Hudson Highlander XIX!
A fantastic Highlander weekend with family, great friends, and excellent orienteering!
Alli, Inara, and I drove up on Saturday and stayed at the Radisson in Piscataway, NJ, where Alli had hotel points to redeem. We spent some time in the afternoon splashing in the hotel pool before picking up Matthias at the New Brunswick train station. The town was full of Rutgers fans, getting ready to witness the destruction of their team at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
We had a delightful evening with Matthias, complete with a lecture on Brexit, and headed to bed. In the morning, I woke up at 5:30, took Inara for a while as Alli slept some more, and started getting myself ready for the race. Besides the usual race prep, I also made packets to leave at the aid stations: a change of socks and shoes, as well as extra Gu, packets of sports beans, and bananas. I think had a light breakfast with Matthias and Kenny, handed Inara back to Alli, and went off towards Harriman.
This was my first Highlander in six years, and the most ambitious race I've attempted since the back surgery last year, so my goal was to get through the first two loops and then reassess.
S-1 (7th): We started on the sand, and both Kenny and I immediately went out to paved road, hoping to avoid getting sand in our shoes. This was clearly the slower option, as the lead pack opened a gap of nearly a minute here. I had to work hard to pass a few people, including a number of Lowlander runners. Greg was already gone, never to be seen again.
1-2 (7th): I started the big climb to 2 together with Juanma, Will, and Kenny, but Will quickly disappeared. Others around me included Ari, AJ, Patrick, Andreas, Ondrej, Vilppu, Mark, Ian, and Jason. I had pretty good control of where I was most of the way, but hesitated at the last moment, and a few people got ahead. The first of several sloppy control entries for me.
2-3 (7th): The whole pack I was with ended up on the wrong side of the rock knoll that the control was on, and a few kept going. I hesitated, saw Patrick turn to the right, and followed him.
3-4 (4th): Once again, everyone I was with missed this control and went too low. Juanma (running the Lowlander) and I stopped before dropping and relocated quickly than everyone else. Suddenly, we were in the front of the pack, with only Greg, Will, and Peter Z in front of us, but well out of sight.
4-5 (7th): I had very little interest in getting away from the pack this early in the race, so I took a leisurely pace on the climb up, with Juanma content to stay behind me. Pretty soon Mark caught up and then, as I climbed to the indistinct trail, the whole gang was there, including Jason, Kenny, Matthias, Ian, and Wyatt. Even more surprisingly, Will appeared again, having missed this control. It seems that Ondrej and Peter Z both lost a lot of time here and fell out from our pack.
5-6 (6th) Steep climb up to 6. This was the first time I felt like this could be a good day: I felt very comfortable on the climb and was surprised to see Ian and Matthias drop off the pace. At the tower, Andis told me that Greg was about 5 minutes ahead.
6-7 (5th) Kenny, Mark, and I missed the trail from the tower and had to bushwhack a bit to get back to it. On the trail, Mark quickly pulled away, the first of several times that would happen today. I ran with Kenny and Jason around the beach, while Will cut across. Wyatt, who had been with us, stopped to change shirts and fell behind a bit. I ate the rest of my first Gu, drank some water/sports drink mix, and picked up a packet of sports beans.
7-8 (3rd): I left the transition area together with Will H x 2 (Hawkins and Hubsch), Jason U, and Kenny. We could see Mark about a minute in front and knew that Greg was long gone. On the way out through the parking lot, Kenny pointed out that we needed to do the first part of the leg by running around on roads, as there was a fence along the straight line. As he said that, we watched Mark get trapped by the fence and end up right back with us again. Kenny led the way on this leg, and we ran well until the final approach, where we cut too far left from the yellow hilltop before the circle, and ended up on the edge of the hill looking down into the green swamp. It took a little while to figure out where we were, and by then our breakaway attempt was over: we were joined by Ian, Patrick, Wyatt, Villpu, Andreas, and Juanma. I was surprised not to see Matthias in this pack.
8-9 (5th): Will and I quickly ran off, dropped past the old mine, turned towards the control... and overran, ending up too high on the nose. Had to come back again, back into the heart of the pack.
9-10 (3rd): Will stuck to the right side of the rocky reentrant, Juanma went higher on the left, and I went right up the middle. Eventually, Juanma and I were together and attacked the control by climbing straight up the speckled green hilltop and continuing, keeping the mountain laurel splotches to our right. Finally, a spike.
10-11 (6th): I bashed to the trail a bit behind Will, and with Juanma close behind. I picked up the pace a bit here and was surprised not to see too many people close behind. Soon after, Mark flew by and caught up to Will. They cut over to the small indistinct trail earlier than I did, and I made up a bit of ground, which I immediately lost when I tripped and bashed my hand on the rocks. We all lost the indistinct trail in the green, but came out close to the junction and continued on. After cutting in from the trail towards 11, the three of us happily sailed past the control without realizing it and suddenly had no clue where we were. I turned back and saw the control. We were at least 100 meters past it, and as we turned back, the whole pack showed up once again. Coming into 11, Will saw a big fat snake (black racer?) which startled us a bit.
11-12 (4th): I was very frustrated to have missed this control. I was right back in the middle of the pack, having lost all the advantage. But then something strange happened: I was passing people without any additional exertion. I realized that I was still feeling quite strong, and this was very encouraging. In the circle at 12, Vilppu was fastest at wading through the mountain laurel to the flag. Will was ahead of me, Mark and Kenny just behind.
