Walking On Fire

by EJN Comments (3) Articles, Racing

“Friends, I normally try to avoid boasting. But when I have material that will surely intimidate possible racing opponents, I like to make it freely known:

“A couple nights ago I walked across hot coals barefoot. Four steps, and I didn’t pussyfoot it either. I walked calmly, like a man. Racing Sleepy Hollow this weekend and I’m calling the New England mountain goats out - I might not be in any kind of shape to race, but I’ll come at you with everything I’ve got.”

- Brandon Newbould, 5/2/13

Brandon ran a 2:25:45 at Boston so it was surprising to see him not only racing again so soon but to be coming out firing like that. Surprising, yes, but also wildly entertaining and the type of stuff we love. A couple of days later I was on the phone with him and after talking about hot coals, he told me what Josh Ferenc had been up to. Josh had blown the doors off the field at the Muddy Moose 14 Miler the previous weekend and it was shaping up to be an epic race at Sleepy Hollow.

Josh ended up winning again at Sleepy Hollow, and two minutes later the chase pack came in (Eric MacKnight, Newbould, Jim Johnson and Todd Callaghan). Not only can these guys run but they can also provide some entertaining material. Here’s a Q&A with Ferenc and Newbould from the days following the race (over email):

How were you feeling going into it?

Josh: I was feeling like a big bag of cuss the whole week leading in, which didn’t do anything helpful for my psyche. I had a nice showing the week before on a 14 mile trail race but wasn’t sure that would translate to a 10k or would make a difference with added competition. I wanted to do well, especially because it is a VT race, and I wanted to live up to the hype of being VT runner of the year by New England Runner mag (not all of the hype is self made). But once I got there I felt scary, like the energies and power of Voltron coming together.

Brandon: I don’t really know, I tried not to think about it. I mean, I wasn’t prepared to race at all, but I was excited to tangle with anyone else dumb enough to put themselves through the mountain series. I’ve never tried to race within a month of a marathon finish before, so this was new territory for me. I took a couple weeks after the race to purify myself with homebrew and saunas, then started running easy through the woods about a week before Sleepy Hollow. The only running I did faster than 8′ pace was some strides mid-week. The marathon training and racing was still fresh in my head even after the break, so I was excited to get into the mountains (where I belong?) for the summer. If I knew what was coming I probably would have experienced more foreboding.

The lead pack charges up the mountain. Courtesy of Scott Mason.

Pre-Race: What was the strategy? Was there any particular runner you were especially wary of?

Josh: I was concerned with Jim Johnson because you never know with him. He’ll sandbag you before the race, then be in the mix. Eric MacKnight is also very fast. He won Northfield in a fast time (still not as fast as my average pace… 😉 and this course is very similar. Jim proposed leaving Eric home, but I bit the bullet and gave him a ride to the race. Owls kill things and all (99%) are loyal to the brethren of Keene State. Through the grape vine (Jim) I heard Brandon Newbould would be there. He’s always tough and he destroyed my taint at the DHJones 10 miler. He’s from Alaska, so of course he’s tough. He was raised wrestling grizzlies.

Brandon: When I left Alaska to come back East I thought there wouldn’t be any rednecks out here. Then I met Ferenc. I’m comfortable around guys like that, and I thought one way or another that we would have a showdown out there - even though it really looked to me like Ferenc was beaten by Kim Kardashian in a trail race the previous week (look up the results, I’m not lying). Turns out it wasn’t much of a showdown, and I had to deal with a few other guys. I knew Todd Callaghan and JJ would be there. Todd races with the tenacity of a gila monster so I didn’t count him out, and JJ is sort of a wood nymph. That is, he’s a tricky little fella, and he’s dangerous. Mack the Knight showed up race-day, which was financially irresponsible. That struck me as a bold move so I was prepared for a fight with him. Then again he’s my teammate, but then again (again) I knew he would race ferociously. That last part turned out to be downright clairvoyant.

How did the race go?

Josh: I went to the race for two reasons; see some friends and kick some ass. Saw my friends in the parking lot then kicked their asses…haha. It went well but I had to work harder than ever, and I was very fortunate to win. Anytime you can win with tough competition, it means it went well (at the least). I committed to a race plan and executed it nicely. That course favors a runner like me.

Brandon: Have you ever played with porcupines? They have really unexpected range with their tails, that’s why people think they can shoot their quills (they can’t). This race was kind of like messing with a porcupine - I thought I had the upper hand, I was fine, then wham, I got nailed a few times. Mack took it out but I pulled him in on the first climb, then Ferenc got right on my ass and started quietly chanting a mantra. What a creep. I couldn’t tell what he was saying. Maybe it was “es ist ganz einfach,” like the guy in Saving Private Ryan right before he pushes the knife into his opponent. Because then Ferenc sort of gently eased by me (enjoy those pancakes, friend) and I was dead. I like my downhill running fine but it wasn’t there that day. JJ caught me, Todd caught MacKnight, Macknight caught Todd, I caught JJ, Macknight caught me, Gonads & Strife. That was the race up front. Oh, and Ferenc got out of sight on the second climb, turned into the forest and traversed around the mountain back to the course. At least that’s what I figure he did since I don’t know how else the guy put two minutes on all of us.

Ferenc: I love his interpretation of my heavy breathing as a mantra… hahaha. I breath like a fat kid running towards the last Twinkie on Earth (on all my runs). Haha

Post-race: Any lessons learned? What’s next?

Josh: I learned that I’m more fit than I thought I was, Brandon ran a marathon then didn’t leave his couch except to walk on hot coals (which I wish I knew before hand, I wouldn’t have worried as much about him catching me the last mile). The clinking and clanging ain’t change in my pocket but brass balls banging together (glad that sound is back). My race strategy and tactics were almost perfect.

Brandon: I learned that breathing heavily in Vermont is dangerous. After the race we were all hacking like it was an indoor mile in January, then all the next day I was continually alarmed by what I can only describe as vibrantly colored pollen jellyfish coming out of my lungs. I learned that next time Ferenc passes me I should probably trip him, and I learned that this is going to be a great mountain series. JJ ran that race on one leg and still had a good showing, and that precocious youngster MacKnight does not respect his elders. I’m all-in for the mountains this summer and I’m starting to train again now, so this is going to be a lot of fun.

And Christin Doneski reacts to this by just shaking her head and says “boys…”. Okay, I made that last part up, but it seemed like a funny reaction. Had to give her a shout out here since not only was she the first women’s masters runner, but she was the first woman of any age across the line and placed 11th overall. That’s pretty bad ass.

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3 Responses to Walking On Fire

  1. MK says:

    What’s with the coughing? Although I ran much slower that the guys up front, I also had coughing fits after finishing Sleepy Hollow and I never have that problem when the temp is above 30 degrees F. I figured it was just me.

  2. EJN says:

    My guess would be the pollen. But I was quite a few miles away from the mountain that day. Can any other racers confirm this?

  3. The Wood says:

    This was great. Thanks guys.

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