Monday, August 31, 2009

2009 Race to the Top of Vermont

Updated: 9/1/09 - Sunday I ran in the 2nd Annual Race to the Top of Vermont (results) up Mt. Mansfield in Stowe, VT. Mt. Mansfield is the highest peak in the Green Mountains and in Vermont at 4,395 feet. It is located within three different towns, Stowe, Cambridge, and Underhill. It includes alpine tundra leftover from the last Ice Age and the famous Long Trail traverses the main ridgeline of the area. Smugglers Notch is the mountain pass that separates Mount Mansfield from Spruce Peak and the Sterling Range. The views and surrounding area of the race was about as beautiful as I've seen and the trip was well worth the 3 hr 30 minute ride each way.

I headed up to Stowe, VT on Saturday afternoon to get up there in time to meet the TNT crew (RI's Tuesday Night Turtles) at the house they rented at the Golden Eagle Resort at Stowe (only about 2 miles from the start). I joined Scott Mason, Bob Jackman and his wife, John Peabody, Martin Tighe and his nephew, Larry Walker, Zak Kudlak, and another couple up from RI. We dumped our stuff off at the house and headed down the road a couple miles to the ski lodge to pick up our bibs and race packets. After that, it was off to a local restaurant/brew pub where we all ate dinner and I watched at all the RI crew indulged in some adult beverages. I can't even think about drinking even one beer the night before a race, so I opted for the free hydration plan (water) for the night. The party continued back at the house, where more beer was consumed by the Turtles and I threw back a few more waters. We watched the 2008 and 2009 Mt. Washington DVDs for inspiration and finally packed it in for bed at around 11:30 or so.

In the morning, we packed up and headed up past the Toll Road (as we had time to burn) and visited a local water fall in Smuggler's Notch State Park.... At close to 8:30ish we headed over to the starting area for the pre-race warm up, strides, and whatever else it is that we do. Not too long after, I noticed the elusive Eric Morse (CMS) milling around the starting area. Immediately, my thoughts of a win went out the window... Eric is one of the best mountain runners and road runners in NE the past 20 or so years and has represented the USA in the World Mountain Running Trophy 5 times. He's a 6 time USATF-NE Mountain Running Champion (1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003) and still holds the course records at Wachusett, Pack Monadnock 10 Miler, and Ascutney (all current USATF-NE Mountain series races). At Mt. Washington this year, he indicated that he's 'semi-retired' from serious racing, which is too bad considering he's still got wheels and strength to compete with the best of them....he indicated that he's just keeping up with his regular running for now and racing here and there for fun. But like Brett Favre, Mario Lemieux, Lance Armstrong, Roger Clemens (less the PEDs), and numerous others, he'll come out of that retirement soon enough... It's still great to see him out at races and it's always an intimidating site to see him walking around before the start of a mountain race. We did a short warm up and then headed back over in time to see the Mountain Bikers go up the mountain first, with their 10 minute head start. After the bikes headed up the hill, the RD gathered all the runners over to the starting area and had some words over the PA for the runners. He called out some of the good runners that were toeing the line and mentioned that Eric was there and that the 'record was probably going to fall'. He also mentioned that Scott Loomis was there, which made me more nervous, as Scott is a 2:28 marathoner. I wasn't sure how well he'd tackle the mountain, but knew he'd be pretty strong if he was in racing shape.

This is a race (course map) goes up the 150+ year old Toll Road. The beginning has a short section of pavement (about a quarter mile or so) before turning into hard packed gravel for the rest of it. The total elevation climb is 2,550 feet over 4.3 miles. From the top, you get views of three states and the Quebec as well as Lake Champlain. The race includes 3 separate hikers, one for mountain bikers, and the last for runners. As anticipated, the winning times (and records) for running and biking are very close for both women and men. Last year (the first year at this location), Dave Dunham won a very close race over Eli Enman and Erik Carter in 37:50 (8:47 pace).

