I hate making decisions. I have a tendency to give all decisions the same amount of energy, whether it is where we should go for dinner or whether or not to have another child. Okay, that might be a tad overstated but I definitely overthink simple decisions.
Given my indecisive nature, you can imagine the amount of back and forth going on in my mind as the Bretton Woods Fell Race approached and I had to decide between a 9.5-mile unmarked course or a 4.3-mile marked course. After wasting too much time and too many brain cells thinking about it, I decided that I would not decide, not yet anyway. All runners had to run through checkpoint C before either finishing the short course or continuing on to the long course, so my friend Kim and I figured we would see how we felt then and make the decision at that point.
However, this race was not for the indecisive. At bib pickup we were informed that we had to choose our course beforehand and in order for the race to count towards mountain goat status we had to finish the race we chose. I had already completed 6 races and was officially a Mountain Goat so did not really have anything to lose, but Kim had missed the first race and had to complete Bretton Woods. This sealed the deal and we chose the short course, and if I am completely honest I was mostly relieved…mostly.
I also felt guilty. I knew that I was capable of doing the long course, albeit very slowly, and felt like I should be pushing myself. It turns out that this feeling would be very short lived. About two minutes into the race I went from guilty to giddy over my decision to do the short course. Right from the start Bretton Woods was a beast. I have no idea what percent grade that first mile up was, but it was 100 percent horrible. My knees were practically touching the grassy “hill” in front of me as I walked up it. At times it was so steep that my feet were slipping backwards on the wet grass.
Somehow I reached the top and made my way though checkpoint A after more than a mile of calf burning climbing. Once there, Kim and I took our time enjoying being surrounded by foliage covered mountains and posing for silly pictures. As hard as it had been to choose the short course, it was fun to go into a race with no expectation. Typically before a race I have studied the course description and used that as well as the previous year finish times to set a goal for my own finish time. This time I showed up with no idea what to expect or even what course I would complete. I had already achieved mountain goat status and the first mile climb had rid me of any guilt over choosing the short course. This run was just for fun, a celebration of having done the series and tried something out of my comfort zone, so time did not matter.
At first the way down was just as steep as the way up, so I picked my way down slowly, sometimes side-stepping and at one point actually sitting down and sliding down on my butt. It did not stay steep for too long, so soon I was running along through a wooded section talking to Kim and paying attention to the course markings, little orange flags, on my right.
As I came out of the woods I saw just to my left the second aid station and plenty of little orange flags and started heading that way. This is where course knowledge or better markings would have come in handy. Apparently we needed to turn right and climb back up and around the Nordic Loop before coming back down and through the aid station. Thankfully another runner on his way down saw us about to make this mistake and pointed us in the right direction. The climb back up was not too steep, in terms of mountain goat races anyhow, and it was still in the woods, which I enjoy, so I took my time and went through checkpoint B and back down to the aid station.
At that point I was pretty happy knowing I had covered about three miles and that from this point on it was all downhill. It was time to pick up the pace.
After checkpoint B the terrain became dirt rather than grass, which gave me more confidence when it came to foot placement, no nasty holes to snap your ankle, but the dirt was slippery and there were lots of loose rocks. The rocks and dirt were tricky on the very steep portions, of which there were a few. Knowing I was less than a mile from the finish with only downhill between me and it, I tried to keep up my pace and was rewarded by falling down on my backside. I still have a large bruise and some scratches on the back of my right thigh. It stung, but it is better than breaking my teeth or spraining my ankle and it comes with the territory so I got up, dusted off, and kept going.
I cruised through the finish at 1:19. I could have taken at least a few minutes off that time had I not been goofing around with Kim, but I was happy with it anyhow. I felt the tiniest twinge of regret that I could not say that I had done the long course, but still felt mostly relieved to be done. One glance up the mountain reminded me that I would be climbing back up again at least once had I made a different choice, and that knowledge was sobering to say the least.
Overall it was a good race. There were some pretty views and a few friendly volunteers. I feel like the course could have been better marked; three simple signs with arrows would have done the trick. I almost went the wrong way two more times after checkpoint B simply because little intersections were not marked and the orange flags were few and far between and blended in with the foliage. I caught myself both times and all was well, but a couple arrows seem like a simple enough solution to avoid any confusion.
Last year when I started running and completed my first trail race I never would have believed that I would start running mountains. I am not even sure I knew that people did that. In just a few months that has completely changed. I have completed all seven races in USATF-NE Mountain Running Circuit, achieved mountain goat status, now run mountains for fun and I even completed a one day Presidential Traverse this summer. Next year I will be doing the Mount Washington Road Race, which still seems pretty unbelievable.
I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to run and write about these races and hope that others have enjoyed reading about them as well. However, I must say that I would never have attempted this or succeeded at it if it were not for my coach, Kristina Folcik-Welts. She is an inspiration and I am so thankful for her in my life. I have no doubt she will get me ready to drag my butt up Mount Washington next year, where I will defend my title as “World’s Okayest Runner.”