Uxbridge – August 13th, 2022
2022 has been a year of firsts for me as an athlete: first triathlon, first major injury recovery, my first year with Team Running Free and my first trail race. As a runner, I’ve spent most of my time on the road or the sidewalk and mixed in the occasional gravel track session. My last experience “trail running” was an adventure race I did when I was 16 and unfortunately that didn’t end well. Luckily there were clear trail markers and no need to use a compass and map to navigate the 5 Peaks, Cider Under the Moon track.
When you turn into the venue, you’re greeted by a volunteer who smiles and congratulates you just for showing up and getting out there. “Follow the car ahead of you” he says and another volunteer in a bright orange vest waves you down to the massive field between Slabtown Cider and the forest we’ll be racing in. Parking the car is a breeze and things are off to a well organized start. I head to the registration tent in my sandals, making sure to check out what shoes are being worn by the other racers. I’ve never been to this trail so I brought 3 pairs of shoes to wear depending on the terrain. I see some people in trail running shoes, gaiters and socks up to their knees while other runners have on super shoes made for the road. I ask a volunteer about trail conditions and decide that a trail shoe is going to be the best call here.
The registration tent is easy to find and has a line for each race distance (Sport 7k, Enduro 14k and Grit 21k). Luckily there’s no one in line for the Enduro and I walk right up to get my bib and head back to the car for a warmup.
The Enduro groups started off at 6:00 and followed in 4 minute increments thereafter. By the time 6:12 rolled around, I found myself on the line with just two other racers. The race opens up with a dash along the length of the parking field and cidery. In the larger groups that launched ahead of us, this is used to build some separation going into the forrest. Turning into the forrest, you run along a quad trail for about a kilometer before heading into the single track portion of the loop. I’m glad that I have trail shoes on because there are a lot of roots and rocks on the track. The terrain is largely packed mud but there are portions of it that are loose sand. There were 5 major climbs on the loop but the final switch-back climb at the end was definitely the most challenging.
I decided to take the first lap fairly slow and use it to do some recon on the trail. With a lap under my belt I figured I could go out a little harder for the second. Overall, the loop was very challenging. The uneven and mixed terrain takes a toll on you in ways that road running doesn’t. At one point, there’s a full tree down accross the path and you have to vault or jump over it. The final climb was sandy and steep; all these factors made this one of the more challenging 7 kilometers I’ve run in my life. With that said, I felt good after finishing lap 1 and set out to make up some ground.
The trail ettiquete was fantastic in this race. The majority of the track did not allow for conventional passing so a cacophone of “on your lefts” rang out through the woods. When passing and being passed it wasn’t uncommon to hear or give words of encouragment to those around you. There were 3 aid stations along the loop and the volunteers were just as encouraging, cheering on every runner that went by.
Crossing the finish line, the MC announces your name, congratulates you for finishing and directs you to the red tent to pick up your finishing prize and meal ticket. Following the race, there’s a BBQ dinner and cider for the runners at Slabtown. Awards and raffle prizes were handed out here as well.
5 Peaks Cider Under the Moon was a beautiful event and I couldn’t have enjoyed my first trail race more. The infrastructure and overall experience was great from the very beginning with parking, to the very end with dinner and prizes. The trail was well marked and staffed with volunteers; racers were polite and encouraging to one another. On top of it all, this was a “cup free” race so there was virtually no litter as racers had to bring their own refillable bottle or cup to use.
I’ll definitely be doing more trail running now that I’ve been exposed to it.
Thanks again to 5 Peaks and Team RF.