The gun went off the planned 10 minutes after the mountain bikers, and immediately Eric and I pushed to the front. The first quarter mile is straight up a very impressive hill that is far steeper than the beginning of Mount Washington. By the top, Eric put in a small surge and I adjusted to stay with him. As we reached the top of the first climb and it flattened out (just a bit) I mentioned (jokingly) that I hoped that that was the hardest part of the race. He didn't have a response, but after the second shorter climb, he put in another surge that seemed like a sprint. I lost him for a couple strides and then caught back up. He then told me it was to 'lose the pack', to which I acknowledged was a brilliant idea... at that point, just a half mile or so into the race, it was just us. Well before the first mile, we both passed the first couple of mountain bikers and then it became a steady stream of them, weaving all over the road. Passing in and out of the bikers (who were all very courteous and responsive to us running past), we went up through the first mile in 7:54, to which I commented to Eric that it seemed pretty slow. At that point, I felt as though Eric was holding back a bit so I told him not to wait for me. He immediately told me that he was 'hurting'. I continued to push and felt myself easing one step at a time further and further into the lead. At about a mile and a half, I turned and yelled for Eric to come up and join me, as he was only still a few seconds back. By 2 miles, my lead had grown a lot larger and I was just hunched over, pushing further and further up as hard as I could, through constant stream of mountain bikers. There was the occasionally 'flatter' part of the course in between very steep climbs and switchbacks. On those flatter parts, I straightened up and pushed ahead at a much quicker pace, only to settle back down into a crawl up the next climb. The mist and clouds started to settle in and by 2.5 or so, it was reminiscent of Mount Washington this year, with visibility pretty poor after 30 feet or so in all directions. My third mile was pretty slow and I kept peeking behind me to see where Eric was. There were so many bikers ahead and behind at this point, that I couldn't tell when looking back, if it was Eric I was seeing through the clouds or bikers. By 3 miles I was hurting pretty good but felt like I could finish at the pace I was on. I was also pretty confident that Eric was going to catch me. I almost convinced myself that I'd be second. As I passed more and more spectators (there were A LOT on the course) and bikers, they all shouted tons of encouragement and amazement at how I was passing all the mountain bikes after starting 10 minutes back. I think I said something to the affect of 'thanks, but the next guy back is gonna win' a bunch of times. It culminated at about the 3.5 mile mark (maybe a little after) when I went up past the race director who was excited to see us coming and cheered me on. I looked up at him and said 'Eric's got me' and he immediately yelled that he couldn't even see Eric and that I had it and was almost there. I wasn't sure if he couldn't see Eric because of the clouds or if he was just telling me that so I wouldn't worry and keep pushing...but it did give me some encouragement as I went up past. As I passed the 4 mile mark in about the same time I did mile 3, there were spectators all over the course, all yelling words of encouragement. All along the way, one biker would yell up to the next as I passed 'runner coming through', and that helped me a ton, as they would shift over to let me pass. I was amazed at the amount of support and respect they gave me as I pushed up to the finish. I came though the finish in 35:30 (8:15 pace) and good for 1st overall for the run and 42 seconds faster than the first biker (who came in at 36:12). Out of the 167 bikers that finished, I passed 137 of them before the finish line because of the 10 minute stagger, but had we all started at the same time, I would have been first to the top. My time was also 2 minutes and 20 seconds under the course record, set last year by Dave Dunham (CMS) who ran faster than all but 2 bikers on the day. In all, 279 people ran the race, which is 109 more than last year.

Top 10 (CMS in Blue) of 279

PlaceNameCityAge GroupTimeTime Back
1Jim JohnsonSalem NH1 30-3935:30.6
2Eric MorseBerlin VT1 40-4936:21.200:50.6
3Shawn GardnerDallas TX2 40-4937:56.002:25.4
4John SpinneyWaterbury VT2 30-3938:04.702:34.1
5Eli EnmanHuntington VT3 30-3938:22.702:52.1
6Scott LoomisColchester VT4 30-3938:24.002:53.4
7Ryan KerriganMoretown VT1 20-2938:43.903:13.3
8Peter SchouwAvon CT3 40-4938:51.903:21.3
9Ray WebsterBurlington VT5 30-3938:59.403:28.8
10Tom ThurstonWaterbury VT4 40-4939:34.504:03.9

Splits: 4.3 Mile Mountain Race - 35:30 (8:15 pace)

Mile 1) 7:54.53
Mile 2) 8:08.79
Mile 3) 8:47.07
Mile 4) 8:49.67
last .3) 1:50.98

Some photos I took of the area can be found on my SmugMug page. I don't have any photos of the race (so I used the proofs above from the company contracted to take official race photos).

Here's a cool video of the start of the bikers (you get to see just how tough it was for them especially).

In an 'un-related' but related story, Jay Kolodzinski posted his Savoy Mountain Trail Race video today. It's really cool to see what the course is like. He filmed as he ran and it's pretty sweet. It doesn't do the course complete justice, but does give you a glimpse of what it was like to run this race. The view from the top at the end is great...too bad I took a 2 second look over my shoulder when I was up there before heading back down...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Loco 5000

Thursday night I pushed aside the hamstring troubles and headed up to Portsmouth High School to run the 6th Annual Loco 5000 (results). I talked myself in and out of this race for most of the day and finally decided to go up at about 4:30pm. The race moved from Dover, NH to Portsmouth this year and was held at 6:30pm on the Portsmouth High School track. There are 2 heats...Heat 1 is the faster heat (under 20 minutes) and Heat 2 is the over 20 minutes group. It was (as Andy Schachat put it) a 'small but intimate crowd' that gathered at the track...18 in heat 1 and only 15 in heat 2. There were also a couple of kids that ran some ad hoc '1-lappers' before the first heat went off.

As I warmed up, my hamstrings and calf (left) were really tight and I was really thinking that it may have been a mistake to go up. I was also contemplating how I should run the race and whether I should just sit and run easier than usual....but as the gun went off at 6:30, I went right out and settled into my goal pace of 75 second quarters (which would get me 5 minute pace and close to 15:32). That would be fine for me, as nobody else that I was planning on maybe having show up, showed up. No Tilton, no Tim Cox, no Huppe, Rider, Wiles, Mentzer, Balakier, Gosztyla, Jennings, Christiansen, or any other of the usual suspects I thought might show for a Seacoast race. So I figured a 15:30ish would be a good solo effort. The weather was perfect and the 75 second quarters felt pretty easy until the last couple laps, where I could feel myself rigging up just a bit, but not bad and I managed to keep pace. I felt very smooth and it felt like one of Fernando's old track workouts (minus the pulled hamstring or calf near the end). In the end, I came through a few ticks under what I was shooting for, so I'm pretty happy with the solo effort.

