At the start command I ran off the start line and took a hard right, most of the field continued straight up the mountain on the marked course. A few strides and I realized I was alone. Oh shit.
I couldn’t see the group who I’d thought was taking the same route. I’d read Dave’s route description and planned to take the gravel road through the playground to the paved road up through the condos before rejoining the marked course on the ski trail. But for the first few strides I was completely alone and feeling like I’d made a very bad decision. I rounded the corner past the base of the chair lift and spotted the group of runners who were also following Dave’s notes, among them Leslie O’dell and Christin Doneski, both super talented runners who were vying for the top spots in the NE Mountain Running Series. They were already through the playground, in a panic I threw down a faster pace to catch up to them. This is going to cost me. Why didn’t I go out the back of the starting corral like they did? Duh, Sarah. Oh well. Thirty seconds. I can make up 30 seconds.
Except I didn’t make up those 30 seconds.
I had spent several hours on Google earth, poured over the ski trail maps on the Bretton Woods website, read and re-read everything I could about the course for Sunday’s Bretton Woods Fell race, including a detailed description by talented mountain runner, Dave Dunham who provided a detailed preview on his blog.
The only thing I hadn’t done was gone out on the course to see if the route I’d mapped out was actually a viable course and didn’t just look good on paper. I wanted to, but the long drive coupled with family activities just didn’t allow for it.
Going into the race I was in fourth place in the NE Mountain Race Series standings, just six points behind the woman in third. I’d beaten her at every other race we had run, but she had more points going in because she ran Pack Monadnock and snagged a higher score there than I did running Cranmore.
I knew I had to beat her to have a chance at making up the point difference and snagging third.
Start to Check Point A
As I was running up the paved road through the condos en route to check point A I had hope that I’d made the right choice and that when we popped out back on to the ski trails we’d be ahead of the crowd that followed the marked course. But as I approached the ski trails it became apparent that taking that route had in fact put me behind many of the people who I’ve beaten in these mountain races. I would have to work hard to do to make up the difference.
I’ll catch them on the climb, I told myself. And I would eventually come within striking distance on the that first climb, but find found that my legs were toasted on the first descent down to check point B. My body just wasn’t transitioning between the up and downhill efforts very well. I found myself running cautiously and conservatively on the downhill trying to think about the next move and which route to take to the next check point.
It’s like my body could only manage one thing at a time: a) navigate the race (at a slower pace) or b) run all out and potentially pick the wrong route.
I had a small group of runners I was with and we were making the same course choices as we went, but coming down from check point D I paused a few times double checking my map.
As we descended to check point D they took a turn down a black diamond with tall grass and I swung left and went down a blue trail that had cut grass. I reached the top of the Darby’s Drop I could see check point D at the bottom. It had worked! I’d made the right choice! No one was in sight as I ran down the hill towards check point D. As I neared the bottom a group of runners came around the corner, I recognized Christin Doneski. This is great. I’ll drop down through the check point and be right on her heels. They passed me I going up and just before I got to the bottom the group I’d been with came around the corner and through the check point and had momentum on their side. I dropped down, ran through the check point and immediately started back up the hill I’d just come down. I was a little deflated that taking a different route hadn’t really worked for me and I had no momentum going back up the hill. In my disappointment I put a ton of effort into churning up that black diamond to try and get ahead of the group. When I reached the top I was spent and the group moved ahead and stayed ahead of me through check point E, F and on into the finish.
When I reached check point E a part of me resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t catch them. I was completely alone on the descent down to E and had to carefully pick my route between the knee high ferns.
With the exception of that dead feeling after trying hard to charge up Darby’s Drop after check point D. I felt reasonably good throughout the race, just hesitant. I feel like I had a little bit of race anxiety going into this race: worried that I would make a split second decision that would add a large amount of time to my overall finish, but hoping that perhaps I possess secret and untapped navigational skill that would lead me to a great finish. Instead I just made one poor course choice that cost me a minute and turns out I don’t possess some untapped navigational skills, or if I do I’d probably second guess myself out of following it.
I was running up to check point F as the group I had ben with was running down to the finish. I turned through the check point and pushed as hard as I could back down to the finish area.
I honestly walked away from the race pretty disappointed and slightly pissed off-upset at myself for not being more tenacious out on the course, for not fighting a little harder and for not making it a priority to preview the course.
When I feel like something has beat me, it makes me want to work that much harder to come back and beat it. I’m won’t throw the towel in on Fell racing, in fact I’ll come back next year even hungrier and more prepared to own that race.
Have you ever felt really hesitant in a race?
Bretton Woods was a Fell race. You can read all about Fell races and what they are HERE.
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