I'm not sure who or what the "Bimbler" is, but she/he/it was as good an excuse as any to move back into an ultra frame of mind. It was a gorgeous fall day last month at this 50k. It's a pleasant race, through pretty, leafy forests. Rolling but not as technical and rugged as what you might expect if you trained at, say, Harriman State Park (NYS) or had done your only other race in CT at Traprock 50K. Yet it's deceptively hard--lots of running, not many "must walk" steep or really long hills (so not much respite!), and a couple miles longer than 3. Add in a missed turn several of us took, and it makes for a good long day on a mix of single and double track and ATV-type trails.
Garth, Chip, and I got up to the local school where the race was held, about an hour before the appointed time. This was after a little adventure over the last few miles in trying to find the school, as our Google map instructions were slightly off and only a GPS nav program on my phone finally pointed the way correctly. It was quite chilly, and we debated over gear and layers once we had checked in, but knew it was supposed to hit the 60s and it was plenty sunny.
After a loop around the dewy school grass to let the race spread out, we set out across the road and onto a briefly wide dirt trail. There were a few conga lines as we got onto the single track and on one creek crossing (all were low or dry though there would be a precious few mud patches and puddles scattered over the generally dry course all day). But things quickly spread out reasonably well. Not long after the first aid station around the 2.5 mile mark (water only), we were onto a long section of wider, gently rolling trail. But it only seemed gently rolling on the way out, as we were on the stem of the lollipop-shaped course which turned out to be mostly trending downward as we headed out.
I was a little surprised in the beginning of this section to be running with my friend Miles, who lives nearby and whom I hadn't seen since we were on the Mountain RATS expedition race in the summer of 2010 in Colorado. We were together for a mile or so as he deliberately hung back, but then I realized my gaiter string had come loose on one side and stopped. I never did catch back up, but it was just as well, as the pace of 10-11 minute miles on the very good footing of this section was making me nervous that I'd really regret the effort later on. As we got further along and onto some twisty, turny sections leading to single track, I settled into what felt like a more sustainable pace. I was happy to have a nice single-track section with some sharp, technical turns leading up to the second aid station. Finally, my kind of terrain, I thought!
Coming out of there it was a steep ascent up the Bluff, with beautiful views off to our right, and the false summit where it leveled off briefly maybe two-thirds of the way up. The single track skirted the edge of the ridge within a few feet in a couple spots. Then it was rolling single track through the rest of the 5-6 miles of the way to the third aid station, making it pretty much the most difficult section of the course overall or at least that's how it felt. Suddenly for part of it, what were earlier 10-11 minute miles became more like 15-20 minute miles, and the walking muscles were now getting a good workout for a change!
After turning left briefly onto a road and crossing it, we came to the fourth AS, which was nicely Halloween-themed. Greeting you at first along the road was a ghoulish looking woman, until you finally realized all the volunteers were decked out as monsters, ghouls, and goblins. Nice levity after 18 miles or whatever! It was sunny and maybe the warmest part of the day here and I'd long since dispensed the vest in my pack and here I stowed the arm warmers I had already rolled down as well. Down to just the short sleeve tee for the duration. I had caught up to Chip (again) and left this station with him, while Garth and his new friend were just leaving as I got there.
The next section leading up to (I'm doing this by memory without the map before me) the fifth station and completing the looped section of the lollipop was maybe my favorite. It was mostly single track, wind-y, we got some nice up's and down's, and I was feeling more energetic, with the caffeine (Vivarin) and Advil having taken effect. Chip saved me once as I missed a turn not far after the AS and came to an intersection with neither way forward marked, and turns out I was a 10-20 yards off trail and could bushwhack back to the correct trail. No harm done, but it did slow down some good momentum I'd built. Saw one hiker I think I had crossed paths with earlier in the day, and also a father-son mountain biking duo who rode by.
