Merrimack River Trail race

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By Dave Dunham

I hadn’t raced the Rivah since 2008 but two years ago Scott Spence and Dan Verrington joined me as we paced Dave Lapierre to a 1:20 effort early in the morning on race day (we then worked the race).  We had a lot of fun and I realized how much I missed RACING the course.  This year I was reasonably healthy and was looking forward to giving it a go.  The week before the race we got 6 inches of snow and then a couple of inches of rain in the days leading up to the race.  Fortunately the Merrimack did not flood, the snow melted and the course drained.  I previewed the “flat 3” on Wednesday and decided I was going to give it a shot.  On Friday I ran out to the turn and met up with race director Steve Peterson.  We then spent 1:15 putting out hundreds of flags to mark the course.  Petey and teammate Ed Sheldon had done a lot of work clearing the powerline hill and it showed as the course was in fast shape.  I was able to keep my feet dry the entire time while marking the route.

Race morning was “breezy” with temperatures in the low 40’s.  I got to the start at 7am and closed off the final turn then did some trail work on the first 100m of the race.  That stretch was very muddy and features a narrow bridge, in past years you could avoid the bridge but it was very wet and overgrown now.  I planned to go out hard to make sure I could cross the bridge.  I also had a plan to take a shot at Matt Curran’s (Team Gloucester) 50+ course record of 1:07:15.  Dan V had missed it by 15 seconds last year, probably due to a bad start that found him well back until the course opens up in the field about 1/3rd of a  mile in.  I researched my mile splits for the course and knew what I’d need to hit.  The mile markers are placed in the “traditional locations” going back to the days before Garmin when I biked the course with a Jones Counter.  We’ve known the markers aren’t 100% accurate but they are CONSISTENT (we put them in the same place every year).  Anyway, I knew I needed to cover the first 3 flat miles in mid-18 minutes and the then cross the hill 2 miles in mid-14 minutes.  Hopefully I’d hit the turn in about 33 minutes.  You return the same way and typically it takes a minute longer to come back, so I’d be hoping to bring it home in 34 flat for a 1:07 total time.

150+ lined up under the start banner made up of the race t-shirts and with a shout of “ready, set, Cayuga!” we were off.  I got out well and was able to avoid the mud and water hitting the bridge in 5th place.  As soon as we turned left on the MRT proper Michael Peyron went by and as we headed under Route 93 Andrew Palmer also flew by.  I got a clean view of the cement inlet and was able to cross the stream without getting my feet wet (a good goal this early in a 10 mile race), then we hit the field and the race was on.  Teammate Tim Van Orden went by and wished me well as he headed after the leaders.  I was now in 8th place and could see Patrick Caron way up in front taking it out hard.  Colin Carroll and Brandon Newbould were running together and then there was a big gap.  I hit the (traditional) mile in 5:59, right on pace for a 1:07.  I felt okay but not sure how well I’d maintain over the long haul ahead.  Not much changed on the flat part, I had Isaac St Martin right on my tail following my moves as I knew when we would dodge a tree or go left to avoid a puddle (or a disemboweled turkey!).  Two miles was reached in 12:01 (6:02 split) so again right where I wanted to be.  A little after that I saw Jim Pawlicki and Greg Putnam out on a training run, they gave a cheer and then I heard “Go Ed!” and realized that teammate and fellow 50+ runner Ed Sheldon was right with us.  Ed has been tearing it up this last year, I knew he was tired from a ½ marathon victory (1:16!) last weekend but he would still be in the hunt for the Age Group Record (AGR).  We hit three miles in 18:37, which was again right where I needed to be.  Now on to the hills.

St Martin matched me stride for stride as we worked our way over Raven’s Bluff then back down to the River before the brutal powerline climb.  Petey was on the powerline offering encouragement.  We hit four miles in 25:30 (6:51 split) which was just a few seconds slower than I’d hoped for that mile.  We hit the top of equestrian hill and I focused on pushing the pace, at the stream crossing I lost my footing and got one foot fully submerged.  St Martin came out ahead of me but said something like “no, you lead” as he waited for me.  I got back to moving and pushed hard for the next ¾ mile of downhill and flat knowing that would be important as Ed isn’t quite as strong on the downhill.  We reached the turn-around point in 33:10 which was 10 seconds slower than hoped but still within shouting distance of the record if I could hold it together on the way back.  Ed was about 10 seconds back as I grabbed a water and started the long climb back to the powerline.

As always it was pretty wild on the way back with traffic in both directions on the single-track trail.  I got a lot of encouragement from people along the way (which must have been annoying for St Martin).  Not surprisingly that was the slowest mile of the day (7:41) which was a little faster than my hoped for time.  The big climb after the 6 mile mark isn’t long (only about a minute) but it is a gut buster.  I kept thinking Ed would come by any time which kept me on my toes.  The final climb up the Dipsea steps isn’t as steep but with nearly 7 miles done it hurts a LOT.  At the sharp turn after hitting the top I snuck a peek back and did not see Ed.  We passed the 7 mile mark in 47:45 (6:54) and now the math was pretty easy.  I’d need to run 19:30 (6:30 pace) for the final 3 to break the record.  That was exactly the time I had projected so I was right on pace.  I grabbed for a Chomp (energy replacement) and proceeded to drop it!  This could be a long three miles.

