Two Runs Through Canterbury & A Cool Walk Through The Town Fair
Shaker Village XC 5k
I never knew much about Canterbury. Some crazy religious people lived there called Shakers. It's not far from Concord. My old friend's rich parents had a big house there. Then on a whim last February while framing out my 5k schedule for the spring and summer, I happened upon something called the Shaker Village XC 5k. The XC stands for cross country. And the course? The gnarly, hilly, muddy, cow-patty covered Shaker Village farm property.
I had run a few 5ks at that point, but I wasn't sure what to expect for a cross country race. As I stood at the starting line, not far behind all the leaders-to-be, another racer said hello to me and sheepishly asked me if I was part of the front pack. Oh no, I said, not me. This is like, my seventh race ever. I just move up when no one else does. He suggested from previous experience on this course, that I anticipate adding a minute to my usual time. It's a tough 'un.
He was a regular in the CARS series. That's short for the Capital Area Race Series, a “season” that is comprised of eight 5k races all around Concord area. There's a scoring system in place to decide the winner in the end, after the last race, also in Canterbury. The series began in March and would end in July. The Shaker Village race was smack dab in the middle of the series.
My first race of the season was in 5-degree weather and my only goal was to break 30 minutes, which I did. The other races I had done so far were fairly small and I had placed well. There wasn't a lot of competition in the rinky dink races, so my sub-22-minute finishes felt faster than they really were. Shaker Village was the first big event where I could see how I kept up with a deeper field of runners.
I was surrounded by people wearing tiny baggy running shorts and sleeveless shirts with XC on the back. Lots of t-shirts with racing brands or teams. One girl near me had long socks on with foxes all over them. Quick as a fox, I get it. I was at least proud enough to be rocking some Merrell Trail Gloves, which I've used for hiking for years. But the learning curve is steep for the 30-year-old rookie. And you know, right on the front line was a middle-aged guy with a yellow tank top and crazy Kramer hair. So if he can be a confident runner, so can I.
Moments before the gun, the announcer warned us not to lose our shoes in the mud. Then off we went. We ran into some rolling farm fields. Brutal stuff to begin a race. I felt the ground sucking at my feet. A ton of people passed me, but I felt pretty pumped as we turned the first corner. I run a lot when I hike and as soon as we hit the trees, I realized we were a mile in and I was still within view of the leaders. And footwork is where I'm going to catch up lost time. So I danced over the roots and picked up my pace, passing a ton of people. We all jumped over a narrow brook and turned past the farm pond.
I was gasping, but I maintained a decent speed and we turned onto a paved road that ran along the farm property. It was downhill for a good distance – another area I'm very comfortable turning up the speed. In the 5-degree 5k, I slid down a snowy hill past a ton of hesitant runners like a madman with the finesse of a ballerina. Just don't ask me to stop, ain't happening.
One weakness I've had in my early days of 5k running is that I misjudge how long the race is. As we turned back into the farm fields – more thigh-cramping, lung-bursting hills – I assumed we were almost done. We were running back toward the finish line, weren't we? I even skipped the water stop, ignoring my need for some. The hills rolled up and down four or five times, slowly climbing a much larger slope, and by the second or third hill I was too beat to keep running. I walked to catch my breath and laughed at myself. All that speed in the beginning balanced out. I didn't count how long I walked, but it wasn't too long.
Then I began running again, and realized it was just more uphill, now climbing the real hill straight up. Then we zipped across the top of the hill and climbed some more. I passed a guy hacking up something and felt bad, but he was moving before long. Then I had to walk again, up a dirt road, while some cows watched us. At the top of this final hill, I saw my girlfriend with her camera, so I hup-hupped and gave it my best to the finish line. I cruised in with a cool 23:30, not worried about all the people whizzing past me to eke a few spots ahead in the standings. I ate some bananas and drank water while I watched countless people run into the finish line. Lastly, an old man with a walking stick and a huge grizzly beard strolled in with his hiking companion. Not a care in the world, just enjoying the beautiful day. That's how I felt by the end of it, too.
Woodchuck Classic 5k
And it was July before I knew it. I turned my car onto Shaker Village Road, then Baptist Road, and wondered if I was going the right way. But I was behind the truck with the fair vendor booth wheeling behind it, so I knew I must be. Kicking off the Canterbury Town Fair would be the Woodchuck Classic 5k, the final race of the CARS series, and I knew I wanted to be part of it. This time around, I've done a bunch more 5ks, including some larger races, and my running style was a little more in tune with my abilities. I was prepared to give it my all this Saturday morning, in an effort to place myself with the best runners in the series.
