Coming into the Bretton Woods Fell Race, the penultimate event in the 2015 USATF-NE Mountain Series, Erica Kahn sat atop the standings. Impressive as it was for a senior runner to be leading the series 7 races into the 8 race slate, it wasnâ€™t something that was going to stand. Leslie Oâ€™Dell (formerly Beckwith and now back to Oâ€™Dell) and Sarah Bard were both in the hunt, and both only had 5 races to their names compared to Ericaâ€™s 6. As you can see:
Erica - 479.13
Leslie - 478.99
Sarah - 445.51
In fact, Sarah was all the way back in 6th place, a good 33 pts behind Leslie. It was possible for Sarah to win, but sheâ€™d need Leslie to totally screw up the navigation and for an error-free effort for herself. The closest Sarah had come to Leslie was a close loss at Pack Monadnock (95.29 for Leslie and 94.68 for Sarah).
The breaks did not go Sarahâ€™s way, and although she put up a valiant effort it was Leslie who would emerge victorious in her last mountain series as an open runner. Leslie won in 1:15:26 with Sarah in second place with 1:17:56. The margin of victory doesnâ€™t seem so big when you consider that Leslie only ran 6.7 miles compared to Sarahâ€™s 7.6. Did we mention it was a fell race? “Just goes to show that speed alone doesnâ€™t always win a Fell race,” said Leslie. For Sarah it was her first fell racing experience, while Leslie had prior racing experience on that mountain.
“Leslie and I took almost completely different routes, so I only really saw her when I was coming down the longer way to checkpoint C,” said Sarah. “She had gone straight down the mountain and was already on her way to checkpoint D. I knew then how much farther I had gone out of the way. But she was kind and told me not to worrry - that I was almost there!”
Here are a few questions we sent along to Leslie, the Bretton Woods Fell Race champion and the winner of the whole mountain series!
How does it feel to win after watching Leslie Beckwith win last year? What was the biggest difference for you between this year and last?
Haha. This yearâ€™s race was totally different than last yearâ€™s in a few ways, but the most significant difference was that I came into this yearâ€™s with a recent injury that has left me in excruciating pain. Leslie Beckwith ran last yearâ€™s race in tip-top shape. She was FAST. And I really admire her, since she was pretty awesome in her last month as Leslie Beckwith. Unfortunately, Leslie Oâ€™Dell had to come into this race with only the goal to finish and within about 30 points of Sarah Bard, in order to win the Mountain Series. I had little hope for her for the win, but I was pretty sure she could still win the Series with that kind of lead.
Another head to head win vs the tough Sarah Bard. How did you manage to both out run and out navigate her?
Sarah came into the race after about 3 weeks off from her 4th place finish in the World for the 100k. How impressive is that?!! I knew for sure she had the win in the bag…. unless she went the wrong way. And that is exactly what happened. After Checkpoint B, Sarah followed the short course “Safe Route” while I took the shortest distance between two points. She ended up going almost a MILE longer. This gave a huge lead on the long climb back up to Checkpoint D.
Fortunately for me, uphills didnâ€™t hurt too much, and I was able to really crank out the long climb to D, bushwhack a little and the continue up to Checkpoint E. I was much slower than usual, but I still felt in good enough shape to run up almost the entire way. It was the last downhill that would nearly do me in, but I followed Paul Bazachuk on an even shorter route than I had planned that helped me keep my lead. I was in so much pain by the time i finished that I hobbled in laughing that I was going hard at 45% effort. It was a total fluke that I won, but thatâ€™s the nature of the course. It isnâ€™t necessarily how fast you are. I definitely had an advantage over Sarah since I know the mountain pretty well now. She would have won by a huge margin, though. She ran a mile more and still finished only 2 minutes back. So it was only the navigation that gave me my win on Saturday.
When asked about if she had any navigation issues, Sarah responded with:
HAHA! Of course! I accidentally missed a planned turn after checkpoint B on the way to C. I should have taken a sharp left and gone straight down a blue run to the Bigger Ben run. Unfortunately, I got confused and thought I was already further down the mountain and just looking for Bigger Ben- I overshot it and kept following the flags. I knew after about 600 meters that I had taken a longer route, but I couldnâ€™t bring myself to turn around. I was on a cat track at least, so I thought Iâ€™d make up the extra distance with some faster running. I didnâ€™t realize that it would end up being almost a mile of extra running!
Even though I would have preferred not to run extra, obviously thatâ€™s what makes this race unique. Itâ€™s not just about speed, but about knowing the course, having a plan, and weighing when itâ€™s worth stopping to look at the map and when you should trust the choice youâ€™ve made. There was less chat after the race about how fast you ran and more about how far and what decisions you would have made differently.
Back to Leslie, for the next few: How would you compare this course to last yearâ€™s?
I found out at 10 pm the night before that the course was 6.7ish. I thought it was going to be 12. It was a relief because i honestly didnâ€™t know if I could finish 12. It would have been extremely painful.
Any moments of doubt as you went from checkpoint to checkpoint?
The course was pretty easy to navigate, and I didnâ€™t really need my map on this one. The easier course couldnâ€™t have come at a more perfect time for me. My Mountain Series win was on the line, and this is the last year I will compete in the Open. Itâ€™s Masters for me next year.
What was the toughest part for you?
The toughest part for me was just running. It was painful, but it was worth it. I donâ€™t regret it one bit.
Can you think of a better way to wrap up the series?
I was pretty psyched to end the Mountain Series on this high note, though. I won the first and last races. Couldnâ€™t be sweeter than that. Iâ€™ve been the Open winner the last two years, but never the overall winner. It feels good to finally get this in the bag at age 39.
Rumor has it that if you listen really carefully, you can still hear EJNÂ searching for the mark at checkpoint E. Some say itâ€™s just the wind, but others know better. Did you notice anything?
Ha ha. I have to say, when I got to the point where Checkpoint E was last year, EJNâ€™s mishap crossed my mind. I think the FEAR of pulling an EJN was what haunted us all. And sure enough, a lot of people did. I think the Checkpoint E Horror will forever haunt Bretton Woods. Whom it chooses to take down will vary from year to year; I just hope I can out run it forever. I donâ€™t want that curse.
A great race by two gutsy competitors. Although Leslie was quick to point out Sarahâ€™s pre-race exploits, she was mum on her own. Sarah filled us in:
“Itâ€™s worth noting that Leslie came into this race with a significant injury (she ran VT50 the week before and made it 30 miles in before she was forced to drop). So the extra mile on my part was probably an appropriate equalizer!”
Lastly, congrats to Sarah on being named the USATF-NE Athlete of the Month for September 2015!