Sunday, July 6, 2008

2008 Loon Mountain Race

Sunday was my third straight mountain race in 3 weeks. Some background....The Loon Mtn. Race (results) is the 5th race in the LaSportiva USATF-New England Mountain Running Circuit. Loon Mountain is a 3,065-foot mountain in Lincoln, NH. The course starts right along the Pemigewasset River and winds up service trails /roads and ski trails to the Summit Lodge at the top of the Gondola, then works its way over and up North Peak and back over to the top of the Gondola. That 'North Peak' is the absolute sickest ascent I've ever seen...more on that in a bit.... According to the website, the race averages a 10% grade and has some sections that are more than 20%. It seems like that 20% is on the conservative side, and it seems like most of the course averages more than 10%...but then again, I am just a humongous baby when it comes to running hills...they all seem worse to me than they actually are. Still, that North Peak ascent is probably the single toughest physical activity I've ever done.

I knew going in, that my fitness was affected a little after my last 2 weeks of low mileage and my mild injury from last week's race. I only mustered 20 miles this week (2 on Wednesday, 10 on Thursday with the Whirlaway dudes, and 8 on Saturday). I also biked 23 miles by accident on late Saturday afternoon (got very lost in an area where you'd be lucky to find anyone who speaks English...that's all I'll say about that). Of course once I get all the way up to Lincoln and registered for the race, DD can finally let the cat out of the bag and tell me the truth about the course... as he laughed his way through the description, he kept using a hand gesture to emulate the incline of certain sections of the one point, his hand looked like it was straight up and down...I knew I was in for some trouble. My favorite part of the day (other than crossing the finish line alive) was hearing Paul Kirsch's (race director) starting line instructions which included a sincere description of the horror that was ahead of us between miles 4.5 and 5. I believe his words were something to the effect of '...if you think you are in trouble or dying at mile 4, you may want to drop out at that point, because it gets much much worse after that...' Kind words for sure...but as I now know, the caliber of runners who show up to these types of races is such that I think everyone who came up over that 4 mile mark, continued to battle and finished what I believe to be one of the hardest races around... It was inspiring enough for me to stand near the finish line after and watch every additional finisher come up the hill. I stayed up there until the last person crossed the line. A sincere congrats to all.

- Top 10 -

1 Eric Blake - 46:01 (course record) - 29 - New Britain CT - BAA
2 Eric Morse - 48:40 - 43 - VT - CMS
3 Justin Fyffe - 49:28 - 28 - East Dummerston VT - GCS-Triad
4 Todd Callaghan - 49:43 - 38 - Somerville MA - GCS Triad
5 Dave Dunham - 50:11 - 44 - Bradford MA - CMS
6 Kevin Tilton - 51:01 - 26 - Conway NH - CMS
7 Tim VanOrden - 51:25 - 40 - Bennington VT - CMS-Running Raw
8 David Herr - 51:39 - 43 - Canaan VT - GCS-Triad
9 Jim Johnson - 52:08 - 31 - Salem NH - MVS
10 Craig Fram - 53:20 - 49 - Plaistow NH - Whirlaway

If you are counting, that is 5 out of the top 10 in their 40s... 3 in their 20s...only 2 in their 30s...with the youngest in the top 10 at 26 years of age. Regardless of fitness level and road / track experience, you really do need to be an experienced mountain runner to have a good day out here. Washington was (and is always) a good testament to that. Guys like Morse and Dunham and Fram are perfect examples of guys who can take on much younger runners and destroy them on these types of courses...Experience goes a long way in this sport. That said, sign up for these next year and start getting some!

