I use the term “out-sprinting” very loosely.
I was running at about a high 7/low 8 minute pace, and he was walking through an aching knee, so there wasn’t a lot of competition between us there. He should have been up there with Leigh and probably would have been the 2nd place runner had his knee cooperated, so I hope I get to race him again sometime when he’s healthy.
My final time was 3:51:55 which gave me about a 36 minute PR over my only other 50k a year and a half ago. The courses are not very comparable, and this time I was running after a marathon rather than using it as a training run for a marathon, along with having a much better mileage base and more experience at running the longer distances. Still, a 36 minute PR is nothing to sneeze at.
Post Race BBQ
Now for the fun part – the BBQ. After finishing the race, there was a stage set up with some live music, there was plenty of free beer and food, and 5 or 10 minutes after I got done running I noticed that the massage tables had been set up so I got to be the first to get a good post-race massage. It did wonders for my sore back, although I still made use of my foam roller later in the afternoon when I got home.
Once I got through the massage, I had a quick bite to eat and then made my way over to the YMCA to get a shower. My wife and I also collected some permanent markers for Ian (so folks could vote on their favorite aid station) and a spare towel for the massage tables (since it was a little cooler than had been expected, especially once it started to rain.)
After getting some more food and sampling some beer, we settled in for the awards ceremony and chatted with friends and competitors for the next few hours. The Trail Monsters managed to win the team competitions in the 25k and the 50k, although we lost by almost 3 hours in the 50 mile to the Happy Valley Ultra Runners League.
The awards are very cool!
An old barn door got cut up and turned into frames for a trail-shoe “mud-print” with Gnarls Barclay’s old Inov-8s. On top of the actual awards, every finisher also got a cow bell (a small white one for the 25k, a full sized silver bell for the 50k, and a full sized gold bell for the 50 mile. Those are just the colors, obviously.) The 50 mile finishers also got hats and other goodies as well.
The Rest of the Day
My wife and I were both pretty tired; it had been a pretty long day. We went home, got a shower, and settled in for a nap with our cat. I set an alarm to get up at a quarter to 6, but having 6 on my mind I accidentally set the alarm for 6:45 so instead of a 90 minute nap we got a good 2½ hours.
Once I realized what time it was I got out the door pretty quickly and went back to Pineland Farms. I had intended to get there around 6:30-6:45 since there was a 7:00 cut-off, but I didn’t arrive until about 7:15. There was still plenty of work to do to clean up, though.
Ian and I took the jeep down to the Yurt and Valley Farm aid stations, which still had almost everything laid out. We packed up the food and piled up the trash so that fewer animals would be attracted to the area, and managed to get a full jeep load of supplies between the two aid stations. Then we went back and got everything piled up by the Maine Track Club trailer until the sun had set and we all went home.
Once I got home, I just went back to bed. For some reason, I was a bit tired.
More Info: Race Site – – Course Map [PDF | 924 KB]
Photos & Videos: Capstone Photography – Erin Moore – Maine Running Photos – Danielle Triffit – Glen Teitell – Anthony Portera
Race Reports: Jeff Walker – Chris Dunn – Jamie Anderson – Kate Hanscom – Chuck Hazzard – Kevin Robinson – Paige Troelstrup – Mike Hall – Trail Animals – Anthony Portera – “Mayer”