I got to the parking lot with plenty of time to spare and did a short warm-up on the beginning of the course. Five days earlier I had been out here and the amount of snow was discouraging. What a difference five days makes! Other than a heavy patch of snow on the first turn, the trails were in great shape. Some mud/water as to be expected but really good overall. I was psyched. There was also a lot of talent that showed up to compete. Greg Hammett came down from NH and the usual WTAC/TNT characters were in attendance (though Chris Garvin was noticeably absent). The Rhode Runners, who I thought might be wary of such a long trail race, were out in force and even ultra-badass Ben Nephew was there.
Back at the start we all gathered around Race Director Mike Galoob as he explained that the course would be very different from year's past. He changed it up to avoid some sections that might not hold up under the heavy foot traffic and also added some very challenging boulder sections. He emphasized how many flags he and his helpers had laid out and I was ready to get to work. We all lined up and were quickly off down the brief straightaway on the New London Turnpike. I tried to keep my pace in check and stuck behind Jeff Walker as we hit the singletrack.
|Vying for position before the singeltrack - Photo by Scott Mason|
Pretty soon the pace was feeling like work but I didn't want to fall back for fear of getting left behind. Still after about a mile I let some space open up between myself and Jeff & Chris Fox. I heeded Jonny's words from earlier that it's a long course and I had to run my own race. As we approached Carr Pond I didn't see any orange flags but the lead runners seemed to know the way so I followed them as Jeff was doing ahead of me. At the ridge line along the eastern side of the pond there were branches and limbs in the way which seemed odd but whatever.
As we approached the pond I could see a familiar bearded trail runner named Eric. He had been behind me on the singletrack but had gone off course and ended up ahead of the lead pack. He waited and resumed his place behind me. I wasn't surprised at this as there hadn't been many orange flags. Soon we were back on singletrack and I began to catch up to Jeff and Chris Fox. I did my trademark powerhiking on the hills which served me well and helped me pass Fox near the Pinto trail. We passed another fella who had skipped a section of the course and at the mile 4 aid station I downed a couple waters.
The next section was fun with some big climbs and several water hazards. We passed Scott Mason snapping pics and as we hit the ridgeline trail I sensed that Jeff and I were pulling away from Eric and Chris Fox. I passed Jeff up on the ridge but he bombed past me on a very steep downhill. It was still early but the pace seemed manageable and I was looking forward to working with Jeff and seeing how the rest of the race was going to unfold. We followed the orange flags down to the carriage road that circles the pond and continued on the road.
|Powerhiking up a steep hill - Photo by Scott Mason|
After a few moments we came to a big fork in the road and I knew something was wrong. There were no orange flags, no arrows, no indication of which way to go. We continued on briefly but it was a section we had already run near the beginning. We turned around and backtracked, picking up Eric and Fox in the process. We went back to the last orange flag we had seen. Now our party had grown as Gunshow and a few others had caught up to us. We didn't know where to go. We returned to the carriage road and saw a singletrack to the left but there were no flags to be seen. Back at the fork we took a left and basically retraced our steps to the start of the race. It wasn't the right way to go but at this point I was frustrated and knew the race was over.
Once we got back to the New London Turnpike I wanted to keep running to at least get some decent mileage for the day. Eric and another guy name Lance were happy to run for another hour and we continued on. We eventually found the course near the beaver dam and ended up doing the last few miles of it. It was as difficult and awesome as advertised and even though I was taking it easy it wore me out. We followed the course back to the finish where I ate, drank and talked about the flag thievery with everyone.
So basically some asshole(s) stole the flags that Mike and company had worked so hard to lay out. The lead pack of seven guys managed to stay on track thanks to Jonny Hammett who had helped mark the course. I think Galoob had gone out to do some damage control and direct some people in the right direction. But for most of us the race was derailed after six miles. A real shame because this was probably the most challenging trail race in Rhode Island. Once again thanks to Galoob and family for another great winter trail series. It was a tough winter for running but he put together another season of badass trail races.
I hope Mike decides to hold this race again next year. And come next year we will do what it takes to ensure the course remains marked. We'll get camouflage. We'll get deer blinds. We'll get drones and robot monkeys. This aggression will not stand!