At the start, no one wanted to be at the head of the pack and only one guy actually went up and toed the line. I thought this was somewhat surprising since I recognized at least a couple of guys I knew were pretty fast. Maybe there were enough unknowns to them that even they were skittish? Anyway, I wasn't shy and went up to the front, knowing there was plenty of room and time for people to pass me in the first 400 meters.
With a "go!" from Will the race director we were off, zipping quietly along a wide, soft, flat stretch between rows of towering pines. Even keeping myself way in check I still found myself in second place. Those experienced fast guys apparently really know how to not go out too fast on a tough course (the director told me there's 1500 feet of climbing in the 7 miles). I slowed way down and let a few pass. Soon we veered right into an open grassy lawn/field, crossed the road with an assist from a volunteer, and got onto the singletrack trail network where the climbing began.
About a quarter mile further along there were about 10 people ahead of me and suddenly someone behind us called out that we'd all taken a wrong turn that hadn't been marked. We all turned and came back to the junction. For me it was only about a 20 second loss but for the leaders it must have taken minutes off their finish time. They all re-passed me in the next mile. Everyone seemed pretty relaxed about it though; just part of the game with trail racing, and to be expected from time to time. But still. Ouch for them.
Perhaps a mile and half into the race, there's a slight break in the climbing and you get to descend for a bit before beginning the steeper climb up to the scenic view ledges. Most of us slowed to a power hiking pace here. I felt strong despite having moved several days before and missing a couple of training days in favor of lifting boxes and cleaning apartments. I found myself loosely settling in with a group of five or six people who I would occasionally pass and/or be passed by for the rest of the race.
From the scenic viewpoints the trail gradually descends to an unmanned water station at mile four. I noticed that the people just ahead of me passed it by, but I took a quick sip here. Unfortunately, this required some fumbling to get a cup out of the packaging and I kind of wish I'd just sucked it up and gone on. After that there's some more climbing but nothing too strenuous. In general, I really enjoyed the course. Lots of variety and a great example of fun, somewhat challenging but not too brutal trail running. There was one lengthy section where three of us hadn't seen a marker in what felt like far too long and for a few minutes we kept running ahead thinking we might have to turn around. Finally we came up one of the white lime arrows on the ground and were able to breathe easier. Around mile 6, you begin a cruising descent through a conifer forest. There are a couple of twist and turns in the trail, along with a few rooty sections, but for the most part you can really let loose here.
I finished strong, with enough energy for a good sprint kick back down the pine rows, and took thirteenth place. Then I immediately went to my car and grabbed my camera and was able to take photos of all the rest of the finishers after 16th place. Full photo gallery at Northeast Race Photo.
a father/daughter duo on the last stretch of the 2013 People's Forest 7-Mile Trail Race