1996 Billygoat Run
Held every year since 1979, when it
was instituted by many-time National "O" Champion Peter
Gagarin, the Billygoat is a special "O" race with some
different emphases. It seems to be about equal parts exhaustion
and fun. That fun-loving but exhausted bunch, the EMPO Relay Team,
decided it would be a fine tune-up for the upcoming US Relay Champs
(part of the "O-Roundup", in August), so we all traveled
to Mt. Wachussett in west-central Massachusetts to give it a shot.
Our President and Relay-anchorman, Bill Jameson, has actually
been doing this thing well near half his life. He currently is
tied for 8th with twelve years of official finishes (completing
the course in under 3 & 1/2 hours). The fact that you are
considered a success if you can finish in 3 & 1/2 hours, which
would normally be considered "Overtime" and disqualifying,
highlights the exhausting part of the 'Goat: it's long, and there
is lots of climb (they don't call this year's site MOUNT Wachussett
for nothing). This year the distance was listed as 13.9k and the
climb as 400m, but as we all know you always actually run further.
My own route -- which I know quite well was far from optimal
-- was about 2k more with 200 more meters climb. The general post
race consensus seemed to be that this was one of the more physically
demanding 'Goats of the last few years. Looking at my splits for
each control, my minutes per kilometer sagged badly in the later
stages of the race. At least I found everything without too much
But, altogether it was still great fun.
To begin with, it's a mass start race, which is unusual in orienteering
because normally you aren't supposed to follow anyone else, and
a mass start makes it almost impossible not to, for awhile anyway.
But in the Billygoat, following is explicitly allowed, and in
fact small groups of people working together frequently form,
disband, and reform as the race goes along. So we all get our
maps and charge off together towards the first control, stringing
out more and more as things go along. I usually figure I will
barely need to think for a few controls, and just try to have
a rough idea where we are so when I get left in the dust I can
continue on without too much difficulty. That moment came earlier
than usual this year, as I found myself pretty much on my own
after control two. Fortunately I did know where I was at that
point, having not run too blindly, and was able to continue on,
particularly since at that point all I needed to do was head towards
a road which went up and around the mountain.
Another special rule which adds to the
event's unique character is the one which allows you to skip one
control of your choosing. The only time I crossed paths with another
EMPO Team member was as I was taking what proved to be my ill-advised
"skip". Which control you should have skipped is one
of the big items for post-race re-hashing, and in this instance
literally No One else chose to skip the one I did (this could
be a sign of something: the same thing happened last year). As
I was chugging back Up the mountain, Glen Tryson was zipping Down
to control I had just left. I still don't think my choice was
that bad; I just didn't execute it well, failing to see the correct
trail turnoff and ending up climbing several hundred meters too
far, then having to make a tricky descent to get back to the right
level. Most people ended up getting the control I skipped and
the next one in about the same time it took me to do the one.
What a waste!
It would be fun to try another mass
start race here in EMPO-land some day, but the difficulty is in
getting everyone to show up at the same time. We have enough trouble
getting people to show up, period. So, until the day our numbers
increase to some magic level, we'll have to leave mass starts
to the bigger clubs around us. In the meantime, I'll be sure to
put next year's Billygoat date and location in the Spring newsletter.