12-13 (2nd): Will and Mark went a bit higher than I wanted to go, and Kenny and I headed towards the indistinct trail through the green. I made some comment about letting Will and Mark go, as they were running faster. Will replied that we'd find a way to catch up. Sure enough, I took a better line down to the trail and then on the indistinct trail through the green, and we were together again. I led the way into 13.
13-14 (2nd): Still leading the way here. Familiar territory from the US Relay Champs in 1996.
14-15 (4th): Mark and Will got by on the road and I stayed behind them into the transition area. Juanma, still with us, crossed the line as the Lowlander winner. I quickly made the decision to continue the race, as I was feeling pretty good. I scarfed down half a banana and more sports drink and took out some sports beans to eat on the run.
Part III: Trail Run
15-16-17 (3rd): I left the transition area, still trying to shove banana pieces down my throat, pretty quickly with Kenny. Mark went quickly past, but to my surprise we saw no one else for a long time. I knew that a large group with Vilppu, Patrick, Andreas, Wyatt, and Will Hubsch wasn't far back and expected some of them to try and make contact.
On the trail run itself, Kenny and I cruised along, chatting at times. I paid close attention to my body, expecting it to give out at any moment, but I realized that I felt good - strong, even. After passing #16, the trail narrowed a bit, and I went in front, picking up the pace very slightly. We got spilled onto the power line road a bit earlier than was intended, and soon Will caught up from behind, having stopped to stretch at the transition area. We came in about 2 minutes behind Mark and 14 behind Greg.
17-18 (5th): Will and Kenny got out of the transition area quicker than I had hoped to. I managed to down my other pre-stashed banana, drink a few cups of water/sports drink mix, and grab two cookies to eat on the run. For the entirety of the first two legs on this loop, I was trying to keep up with Will and Kenny while stuffing cookies, which were difficult to get down at this stage in the race. Climbing up to 18, we could see Mark not too far ahead.
18-19 (5th): I finished my last cookie and looked at the map just in time to point out the control location to the guys.
19-20 (5th): Up the steep hillside after crossing the creek, Mark still ahead.
20-21 (4th): Here it feels like Will is too strong, and I am ready to let him go. But once we are up on the ridge, trudging along, I find that I can also trudge at the same pace, and catch up. Mark makes a small mistake here, and we are all together now, a pack of four.
21-22 (4th): Down and up again. Will and Mark run faster, but Kenny and I take a better line, and Kenny is quickest to the control, while the rest of us overrun slightly.
22-23 (2nd): Beautiful woods in this part of Surebridge! On the way down we discuss how the four of us are all dads, and Will starts singing children's songs.
23-24 (3rd): We discuss route options, but see nothing good, and I lead the way down the cliffs. On the attack, we overclimb ever so slightly, but are still all together.
24-25 (2nd): We discuss whether to go across the green-covered peninsula or run around. I suggest going through, and it it's not too bad. Crossing the first dam, I scare away at least a couple of snakes, basking in the glorious Harriman sun.
25-26 (3rd): As we run across the dam back to the aid station, we see Patrick Shannon and then Violeta heading out on their final loop. My energy levels seem ok here, and I just take more liquid before heading out.
26-27 (3rd): We cross the road and the power line and cut through to the next trail. Looking up at the blueberry-covered hill rising up in front of us, I ask whether going around on the road might be a more prudent option. After a bit of discussion, the group agrees, and we follow the trail to the road. I think this was a really good decision, especially for preserving some power for the very end of the course. Climbing up from the road, the control is very easy, but it still takes a long time to get there through the blueberry shrubs.
27-28 (2nd): We are drowning in blueberry bushes at the beginning of this leg. I feel some cramps starting behind the kneecap and in the hamstrings whenever I try to push through. I work my way over to the southern side of the slope and eventually find a decent line for running, mostly free of the pesky plants. Everyone settles in more-or-less behind me. We cut down to the trail and head the same way we did at the end of loop 2: the last two legs are exactly the same on both loops. At this point, we discuss whether or not to spring for the finish. Kenny, Will, and I are happy not to. Mark doesn't say much. We are greeted at the control by a smiling Dave Yee, taking pictures.
28-29 (2nd): After we cross the stream and start climbing, Mark announces that he is going to "give 'er", which I assume is Canadian for "try to outsprint the lot of you lard-asses".
29-F (joint 2nd): As soon as are out on the road, Mark glides by. I try to encourage Will to chase him down, but there is not much hope. As soon as we cross the underpass, Mark keeps going on the road, and Will and I cut into the woods. I tell Will that we have a chance and should go for it, and we book it on the clearcut down the hill to the final parking lot. I remembered the finish location from passing through the transition area before, and Will and I are able to hold off Mark at the end and be greeted by smiling Alli and Inara 0 the best possible faces for me to see at the end of a race!
I survived. And did far better than I could have imagined. Three days later, as I write this, I am still very sore, but nothing (knock on wood) seems catastrophically damaged. I had a great time and felt more-or-less strong throughout the race - a feeling I hadn't experienced in years!
Hats off to Greg for a dominant performance. It's great to have him back in the country. A huge thanks to Ching-Hua, Geoff, Joe, Craig, Liisa, Max, and everyone else who helped out. And thanks to my patient wife for being willing to come up to Harriman for a weekend and not even get to race. The Highlander was a blast!