The race was won by Eric Blake (2006 and 2008 winner of the Mt. Washington Road Race, 2004 Olympic Trial Marathoner) who is tuning up for the World Mountain Running Trophy later this summer in Switzerland. The difference between Blake's time and mine (approx. 6 minutes) is truly the difference between running the whole thing like a man....and power walking the steepest of uphills like a big pansy... in fact, I was so toast by the last obscenely steep uphill, that I don't' even think what I was doing was even considered 'power' walking by the definition...I was more or less falling uphill for a half mile.... I went out with a pack that included Blake, Fram (pictured up to the left), Tilton, Morse, and Fyffe. Tilton and Fyffe pushed the pace very early on and then Fram, Morse (below), and Blake took over. For a while, I was pretty confident that Morse and Fram would give Blake a run for his money. They all looked so strong up at the top. Kevin Tilton backed off a bit on one of the downhill to uphill transitions and I was at first thinking he was in trouble...then I thought better of it and knew he was taking it down a little bit to conserve for what was ahead...he's too good of mountain runner and I knew his experience and course know-how was hard at work at that point...I should have followed suit but instead pushed up to try and stay within sight of the pack that was thinning out little by little. On the more severe uphill climbs, I could see pretty much everyone except for Blake after a while... On the downhills, I think everyone picked up some serious time on me because I was a little conservative this week with my ankle still recovering from the downhill at Cranmore... Somewhere in the middle of the race, Todd Callaghan (4th last week at Cranmore) went by me very strong on one of the uphills. I told him to 'go up ahead and get those next few guys'...because I knew he could at that point, seeing how strong he was hitting that hill... On the 2nd to last big uphill climb that led up and over past the finish line for the first time, Kevin Tilton went by me for a few seconds before the downhill (approximately 4 miles into the race). Dave Dunham was close behind but hadn't gone past me just yet. On the beginning downhill, I went by Kevin and asked him if we actually come back up this way to the finish...he just said 'yep', and I looked down and knew things were going to get a lot worse, but in reality, had NO IDEA what was to come.... I knew I was in serious trouble and knew I had to push a little on the downhill to try to gap the guys who were just sitting on me and ready to devour me on the next climb. That is exactly what happened (except for the gapping part)... After a pretty long stretch of downhill, we circled around the North Peak and I just looked up and gasped...This is what Dunham had told me before the race, was going to hurt like no other was approximately a half mile of the worst hill I have ever seen. Some parts of it you literally can just climb up with your hands...I actually saw Justin Fyffe doing that up ahead of me. As soon as I hit the ascent, Tilton and Dunham whizzed by me at 11-12 minute pace like I was standing still. I looked up about halfway up and saw the entire field (less Blake I think). I would say that at one point, everyone except Kevin Tilton was walking. I kept looking up helplessly and thinking 'they are all right there'...but you can't do anything about it. Everyone was walking...Justin on his hands and tip toes, Craig sidestepping and constantly looking back... I could see Todd slowly picking up spots, and Eric Morse at the very top... I turned around and saw TvO and Dave Herr both right behind me, and then nothing. I'm talking nothing but some of the most remote parts of the White Mountains behind us in one of the most spectacular views... This moment was probably the single most memorable moment for me in any race for sure... Just nothing but beautiful blue sky and lush green hills, flowers and wild berries, the sun beating down, and only the sound of my heart pounding and the distant grunts of those directly in front of me and behind me...other than that...deafening quiet... But those who were behind me were not behind me for long.... TvO and Herr soon went by me a little more than halfway up and I told Tim (who's raw/organic diet I'm still trying to follow), that I needed a steak. As I reached the top, about 30-40 seconds or so behind Tim and Dave, I went up over the crest of the peak and looked my confusion, I didn't see either one at all and thought at first, either I took a wrong turn or they either deviated from the course or fell off to the side, etc. I panned back and forth and saw no one. Then as I started to make what was the single most wicked descent I've ever run down, I noticed Craig Fram up a head a little bit and then saw Tim all the way at the bottom. I still have no clue how he ran that far that fast...After the race he told me he took giant leaps all the way down...that is absolutely insane...but then again, that is one of the reasons he smoked me on this course...his downhill running is probably one of the best out there... On the way down, I ran past Craig Fram (10th at the US Mountain Champs this year), who also had never run this race before and definitely went out a bit too aggressive early on... I shuffled up the last uphill which isn't a killer by any means (after running North Peak, nothing is)...but it was still a cruel way to end the race... After finishing the race and cheering on the other brave souls who were finishing up the last hill, I took the gondola down and went and sat in the Pemigewasset River for a while to ice the old legs.

To put this race in perspective as opposed to Washington... Washington was 7.6 miles and I ran an OK time. I averaged 9:14 pace for 7.6 miles uphill (1:10:06). Loon is only 5.7 miles and I averaged 9:08 pace. That is just slightly faster than Washington, but 2 mile shorter AND Loon has some downhills!!!! Washington is all uphill. You do the math. Loon is the toughest out of all of them so far. I actually rate Washington easier than Loon AND Cranmore.

Long story short...I'll be back next year for sure! Would you expect anything less?... Next week it is on to Mt. Ascutney in Windsor VT. This will be the last race in the 2008 LaSportiva USATF-New England Mountain Running Circuit and obviously my last mountain race for this year. This will be a shorter 3.8 mile ascent up another auto road, but this time, climbing 2,300 feet over a 12-19% grade.
As usual, GREAT race photos taken by Scott Mason and the lovely and talented Kristin at my Flickr site (Photoset and Slideshow). I'm thinking of switching over to Smugmug after talking to Scott after the race and then checking out the seems like a better presentation of photos...I don't use the community-based features and stuff that Flickr offers...I just want to post my pix and have people be able to see em'!... This coming weekend, there won't be any race photos from me unfortunately, because I will be without the lovely and talented Kristin... But I'll try to post something remotely interesting anyways... maybe some nature shots and pictures of my dirty shoes...

One more Animoto video (short version)...

Photos: The lovely and talented Kristin
Music: - U2 - "In God's Country" (1987)
Video Production: Me.


  1. Awesome write up and GREAT pictures!!!

  2. Nice writeup.

    Contemplating doing this run this year (non-competitively) and was wondering if you might enlighten me to how much of it is in the sun vs in the shade. By the look of it, all the miserable parts are in the beating sun, but if the run-up to them is shady enough it'd be that much less intimidating.