Holdenwood Trail Run, 28 September 2014

What: 5K trail race

Where: Shirley, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Me, Drew, and Colin

Benefited: Ayer Shirley Educational Foundation

Time: 42:36

Splits (according to Simon)
Mile 1: 11:37
Mile 2: 15:21
Mile 3: 15:24
Mile 3.03: 0:44

Photos: (click to open larger versions)

Registration, bib pickup, and general merriment was held around the old Town Hall in Shirley Center, and parking was onsite as well.

Registration, bib pickup, and general merriment were all held in and around the old Town Hall in Shirley Center. As you can see from the photo, parking was on-site as well.

Town Hall

Town Hall

The center of Shirley is very old and cool, with and old church and this neat old graveyard.

The center of Shirley is very historic and cool, with an old church and this neat old graveyard.

I was excited to race-christen my trail running shoes!

I was excited to race-christen my trail running shoes!

The scenery for this race was pretty gorgeous and very New England - old stone walls, woods, fall foliage...

The scenery for this race was pretty gorgeous and very New England – old stone walls, woods, fall foliage… just lovely.

The start of the race (source)

The start of the race. Unfortunately, given the heat of the day, not all the course was in the shaded woods. (source)

We wrongly expected the majority of the race to be in the woods. These bits in the open were incredibly hot and dusty!

We wrongly expected the majority of the race to be in the woods. These bits out in the open were incredibly hot and dusty!

Mid-stride selfie of me being excited to run with Drew!

Mid-stride selfie of me being excited to run with Drew!

And can't forget Colin... I love running with him too!

And can’t forget Colin… I love running with him too!

In addition to the unexpected amounts of sun, there was an unexpected amount of hills. I did not like it.

In addition to the unexpected amounts of sun, there was an unexpected amount of hills. I did not like it.

I did, however, enjoy the changing leaves.

I did, however, enjoy the changing leaves.

It's not a great picture, but there was an adorable little stone bridge we ran over, right in the center of the photo

It’s not a great picture, but there was an adorable little stone bridge we ran over, right in the center of the photo.

This race was so fancy it had its own water.

This race was so fancy it had its own water.

Once again, having an "elite" bib number did nothing to help my performance!

Once again, having an “elite” bib number did nothing to help my performance!

Recap: The Holdenwood Trail Run (HTR) was yet another race that I had signed up for AGES ago, which can be evidenced by our race numbers in that last photo (2, 3, and 4)! When Drew and I first started trying out trail running, I thought it would be fun to do a trail race together, since he comes to cheer at all my road races but can’t run with me because of his dodgy feet/ankles/knees. I remember doing a google search for trail races in the area and coming across information about last year’s HTR, and liking them on facebook so that I could be notified when registration for this year’s race opened up. Clearly I was one of the first to register! Colin also decided to run with us to give trail running a go.

The morning of the race, parking was an absolute breeze. The email that had gone out a few days beforehand stressed carpooling and made it sound like they’d run out of space, but it looked like everyone made out okay. There was a 2K at 10am, and the 5K and 10K both started at 11. We got there around 9:30, as registration and packet pickup only went until 10, and we got a parking spot on-site no problem. There were a lot of volunteers to direct people and the whole parking situation seemed to go (to me, anyway) without a hitch.

Packet pickup was also nice and easy. All the bibs and swag were upstairs in the old Town Hall (such a cool old building!) and there were many smiling, helpful volunteers on hand to make everything go smoothly. We got our bibs, and because we were some of the first 200 people to sign up, we each got a nice, long-sleeved tech shirt and a running cap. The pre-race emails had warned that there would be no gear check (unless we wanted to tuck our swag and other belongings into crevices in the stone walls) but since everyone’s cars were right there, that didn’t seem to be a problem either. There were 3 porta-potties, as well as two real bathrooms inside the Town Hall (always a nice option!) for just about 500 runners.

The 2K started promptly at 10, and the three of us stood just a bit away from the finish line so we could watch. There were a TON of kids at this race (makes sense, as it was a fundraiser for the local school and it was advertised as a race for the whole family) and many of the kids ran the 2K. The runner who won overall was 11 years old! He absolutely flew that course, finishing in 8:04 (a 6:30 pace). It made me wonder how I would have done in a similar race at that age… that was back when I still loved running and ran everywhere I could… oh, how I wish I had that kind of energy again!

