Saturday, October 8, 2011

Oct. 8: Lempster (#129) 5K, but just barely

I sometimes cut it close getting out to races, but today was the closest shave yet.

The "Windmill 5K," set for 11 a.m. in Lempster, was originally set to take place on a service road among 12 enormous wind turbines that were erected on a ridgetop in town in 2008. By enormous, I mean the towers are 250 feet high and the blades are 139 feet long, meaning each windmill stands nearly 400 feet high.

It's New Hampshire's first commercial wind farm, and the huge white windmills, visible for miles around, make for quite a sight as the blades pinwheel around. So the chance to run a race on the facility's service road was too good to pass up.

Alas, safety concerns prevented use of the service road, so organizers relocated to roads around the Goshen-Lempster School, whose parent-teacher group staged the race. Either way, I needed Lempster, so off I went, taking our smallest dog, one-year-old Inca, along for the ride and possibly the run.

Lempster is one of those hill towns in southwestern New Hampshire that started small and stayed that way. No railroad ever came to town, so there was never any commercial center or "downtown." It was just upland farms and such, with a few gravel pits for good measure; when I worked for the Eagle-Times in Claremont, I got to do a few stories from Lempster because the town was on the fringe of the paper's coverage area. Until the establishment of the wind farm, the town's most noteworthy distinction was an inn that boasted an unusual three-story outhouse. (Alas, it's now gone.)

It's about 90-minute drive to Lempster from where I live, and I pulled into town via Route 31 (great views of the wind farm from the east) at about 10:45 a.m. -- plenty of time for me! I thought I knew where the school was so drove south on Route 10 (the main drag) until I thought I'd missed it, so turned around and headed back north. I went up "Ball Park Road," thinking that might be where the school was, but nope. Crossing into Goshen but seeing no school, I kept going, thinking perhaps I'd misread my map.

With minutes ticking away, I drove all the way to Goshen's border with Newport, the next town up, thinking by then it was unlikely I'd find the school in time to run the race. Rats! I turned around, headed south again, but just to head home on a different route. After driving a few minutes, I passed where I'd first turned around, and just beyond that -- sure enough, one of those "Kid and Parent" signs that means "SCHOOL AHEAD" I looked at my dashboard clock just in time to see it change to 11:00 a.m.

And there, on my left, was the race! Everyone was lined up, a police escort was on hand, and a woman was giving instructions to the runners. So I pulled over, hopped out, and asked if I could join in and register afterwards. (So much for warming up or stretching!) Told yes, I confirmed with the cop it was okay to leave my car there (unlocked, with wallet and keys and phone -- this was Lempster, N.H.) and then, seeing no problem with taking the dog, got Inca out and on her leash.

The race started right then, and off we went, down a dirt road, running past the school and up the hill below the wind farm, which loomed over us. Inca was thrilled to suddenly be running with all these people (she probably thinks this is what I do every day when I leave the house in the morning) and pulled me right along, adding to the absurdity of it all.

The course was a hilly one, and the day was sunny and already unseasonably warm, so it was sweat city as we went up and down the back roads, at one point circling a pond and encountering an older black Lab, who followed us for awhile before peeling off. At the turn-around point (on a non-maintained "Class VI" road), I was surprised to be told I was in 9th place overall, but that changed quickly when we encountered a loose and very playful puppy. No one know whom he belonged to (though he had tags and a collar), and he was causing disruption with the runners, who at that point were coming in both directions.

He was a real distraction for Inca, and there seemed to be every chance that he'd follow us for the rest of the race, so I stopped and made it my business to get the dog so a kid could hold onto him until we could get away. Except the dog had other ideas -- he was in play mode, and the best game of all was apparently "Keep Away from the Human in the Orange Shirt."

After a few minutes of this (and being passed by a dozen people), I gave up, and Inca and I continued on. Yes, he followed us until he spotted another dog coming in the other direction (with a walker), and then went back in the direction of where we first encountered him.

But my troubles weren't over! After sprinting down the long hill (not easy on a dirt road full of rocks), Inca and I made a right into the school parking lot to finish. However, a sign said you had to go "around the school" first. Or at least I thought it said this, because what you really had to do was just go around a little loop in front and finish. Instead, Inca and I went all the way around the school, a considerably longer distance, before coming around to the finish chute.

People saw this, but no one said anything because I wasn't wearing a number, and a woman said they just assumed I was out for a run on my own. (This in a town where everyone knows everyone else on a first-name basis?) In coming down the chute, my numberless status prompted a brief cross-examination. Turned out I couldn't be included after all, but I paid the $20 fee just the same. My time was officially something like 35 minutes, but that included time messing with the dog plus the extra distance around the school, so I didn't really take it too seriously. Even so, I just looked at the results, and that placed me 16th out of 32, which isn't too shabby.

Thanks for holding the race, Lempster, and for letting me just show up like that and run it.

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