ECTA represents the Essex County Trail Association. Straight from their site, they exist to protect access to the trails and open lands throughout Hamilton, Wenham, Ipswich, Topsfield, Essex, and West Newbury. Yesterday, ECTA hosted the 2nd Annual Spring for the Trails Half Marathon. This presented an opportunity for me to see the fun trails in Willowdale State Park from the Ipswich entrance off Linebrook Rd.
I warmed up on the course, seeing the opening mile and the closing quarter mile. The fire roads would be easy but the single track gave a hint that concentration and quick feet would be required. Someone said it would be similar to Lynn Woods. The biggest difference would be the crazy constant turns and switchbacks that kill momentum that you may secure on the wider fire roads.
Early on, I was in 3rd place. Junyong Pak was the leader followed by Dave Long. I forget his name (was introduced following the race), but a tall gent from Beverly who teaches at Landmark School, with a blue Adidas top was glued to my heels. He got bored and passed Dave and I after a few miles which were mostly single track, quick turns, and pace limiters.
|ECTA Spring for the Trail Half Marathon course map|
I opened up my stride on the wider fire roads and passed Dave after 3 miles. I closed the gap between Junyong and I who relinquished the lead between miles 3 and 4. I was pushing pretty well, closing in. Then we came upon a three way intersection and no course markers (pink ribbons) were in sight. Left, right, straight? I yelled a few expletives. Junyong turned around and yelled that he found the course, which was a 90 degree left hand turn we both missed about 15 seconds back. The pink ribbon was low on the ground and the red arrows indicating a turn was not there. I guess you can’t get comfortable with the expectations that a marker will be quite obvious as it was perfect up until that point on the course. I was on alert from that point on to pay extra attention.
I lost some ground to Pak while regrouping but was curious how the runners behind me, would fare upon the same error that we made (I heard some other runners missed a turn in the race but I did not know if this was the turn they missed).
Dave was no longer behind me, at least visibly, so I forced on to stay with Pak as long as possible. This took us to the water stop at 6.3 miles. I was about 5 seconds back but needed to grab some Tailwind at the table. I walked through, drinking and gulping two cups. I lost a few seconds and contact with Pak from there on. I saw him just a few more times in the next two miles but that was it. The twists and turns on the single track were brutal. Look at the course map from mile 7 to the finish. The legs and hips were taking a beating.
There was just enough elevation change to break balls too. But it was all good. The occasional Mountain Biker said I was right behind another runner (Pak) but I knew better. That could be minutes ahead. The switch backs over the last three miles allowed you to look over and see you is ahead or chasing. I saw Dave Long at one point and figured I had a minute up. Still, no time to let up, I pressed onward with tired legs, hoping for some fire road and less single track.
The race photographer I came upon said that just a mile remained which hinted that the course would be less than 13 miles. He was right. In the end, the course measured out for 12.4 for me. I heard 12.3 mile were tracked by others. I finished in 3rd with a time of 1:28:13 which would have placed me 4th in the 2016 results.