You couldn’t have asked for better weather for a fall race than we had at last week’s Bretton Woods Fell Race. It was slightly chilly with a misting rain that was coming down over the beautiful fall colors in the mountains.
I had never done a race with any kind of navigation component before, but I felt fairly confident that I could handle whatever the RD would throw at us. The race set off from the lodge at the base of Bretton Woods Ski Resort. Runners instantly split onto different slopes as we hit the first climb. The start reminded me of the Loon and Cranmore races—there was no time to get into a rhythm, just instant discomfort.
After climbing for about 10 minutes I finally topped the mountain, went through checkpoint A, and started a descent down one of the black diamond slopes. I cut straight down the middle of the slope for about 20 feet and then spent the next 100 feet or so sliding on my back and thinking about the other pair of shoes I should’ve worn.
The trek over to checkpoint B was much shorter and more runnable than the climb to A had been, so I started to feel a bit better. Because I was in a small group that seemed to know where it was going, there wasn’t much to do in the way of navigation. After going through the checkpoint, I bushwhacked for a few seconds to make a quick shortcut and started the descent to the lodge. It was a long descent that wrecked my quads and back. I wasn’t moving very well when I hit the bottom, which was very discouraging considering that I had at least two more climbs and descents left for the day. After going through checkpoint C at the bottom of the mountain, the course was no longer marked, so the navigation element really started to come into play.
I headed back up the mountain towards checkpoint D, which was at the top of a chairlift in the far west corner of the resort. Instead of sticking with the small group I had been running with, I cut up the hill through some glades. Despite having a good idea where I was, I kept checking the map to see if I had done something wrong because the climb seemed like it was taking way too long. I finally popped out of the woods and could see up a short steep slope to the checkpoint. It was a slow slog to the top and I spent the whole climb thinking about how I made a mistake by trying to take the straighter route. Once I hit the top though, I looked down and saw the group that had started the climb with me a few minutes behind.
Next was a short steep downhill—this time I managed to not fall down—followed by a short burst on a dirt road. Checkpoint E was straight down a ski slope from this road, but it was tucked behind the chairlift at the bottom. People were scattered all over the slope looking for the signs until someone yelled they had found it. That allowed me to make up some time on that group and gave me a burst of energy to start the next climb.
After making my way back up the same slope that we started the race on, I cut across the mountain towards the final check point. Checkpoint F was tucked up in woods on the east side of the mountain, so I picked some Nordic ski trails to cross in that direction. After another short burst of bushwhacking, I came to the checkpoint and was almost regretting that the race was almost over. All that was left was a long descent through the glades to the resort and the finish line.
This was the first time I’ve ever really enjoyed myself during the last few minutes of a race. I tried to soak everything up: the people, the scenery, the feel of pushing my legs as hard as they’d go. I finished in 1:57, but the time and the position didn’t really seem to matter for once. I was just happy to have spent two hours in the White Mountains on a gorgeous day.
This was the last race in the USATF-NE Mountain Running Circuit and it marked what will (probably) be my last race of 2014. I had a blast touring New England and getting out to play in the mountains. I started the series with the goal of getting back into great running shape, but a hip injury set me back somewhat. Now I’ve got my sights set on next year’s Mount Washington Road Race, and luckily I have plenty of time to train.