6:48 next mile had me worried (had I studied closer I would have remembered I was projected to run 7-flat) and I upped the tempo as much as I could.  I think we actually had a bit of a tail wind at this point and I heard St Martin drop back a bit.  A 6:15 got me to the 9 mile mark in 60:50 (the top runners were already done) and I knew that I had a good shot at the record and maybe going under 1:07.  Knowing the course so well definitely helps as I’ve memorized every little bump and twist and turn and can picture how much I’ve got left.  I gave all I had and ran my fastest mile of the day 5:57 to bring me home in 1:06:47, 28 seconds under the old record.  I could not have been more pleased.

CMS had a fine day with five finishers in the top 11, Colin Carroll in 2nd place overall, Tim Van Orden topping the 40+ age group in 4th place, Ed Sheldon taking 9th place overall and Jenn Brooks winning in 1:09:36 in 11th place overall.

152 finishers

Place     Time     Name                            Age       City, St              Team

1          1:00:09 Brandon Newbould          35         Nottingham, NH  WRT

2          1:00:31 Colin Carroll                    32         Andover, MA       CMS

3          1:00:44 Patrick Caron                  19         Needham, MA     Altra Running

4          1:01:19 Tim Van Orden               48         Bennington, VT   CMS

5          1:02:03 Kurt Hackler                   39         Alstead, NH        AwesomeUnitsOfTruth

6          1:06:02 Michael Peyron               41         Boston, MA

7          1:06:47 Dave Dunham                53         Bradford, MA      CMS/Grey Wolves

8          1:07:05 Isaac St Martin               37         Manchester, NH

9          1:08:35 Ed Sheldon                    52         Hoosksett, NH    CMS

10         1:09:19 Andrew Palmer               35         Northampton, MA

11         1:09:36 Jenn Brooks                   37         Gloucester, MA   CMS

29 finishers

M50-59  1          7          1:06:47 Dave Dunham    53         M          Bradford,MA       CMS/Grey Wolves

2          9          1:08:35 Ed Sheldon        52         M          Hoosksett, NH    CMS

3          16         1:11:48 Andy Illider        50         M          Winchester, MA

4          18         1:12:44 Matt Curran        59         M          Gloucester, MA   Team Gloucester

5          22         1:14:47 Doug Deangelis  50         M          Ipswich, MA       Team Gloucester

6          25         1:16:20 Scott  Spence     52         M          Groton, MA         Grey Wolves

Dave also gave us some additional notes on the race, including some quotes he was able to pick up from some of the front runners (from various social media posts):

It was a bit windy out there, but mostly a cross-wind which is typical.  It sort of feels like a head-wind both ways!  There were a couple of times between 7-9 where I was sure I was getting a tail wind.  The course was in very good shape, mostly dry and clear of debris.  The start was wet but if you got out fast  you could avoid the mud/water and get across the first bridge before things backed up.  I went out HARD and was on the bridge in 5th place.  Caron sprinted out and was well ahead in the first 200 meters.  Newbould and Carroll were together in 2nd/3rd.  The cement inlet had a good amount of water flowing in it but there was a log in the middle that most used to stay dry.  Tim Van Orden powered by me right after that.  Caron said he went out aggressively since the flat three were his strength.  He lost ground on both Newbould and Carroll on the hilly four (but closed the gap in the last 3).  When I saw Newbould just after the turn he looked strong, although Carroll also looked good and could not have been more than 15-20 seconds back.

Funny how many people mentioned the turkey carcass just after 3m (and how it was gone at 7m!).  I had been calling out “careful” or “left” to the guy right on my tail as we navigated the varying terrain and as we rolled up the hill after three I just silently pointed a finger to the carnage and he laughed.

Some quotes (from online sources):

Brandon Newbould: “Took the lead at the beginning of the hills and got a gap, extended it, then Colin closed well to bring it down to a small margin in the end. Congratulations to everyone who suffered through the conditions today (at any race)”

Colin Carroll:  “Four of us went through the flat bit together before passing a freshly killed turkey at 3 miles, and Brandon hit the front. I tried following, but was my usual trash on those downhills. Took a bit of a spill around 6 miles, and Patrick caught back up at 7, where I *didn’t* spot the turkey again. Pushed pretty hard on the flats so no one tried to be a hero catching me. Caught sight of Brandon again around 9 miles, and briefly tried to be a hero catching him, but there was too much space”

Tim Van Orden: “Went in hoping to come close to my Masters CR of 59:29, but it was slow going for everyone on the race. No one broke an hour… strong winds and bitter cold. Despite this I managed a very solid time and set a new 45+ course record. 4th place”

And we’d be remiss to not mention Jenn Brooks and her dominant win. Jenn’s time of 1:09:36 was good for 11th overall and gave her nearly an 8 minute lead over her closest competition. And that form:

Jenn clears the early water obstacle with text book form. Courtesy of Rose Washak.

Hard to keep up with that! She might want to try the steeplechase this spring.

Also check out the updates stats post by Dave. Brandon moved into some pretty exclusive company with his win!

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