This morning I headed down to Great Brook Farm State Park in Carlisle, Ma for the 7th annual Thomas Chamberas 6k XC Race, part of the NEXC Grand Prix. I think the last time I ran a real cross country race was back in high school, although the only thing that really makes it a XC race is the scoring aspect of the race. From all other appearances this was a trail race, a very fast and relatively short trail race.
It was (and had) been raining pretty good so the trails were going to be wet and muddy. I did a couple of miles of warm up, running the end of the course just to get an idea what to expect. This was my first time running this race so I was totally unfamiliar with the course. Looks like it would be some dirt paths, some single track, fields and even some pavement. There was standing water and puddles (aren't they the same?) everywhere and I'd soon find out there were some shoe-sucking muddy sections to add to the fun.
From what I could tell from previous years (and this year as well), this race attracted a very fast field of some very competitive runners and teams. If I could break into the top 50 I'd be thrilled. After a brief word from the RD (mentioning he'd never seen the trails with so much mud and water on them) we were off! It was probably the fastest sustained start of a race I'd ever run (road or trail) and nobody was letting up. Unlike a typical 5k where you're bound to get a couple of kids who go out like a shot only to be swallowed up and kicked to the side of the road in the first 400yds, this race was ALL fast guys (and girls) up front. There was no risk of being held up by slower runners in this one. Wow. Heck, I was just trying to stay with the mob as we eventually headed up the switchback singletrack (single file). It was amazing to see so many fast runners burning up this trail. You HAD to keep up (there was no passing here) or risk being trampled. It was one fast ascent. The next mile or two had some fairly tough footing. There was mud and water (and roots and rocks) EVERYWHERE. Some was a bit tough, especially the downhills since we were still running in a fairly large pack. It would eventually thin out a bit which at least allowed you to pick your own line. A couple of sections along a corn field, a brief run on the road and a run across a not-recently-mowed field for the finish. Done, with a time of 21:54 (5:55 pace), good for 45th overall. Results are posted here.
Overall my position didn't change much after the first mile or so. I passed quite a few early on, got picked off a couple of times in the middle and maybe picked up a few positions myself near the end. My effort felt hard but not 5k road race hard. I absolutely had a blast and LOVED the course. For some strange reason I tend to like these types of courses when the conditions totally suck (like today). Runners look like they earned it when they finish a race like this in these conditions. The race was VERY well marked, had lots of volunteers and had some nice Adidas freebies at registration. Definitely one to look forward to next year!
(photo credit - Jim Rhoades)