Friday, October 16, 2015

Bretton Woods Fell Race 2015

Going into the Bretton Woods Fell Race, I had a really good lead to take the win for the women in the 2015 USATF-NE Mountain Series. What should have been an EASY race for me was not going to be the case today. I was really nervous about it since the few steps I ran the day before brought searing pain, but I was also strangely confident that I would not only finish, but I would also win the Series. I just knew I would. It seemed like the course had been handed to me on a silver platter with its short distance and easy navigation. I kept thinking about the damage I was about to do to my injury. I felt like I was about to destroy myself, and I was oddly ok with it. The Mountain Series win was THAT important to me. I had been the women's open winner the past two years, but never the overall winner. I wanted to be BOTH this year. I'm 39. It was my last chance to race in the open before I turn OLD. :)

I woke up pretty early so that I could have coffee and take my time getting ready. When it was time to go, I got John in the car and made the drive up through Crawford Notch to Bretton Woods. It was a BEAUTIFUL day. A frost covered the Presidentials. I thought it was going to be cold for the race, so I dressed accordingly. Once we arrived, I grabbed our stuff and took John in the lodge. I found him a table to sit at and made sure he had his breakfast and was comfortable. I picked up my bib and Mountain Goat shirt from Paul Kirsch. I felt so good being there among the mountain racing people. I love this group, so it was nice to see them all again for our last race of the year. I caught up with Jeff Hixon to talk the course since he had helped mark the safe course the day before. I wanted to confirm my planned route to see what he thought. Sarah Bard joined us. Sarah had just come in 4th at the 100K World Championship Race which is just amazing. I knew for sure that Sarah would finally get her mountain race win. The only way I would beat her was if she got lost or chose a longer route. I was fine with that and actually expected it. After eyeing the crowd, I expected myself to come in no less than 2nd. That was fine with me! After discussing the course, I headed out for a warmup. I didn't go far, but I ran uphill. No problem as far as the pain goes, but I felt slow. I could really feel that. I also felt heavy, like I had just put on 20 lbs. I hadn't, but just taking 5 days off, plus a very weak left side, made me feel like I was. I wasn't in too much pain, though, until I turned around to go back down. Ow, ow, ow. I hobbled. It was seriously a hobble, a huge limp, and it fucking hurt. I knew this race was going to be rough.

I made it back down with about 15 minutes until the start. I was pouring in sweat already and realized that my long-sleeved shirt was definitely not necessary, so I changed into my CMS singlet. John was good, so I hit the bathroom and then headed out to the start. Chris Dunn had us all move up into a large area with no real starting line, one of the cool things about this type of race. Sarah and I lined up together. I was hoping to hang close to her for the first climb so that she wouldn't have too much of a lead by the time we hit the first long downhill. Chris gave his race instructions and then we were off. Sarah and I ran together for the first part of the climb chatting a little bit. That was probably smart so that we didn't go off too fast. Once we got up to the less the steep part, I moved ahead for awhile, but then Sarah passed me back. I was struggling. I could definitely feel the injury was slowing me down. I felt so heavy. I ended up running next to Paul Bazanchuk for a little bit for the climb and chatted with him. About halfway up the climb, I noticed everyone immediately ahead of me was following the flagged safe course. I was about to follow right along until I realized it was unmowed and rough and quickly changed my mind, taking a very sharp, last second turn to the left to go up Starr King instead. Once I got up the slope a bit, I could see Todd Callahan in the lead up ahead and knew for sure I had made the right decision. Todd had scoped out the course the day before, so he knew exactly the proper route to go. I was still a little nervous, though, since I no longer had sight of Sarah. That was a bit disconcerting. The climb was steep, but mostly runnable. After awhile, though, I started to get nervous that we had missed checkpoint A and gone too far. Todd Brown was behind me and yelled, "I think we've gone too far!" I yelled back that there was a cut-through just up ahead and that I was taking it. I had no idea how far up we had come; I was just hoping it wasn't too far from checkpoint A. Just as I turned, I was relieved to see checkpoint A RIGHT THERE. And Sarah was just going through it. I think she was surprised to see me there, but since I had to run over and go through the checkpoint cones, she still had a slight lead on me. I was surprised to see we were almost at the top already. I felt like we had hardly climbed. This meant I hadn't lost much fitness-wise on the mountain climbing. The trail quickly evened out so that it was a sharp turn left to cut across the upper slopes on our way to checkpoint B. Sarah stayed ahead of me for this entire stretch, but not so far ahead that I was worried. The run across was mostly easy and uphill, so I was still feeling ok. It was painful, but not that bad, but as soon as I saw the checkpoint B, I had a feeling of dread. I knew this meant it was time for the first LONG downhill. The pain. Ugh.

Approaching checkpoint B. Behind the smile was the dread of the pain I was about to endure. Photo by Gianina Lindsey
Just after I crossed the checkpoint, I noticed Sarah on her way down to the right, following the safe course. I knew that she must not have realized where she was since we had talked about going straight down the mountain from there. I continued on my planned route until someone at the checkpoint confused me. I thought he was telling me to go right, but I had planned to stay left. I checked my map and realized we were both talking about the same thing. Huge sigh of relief and continued on my way... slowly. It was freakin' PAINFUL. I pretty much had to rely on my right leg to get me down. I was hobbling. Paul Bazanchuk and two other guys immediately passed me, eventually getting a huge lead through checkpoint C. As I approached C, I noticed an eery quiet on the course. Where was everybody? I had a feeling way too many people had followed the safe course. I knew that the safe course after B was apparently a lot longer than the route I took, but I didn't know how much longer. I had no idea where Sarah was at this point. She could either be way ahead or way behind. I had no clue. All I knew was that I was thankful to be going back uphill to relieve the pain... slightly.

