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...


  1. Whoa! Taking it to the big guns!. Nice work!

  2. Hi Jim

    Awesome race report. I met you briefly at the podium and mentioned you had beat the fastest cyclist--very cool. It was my first mtn run and I think I'm hooked on this. I was hoping there would be another mtn run this season in the east but it doesn't look like there is. Anyhow nice race!!
    John Spinney

  3. Hey John, Thanks man. You too. Yeah, it was a pretty cool race. I really enjoyed it. Looking forward to next year for sure. Mt. Washington and Ascutney (should they change the course back to the original course) are very similar...if you haven't done either of those, pencil them in for next year. See you out there next time!

  4. Yo,

    congrats on the W my fried, awesome race report too. However, I'm at a personal fork in the road. I don't know what I'd rather do, run or bike up that hill, both sound painfully fun in a pseudo-masochistic way. =)

  5. They ought to rename that race "The Battle of the Bulge"....nice win.

  6. Nice job DoubleJ-, I really wanted to do this one this year. Oh well. It looks like a fun one.