Before the 5K and 10K started, something very cool happened. A runner and well-known community member, Donn Hill, had sadly passed away earlier in the year. The HTR organizers named the 10K portion of the race after him, and – as Mr. Hill had often played the piano at the local restaurant/bar – held a pre-race sing-along in his memory. They played a recording of Mr. Hill playing the piano over the PA and we all sang, fittingly, Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” It was so cool to stand together and sing with a bunch of runners, and to see how closely knit the Shirley/Ayer community is. Some of Mr. Hill’s family were there, with their arms around each other, singing their hearts out and, even though I never knew Mr. Hill, I did get a bit teared-up at all the emotion. I think every race should start with a hearty sing-along!

After the song, we all made our way through the woods to a clearing, where the starting line was. This was bit alarming for the three of us, who all were under the impression that the entire race would be held in the [nice, shady] woods. The 2K looked like it was entirely in the woods, but alas, the 5K and 10K were not. It might not have been an issue if it hadn’t been unseasonably warm at around 80* and so, so sunny. Like, no clouds in the sky. At all. And the sun was HOT. We started at the back of the running pack (they had pace signs, including a sign directing walkers to line up at the back, but I’m not sure how many people actually saw the signs and/or acted accordingly…)

Courtesy of the awesome Maybe Marathoner!

Courtesy of the awesome Maybe Marathoner!

… which meant that we were near the bottom of a small hill that we had to run/walk up to get to the start line. There was a good 10 minutes or so of standing around before the starting horn blasted, and oh man, was it hot! I was really wishing I hadn’t stashed my shiny new running cap in the car, because yikes, it was bright and my face felt like it was roasting.

When we finally got underway we went at a pretty decent clip, at least once we got around all the walkers or people who took early walk breaks. Drew tends to run at a faster pace than Colin or I but, as I like to remind him as I huff and puff alongside him during trail runs wanting to keel over, he usually doesn’t run as far so he doesn’t really think about pacing himself. Apart from 2-ish-mile trail run jaunts back in the early summer, or the few Shammies speed workouts he’s joined me at, the only running he really does is during half-field soccer games, and really that’s sprinting. So anyway, we took off at his speed, and I was so distracted by getting around people and by the novelty of running on a trail with a bunch of other people that I didn’t notice our speed or just how many little (and not so little!) hills we were tearing up, and then tearing back down. This soon caught up with me and it was not pretty.

In my last Weekend Wrap-Up, I mentioned how during the week I had experienced a weird combination of light-headedness and heart pounding… well I had also been overheating and suffering from weird chest discomfort (not to worry, I went to the doctor and apparently it’s just an epic case of indigestion). Well, I hadn’t been worrying about that when I thought the race would be a nice, leisurely ramble through the woods. But, factor in a) the heat and running in the midday sun, b) the inadequate amount of fuel in my body because I hadn’t been eating right all week (due to said indigestion problems) and only had a tiny bagel with peanut butter at 8:30 and forgot to eat my energy-boosting chews before the race started 2 1/2 hours later, and c) I probably hadn’t hydrated enough because, let’s be honest, I’m crap at doing that step properly… and all of a sudden thanks to all the hills and the fast pace and the sun, all I could think about was the heart about to explode in my chest and the redness of my face about to burst. I didn’t like that sensation.

I gave up halfway up a hill and told the lads they could carry on. They’re both good sports and said they’d stick with me, and they did, but I ended up walking (and making them walk) probably half the race. Not only was I terrified that I was going to have a heart attack, and not only did my legs refuse to run up another hill, but I also had my stomach start to rebel against me. It was one of those situations where I felt like if I ran another step I would totally be That Runner Who Pooed Herself during the race, and I didn’t want to be That Runner. So I’d walk up the hills, walk a little farther until I could catch my breath, try to run for a bit, then have to pull up and walk again for fear my colon would blow. It wasn’t fun. Plus I felt like I was totally ruining Drew’s first real 5K, as well as ruining Colin’s race, and I kept apologizing on top of whining and I’m sure I wasn’t everyone’s favorite running companion that morning.

