The temps were in the low 50s, with occasional misting rain during the race. I walked around the camp a bit to loosen up while waiting for my friends Tim and Giuliana to show up (they were running the relay with two more of Giuliana's friends). Once they arrived, we said our hellos, and I was able to hand off my sweatshirt to make its way to the finish via Tim's folks' car.
There were about a hundred people on the start line, with the majority being single runners, and the rest the opening-leg relay runners for their respective two and four person teams. The RD gave us the signal to start, and the field plunged forward--and almost immediately messed up, by missing the left turn that was supposed to take us on a quick loop around the campground. Fortunately the frantic shouts of some of the volunteers corrected us, and amid calls of "I was just following you!" "But I was following you!" we bombed down a grassy embankment XC style to get back on course.
At around the 1/2 mile mark, I had started the descent in earnest and substantially gapped the field. I thought briefly that I might just run away with the whole thing, but then footsteps behind me disabused me of that notion. I was soon pulled in by a wiry guy in a T-Shirt and baseball cap, with a beard that had a few patches of grey in it.
We ran shoulder-to-shoulder for most of the descent down to Rt. 26, occasionally trading the lead, but never opening any significant distance between each other. The first mile was ~5:28, mile 4 passed in 21:50-something. The downhill pace was pounding hell out of my calves, and I was nervous about how they'd hold up late in the race. But I figured, this is a little test leading up to the big test of my marathon, so I might as well go for it and see what I learn.
Some nice cheers from Tim and G at the mile 4.1 relay transition; from cheers directed at my opponent, I was able to learn his name was Jeff.
We reached the comparatively flat terrain on Rt. 26, and I finally started to pull away a bit from my competition. We were right around the half-way point--was he done?
All along the highway a cruiser from the sheriff's office drove ahead of us with its flashers going, directing oncoming traffic to slow down. It was sort of like being in the lead of a major race, chasing down the pace car, and great fun the whole time.
By mile 8 I could feel the burning in my calves starting to hamper me. I started alternating running on the dirt shoulder with running on the road. I didn't slow down a lot, but it was enough that around mile 9, I heard footsteps again. Damn. He passed my decisively, and there was no holding on to the pace he was setting. I thought he still might falter, though, so I gamely stuck to my best pace, trying to keep contact with him as long as possible.
Mile 10 passed in 56:54. One of my running goals, which ought to be a pretty doable goal if the right circumstances ever come up, is to run a 10-mile race in under an hour; this doesn't count, obviously, because it's a super-cheaty downhill race, but it will do until the real thing comes along.
My calves were hurting pretty bad at that point, but I had come psychologically prepared to hurt a bit at the end, and I found that keeping going wasn't as hard as I had feared. I reached the mile 12 sign heading into Colebrook with great relief. At last I reached Main St; the police officer directing traffic at the intersection said "cross over", and I darted across to Bridge St for the final kick.
Lots of pedestrians were making their way back up Bridge St, probably relay runners from earlier legs who had gotten dropped off by the shuttle and were making their way back up the course to watch their teammates come in. I knew I must be close; I leaned on the gas, pushing hard.
Where's the damn finish? I thought This final 0.2 is taking forever!
At some point a pedestrian called out to me: "Hey, uh, where are you running to?"
"The finish!" I answered brilliantly.
"The finish is back up Main St," he answered, pointing back the way I had come.
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
I am rather proud of the fact that I did not stop, just orbited around and started running back the way I had come, though my "finishing kick" had been reduced to more of a shuffle. I couldn't quite process what I had just done, but I knew I'd be happiest if I still finished the best I could. I got back to Main St, calling out plaintively a few times "hey, does anyone know where the finish is?" Fortunately a spectator on Main St reassured me I was heading in the right direction (because, I realized, I had no idea which way on Main St I was supposed to go). Not far after that, I saw the actual left turn to the actual finish, with an actual race volunteer pointing home. I turned in and tried to muster a little spurt at the finish, though there was no one close to me.
Tim's mom was waiting at the finish with my sweatshirt (which was awesome, by the way! Thank you!) Once I passed through the chute I went up to stand in the trees and process what had just happened. Mainly I was thinking, thank goodness I wasn't actually in the lead when that happened. I've been racing for 17 years, and never made such a simple, preventable blunder like that. If I had only reviewed the race map online and walked it over in my head ahead of time, I would have known exactly what to do. How could I have messed it up that bad? Damn damn damnity damn.
When I walked back out to Main St to watch Giuliana finish, the race volunteer told me he had had his money on me--I told him "sorry, hope you didn't lose too much." He assured me it wasn't a bet.
My final result was 84:36, good for 3rd place (and good enough to still beat all the relay teams, hehe). Based on google maps, I estimate I ran about an extra 0.8 miles. I think I would have run 77:30 or so without my huge blunder. (The course, as you might have gathered, is substantial net-drop).
Thanks to the Galluses for making their car available to me to warm up when I started turning blue after the finish, and for driving me back to Coleman (and for buying us all lunch!) That was awesome. I am all kinds of sore today, but my spirits are recovered, and I'm happy to take Dixville as just another learning experience on my way to Baystate (lesson #1: don't take random detours!)