400M Splits for 5000M (15:28.11) - 1st.

Lap 01) 1:13.18
Lap 02) 1:15.01 (2:28.19)
Lap 03) 1:13.17 (3:41.36)
Lap 04) 1:13.94 (4:55.30)
Lap 05) 1:14.47 (6:09.77)
Lap 06) 1:14.41 (7:24.18)
Lap 07) 1:15.01 (8:39.19)
Lap 08) 1:15.03 (9:54.22)
Lap 09) 1:15.92 (11:10.14)
Lap 10) 1:14.83 (12:24.97)
Lap 11) 1:14.29 (13:39.26)
Lap 12) 1:13.04 (14:52.30)
Last .1 ) :35.81 (15:28.11)

After the first heat, I grabbed my camera and shot some photos of the folks running the 20+ minute heat. I've uploaded them to SmugMug here. Looking back on it, I should have asked someone to take photos of my heat, but I forgot I even had the camera before my race.

I think the coolest moment of the night was watching 9 year old Melissa Brown (pictured left) run 26:35 (8:34 pace). I believe her dad was pacing her for most of the way (he ran in the first heat too) and she just kept plugging along and ran the whole thing at what looked to me to be a very even pace. There was a 13 year old Alexander Brown, 1 place ahead of her and that could have been her big brother and an 11 year old Nick Brown in the first heat that could also be an older brother...very cool...In any case, it was very impressive to watch the kids run the full 5k on the track and give it their all. Watch out for that Melissa Brown in the future... She looks like a serious runner already at only 9 years of age and she didn't just run it passively like a lot of kids do who just are out there having fun and not really thinking about what they are doing....she was competing out there and emptied the tank. Very very cool. I also picked up a pair of Loco Banditos that the folk from Loco brought to the track...they were pushing them for half price...and after speaking with Bob Dion last week about the upcoming snowshoe season and how the best shoe, in his opinion, for clipping into the Dion 121 racing shoes are the Loco Banditos...I couldn't help but pick up a pair. They are VERY comfortable and I am thinking of trying out a pair in my next long road race or even Baystate...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Saunders 10k

Sorry for the delay...but by popular demand, I bring you the Saunder's writeup... This past Thursday I ran in the 5th Seacoast Series race up in Rye, NH. The Saunders at Rye 10k (results) was is in it's 33rd year this year and this year fielded a respectable 805 finishers. This was my second year running the race and I know the course can be pretty fast. The current course record is Mike Gagne from 1986 who ran 29:37.7. The course is laid out perfectly with a nice flat first mile, an ever so slight incline up to 2 miles, then some rolls up until the 5k mark. After the 5k, it is all downhill to 5 miles, then the last 1.2 is flat all the way back to the restaurant. Having no killer hills, and no real climb of any kind after the 5k mark makes it a pretty good course to run fast on, weather permitting.

I warmed up with the Whirlaway contingent (Ard, Williams, Mahoney), Kevin Alliete (NBB), and the elder Quintal who is coming back from some injury downtime. As we headed over to the line, I noticed a couple more Whirlaway ringers (Dan Princic and Chris Hamel) doing their strides, and local NH runners Sam Wood (who had a number, but wasn't officially signed up, so he's not in the results) and John Mentzer, who has a stranglehold now on the Seacoast series. I could see it was going to be a good pack of guys for the first few miles anyways. I was feeling a little stiff from the past couple weeks of racing and higher mileage, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

Right before Andy fired the gun, he made the announcement that there WILL be a race next year (34th year), to which it got a nice applause from the crowd. Then we were off. Portsmouth's Alan Fernald was out like Usain Bolt for the first 200 meters (which he does for every race) before settling back into his 7 min. pace. After that, it was Kevin, myself, John, and Sam Wood, with Chris Mahoney right behind. It remained like that for the first mile or so and then I saw that Chris was right up with us and Sam was falling back just a bit. By 2 miles, Dan Princic pulled up into the small lead pack and got out front with John. Kevin and I stayed just behind those two for another mile before hitting the 5k mark in 16:12. From there, John made his move up that last hill just before 5k and was gone. Dan Princic gave chase for a bit and Kevin and I stayed close, with Sam having already fallen back a bit and Chris Mahoney pulling back a bit before 5k. By 4 miles, Dan and I were side by side, with Kevin now in front of us and giving John a run. I wasn't looking back, but from talking with Chris after the race, he was back there giving chase. Between 4 and 5, Dan and I went back and forth. I got a slight side stitch, but the slight downhills made it easier to deal with. Right before the turn onto Rt. 1, I had broken free from Dan just a bit and was running alone now in 3rd. I ran the last 1.2 miles along Route 1 in Rye, trying to keep Kevin within striking distance, but I was just out of range. John was long gone and I did peek behind me as we came up over the bridge and couldn't make out anyone within striking distance behind me, so I knew shortly after the bridge that I had 3rd locked up. Chris Mahoney told me after the race that he was reeling in Dan and I over the last mile and was only 5 seconds in back of Dan at the end.