Now it was back to the fifth aid station, where we had been on our way "out." From here we'd retrace our steps to the finish on the "stem" of the course I made the mistake of drinking a whole cup of whatever sports drink was on offer, my only slip-up from my new nutrition plan of frequent small bites for constant energy combined with Vespa, which helps you burn fat stores instead (which worked out well and meant, overall, that I probably consumed only half the calories I normally do in a 50K). I had just eaten something a little before I came in. Again, Garth and his friend left the station just as I was arrived, and Chip a little bit before I left.
This "back" section on the long, forever, rolling, mostly upward hills taking you toward the sixth and last aid station is 8 to 9 miles. I felt pretty good on the first few miles here, and was trying to gain ground on the loose pack that included the three of them and others. But even though I passed a few runners in between, I seemed to lose ground on those guys. Once they were no longer in sight, it got a little lonely, and the energy faded. In retrospect, I think I put it into a higher gear a bit prematurely, and also it was a mistake to sip the cup of sports drink at that previous section, spoiling a bit the benefits of the second Vespa packet I'd taken about the 3:40 mark or so. Somewhere in this long section was where the equestrian passed us on a wide section (beautiful horse). It was the only part of the race where I felt a real drop in blood sugar.
It was good to get to the final aid station, with about 2.5 miles to go. I had them fill both the tiny empty Poland spring bottles I was carrying (4 or 6 oz. each), one with Heed and the other with plain water. That way I didn't have to bother with taking off the pack and pulling out the bladder for a refill. Once again, Garth and his friend were taking off from that station just as I was approaching it. A volunteer made me wait a second to cross the road before I continued onto the trail, as I left the station.
The last couple miles are the same nice single track we'd come out on. I was catching up briefly with one woman I'd seen either with the larger pack of runners, only to see her pull away on more runable sections. We spoke briefly, and she apologized for not responding to my chitchat, asking about her minimalist shoes and such. She was still annoyed from the earlier incident with the missed turn, which she blamed on other racers or the race organizers (it wasn't clear which). I didn't really feel physically or emotionally like trying to stay in her less than pleasant company, and was happy to give her some space. It would turn out later that both Garth and Chip had gotten the same "bad vibes" from this disagreeable runner, whose attitude was pretty much diammetrically opposed to the happy go lucky "we're all in it together" ultra/trail spirit that was mostly evident out there.
With no one on my heels and feeling like I was moving ok but not exceptionally well (heavy legs), I was pleased to hit the last wide doubletrack trail, which descended onto the road we crossed to go right into the finish area. I had earlier entertained hopes of maybe breaking 7:30, but based on hopes/expectations going into the race and the "comeback" nature of it, in the end I was pretty happy with the 7:47 (for 33.39 miles). I was also happy to think that I wouldn't have to run another 19 miles that particular day! It turns out Garth had come in a couple minutes ahead, and Chip like a dozen minutes ahead, as he had really picked it up over the last 8-10 miles (he said i twas because there was no way he was going to let the "annoying woman" beat him!).
It was nice hanging out afterwards in the finish area, under the sun, watching other runners drift in, munching away on all the various treats, and chatting with Miles. It was nice he had stayed so we could catch up, since he'd finished like an hour and 15 minues sooner. He'd taken it easy to save himself for Stone Mill, his first 50 miler, four weeks later, and we were talking about plans to get together down there. Since the air was chilly, I was happy that I had my my shell jacket to put on. While the first hour or so driving back was slow due to Sunday night 95 traffic (the one drawback of this race is it's on a Sunday), I think all three of us were really happy with our races and didn't mind too much.
In the end, Bimbler's didn't absolutely blow me away as it didn't have as much ascending/descending and technical stuff as I really enjoy, but it was a pretty and still challenging race, well organized, and I could imagine maybe going back some time. It would have been good to have had a little more terrain-specific training going into it. The schwag was also nice, with a technical long-sleeve and a glass tumbler, both sporting the same stylishly small design of a tree and its root system with the wonderful phrase, "...implausible is possible...." Clearly someone with a great artistic sensibility who also gets ultras designed it!
Most of all, it felt really good to be back in the ultra swing of things, after a four-month hiatus! The body still remembers!