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Possum Trot XIII - Part I

Knob Noster State Park, in the beautiful state of Missouri, was the site of my first Possum Trot, way back in 2002. I think it was just me, Ian, and Brian May at the time, and the other two had decent runs there. Which means Brian won, by a lot. In contrast, I was overwhelmed by the map and the course, and ended up DNFing. But it was only my second year in the sport, and I was wasn't quite in peak shape yet :) This year, I could rightly say I had a little more experience, particularly with Missouri style ridge-and-reentrant terrain, and felt good about going back.


Sunday course - Possum Trot XIII at Knob Noster. Click to enlarge

And I ran well. Well, for the first 27 controls. I wasn't worried about the navigation this time, I was worried about the competition!

Unfortunately, my two major bobbles came at the end, and it cost me either three or four places in the final standings. I was either second or third place coming through the final water stop, depending on where Tom Carr was, but only finished 6th. It was a strange combination of an overall successful run with a disappointing finish. But if I were asked to rate my satisfaction with my performance, I'd give 7 out of 10. So the results certainly show up the excellent competition that we're starting to get at this event - even a little mistake can be fatal.

However, a highlight from this weekend is that I got to use my Hero HD helmet cam for the the first time after the shipping fiasco. I didn't end up getting it until the beginning of December, nearly a month after it shipped. I packed it for the weekend and for the first 14 controls, I wore the camera like a headlamp, low on my head, just above my glasses for maximum stability. I used the 1080p setting, which only has a 135 degree field of view, and the results are great - although I want to try the 720p with 170 degrees FOV soon too.

We started out on the SE side of Clear Fork Lake and took off east around the lake to #1. At least, all of the fast runners did. Mark, Tom, Kelly, Justin, Andrei, Eric and I all ran quickly down the trail and then took off across the open area at an unsustainable pace. Andrei ended up pacing me and I didn't slow down until reaching the trail NW of the open field, where I recalibrated and headed into the reentrant for #1. Then we worked our way around the fence corner and over to the N-S creek valley without going all the way to the hilltop. Then it was just going up the right reentrant until we saw the control. Andrei and I saw Mark coming in from our right - he must have gone over the hill - and he was started to build up a head of steam. The others were still right behind us, and Justin and I huffed up the hill and took off after Mark, who opened up a 40 meter gap like it was nothing. I had legs on the downhill, though, and caught up to him as we ran along the raised bank on the south edge of the pond, then clambered up a steep bank on the other side of the stream and homed in on #3. So far I was running a little beyond my sustainable pace, but wasn't having any problem staying on the map.

I managed to keep Mark in sight running down the spur to the south, but he opened up a little more room while I noted the trail bend and started to head up the stream, first the west side then crossing to the east. Justin took a little lower route into #4 and came in to punch a few seconds before me, and we both headed for the trail on the ridgetop. Tom was right in the mix as well, and I trotted for a couple seconds up top before Justin's rapidly receding jersey got me going again. I took the opportunity to look for skips while running up on the trail. 8-9 looked like a decent double skip, but 21, 23, and 29 were also good options. Only the first one was coming up very soon, so I docketed the thoughts and headed in to #5. It was easily visible from the trail, and the route was marked even better since Mark was running out in my direction. Justin gained about 15 seconds on this leg, and Tom was another 30 seconds behind with Kelly on his tail.

But on the next leg, I hit my first brain freeze. I was planning to go west from the trail intersection, bearing slightly north to get around the large reentrant and attack #6 from the NW. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. I ended up getting pulled to the SW by Tom, who had put on a burst and passed me just as we hit the ridgetop. Instead, we both headed across the ridge near the clearing, and then down into the valley and along the trail. By the time I realized I was off plan and running down into a valley, it was too late. So I followed Tom and Kelly up the trail and veered gently left to approach #6 from above, where Tom Carr joined us. Then it was another downhill run and creek crossing, and the route to #7 was easy since we could see the buildings. The vegetation was a little thick here and started to slow us down as we struggled up past the camp and onto the small spur. All of the usual suspects were still close by - Mark ahead, Justin, Tom and Eric lurking. So far, an exciting start with a lot of following - myself included - although I never lost contact with the the map.

And here is where things started to happen! Tom and Kelly were a few seconds ahead of me, and they ran up to the top of the ridge and then turned left. OK, so that's how it's going to be - they decided to skip 8-9, and since that had been one of my choices, I made the decision as well. The route into #10 was pretty trivial considering the short distance and large features, and Justin joined us as we were coming over the ridgetop. We didn't see the others, and it turned out that both Eric and Tom Carr has proceeded to #8, having decided to take later skips. As the four of us homed in on #10, Mark flew from right to left across our field of view, and we commiserated that he had probably gotten both 8 and 9 and was well on his way to the win. Anyway, after this it was a straight run for all of us - no skips left!

I'll have to admit that I followed a bit on the way to #11 - Justin was in fine form and led the rest of us into the creek valley and up the correct reentrant. I think the green hatched areas have expanded a bit in this part of the park. It was the same to #12 - again, Justin led by a couple dozen meters and the rest of us followed again. Tom and I crossed the main north-south stream too early here, and blundered along through some unmapped undergrowth to get to the "manmade feature" and punch the control. Then we all headed south and a little east to cross yet another creek valley. I drifted to the east to avoid the green stuff, and let the others fall off to my right. I found out later that Justin had gone too far right, off the map even, and dropped back by several minutes. Tom and Kelly worked their way through the thick stuff over in my peripheral vision. I crossed the creek and clambered up a pretty steep bank, then stopped to spot out the highest point ahead (which would have been the top of the large spur). I headed uphill, staying a little to the left side, partially because the control was a bit to the east, but also to hide a bit if Tom and Kelly were on the next spur over to the west. It didn't matter, though, since we arrived at nearly the same time.

At this point, we didn't realize that Justin had had some issues on the last leg. Both Tom and I thought he was ahead, and exchanged some admiring words about the way he was picking up the pace. We couldn't even see him through the open woods up ahead! I veered more to the south to get near the road and over on to the NE-pointing ridge, then ran it downhill right into #14. I was hoping to split a little from Tom and Kelly here, but no luck. They were only about 40 meters behind me. Then it was just a quick thrash up to the road and over to the first water stop. Mary was there to take times and check on people. We all got a quick drink, grabbed some food, and I dropped off my helmet cam in the box, then headed across County DD and down the access road to #15.

So far things were good - I was 100% on the map, and running in the top five. But the race wasn't even half over...