On Sunday the 5th of June, I traveled to the northern New Jersey to run the Watchtung Trail Marathon.
Watchtung was only 13 days after The Dirty German 50 Mile, but I really wanted to get in another trail long run/race before I left the east coast.
The Watchtung Trail Marathon was/is a small race, no doubt about it. A small race has it's advantages and disadvantages and this was my first really small longer trail race.
The race had two 10.5-8 mile loops with a small half loop to finish the course at 26.31 miles. One reason I was excited to run this course is that it was almost exclusively on trail and it had some climbing to the tune of appx. 2,000 ft.
The marathon race start time was 9:00am with a 10k and 10m race at 9:15 and 10:00 I believe. Again, the race was small and was pretty much organized and ran by the race director, his wife and young daughter (the daughter did the count down to the start!).
Just before the race I found a "NJ trail" chat/blog site that mentioned I was racing and discussed rather I could break 3hrs on the course. I posted and defaulted to the fact that Iwould be running on flat legs and that sub 3hrs on trails is a pretty big feat. At the gun I was not on pace to break 3hrs but I was having fun and running.
The first few miles went well with classic east coast foliage to enjoy. The trails at Wachtung are diverse. There were wide rocky trails, single track that was smooth, climbing and meandering. The trail went across creeks along creeks and around ponds... beautiful.
Much of the loop trail was marked with both white flower arrows on the ground, spray painted orange arrows on the ground, flour on tree trunks and east coast style paint stripes on trees. I did miss a turn early on as I was not familiar with how two paint stripes on a tree indicates either a left or right turn (the lower stripe gives direction apparently). My missed turn only cost a minute or so, no big deal. I was up front in the lead from the get-go with one guy about 10 seconds back for the first maybe 5-6 miles until he got lost and popped up near the end of the first loop going the wrong direction.
On the last three or so miles someone, or a group of knuckle-heads, decided to smudge out the directional arrows on the course. Luckily I could still see the smudged arrow turns and many times the painted stripes kept me on track too, but it was challenging.
The weather was pretty average for NJ, mid 60s to 70s through the race with some cloud cover on and off and of course it was humid. I was carying my standard Amphipod 20oz hand waterbottle and 5oz 1st Endurance EFS Liquid Shot (used two for this race). I was told an "un-manned" water aid station would be out on the course along with the obvious aid station at the start and finish area where the race looped through each time. There was no water to be had on the first loop. I've done enough long runs with minimal water, so I wasn't freaked out, but yes, a bit concerned and thirsty.
I came through the 10.6ish loop in 1:20 (with missed turn), filled my water and told the RD about the arrow situation, or lack of. The RD responded with the fact that he had marked the course the night before... I felt bad for him that some punks sabotaged his makings.
I felt OK on the first loop, sort of like I would feel during a long run at the end of a big training week or similar to the middle of a 50 mile race, going, but not strong or fast. The footing and climbing was more a factor here than at the Dirty German 50M, but I managed about the same pace.
-The goal for the second lap was to run faster than the first.-
I went into the second lap and found myself slowing a bit and feeling crapy. This low point luckily was followed by a good strech of faster running where I made up some ground and was feeling really strong even running a couple miles at sub 7 minute pace. Afew miles before the end of the second loop I saw about 15 one gallon water jugs by the trail. At this point in the loop, I had planned on just doing 20oz of water a lap, so I kept going. I'm blown away out how well my EFS keeps me going and cramp free, it has yet to fail me.
I managed a 1:19 second lap, got a short brief on where to go for the last lap by the RD and began the last 4.5 miles. I ran a bit faster this last loop to (for my watch running time) sneak in 3:19 for a a sub 3:20 trail marathon race with 2k of climbing.
The super small race scene has it's challenges: lack of water/aid stations, course markings being removed, no support staff to help at confusing sections or road crossings and of course running totally solo and winning by nearly 40 minutes in a marathon, but on the flip side I also enjoyed some ascpects of this small race. My "prize" was a beer from the cooler. Everyone was down to earth and fully interesed in hanging out and talking with each other regardless of ability level. The RD, his wife and friends were totally cool and I enjoyed meeting them and talking about the local running.
I have friends that felt I was stupid to pay $50 to run on trails by myself, especially when I wasn't "race ready". For me it was totally worth it and I'll enjoy thinking about running through the Wachtung reservation over the next 6 months.
My hat is off to those who run the Wachtung Winter Marathon... with snow and east coast cold, this course must certainly be brutal!