As we say in Italy: non c’è due senza tre. (Good things come in three’s is a rough equivalent.) After two weekends of racing, I needed a third race to finish August in glory: the Tomato Trot in Granby, a 5k XC race in its 9th year, felt about right.
I got a taste for cross-country with the weekly appointment of the Northampton 5k XC Series, and the Red Fire Farm Tomato Festival of which the race is part sounded like a fun activity for a lazy Saturday morning.
Before going to the race, I looked online to previous results to have an idea of how fast or slow the course is. I sent an email to Garth who won it in 2004 and the description he gave me sounded pure cross-country: rough footing, tall grass, and knee-high water. I wasn’t much worried for the latter since it has been pretty dry in the last couple of weeks, but his description gave me the impression of a tough course and I wasn’t disappointed.
I warmed up jogging around the start of the course and it was rough: the course runs through the fields which are left uneven by the heavy machines used by the farm, and moreover the tall grass was hiding good part of the course making footing even harder.
I hate and love the start line: the pre-race tension, the expectations, the glances towards possible competitors. It has been a long time since I didn’t know what to expect from the field: in Western Mass. I recognize few faces and names of the local racing scene and in NYC the colored bib gives away one’s prowess. On Saturday, I didn’t have any of these visual cues. I scouted the competition: anybody looking fit and around my age would be too fast, I chose a 40 something gentleman sporting a WTC (Westfield, maybe?) singlet.
At the gun, I followed the WTC runner throughout the perilous course: I decided to follow someone instead of pacing myself, because of my lack of experience in XC races and because, in this way, I wouldn’t have to think too much– just follow the guy and make him make all the decisions.
We picked up at a good clip. The course was as exhausting as it felt during the warm up, all quick turns, uneven ground, and grass: all force applied is dissipated by the grass and we have to work twice as hard to keep the pace (I indeed heard a few comments afterwards on how slow and exhausting it was). After a couple of miles running across tomato fields and roosters, we run on road for a half a mile to get back to the farm. I could have picked up the pace and maybe pass the WTC guy but I decided to use the easier road-running to rest the legs a bit: once back at the farm, we were told, we would have still to run a 1-mile long loop around the fields. I tried to maintain my position in the field but I was passed by a Hartford TC and the girl who eventually won the women’s race.
It was fun and exhausting. Paraphrasing Aaron: running XC sucks more.
I finished 10th overall (of 94) in 21:49, a good minute slower than my PR at Noho XC.