The Muddy Moose Trail Races were held on Sunday, April 27th in Wolfeboro, NH. There were two races, a 4 mile and a 14 mile. Jim Johnson ran the 14 miler, and this is his account of it.
Guest blog by Jim Johnson
April 27 (Sunday) - Headed over to Wolfeboro, NH for another go at the Muddy Moose 14 mile trail race (results) (which feels more like running 20+ miles because of the amount of energy expenditure you need to use to get through it). This was my 3rd year running it and it’s getting harder to pass up because it’s relatively local (2 towns away and about 35 minutes of nice quiet country roads). The weather was very different than last year, as it had rained most of the day on Saturday and was dreary and cold on Sunday morning. That would make for an interesting race and interesting conditions for sure. I decided on my Mudclaw 265s for the journey, as the aggressive outsole seemed to be a good fit for the course. Also, it had ‘Mud’ in the name :).
By race time (and after a couple of easy miles with Frank Holmes to warmup), I was thinking that considering none of the ‘usuals’ were there I’d be able to win this if I could get through it. It would be my single longest run (pretty pathetic to say) since last year. I was unsure about my legs and fitness but that’s why I was there to begin with. At the very least it would be a great test of strength and a good workout.
As the race went off, a pack of about 5 or 6 young guns took it out hard. I mixed into the pack and let them push down the paved and then dirt road that starts the race. There was a guy in Vibrams, which I just didn’t understand. The most horrific terrain in a normal ‘trail race’ around and he was wearing footwear with almost zero protection. I understand Vibrams (somewhat) in a road 5k… but not in this race. I was hoping for his sake he was doing the 4 miler (which runs at the same time as the 14). The other 4 or so dudes looked pretty fast. I found myself itching to move out front but stayed put as the pace was about as hot as it was last year when Ferenc took it out like he was being shot at.
Once we got around the closed gate (yes, it was closed this year) and started working across the muddy and mangled mess that is the second half of the first mile, I started to notice that most of the guys were starting to get a little hesitant. I pushed across the mud and tall mush of grass and knarled tree limbs and occasional sharp rocks. The ‘pack’ strung out at this point. One guy stuck right on my shoulder though as the drier sections came. I pushed on for the first mile and a half or so, with him right in tow. He seemed to almost want to go passed me, but he stayed on my shoulder. Then somewhere before 2 miles I put a gap on him all of the sudden, across another completely mudded out section. The first couple miles were brutal. Much worse than I remember the first two years I ran this. It seemed like there was mud almost the entire way, and there was a lot of standing water.
By the time I made my way up to the point where the course goes left (for the 14 miler) or right (for the 4 miler) I was sure that I would be alone and everyone else behind would take a right. Well, I kept looking back as I was now on the dirt road section, and eventually the guy in second came out and took a left for the 14! I was pretty shocked. I knew at that point it wouldn’t be an easy win. As I looked back again, I saw more of those guys all take a left. One of them looked to have taken the right, but I had company. They gained on me a bit on the mile or so of dirt road. I took this bit a little easy, as I knew what was in store up ahead.
By the time I got up and then down to the start of the ‘Escarpment’, I was ready for the grueling climb up the steepest and longest ascent of the day. This is a trail section that goes straight up. The last two years, I actually had to walk small sections of it. This year I just kept the head down and the legs moving. About 1/4 of the way up, I peeked back and saw a small group of those guys now starting the climb. It’s deceiving on the climb because they seem like they are right behind you, but it takes so long to climb it that it distorts the distance.
At the top of the Escarpment there are multiple little up and downs across exposed rock slabs. It was incredibly slick. I kept slipping sideways and almost losing it. I had to tip toe across and then walk/scramble on the backside, as the trail becomes a section of literal rock climbing to get down. Once beyond that section I hit the nice downhill along snowmobile/jeep trails. They were muddy and soft and wet as hell. Most of it I had to run on the side of the trail to stay on fairly runnable stretches. I kept looking back to gauge how much the Escarpment hurt those guys (if at all). I would continue to do this most of the race, however little did I know that after that initial climb up, I would never see one of those guys behind me again).
For the next bunch of miles it was more of the same. Up and down. Steep climbs, steep drops, and twisting and turning through mud and standing water. Every so often, planting down and having the mud go up to your knees almost. Sometimes there were ways around it. Sometimes not. Sometimes it was hopping up in to the woods and through branches and over rocks and sometimes it was a few walking steps through water and knee-deep mud. I told myself on the first bad section during the first mile, that time was out the window. I was just going for a strong run and try to get the win.
