Saturday morning I made the trek towards west Lebanon for the first annual Farnum Five(5.5 Mile) trail run. It is part 4 of the 5 part western new Hampshire trail running series. The sun is shining down, burning off the first frost of the season. I happily sing to some country on the hour drive and start getting fired up for the challenge ahead of me.
At the start of the race I meet several familiar faces, some from the rest of the series, some from ultra’s. I talk a bit with Jay who recognized me from Pisgah the week and year prior. He’s feeling great coming off of a sub 6 hour at Pisgah and is looking forward to the VT50 next weekend. We have a little ultra chat and we part ways. I line up next to a woman I started Xterra Stoked with a month prior, her name is Mary I believe. Seems like a really kind hearted woman. This is very short lived as the race director gives the standard Set Go and down the trail we good
The race starts on the old Kings Highway trail which runs along the contour of Farnum Hill. The trail is a very washed out rocky and rooty double track trail. I fall into my comfortable pace behind two guys that appeared to be in their 30s. They were talking about races they had done and how “I used to be able to just run a 5k with no training.” All of a sudden one of the guys starts yelling. I didn’t really get it at first but apparently there were some ground wasps in one of the dips on the trail. I chuckle only because this is a very common occurrence at Pisgah, and now it had been two years where I had avoided them. I narrowly dodged them again at this event. Positive thoughts and i’m happy to have not yet been stung this season. Despite the stings these two guys continue to push a strong pace and I’m determined to keep up. I eavesdrop on their conversation some more and one guy mentions the Jay Marathon to which I thought, now’s my chance to intervene. I chime in my thoughts on the race, trail running and ultras. I find out that this guy is going to be at Vermont next weekend attempting his first 50k. Ha, everything is really turning up roses as I’m able to give him some advice on his upcoming challenge. The trail takes a sharp turn to the right and we’re faced with a ¼ mile steep steep grade. I show him the benefits of “ultra-walking” the hills as I pass him while he tries to continue his running. As much as I’m sure it’s helpful to hear it from another runner I still feel really weird giving people that are 10-20 years my senior advice on ultras. Once on the ridge trail I tell him I can’t keep matching his speedy pace and that we’ll chat more at the finish line. That was all he needed and by 2 more turns he was long gone. Poor guy I think, I hope I didn’t cost him too much time. I settle in at my normal pace and see that I’m 20’ back from the same guy that I was 20’ back at 2 miles at Stoked. We exchanged a few words over the next few miles but when he gave the “oh yeah, last hill” I was off. My thighs were screaming. Probably still tired from last weeks race but I was having a ball. We crossed over the power lines on top of Farnum hill. It was funny because I had driven past Farnum hill for 8 years now on I-89. I’d always looked at the power lines that cut the thick woods of the mountain but I never expected to be on the top looking way down onto the interstate. What an amazing view. The last ¾ of a mile was just steep single then double track. Still feeling happy from the view I gave it my all hoping that maybe I could catch anyone ahead of me. Sadly no dice on catching anyone this time, but the finishers cookies tasted just as good.
Contoocook Carry Tri
It’s 6:40 am and I’m awoken by a familiar wiener dog nose. She licks my face signifying, “hey wake up, I need to pee!” I get up feeling amazing seeing how I had a few beers and slept on a futon after a race. Normally those 3 things are a recipe for a disastrous second day. I bundle up expecting it to be another frosty night, but I’m pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the sun in the early morning. You can smell the crispness in the air. God I love fall. I think about the 6th annual Contoocook Carry Triathlon that I’m doing for the second time in 3 years and wonder if I’m ready. I hadn’t sat on my bike or in a kayak since the first weekend in July when I did The Great Race Triathlon up in St Albans VT.
I’m not impressed with how the race I set up. There are so many volunteers that no one knows what’s the hell is going on. It takes me 20 minutes to get my number and my shirt. There are no maps or print out for new racers to make sure you place your boat and bike in the right spot. Somehow with my alcoholic brain I’m able to remember where things are placed and get back to the start with 15 minutes to spare.
We are treated to an amazing song by what appears to be a 6 year old girl which sooths the frustration and pre-race jitters. Her voice was just outstanding. Upon competition of her song the race director looks at her watch and says, “You can go now.” It’s laughable how laid back this whole thing has been, but I guess why not. It’s all for a good cause as the money from this race is going towards Fuel Assistance (through Human Services) for those who might need a little help this winter.
I got a kiss from Loni and tell her I’ll see her at the carry. The neatest part about this race is the fact that it’s not out on a lake, it’s on the Contoocook river. And for any of you that are familiar with Contoocook NH there is a dam in the center of town. The draw I have to this race is you actually have to pick your boat up and out of the river carry it through a couple of parking lots across Main Street and then put it in after the falls. It’s really a neat spectacle.