I finished up in 3rd place (one place higher than last year) in 32:20 (which was 38 seconds faster than I ran in this race last year), so I'm happy with both the time and place. I also ran 16:12 and then 16:08 for my splits, so it's nice to see a negative 5k split in a 10k for a change. I hope to try to go under 32:00 at Lone Gull 10k in September, which serves as the USATF-NE Grand Prix 10k Championships this year.

Splits: 10k - 32:20 (5:14 pace)

Mile 1) 5:07
Mile 2) 5:11 (10:19)
Mile 3) 5:18 (15:38)

First 5k: 16:12

Mile 4) 5:11 (20:49)
Mile 5) 5:12 (26:02)
Mile 6) 5:11 (31:13)
last .2) 1:07 (32:20)

Second 5k: 16:08

32:20 (5:14 pace) - 3rd of 805.

Other notables: This race was my 45th race of the year, matching my entire season total for all of last year. With 4 months to go, I'll have a few more to tack on to that number.

Next up is this weekend's Race to the Top of Vermont, up Mt. Mansfield in Stowe, VT.

Monday, August 17, 2009

2009 Savoy Mountain Trail Race

With the 40th anniversary of Woodstock this weekend, it was only fitting that I celebrate by spending almost 3 hours in the mud on Sunday... It's hard to believe that one full year has past since the last time I wrote about this race. After last year's experience, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be giving this another go...but as stubborn as I am, I should have known that I'd be back for more. I headed back out once again to Savoy Mountain State Forest in Savoy, MA for the Savoy Mountain Trail Races (results). Last year, this was my first 'real' long trail race (well, long by my standards). If you don't remember how that went, please feel free to review last year's ramblings. This year, I'm in better shape going in, have been doing higher (slightly) mileage, and took the necessary precautions for being out in the woods for close to 3 hours (in other words, taking more with me than my singlet and shorts). Here's how it all went down...

Pre-race: I headed out the door at about 5:15am from Salem, NH and had a smooth ride (about 2:45) out to Savoy, with a pit-stop in Gill, MA at the Mobile station. I saw two guys there with Boston Marathon shirts on...they took one look at me in my 'short' shorts and dry fit shirt, hopping out of my bright yellow Xterra with running-related stickers all over it and I guess put 2 and 2 together... I chatted with them briefly about heading out to the race and they had indicated that they were ultra guys doing this as preparation for their next race. Since this was as 'ultra' as I get, I couldn't really relate. 50 min. or so later, I pulled up to the parking lot and saw some of the usual suspects that show to these WMAC races. I didn't really know a lot of people there, but quickly met John Peabody (RI- TNT) who is a friend of Scott Mason's. I also met some very friendly runners from NY and others who all at one point or another indicated that they had read my race writeup of the previous year on my blog. Pretty cool I thought, and everyone seemed to have enjoyed the fact, since they all showed up, it seemed as though nobody was scared off by my post :). I made my way over to registration, where race director Marty Glendon actually immediately remembered me and started giving me some friendly ribbing about last year's race and the condition I was in afterwards. Also, the nice lady who basically saved my life last year after the race, remembered me too and was amazed that I was back and also asked me immediately, whether or not I ate breakfast that morning :). After chatting a bit, I headed back over to the car to get ready.

I went with the Inov-8 x-talon 212's, as I was told that the course was actually muddier than last year. I couldn't imagine how it could have gotten any sloppier, but was definitely in for a treat. I also prepared two hand-held water bottle/gel carriers I bought the day before. I filled both with water and packed 3 gels in each, along with some gummy thingies I bought at Whirlaway the night before. I also threw 2 gels in my shorts pocket in the back. I wanted to make darn sure I didn't bonk like last year. In preparation, I had run the day before, in the River Trail in Andover, MA carrying one of these. It was the first time I had carried water and it was a little cumbersome I thought, since I am so used to just running shorter road races where this sort of thing is not needed....but I weighed the two options... 1) put up with carrying this bottle and deal with switching hands every so often, or 2) bonk and not finish. I made my way back over to the starting area and did a mile (half out half back) over the first part of the course...It was all coming back to me now...

Loop 1: After a brief talk about the history of the race, Marty lit what seemed to be an M-80 or something, which was louder than the cannon at the beginning of the Mt. Washington Road Race and we were off. Right before the speech, Bob Dion recognized Leigh Schmitt's accomplishments at Western States and everyone looked over at Leigh (whom I had never met) so I knew that there was one guy right there that was going to run out front. I also had a feeling that Brian Rusiecki was in the race (again, had never met or seen him) who has been winning a bunch of the WMAC races or running right near the top. Lastly, I was pretty sure David Herr was there as well, but I had only seen him a couple times and wasn't 100% sure it was basically I was now sure that there was a better field up front in this race this year than last.

The explosion went off and we were off. The 11 and 22 mile races go off together, but I knew that all the top guys mentioned above would be doing the full 22. Immediately, Leigh and Brian went out front and I tucked in behind them. There were 2 or 3 guys right behind me and we ran very tight for the first quarter mile or so. The trail doesn't take too long before it gets crazy. I stayed behind Leigh and Brian, who chatted back and forth about training and racing this past summer. It sounded, by what I could hear, that Leigh had been taking some time off from serious training. This only made me feel slightly better about my chances of running with him. I would say about a half mile or so in (by looking at the course map) Leigh and Brian ran a couple steps past a sharp right hand turn up a hill (by South Pond). I vividly remember that turn and wasn't surprised they missed it. I yelled real quick 'right guys' and they stopped and turned quickly, but I was already at the turn so I went up ahead. That was it. I led for he next 21.5 miles.

