This past weekend I returned to trail running with the three day Dirt Cheap Stage Race. While this was my fifth time running this event (2015 – 2016 – 2017 – 2019), somehow this was only my second trail race of the year. As is so often the case, this mid-november race was largely defined by the weather.
Friday night’s leg of the race is a short run in the dark, and the weather was the most promising that I can ever remember for this event. However things went off the rails when my headlamp died only a quarter mile into the course. Eventually I came to a fork in the path, and was unable to see the flags pointing out the turn. After a short wait I followed the next runner with a working light, and fortunately he had a pace rather similar to my own so I followed him closely for most of the trail.
With under a mile to go I found my pace was slowing down, so I made the mistake of dropping back a bit from my friend with the light. The final stretch of the trail was possible to navigate without a light, but required me to slow down substantially to find the trail, and avoid tripping on the downhills. This resulted in me finishing with a rather slow time of 42:18 for the first stage of the race.
Saturday saw the weather take a drastic turn for the worse leaving us to run in a cold rain. This left the trails in a muddy mess, and while I only actually fell once I was left slipping and sliding through the entire course. While Mendon Ponds is often muddy, I have raced these particular trails well over a dozen times and have never seen the trail conditions as bad as they were on saturday. While my time of 56:33 was a little on the slow side, it was actually a few seconds quicker than my 2017 time in the snow.
Given that we received the first snowfall of the year shortly after saturday’s leg of the race, I expected sunday to be worse and was surprised that despite the cold there was no rain or snow. Given how much I struggled the day before, and knowing that conditions were going to be bad on sections of the trail, I decided to treat the race like an ultra despite it only being 11 miles.
The first 4.5 miles of the race are on the relatively drier eastern side of the park, which when combined with an early commitment to walking the uphills left me moving well and felling pretty good through the beginning of the day. The northern section of the race is as flat as this course gets, and I took that fairly quickly as well. After that the final half of the race was back in the mud which had no time to dry from the day before. I finished stage three with a time of 2:18:00 which even with my lower expectations was a bit disappointing.
My overall time of 3:56:51 is the slowest of the five times I have run this event.
With plans to be in Sri Lanka during the turkey trot there is a possibility that this may be my final race of the year, but I may do a 5k in december.