The Salomon Trail Running Festival at Pineland Farms combines everything that is great about running and New England into one weekend. This event has something for everything including a 5K, barefoot 5K, canincross race, 10K, 25K, 50K and the 50 mile race that I chose to do. There is also great food and wonderful people. This is an event where I came to take on my first 50-mile race but I will come back for the atmosphere.
The Salomon Trail Running Festival has been happening for 10 years on Memorial Day weekend at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Maine. It attracts over 2,200 runners and 1,500 spectators from the United States and Canada. Although this event has an impressive number of events and runners it really sets itself apart with its course and atmosphere.
All of the races follow a course that meanders through freshly cut farm fields with expansive views of rolling hills and white picket fences. All of this is centered around the start and finish area which features food, beer and a celebration of all things running. Most importantly, the volunteers, spectators and runners are among the friendliest that I have ever met.
I have always dreamed of doing a 50-mile trail race because it was a challenge that seemed impossible to achieve without disciplined training and nutrition. I have always wondered if I had what it took to get across the finish line. The Pineland Farms 50 miler looked perfect because the course was scenic with no major ascents and it also happened to take place amongst Maine’s beautiful scenery. So last November I registered and told everyone I knew so I could not back out.
This was a challenge unlike any other that I have ever done. I spent the next 6 months seeking wisdom from anyone with ultra experience. What did they wear? What did they eat? How did they deal with chafing? Everything that happened to the body after 26.2 miles was a mystery to me.
Along the way I ran over 700 miles, following a training plan from Relentless Forward Progress, worked with a trainer and mapped out a nutrition plan. I missed hiking trips, ski days and plenty of other things to get my miles in; this was a goal I was determined to achieve. When I picked up my bib the day before the race I felt confident and still a little nervous.
I visited the Salomon Trail Running Festival the day before the race, when the 5Ks and 10ks were taking place, and its charm put me at ease. The start and finish area was buzzing with music, food and happy people. Everyone that I met had done the race multiple times and they couldn’t say enough good things about it; I felt like I was in the right place. Event though I was feeling happy and excited I still had 50 miles between the finish line and me.
I woke up at 4 am to have breakfast and coffee before getting to the starting area at 5 am. The starting area was still full of friendly people but everyone looked very serious and determined; had I stepped out of my league? It was a chilly morning but the temperature was supposed to climb into the 70s later in the day at a time when I would definitely still be running. Heat and I never got along so this had me feeling a little nervous. Just over 100 of us lined up for the 6 am 50 miler start and we were off.
This race was going to be twice as long as any of the other races that I had done so I paced myself cautiously. The course was a wide double track that cut through forests and farmland with no major hills but plenty of little climbs. Runners do a 3.5-mile loop following by 3 laps of a 25k loop; this meant that every hill I encountered I would see 3 times. It was daunting to think about the miles ahead of me so instead I focused on how long I had until the next aid station, the next snack or the next salt pill. This broke the run down into 30-minute increments that seemed more manageable. I also passed the time by chatting with fellow runners and just assessing how I was feeling.
At mile 18 we came back through the starting area to begin our second loop of the 25k course. My girlfriend was there to cheer me on and that gave me a huge mental boost. This is where I stopped by my drop bag to pick up fresh water bottles.
Along the way I ate plenty of Vega Sport gels and Honey Stinger Waffles but I still enjoyed some Oreos and pretzels from the aid stations that we encountered every 3-4 miles. I kept trying to live in the moment to avoid thinking of the miles ahead and this strategy seemed to be working because I was still in great spirits.
The hills felt a little bigger and the temperature was rising during the second loop but the course was still beautiful and the people were still friendly. This event allows pacers from miles 35-50. Pacers are people who run with you to keep you motivated and alert. After hours and hours of running alone it is also nice just to have someone to run with.
Justin, my friend and trainer, was waiting to pace me at mile 35. My girlfriend and few of my friends had also gathered here to cheer me on; I was feeling great as Justin and I began our 10 miles together. Along the way he gave me advice on when to eat, when to run and he gave me plenty of encouragement. Somehow we passed over 8 people; I wasn’t running to beat anyone but this was still encouraging.
At mile 42 I started to realize and believe that I might cross the 50 mile finish line. I was still feeling good and it was hard to imagine dropping out now. Justin stepped out at mile 45 and my friend Jeb jumped in to pace me to the finish. Jeb is one of my closet friends and is someone who I have climbed with for over 10 years so it was a great mental boost to run with him to the finish.
At this point my running had slowed and I was walking a little more and for some reason I began to rapidly drink water, I went through over 25 ounces in just a few miles, and I started to feel a little nauseous. Then as we climbed a hill, with just 1.5 miles to go, I paid for that mistake. All of that water suddenly came back up; use your imagination here if you would like.
All of a sudden I felt much better and the finish line was just over one mile away. Jeb and I ran/ walked our way to within sight of the finish line. As we came across the last corner Jeb peeled away and I was on my own.
My friends and girlfriend were lining the course to cheer me on. I felt so excited that I managed to sprint to the finish and it was done!
I collected my race swag which included a t-shirt, glass and cowbell. It took me awhile to get my appetite back and to let the day’s events sink in.
If you want to run a 50 miler then Pineland Farms is a perfect place to do it. The atmosphere, the course and the people make running 50 miles as comfortable as it can be. During the run I said I would never to another 50 miler but somehow I think if you are at Pineland Farms next year you might see me there.