The best race I didn’t start

photo (5)Had one of the strangest racing experiences of my life today.

Woke up early to head to Princeton, Mass., for the 21st annual Wachusett Mountain Race, put on by a local club, the Central Mass Striders. This year’s event was a 6.2 loop up and down the mountain, mostly via auto road. I was looking forward to the race as a training run for next month’s longer, steeper, scarier Mount Washington Road Race.

As it turns out, I should have left the house even earlier. I got caught behind not one, but two accidents on Routes 3 and 2. The one on Route 2 involved shutting down traffic in both directions for what seemed like an eternity.

Long story short, I made it to the Wachusett Mountain Ski Resort about 15 minutes after the starting gun went off. I could see the tail end of the string of runners huffing uphill about a half mile away as I pulled into the parking lot.

I didn’t want to waste a drive, and I certainly didn’t want to miss a key training day with Mt. Washington less than a month away. I walked over to the registration table, explained my situation and asked if it would be OK if I simply ran the course without a number. I expected them to be fine with it, but they went passed fine and went for really cool.

“No problem”, the nice lady at the registration table said, handing me my bib number and T-shirt. “Just run it whenever you’re ready.”

I turned to leave and two other race volunteers, who had spent the morning checking people in, told me they were starting late too, and I could run with them if I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss any of the beginning turns. Talk about nice.

We ran together for about a mile, mostly uphill, before they turned off on a side trail before the real climbing began. For 2.5 miles or so, I “raced” alone, moving uphill through the rain and cold, hearing no one’s footfall but my own. The morning fog had the mountain wrapped tight, and it was difficult to see too far ahead. I felt like the sole survivor in a Stephen King novel.

My solitude was interrupted a handful of times by volunteers coming down from higher up on the mountain. They had assumed the last runner had long passed by, but they stopped to make sure I knew where I was going, and to offer me water (the aid stations having been long packed away).

Near the top, the last remaining volunteer drove beside me, giving me detailed directions for the course down the mountain. Thanks to him, I didn’t get lost on the way back.

The timer was still running when I came through the chute, but the area was empty and there was no one to take my number. (I never bothered to start my watch so I don’t know what my actual running time was. All I know was that I ran up and down a mountain in the rain and it felt good.) I wandered over to the food area, where the registration volunteer from earlier caught my eye.

“You did it!” she said, handing me water and a banana. “That must have been an experience.”

Sure was. Thanks to the volunteers from the Central Mass Striders, what could have been a bummer of a day turned into something really cool. The race will go down in the record books as either a Did Not Start or a Did Not Finish, but it was one to remember nonetheless.

Thanks again to the Central Mass Striders race volunteers for reminding me how nice people can be.

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One Response to The best race I didn’t start

  1. karen nelson says:

    WOW!!! What steadfast determination!!! Thank you for sharing your experience that will motivate others, like myself, to “just do it!!”.

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