Monday, July 5, 2010

Loon Mountain Race

L-R: James Porter, Todd Callaghan, JJ, Mike Quintal.

This year's edition of the Loon Mountain race (results) wasn't quite a disaster but it wasn't exactly good either.  I headed into the 5th race of the 6 race Mountain Series with a couple of bad nights of sleep and a rather lack-luster week of training, with a couple of days off.  Not exactly a recipe for running well (especially up this monster of a course).  I also just wasn't up for this race for some reason.  My focus has been a little off lately.  I was really looking towards Mt. Washington and Cranmore, but now that those are over,  I'm not sure where my focus is.  I feel like I'm just going through the motions right now, and still have Mt. Ascutney left for this weekend.  After that, I'll have done what I set out to do, and get all 6 mountain series races in, and get my 'Mountain Goat' status.  But my head is still elsewhere.  I have some things I want to do, but have been lacking in motivation lately.  

To me, Loon is the most challenging of all the series races.  It's a grind
for about 4 miles, then has a very dangerous and difficult last 1.7.  The footing is rough at times, and the climb is continuous and extraordinarily steep at times, including the fabled 'Upper Walking Boss', which is a make-or-break portion of the race for most (including me).  I had a pretty bad race in 2008, finishing 9th here, and a great race last year, winning in a pretty solid time.  This year, was a replay of 2008 (almost).  I knew it was coming and wasn't really all that surprised when it happened.  I'm not injured and I'm actually running pretty well this year, PRing in a few distances, winning some good races, and running faster at a lot of races I usually go to like Washington, Cranmore, Reds, New Bedford, DH Jones, Pack, etc.  I've had a couple of bad races (Snowshoe Nat'ls, Market Square, etc) but I guess that happens and I just have an off day sometimes.  Sunday was an off day and that's that.

(Photo above courtesy of Scott Mason)

The day was hot, but it was hot for everyone... I went out where I was supposed to be but quickly let the top guys get away and then the race itself got away from me.  To nobody's surprise, Eric Blake (BAA) (one of the best mountain runners and hill climbers on the planet) pushed the early pace and 2009 Baystate Marathon Champion Brandon Newbould (Whirlaway) went out with him, with Kevin Tilton (CMS)  and I in tow.  Eric's pace up the mountain is generally not matched by anyone for very long...By a couple miles in, Brandon was falling back a bit (or maybe Eric was just pulling away).  Kevin made a move and I followed, going by Brandon just before one of the very steepest parts of the first 4 miles up to the Finish area (that you pass once before circling back to finish). About a minute later, Brandon motored by me up the slope and all I could do was just keep looking back hoping that I didn't get mowed down by more guys, as my pace slowly grinded to a halt.  As I looked back, I could see Mike Quintal (CMS) and Todd Callaghan (GCS) not too far back and knew it was going to only be a matter of time before one or both was up on me.  I managed to hold onto my place behind Brandon and Kevin, never letting them out of my sight, but never mustering up enough energy or motivation to try to race any faster.  I was settling into just a 'run to get it done' mentality and it was going to bite me in the ass really hard on the Walking Boss.

As I came up past the finish area (for the first time), I was in 4th and couldn't see Eric at all.  As I hit the first major downhill, I quickly came up and past Brandon Newbould and told him I was just working the downhill because I'd need every second I could get once I hit the Boss.  A couple minutes later, I was at the base of the Upper Walking Boss, on which I'd be for the next 10 minutes or so (I think I had 10:14 on my watch from when I hit the hill to when I passed the ski lift at the top).  It's probably a half mile to a K in length, but it's the most brutal climb you'll ever see (just check out Scott Mason's photos, where he once again was on the Boss (at the top).  The ones of Blake and the black bear are classic!).  I basically walked 80 or so percent of it, and half-ass ran the rest of it.  I was ahead of Brandon and in 3rd place when I hit the base of the hill, but that was short-lived.  A couple minutes in, he went by and Todd Callaghan was not too far behind.  Last year, I led most of the race and got passed by 2 runners on the Boss (but got them both back on the last descent before the finish).  This year, I'd get passed by 2 runners on the Boss yet again, but wouldn't muster enough fight to get either of them back.  Todd passed me maybe halfway or a little beyond, and that was it.  He was side-stepping pretty quickly and doing an interesting back and forth climbing technique that almost looked at times, like he was doing drills as he was climbing.  With that method, he was able to run the entire thing.  I power-hiked and watched my race get away from me with every slow step forward.  When I hit the top, I was too far behind Todd to catch him (or so I thought) and I wasn't close enough to Brandon to even think about catching him on the downhill.

As I started the last downhill (the sickest descent you'll see in any race, anywhere), I was thinking 5th place was definitely it.  This downhill saved me last year, as the 2 runners in front of me were not used to the steep, rocky, grassy, and dangerous descent of these races.  This year, I had some experienced guys in front of me, including Todd, who is a great technical runner.  I pushed as hard as I could downhill without getting into that 'red zone' of danger.  I figured risking injury or wiping out, to try to salvage 4th instead of 5th, wasn't worth it... but as I neared the bottom, I was getting closer and closer to Todd, who I saw peek behind him once or twice.  As I got to the bottom, it quickly levels off and then heads back up a pretty steep, but short climb up to the finish.  I was a stones throw away from Todd at this point, but the race was over.  He had my number and it was the 2nd time in 3 years he's beaten me at this race.  Brandon's Boss climb really helped him secure a podium spot, and Kevin ran, well, like Kevin does...Solid on the mountains week in and week out.  Eric was superhuman once again, running only a half minute behind his course record from 2008, on a VERY hot day.  I'm not sure there are many, if anyone, that can run with this kid up stuff like this.  The downhill sections may not be in his wheelhouse, but he kills the uphills better than anyone else and with a race like Loon, that's all it takes.  The downhill sections aren't really long enough to make any difference, when you are minutes ahead of the competition.

After the race, Mike Quintal (who ran very well for his first Loon), Todd, James Porter, and I all ran back down the mountain, picking up flags along the way.  Once at the base, Kristin and I went over and soaked for a bit in the Pemi.  I iced my legs in the frigid water and enjoyed the beautiful day and tried not to dwell too much on my lackluster race.  I was almost 2 minutes slower than last year when I won the race.  My time from last year still would have put me a distant 2nd behind Eric's time, but I doubt I would have been able to run that fast last year if the temps were as hot as they were this year.

Kris and I didn't hang around.  We headed East across the Kanc and down into East Wakefield to spend the day at my parents' house.

Kristin took some great pix of the race from the 4 mile / 5.7 mile marks.  The first batch are from us going by the first time, then coming back at the end.

Side note, I wore the x-talon 212's again this time (which is the ONLY shoe I'd even consider wearing on this monster).  But I wore the ones I WON here last year... The first time I even put them on (I've still been rocking the first pair of the 212's I got back last June)... I figured they'd bring me some luck...maybe they did. Who knows...Maybe if I didn't wear them, I would have run even slower!