The Randolph Ramble, or the "ramble", should be a bucket list race for any mountain runner in New England. It was on my short list ever since it started a few years back. Unfortunately it conflicted with the North Conway Half Marathon, another great road race. This year I committed it to the calendar and it exceeded my expectations.
Randolph is a small remote town just north of the Presidentials. There's also good backcountry skiing there that I'm looking forward to exploring there this winter. It has smaller but beautiful mountains with views of Madison, Jefferson, and Adams that offer a perspective you won't find elsewhere. Since this race falls at the end of October, weather is always an unknown. The course could be covered in a foot of snow but this year it was cool and leaf-littered. After an evening of rain I had my concerns about the trail conditions but I much prefer racing in "cool & wet" than "hot & humid".
The event is low key and grassroots but still pulled in over 100 runners. Add on the many volunteers and parking was backed up down Town Road. En route to the event I picked up Jerimy Arnold who has raced this before and filled me in on the course and the mandatory gear list. The goal was to get in a good workout, and with over 2k of vert, that was a sure thing. How I'd place or how hard I'd race was completely up in the air. The previous evening I hiked Chocorua which was not the best race prep but I have a hard time turning down sunset hikes.
I warmed up with Tristan Williams, previous winner, and there were a few other young guns who could have good races. We all lined up at the start along a double wide logging road. With the blast of a real mini cannon we were off. I was blown away by how hard everyone took this race out. Counting the line of racers ahead I was barely in the top 10. Unfazed I paced myself for the long haul but still had my concerns about the bottle-necking on the single track. I made moves and quickly worked my way up to third place within the first 3/4 mile. The first climb is about 1,300'. The footing gets better once you get out of the hardwoods and into the evergreens. It's a fun climb mixing in power hiking and a few sidehill sections. I caught up to 2nd place - Kurt Hackler - and worked with him over the next few miles. He's an ex-Cat 1 cyclist and was very fast on the descents. His legs burnt up on the ascents though and I was able to put a 30 second gap on him before missing a flag and going off course. He caught up and helped me get back on track. From there on out I spent the next three miles trying to close the gap on Tristan who disappeared from sight back around 0.5 miles.
I need to take a quick second to thank all the volunteers who hiked up to cheer and make sure we made the right turns. It's a testament to the Randolph and trail community - incredible people.
The descent was fast and loose. They had raked most of the trail but I still made some risky steps into unknown leaf-covered trail that could have been black holes. I was cooked by the last mile that climbs back to the start on the logging road. At that point I was in no-mans-land so luckily had no one to race but myself. I finished in just over an hour and one minute which doesn't mean much as the course conditions vary each year. To be a couple minutes out from Tristan isn't a bad place to be so it's a good result.
Tristan and I cooled down running back along the course. I picked up 'Dessa along the way and walked her back to the finish. After a delicious beer, thanks Jerimy!, and awards (pie lasted all of 2hrs before consumption), I headed home satisfied with the race and effort to get out on the trails. Be sure to add this race to your schedule next year.