The Wobble Gobble 4-Miler is a Thanksgiving tradition in the small college town of Keene, New Hampshire. The (almost) 4-mile course runs up and over a big hill before winding through town on a paved recreational path, and then finishes with a sidewalk sprint past the store fronts lining Main Street. All proceeds go directly to the Keene High School cross-country program.
I had planned to run a local Turkey Trot in my own hometown before hosting Thanksgiving at our house. Plans changed, as they’re prone to do, and we headed to Keene instead. Thinking it might be a nice way to celebrate the holiday, and take a running tour of Keene, I signed up everyone in the family. We piled into the car well before the sun came up to make the two-hour drive.
The parking lot was full by the time we arrived at the Recreational Center. With a little ingenuity, and a sideways glance at the state trooper standing in the parking lot, we found ourselves a parking spot on the grass. Ten minutes later, we were back in the car with pins, race bibs and long-sleeved race t-shirts and stomachs churning with pre-race butterflies. Everyone agreed this was not a race, this was a fun run on a family holiday. And, that’s perfectly okay.
I decided to go warm up with a 10-minute run, just in case my fun run showed some promise of becoming something faster and, well… a little less fun. More and more people continued to show up as the race start approached. A group of walkers left 30 minutes before the runners and were already well onto the course by now. There was some talk of a delayed start, but nobody seemed to know why. I stayed close and ran even smaller circles around the building hoping not to miss a sudden race start.
Five minutes later, the crowd assembled and stood facing in one direction. I found the second row behind some high school runners that looked like they were about to enjoy beating everybody else in town that day. After a few quick words from the starter, we were off in a rush. A quick left turn was followed by another right turn, and I found myself facing an enormous hill that reminded me of an Olympic ski jump.
I scrambled up the hill following the boys with the hometown advantage and tried not to step on my tongue. Mercifully, the course took a right at the top of the hill and descended for the next quarter mile. My watch beeped at the end of the first mile and showed a startling 5:48 split time. Well, that’s going to hurt later. I found myself running three wide behind the chase pack following the leaders. The guys on both sides of me looked comfortable, so I tried to hang with them.
Mile two came and went, and the guy on my right pulled away. Or, more likely, Leftie and I were just falling off pace and sucking wind. We turned onto a nice paved trail that cut through town and pointed us back towards the finish. I was thinking about what a great trail it was, and how it would be a cool place to train, when I came upon a group of walkers that seemed oblivious to the race going on around them.
For some inexplicable reason, a woman in a fur coat was walking her dog down the center of the path with 6′ of slack leash. Runners had to side-step her and navigate the dog leash situation as they passed. I said something like, “We’re running a race here lady!” And, slow-blinker that she was, she responded with a look I’ve seen on the face of a fish after being plucked out of the water.
Come to think of it, I was feeling a bit like that myself around 3 miles and started looking for water stop. There might have been one, but I missed it in my competitive fervor. My watch said I had a mile left to go when we turned up Main Street. I cruised down the sidewalk as directed so that traffic could pass by unimpeded on Thanksgiving morning. This presented another congestion issue as the front runners were crawling up the backs of the slower walkers.
The finish came sooner than expected. I saw the crowd up ahead and picked out a target. Leftie had fallen way back, so I concentrated on the bobbing blonde hair of a high school runner. I passed him hoping to break his spirit, but he passed me right back again. I decided to save my strength for a sprint to the finish. We turned up the driveway towards the race clock and I started kicking. A fraction of a second later, so did he. The crowd made a lot of noise watching the young and old battle it out for a few seconds. But, in the end, the legs of the 15-year-old beat the spirit of the 45-year-old.
A few minutes later, I spotted my son. And soon after that, my wife and daughter. There were lots of smiles, some crazy holiday costumes, and plenty of cheering spectators.
Runners and walkers enjoyed a warm gym, bottled water, and homemade pies after finishing. Race awards were handed out to the top finishers, and a lengthy raffle awarded prizes to dozens of race participants. Preliminary race results were taped to the walls within twenty minutes of the first finishers crossing the line. All in all, it was a nice small town race with good competition, a welcoming race staff, and lots of Thanksgiving cheer.