I arrive 20 minutes before the start. I see hills and frost, better get the gloves and the light coat. I grab my timing chip and race number and huddle at the start. I scan the field. No newbie's here. People know each other, they are in mis-matched clothing, and they are lean. Many wear shirts from the Sehgahunda trail marathon. One lady said it was tougher than Ironman. I make a mental note, I'm running Sehgahunda.
Without fanfare, the race director tells us the trail is being run in reverse direction, reminds us it is not a PR (personal record) course, and sends us on our way. I saw my friend Gary at the start. This guy has just qualified for Boston and run 75 at the Summer Beast. He's ready to race, and I'm pretty sure it's the last time I'll see him. So, a quick hug and a well wish, and he's off like a bullet from a gun.
The course is a hilly trail, loaded with roots and rocks that are currently covered with leaves. I thank the heavens that I don't have to run it at night, because I know those leaves will mask some obstacle that will bring me down. At some points the trail is only about a foot wide. I believe it is used for cross country skiing. Other places, it is a typical trail. It reminded me of Chestnut Ridge. It is a 10k (6.2 miles) loop that I will run 5 times. The first key to the type of trail it is going to be, is a sign that simply says "poop" with an arrow pointing down. Lovely.
By far, my favorite section of the course is a section just after the mid-point aid station (with the BEST apple cider I have ever had). I was running along and I saw this sign that stated "Caution!!! STEEEEP slope"--yes, there were four E's. My first thought was "what a silly sign, runners will figure out it is steep when they get there". Then I came to it. The view must have been akin to what ski jumpers see at the top of the podium. There was this near vertical drop of rocks, roots, and loose gravel, all on a foot wide trail. I was glad that I didn't run this race last year, as I'd have to run UP this monster. I watched a few runners take a few tentative steps, and then I gunned it. Somewhere between a gallop and a full sprint, arms waving, pony tail flying, I blasted this thing. Woo Hoo!!!! It was like finding my inner four year old. Psyched I'd get to do that four more times, I took off giggling.
I finished my first lap. Dang, where's the aid? I didn't know this was a FA (fat ass or unsupported race). Oh well, into the tackle box I go. Honey roasted peanuts and a Luna bar will be great. I duct taped my shoe where I didn't quite clear a root, decide to keep the jacket because I would need the pockets to carry extra food, ditch the gloves, curse myself for not bringing my Cascadia trail shoes, and take off for loop two.
First mistake---ditching the gloves. My hands were freezing. Good thing for the coat, my hand held water bottle goes into a pocket, I tuck my fingers in my sleeves and I suck it up. Second mistake---not running the first loop faster. I get caught with the starting runners in the 5k, 10k and 20k version of the race. I felt like Mufasa from the Lion King in the canyon when the antelope charge. Small trail, fast runners, uugh.
I started the third lap with out much drama, but with my gloves. At the midway point, I ran into my friend Gary. He was a lap ahead of me. Since this was a training run for both of us, we decided to run together. This by far was the best part of the race. If you've never run an ultra, you should, just for the bonding. Sharing time with someone when you are running long distances is an amazing experience. Thank you Gary! He finished his race (his 40th marathon) and I headed off onto lap 5. Oh, he also showed me where the aid was at the turn-around :)
That final lap was wonderful. It was a beautiful day, and I felt privileged to be able to spend it as I had. I thought about my friend Nick running his first marathon and I silently wished him luck. Then I contemplated the 50k distance. I decided that it is a good training run distance, but I really wanted to go longer. Wanting to go longer in an ultra is a huge deal. When I was ready to cross the finish line, the race director asked if I wanted to go around again. 'You betcha!' was my answer, but alas the race was done.
That night, I couldn't get that race director's question out of my head. I even dreamed that I was still running at night on those trails. That hill would be FREAKIN' AMAZING in the dark! Some people dream that they are falling from great distances. Last night I dreamed that I was falling over roots and rocks. I've toyed with giving up ultra running, and maybe that will happen someday. But, as long as there are STEEEEP hills, that day is not today.
p.s Does anyone know when registration for the Sehgahunda opens?