It’s the fourth year of the Squam Ridge Race in Holderness – a 12-mile run over Mount Percival and along the rocky ridge overlooking the Lakes Region. NHPR’s Sean Hurley ran this year’s race and sends us this audio postcard.
At the starting line I count 12 cows in the pasture beside us. One for every mile of the race.
Aaron Woods from Campton leans over the fence – pets a cow. He’s run the 12 mile ridge run the last three years. “It’s not easy,” he says, “it’s about 5 miles nearly straight up hill, then about 7 miles sort of downhill.”
A soft explosion of thunder sounds across the sky. Hail and lightning are on the way, the weather service says – and Race Director Brett Durham delays the race – but at 9:45 recalls the runners to the starting line.
Durham’s voice is amplified by the PA system. “We’re gonna go down, around the cows,” he tells the 150 runners at the line. “We’ll go into the woods. On your return, we’re gonna come back around the cows…You’re gonna finish coming up the opposite way you are now…Be safe!”
Durham sounds the starting horn and the runners take off.
In the first mile, I run beside rock climber Kayte Knower and ultramarathoner Shona Jackson from Rumney. “I’m nervous about the terrain because it’s very rocky and rooty,” Knower says. And of her running partner, she says, “ I’m excited that she can carry me out if I fall apart halfway through.”
We pass the first aid station and begin to head up the trail to Mount Percival.
A mile later it gets steep but friends Lisa Svic and Amy Patel from Andover, Massachusetts keep running. “Our motto,” Svic says, “is we get to do this – versus we have to.”
“Yeah,” Patel agrees, “we’re healthy, we have legs that work.”
I stop near the summit – one runner stumbles past in a kind of daze. “I think,” he says, “I think. I think I’m glad I did this.”
But a moment later he sees the view and lets out a high “Wooo! Oh yeah…”
On Mount Percival, a kind of Déjà vu for Bill Nesheim of Windham and Michelle Eastman from Holderness - strangers who bumped into each other in this exact spot last year. “I swear last year I was at the exact same spot, it’s funny,” Eastman says.
Do they know each other, I ask?
“No, not at all,” Eastman says, “I just recognized him.”
On the slowly descending ridge, there are views of the lakes here and there. And for a long while I run alone - I have a weird feeling that I’m coming in last place - that everyone’s already left.
The trail turns into a logging road and then I spy the pasture – the cows. The crowd cheers as I cross the finish line.
It took me nearly three hours. I come in 57th place.
But I see Aaron Woods standing barefoot in the grass. He has a cup of water in one hand, beer in the other. “We’re looking out over all the cows,” he says. “This is where we live! This is pretty sweet!”