I ran the Highlander yesterday for the third time. I had an ok run - nothing special, and I faded near the end. The first map was generally fine; I hung in a pack with Boris, Kenny, Matthias, feet, and others. They pulled away from me a bit on the trail run from 6 to 7, but I caught up the 80-100m when they made a small mistake at 8. I stayed with the pack through 11, but I fell off on the ascent into 12, and a few minutes fumbling around in the green at 12 meant the pack was gone as I ran to 13. I struggled punching through the mountain laurel on Rockhouse in a few places - at 12, on 12-13, and on the ascent into 27 for the third KotM leg.
The trail run was sublime; I was in cruise mode rather than race mode, but it hit me that I was spending a crisp Fall day running through Harriman. The wear and tear caught up with me a bit: I rolled my left ankle moderately about halfway through the trail leg, and near the end of the trail run, I stepped on a pebble with my left arch, triggering some acute pain in my plantar fascia that required stretching and some ginger hiking. Also near the end of the trail run, I came across a wayward adult from the second map looking for 12 who was clearly confused; I took 20s and pointed out where we were. I wouldn't ordinarily do this during a race except with a kid, but the Highlander is more of a group struggle, and he did not seem competitive.
The last loop on Surebridge had the best technical orienteering; I was very tentative for the first few controls because of the PF, but I opened up a bit near the end and picked off the Hubsch and one or two other orienteers. Crossing back onto Rockhouse, I made the dubious decision to go straight up the nose to 27 through a set of clearings - which turned out to be overgrown with blueberry. I considered running around on the road - which I think would have been the best route - but I had plenty of company on the ascent, with an adventure racer guy, Peter Z, and Matthias. I pulled away on my run along the ridge to 28, and when I picked up the trail, I noticed Matthias about 75m behind me.
The most amusing episode of the race occurred near the end: I decided, given the cooperative spirit of the Highlander, that it would be fun to finish with Matthias. I slowed on the trail ascent into 28 to let him catch up, and chatted a bit - though I didn't actually mention my plan to finish together. We arrived at 28 about simultaneously - showing up in Dave Yee's photos together, but he started pulling away as we dodged through the mountain laurel to 29. I figured I could hang with him, but he pushed into 29 with more urgency and was gone by the time I hit the road. Oh well; it's not like it really mattered the order we finished, 50 minutes behind the winner.
Given my fitness and technical training at this point, I would have been satisfied with a 3:30 finish. This result is a bit disappointing, though had things not fallen off the rails with the left foot and the poor route choice into 27, I think 3:30 was very feasible. Kudos to Boris especially for getting into shape so quickly, and to Greg for a solid win.