As my recovery from shoulder surgery continues, it was time to take on the next touchpoint in the process – my first race since my injury. Having been warned by my physical therapist to lay off the really long workouts and races for a while, 10K seemed like about the right distance to begin my comeback. What better place to being my comeback than my long-time favorite race, the Goshen Gallop? I also knew that I was still far from the condition that I was in pre-injury, so any visions of glory and podium finishes were clearly out of the question – it was really a question of whether I could even finish this run over challenging terrain feeling good. Part of my getting psyched for a race involves listening to the right music as I drive to the starting line. As I punched in various songs on my iPhone, I remembered a song which a friend suggested for the same purpose about 5 years ago, when I was preparing to run a marathon after a long layoff, knowing that I was not in shape for it. So, I drove up to the race, with Flor-ida blasting from the speakers of my Beetle, trying to will my body to do its best.
I have written up the Goshen Gallop at Blueberry Hill a few times over the years since I began this blog. most recently in 2011, although I run it most years it seems. As is the case with most races, entry comes with a t-shirt, having run this race many times, I have a LOT of Gallop t-shirts. I have made a habit of digging deep into the collection and pulling out a really old race t-shirt to wear on race day, and for this one, I managed to dig up the oldest shirt I have, from the first time I ran this race in 1989, and put it on. Yeah, it is getting a little threadbare, and it features the name of the race’s sponsor “The Brandon Savings Bank” quite prominently on the back. Of course, this bank no longer exists, so we’re talking old! A short time before the race, I headed down the road for a short warm-up jog, and returned just as Tony, the owner and innkeeper of the Blueberry Hill Inn was on the PA system giving the pre-race pep-talk. As soon as he saw me coming up the road, he announced “And here’s Jeff with the oldest race shirt in existence..” (or something of the sort – at least he didn’t announce me as the oldest runner in existence, right?)
One of the great things about being a regular at a race like this is the camaraderie between the participants – many of the the folks there were people that I run with regularly, some were folks that I know as local runners, and a few are folks I seem to only chat with once a year at this race. It all makes for good conversation before, during, and after the race. One of the not-so-good things about the race this year, or at least one of the things which make it interesting, has been the excessive rainfall this summer, which I knew would lead to a very muddy course. I was not disappointed! As the race was ready to start, it was a typical sunny summer afternoon, and not too hot given that it was up in the mountains, but there was an ominous cloud to the south. A few of us wondered out loud as we stood at the starting line, waiting for the race to start, if the rains would come before the race was over.
The race starts off on the Goshen-Ripton road, on a slight downhill, leading most of the adrenaline-charged runners to start off at way too fast a clip. Then, the first slow, relentless climbing climbing begins, before a sharp left turn back into the woods to begin the more challenging climb up to blueberry meadows on the flanks of Hogback Mountain. In true Goshen Gallop form, we, the runners, were greeted by a country fiddler at the high point of this section. On a posting a few weeks ago, I reported that there weren’t any wild blueberries up there anymore, but I am happy to report that I was very wrong in this. The hillside was full of pickers, who probably wondered why all the people were in such a hurry today. I did not bring my camera with me during the race, but a race photographer took some lovely shots as the runners crested this section and posted them on the Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center Facebook page.
After a short descent down to the forest service road and a water stop, the climbing began again, and headed into the woods at around a mile and a half, beginning the second major climb of the race on forest trails. Already, I was beginning to seriously feel my lack of conditioning, and even slowed down to a walk for a few seconds, atypical for me this early in a race. But – the idea was to finish and feel good, so I listened to my aching legs before picking up the pace again for the plunge down to the halfway point behind the Inn and the second water stop. At this point, the 5K races went left to finish their race, and the 10K racers took a right turn up the longest hill of the race. I was hoping that a lot of those around me were so exhausted that they would call it a day at this point, but alas, they were on the mission to complete the longer race, and blew by me on the next ascent.
At this point, the skies started to get ominously darker, and my running got even slower. At the 6K mark we reached my favorite section of the course – the infamous mud bogs on the trail! Now THIS is trail running…..I must confess that I am disappointed on drier years when this short section is dry and fast. At the 7 km point, I was past most of the mud, and finally got to enjoy the last long descent down to the forest service roads. After a few moments of drizzle, the sky opened up with the long-threatened downpour, which conveniently washed off most the mud from my legs and shoes. The last mile in, on the Goshen-Ripton road is usually my least favorite part of the race, as it can be sunny and hot, and the numerous “false summits” on the road trick you into thinking you are about to hit the finish line, only to see another hill in front of you. The cold, driving rain was a refreshing contrast however. Chugging up what I realized was the final hill on the course, I looked down at my watch, not at all surprised to see my slowest time ever for this race, but hey, I finished, and it was fun as always. And – there was even an ambulance at the finish line in case my confidence was misplaced.
Once the downpour subsided, the post race party and feed began, and was delicious as always, made even better by the company of a few friends who are rather accomplished home brewers. This party is held in a small meadow of domestic blueberries, which didn’t seem to be ripe quite yet, and of course the feast is only complete after the dessert of blueberry cobbler and ice cream.
For the first time in a few years, I didn’t win my age group, so I couldn’t bring home my prize, a box of chocolate chip cookies, but fortunately I came up lucky, not once, but twice, in the post-race raffle bringing home two bags of really good coffee. Sometimes karma works for you! I was looking for a way to get a picture of my mangy old t-shirt without doing a typical selfie pose, so I chose this reflection in my car window before driving home, satisfied with my first race in far too long.