Mt. A Trail Challenge
On the day of the Mount Agamenticus 5k Trail Challenge, it was foggy and humid and nasty. But I was looking forward to being a sweaty, dying mess by the end of the race. The race began at the summit, so I drove up the auto road and took a warmup run around the new Big A Trail, which loops the summit. It felt like the old cliché, the air was as thick as maple syrup. Sticking to my clothes. Sweat oozed from me. It even smelled sweet, whichever flowers were in bloom and fragrant. It was like running through a maple syrup waterfall, actually. The fog was so thick we could hardly see a few dozen feet ahead. People always want clear weather on mountains, but I like fog now and then. It was an intimate feeling.
I didn't know what to expect for this race, since practically the entire thing was uphill, and I just wanted to have a strong placing and a reasonable time. On a map, the race appeared to go down the mountain, then around, then back up, but other than a short stretch down, it follows the Ring Trail, which spirals around Mt. Agamenticus at a slight incline. Good. Let's get brutal.
The race started at the three-mile marker, near the intesection of Sweetfern Trail and the Big A Trail. There were between 70 and 100 people of all abilities lined up. The front-runners were apparent, though. Shirtless athletic dads, lots of gym-going moms. Lots of kids and a few fit-looking older folks, too. Only one guy who looked close to my age and he had a kilt on. I had no idea what to predict so I just ran with the pack and figured it out as we went. And we were going before I knew it!
I paced myself around the Big A Trail with a pack of mostly women, after we all skidaddled around some high-tailin' kiddoes. The front pack of six runners all were a good distance ahead of us already. Once we rolled down a stretch of the auto road and into the woods, I muttered “Just behind ya!” to the one woman still in front of me and bounded down the rocks in a mad hop that I specialize in. I saw the one-mile marker and checked my time: six-and-a-half-minutes. Damned fine first mile! Then it got steep and down, slippery rocks and roots. I bombarded the trail and let that flow state kick in.
But then the Ring Trail showed up – and the real party started. Not too steep, but I had to make sure those legs got to work and focus on my breathing at the same time. It just climbs, then levels out, then climbs again. An awesome volunteer lady was ringing a cowbell and cheering for everyone and that was motivating.
The backside of the mountain had some downhill switchbacks, which were fun. I amped up, cutting the corners sharp and feeling reinvigorated. I kept seeing the sixth-place guy in his blue shirt around the bend and I knew if I could catch him, I'd tag him all the way to the finish line and carve minutes off my time. In one moment, I saw him look back to me and in the next moment he was gone and I never saw him again. As the Ring Trail flattened out for the last stretch before it intersects the auto road I felt myself slowing down a little bit. My mind kept wandering. Oh look, there's the Wintergreen Trail. Oh look, it's one of those storybook time signs that are all over the trails here. Would anyone be stopping during the run to check them out with their kids? Ha-ha.... I kept having to focus on my pace. No one was behind me and no one was in front of me.
Then I hit the auto road and had a cup of water from a volunteer. I actually looked both ways before crossing, walked and sipped my water for a few seconds, then crumpled my cup and looked for a place to toss it. The girl at the booth held her hands up and I tossed it to her and bolted back into the trees, determined to look cool while I crushed the final mile, which had begun. So far, I was making excellent time, still under fifteen minutes.
But that old Ring Trail got rugged again and I puttered out fast. Much of the final mile was a repeat of the same stretch I ran earlier, until I'd turn up a final hill to the summit. But first I got to run through a peaceful grove of young birch trees, absolutely glowing green and dirty white in the fog. I wish I had my camera. I sure enjoyed the view, though, because I hit my wall and had to walk. Well, I hiked. I was still moving fast, but I just could not run.
I peeked behind me and expected to see the kilted guy or one of the woman runners (who were all much closer than it seemed). I saw one twelve-year-old boy, also walking and puffing like death. He had taken his t-shirt off, the race bib dangling. And he was tagging me.
Alright! Accountability! I've been beaten by so many 12, 13, 14 year-olds in other races this year that I was determined not to let it happen again. I'd run a hundred yards then have to stop again and hike/hop up the rocks. I'd gain on the kid and then he'd be close again, carrying that shirt like an albatross. I picked up the pace again when I saw a photographer on the trail, taking ground-level action shots. Then I heard the cowbell lady cheering and I thanked her for pointing me up the final turn, Witch Hazel Trail. “You're welcome,” she said so casually to the gasping, puddly runner. I power-hiked up Witch Hazel, but then I leaned in as the treeline fell behind and pushed it back onto the fog and field, crossing the starting line a second time. Yet still more climbing over the field, past the announcer, reading my name into the microphone, reminding me I was successful in my bid to run a decent race.
The kid was still behind me and the hill gave way to a decline into the finish chute. I barreled down and practically crashed into kiddie pools filled with water bottles. Seconds behind me, I saw the kid do the same thing. I wanted to let him know he kept me moving, but he was so enamoured with wiping chunks of ice on his face, I just let him have his moment. Props to that kid for almost kicking my ass. It was his dad who won the race, and he'll be a great runner, too, I can tell.
I checked my fitbit: twenty-seven minutes. My last mile took almost as long as the first two miles did. Rough. I can only wonder what would happen if I caught that guy ahead of me, who had a few minutes on me. But I took seventh place (and I was the top runner from New Hampshire!) and that was impressive for me.
My legs felt wobbly for a few minutes, but then I felt fine. As if I could have kept running. Almost everyone I passed in the first mile finished in less than a half-hour, so there was a pretty strong group of racers overall.
The summit was a summer festival, with live music and a lady showing off snakes and possums and a badass hawk. There were booths for massages and snacks and race shirts. There were people doing a one-mile walk around the Big A Trail and families sitting everywhere in the fog. I drank lots of water and ate an almond butter packet. Then I went home and got Wilder and we ran off my runner's high in the woods around the Isinglass River. Then he jumped in the river and got wet and jumped all over me and it was a great time.