I had too much shit to do this past weekend around my house, so getting away to maine for one (or both) of the verge races wasn't really feasible. It just so happened that The Cider Hill Farm in amesbury mass was holding the "5K Cider Mash Orchard Run" cross country running race. Amesbury is about ten miles from me, though it turned out the actual race venue was 13.6 miles (hence the 27 miles reference).
The ride there was actually nice, it was relatively warm, and there was a solid southwest wind, so I had a tailwind all the way there. The race flier promised "real cross country". I had thought of riding my bike over the course, but the first thing you see from the registration table was the first climb, up the side of the apple grove, allegedly up an old ski run. I had my road bike, no way I was going to make it up that.
Eh, I'll just wing it. I wasn't here to set a PR. My knee was still acting up from the crash at the pinnacle challenge three weeks earlier. In fact, this past week was the first time I was able to run for 30 minutes without my right knee feeling a severe tendinitis type of pain (A/M/P CL? I dunno, it just fucking hurts). Besides, if I wanted to go for a PR, I wouldn't have ridden my bike over. I've already learned that drains many seconds per mile from me.
Anyways, it turns out we're going over that big hill twice, and we were warned at the line of a long section of deep thick mud - no pr's for _anyone_ today.
It looked like there was reasonable talent there - lots of people in club jerseys, most WCRC. No MVS. Indeed, both Craig Fram and his son were there. Not knowing the personalities, I guessed the race was for 2nd.
The horn went off and it was a mad dash for the 178 runners to get across a short single lane bridge less than 100 yards from the start. I sprinted at the beginning to avoid the bottle neck, and made the top fifteen coming across the bridge. Then next 1/4 mile was a hard-packed flat dirt farm road. Take a right to go between rows of apple trees where we were greeted by the sweet pungent smell of dropped, fermenting apples for another 100 yards. Take left, and start going up
Seriously, wet grass with saturated ground underneath. Without a good shoe, the only people getting up this without slipping were the most surefooted of runners. The first 100 yards was the steepest, I'm estimating over 15% grade. After that is 'leveled' out to about 5% to the top of the hill.
I crested the top in what I thought was 10th spot. I looked behind me and saw one person. that hill really thinned things out. "Those were people who died". Running down the other side on a farm road, I passed one runner, Kurt Mullen, before hitting the mud bog. First mile in 6:30. Later analysis showed 175 feet of climbing, all in about 1/4 mile (see graph below)
Yup, lots 'o mud. This stuff was more than ankle deep. they had gone though and spread hay, so you sank in and couldn't keep your speed up, but at least you weren't pulling ten pounds of mud out with each step. They had cleverly placed little signs along the mud bogs - "CAUTION, WORM PIT" and "DRY SOCKS?", there were more.
I started to feel the tendinitis in my knee. It was only hurting on the up sections, so I let loose on every downhill and nursed the up sections. Kurt caught me on the up sections in the second mile, and I would close the gap to him on the downhills. Towards the end of the second mile, they run you back and forth between rows of apple trees in about 100 yard sections, up and over a small hill each time. I started to hear cheers for "YEA, FIRST WOMAN" getting closer and closer behind me. Coming out of the grove and back onto a farm road we headed up again. Yup, way up. Not as steep, and this time on hardpacked dirt.
I could hear the woman (later identified as Kelly Jenkins of West Newbury, or as I saw her "The Ab Queen" - her abdominal muscles were simply fantastic) breathing behind me getting closer. I pushed off hard with my left leg and just soft-legged with my right going up the steep climb.
End of second mile - 7:10/11:40. Graph shows 115 feet of climbing in this section, not bad considering I ran _down_ the 145 foot climb I went up in the first mile.
The second steep climb peaked well past the 2 mile mark. The graph shows this one climb to be 150 feet. Kelly didn't catch me before the top, so I pushed the pace back over the top and started to distance her, while gaining back on Kurt. I was way faster than him on the downhills. I caught him through the last section of orchard just as we came back out on the dirt road we started on. I was holding his pace, but it was hard. I was faster than him on the downhills, but he clearly had the stronger uphill and flat pace. He slowly pulled away, beating me by three seconds over the last 1/4 mile. I'm usually good for a sprint, and normally I would have turned it in the last 100 yards, but today I had no lungs left. My legs were good, but no fuel. Kelly came in 6 seconds later.
(clickie = biggie)
My time - 20:20/6:33 pace. Before I saw the course I was hoping for 6:30, because I haven't been running due to my knee pain. So, I'm pretty happy with a 6:33 pace, it got me 11th overall and 4th on the 40's age group.
I'll tell ya, the 40's age group is without a doubt the most competitive. In the top ten at this race there were 5 age group winners and three finishers in the 40's age group. The top two on the 40's got 2nd and 3rd overall. You had to go down to 8th place to get a second place from any other group, Greg Balog got 8th over all and 2nd in the 30's. Craig Fram won in a 17:42/5:42. Just to give you an indication of the toughness of this course, that's the slowest 5K Craig has run this year.
So, now I had to ride 13 miles home, into a headwind the whole way, over the many rolling hills on rte 110 between amesbury and haverhill. I got home just in time to see the Patriots spank Tampa Bay.