Last Saturday was the Bridge of Flowers 10K out in Shelburne Falls, MA. This was the USATF NE Grand Prix 10K, and since I am not planning to run Bay State Marathon in October, this was my last race in the road race GP this summer (I' am planning to do a couple races in the XC series for fun). Unlike Stowe where we made a family trip out of it, this was a day trip so I was up at 4:30 and out the door before 5:00 to meet Dan V. and Kevin T. at the river in Andover. I got there a few minutes early so I put on my shoes and went out for an easy mile or so on the trails to loosen my legs up a little and get the body into gear for the day. Once the other guys got there we hopped into Dan’s truck and headed out.
We pulled into Shelburne Falls at about 8:15 and saw the registration area was pretty mobbed. It didn’t look like the race would be able to start on time based on what we saw, so I wiggled my way inside and used some ninja tactics to reduce the time waiting in line from an estimated 30 minutes down to about 10. I managed to get the chips and bibs for the other guys while I was up there so we snuck out the side and got a little warm up going. We didn’t end up having much time to spare and the national anthem was starting just as we made our way down to the bridge that the race starts on. One of the nice things about the start was that they had a divider in the middle of the road so that guys started on one side and girls starts on the other. This was cool because the women got to be right up on the line as well. And considering they only had gun time (no starting mat), it was a nice move and I think more races should consider it. I snuck into the start line and got back a couple of rows, a new trick of mine to make sure I don’t go out too fast. Before long we heard some cow bell and we were off (I got a fever! And the only prescription is MORE COWBELL!)
The course overview I got from everyone focused almost entirely on the mountain in mile 3, but I found the first couple of miles to be pretty challenging with a few nice hills, quite a few turns, and typical grand prix jockeying for position. At about a mile I got a good view of the field in front of me and quickly counted. I was in 13th place but moving quickly and comfortable right behind Brandon Newbould. I think we hit the mile in about 5:04 which was a little surprising considering the turns and hills but it didn’t seem that bad. Mile 2 was more twisting and turning, but not as much rolling that I remember and we came through in 10:14, after having passed a couple of people. I pulled up to JJ, who was somewhat incognito in a Polar jersey straight out of the early 80’s. He must raid Dunham’s closet before races or something. We ran by some fantastic supporters at several points along the course in the form of Justin Fyffe and Kevin Gorman who both sat this one out with injuries. I’m pretty sure I flipped KG off at one point late in the race for no particular reason, other than the fact that he was on a bicycle and I was wishing I was on one too.
Shortly after the 2 mile marker we came back across the bridge (which was great because it is right in the middle of town and the crowd support was really awesome. You can tell the community really gets into the race and that always makes it a great time.) and after a couple of quick turns I heard a drummer pounding away to welcome us to “the hill”. Critenden hill climbs over 400 feet in a bit over half a mile. I don’t think I’ve ever walked up anything that steep, and I know I’ve never tried to run up anything like it. To be honest, I’d probably be nervous about riding a bike DOWN it. This is probably the one place where having run up Mt. Washington is an advantage. Too bad I never have. I got passed by a good handful of people on the way up the hill, as I had no real choice but to gear it way down and just try to avoid the embarrassment of walking during a championship race. Believe me, the thought crossed my mind. The sickest thing about the hill is that there are several turns on it and without previewing the course I didn’t know when the torture would end. I kept telling myself the peak was just around the next turn. It wasn’t. But finally I caught a glimpse of a man playing the accordion under a bouquet of balloons and felt pretty sure that he was either there to assure us all that we had lost our minds or he was the marker on the course located at the peak of the hill. Thankfully it was the latter.
