No idea why it takes me so long to get these race reports done. Well, I do, but the suspense makes them all that much more exciting. It's a theory...
On Sunday, I met Four at the Gray Park n' Ride for the journey to sunny and beautiful Bartlett, NH for the Mud, Muck and Moose 5 Mile Trail Race. I've been wanting to do this race since we lived in the greater Mt. Washington Valley metropolitan area, but I was too fat and lazy to actually do so at the time. And, I'm really glad I finally did. Mad props to Kevin for putting on a really fun race.
Although the forecast was for showers, it was indeed sunny and beautiful when we arrived at the race venue: Bear Notch Ski Touring. The course was 2 laps of a 2.5 mile loop that was primarily cross country ski trails. That being said, the trails seemed to be randomly hacked out of the forest making them very uneven, lumpy, stump-ridden and leaf-covered. Additionally, each lap featured two stream crossings. This was a relatively dry year, so the mud and muck were limited, and the ropes set up at the stream crossings, while helpful, certainly weren't necessary. The course climbed for the first third of the lap, ran "flat" across the hillside in the middle third, and generally descended in the final third. All in all, it was a really fun course to run. So much so, that I didn't mind the lap course. Plus, 2 laps meant 4 stream crossings!
After picking up our old school popsicle sticks with our numbers on them, Four and I did a brief warm up and got to see the funky lollipop loop-de-loop that was added to bring the course to the full five miles. Then it was back to the car to make certain we dropped off our watches. Yup, no watches allowed. This race features a guess your time component, so unless you can count really, really well, there's no way to cheat.
At the start line, I was pretty certain that local athletic phenom and 14 year-old Sean Doherty was the man...er, kid...to beat. He would at least be close to the top. I also recognized a number of other folks, so it made for a great atmosphere. At the "Go," I slid in behind the duo at the front, let's call them Hat Guy and Headband Guy, and Sean soon came up alongside. I joked with him that there was no way he should be behind me at any point, and in typical Sean fashion, he shrugged it off. He's a great kid, supremely talented, and very, very level headed. Great combo. We ran together for a bit as the course climbed steadily. About a half mile into the race, I realized that once of us was breathing a bit heavier than the other, and about 30 seconds later Sean was gone. He'd go on to win by nearly two minutes. Hat Guy had gone with Sean, and I settled into fourth place, just behind Headband Guy whom I was pretty certain had nipped me a few races in the past. I could hear two other guys right behind me.
Just before we finished the climb I was right on top of Headband Guy and decided to go around him as soon as the course leveled out. I have to admit, I felt a bit odd. I was moving comfortably into third place, which for me is uncharted territory. I quickly brushed aside that lapse in confidence and got down to the business of racing. Not just time trialing with a bunch of other people. Today, I was racing.
I was in third as we hit the first stream crossing. Kevin was there to watch the proceedings, and as he cheered me, he sounded a bit surprised that I was so far up in the field. "Hey! Ryan! Great job! You're in THIRD place." I would have laughed out loud, as it was pretty funny, but I was negotiating the stream crossing. You see, there are these ropes, and you have to use your hands and generally be coordinated: not my strong suit. That being said, the water at its deepest was only up to my knees, if that. I crossed without incident, and I climbed the steep embankment and single track on the opposite side with my head down charging up the hill. Well, my head was too far down as I continued straight at the hillcrest, instead of taking a sharp right. I heard two yells from behind, "Right turn! Right turn!". Yup, I was off course. (As it turns out, I wasn't the only one to make that mistake, but more on that later.) The yells came from Tall, Lanky Guy (TLG), and he and Headband Guy were able to get ahead of me as I got back on course. It was at this point that I realized that other guy in the train was Ron Newbury, a super-fit, super-fast 45 year-old. Except, Ron is 60! Very impressive.
After righting the ship, I quickly passed Headband Guy again, but TLG had put a few seconds on me. The course then opened onto a wide, fairly smooth old road that was gradually downhill. As soon as I hit, Ron was right on my heels and went flying by me. I couldn't match his leg speed. Again, very impressive. So, I found myself in fifth place with third and fourth seeming to pull away. I thought, "Hey, fifth is pretty good." Then about a half second later, I pushed that right out of my head and went after Ron and TLG. They were definitely going faster than I was and faster than I thought I should be going at that point in the race, but I wasn't going to repeat the experience of the Save Our Swinging Bridge 5k. I was here to race. So, I put my head down and picked up the pace just as I entered the sketchiest part of the course. The course turned off the smooth woods road and back onto the ski trails at a very lumpy, slightly muddy and amazingly uneven section. Hold on, ankles!
I kept pushing as the course twisted and turned through the forest. I could see Ron catch and eventually pass TLG. Ron was pulling away from me, but TLG was squarely in my sights. As the lap comes to a close, there's the second river crossing. I stayed upright again, and headed across the field through the start/finish area. TLG was probably about 20 seconds ahead of me at this point, and I could see that Hat Guy wasn't too far in front of him. I wonder if he knew it's a two lap race?
I caught Hat Guy about halfway up the climb in Lap #2 and moved back into fourth place. For the rest of the lap, I kept catching glimpses of TLG. It seemed like every time I would speed up, he'd slow down, and I'd get a bit closer. Then, I would slow and he'd pull away again. Part of me knew I wasn't going to catch him, but a big part of me wouldn't give up. I never did catch him, but I never gave up either. By the time I reached the fourth and final river crossing I was pretty worked. My only goal was to stay upright, and I practically tiptoed across. Wet only from the knees down, I emerged on the other side and "sprinted" across the field to the finish.
I finished fourth with a time of 40:58. Ron cross the line in 40:03, and TLG finsihed in 40:26. So, they had certainly pulled away, but I had given it a shot. I finally took a risk, and I had a good result.
(You'll note the odd placings in the results, but it's based on the closest time contest. So, although I had the fourth fastest time, I was eighth based on the time guess, which is actually pretty good considering I'd never run the race before. The guy who won was only .1 seconds off! Rainman?)
At the finish, I watched a number of folks finish and waited for Four. Then, I watch more people finish. And, then more. Then after I'd been done for nearly 30 minutes, Four appeared sprinting across the field. Well, he's not dead, and he's not injured. What the heck happened? Remember that wrong turn I almost took. Well, Four took it, and he took a couple other people with him. He and his crew wound there way through the trail system and eventually popped out shortly before the final stream crossing. Needless to say, this made his first lap a bit short, but rather than drop, he went out and ran a second lap...correctly this time. Now, here's the best part: the four other runners that took this wrong turn, each called it a day after they completed their second lap—a total of about 4.5 miles. Not Four. He went out and ran a third lap because he wanted to run the full course. Seven miles of racing in total and all smiles at the finish. Now, that's a Trail Monster!
Post-race, we grabbed some of pasta feed and then headed to Moat to share nachos (with brisket!), beers and stories. My co-worker and overall women's winner, Susan, joined us a the bar. Great day on the trails. I'll definitely be back to this one.