Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday, June 23: Northfield (#136)

Well, that was the best smelling race I've been in so far.

I speak of the "Aurlow Stanley Memorial Dare 5K" in Northfield, N.H., which I ran this morning when the day was much, much younger.

The smell, specifically, was the smoky scent of a wood fire being started in a stone barbecue pit near where I parked, under a canopy of tall pines that makes up Northfield's town recreation area. The property's name is, straight-forwardly enough, Northfield Pines.

The pines themselves are truly enormous:

The fire and the food vendors and souvenir tents were all part of some kind of festival -- for what I never exactly found out. Unusual items being set out next to a van selling CHEESECAKE created this curious still life of inflatable aliens and rubber ducks:

But the day's events included a 5K race, and that's what brought me to town.

It was a good morning for a race -- the first reasonable temperatures after a three-day stretch that brought humidity and highs in the upper 90s to our part of the world. But this morning dawned refreshingly cool and dry, so off I sped to Northfield for the 8 a.m. start.

One noteable aspect of today's race was how easy it was to find. I have a bad habit of cutting it pretty close with races, and often find myself bombing along back roads trying to find some obscure town rec area with 15 minutes to go before a race starts.

Not in Northfield: You swing off Interstate 93 at Exit 19 and there it is! It could not have been more convenient, and one consequence of this was that I had a whole half-hour to register ($20), stretch & warm up, and smell the wood smoke. Here's everyone milling about the registration area:

The 5K race itself, an out-and-back on local roads, began with a couple of mild hills, then took us under I-93 and into rolling countryside. Although it was still early morning, the summer heat was already building in the sunny spots.

A gradual ascent led to the turn-around spot, which consisted of a murderous up-and-down loop which quickly gains significant altitude, thens lose it just as fast. Ouch!

I felt kinda tired throughout the whole thing, and could tell early on it wasn't going to be anything like a PR. During the last mile, I became so separated from other runners ahead and behind me (mostly walkers) that it was almost not like a race at all, but just a private run. I almost wanted to take a detour to explore "The Memorial Arch of Tilton," some kind of large cemetery monument that we passed by but I couldn't see from the road.

The Memorial Arch: erected in 1882, the keystone contains a time capsule whose contents include "gold and silver coins." Don't get any ideas...

I'd never heard of it, but later research found it to be, yes, a big granite arch erected in the 19th century by one Charles Tilton, a local resident. Inspired by a trip to Rome, Tilton decided to erect an arch for peace (rather than war) in his hometown, and did just that, sparing no expense. It was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and rehabbed shortly thereafter.

Tilton built his arch for the ages, but any thoughts of immortality were scattered by the next landmark down the road: a rather large home for handicapped senior citizens.

The last stretch before the finish was a nice shaded downhill alongside the same park, right through the woodsmoke again. It was marred somewhat, however, but a middle-aged woman who had finished the race but had taken it upon herself to loudly criticize the technique of all those making their final dash.

"Loosen up" she screamed at me. "Relax! And open up that stride! Open it up!"

Geez, the last thing I expected this morning was a flashback to high school gym class, but that's what I got. I appreciated her concern for my running style, but, really, there's a time and a place.

Because she was near my parked car, I got to hear her comments for the next 15 minutes or so. At one point, she bellowed her "encouragement" to runners while lying on her back along the road and stretching her legs against a fence.

I didn't stick around, taking advantage of the convenient highway exit to make a quick get-away. The Memorial Arch of Tilton will have to wait for another time...

The stats: finished in a rather slow 31:16, or 10:04 pace. 78 out of 123.

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