Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wolfeboro 4-mile mudfest Sunday, April 18

Primed by two days of rain prior to the start, today's 'Muddy Moose' trail race in Wolfeboro certainly lived up to its name. This was easily the muddiest, messiest race I have run so far in New Hampshire: mud bath after mud bath along a network of poorly drained logging roads and trails behind Kingswood Regional High School.

The full course was an unthinkable (for me) 14 miles; I went with the 4-mile version and finished in a slow 52:15, which actually isn't bad considering what we had to slog through. Mud everywhere! It's the only race I've been to where runners are given plastic bags specifically to isolate their mud-chocked footwear after finishing. (Stupidly, I only brought one pair of shoes, which I kept on for the drive home. See cell phone photo below.)

Before anything else, I need to say that I just checked the results online and was surprised to see the last place finisher in today's 14-mile race was Rielle Hunter, 42, of Cary, N.C., otherwise known as the woman who had an affair and a child with one-time presidential hopeful John Edwards. Wow, you never know who's going to turn up at these things, but up until now the biggest name I ever shared a race with was former U.S. Congressman Jeb Bradley. Update: On Monday, April 19, I heard from race director Fergus Cullen that the alleged participation of John Edwards' mistress was what we in the news business refer to as a "hoe-ax." Seems it's tradition for bogus names to appear on the rosters of some races, sometimes as a cover for an elite runner who's slacked off a bit. (In that case, it's often the name of a Yankees player, Fergus said.)

The race itself was a masterpiece of masochism, with mud and boggy terrain almost constant once we got into the woods. My biggest fear was turning an ankle, which I am prone to do on trails, and so had sworn off such races until this one, as I wanted to do Wolfeboro as Town 108. It took a lot of concentration, jumping into and out of mud pits, but I managed to finish without major damage. Not everyone was as fortunate: at least a few folks were hobbling pretty badly in the parking lot afterwards.

The big news was, yes, the mud. At the first few mudbath encounters, the group I was in would slow down and everyone would gingerly pick his or her way along either side of the muck, trying to keep the splattering to a minimum. But the terrain was hard to read (leaves covering deep wells of cold liquid goo), and so before long you couldn't help but have one shoe sink completely into the ooze, and then the other, and before you knew it everyone was pretty much covered with mud from the knee down. Once we stopped worrying so much, it was more fun, but still quite a slog.

This is the only race I can remember when I came close to killing several people. Really. On a long uphill leading to the half-way point, in order to get around a particularly nasty bog, I gripped a stout tree trunk and did that little "swing out and over and get around it" move. But the tree was dead and so rotten that it immediately gave way and began falling across the trail. I glanced up and to my alarm saw that the tree was tall and coming down very fast. Two people right behind me saw it, and stopped for a moment, letting it fall in front of them; they also had the presence of mind to shout "HEADS UP!" to a woman in front of us. Fortunately, the tree fell just behind her. One step off, and it would have clobbered her.

On the way back to the finish, I finally figured out how to run in mud. Rather than slow down and triangulate and look for little "islands" to step on (such as rocks, or branches or dry patches) as you go, you instead look for the smoothest, least wet patch of mud and just run straight through, giving it a little extra push just before you hit it. And what happens, usually, is that your foot goes right into the mud, yes, but because you're moving forward, there's only time enough for the mud to push away from your shoe. By the time the water and muck moves back into the hole you've made, your foot is gone, which allows you to get through it without (literally) bogging down.

A light step and slightly faster pace seems to be the trick. Of course, the downside is that you really are running right through the mud, and if you hit something wrong, you go sliding off balance and can wind up with a mud facial. I didn't see that today, but I did see a few folks who bore evidence of close encounters with the mud on most other parts of their bodies.

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