I quickly caught back up with Paul B and the other guys that had passed me on the downhill. All of a sudden, we started to see people coming the opposite direction and heading to checkpoint C. That's when I realized that this was the safe route. So many people had followed it! I had climbed up a decent distance when I saw Sarah coming down. Oh my god! I was surprised to see her there. She wasn't really that far behind me, but this did give me a pretty decent lead for the climb. We both laughed as we passed by each other, and I told her she was almost to C. Knowing the lead I had, though, made me push it just a little bit harder. If I could hold off a decent lead through the climb, then I could possibly hold her off just enough to win! This seemed absurd. Ha ha. I should not be winning this race.

I got to checkpoint D with Paul B and another guy. Paul had the same plan I did to bushwhack from D over to Mountain Rd. The other guy came with us. It was super short, but it saved us from having to backtrack downhill and then climb back up to this point. This was still a decent climb from there, and I was starting really feel my injury. It had been bearable on the ups, but it was definitely starting to hurt. I stayed just behind Paul B, though. He knows this mountain better than I do, so I asked him if he had planned Avalon or Aggassiz. That was something I still hadn't decided on when I planned my route. Paul said he was going Avalon and then cutting through the glades. I told him I was going to follow him. That was a very good choice. Avalon was mowed and a much less steep trail down. Although it was extremely painful, I was able to run more than hobble. I continued to follow Paul down the slope and through the glades. As soon as checkpoint E was visible, I saw the two guys who had been up ahead of us hitting E at the same time as Paul B, so I knew we had gone the quicker route. Thank you, Paul! I continued to follow him and the other guys through another cut through the woods until we ended up back on Crawford Ridge towards the finish. A look back saw no Sarah in sight. I could not believe it. I was going to win this race. How ridiculous!! ha ha ha. I was in so much pain at this point and just hobbled the rest of the way down, mostly using my right leg. It hurt. I felt so slow!! My effort was so low, but it was all I could muster through the pain. I got passed easily by a guy just before the finish (he would apologize for that right after haha), and then hobbled in through the finish laughing that I was winning this race while giving it a good 45% effort. I should have run that at least 10 minutes faster than I did, but I would have to take what I could get at this point. Even though I was laughing, I had to stop and take a moment to breathe. I bent over and took some deep breaths to help cope with the pain in my glute. I was good after a few seconds and back to my smiling, laughing self. I saw Todd Callahan and Matt Veiga standing not too far away so I limped over to them to find out how they did. I was psyched to hear they had taken 1st and 2nd. I was talking to those guys when I saw Sarah coming towards the finish via a very different route than I had taken. She was only about 2 minutes back. I talked to her after she finished and found out she had run almost a mile more than me. If this had been a race that just involved speed, she would have won easily, but I had the advantage since this was my 3rd fell race, and I knew the mountain really well. We both laughed about it. I still couldn't believe I won, though. It was like a fluke, but I was so happy to have done it. I finished it through all of that pain AND won. Only in a fell race.

After chatting for awhile, I grabbed some food and headed inside to find John still at the table content. I was moving slowly, but I finally got back out to do a "cool down". It was just a walk through the lower parking lot. It was weird. The more I walked, the less pain I was in. By the time I got back up to the lodge, I was hardly in any pain! What the hell? I thought I would be a total wreck, but I was feeling ok. This was so strange! I wasn't complaining, though. I changed clothes quickly and walked up the stairs to find I was just in time for the awards ceremony. Afterwards, Michael Narcisi snapped a picture of Sarah and me.

Sarah Bard and me. Top two women.
I asked Sarah if she planned to do the Mountain Series again next year and was surprised to find out that she's moving to Seattle soon! I was sad to hear she wouldn't be around the area much longer, but I was also happy for her to be headed to the West Coast. Hopefully, she'll make it back to few New England races.

I went back in to find John and pack up our things. I found him with a bunch of cookies that someone at Bretton Woods had given him. That was cool. I took our stuff to the car and then we got on the chairlift up to Latitude 44 on the mountain.

It was such a gorgeous day, and I was kind of on that winning high. I definitely needed that boost, especially after dealing with this injury. John and I grabbed some drinks and caught up with Michael Narcisi who had been behind us on the lift. Michael snapped a picture for us.

Post-race beers at Latitude 44
After our drinks, we took the lift back down and left. What a great morning that had been. What a way to end the Series! I won the first and last races for the women! And, just as I assumed I would, I won the Mountain Series overall for the women! I was so psyched to have been able to pull it off. This race was one of the reasons I stopped when I did at the VT50. I had to do it. Even through all of that pain, it was worth it. I can't say I felt so pain-free in the days following the race, but I didn't regret racing Bretton Woods. I knew I would have time to recover after it.
Bretton Woods Results
2015 Mountain Series Final Results

Level Renner write-up on Bretton Woods

So now that I've completed my 3rd Series of the year, I have to set my sights on the 4th. The Seacoast Series. This one will not be so easy since I have to race on a road... FAST. The Great Bay 5k on October 24th. That is going to be tough, but if I can pull off a somewhat decent race, then I'll pull off the Seacoast Series women's win. I am REALLY nervous about that one. If I can get it done, I will finish off 2015 with 3 Series wins: the Granite State Snowshoe Series, the USATF-NE Mountain Series and the Seacoast Series. Plus, a second place finish for the women in the USATF-NE All-Terrain Series. I also finished the USATF-NE Grand Prix with 8 points in the open division which put me in a tie for 12th place for finish points, and a top 20 finish overall. Not a bad year, if I do say so myself! :)

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