I will be missing the running scene of Western Mass. When I moved here 4 years ago, I was truly surprised by the volume of local races and talent present in the Valley. I join SMAC and I met remarkable people both on and out of the road; if I got faster, I know whom to thank.
During the summer, the Valley thrives with running series: the SMAC Race Series and the Northampton XC 5k.
The latter is a fun, local series held every Tuesday at 6:30pm at the Northampton Community Gardens. The route bridges between cross-country and trail: 5k long, it’s not an easy course and it took me a few times to get a handle on it. I learned a lot about racing by running it pretty regularly for the past 3 months: I learn the course and the people running it, when to hold and when to pick the pace.
I’ll be missing this little gem.
The course runs alongside a tiny stream, next to the Community Gardens and Smith College. It’s well marked, full of turns, and uphills and downhills. Topologically, it’s two concentric loops: the first shorter than the other.
It’s very easy to start fast: from the parking lot, we runs downhill on one of the several trails crossing the area. Footing is a bit tricky but not terrible, and it’s mostly a mental battle to hold one’s horses not to burn oneself before even reaching the first km mark.
After this first steep downhill, the course turns and goes straight uphill on a narrow trail flanking one of the meadows. Back in the woods, another hairpin turn brings us back towards the meadow and to the completion of the first loop.
Being back at at the start, we pick up speed as we run once again the steep downhill at the bottom of which is the half-way mark. This time instead of turning and running along the meadow, the route continues downhill following the river. A bigger meadow signals the second mile mark and we start to run back towards to the finish line, but before all that is the steepest uphill: a short vertical incline that makes you forget any other uphill and wonder why on Earth I’m doing this every week!?.
The common lore is that, after this final uphill battle, it’s all flat to the finish line, but reality is far from it. The “flat” course is slightly uphill; we just don’t notice much by comparison. It’s too late to complain and we’ll suck it up towards the finish line: some tries to hold position, some to gain some, some just hope to get to the end.
The finish line is there, at the end of the parking lot. Times are shouted, we pick our position trying to –eventually– catch breath.
The first run was on May 29 and I clocked 21:42. I didn’t believe I could have broken 21 by the end of the summer, but a somewhat constant improvement brought the time down, closer and closer to 21 minutes. At the end of August I broke 21 for the first time, certainly helped by better weather conditions. After that, once I knew I can, it was a race to ever faster times; I’m pretty proud of my PR of 20:33, a good minute faster than my worst time clocked 3 months ago.