Monday, June 29, 2009

2009 US Mountain Running Championships

Sunday it was back up to North Conway, NH for the 2009 US Mountain Running Championships (results) at the Cranmore Hill Climb. This was not only the US National Championship, but it was also the North American, Central American, and Caribbean (NACAC) Championships. Lastly, as the US Championship does every year, this race was a qualifier for the World Trophy team as well. The top three American Men and Top American woman received automatic berths on the Teva US Mountain Running Team that will compete in September at the World Mountain Running Championships in Italy. Needless to say, the competition at this year's race was far deeper than last year, where I managed a close third place overall (one place and 4 seconds behind CMS teammate and 2-time world team member Kevin Tilton). I was pretty excited for this race, as this was my first real 'mountain' race last year and I was looking forward to going back and running against a much deeper field. I was also looking forward to the prospect of winning a US National team title, which CMS has done numerous times before. This would be my first chance at doing so, as a member of the Central Mass Striders.

I woke up at 4:00am and was at Dave Quintal's house by 5:00am over in North Salem, NH for a drive up to North Conway, which would take us about 2 hours at that time of the morning. The drive went by pretty quick as DQ and I talked about the race, running and training, and how awesome DD is. When we swung into town, the weather hadn't looked any better and dark clouds were swirling around the area, indicating that weather may once again play a factor in the race up Mt. Cranmore.

We swung into the parking lot after having spotted TiVo a few streets down, walking with one of his adoring fans (no doubt spreading the raw-food gospel around the streets of North Conway)... We saw dd's car already sitting all by itself in the lot, with a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup on the roof, and nobody near it. As we headed over into the lodge, Ben Nephew pulled in and walked over with us...We made our way into the registration area and signed in amongst a hoard of the usual suspects including dd, Todd Callaghan, and all of the elite runners from the previous week's Mount Washington race. I chatted a bit w/ dd and it was very evident that he was indeed pretty sick and congested from some mystery illness he picked up midweek...I kept my distance.

As the rain seemed like it was going to hold off, we started our warm up with a decent pack that included dd, DQ, myself, Ben, Justin Fyffe, Trish Steidl, Tim & Abby Mahoney, and near the end, Jim Pawlicki and Joe Shairs (who was there to cheer on his CMS teammates and take some pictures)... After the warm up around the trails at the base of Cranmore, it was back over to the car to tape up the ankles (something I did NOT do last year) and then into the woods for a quick rest stop before heading over to the starting area.

Loop 1) After some words from Andy Schachat and the anthems of the NACAC countries, the race was off in dramatic fashion...For the race, I went with the Inov-8 x-talon 212's and they really performed well out there on the slick rock and muddy moss. Immediately I was bunched up behind some elite women and men and getting pushed from all angles. Unfortunately I had to reach out and hand-check (pretty hard) a smaller elite woman in front of me during the first 100 meters or so and then had to swing wide and make my own path in thicker grass to the far right, to get around and back up near Kevin Tilton, like my race plan had been envisioned earlier. I couldn't get any closer than about 5 or 6 guys back of Kevin as we went up the first incline and into the woods. At this point, the first 1K or so was very slow going, as a steady line of runners all went single-file across the first lateral section of the course. By the second 'real' climb, it was starting to thin out and I could comfortably weave from side to side up the grassy, muddy slopes of Cranmore, picking my spots and trying to stay on my feet. At this point, I was solely around LaSportiva, Invo-8, and some of the other elite runners, along with Judson Cake, Tommy Manning, and a couple other good solid runners. I took a few peeks back as we made our way up some of the very steep sections, and could see Eric Morse next in line, and Ben Nephew not too far behind him. As the race progressed, and my pace slowed on the uphills, and my first bout with power-hiking began around the 11 minute mark of the race (I had jokingly guesstimated to DQ on the way up that we'd be 'walking within the first ten minutes'...almost), the first 7 or so guys really put distance on everyone else, and the field spread out quite a bit.

