I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
For there was no shortcut to be found
Nor blasted signs for that Checkpoint E
Nothing but lonely steps on the ground
And the race was lost to Ezra Pound
Along with the rest, all too quickly.
– original draft of The Road Not Taken, documenting Robert Frost’s tough loss to fellow mountain runner/poet Ezra Pound in the first Bretton Woods Fell Race in 1915. Frost had the better speed, but Pound was the better navigator.
That throwback seemed appropriate for this 100th anniversary of the Bretton Woods Fell Race, one where rivals would settle their final places in the standings. Todd Callaghan came into the race leading the USATF-NE Mountain Series. With this one race left on the series for the year, Todd had 562.52 compared to second place Matt Veiga’s 551.71. Both had already run 6 races, so they also could drop a low score. Matt was trailing but not by an insurmountable amount. Could Matt win the race by a wide enough margin to overtake Callaghan? Probably not. Todd’s navigation skills can’t be beat, which means that even if you can outrun him he’ll be still be close enough to be your shadow.
Drew best was lurking deeper in the standings, with 491 pts way back in 7th place. That total was only based on 5 races, so any points gained would be huge. Basically, an average effort by Best would give him the overall title. Drew was so well hidden there that we missed him in our first pass through the standings afterwards.
I contacted both Matt and Todd to get the inside story on how the race shook out. What I got back was quite a bit, and very informative. Todd’s was basically its own story, but to avoid OD’ing on Bretton Woods I’ll attempt to weave the two together here.
We’ll start off with this intro from Todd which ties into other races:
Taking second place to one of the best trail runners in New England, who is 18 years younger than me (Matt Viega), is still a win for me. Plus I beat uphill specialist Drew Best (winner at Mt. Wachusett, Ascutney, and Greylock). I was less than a minute out of first place and was first to Checkpoints A and C, so I am happy with the result (this is the type of justification mathematics that Masters tend to do to make themselves still feel like they are “in the game”).
Oh, and I lost all of September to shingles. Yeah, that sucked a lot of life out of me. You may have been wondering why I didn’t compete in the 20k in Acton, the last race of the famed All-Terrain Series. No, it wasn’t because I was quaking from all of the pre-race trash talking from Alex Hall and Chris Mahoney. In fact, I had been training very hard and was looking forward to a solid race with them and Ethan Nedeau. I was in great race shape and then got struck with shingles in my face. So while those guys were duking it out for the top five ATR places, my face was exploding in virus-filled vesicles. My head felt like I had been hit with a ball peen hammer and then scalded with hot water. I still was holding out hope on Saturday evening before the 20k race that I could compete, but my wife told me that she was going to call the police if I tried to take the car to Acton. Alas, I relented and absquatulated to the nethermost region of Rhode Island, to my parents’ house in Westerly, and soaked my blistering Bukowski-ish face in the cool salt waters of Watch Hill. I had to accept 6th place in the ATR series without a fight.
So, it was with this sour taste in my craw that I entered the Bretton Woods Fells race, the last race in the New England Mountain series. In the series, I was virtually tied for second place with Matt Viega, both of us behind first place Drew Best. I had done my own points calculation to figure out how many minutes (roughly four) I needed to be within the first place person in order to keep my overall series second place.
So now we know why Todd wasn’t there for the 20k. That’s certainly a legit excuse. Shingles is no fun at all, and having it on the face…good Lord. It’s amazing he was even considering competing. Turning the questions over to Matt, we found a little more (along with some more narrative from Todd):
Todd Callaghan is a crafty guy. How did you manage to both out run and (we assume) out navigate him?
Matt: I definitely didn’t out navigate him that’s for sure. He got up there the day before and true to form knew every shortcut and the fastest lines to every checkpoint. Right from the start he took a quicker route to the top while Drew and I took the safe route. Needless to say he made it to checkpoint A right before us as we slogged up the black diamond trail. From there I decided to follow Todd and Drew kept going up the mountain. I got to B before Todd so took the safe route again quickly realizing it was taking us way out of the way so I B lined it straight down the mountain at that point. This allowed Todd to get a good lead on me and Drew to catch back up after falling behind going to B. Going up to checkpoint D I caught Todd before the checkpoint and was going across the traverse trail to E when Todd came bursting out of the woods in front of me. He timed going around and the bushwack finding the bushwack to be 30s faster. I passed him again but was running scared so kept looking back and checking my map the whole way to E. From E I knew it was a straight shot down to F. It was a rough trail down with knee high brush the whole way while Todd took the next trail over which was mowed so I got to F right before him with Drew right on our tail. From E on I was basically red lining the whole way to the finish trying to get as much time as I could. My watch said I averaged a 4:37 pace from checkpoint E to the finish. It was pretty much reckless abandon the whole way down. I’ve never said “fricken Todd” so many times in a race though. We played leap frog the whole way and knowing Todd I knew I wasn’t safe till the clocked stopped, he is just so dialed in.
What was the biggest difference for you between this year and last?
Matt: The biggest difference from last year for me is not getting lost and running a full mile further this year. I wanted to always keep the lead group in sight to avoid another mishap. I was a little more comfortable navigating the mountain this year to. Last year’s race was the first time I ever set foot or ski on Bretton Woods.