Shortly after the peak of the hill is the mile 3 marker, which I passed in 17:02, meaning that the 3rd mile was 6:48. Seemed like about 12:48. I was too delirious to do the math at that point but I knew it was slow. I also knew that everyone else was going to start flying down the rest of the course and I had better get the legs back into high gear as well. After focusing on resuming a smooth breathing pattern for a minute while picking up speed, I was soon flying down the quick descents, testing the limits of how fast my legs would let me go. I consider myself to be pretty poor at climbing, but my long legs generally serve me pretty well going down. I gradually started catching up to the guys who had pulled away from me or passed me on the hill. I got to mile 4 in 21:42, which meant that the last mile was 4:40. I was back into about 10th place by my estimate, but wasn’t really sure. Later in the race there were a couple of spectators calling out places to us, which is cool. I started to reconnect with Brandon, as well as Ryan Carerra and Dan Princic. The four of us seem to all be in pretty much identical shape, because we’ve all been duking it out in the chase pack for the last few GP races. While this is good for the clock, it hurts like hell because there is no letting up and the second half of the race is pretty much trading punches and keeping the pedal to the floor.
Somewhere around here I pulled back up even with Dan and we were about 10 meters back from Brandon. We passed Fyffe who was shouting encouragement from his bike and I finally realized it was him. I had heard him a few times before but wasn’t sure who it was. That got me excited to try and make a move on Dan and catch Brandon. Dan didn’t want to give up his position without a fight though, so we both were hammering pretty much all out down the course, trading places several times. You have to convince yourself that anyone around you is the enemy during the heat of battle, but I really value these guys and consider myself to be competing WITH them, not AGAINST them. I know I wouldn’t run as well by myself, and probably most guys rely on good competition to get the best out of themselves as well. Dan and I finally got back into contact with Brandon right around 5 miles. I missed the split but it must have been about 26:50? I was fighting hard but honestly didn’t know if I would be able to maintain all the way to the finish. The course was taking its toll on me.
I managed to pull ahead of Brandon early in the last mile I think and tried to run scared the rest of the way. I was trying to sniff the finish line from a mile out, but it was tough. There was another red shirt about 25 meters in front of me and I went by Justin for the last time who encouraged me to catch him. I tried to put Dan, Ryan and Brandon out of my head and just focus on this red shirt, hoping he would show the slightest sign of weakness. He didn’t. And I could still hear the guys behind me. They weren’t packing it in either. We came down another steep little hill as we turned left before making our way down a little street lined with spectators. There had been nice crowd support for much of the race but I could feel their numbers swelling and knew we must be getting back close to the bridge, which we would cross one more time at the beginning of the final straightaway for the finish line. As I turned the last left hand turn to cross the bridge, I took my only peek back of the race, hoping to see nothing close, but I saw red, and knew that Brandon was trying hard to hunt me down. From there I hammered across the bridge and through the crowded and very loud street up to the finish line. As I approached I saw 32:57 and knew that I wasn’t going to sneak under 33, but it didn’t really matter. This course isn’t about time. The only way to run this course is just the way we did…for place. I finished 6th in 33:03 (1 second ahead of Brandon, who closed most of the small gap I had on the final straight) which I was very pleased with. The goal was top 10, and I was very happy to succeed in that regard. A few of the normal GP contenders missed the race, but I was really happy because I managed to eek out in front of the guys I’ve been doing battle with all summer.
Guys quickly came barreling in and before long the finish area looked like a war zone with guys showing their effort on their faces and smiling at the insanity of the course at the same time. The CMS crew gradually collected and chatted about the race. We figured BAA had won it pretty easily, but we knew it might be pretty tight for 2nd place between us and Whirlaway. It wasn’t until after a nice cool down and a swim in the river with JJ and Mike Quintal that we saw Steve Vaitones walking around with the team scores verifying them with each team. He showed us the report and his tentative results had our team total 1 SECOND ahead of Whirlaway. So with the top 5 guys scoring, that means a total of 50K came down to 1 second! If that isn’t a lesson for everyone to push all the way to the finish, I don’t know what is! I think there may be some obscure rule about going to the tenths of a second when the scores are really close because a day later a few guys had their time changed by 1 second (so probably rounded up to the next second) and the team margin went from 1 second to 2.
After a nice cool down and a swim as I mentioned, we got some snacks and waited around for the awards. I expected them to hand out prizes, and top 10 paid cash, so I wanted to grab that before leaving. Turns out they mail the money and only the top 3 had to be there for the podium, so we stood around for about an hour for nothing. This was probably the only disappointment of the day. After that we got back on the road, stopping for some Taco Bell on our way. For the most part the drive was nice and Shelburne Falls is a really pretty area. All in all, it was a great day!