To make matters worse, the fast 10K runners were starting to lap us. I think all the high school cross-country runners from the area were competing in the race, and dear Lord they’re fast. I’m not sure what was more disheartening – to have the 10Kers pass me after I had only run like half the race, or to have the 5Kers who had already finished walk back past us and say “Looking good guys, you’re almost done.” (Clearly I wasn’t looking very good, and all I wanted was to lie down!) The one bright spot, apart from the one water stop which was GLORIOUS, was a pack of three girls who were probably 8 or 9 and who had designated themselves cheerleaders. As I limped my way closer to them, one of them yelled “Be positive and believe in yourself!!” It was adorable, and it made me run faster, which then made me double over in pain a few steps later.

Let me just say that it was such an unbelievable relief to see the finish line, and I was able to run faster (not quite sprint, because the cross-country 10Kers were barreling down at us and I didn’t want to get in their way) and finish the race strong-ish, at least for the last 100 yards. I went through the chute and turned and marched straight up to the girl handing out water, and then all but collapsed into a plastic lawn chair in some shade. Drew ran to grab me my chews, then bought a bag of pretzels to help bring my sodium levels up in case that’s what was causing the tummy trouble. My stomach improved, but emotionally I felt miserable. Before the race we brazenly had figured we’d finish in about a half-hour, giving us plenty of time to stop at the nearby diner which closes at 1. Instead, we finished in just over 42 minutes, my slowest running 5K time in a long time, and I had been uncomfortable and whiny for almost the whole thing.

In short, I did not enjoy the race at all! It might have been the worst I’ve ever felt in a race, which is too bad because the race itself was quite lovely. The trails were well kept, the course was well marked, the volunteers were awesome, and the scenery would have been even lovelier if I hadn’t been running like a hunchback and staring at my feet for most of it. I wish I had looked up the course beforehand, because I naively assumed it would be an easy one (despite the website saying “For those seeking a running challenge, the rolling hills and steep traverses will not disappoint!”). At least then I would have expected the hills! I would like to run this race again next year, properly fueled and with a better idea of the course, to see if it goes better the second time around.

Luckily, despite finishing later and taking a significant amount of time to recover in the shade, we were still able to squeak into the Airport Diner for a quick brunch before it closed. Just. The waitress wasn’t very happy with us strolling in 30 minutes before they closed – she was very brusque, almost to the point of rudeness, but I would have been cheesed off by people strolling in late too! – but we ordered quickly, ordered easy items, and left a pretty good tip, so by the end of our visit she was smiling and even gave a friendly wave as we drove away. (Or maybe she was just happy to have us clear out!)

The Airport Diner in Shirley, MA

The Airport Diner in Shirley, MA

The coffee was great for diner coffee (for any coffee, to be honest), and the chocolate chip/strawberry pancakes were delicious! The diner is sort of plopped into an otherwise desolate-looking industrial section of town, but was a welcome oasis for us. The inside was cool too – an old diner car with tons of model planes hanging from the ceiling:


It’s a shame my stupid body had to mess with an otherwise great race, but the day was rescued thanks to a yummy diner, a family birthday party, and two running partners who are very patient and kind. Cheers, Drew and Colin! Hopefully the next one will go better!

12 thoughts on “Holdenwood Trail Run, 28 September 2014

    • It was definitely not my favorite race, that’s for sure! Yeah… indigestion seemed a bit head-scratchy but I’m keeping an eye on it. Hopefully it’s nothing worse!

  1. Ugh, I’m sorry to hear you had such a tough time. It’s never fun to feel ill while running, and especially not during a race. Glad to hear you went to the Doc and it’s nothing serious!

  2. Oh thank goodness it was a 5k and not one of your recent 10ks or the half. At least there’s that, and I’m glad your day eventually took a turn for the better!

  3. Hi! It’s Jason, one of the Race Directors for the HTR. Thanks for coming to the race and I’m glad you enjoyed it for the most part. As you have figured out, trail runs are always alot slower than road races, and yes ours has some tough spots with, like we say, “rolling hills and steep traverses” to contended with. Glad you are feeling better, good luck in your future races, and we hope to see you again next year. Do you mind if we link to you blog from our website? Can we use some of your quotes on our testimonials page?

    • Hi Jason! Thanks for organizing such a great race… my bad experience was purely my own fault and I hope to try it again next year 🙂 You may certainly link to my blog and quote me. Thanks for stopping by!

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