Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday, June 6: Pack Monadnock 10-miler

Well, I made good on my desire to run this race, but only because the weather cooperated this morning. It was overcast, rainy and in the 60s, which cut down on the views a bit, but made it possible for a non-elite runner such as me to actually finish, which I did!

The 10-mile course, which winds along some very pretty back roads, actually touches on three towns: Wilton, Temple, and Peterborough. I bagged the latter two some years ago, so the reason to run this was Wilton, as well as to experience the dramatic last two miles straight up hill, seemingly, partly on the state's busiest east-west highway (Route 101) and partly on an access road to the summit of Pack Monadnock that's as steep as the road up Mount Washington.

It's a point-to-point race, meaning some logistics are necessary to join in the fun, especially because no vehicles are allowed up the road to the summit, where the finish line is. So I drove up to the former Temple Mountain Ski Area parking lot (about a mile below the Pack summit) and was early enough to get a good parking spot. Then I'd have to find a ride to the start, about 9 miles away at Wilton/Lyndeborough Co-op High School. I wasn't sure how this would go, but no sooner did I cut my car engine than a guy in a van pulled up and offered a ride to the start. I piled in with a nice group of runners and in no time we were at the high school. So that worked well!

Registration ($32) was a snap, but then came the next logistics step: race organizers allowed you to put a bag on a U-Haul that would be driven to the summit, so after you finished you could change out of wet clothes or whatever prior to beginning the long slog back down to the Temple Mountain Ski Area parking lot. So I found a tag, wrote my number on it, tied it to the bag, and went outside and heaved it into the U-Haul no problem. Another one down!

And then I had about an hour prior to the race start, which is a rarity for me. I used the time to catch up with a few acquaintances and explore the high school, which I'd never visited. One benefit of this was that I discovered another set of bathrooms down a dimly lit corridor, allowing me to escape the bathrooms near the registration tables, which were plagued with what looked to be one of the longest lines I'd ever seen. (And that was for the men's room!)

I then settled down to stretch in a cul-de-sac with a door leading out to a courtyard, and that's when I noticed: it was pouring! And it wasn't one of those quickly passing kinds of rains, but a steady downpour that looked like it could go on for quite some time. I went outside for a warm-up run around the school and came back soaked just from that. It wasn't cold (about 65 degrees) but it was wet. And all I was wearing was my lucky moisture-wicking "Big Lake Half Marathon" shirt and a new pair of shorts I bought yesterday at Runner's Alley. I didn't even think to bring a hat with a visor to keep the water out of my eyes.

I also had on brand new shoes and socks--not the brightest thing to do for a tough 10-mile race, but my current shoes had been pretty much shot by a combination of dog-chewing and running an incredibly muddy race in Wolfeboro last month, so I picked the same brand of shoes up yesterday (also at Runner's Alley) and figured it was wiser than using the old ones.

As race time approached, the downpour continued. We all hiked down the school's driveway and made a right to the official start. Many entrants wore plastic ponchos, which I would consider extremely uncomfortable for running, but then again, the rain was getting worse as we stood there. Then, next thing you knew, we all started running, so that was that.

Most of the course was on roads sheltered by a leafy canopy of hardwood trees, so the rain actually wasn't that bad, and eventually stopped, though it remained overcast and damp. You really couldn't ask for better conditions in June to run a race like this, so I'm glad I showed up. Speaking of up, that's how the first mile went, but then the course leveled out to gentle ups and downs on some beautiful roads. Some were freshly repaved, and all seemed immaculately maintained, whether dirt or tar.

If all you know of Wilton is the town center and Route 101, then you'd be surprised to see some of the wonderful historic properties along the back roads: large-scale colonials with outbuildings, rambling New Englanders with barns attached, horse farm properties with grand signs welcoming you to immaculate grounds.

Refreshingly, not all the homes were fixed up showplaces; some were clearly old-time town families who were somehow just getting by, including one very old couple in a majestic but shabby white house, the man in his open garage and the woman on the granite front stoop, both looking on at us without comment as we passed by, him with a faint air of disapproval and her with wide-eyed wonder. It's great people such as this still call southern New Hampshire home.

In races longer than 6 or 7 miles, my problem usually is my feet. They just begin to hurt from all the pounding, making anything more a real effort. So that's what I monitored, and reaching the half-way point at Mile 5, things were still pretty solid. In fact, at that point I seemed to have tapped into an energy source; there's a fairly steep hill prior to Mile 6, and I scooted right up, passing several people who had resorted to walking. I resolved then to keep running as far as I possibly could before giving into walking at all, and so onward I trudged.

Starting at Mile 7, things began to climb in earnest. At this point, you're on a dirt road called "Old Revolutionary Road" that parallels busy Route 101 down below; you can hear the traffic whizzing by. And though it's still up-and-down, the ups are much uppier, as if preparing you for the big grind ahead. Climbing some steep short inclines, you pass a few more picturesque farms, then there's a one final long downgrade where Old Revolutionary Road bottoms out and you spill out onto Route 101 just before Mile 8.

And that's that: from now on it's completely uphill. Overall, the course climbs a total of about 1,700 feet, or about 1.5 times the height of the Empire State Building. But most of that is in the final two miles, the first of which is a long steady pull on the shoulder of Route 101 as it snakes toward the saddle between Temple Mountain and Pack Monadnock. This, the only part of the race where you can see some distance ahead, wasn't actually too bad. Traffic wasn't heavy, and people were spread out enough for passing to not be a problem. I just kept going, and, about halfway through Mile 8, I began to think I might be able to keep a running pace all the way to the finish.

Well, forget it. After chuffing through the entrance to Miller State Park (where the summit road begins), I hit the first real incline, and my running slowed to a walking pace or less. I kept at it until the Mile 9 marker, but then the road steepened and I just couldn't do it. So I settled for walking up through the hairpin curves as we rose into the overcast, which reduced visibility down to where you could see probably 100 yards at best. The wind picked up, too, and I actually began to feel cold, but still climbed, or walked, passing by hordes of runners on the way down after finishing, many of them wildly encouraging. A couple of times I tried running again on the occasional flat patches, but gravity and my body won out over what was left of my mind.

Finally, I approached the finish chute, but only after the steepest grade of all; the final 200 yards or so are seemingly straight up. I had thought finishing in less than two hours would be a minor miracle. As it was, I clocked in at 2:07:18, for a rather slow pace of 12:42, placing 336 out of 361 finishers. The U-Haul with the bags had been prevented from making the summit run due to "slippery" road conditions, I was told; instead, it was down below, so I commenced the long and somewhat painful stroll back down the road, taking parts of it backwards (facing up) to reduce the stress on already overstressed joints. Nice feed at the base, and nice timing with the weather. Just as things were breaking up and I was getting ready to pull out, a downpour started, sending everyone scurrying for cover.

Postscript: That first night I developed pain in my left achilles tendon, which caused me to limp for most of the next day. It threw me enough so that I actually left the house Monday morning without a belt, and so for the entire day I was walking with a severe limp and also trying to keep my pants from falling down. The pain subsided by the end of the day, however, and after an icepack on Monday night, as of Tuesday I'm nearly back to normal. This afternoon I even rode the bike into the newspaper office, where I'm dashing this off now.

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