43. Mutt Strutt, 2009

Here I am, on a Bunch of Hills

It had to happen eventually. Things warmed up enough for me to try out a running event in Vermont. Oh, I’ve seen people running around since I got here, but I’m not frost-resistant yet, so I tend to think of them as crazy people.

The Mutt Strutt is a fun little event which benefits the Humane Society. Instead of making allowances for people who want to bring their dogs, this event encouraged it. In fact, it was the standard. There were dogs everywhere.

Unlike most of the events I’ve participated in, this one wasn’t held on Saturday. Not on Saturday, the 25th of April, when the weather in Vermont came about as close as it can to the weather in Charleston, South Carolina. No, this race was held on Sunday, the next day, when everything was kind of overcast, kind of wet, and kind of cold. I’m not bitter about that, though. Not even a little. I’m a “glass is half full” kind of guy. Oh, and I have this bridge to sell you if you’re interested…

This was supposed to be a three-mile course, but the race organizers measured it at 3.1 with their bicycles. They’re not sure how accurate any of it was, but this was mainly a fun run so they just rolled with it. Because of this, I consider this race to be a 5K.

Arrival at the Site.

Race Signs
For a moment, I thought I missed it all.

Most of the races around here are about thirty miles east of Burlington. I don’t know why. Maybe that’s where the people are, or maybe it’s about the permits and blocking streets. For whatever reason, that’s where I’ll be driving to.

It seems far, but it’s not the same kind of drive I had in Charleston, SC. When I lived in Summerville, it was 22 miles from downtown, but it was a pain to drive it. The roads were poorly designed, always congested, and people, by and large, were jerks.

The drive to Little River State Park, however, was easy and straight. Plus, Vermont is beautiful. Every mile of it. As I got into the park, I almost drove past the sign marking that there was a race going on. I stopped, read the signs, then backed up to park. Then I walked up the hill.

Yep. It’s Vermont.

This hill is pretty steep
This hill is pretty steep

Have I mentioned that Vermont has a lot of hills? If I haven’t, then let me say it now. Vermont has a lot of hills. I have to look it up to be sure, but I suspect that neighboring states use this one to store whatever hills they’re not using at the moment.

It’s like a bunch of wrinkles in the crumpled, disheveled shirt of Gaea. Isn’t the Earth spirit supposed to be a woman? Women aren’t supposed to be slobs. I find myself wishing that the spirit of nature was a gay man. That way, everything would be pressed and neat. And flat.

I got tired of climbing the “200 yards” of distance to the registration desk, so I started jogging a bit. I gave up after a few paces, and regretted the fact that I didn’t bring a grappling hook to the event.

I finally found the event, and realized that it was going to be a small one. I found out later that there were only 42 people running, although there was another one registered who didn’t show.

I had read that the registration was six dollars per foot or paw, and added that up to be about 24 bucks. That’s pretty normal for these things. Upon registering I found out that I had it wrong. It was six dollars total. They were assuming two feet and four paws at a dollar each. Seriously, this race cost me six bucks. How cool is that?

Meeting New People, and their Dogs

People were just hanging out with their dogs. Some of them were reasonably chilled out, but others had figured out that this was a race day. Combine the excitement of running through the woods with the coolness of meeting a bunch of other dogs and the opportunity to get your ears scratched by new people, and you have some rowdy animals. They were tugging at the leashes in an attempt to meet everyone all at once.

The woman in the photo below had a bit of trouble with her dogs. One of them burst free from her grip, forcing her to chase him down and call after him. The dog responded to his name occasionally, but mostly he just ran in a crazy zigzag pattern, as if the race was already underway and he was going to miss it entirely if he didn’t hurry.

Helpful Me

I mingled a bit, spoke to a few people, and found them to be friendly enough. It was kind of like my first few races back home. It will take time for them to get to know me.

That being said, a good way to make friends is to make yourself useful. When the lady in the first pic couldn’t hold the dog still and get the race number onto his collar at the same time. I stepped in and helped. Between the two of us, we got him suited up in spite of his absolute belief that we would miss everything if we didn’t sprint over to the Starting Line right now.

