I decided, literally this morning, to drive myself to South Amherst for a nice little race at the Bramble Hill Farm. My Pilates instructor told me about it few weeks ago, but I was very unsure whether to participate in it; I haven’t run anything since the Chicago Marathon, and even cross-training is lagging behind: I am between a very cautious recovery and applying for jobs.
I am not trained for racing, but this morning, waking up at the bright colors of a New England fall, I felt the lure of running — some call it the running bug, but for me it’s a lure as I’m enviously watching undergrads running through campus.

Post race festivities at the Bramble Hill Farm

I wanted to go more to check the status of my recovery than to race the race. In the last few weeks I had a nagging pain on the Achilles, which is a bit of a concern, but this morning, as I was trying my best to keep pace through the beautiful Bramble Hill Farm property, the tendon didn’t complain a bit and I’m probably ready to slowly resume training — my goal would be to be at or around my base mileage of 50mi/week by the first week of December.

The race wasn’t my usual cup of tea. I’ve always and only run road races and never have I ventured into the territory of cross-country (XC): for sure the soft terrain was great and fun to run on, but, as inexperienced and untrained as I am now, it slowed me down and took away a lot of speed (isn’t it wonderful how physics works even in the most distant of a situation?).
But it wasn’t only my very first cross-country race, it was also the first time I’ve ever run a steeplechase! That’s what English-style means: steeplechase! [steeplechase è come vengono chiamate le siepi in inglese.]

The length of the race wasn’t clear at all. On the website, it’s written that the course is approximately 3 miles long, but honestly I didn’t care much about the length and my time at all: I didn’t even bring my stopwatch!

In the words of the organizers the race

will test your mettle as you meet hay barriers and fences during this muddy 3 mile (approximately) course.

As I was running, I didn’t really know what to do with the hay bails. At first I ran around them, but that was met with a strong you must not skip the bails!, so I faced my road-runner fear of spraining both ankles at once and had a lot of fun jumping bails. And the fences? No jumping, but instead climbing a ladder and jump on the other side; sounds easy enough, but it’s surely not when you try to rush through it as you gasp for air.

I waned as the race proceeds: starting off too fast was the major culprit, but I also lack terribly on short distance racing and training — in a marathon, I run at a strong but comfortable pace; here it’s just running at the fastest pace you can. More speedwork is surely needed, and possibly more 5k ~ 10k races.

By the way, I finished 10th (field, 110+) in 20:59.

[Riassunto in italiano]
Sabato ha partecipato ad una corsa campestre; come probabilmente i molti che hanno iniziato a correre tardi e soprattutto che hanno iniziato in città, ho sempre corso per strada e mai mi sono avventurato off-road.
La gara si svolgeva nella proprietà di una fattoria appena più a sud di Amherst ed il fatto che ci si può arrivare in dieci minuti da casa aggiungeva molto al già forte richiamo alla corsa; avevo quindi deciso di andarci, più per fare il punto della situazione delle mie gambe dopo la Chicago Marathon che per “correrci davvero.” In più la corsa era pubblicizzata non solo come corsa campestre, ma e soprattutto come corsa campestre all’inglese, ovvero come 5km siepi: non solo il terreno era imprevedibile per le piccole pozze d’acqua e le radici delle piante sul limitare col bosco, ma anche per le balle di fieno da saltare (o forse meglio dire sormontare). Nell’ultimo miglio, il percorso passava per una staccionata che bisogna passare via una piccola scaletta da cui si passava uno alla volta.
Sicuramente non la mia tipica gara, ma un gran divertimento. Ho finito in 20:59 (la lunghezza era data come approssimativamente di 3 miglia, ovvero un centinaio di metri in meno di 5km); sensazione più strana è stata l’aver finito decimo (su un centinaio di persone): non mi è mai capito di finire così in testa …