This Sunday (April 26, 2009) I’ll head north to Ward Pound Ridge Reservation to take on the Leatherman’s Loop, one of the most-popular (and muddy, and wet) trail races in this area. Shockingly, this race filled up with it’s limit of 900 entrants only 16 hours after online registration opened this year. I wonder if race organizers will need to start going to a lottery system soon.
It’s well worth browsing around the race website, it’s a bit irreverent and includes a video of parts of the course shot from the runner’s perspective. The most ironic thing about the video is that it doesn’t even really show how difficult some parts of the course actually can be on race day. Crossing rivers and splashing through mud aside, it’s that darned sand hill climb that really does you in. I used to run up the thing (in fact, years ago there were TWO of these, but one was found to contain a rare species of plant and is now off-limits), now I power-walk it (and sometimes pass people ahead of me who are trying to run).
I’m not sure how many times I’ve run this race, the online archive of results is sadly incomplete. I’ve got all my races recorded in my running log, I should go back through and count them up. It’s got to be close to ten times (update: I counted ... it's actually only five times, which surprised me, seems like I've run it more times than that ... maybe just because I like it so much). I’ve managed to slip into the top 10 a few times, and I think I won the masters division once or twice, but I don’t expect anything like that this weekend. Not only am I getting just a wee bit older, but my training is focused on longer distances right now, and my left hip has been rather tight lately. At this point, I’m no speed-demon and I won’t be able to keep up with the young turks who can attack and accelerate for this short distance of only 10 kilometers. But I’ll give it my best shot.
One worry is the heat. Looks like it could be record high temperatures this Sunday, possibly near 90 degrees F. Horrible. Stupid global warming. I can’t recall ever running Leatherman’s Loop while wearing sunscreen. Usually it’s rainy, windy, and miserable (i.e., perfect). I’m not well-adapted to running in the heat, especially when it comes on suddenly. At least it will make the river crossings feel deliciously cool!
My favorite memory of Leatherman’s Loop? One year I was running strong and working my way through the field. At about the halfway mark, I put in a 300 meter surge and barely managed to pass three runners just before we dipped left down into a particularly swampy section (just before the sand hill). No sooner had I made my move when I found myself face down in a mud puddle, maybe 5-6 inches deep : black, slimy, stinky swamp mud. I had tripped over some hidden obstacle, probably just a root. I didn’t even really have time to get my arms out, so I was literally flat on my belly and slurping mud. Of course, all three of those guys went right past me while I was lolling about in the mire, so all that work I’d done to reel them in and pass them had gone for naught. What could I do? I just got up and got after them again. I managed to reel them all back in, one at a time, the last one right after the sand hill. But I finished that race with black mud caked all over me, even in my hair.
I look forward to this race every year for the spirit, the course, and the friends I see at the start and during the race. Of course, I’d like it even more if it was 10 or 12 (or more) miles longer …