One of my favorite things about where we live is the abundance of preservation land and trails. You almost have to try not to run on trails in our neighborhood.It’s given me a keen appreciation of the benefits (and ankle twisting dangers!) of adding trails into my running routine.
So while I have been slowly exploring the local trails and adding more off-road miles to my training plan, I had yet to run an actual trail race. This past weekend, I changed all that. With a new 5k trail race just a few minutes from the house, how could I not sign up?
The New Life FB 5k Trail was held on the grounds of the old Medfield State Hospital, a former psychiatric treatment hospital that closed in 2003. The town now owns most of the land and is determining how to use it. In the meantime, it’s become a haven for dog walkers, bike riders and runners.
The organizing group did a great job getting the word out, signs were prominently dotted around town in the months leading up to it, and for a first year race the grounds were hopping on an absolutely perfect Saturday morning.
Ultimately, there were over 300 participants with about 200 or so running, the rest walking. New Life Furniture Bank of MA is a local non-profit that collects high-quality gently-used furniture and household essentials that are then made available at no cost to individuals and families in need. So it was all in benefit of a good cause.
The best thing about running a new distance or race is the inability not to set a PR! I didn’t have many goals for this one except to avoid injury (I have notoriously bad ankles) and have fun while trying something new.
Even with youth soccer kicking off across the street, the old hospital grounds provided plenty of room for parking and with volunteers waving you on, parking quickly and easily wasn’t an issue. It was a bit of a walk to the registration/start area, but it gave me a good chance to jog back and forth as part of my warm-up.
There was online registration, but no pre-race day options to pickup your packet. This had me a little worried, but went smoothly, even if this was the type of race that made you look up your bib number prior to getting in the right pickup line. Sort of a pet peeve including that extra step. I’m sure there’s a technical reason, but doing it alphabetically is more customer friendly.
The packet pick-up and race finish area was in a large courtyard of one of the old buildings. Along with the registration tables, they were a few local vendors and stores, the post-race snacks, plus some corn hole and spike ball set ups. Plus, the porta-potties off in a corner. Not sure if people were taking advantage of nature, but the lines were never an issue for the bathrooms.
After checking in and picking up my chip bib, I made my way back to the car to drop off my stuff and jog around. It was clear from where they had the starting line mats set up that the race course shown online had been changed a bit, at least the start and finish. First year hiccups, but again, all the volunteers and clear course markings on the trails made following the course a breeze.
The biggest issue appeared to be the lack of electricity. They had to bring in a few portable generators that were a bit loud and the resulting sound system wasn’t all that loud, especially during the pre-race announcements.
The one thing I clearly heard during the starting announcements was that it was about a mile until we entered the woods. That was plenty of time to string people out before hitting the single track I knew (from a few previous scouting runs) was at the start of the trail section.
It also meant that to bank some time, I decided to go out pretty hard as I knew I would naturally slow down in the woods given the terrain and footing.
The first half mile was a quick loop around parts of the old hospital campus. This in itself, with it’s potholes and broken macadam almost constituted a trail run itself. The organizers did a good job spray painting the biggest offenders with orange or blocking them off with cones. Once clear of the starting line congestion, avoiding the worst of it wasn’t hard.
Before entering the woods itself, we eased into it with a run through a grassy field that had me flashing back to my long-lost XC days.
Right on queue, at the mile mark, we climbed a short steep rise and entered the woods.
Mile 1: 6:17
While the mile lead-up to woods had definitely thinned the pack, I was not alone and settled into a group of four. This is where the couple practice runs I did helped as I knew, maybe not where to put each footfall, where and when the climbs were coming.
I put this to use passing one guy (who I later learned was a Strava friend I’d never met in person!) on an uphill and then it was was starkly illustrated when the 2 guys in front went a little off course at one point and I was able to get past both of them as they bushwhacked across a hill.
Mile 2: 7:13 – Not bad, I typically handicap trail running at 1-1:30 slower than your road pace. Plus, the grade adjusted pace here is actually 6:57, so we were moving pretty good.
Clear of the last climb in the woods (but not the last climb), I ran along the flats next to the Charles, but could definitely hear at least one person still hanging on behind me.
Coming out of the woods, back onto the hospital land for the final half mile, we hit the last climb and it is a short steep doozy. It climbs just under a 100 feet in a quarter mile, maxing out in a 10.5% grade. I knew it was coming, but I was starting to pay for the pace and the guy trailing me, who I’d passed when he went off course, was able to get by me. I had nothing in response and just tried to limit the damage.
Once up the hill and back on the flats with some crowd support and the finish almost in sight, I was able to find just enough legs that I only let the one guy (in my AG though!) get past me. I took a few peeks over my shoulder in the closing quarter, but had enough of a gap to hold off both of my other woods competitors.
Mile 3: 6:58 (6:31 GAP)
The course, maybe due to the last minute changes, or maybe just bad measuring, came up short at just over a 3 miles. The always kind of irks me a bit, but maybe they get that corrected for next year.
I finished 6th overall in a time of 20:36 and second in my age group. That keeps my 5k AG podium streak alive this year at four in a row.
I was impressed with the post-race food spread. For a small local race, they were able to get some quality donations (it was supposed to include donated Sam Adams beer, but the town nixed it). There were the usual oranges, bananas and water, but also a lot of Kind bars, pastries, bagels and coffee.
Kudos for giving away the extra race shirts to folks that hung around after. That was a nice gesture.
This is a great addition to the local 5k scene. The course is challenging and unique. The race is well organized and well supported. The few quibbles I had are certainly not deal breakers and easily fixed in future years. It was a fun day and I hope to do this race many times in the future.