The Dogs Freak Out

The only issue was the sheer excitement of the animals. They all knew it was a Race Day, and they were all pumped. One dog started whining and howling uncontrollably. It was so funny that I posted a video to my 12seconds channel.

Of course, once we were all properly assembled, things got even funnier. All of the dogs started doing that. It was like a cacophonous, doggie chorus of “Are We There Yet” which prevented any of us from understanding the Race Organizer as she briefed us on the nature of the course.

The Race Itself

Because of the number of dogs and leashes involved, I did something I don’t normally do. I started right out front. When the Organizer rang the cow bell (not kidding) I took off and held the lead for a couple of minutes. Oh, I had no illusions of taking first place. I just wanted to stay out of the crowd until it thinned out a bit. After about two minutes, the fast people passed me, the medium people ran with me, and the slow people were left behind. Thus, I avoided getting my feet tangled in some crazy dog’s lead.

For the first forever-and-a-half, we went uphill. Vermonters are used to this, but I’m not. People started passing me. The group spread out as it always does, but the low number of participants led to a wider distance between people. Before long, I was running alone. The faster folks were way ahead of me, and the slower folks were way behind.

Wait… Am I Lost?

There’s a problem with running alone. You begin to wonder if you’ve gone off-course. I didn’t see anybody for a while, and I was in a park I’d never seen before. The lady at the Starting Line had told us all about the course, but nobody could hear her over the dogs. How was the course marked? Did I wander off? I didn’t take any turns, so I should be okay. Unless… unless I was supposed to turn somewhere. Holy crap!

I came down a hill and made a connected to what seemed to be the main road. There were people I recognized on the main road. Did I take an accidental shortcut? I actually stopped to ponder that one. I looked around for familiar faces. I knew which ones were behind me. I just need a face.

I looked behind me and saw more people coming down the same path I had used. Well, somebody is wrong. Did I just mislead those people? This is a mess.

So far I had been right on the money with those arrows, so I stuck to them. Then the couple in front of me (the ones from the “main” road) took a hard left. I asked them if they were on the course, and they said that they were just wandering around a bit. Okay, so were they even on the right road to begin with?

I decided to forget about it and just stick with those arrows. I saw a few more folks along the way, so I was pretty sure that I had been on course the whole time. Of course, I was kind of surprised to find that I had only gone two miles so far. It had felt like much more than that…

Downhill is Even Worse

Somewhere along the way, the state of Vermont finally coughed up the downhill portion of the course. It was pretty sweet for a while, and I was digging the faster pace. My enjoyment was short-lived, however. Once I got the the really steep portion which had previously kicked my ass, I encountered the worst part about running on hills.

No matter how good the training in when running uphill, it’s always bad for you on the other side. You can work up some impressive speed on a downward slope, but eventually you’ll go so fast that your legs can’t keep up. (Just so you know, that’s a bad thing.) This means that you’re always working to keep that speed down, which results in a merciless pounding on your joints. You have to be careful with this sort of thing in the long-term.

I picked up a frightening amount of speed on the steepest portion of the course, but I had a bit of a problem with my shoe. Or rather, I thought I did. The shoe was fine, really, but it wasn’t tied very tightly. As I picked up speed, my mind’s eye could just see the shoe-laces on my left foot coming loose, flopping about, tripping me up and sending me on a hopelessly inevitable course to the most epic face-plant in the history of reconstructive surgery. I had a bit of a panic attack as the speed dial reached eleven, and waved my arms wildly about as I put on the brakes.

I returned to a more modest rate of speed until the course evened out a little.

The Finish Line

The incline wasn’t so bad at the start/end of the course, so I ran across with my usual forced sprint. There was no one immediately behind me, so I was able to check with the timing people to see what my time was. I had a finishing time of 28:16. That’s not very good for me, but considering that I got my ass kicked by the hills and then by my own sense of direction, I figure that it could have been worse. As usual, I turned around and started taking pictures of other people as they finished.

I waited for the awards ceremony and mingled some more. Everyone was about as nice and friendly as I’ve come to expect from these events. That truck in the background had bagels and peanut butter, so I was pretty happy.

Final Thoughts

This went pretty well. The people are nice, the entire state is beautiful, and when I finally conquer these hills I’m going to have a rock star butt. All things considered, today was a win.