The next mile or so is pretty straight forward trail with little up and down, out to the first water stop at 1.7. This water stop isn't very crucial in my opinion, especially on the first loop, but this year, they put the water stop across the trail so you could not run out onto the road too early. This wasn't the case last year, as it was on the corner and I ran right across the road and onto a trail I wasn't supposed to be on. A very good improvement this year and the volunteers at that stop were there directing the runners in the right direction. You hop out onto the road for a few seconds and then dip back into the woods. This is where it gets VERY muddy. Immediately, I noticed there was no way around any of the mud. It was right through and deal with it. This is all part of the fun and part of what this is about. I was liking it. Until about another half mile or so later, when my shoe got sucked clean off in one of the foot+ deep mud pits. I took the next step with bare sock and went straight down, but saw my shoe had come off but sat right on top of the mud. I grabbed it quickly and threw my foot back in and tied the lace tight (which I apparently neglected to do before the race began) and took a quick peek back. Leigh and Brian were coming and it looked like David was right with them. I hammered on and noticed that not soon after I came up to the area I went very wrong at last year. This year, there was an enormous tree down right where I took the wrong turn (twice) last year. I laughed out loud a bit and looked straight ahead and wondered how the heck I took the wrong turn at all last year. On I pressed.

It was up and down up and down, through mud, across little streams, along single track/double track, and 'barely' track trail until the first switchback that separates the long course from the short course. At this point I glanced and saw and heard what seemed to be 3 guys not too far back. I may have had a 60-70 yard lead or so by this point. The next part of the course is more of the same...more mud, more trails winding all around and up and down and eventually up to the 4.9 mile unmanned water stop, which is a bunch of jugs of water and some cups that had been laid out in the woods. I pressed on right by this, as I had my own water, which I had (up until this point) used sparingly. I took this moment to open up some of the gummies I was carrying and eat a few of those and put back some water. It was getting hot and I was feeling it a little bit, but was running very comfortable, all the while trying to realize that this was a LONG race and I hadn't even made it halfway through the first loop yet. If I started to feel it this early, I would be in trouble. I backed off a bit repeatedly when thinking of how much race was left. I also vividly remember most of the course from last year and knew what was ahead of me.

Not too long after the water stop, you cross through two areas of power lines, which open you up to the blazing sun. This was the hottest part of the course, as you scramble across a little bit of rock and tall grass, with no tree cover. It doesn't last long, but it does take some out of you. After crossing the second power line, this (in my opinion) is the toughest part of the course (especially on the 2nd loop). It is the beginning of the climb up to Spruce Hill (2566 feet). It is a continuous mix of VERY rocky up and down trail that really starts to get your cardio going. I had a few uphill climbs in here on the first loop that I had to walk on and off. Not good I thought, being the 1st loop...but on the downhill and flat sections, I was rocking along, so I knew I was still not 'bonking' yet and it was just the nature of the climbs that was getting to me (as usual). The last push up to the summit of Spruce Hill is a technical rock climb, straight up a rock face. I'm not kidding. You are literally stopping in your tracks and climbing with hands and feet, straight up. There is no running involved here. I don't consider this the toughest part of the course, because you can't run it, so you are climbing up, but recovering at the same time. At this point in the race, I looked all the way down and could not see anyone behind me. As I came up across the top of the summit, I quickly looked to the left at the spectacular views, but had no time to enjoy it. It is immediately back down. The climb back down is treacherous at first. It is back and forth down rocks and rock steps, with sharp lefts and rights that is essentially tree-grabbing and swinging down. It then opens up slightly, but is still VERY steep down. Near the bottom, the the trail connects with the previous trail on the way up, and if there are people on their way up, you can see them. I didn't seen anyone, indicating that they were already past that point and maybe up at the top already.

The next mile + is mostly all down. The fastest part of the course by far. It opens up to an almost fire road type of trail and the footing is 'OK' considering. I rocked down across the two power lines and you come to a sharp right hand turn at the 9.1 mile water stop. This one is crucial in my opinion, although I didn't stop there on my first loop. It is 2 miles from the finish and great for refilling your water if needed. There is also some food at it as well as a couple of volunteers. I passed right through here, as I still had water in my bottle, although not much. I had left my other full bottle at the start, and was going to switch out my bottles when I went through the halfway point. Right after the 9.1 mile water stop, there is a decent stretch of fire road. Some parts are actually OK and others are treacherous. There was A LOT of mud on this part of the road and at one particular point (the funniest part of the whole race for me), I came to what looked like a shallow puddle of muddy water that went from one side of the road to the other. There was thick woods on both sides and no room to go around it at all. There was a little lip on the left side that you can run on for only half way, and then you have to get down into the water to continue on. I actually remember this from last year and knew that water was WAY deeper than it looked. Boy was I right. I got to the end of the lip and took one step into the puddle and almost disappeared. The water came clean up to my 'bathing suit area'. I couldn't help but laugh. For anyone who could have seen it, it must have been like watching a cartoon. The water was at least 3 feet deep (and it was by all outward appearances, just a puddle in the road). After that, was another that wasn't as bad, and then a stream crossing that you had to step through (or scramble across a few large submerged boulders). It was rushing pretty good and was emptying into a small swamp. It was about 10 or so feet wide, so you couldn't jump it, but you could see right to the bottom. It was probably the same depth or a little deeper, than the previous puddle, but the water was crystal clear and COLD. It was actually refreshing, and good that it kinda cleans all the mud off you (for like 5 seconds before you hit the next part of the trail that is all mud).

