We registered early and then I drove the roads that the course began and finished on to show the guys. In a car, the hills seem a lot less intimidating! We returned to the starting area, and met up with many familiar faces, the cutest being my 10 month old twin niece's and nephew's. My other brother Glenn had come early to see the race start. Greg, Jeff, Clint, and I did an easy mile warm up. Not much time left now, so I returned to the car for final race prep, which included removing my singlet. It was going to be muggy out there today. The temperature was in the low 60's and it was foggy and drizzly. I was hoping for bone dry trails conditions, but the air was moist enough that there was a slick coating on most of the course. No big deal, let's start this thing.
What am I doing? Photo found on the Red Clover Rovers FB page.
I lined up front with Greg and looked around for last year's 23K winner Jerimy Arnold. I didn't see him, but I saw a few other fast looking guys with 23K bib numbers. I also knew that local fast Keeneyan Andy McCarron was racing the short race today. No delusions of being out front this year.
I found myself in 4th place behind Greg and Andy, and an unknown runner in a Whirlaway jersey after the initial downhill and then leveling out. It's always a mental battle between getting out fast (it's a race!) and saving it for later. I kind of fell somewhere in the middle. I pushed a bit on the two road climbs to get into the park. On the first one I overtook 3rd place. That didn't last too long, but on the second harder climb I regained third position and even was gaining on Andy (who dropped back of Greg by this time). I knew Glenn and the babies would be watching at the top and I wanted to put on a good show for them. I thought I might catch Andy here, but talked myself out of going all out so soon.
We entered the park and began the screaming double track descent. Coming into the race, I knew this is an area I was much improved in. But the Whirlaway guy went flying past me! Ugh. I couldn't hear anyone else at least. As the terrain leveled out, I tried to find a good groove. Boj's words to me kept running through my head - 9 mile tempo and then give it whatever you have left. Instead of pushing the pace too hard, I had to trust that I am a stronger runner this year and just cruise.
We reached the Reservoir Trail climb, which is probably the 2nd longest on the course. I got my last glimpse of Greg here, and it looked like he was pulling away and ready to go hide. There was a decent gap between myself and Andy and Whirlaway guy. I kept the climb under control. I was not overexerting myself. I wasn't gaining on the guys ahead of me, but I didn't care. Again, I was trusting my training. Near the Monadnock overlook there is a bend in the trail. I noticed a flash of bright green behind me - someone was silently gaining on me from behind? This gave me a boost of adrenaline and I surged a bit to the summit. Now begins a very long technical and dark downhill. I knew I was making up time here and felt strong. Somewhere in the middle of this low section is a tricky climb. It's not too long, but sneaky steep, and usually I'm huffing and puffing terribly on it. I kept to my theme of the day, and didn't overdue it. But then another flash of green again? Was I seeing things?
The rest of the run to the 6.7 mile aid station was uneventful. I glanced back a few times and didn't see anybody. I felt like I was moving well and not tiring. I blasted through the aid station and there was Whirlaway guy who had stopped. He got moving again and put some space between us. Now it was time for the hardest climb on the course up Pisgah Ridge. I really was deliberate with my pace and just quick stepped my way up. Whirlaway guy was in my sights, but I didn't push to catch him. Again, I couldn't see the bright green shorts guy behind me.
Every year this climb tricks me. There are two false summits and one downhill section, and I always think I've already reached the top. This happened again! After the descent I could see the green shorts, and they seemed to be gaining on me. I assumed he would overtake me on the last steep climb on the ridge since I wasn't going to race him up, but that never materialized. What happened was that at the true summit, Whirlaway guy was off to the side and stopped. We exchanged pleasantries as I went by. Once off the ledges, I attacked the long downhill to Kilburn. I could tell that I was descending this tricky spot way better than years past. And I couldn't see Whirlaway or green shorts guy anymore.
Northeast Racing Photos from the Pisgah Ridge
I reached the easy footing of the wide jeep trail near Kilburn. I picked up my pace, allowing my legs to go as fast as they wanted, without overexertion. I remembered I had a GU in my pocket and decided to take it. As soon as I choked it down the 9.0 mile aid station appeared. I really don't like to stop in a race this short, but I thought grabbing a water might not be a bad idea in this situation (wash down the GU, plus thirsty from the high humidity). I compromised by taking a water and running with it. I made good work up the hill and then "enjoyed" the long fast descent to the Rte 63 parking lot. Jen was there snapping pictures and she either told me "someone right behind you" or "no one right behind you". I wasn't sure which. Either way, the fast speed I took into the start of Davis Hill was a shock to my system. I had to slow down and find my groove again.
On the early part of the climb, the course veers right up the hill, but there is another trail straight ahead (and downhill). As I approached the intersection, I saw Andy coming back up the hill from the wrong trail. What a terrible time to get off course. He said he had been about two minutes behind Greg, but lost about a minute on his wrong turn. He stayed behind me for about half a mile on the climb, and it was cool to think that Greg and I were 1-2 in the race. The trail levels for a while before climbing again, and Andy made his way past me. I wasn't bummed, knowing that he is a much faster runner than me. I thought that maybe there was a chance he would tire on the last couple of miles, but I just kept to my plan.
I was now on the tricky single track between Davis Hill and Hubbard Hill. The good news is that I was feeling much better than in previous years. The bad news was that I was finding it hard to maintain a steady pace over the numerous roots. Andy had disappeared ahead of me at this point, and I couldn't see anyone behind me. I needed to keep pushing. I reached the climb up Hubbard, which is rather short. At the vista sign I checked my watch for the first time. I was right at 1:25. I was pleased to be ahead of last year's pace, but I had about 16 minutes to go from here. I was most likely going to run 1:41. Oh well.
But I still fought on, as there were two small ups before the mega-downhill. I was now seeing Andy again! Even as I hit the descent, I was still seeing him. This definitely was a mental-boost. Sometimes the grade was painfully steep on my now tiring feet. The trail was even a bit slippery on the grassy areas through the recently logged spots. I reached the end of the trail and was now on the finishing stretch - a long gravel/dirt road downhill until you pass Greg and Jen's house, then pavement with a heartbreaking hill. Andy increased his lead on me (which I assumed would be the case), but what scared me was seeing green shorts again! He must be finishing strong. I really didn't want him to pass me. I received some final words of encouragement from Ferenc watching at the house. I hammered the hill climb and hoped I could maintain the effort once over the top and through to the finish (about a half mile away). Andy was coming back to me a bit and I had gained ground on green shorts as well. Checking my watch, I was on my way to 1:40:something. I could hear my parents cheer for me as I crossed the finish line in 1:40:32. I was exhausted, but felt really good about my effort. I had cut over two minutes off my PR from last year by running the hills smart and everything else faster.
I exchanged congratulations with Greg, Andy, green shorts (4th), and Whirlaway guy (5th). Before I knew it, Jeff was crossing the finish line in a very strong 1:51, followed by Boj and Clint. My running wasn't done for the day as I promised Jeff I would grab a few more miles with him after the race for marathon training. I was happy when he said 5 miles would be enough, but even that was torturous to complete. I was relieved to be done and return to the post race cookout where we met up with Crutch. After getting our fill, we headed over to Greg and Jen's for more merriment. A big thanks to Gary and Chris for many years of directing these great races.
Post race scene at Greg and Jen's. Photo found on the Red Clover Rovers FB page.