Looking up I could see Justin Fyffe and Josh Ferenc and a couple others that were all within eventual striking distance. Around this point, Morse was right behind me and Jason Bryant and I ran side by side for the last part of the first ascent. Once I reached the top of the first ascent, I had just passed Jason and went up and through the summit water stop. On the beginning of the first descent, I immediately caught and passed CMS teammate Justin Fyffe who didn't seem to react to my move and my encouragement to hop on the train...he's been racing a lot of longer races this year already and seemed a little 'raced-out' today. I passed one other guy on the way down and hit the bottom feeling really strong. At a couple of spots on the descent, where it gets very steep, fast, and out of control, my legs began to react and cramp up slightly....forcing me to land on my toes and back off a bit, but I was able to maintain a solid pace down to the bottom, where I was now right up next to Tommy Manning, who finished 7th at last week's Mount Washington Road Race. This made it two runners I was now ahead of or right with, that had finished in the top 10 at Mount Washington, that previous weekend. I knew Jason Bryant (who was top 10 in the last 2 years at Washington) was still a factor even though I could not see him back there any longer. I had little faith that I'd be able to hold position on the second loop's ascent, but felt head and shoulders better than I did last year going into the second loop...I'm a bit stronger this year for sure, and could feel it as I hit the second loop.

Loop 2) As we hit the beginning of the second loop, I looked over at Tommy and said 'this one's going to be very interesting'...he uttered a small reactionary grunt and we hit the climb. He moved out in front and I tried to hang on to him, all the while knowing that not too far behind me was Judson Cake, Eric Morse, and a few others that had absolutely every chance of mowing me down quickly on the second ascent. As we made our way up and across the mountain, I was now aware that I was wearing a 20lbs. singlet and my shorts were falling off my backside, they were so drenched and heavy... I had all I could do to keep my uniform on as I continued to pedal the bike up with as many real running steps as one can possibly take on these climbs. To put it in perspective, just about all the real climbs in this race are all far steeper than any section of Washington, and a few of them force an almost 'hands on the ground' approach...couple that with treacherous footing, wet rock, muddy, mossy ground, and tall grass, stumps, roots, and holes, and it makes for interesting conditions to say the least.

About half way up the second climb, I noticed that Tommy Manning had really worked on the way up and had passed a couple of guys...I was getting closer and closer to Josh Ferenc, Aaron Saft, and Kevin Tilton, and Judson Cake was getting closer and closer to me. After Judson, I didn't see anyone else back there, and about halfway up, I realized I would probably finish within 2 or 3 (give or take) places of where I was at that point... But I didn't really know what place I was in. I knew I was the second CMS guy to that point, and barring a disaster on the way down, I figured I could hold that spot. I knew Ben Nephew and Justin were great downhill guys (and climbers), but couldn't see them in back of me and I didn't have that much left in the climb. Towards the end of the 2nd ascent, my pipe dream of catching Josh, Aaron Saft, and Kevin Tilton went out the window... They all hammered the last bit of uphill to the summit water stop, and I power-hiked a lot of it. Judson was still pedalling the bike behind me and it seemed that every time I started to hike, and turned around, he was getting closer and closer to me, and was running the whole time. As I passed over the summit water stop, Tad Thomas shouted out that I was doing well and that I was in the top 15... This got the fire lit under my backside to really work the last descent and not lose any more places. As I started to hammer down the last part of the course, I had a decent lead on Judson and knew that unless I really screwed up on the way down, he wouldn't be able to catch me on the downhill...I still had about 300 meters or so of flat straightaway at the bottom before the finish line that I was worried about, but I was focused on getting there first. I didn't see anyone in front of me except some lapped runners still working on their first descents...