After the end of the fire road, I looked back (this gives you the longest stretch you can see behind you) and I couldn't see anyone. It was like last year, but still I was running scared the entire way. I crossed over the power line again (as it switches back) and dipped back into a very dark and muddy section that has a continuous climb to it. This is a pretty tough slog and tough part of the course, but because you are in the last 2 miles of the loop, it doesn't seem as bad mentally because you are either close to the end of the first loop (when you hit it the first time) or at the end of the race (on the second loop). It winds up to another wider trail (almost road) that brings you back down to the start. Once you get up to the wider trail, there's a lot of downhill and you eventually come out to a section along Central Shaft Rd., where you can see the pavement and you know you are almost home. This is a huge mental boost. As I hit the pavement and made my way back up the road to the starting area, I took a few looks behind me (you can see maybe 200-300 meters at one point) and I didn't see anyone back there. There were a lot of people cheering, which was cool, as I made my way past the clock and stopped quickly at the water stop table to grab my full water bottle and leave my empty one. I had been somewhat conservative with my water up until that point, and had about an inch left in it when I had hit the pavement, so I opened it up and dumped it on my head to cool off (knowing I was just a minute away from grabbing a fresh one). Somewhere over the first loop I had also taken a gel. I just can't remember exactly where it was, but it was at a point where I was on a climb and had time to break it out. I came through half way in just over 1:22, which put me on pace for a sub-3hour run...but I knew my second loop would be 10+ minutes slower, just due to the nature of the race...

Loop 2: At the start of the second loop, I began to think a lot about the next few guys. I thought about how they were all ultra guys and predominantly trail guys and wasn't sure how they tackle races like this. The course was very technical and I wasn't sure that my quick first loop would hold up to maybe 2 steady loops that they may be running. I also envisioned that they may have been running conservative on loop 1 and would hammer loop 2. It's funny, all the things that cross your mind during long solitary runs like this...

By the time I hit the road after the first water stop, I started to really feel tired on all the uphill parts of the course. My pace would drop right down to a crawl as I made even the smallest of ascents. Each time this happened, I kept telling myself that I was losing ground and was going to be caught. I kept thinking over and over that if I could make it to the top of Spruce Hill, I could win it (having less that 4 miles to go at that point). But more and more, as I started to hit the muddy parts of the course from Tyler Swamp (the road at 1.7 in) my pace got slower and slower. I wasn't 'bonking' yet, but I felt close. I took more and more water and another gel...all the while looking back and waiting to see a jersey or two through the woods. Occasionally I thought I heard something, but in looking back, I figured it was either me hearing things in my diminishing mental state, or animals scurrying across the trail.

As I hit the first big switchback that separates the long and short course, I looked back and saw nothing and pushed on. There is some decent climbing in this section up to the water stop at 4.9 miles. As I hit the water stop, which had been untouched when I first came through, it was a disaster. All the jugs were toppled over and cups everywhere. I didn't stop, but did take out another gel (my 3rd) and had some of my own water. This was the start of the toughest part of the entire race in my opinion. The climb up past the two power lines and then to the scramble up Spruce Hill is TOUGH on the second lap. I walked ALOT of this, as my legs started to give out on me like last year. The main difference this time around though was that this year, other than on the climbs here, my body was holding together and I felt good...tired...but good. By the 4.9 mile water stop last year, I was toast. I was walking even the flat parts. This year, I was fine on the flats and could keep up a good rhythm. Through this section on the second loop this year though, I couldn't keep up the running on the ascents, as I had for the most part on the first loop.

When I hit the climb up Spruce Hill, I got to recover and felt like I actually climbed it faster the second time. I lapped my first runner here. After a mad scramble down the back side of it, I had two of my closest calls all day. One was right at the top of the summit as I started to jump down (there are a lot of sections where you actually need to jump down to the next rock or level), I missed the mark and almost went over the edge. Instictively, I lunged out and grabbed a small tree that was sturdy enough to hold me and I pulled myself back onto the trail. Not too long after that, I rolled my ankle for the first and only time (amazingly) all day. It wasn't too bad, and I was able to shake it off less than a minute later. As I came back down to the section of trail that shares the trail with the ascent, I ran right into Leigh and Brian. They were side by side going up. I quickly exchanged 'good job guys' with them and pressed on. This was the first assurance of how much of a lead I had, in probably 15 miles. I knew that they still had most of the climb up to the summit to go, and then a lot of the descent, which was multiple that was the first time I felt like I could actually win the race. That feeling didn't last long though, as I started to think about it and realized that I only saw Leigh and Brian...I didn't see I started to think that maybe David was ahead of them and he was up near the top when I saw the other two runners, and that wouldn't put him too far behind me... this was enough to make me think for the rest of the time, that Leigh and Brian were not in 2nd and 3rd place...but I pushed on and really worked the downhill all the way back to the 9.1 mile waters top. From the top of Spruce Hill (7.6 mile mark) onward, I was also out of water, as it was growing hotter outside and I was working a lot harder on the second loop. My plan was to fill the water up at the 9.1 mile stop, which would last me to the end.

