Sunday, November 15, 2015
It was a dark and stormy night. No, wait a minute ... wrong story. It was a radiant autumn day amidst the falling leaves, temperatures hovering at a runner-optimal 55 degrees, sylvan trails dry and conditions ripe for crushing PRs. After a couple of hours of placing trail signs, setting up registration, directing volunteers, chatting with friends and frenemies, and shamelessly cutting bathroom lines to take care of business, it was time to let one of my favorite annual adventures begin.
Aspirations: Forty-two and two hundred orange-clad runners toed the white starting line, each with a different goal in mind from anything of a time-specific goal to simply having fun to BLS' perennial goal of "don't die". My sole goals for the day were A) sub-50, and B) PR. Technically not much difference between A and B goals, given a 2013 PR of 50:14. I wasn't highly optimistic on either, given that I felt tired running hills in VT and NH the prior two days and that running the Rhody course eight days ago at 59 minutes, I still felt tired on the hills. Matthew had much more confidence in me than I had in myself (maybe that's part of his success factor?) Even Chris Fox had assured me after last year's Rhody (50:16) that I had a sub-50 in my future.
The front half: The gun went off. Jonny rocketed ahead, and I do mean rocketed. There was a solid mass of runners and then way ahead was Jonny. Those of us in the top 15 all moved ahead at quite a quick pace for me. I estimated that I entered the single-track off Sanctuary Road in about 11th place. Just prior to entering the campground, Muddy passed me. Mile 1 split (don't worry, I won't bore you with all of them, especially as many are meaningless on trails): 5:35. Uh-oh, did I just ruin my race?
|Jonny leading the group out at the start|
(Photo by Jana)
Passed two runners on the long stretch of asphalt on Four Boulders Road before re-entering the trail where I had just sawed obstructing white pine branches earlier in the week. Continued running hard on the next mile of very non-technical trail and saw a runner ahead of me as I entered the covered bridge. Passed this runner in the rock garden just after the approach with Klondike Road. Steve Brightman? Surely I am delirious. He mouthed something to me that seemed unintelligible, and whatever I said back between my heavy breathing was I'm sure equally jibberish.
Just prior to the final boardwalk section before Buckeye Brook Road, I was closing the gap quickly on two runners: one unknown and one Robert Jackman. Jackman, seriously? I asked what he was doing "way back here" and he responded something about feeling terrible. We had a similar encounter at Mile 6 of Blessing this summer, and I feared he would retake me again before the finish as he did then. On to the water stop, where I took a water cup (as opposed to what else would I take at a water stop?) and then promptly slammed my water cup into the cup held out right in front of me by the second volunteer, causing the 2nd water cup to spill all over that volunteer, and most of the water in my cup to exit, leaving me exactly 7 1/2 drops of water, which I imbibed, threw on the ground, and exited onto Buckeye Brook Road. Does anyone offer remedial courses on how to drink water in a race? I really need to sign up.
|How do I keep the water|
in the cup?
The back half: On Buckeye Brook Road just prior to the trail re-entrance, someone is coming up on me fast. I think to myself, Jackman's vengeance already? No, it's Matthew! Awesome! Fresh off running the hills of Vermont in the New England X-C Championship race less than 24 hours ago, he looked in great shape. I urged him to enter the trails ahead of me, and it's a good thing he did, as the gap grew very quickly and then he was gone. Four miles into the race, he was moving and on a mission. One of the best lines about this was an e-mail from Chris Fox afterwards: "As far as I can tell, Matthew was chained to the registration desk until 5 minutes after start time." Speaking of the devil, just after the short rock climb, who do I see ahead of me other than frenemy Fox? Wait a minute, now: I've passed Brightman, Jackman, and now I'm about to pass Fox? Don't get cocky here; it's a long race with plenty to go. As I passed Fox, we had a deeply intellectual and moving conversation: I looked at him and said "Fox" and he looked back and said "Walker". Nothing further needed to be said.
|Passing Fox on the trail|
|Nearing the end of the trail|
(Photo courtesy of Susie Smith)
The next runner I would see was out on King's Factory Road. I saw two runners up ahead, with the one in the back wearing an orange singlet who I assumed [wrongly] to be Matthew.
|Gazellin' to the finish|
I pushed the final tarmac portion (I really dislike this section) at a 5:42 pace and as I rounded the traffic island headed for the finish line, I thought I saw "49:05" on the clock. No, it must be delirium or poor eye sight at best.
Final results: 49:10!! PR by over one minute! 7th place finish( 1 of 2 bandits was ahead of me - sore topic for another day). 1st in my old man age group. Full results here. Am I pleased with my result? Ecstatic!
|While not as impressive as the All Stater's 3rd place overall Rhody award|
(and growing collection) ...
|... I done good taking home the gold for the old guys.|