At any rate I manage to get through the race about middle of the pack. The entrance to the water is just a muddy beaver slide through some weeds so I get into the water probably middle-back of the pack. I’m mildly upset by the fact that people were just pushing through the line but whatever, this isn’t an ultra, I’m not worried about it and the feeling passes. Still nervous about what 5 miles is going to do to me after zero training I start pushing hard. I keep telling myself, oh it’s got to be after this turn. Damn, wrong again, ok next turn? I notice that there aren’t a lot of smiling faces. It saddens me a little. I try to give a friendly smile and hello as I pass kayak after kayak. I caught up to the “ninja” team and one of the guys go “oh look a speed demon.” To which I promptly responded. “Oh don’t you worry, I’ve got a mountain bike for the next stage, I’m just trying to give myself a chance.”
I get to the carry just a bit behind another kayaker. I’ve made up a lot of ground and I feel like I’m pushing the pace finally. I throw the kayak up onto my shoulder and run through the crowd of people waiting at the ramp. I make it half way through the carry before I’m reduced to a walk. My thighs are screaming, I assume from the lack of recovery between last weekend and yesterday to now. A photographer snaps a shot of me with the kayak on my head. I get a big grin and wonder if that one will be in the paper or next years flyer. Back in the river for another 2.5 miles and the lack of training is really starting to catch up to me. I can feel myself just getting weaker and weaker. Luckily some clouds had rolled in and it had cut the heat out of the air so being out in the river was just grand. I always forget how nice some of the homes are along the river. So between strokes I stop and wave to an older fellow that is out on his deck enjoying a glass of wine and the Sunday paper. I think about how blessed I am to be able to be out here doing this. That most of my friends and coworkers are sitting inside watching football dreaming of being an athlete while here I am, living it.
I catch a few more paddlers before I get to the take out. Loni says I’m probably in the top 15! My eyes nearly popped out of my head. Seriously?! Yeah I guess I was in the top 15 at that point, but I knew 14 miles on a bike that I hadn’t sat on since july wasn’t going to be easy. I’m not sure why I try these things on a full suspension 32+/- lb mountain bike with mud tires. I steal one more kiss for good luck and off I go. Losing about 5 spots before I get to see Loni’s smiling face back at the fire station. She tells me I’m doing great and off the long trek down to the covered bridge I go. My coworker Wanda told me she lived out this way and that I should wave as I go by. So that occupies my mind for a couple of miles. Is this the house? Nope. This one? Nope. I start to think I had missed it, but then I catch a glimpse of a giant poster board with big bold letters GO JOSH GO nailed to a tree ahead. It really warmed my heart. Life’s funny sometimes, I think people at work are just coworkers most days. But for this coworker to actually take the time to do something so simple, yet so thoughtful will puts her way ahead in my book.
More spots lost but still in good spirits as I get to go through the Hopkinton Covered Bridge where loni again greats me with a smile and a warm GREAT JOB SWEETIE! And that’s just the motivation I need to get up the next hill. I finish the race in somewhere around 2:30, just ahead of some road bikers that had been tailing me for the last 2 miles.
Big Smiles all around for me. I had no time/goal in mind, just to get out, enjoy the small town, and the laid back race. I let my preconceived notions of how races should be run fade and just enjoyed the ride. I tell loni we should pack up shop and head home. It’s been a long weekend and I need some rest.
I reflect a bit on the drive home. I think about how much 365 days can change a person. One year ago to date I had basically tried to kill myself with alcohol. The pain and the suffering that I had caused to everyone around me turned back into me and I just went to town with the booze. No killing myself wasn’t my goal, but to an outsider seeing how much I drank with what was going on in my life, it would have been assumed.
In the past year I lost a loved one, two of my best friends, an ultra buddy, my house, my life, my kitties, my bar, my stability. I’d gained love, or what one would have thought was love at the time. I had experienced highest of highs when I was running the last 5 miles of Pinelands with Loni. I’d experienced lowest of lows when Sara told me she wanted nothing to do with me at my first attempt of the VT100. I’d completed 4 (Pittsfield, Pinelands, Jay, and Pisgah) of the 5 (VT100) ultras that I’d started this year. I’d stopped drinking daily and started loving more. I’d gotten my old life back. I’d rebuilt the love I once shared with Loni. Rather than letting simple things harden my heart, I’ve opened it more. I’ve learned the difference between people that are your friends and people that just say they are to get things. I’ve rebuilt friendships with people that are strong and have always been there for me that I turned my back on.
Thank you all for laughing, drinking, crying, loving and running with me over the last year.
With that being said, I’m onward to my 8th consecutive start at the VT50 this Sunday with a light and happy heart. I’m saddened to say that it will be my first solo start at this race. My father, still nursing his injury will be there to crew and volunteer, but I will not be treated with his humor and knowledge this go around. On the flip side, Loni will attempt her first 50k! My hope is that I can catch up to her on the trail and provide her with any advice that I can in her last 13 miles (her previous furthest distance is 18). She is what my father would proclaim to the running gods, “the sacrificial virgin.”
Wish us luck!