By Mike LaPlume
I know, I know, everyone’s first question is, “Why is it called the Dead Possum Half Marathon?” I had the same question. Well, it’s not my story to tell, so I will let Mike Smith chime in on that if he wishes. I’m not sure if it’s one of those things where you have to run it to be privileged enough to hear the story. What I will say though, is I feel like a “dead possum” after running it. What a brutal course! As Smith says, “ It’s New Ipswich’s hilliest half marathon, ascending and descending over 1000 feet of vertical terrain.”
There was a bit of a D3 XC Championship feel at the starting line. Mike had a crew of Mascenic runners there including what seemed like the entire Traffie family and his entire girls XC team. Coach Clint Joslyn from Monadnock was there with his family. I brought my son, and the Downes twins came with their folks from Newfound.
Like a Sirgio Leone spaghetti western, the gun time (airhorn time) was at “high noon” according to Smith. As a lifelong New England runner I’d have to say that the conditions were near perfect when Mike stepped out in front of the crowd, wielding his airhorn, to start the race. 42 degrees and a break in the rain just in time for the race. Doing his best Eastwood impression, Smith told the story of the Dead Possum Half Marathon, gave us a few last directions, and then he fired off the starting shot from his trusty airhorn.
The race started with about a mile of downhill, which lulled the less experienced runners, on this course, into thinking this was going to be easier than Mike said. They were incorrect! A pack of about 6 or 7 (including my son Benjamin) went out at a overly aggressive pace, not knowing exactly what lay ahead of them. Some of them (including my son Benjamin) paid for it later.
Some of the more experienced runners (like Drew Traffie) laid back through the first few miles, saving themselves for the hills to come, and they did come!
I went out a bit faster than I wanted to myself, as I got caught up in conversation with Mike’s friend Reuben. Before I knew it we passed the 3 mile mark and I was well ahead of pace. Around miles 4 and 5 though, I was able to get myself back on pace. And considering my over aggressive start, I was feeling pretty good as I started to work my way through the hills.
One hill after another! It literally seemed like the hills never stopped! I kept waiting for the course to give back with some nice long downhill miles, but NOPE!
Somewhere around mile nine, I turned a corner, and saw a yellow arrow on the pavement pointing me to turn off the nice flat road I was on, and head up what looked to me like Mt. Washington. At that point I literally said out loud to myself, “Are you serious Mike?”
When the downhills did come, they came in the form of The Cliffs of Moher. They were steep, quick, and gave you no rest. And, as soon as you hit the bottom, there was another uphill waiting patiently for you.
Once I passed the 12 mile mark, for some reason, I thought I was safe. I thought, “The hills must be over now.” Silly me! I obviously didn’t know who I was dealing with here. I mean after all, we are talking about Mike Smith here. Legendary D3 XC coach.
As I turned the penultimate corner, there it was, Mascenic Hill. A monster of a hill! Right at the end of a halfy! Thanks again Smith. And at the top of Mascenic Hill, is Mascenic High School. It was then that I realized how Smith turns out great team after great team. He obviously bribed someone to build that school on top of that hill! BRILLIANT! At that very moment, as I was about halfway up the hill, from out of absolutely nowhere, Drew Traffie came sprinting past me like a deer! Like it was out of a movie. Solidifying Smith’s genius in my mind, in that moment.
At the start of the race I told Smith that I thought I would run somewhere in the 1:40 range. I finished in 1:40.26. So I was happy with my run. Honestly though, I am just happy I finished. Did I mention the course was brutal?
In another stroke of pure genius on Mike’s part the finish line is right at the end of his driveway. Making it easy to limp your way into his house afterwards, enjoy a bowl of his world famous possum balls, and complain about how miserable the course was.
As I said, there was an impressive contingent of NH high school XC/track athletes out there.
Here is the list…..
Connor Downes 1:27:18
Ryder Downes 1:32:45
Peyton Joslyn 1:38:21
Drew Traffie 1:39:19
Ben LaPlume 1:46:13
Brielle Shippee 2:02:07
Dylan Buttrick 2:07:44
Kelson Whitehouse 2:07:46
Victoria Smith 2:16:24
Mackenzie Vaillancourt 2:27:05
Amelia Smith 2:27:06
Emma Schaumloffel 2:27:09
Shelley Smith ran the 14k
Jace Joslyn ran the 14k
Well this concludes the Winter Track Race Series. I hope you all have enjoyed the races and/or posts. I know that we here at Newfound have had an absolute blast running with you all this winter! We would like to extend a special thanks to all the folks at Millennium Running, the folks at Snow Or No We Go, and of course Mike Smith and his family for hosting us at various races this winter. We would also like to wish everyone the best of luck this spring during outdoor season.
Let the games begin!