We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that stomps in Mud with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so clean,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And athletes in New England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That ran and biked with us upon Mt. Ascutney this day.
Despite the written warnings and advice to hang it up, I remained committed to starting and finishing this race. My family Stayed at at the Burton Family lodge, a nice bed and breakfast that was conveniently located 4 miles uphill from the race start. After a somewhat fitful night of sleep I woke up before my alarm at 4:00 AM., packed up and headed out the door of the Burton Family lodge...into the pouring rain. Got on Peggy's old mountain bike. Note that the grips have been removed, and given the fact that I have almost never ridden at night, and have not really touched a bike in a year or so. I was rather concerned for my safety. I decided to "exercise" the demons out of my DNF New Haven Road Race Shirt, by wearing the shirt for this race. Some might have thought that was just bad karma to wear a tainted garment, but I had sacrificed my NH race for this day, so I thought it only fitting to purify the jersey in this way.
I arrived at the base lodge of Mt. Ascutney rather wet and with strange fatigue from my ride to the start. I was also soaked and kinda cold. I sat around a bit nervously waiting for the start, and talked with a few others there, but was kind of tense. I felt much better after I stripped down to my short shorts and jersey, and donned my trusty muddy gators. Although it was raining and windy, the thermometer said 50. I always trust the thermometer, so I sneered at the masses with their multiple layers, jackets, and gained a bit of confidence. We lined up out side and headed out the entrance and logged a nice easy downhill mile at 8:22. Rain was steady, and everyone was really chatty. The 600 mountain bikers had headed out 15 min before us so we just followed their tracks as we ran along a stone dust road. We then hooked a left turn onto our first trail. The ground at this point was all torn up. It was like running in a freshly roto-tilled garden. The bikes tore it up, and we patted it back down. Knee was a little tight at this time, but I just kept a really easy pace walking anything that resembled a hill. Goal was to finish, and I could tell early on that it was going to take a lot. After around 5 miles we caught our first mountain bikers. They were worthy prey. Their tires were completely caked up till the wheels would not spin, and their gears were jambed with huge globs of gunk. Not only could they not easily pedal through the mud, but they had to perfectly balance their weight to keep any traction, then drag their bikes up hill. The hills were towering and relentless. I got in the positive zone and started hammering the downhills and whooping at the end in celebration of survival. The ground was spongy and I just flew. I did take one minor spill as I went down quickly as I stopped short. I took the muddy hand and impressed a brown warpaint symbol of resolve over my heart.
As we went on at about 15 miles or so, the rain picked up and the trails got a lot worse. Instead of a garden type of soil the trail turned to a liquid goo. Getting up the trails was now a matter of hiking up the sides of the trails wherever possible, and using the trail-side trees. At around mile 20 I started running with this guy Dan, from the Navy. It was his first 50 also. He was faster up hills, I was faster down, so we started motivating each other. From my training, I was not intimidated by anything under 35 miles, so making it to the 50K point was key. Then we just went station to station. But the trail got even sicker as there were huge falls off of the narrow trail. We reached a point where event the flat section of the trail was not runnable. When it was at it's worst I was using more of a XC ski stride. Goal was to finish. If I was dead I could not finish. To keep positive I started taunting the course, looking for even worse conditions. The course did not disappoint and I took another minor spill. At around mile 40 or so, time began to stand still. There were several miles that seemed to go on forever. The only real pain was in my hips from all of the sliding. We came out of the trail and hit a gravel road, and a guy with a big pack passed us. I was really hurting at the time, but this really got me focused, and I smoothed my breathing, and got back on track, and re-passed. From about 30 miles on we were only passed by two people, and were able to hold somewhat steady. As we exited a field and hit the final ski slope, I slipped off the trail and rolled twice. Since it did not hurt it was rather funny, Dan waited as I scraped myself up and headed for the finish. Peg called out as I traversed the slope, and It was all over. Mission accomplished. This race has redefined my concept of distance running. I am certain now that I can go longer, and that I can go faster.
The trail held me with her vampire like trance and seduced me, till I had no choice but to blissfully and completely surrender to her beauty, even as she sought to destroy me. Late at night, my heart beats strong with her blood in my veins. Even now I await her tapping at my window beckoning me to again take it the edge. When she calls, I will not deny her.