Written by Alex Jospe
It’s a mass start orienteering race, and in this one, following is allowed. Thus, with hordes of West Point cadets on the line (generally strong runners, but not so good at the fine-scale navigation required by orienteering…), I knew that there may be lots of folk ahead of me today. I was hoping to find that my legs had recovered from last weekend’s 50k, but I hadn’t really tested them in a hard workout since then. At the very least, I come into this race armed with the best shoes I’ve got -the Oroc280s. Bring it, Harriman!
We flip the maps, and are presented with a single control, on the other side of the map, about 3km south of my current location. Wow! We all start running, and within about 100m of the start, I slam my knee into a pointy stick, hard enough to make me nauseous, and I stumble over to a rock and sit down to try and assess my condition. I haven’t exactly made it too far, and I have another 26km of rough terrain. At this point, a Bulgarian woman who has many medals at World Masters’ come up to me, and basically tells me to get over myself, rub the knee hard and keep moving. You don’t argue with Pavlina. I get up and stumble along rubbing my knee, and eventually the pain subsides and I get on with the race.
At this point, I’m behind a herd of cadets, and it’s sort of cute how they all huddle together to have a pow-wow at every decision point, but I don’t want to be behind them, especially because their group includes two girls, and I want to beat all the girls. I eventually figure out my head and get moving fast, taking a gamble on a small trail through high blueberry bushes over a mountain, and this was a gorgeous little trail, that gets my head back in the game. As I finally get to control 1, I’ve run into some guys that I’ve run with before, and I know that my shenanigans hadn’t set me too far back.
I flip the map for controls 2 -10, and see that the course setter is just sending us straight back north, at least this time with a couple controls along the way. Slogging up a rocky hill to #2, I run into another herd of cadets, this time all young men, and they’re also moving in a pack. The rocks are getting to me, and where it’s not loose scree and boulders it’s waist-high blueberry, and this just makes the terrain extremely physical. I’m suffering, and I feel like I haven’t even started racing yet. I enter a bit of a low spot, and the cadet herd passes me back. There are two old-but-accurate runners near me, and I am unable to shake one of them. Making a 1-2min mistake at #10 means he closes another hard-earned gap, and I give a little mental shrug and race my race.
I then hit the “transition”, and the next map is a trail run, on a not-orienteering map. This is fun, because it is neither rocks nor blueberry, and I drop my orienteering buddy, Daniel, and fall into that fantastic “zone”, just cruising down the trail and knowing that I am closing in on the cadet pack and other better navigators who aren’t as physically strong. I suspect that I am leading for the women, but I don’t know for sure, so I keep the gas on. Unfortunately, I lose the streamers somewhere along the way, and have to backtrack, losing 8-10 minutes, and ending up behind Daniel again. The trail transitions from real trail to just streamers in the forest, and this means more blueberry and rocks, and my give-a-damn has just cracked after making such a big mistake. I’d be mad at myself if I weren’t so damn tired.
But now I am on the last map, and there is still a bunch of trail running, as well as some serious climbs. I manage to close to the gap to Daniel by control 14, and attempt to run away from him again, but I just can’t shake him. We start the King of the Mountain climb, and I get stuck in some massive rock piles, while he takes a better route, and we’re together again at the top. I take a moment to admire the view -miles of near wilderness, with NYC skyline behind. This! This is awesome!
Then it’s back to stumbling down a hill. I pass my friend Ian, thoroughly bonked, but I have no food to give him, and could use an extra gel myself. I know that I am tired now, and I know that the only option is to be utterly flawless in my navigation. I slowly pull away from Daniel, who is also in rough shape, and thankfully this section of the forest doesn’t have quite as much blueberry, so I am able to keep moving. I spike the remaining controls, but take a poor route across a river right near the end, and Daniel is back behind me, forcing a “sprint” to the finish. I held him off, but it was not pretty. In terms of effort, this 26km through the forest was considerably harder than the Pisgah 50k. Maybe I wasn’t quite recovered yet from the Pisgah, but I think it’s just yet another reminder of how physical orienteering can be!
I won a pie (I sense a theme!), and somehow managed to win the Queen of the Mountain, too. I think it may be time for a rest, now.