As triathlons go, this one is a little bit inside out: racers start with a bike ride that traverses pavement and forest trails en route from downtown Franconia to Echo Lake at the top of Franconia Notch, proceed to a chilly swim across the lake, then scramble up the ski trails of Cannon Mountain. (The traditional triathlon format is swim-cycle-run.) From start to finish, the triathletes will travel a distance of roughly 10 miles – a mere smidgen compared to, say, the 140 miles covered in an Ironman event. In that distance, however, Top Notchers gain a total of 3,320 vertical feet, 2,280 feet in elevation gain in the run alone.
The run alone is what I will do as part of a Top Notch relay team Saturday morning. Many years ago, I completed the entire race as an “iron woman.” I last participated in the Top Notch 10 years ago, before I had three kids, when I was pretty fit and nimble and still in my 20s. At least I thought I was fit then, but climbing the mountain suggested otherwise, as men in spandex passed me left and right on my way to the summit. To say I “ran” up the mountain would be, well, a blatant lie. But I made it, and my team did just fine.
This year, with my mountain and road bikes collecting another layer of dust in the garage (sigh), I’ve taken to lacing up my sneakers in the wee hours of the morning or the rare afternoon I am child-free and running the roads and trails around home.
I’ve been an on-again-off-again jogger since high school, when I would run the mile-and-a-half loop near my house a few times a week between soccer season and track season. In college, I kept up my routine of jogging a mile or two here or there as part of my effort stay in shape for soccer. Eventually, these short runs were replaced by long bike rides on Colorado single track and cross-country ski treks in the mountains.
When I moved back East nearly a dozen years ago, I discovered the challenge and thrill of road biking, then the challenge and thrill of child rearing, which is a workout in itself, but of an entirely different type.
Running fits most easily, for me, into the family scene, and so it has become my workout of choice. I’ve upped the miles of my regular running routes, and running has become something I look forward to, when years ago it was more of a chore. I like pounding the pavement – and even better is running the trails through the woods. I time myself now, striving to go a little faster each run, and I’ve shaved a minute or two (depending on the length of the run) off my mile time.
When I run, my mind settles. Sometimes I actually go for a run just to calm my thoughts. Often I come up with a story idea, or work through a writing challenge I’ve struggled with, while I’m outside, running. I don’t listen to music, preferring the natural sounds around me – be they birdsong or the engine rev of the speedy Subaru with Vermont plates that delivers the paper along one of my routes. I’ve seen moose on my runs, spooked deer and ruffed grouse, and last week came nearly face-to-face with a black bear.
I am no marathoner, but running makes me feel good, strong. Maybe not quite like a goddess, but close enough.
For the past few years I’ve told myself I should do the triathlon again, start to finish. Alas, my swimming is relegated to the odd stroke in the pool as I splash around with the kids, and I’ve just told you about the bikes.
So, I mentioned the idea of putting a team together to an acquaintance who enjoys competing in the wild and wacky sport of cyclocross. She thought it would be good training for her participation in the 24 Hours of Great Glen bike race the following weekend and recruited a friend for the swim. In a matter of a couple of days, we had a team and were registered to race.
On Saturday we’ll join a few hundred other racers, a fun combination of serious athletes, many folks just out for a good time, and a bunch like me – looking for a physical and competitive challenge with a good dose of fun thrown in.
The Top Notch started off as a purely local event two decades ago and now includes competitors from throughout New England and as far afield as Colorado, California, and Florida. There are still plenty of local racers, of course, and many of them often place near or at the top of the score sheet.
I don’t know where our team will land in the standings. I’m hoping to get to the top faster than I did a decade ago, but I don’t know how realistic that is. I do know that, whatever happens, at the end of the day, the inside of my skirt will still say, “You are a goddess.” And that’s pretty good encouragement.