Race to the Top of Bradford (Race Report)
As is often the case, I rose early to drive to this race. The day promised to be gorgeous and it did not fail to deliver——60s, sunny, but cool under cover of the trees.
That said, if I had gotten to the race and it had been canceled the drive alone would have made up for it. Bradford Vermont is located about an hour southeast of Montpelier and right on the boarder of New Hampshire. It is put on by the Bradford Conservation Commission which ensures that, “All proceeds will benefit the Bradford Conservation Fund, which is used to leverage grants for conserving public lands and assist private landowners to conserve their forests and productive farm lands.” With lots of steep rolling hills and thick forests, snaking streams and small towns, the area is perfection for hiking and trail running.
Course The 3.5 mile race runs on the trails that surround Wrights Mountain. The entire course is on single track, aside from the tiny section of dirt road at the start. Technical footing, rolling and steep climbs/descents, thick forest foliage and beautiful views——this is what I dream of when I picture the paradigm of trail running in the North East. The course climbs 850ft. in about 1.5 miles to the top of Wrights Mountain then descends back to the start. So you are looking at at least 1700ft. of elevation change in 3.5 miles.
Race Like many of the trail races I love to run this is a small, locally organized race with a majority of runners being from the immediate area. I showed up early enough for registration, parking my car 1/4 mile down the road from the start/finish area. A folk singer was strumming some acoustic music; kids and adults were milling around; a food tent had fruit, sandwiches, coffee, and water; dogs roamed freely; and a single track trail awaited…
The director moved us about 100 yards back down the dirt road I had walked up. The adult 3.5 mile and kids 1.5 mile race would go off together. The woman who was the official “timer” had two digital stopwatches around her neck……this was going to be old school and I loved it. As she sent us off I settled in behind a few other runners.
The early sections of trail were narrow, technical sections of upward-rolling single track trail, with a few areas of flat that allowed me to try and pick my pace up. The front 2 runners quickly disappeared and I was left looking at the backs of 3 and 4. They kept a relentless pace up on the climbs, even the steeper ones, which left me deciding whether to keep pushing or try to save some energy for the down. I opted for the latter.
My calves were aching as I walk/power hiked/trotted up the steeper climbs. At one point the trail dropped down and I bounded ahead, only to see the trail cut sharply to the right. I started to slid off the trail as I tried to compensate by swinging around a tree like some sort of woodland-ninja. This briefly harrowing moment was quickly overshadowed by my slowing pace as we neared the water station atop the mountain.
All the time another runner was slowly gaining on me. I could hear him breathing heavy behind me, the sounds getting continually louder and louder until we reached the cabin at about the same time. I grabbed water, as did he, and finishing his first he took off. I obliged and settle in behind him. “Its all downhill from here guys” the volunteer chimed in as we took off. Now the trail started to drop and descend, but all the while offering us rocks, roots, and small carved out water gullies to maneuver around. When I suddenly saw the trail widen——the main section shifting to the left and a grassy section opening to the right——I took the opportunity to pass him through the tall grass. From there I just let myself fly.
It was an exhilaratingly exhausting pace——fast, probably a bit reckless, but oh so much fun. The challenge was the few sections of climbing that would pop-up. I knew many of them were coming because they were on the section of trail we were doubling back on. Sure enough, those short sections of climbing just about killed my legs but I knew the race was almost over so I just gutted them out and tried to hit the topß running. Eventually I saw where the kids 1.5m run had split from the 3.5m and I knew there was only a 1/4 mile to go. I waved at some of the kids that were still walking the trail and tried to maintain a steady pace into the finish——where there was a little boulder that you could skip over if you wanted to end with some flare.
I finished 5th and I am pretty happy with myself. While I hadn’t been able to keep a steady run up the mountain I did show some strong downhill speed. I put some distance between myself and the runner behind me, so I know that I can really kick during the downs despite my lack of endurance on the ups. It was a really fun and exhausting time.
Post-race The organizers did a great job offering prizes to all the kids who ran. And they had some nice stuff for the adults, giving prizes to the top m/f and the m/f age group winners. They also gave a prize to the tenth place finisher (as it was the 10 year anniversary of the conservation effort of the areas named “Devil’s Den”); and since it was the race’s fifth year they gave a prize to the fifth place runner……which was me! Hurray! I also won a prize in subsequent raffle, but I offered my winnings to one of the kids (I picked number 13 from the box of bib numbers which has always been my lucky number).
Final Thoughts This was a really great race. It was loads of fun and really challenging. Plus, it is exactly what I love about running and racing on trails——removed, local, unadorned, single-track and technical. And for $15 it was a steal! So if you can find your way through the hills of eastern Vermont you will not be disappointed in taking the drive to get to to the Top of Bradford.