Friday, May 4, 2012

Adventures In Jersey - Trail Triple Crown Race Report

I spent last weekend in one of the areas of the world that I had never before spent any time in, mostly because I never much cared to. New Jersey is one of those places that I had always heard more bad than good about, and not just because of Jersey based TV shows. As I discovered, not all of Jersey is consumed in the sprawling metropolis of the NYC and Philidelphia metro areas, and not all of the people are typical to the personas portrayed in an episode of Jersey Shore. Once I got off the Turnpike, I discovered there were actually some pretty great things about this place. There were a few sights however, such as the one pictured below, that did not bolster a positive perspective.

The primary motivator for my trip this weekend was competing in the Trail Triple Crown race outside of Newark, Delaware. The structure of this race is very unique (I've never seen another race structured like this) and one that I think could catch on if other race directors were to give it a shot. Racers have a choice of competing in marathon, half marathon, 10k, or 5k events, all looped trail courses; or taking part in a combined competition including racing the half marathon, 10k, and 5k events back to back to back - the Triple Crown. The timing of the race starts are structured so that all but the slowest competitors will have enough time to finish one race and then cramp up nicely before starting the next.

In my shortsightedness, I had signed up for and only ended up competing in the half marathon event. My reasoning was that since the 10k and 5k races were run on shorter portions of the half marathon loop, I wouldn't be missing any of the scenery by not running them. I also knew that the next several weeks following the race would be heavy training and racing weeks for me and I didn't want to wear myself out too much by racing the combined 22.4 miles. In retrospect after seeing the way the event played out, I think I would have enjoyed doing the full triple crown, but it was still fun to finish the half marathon and watch the two subsequent races play out as a spectator.

The race course was surprisingly challenging considering that Delaware is almost entirely flat. I don't know what the total elevation gain for the course was, but I would estimate it to be between 1000'-1200' with a few fairly steep and challenging hills. The start of the race was a sprint across an open field cross-country style before converging onto the trails. About a half mile into the race, the 5 or 6 of us in the lead pack decided to get in some bonus mileage and detoured onto a side trail for a couple of minutes. We had been assured by the race director before the start of the race that we wouldn't be charged extra for any extra miles we put in on the course, which is very generous, so we were mostly OK with this detour. After we had found our way back to the point where we had left the proper course, a large stream of runners had flooded the trail and we had to spend the next several miles concentrating on passing as many people as we could as quickly as we could on the sometimes very narrow trail. I felt that with the effort of passing constantly I was running harder through these several miles than I might have otherwise, which at the time made me nervous that I would wear out too soon in the race. As it turned out, I was able to finish relativley well despite the lost time and ended up in 7th.

One of the guys who was running the triple crown had raced UROC last year and I had met and chatted with him some before the start of that race. I ended up hanging out with him and several other new friends before/after/between the various events at this race, which always makes the racing experience more enjoyable. All in all, the course was beautiful, the race organization and atmosphere was laid back but precise, and the competition was good - an enjoyable overall experience.

The next day I took a "recovery" run along the appalachian trail near the Delaware Water Gap - where the Delaware river cuts through the hills and separates the New Jersey and Pennsylvania portions of the appalachian range front. The area was stunningly beautiful as the trail wound up a lush valley with an active stream running down it and lots of old growth hardwoods lining the hills on either side. The trail itself turned out to be very challenging because of the extended technical rocky portions that made footing challenging, and made moving quickly nearly impossible in some stretches.

At the top of the valley was Sunfish Pond - a nice quiet glacial lake. 

After looping around the lake and heading back down the valley, I stopped at a small pool in the creek near the bottom of the trail and took a nice soak in the surprisingly cold water. Since I had been a couple of days without bathing at that point, the stream was extra refreshing.

My conclusion: there are worse places in the world than New Jersey (I'm talking about you, Nebraska). In fact, with the right motivation I would even consider going back some day as long as I don't have to hang out with Snooki the whole time.

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