As I hammered downhill in a borderline out of control fashion, my legs cramped again and I had to try to keep some sort of composure... As I hit the very last section of downhill that opened up to the base of the mountain, I could see a couple of 1st lap runners and Tommy Manning, just trying to get to the finish line. I reeled him in and went by just before hitting the last straightaway flat part of the base of the course and reached for the finish line. I had no clue still as to what my place was, but I knew it was in the top 15 give or take, and I was very excited to have made it in one piece. I crossed the line and Paul Kirsch came running over to me, telling me 'dude, you're 12th in the nation!'...I was thrilled and looked around for guys to congratulate...one being my CMS teammate Kevin Tilton, who really stepped it up and finished 9th. The only sad thing I initially felt was that I missed top 10, for which you get USATF medals...but seeing my expectations were actually top 30, I was in no way going to look at anything in a negative light... My thoughts immediately turned to the team competition in which I began to realize that we were definitely going to take home the national title, as Ben Nephew, Justin Fyffe, and Eric Morse all came in together. None of those guys, I expected to be able to beat today... coupled with the fact that guys like Tim VanOrden, Tim Mahoney, Jim Pawlicki, DD, DQ, and others were all out there too...I was just happy to have been in the top 5 for CMS.

After milling around a bit and letting everyone catch their breath and wipe the mud from their hair, eyes, etc. DD, Ben, DQ, and I headed out for a cool down around the trails. I was focused on keeping my back in check, as it was borderline spasming/cramping up. I knew the day(s) following would be pretty sore/slow days for sure...but I left it out there today and gave it my all, so I was ready and willing to accept some of the soreness/stiffness that would be sure to follow.

After a quick cleanup, we headed back over to the awards ceremony, where they presented the top 10 US medals (the only sore spot for me today), age group medals, NACAC championship medals, and announced the World team qualifiers. The team competition wasn't finalized technically or officially yet because the scoring system they used, had a slight snafu and there would have to be some manual work done to sort out the results after the top 25 or so places... So our team medals had to technically wait as they had to determine who was 2nd, 3rd, etc. but it was great to know that we took home a USATF gold medal and satisfying to know that I contributed to the team's success. I took my only photos of the day, at the awards ceremony. I have numerous photos of the top 10 men & women, NACAC scorers, and some others of me with some true mountain running elites including the below shot of me (left) with top US mountain runner and last week's Mount Washington Road Race winner Rickey Gates (middle), and CMS teammate and 45-49 yr old age group silver medalist Dave Quintal (right).

I got to talk to Rickey for quite a while after the race...great guy...humble and passionate for the sport. He took the time to tell us about his summer plans for racing all over Europe (he must have named 12 countries he's going to be visiting). He will be biking from race to race over there. His excursions can be followed on his blog: http://mostlypaved.blogspot.com.









Results: Top 25 + CMS Finishers (Men) in Blue

Place
FirstLastCityState
Age
Team Name
MM
SS
1
JoeGrayLakewoodWA
25
NACAC -USA
48
37
2
ZacFreudenburgSt. LouisMO
31
49
48
3
MattByrnePhiladelphiaPA
34
49
57
4
RickeyGatesAlamosaCO
28
NACAC -USA
50
04
5
ShilohMielkeWeavervilleNC
29
Vasque
51
38
6
EricBlakeNew BritainCT
30
NACAC -USA
51
50
7
SimonGutierrezAlamosaCO
43
NACAC -USA
51
54
8
AaronSaftFletcherNC
31
52
16
9
KevinTiltonNorth ConwayNH
27
CMS/Inov-8
52
24
10
JohnTribbiaBoulderCO
27
52
40
11
JoshFerencS. AcworthNH
27
BAA/Inov-8
52
42
12
JimJohnsonSalemNH
32
CMS
53
33
13
TommyManningColorado SpringCO
33
53
39
14
JudsonCakeBar HarborME
31
Dirigo
53
43
15
BenNephewMansfieldMA
15
CMS/Inov-8
54
53
16
derickwilliamsonaustinTX
27
54
58
17
JustinFyffeEast DummerstVT
39
La Sportiva/CMS
55
02
18
JasonBryantElkinNC
36
55
16
19
EricMorseBerlinVT
44
CMS
55
22
20
PaulChafeCANA
NACAC -CAN
55
32
21
GraydonSnyderCANA
NACAC -CAN
55
46
22
ToddCallaghanSomervilleMA
39
GCS-Triad
55
49
23
MiguelAngel LopezMEX
NACAC – MEX
55
53
24
EdWhethamSt. PaulMN
32
Run n Fun
56
06
25
DaveDunhamWard HillMA
45
CMS
56
19
26
TimMahoneyHolyokeMA
29
CMS
56
47
31
TimVanOrdenBenningtonVT
41
CMS
36
JamesPawlickiBeverlyMA
34
CMS
60
14
39
DAVIDQuintalSalemNH
46
CMS
61
08
107
RobertThomasCharltonMA
49
CMS
130
DavidLapierreChelmsfordMA
45
CMS
148
WalterKuklinskiPrincetonMA
60
CMS


