I have been called the Grinch of New Years Eve. It’s kind of true. I am just not a fan! I’m always stationed at my parents house on NYE, which means between 2 and 4 hours from my friends (Boston or NYC). Inevitably, they all want to pay money that I don’t have to go to a club or bar where I can barely even talk to them and I end up frustrated and tired and wishing I was somewhere else. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good time (helloooo I spontaneously drove to FLORIDA from MASSACHUSETTS for spring break) but NYE just feels forced to me.
So when Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club posted on facebook about the Sawmill River 10k race – featured in the Races and Places section of the most recent Runner’s World – a seed was planted that I kind of knew would grow into a full-fledged plan. Montague is a tiny little town near Amherst, where I went to school. I’ve written about how much I love running around here, and the opportunity to start my year out with a run on some scenic rural roads of Western Mass that I haven’t yet run on was hard to decline. Every time someone asked me “Do you have New Year’s plans??” it gnawed at me. After driving to Boston twice and up to the mountain and back for four days of skiing, I knew I wasn’t hauling myself anywhere to be surrounded by wasted twentysomethings dressed in nothing but glitter (grinch). I signed up for the race.
The drive up had me smiling the entire time as I passed landmarks I’ve known and loved over the years. So quintessentially New England, and so different from anything in New Orleans. I find myself appreciating the scenery a lot more this year, thinking “OH I need a picture of Mount Sugarloaf so I can show everyone at home!” “Alysse will love this snowy field!” Granted, my picture-taking was confined to shots out one window of my dad’s car because his windshield is obscured by a GPS and a beaded skunk that I made when I was 10 so the execution was less than ideal, but here are some shots of the area:
Pretty gorgeous if you ask me. The race began and ended at grange #141 in Montague Center:
If that doesn’t say small town New England, I don’t know what does. As I walked up to the table to get my number I immediately made friends with another Ross, Allen Ross (also my dad’s name, but spelled differently), who started the race decades prior. The thing about these races is not that everyone wants to be your friend, it’s that they already assume they are your friend. It’s awesome.
Now, about the whole “racing” part. I have run only one 10k in my entire life. I don’t necessarily like to race at all. I like half marathons, I admire marathons, but I think 5k and 10k races are just masochistic. I understand that they will make me faster but for the past two years, I refused to enter one unless I could get in for free. Which also means that I have no clue how fast I am capable of running these things, and that I don’t feel the need to push myself super hard unless it’s to win. However, I had this idea that I should probably go under 40. Ambitious. My previous 10k, which I ran a little over a month after last year’s marathon (compared to a month after coming back from an injury that took up the majority of 2012) was 42 something. 2+ minutes is a lot of time. You’d think I was drunk or something if you didn’t know I was the Grinch.
We all lined up (around 100 of us) in the chilly feels-like-14 degree weather and waited. It was a low-tech race with hand timing and popsicle sticks, so the start was just a guy with a bullhorn. As we waited, I made friends with a 14 year old high school freshman who said she wanted to run with me, watched a 10 year old heckle his dad and friends, telling them: “I’m gonna drop you at mile 6! I’m winning this race!”, and did a little heckling myself – the men in shorts and t shirts were really just asking for it.
The race I started out feeling really good, and kind of surprised about it. For some reason I had a lot of negative thoughts about my performance that day despite a lot of positive thoughts about being there and running in general. My 14 year old pal was having some technical difficulties with a new pair of running tights and dropped back early. After the initial excitement of the race starting, running over a bridge, by the Bookmill, and around a corner, we were on a straight stretch of road for three miles. Not what I needed. I settled into a pace right around 6:25-6:30 and tried to keep myself entertained with the scenery but then it hit: ankle fatigue.
This is not something anyone should ever experience because nobody should be dumb enough to go skiing the day before they’re trying to run their heart out! You see, skiing is all about getting your boot to flex so you can initiate the turn with your ankles, then roll over your knees and drop your hip in to the hill. If that makes any sense. What it boils down to is this: ski boots are stiff, and every single turn requires a lot of ankle flexion and strength. Those muscles in the top of my foot and lower inches of my shins were apparently pretty tired and they started screaming with about a mile to go until the big hills. It was the weirdest thing! My lungs were great, my quads felt fine, even my injured leg was feelin great, but my damn ankles were giving me hell! Feel the ankle burn???
Anyway, at that point I had passed quite a few men and seen no women since my little buddy dropped back so I resigned to slowing down and running for the win rather than the time I had hoped for. I also wanted to have fun instead of kill myself, and if I’m gonna win either way who cares, right?? I ended up with a 43-something. I’ll let you know when I find out. Embarrassing.
After the race, there were baked potatoes for all! Served in the basement (which was a nice change from basement-less NOLA), everyone packed it in around long tables and we chatted about running, New Years, Boston, hangovers…you name it. It’s hard not to be happy while surrounded by sweaty exhausted people, as weird as that sounds.
Overall, I kind of wish I ran harder. But then again, I still had an awesome time. I was reminded of all the ski races that my dad and I have traveled to together over the years, all the tiny little snow-covered towns we’ve driven through admiring old houses, windy roads, and gorgeous scenery. Although my brother also loves skiing, my dad and I share an appreciation of athletics that the rest of my family doesn’t have. We love the people, the passion, and being outside. It was such a nice way to spend the first of the year.
Since I didn’t do it yesterday, I would like to take this opportunity to make a toast:
To greater success and continued victory this year! But most of all, to loving what you do. May you spend your time doing exactly what makes you happy.