As I neared the last water stop, I started passing a lot of the folk who were griding through their first loop. This helped me, as many of them offered encouragement as I went by and I, the same. It was also nice just seeing people out there, as most of my run was just me with my thoughts. As I approached the last water stop at 9.1, one of the volunteers was about 20 seconds up the trail and saw me coming, I yelled to him and asked if I could get my water bottle filled and he immediatelly yelled back to the table to get a jug ready. I had already unscrewed the cap and had the bottle ready to go. I hit the table and the woman had the jug ready and filled my bottle in literally 3 seconds as I grabbed one quick cup of water off the table, threw it over my head, grabbed the bottle and took off. It worked out perfectly.

The next part of the course was back long the fire road and through the waist deep puddles and stream. I didn't screw around this time and ran right through them (well, waded through them). At the end of the road, I was still peeking back to make sure that whoever was running in 2nd place was not closing. After the fire road, I continued to pass lapped runners who were all giving me words of encouragement. This took me back into the back side of the Tower Swamp area where it is very dark, muddy, and a steady climb up and out to the last wide trail back to the finish. I walked a good deal of the climb here and it made me a bit nervous, but each step I took was a step closer to finishing this race and that kept me going stronger than I was a few miles back. As I hit the last section of wide trail, the course flattens out a bit and then starts to rock down. The climbs were all over and I got my second wind. I started flying back down and eventually saw the road, to which tears practically came to my eyes. I passed a few more runners just as I hit the pavement and pushed on that last minute or so up to the finish line.

I came through in 2:53:58, which was 24:02 FASTER than I ran last year (3:18:04 last year) over the exact same course. Now, last year I got lost for a couple minutes (maybe 3 total) but still...that is a huge change and I credit it entirely to not going out as fast and to drinking water (and nutrition) as I went. No doubt about it, staying hydrated is what did it. I finished up really strong and didn't need anywhere near the amount of food and fluids as I did last year...I also didn't need to be carried back to my car for an hour + nap either. I am amazed that I was able to average sub 8 minute miles (thanks to a quicker first lap) and run 7:50 pace over this course. I can't imagine a regular trail race getting much sloppier than this race. Did I have fun though? You bet.

Leigh was next through in 2:59:54 and Brian was close behind in just over 3 hrs (3:00:17). David was about 12+ minutes back in 4th place. It looks by the splits, that David was right up with Brian, a few ticks in front of Leigh through the first loop and then either backed off on the 2nd loop or ran into a 2nd loop similar to what I experienced last year.

Splits: 22.2 Mile Trail/Mountain Race - 2:53:58 (7:50 pace)

First 11.1: 1:22:20 (7:25 pace)
Last 11.1: 1:31:38 (8:14 pace)

Top 10 Overall out of 41 who finished the 22 miler.

Place First Last Age Town St Time (lap 1)Time (lap 2) Time GT %

72 people finished 1 loop (11 miles) and 15 people did the 4 mile (short course). A decision was made before the race, to award GT points to people in the 11 mile course and to also allow people who were going to do the 22 to stop at 11 and use that time. It looks like 27 people who signed up for the 22, opted to just do the 11.

Post Race: After the race, I had a couple of hot dogs, and a few pieces of watermelon, hung out and chatted with some of the folk who had finished up the 11, and talked with Brian about his race. Then we took a walk down to the beach on North Pond for a dip and to wash the inch-thick layer of mud off my person. We were joined by Leigh, and I got to talk with him for the first time... both are good guys for sure. I walked around and snapped a couple of shots of the start/finish area, got a little more to eat/drink, chatted with Bob Dion for a while about the upcoming snowshoe season and the new racing shoe Dion has for this winter, and then hit the car for the 2:45 ride back east.

One funny thing about this race is that aside from a weekly series (like the Wakefield Wed. night races or the Fudgicle series in Tewksbury), this is the only race I've ever won twice. I've only been back racing for 2 and 1/2 years, but still, I thought it was interesting that I haven't done that other than at Savoy. I have a couple of 1st and 2nds at races, but never two 1st until now.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

2009 Cigna/Elliot Corporate 5k

Thursday night it was up to Manchester, NH for the 17th Annual Cigna 5k Road Race (results). This is New Hampshire's largest race (by far) and the largest 5k in New England. It is also the only road race in New Hampshire (aside from Hollis, which is downhill and not record eligible) in which the 14 minute barrier has ever been broken. Up until this year, it had only been broken once, and that was in 2003 when Joseph Mwai ran a New Hampshire all-comers state record of 13:54.73. History was made this year however, when Alene Reta was able to better that by 1 second, running a course and state record 13:53.

Photos used in this entry are by Union Leader Photographer Mark Bolton, who got some very nice shots of the race that are being sold on the Union Leader's website. In each shot, I am right over Justin Freeman's shoulder to the left (he's #867 with no shirt).