Speaking of last year, Todd Callaghan meticulously planned his route and did pretty much all the navigating leg work in front only to lose out to Jim Johnson in the end. So how did he prepare for this year’s race?
Todd: I printed out Google Earth maps of how to best run to each of the six checkpoints. I also used Google Earth to calculate distances of potential routes to see which might be the shortest. I then took Friday off and ran the course, taking photos with my phone, making notes on my maps, and noting which ski slopes and glades had been cut and which had knee-high puckerbrush.
When I thought that I had done sufficient reconnaissance (almost nine miles of hiking and running) I headed back to my secret hideout where I ate my pre-race meal of wild salmon, grilled potatoes, and homegrown kale and committed my plan of attack to memory (as Drew found out it is almost impossible to make sense of your checkpoint map while you are running and being chased). I slept uneasily through the cool New Hampshire night dreaming of Carroll County rednecks and black bears licking the salmon juice off of my face.
What I can say is that I really enjoyed my race and that all the advanced planning really helped out. On race day, I was coy with my race plan (you may recall, as I certainly did, that I came in second in this same race in 2014 when first place followed me through the six checkpoints and then outsprinted me to the finish). Chris Dunn, the race Director, invited us to enter the starting triangle. Because a Fells race invites the runners to choose their own path to each checkpoint, a starting line is not as relevant as a triangle, where runners can race to the first checkpoint from the compass point of their choice. So, we triangled up, Chris blew the starting whistle and we headed uphill. I was quickly in third place breathing heavily just behind Drew and about five seconds behind Matt who was charging. At the bottom of the first major ski slope I played my first hand and slipped away from the two leaders. They followed the marked “safe course” (unlike Loon Mountain where there is no “safe word,” at Bretton Woods, there is a “safe course” that is flagged so that the less adventurous can plod along and make it to the first three checkpoints while using a minimum of cerebration). Draw your own conclusions here.
How would you compare this year’s course to last year’s?
Matt: This year’s course was much easier to navigate for the most part. It was a somewhat straight forward two loop course. The trails themselves where a lot rougher than last year though. In the first half mile we hit a section with a bridge that looked like it was going to collapse and bushwacked through some high brush.
Speaking of bushwhacking…
Todd: I charged up the previously mowed Starr King green dot slope while Matt and Drew thrashed through leg biting brambles on the black diamond, flagged, Waumbeck slope. What the course flaggers don’t tell you is that the safe course is not necessarily the fastest or cleanest route. At the top of Starr King, I used a glade to cut right and come out at the first checkpoint while Drew and Matt were still climbing. You should have seen their faces! I then disappeared back into the glades and put another 50 meters on them while they followed the flagged course.
Any moments of doubt as you went from checkpoint to checkpoint?
Matt: My biggest moment of doubt was from D to E. I was leading and unsure of the route even though the map said it was a straight shot. I definitely did not trust myself in this section and kept expecting to look back to Todd and Drew taking a different route. Had I been more confident I think I could have run a lot stronger since I felt really comfortable on that stretch.
More from Todd: Matt eventually caught me before the second checkpoint and then continued following the flagging down an access road. I cut straight down the mountain. For some reason Drew followed Matt and I beat them both to the third checkpoint. We then had another hellacious, lungbuster uphill. Matt caught me at the top and hit the fourth checkpoint just before me and Drew was in hot pursuit just a few steps back. But I made a quick bushwhack through the pines and hit mountain road in front of Matt again! You could almost hear the wtf! on his face. Matt was able to pass me after a while, as did Drew. They both went through the fifth checkpoint about 20-30 seconds in front of me. Matt charged down the Agassiz slope that I knew was not mowed, I let Drew follow him and then I snuck across a glade and down to the well-mowed, less steep Avalon slope. Amazingly, Matt hammered the downhill and came out at the bottom well in front of me. Drew, I found out later was wisely taking his time through the ankle-breaking brush and mire. Matt sped through the last checkpoint and then headed the wrong way downhill to the finish. By the time he got back on course I was probably only 15 seconds behind him. I went through the last checkpoint as Drew was coming at me and he congratulated me on running a smart race. I then ran as fast as I could back to the finish in order to keep Matt within a few minutes of me and to try to keep Drew back. I did both, so I was happy with the result.
What was the toughest part for you?
Matt: The navigation is definitely the toughest. I didn’t do my homework so was going on luck that I’d find my way. I am really fit right now coming off 50k training so never felt completely worked like I did at Cranmore.
Can you think of a better way to wrap up the series?
Matt: Honestly, no. I really dig this race. It brings a new aspect to racing which doesn’t allow you to zone out. You’re constantly thinking and assessing the route while trying to maintain a good pace. It’s a really cool added dynamic to normal mountain racing. Not only that but It brings everyone together in a way since to run fast you have to somewhat work together.
The final distances per their watches was 7.3 miles for Matt (how many of those were run with reckless abandon?) and 6.6 miles for Todd. Matt ran a 58:17 for the win, Todd was next in 59:11 and Drew was third in 59:39. Although Drew had the lowest spot on the podium, he is your 2015 USATF-NE Mountain Series Champ!
**Since we’re not the Onion and people may come here for serious news, we should probably say that we made up that bit about the first Bretton Woods race taking place in 1915. We also did not stumble across an early draft of The Road Not Taken. Frost & Pound could’ve been very good mountain runners, but I really have no idea.