We began the race running downhill, like a tribe of warriors ready to make our kill. We swarmed upon Canterbury's town square, where the fair folks were still setting up. They all took some time to cheer and watch the racers blow by. By the bottom of the hill, the leaders were long gone and the rest of us were left to fend for ourselves. The road turned to dirt and we whisked off into the backroads. I knew I was pushing myself hard in that first mile, but I continued against my better judgement.
Then we went uphill. It was steep and windy, the summit at a quiet country corner with a Pick-Your-Own raspberry farm. I imagined someone behind me panting and slapping a five-spot on the counter of the little booth and pounding a pint of raspberries... as I slogged by wishing I had that sort of foresight to remember to bring a five-spot on the race with me. The race course soon u-turned and I could see the leaders jogging easily ahead of us, still pacing themselves before the final sprint. They were talking to each other – talking! And I was back here dying. Still working on that aerobic system, I guess. Those guys would finish with 17-minute times. But they also have years of training behind them. I always have to remind myself that in a year or two I'll be right up there, too, if I play this game right.
At the second mile, there was water, so I drank some and poured it on my face. Instant wakeup call. But then we turned back into the backroads and met our fate, a huge hill. I slowed way down, but I crushed it. A slow, agonizing crushing. I felt the gravel dissipate beneath my Merrells. Heat flushed my face, I was dehydrated and dying. I played it cool and breathed through my nose, which made me look like a crazy person, but kept me going. The finish line was soon within view, though. I had to run past a little kid crying as her mother tried to get her to “race” to the finish line with her. It was horrible, but that motivated me to move on. Then I passed a happy Aussie jumping at people, restrained by the leash. Heck yea! I cruised into the finish line without a care for who passed me, beating out 22 minutes yet again.
So far in my rookie season of running, my fastest time is 21:13 (Redhook 5k). I know I have until my late-40s to really master this sport and there's no stopping me, really. The guy who won the CARS series this year is in his 40s. There were younger guys in the top ten, but most of the top ten looked like running dads. There aren't too many sports where you can look forward to getting better with age, unless you're Tom Brady or a professional curler. I'm super excited to get faster.
Canterbury Town Fair
But perhaps a good cool-down walk is in order. Immediately after the race, I walked by a half-dozen men grilling up fifty or more chickens on a giant pit. It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. I wish I was hungrier then, I would have bought so much food from the booth they were supporting. But I usually don't get hungry until a few hours after a race. Then I eat like a pig, huge salads and steak and eggs and Quest bars and whatever else is around to hoover.
Canterbury's “downtown” is one big square across from an old graveyard. There was a church and town hall and the library and a common. The fair had dozens of tents with local crafters selling everything from goat soap to guitars. Weird statues made out of random scraps and knick-knacks for every window sill. Kids ran around with marshmallow shooters. There was an obstacle course for kids and I wished my dog was around to jump all over it.
The book sale got my crumpled dollars. The straight-out-of-the-box lovely old librarian lady eyed my selection and told me they were all very good books. I made it a point to tell her how excited I was to find a John Fogerty autobiography, because I'm sure her comments were pointed at Kerouac, Silent Spring, and the book of feminist folklore. She nodded at me politely and took my money. Okay, buddy.
Across from the book sale was a tent with all sorts of cool makin' things a-goin' on. Someone was planing wood on this Victorian beast of a machine. There was a blacksmith and people carving spoons and bristling brooms. It made me appreciate the big box store down the street. And with that, I went into Canterbury's very own big box store, the general store that is also a post office and the place where they hang all the local news on a wall behind the coffee. There were black-face dolls among other antiques on display, which was kinda cool. A kid was putting a bag of carrots on his tab and I put a soda on the counter with two bucks.
A strange mix of old and new mesmerized me and I wafted back up the hill to my car in a dream. Runner's high. Colonial period farm country nostalgia. Sore legs. Belly grumbling. Caffeine rush. Starting to wish I got some of that chicken after all. I drove back down to Shaker Road and considered turning left toward the Shaker Village for a visit, but I just smiled and headed home. I'll carve that minute off next year, easy.