On the way home, DQ and I stopped at OHOP (that's the Ossipee House of Pizza to the layperson), and then sat in some good ole' fashioned Sunday afternoon southbound traffic for a while before getting back to southern NH around 4ish...just enough time for me lay down and get about 16 hours of sleep.

Next up is the Loon Mountain race, which in my opinion, is the toughest mountain race in the series by far. I had a terrible race there last year because of how wrecked my ankle was after my Cranmore experience, coupled with missing a couple days before hand... With Cranmore being only 2 loops, Loon has got to be the worst one by far. The climbs are ugly-hard and the psychological torture of having to go up and past the finish line, only to go up and down the worst hill in any race on planet Earth, before going back to the finish line for a second time, just adds to the torture. But I'll be there because I've developed a condition that compels me enter and run these things for fun...I still can't believe it.

Photos used in this entry (of me) were taken by Mr. Scott Mason. More of this mountain championship-goodness can be seen in his usual collection of amazing photos on http://www.scottmasonphoto.com/galleries





















Photo above: JJ & Kevin Tilton (9th overall)





















Photo above: The Top 10 Men/Women (L-R backrow: Joe Gray, Zac Freudenburg, Matthew Byrne, Rickey Gates, Shiloh Mielke, Eric Blake, Simon Gutierrez, Aaron Saft, Kevin Tilton, John Tribbia L-R front row: Chris Lundy, Brandy Erholtz, Laura Haefeli, Kasie Enman, Gina Lucrezi, Megan Lund, Abby Larson, Amber Moran, Trish Steidl, Christa Benton)






















Photo above: JJ, Dave Quintal, Dave Dunham, and the Elusive Eric Morse (who says he's semi-retired now)...


10 comments:

  1. Jim, an unbelievable effort out there...barking with the big dogs! Nice race indeed. Good to see you running strong.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jim, Way to go buddy. You are one tough SOB. When you started writing about having to power walk, all I could think of was the video of you at Pooh Hill when you said to Jim Dunn that you were worried about walking and he said back to you. If you're walking what do you think everyone else is doing.

    Unbelievable effort. Next you I want top 10 out of you. The heck with that, I want top 3!! You can do it!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. very impressive... we should have named YOU 'Mountain Goat'

    ReplyDelete
  4. great run! Thorough post! I don't know how you guys stay so lucid out there...to report all the blow-by blow-details. Loon looms.Hope to see Kristen there.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I was pretty sure that you ran in my shoes because you had run so well. Seriously - great run. Keep the back healthy (do some yoga or yogurt or whatever it is KW suggests).

    That shot of the men of CMS ... whew. No Tom Sellecks in the bunch, eh?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hahaha...hot yogurt for the brave! Jim may need to do regulah yogurt 1st ;-) Maybe if I do a race someday he will go to class with me :-(

    ReplyDelete
  7. Didn't know I was one of Tim Van Orden's adoring fans. Thought I was a runner out there, just like you. Congratulations on a great race.

    ReplyDelete
  8. ha! Mike, I forgot that was you out there w/ Tivo... It was more a poke at Tivo than a shot at anyone he was with :).... Great job out there to you too... You're in some of Scott Mason's pix looking strong... You going to be at Loon? Give Tivo a run for his $$? He beat me there last year...still leaves a sour taste to this day!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Jim, great run at Cranmore especially with such a deep field.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Jim,
    Thanks for the kind words. I think I'm going to skip Loon, this is my first year back running in twenty three years, so the grind of the series is starting to wear me down. But, I'll be there at Ascutney. Kick butt at Loon!

    ReplyDelete