Dare Mighty Things

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." -Teddy Roosevelt

Monday, June 13, 2011

Exeter Trail Races presented by GoLite Footwear

Without question my favorite
course of the trail racing season!
[Photo Gianina Lindsey]
 "Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction." - William James

Exeter, NH -- I eat breakfast with him.  I drive to races with him.  I even warm-up with with him.  There isn't anyone on the face of the planet who I know better than my #1 competition at any event I race.  Yet from time to time he befuddles me.  Does something so unexpected that I wonder how much I really do know him?  I know my greatest competition, and he is I.  As an exercise physiologist I know that if we tested every trail runner finishing in the Top 15 at the Exeter Trail Races presented by GoLite Footwear there would very little physiologic variance in nearly any parameter you'd want to highlight...VO2max, lactate threshold, mitochondrial density. Yet clearly there are differences in performance.  So if physiology can't account for the differences in performance in these particular athletes, then what does?  The quote from above and my own personal experience with the topic (the Exeter Trail Race this weekend as Exhibit A) suggests that the greatest difference in athletes finishing in the Top 15 is fear.  When each of us is faced with the "obstruction", and we all confront it, the athlete(s) who in that moment are not afraid of what lies on the other side...are the ones who are able to continue to push forward and find endless resources of ease and power.  William James' quote is on the footer of my blog.  You'd think of ANYONE, it would be ME who would know first hand the benefit of pushing through the obstruction!  Yet a woeful lack of attention and commitment to the moment, resulted in a mental shortcoming at the instant in which I needed all of my focus on that problem.

The 10 miler at the Exeter Trail Races presented by GoLite Footwear is hosted by acidotic RACING and skillfully directed by teammates Sarah Silverberg and Ri Fahnestock (course designer).  The course that Ri has crafted is quickly becoming one of my favorite trail racing experiences.  A dizzying roller coaster of roots and rocks, the figure 8 layout is as much a test of athleticism as it is aerobic endurance.  In 2010 I had one of my best all-time performances racing the course as hard from start to finish as any race I've ever done.  With a very consistent and successful winter and early spring I had a tremendous amount of confidence heading into the weekend.  Remembering how important getting out quickly was to last year's performance I jumped off the gun and worked to get out front before the singletrack narrowed the 80+ strong field (of 4 & 10 milers).  And apparently it worked...because as we hit the singletrack (20 meters into the race) I was leading the field!  Not exactly what I was looking to do, but I figured that eventually the Top 5 would get tired of my slow pace and find their way around.  For what seemed like way too long they let me lead.  With the abundance of toe grabbing rocks and roots there was no way I was looking back, instead trying to focus on the measured cadence of my pursuers.  Eventually of course they went around but because the 4 & 10 mile races were held on the same course for the first 2+ miles there was really no telling what place I was in when 4-6 of them trucked on by including my teammate and eventual 2nd place finisher Dan Hayden.  Content to let that lead pack do their thing I settled into a comfortably hard pace remembering that 10 miles at "Fort Rock" can be brutal.  I ran alone for a while skillfully picking lines through the boulder fields, root stalks, and hairpin turns.  Shortly after crossing under Rt 101 I caught glimpses in my peripheral vision of another challenge and I recognized the familiar singlet of Coastal Athletic Association.  We raced within 3-5 meters for a mile or so but I could feel him gaining on me.  At some point when he was within shouting distance I spoke back words of encouragement and alerted him to some of the more abrupt directional changes with shouts of "LEFT, LEFT, LEFT!" or "RIGHT, RIGHT, RIGHT!".  Karma always comes back around and any chance I get to spread a little around during a race I never miss an opportunity.  When we finally were running within a meter of each other I learned his name was Tim.  We agreed we'd work together to hold off the hard charging duo of Dave Merkt (Shenipsit Striders) and my aR teammate Dan Dion who had closed the gap and were eager to make it a four car locomotive.  When I sensed Dave & Dan closing I asked Tim if he wanted to go by but he refused instead encouraging me to keep up the pace.  Mere moments later the other two had their grips on us and now I was dragging four instead of just two.  It's incredibly difficult to hold off one challenge on slippery singletrack, but holding off three was damn near impossible.  Feeling as though I had slowed considerably since our company had arrived I veered off the trail and let Tim and Dave race by but to my surprise Dan asked me to pull a little longer.  When we hit the Rt 101 tunnel with less than 1.5 miles to go Dan easily dispatched of me.  It was at that moment that I stared the obstruction squarely in the eyes.  I had a pretty easy choice...stick with Dan and let him pull me to the finish or fade back in fear of an epic collapse.  Without the proper attention to the challenge I squandered the moment.  There wasn't anything physically wrong with me when Dan raced around.  Fear prevented me from tapping into those sources of ease and power James talks about and that I've felt numerous times before.  I managed to keep Dan in sight but never challenged him finishing 7 seconds back in 10th overall (3rd master) in 1:18:19.  Ri switched the course up on us this year so technically it was our first time racing this design.  Had the race been another few hundred meters my good trail/snowshoe racing brother from the Striders John Agosto and my aR teammate Rich Lavers would have surely caught me.  I believe growth comes from learning and on Sunday I learned that I need to write and keep James' quote with me at every race and read it right before I start. 


Next Up: Pinnacle Mountain Bike Race, Newport, NH


  1. Excellent review Chris! Very insightful on the challenges that vex us each run, and every race.

  2. I'd definitely agree that fear(or maybe lack of confidence) can often be a major impediment in successful racing. Keep up the good training and race report writing and we'll see you at Mt. Washington where you'll conquer your fears and race ACIDOTIC.

  3. Chris, thanks for a good read about a a course that I never get to run.