Once I eventually got up to the ‘choose your own adventure’ section of the course (which is a loop at the far end of the most remote section of the course), I decided to go left. You can either go left or right and it’s probably 15 minutes of the most disastrous terrain that I will run all year. Going left or right, it really doesn’t matter. It seems like left has more of a gradual down at first, followed by a steep climb back up. Going right seems like you have a very steep drop early, and then a long grind on the way back up. Either way you go, it is a rocky, wet mess. And there are two huge sections of standing water. The lowest of which is called ‘the beaver dam’ because of, well, the beaver dam. It has destroyed that bottom section, making it a small pond. And…you go right across it. A plus is that if it’s hot out (which it wasn’t), it will cool you off. Another plus is that it will clean you up. You come out of there nice and washed off…but that lasts about 30 seconds and then you are back to being gross again.
By the time I got through all that and started to climb back up, I wondered when (if at all) I’d see the guys behind me either coming at me from the other direction, or catching me in there. Last year, Ferenc and Najem and I all went the same way, so I never saw those guys. Two years ago, Kevin and Justin Freeman went the opposite way, so I actually saw them pass by me. Even if they do come at you, it’s very tough to judge how much time you have on them. I didn’t see anyone until I was pretty far into the loop. I saw a guy in green first. I wondered if he was in 2nd, but then figured probably not because he wasn’t one of the guys in that pack. Then later, I saw another guy just before I popped out of the loop. I figured the pack of younger guys went the same way I did, so I knew they were within probably 5 or less minutes at that point.
As I made my way back down the way I came in, you pass people heading out to the loop. I noticed one of the guys who was in that early pack, sort of struggling and he hadn’t even gotten to the loop yet. I was shocked. It made me wonder if the rest of the guys were still to come and had faded way back…but I didn’t see anyone. I saw a lot of others though, and most offered encouragement as I worked the downhill back to the junction. Once down to the junction, I took a sharp left that I missed 2 years ago. This is the last new section of the course before you eventually hook back into the last 4-5 miles of the course as an ‘out and back’. This section is fast and downhill. Two years ago when I went back the other way, it actually adds next to nothing for distance, but is way slower terrain-wise. I wasn’t going to make this mistake again and rolled on down this section. I still looked back as there are very long stretches of straight trails where you can see close to a quarter mile back. I never saw anyone.
Finally I hit the water stop junction and hooked a left and headed back against runners again who were back at the back of the pack. Again, they offered encouragement as I pushed on. After this section, it was another left and then up up up to the Escarpment again. But from this end, it is a LONG climb up horrendously muddy and slow jeep trails. I was gassed here but was still feeling alright leg-wise. I eventually got up to the rock climb and had to carefully walk up /scramble up to the top of the Escarpment. You can not run this section. Once at the top, it was tip-toeing across the wet slabs and then I took it very easy on the way down the first part of the Escarpment, which was raked clean of most leaves, but it was still so steep you really had to be on the brakes on the way down.
Once down the bottom, it was time for a mile or so of dirt roads. This is where I essentially bonked two years in a row and had to use gels. I had 2 gels with me but didn’t need them. I felt good here. I pushed on and never even glanced at my watch as I never considered time to be a factor in this race due to the conditions. On the way to the trail junction, I saw one of the dudes who was in the chase pack early in the race, doing a cooldown towards me. He most likely had run the 4 miler (and probably won it). I finally hit the trail again and the crew working that section motioned for me to take the right and they said ‘this way to mud alley’. I laughed and thought to myself that the entire course had been ‘mud alley’. This section was the slowest though. I really struggled over the next mile or so, to maintain the rhythm, but I really did feel fine from head to toe.
Eventually I made it through, crossed the road again, and then hit the last mile which is about half gnarly trail and half road. I popped back out onto the road and meandered up the last half mile which is almost all uphill. I peeked at my watch for the first time, just as it clicked over to 1:30. I was shocked. I had made it a point not to look. But now I thought to myself that that was a great time for the effort it took on the course (without anyone pushing or anyone to try to catch). I kept the same tempo up and came rolling up through the finish. I came across the line and stopped my watch about a second or so after I crossed. I had 1:32:13 on my watch. I thought nothing of it…until I got home and looked up my time from last year and saw 1:32:12!!!! Unreal. The results then showed I ran 1:32:11. That is a full 1 second improvement from last year in a lot worse conditions… In recent years it has been a rarity for me to improve on a course from a previous year… I think the last time I probably did that (snowshoe racing aside) was Ascutney, 2 years ago.
As Jim wrote, he won the 14 miler in 1:32:11. Kehr Davis was the top female in 1:52:25 (10th overall). In the four mile race, the winners were Stewart Richardson (25:52) and Addison Cox (30:39). Addison is only 11 years old. Eleven! She finished 7th overall, too, and just might be the youngest runner we’ve written about here.