I headed up solo (so no photos of my own...) and wandered into the registration area in Veteran's Park to see Scott Clark (CMS) and Tim Cox (who was not racing). Scotty (who won this race back in the day) and I joined Bob Wiles (CAA) and did a nice easy warm up around the neighborhoods and into the cemetery at the end of Chestnut St, where we saw 2006 Winter Olympian Justin Freeman (and ultimately 1st NH runner of the day) doing his warm up. After circling back and throwing on the racers (I went with the Invo-8 f-lite 230s yet again) I headed up to the starting area where there were already 1000s of people getting ready to go. When I got to the line I said quick hi's to Mark Miller, Kevin Alliette, Eric Beauchesne, Pat Ard, Ruben Sanca, and Chris Volante before doing some last minute strides and stretching. My hamstring was OK and has been decent, although not 100%, the past couple days. I was a little worried, but felt pretty good overall considering the amount of running/racing I've been doing. There were a TON of fast lookin' dudes warming up and I knew it was going to be a smoke show up front but I was willing to try and hang on to Kevin Alliette and Mark Miller for as long as I could. I quickly asked Mark what he was lookin' to run and he said 15:15 or better... That was good enough for me to know that if I could stay near him, I'd probably run well.

I was right behind Patrick in the second row at the start as the gun went off. Immediately there was a pack of (what seemed to be) 8 or 9 East African runners, Ruben Sanca, and a couple others. As we hit a half mile or so, it was that first pack and then a pack that included Kevin, Mark, and maybe 10 or so other guys right in front of me. Between the two packs, Justin Freeman was in no man's land but looked strong. Somewhere before the first mile, I dipped a bit behind that second pack but it started to thin out. I passed Titus Mutinda and a few others from that second pack. I went through the first mile in 4:53, which was right where I wanted to be at. I focused hard over the second mile to try to actually pick up the pace. I figured if I could work extra hard during the second mile and get a decent 2 mile split, I could hang on for the last mile and gut it out. Over the course of the 2nd mile, I came up on one of the African runners who fell off the pace and a bunch more college-looking runners who went out a bit too aggressively. The second mile has a nice downhill (after a lot of the first mile is a very gradual incline) and I came through in 9:44 (which was actually my time at Sully's 2 Miler this year). I felt great. Probably the best I've felt through 2 miles all year if not ever. I was also gaining on Kevin and Mark who were falling back off the pace. Shortly after 2, I came up past Kevin and a few others as well as Joseph Ekoum (NY), who I've never even been remotely close to in a race before. He let me pass before motoring by me again not too long after. I continued to chase down Mark (who I've also never beaten) and passed him right before the last turn up the big hill to the finish. The course is super fast until this last section which is a cruel uphill climb to the 3 mile mark and then finish. I passed a couple more guys up the hill and was side by side with Joseph Ekoum at the top, when Mark flew by me with one of the most impressive kicks I've seen. The boy's got some wheels! I clicked through the 3 mile mark in 14:39 (my fastest 3 split since coming back to running) and just reached for home, in a slew of guys all around me. I may or may not have passed anyone from 3 to was all a blur, as there were dudes everywhere, all running fast. I came across the line starring at the clock as it ticked from 15:11 to 15:12 and made sure to stop my watch after the second mat so I wasn't going to be disappointed when the results were posted...and to my amazement, I was in sync with the official results... It is (to date) my 30+ PR for a road 5k (that wasn't considered a downhill course, seeing I ran 14:55 last year at Hollis). I was also in the top 15, finishing 14th overall, which was totally unexpected. In the words of dd, 'I'll take it'.

My Splits - 5k - 15:12 (4:54 pace) - 14th place (5th New Hampshire)

Mile 1) 4:53.36
Mile 2) 4:50.84 (9:44.20)
Mile 3) 4:55.24 (14:39.44)
last .1) :33.13 (15:12.57)

Top 20 of 4956 finishers.

113:5313:534:28Alene Reta27New York NY
214:0314:034:32Bajo Kiorku New York NY
314:3014:314:40Derese Deniboba Bronx NY
414:3214:324:41Abiyot Endger 23Bronx NY
514:3414:354:42Ruben Sanca 22Lowell MA
614:3914:394:43Joseph Koech 40Somerville MA
714:4314:434:44Mathew Kiplagt 26New Rochelle NY
814:4714:474:46Tekiu Denek Bronx NY
914:5114:514:47Justin Freeman 32New Hampton NH
1014:5514:564:49Geoff Trethewey 20Manchester NH
1115:0015:014:50Daniel Hocking 29Dover NH
1215:0615:074:52Dave Hausherr 19Townsend MA
1315:0815:094:53Mark Miller 28Keene NH
1415:1215:124:54Jim Johnson 32Salem NH
1515:1215:134:54Joseph Ekuom Bronx NY
1615:1215:134:54Jonathan Gault 18Bedford MA
1715:1715:184:56Elarbi Khattabi 42West Chester PA
1815:1815:184:56Kevin Alliette 28Raymond NH
1915:1815:194:56Francis Hernandez 17Windham NH
2015:2215:224:57Nate Brigham 26Laurel MD

WMUR Videos of the start (first one you'll have to click the link to watch) below (I'm right behind Pat Ard who is in the red Whirlaway singlet).