Saturday, September 4, 2010

Race to the Top of Vermont

Sunday was my second go at the Race to the Top of Vermont (results) up in Stowe, VT.  This race goes 4.3 miles straight up the toll road of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont's tallest mountain at 4,393 feet.

I headed up to Stowe on Saturday afternoon to make it up there in time for the VIP Reception that was being held at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, right across from the ski area where the post-race festivites are.  The reception was for sponsors, elite racers, Board of Directors and invited guests. It was out on the beautiful fire pit terrace overlooking Mount Mansfield.  The weather was perfect and the lodge and views were spectacular.  I talked a bit w/ some folks from NJ, Ottawa, and a couple of others including Ken Skier, who was a fellow mountain goat this year.  The race director, Jim Fredericks even called me up to say a few words, which I probably was horrible at, but it was fun in any event.  He was also gracious enough to invite me to the event and wave my entry fee based on my win the previous year (although next year I'm sure I'll be paying my own way again :) )...  After the reception, I headed back down Mountain Road to the Golden Eagle Resort, where I had stayed before the Stowe 8 Miler, but this time, instead of a single room, it was back to the same small house that the Tuesday Night Turtles had rented last year.  It is still part of the resort, but is a standalone house w/ a few bedrooms and ample space for everyone.

In the morning we all headed up the street to the Toll Road for the start of the race.  In the parking lot, I saw Eric Morse (CMS) who ran this race last year (2nd).  Eric is a multi-New England Champion at various distances and has been arguably the most consistently successful overall competitor at the Mt. Washington Road Race ever.  He's been on many US National Mountain teams that have competed at the World Championships and his PR's are insane.  He's been quiet in recent years on the racing scene and only occasionally pops up to local stuff here and there.  He's still very fit, but his motivation for racing has been low (I'm going to work on that though!).  Eric and I went for a warmup that included the first mile of the course.  I struggled to just jog up it and we both joked back and forth about how bad we were going to do (the usual sandbagging was going on)...we also were still wondering who was there for other competition (besides Bob Jackman (TNT)).  Shortly before the race actually went off, I noticed a guy running around in a matching singlet and shorts, who looked pretty serious.  I pointed him out to Eric and the Turtles.  I then got next to him on the line and he asked me a bunch of questions about my previous year's time, and where the course went and finished.  Based on his questioning and his appearance and his accent (English), I jumped to a very far fetched (sarcastic) conclusion that he may in fact be pretty good.  Well, I was about to find out that I was indeed right on target w/ that assumption.

Photo: View of the first climb from the starting area.

As the gun went off (or maybe it was just a 'go command'), I immediately shot out to the front and started the climb (which begins immediately).  Looking back quickly a couple of times, I didn't notice anyone near me and nobody seemed to want to hang on to me from the very start.  At about the half mile point, I turned to look and expected to see Eric right there, but instead saw the same guy I had noticed at the beginning of the race (the Englishman), in the blue and red uniform.  He was gaining on me pretty good.  I had no clue what I was doing timewise, but it felt slow.  Somewhere around the mile point, he caught up to me and started running right alongside me.  We clicked through the mile in 7:29, 25 seconds faster than I went through last year with Eric. I told him we were ahead of pace and shortly after that, he started a move that would be all he'd need.

He seemed to pull away from me on the steepest switchbacks and all I could do was try to maintain a running stride.  This course was WAY harder than I remembered.  It was killing me early, and I felt like it was not even in the same league as Ascutney or even a couple of the other mountain races like Wachusett or Northfield.  This thing was hard.  It was also brutally hot out. Near, if not, 90 degrees with zero breeze.  Being all below treeline, but still with essentially no shade, makes this a stagnant and uncomfortable run if it's hot and sunny out (which it most certainly I got a good sunburn, not wearing a singlet).

I clicked through 2 miles still ahead of last year's pace, but I knew it wouldn't last.  I was only a few ticks faster on my 2nd mile and still had a half of a minute to work with, but I'd soon loose that cushion over the next 2 miles.  Just past 2 miles, I started to think that I just needed to hold off Eric and whoever else was back in 3rd and 4th, etc. but I couldn't see them back there and knew I had a decent pad on the next guy.  I had visions of maybe catching the leader if he faltered, because I wasn't sure if he was an experienced mountain guy or maybe if he just went out too hard, thinking it was a regular road race, and would soon be coming back to me.  I thought about this right up until about 3.5, but then knew he was still pulling away and that was going to be that.

As I went through 3, I was hurting bad.  I was barely keeping a running stride going, but knew most everyone else was in the same boat. I came through in about 6 seconds above where I was last year for this mile, but was still ahead of overall pace (that would all go flying out the window soon enough though)... At one point before the 4 mile mark, I thought maybe the leader had stepped off the course somewhere and into the woods for a pit stop, because when I came around a switchback and started another climb, I could no longer see him (I could see him essentially the entire race up until that point)... Even on the straights after that, I couldn't see him any longer.  I thought that he had to have stepped off.  As I passed by a couple of folks periodically on the side of the road, I expected to hear them say something to the effect that I was in the lead, or something like that, but nothing... then, soon enough, I came to a long stretch of climb where it opened up and you could see pretty far up the mountain and I saw him still plugging away in 1st place.  He was just picking up ground on me and I was slowing pretty badly.

I came through 4 in a colossally bad 9:21, a full 32 seconds slower than in 2009.  There went any hope of a faster time for me.  I managed to hang on and keep the last .3 (which may actually be short) close to last year's time, and pathetically limped across the line in still a solid 2nd place behind Andrew Gardiner, who killed my course record in his first ever uphill race (yes, he hasn't run any ascent-only or mountain races in the past)...At 12 years his junior, and the fact that I've been doing mountain racing for the past 3 years, I can honestly say I have no excuses here...He outclassed me on a pretty tough day weather-wise.  I think if he had run last year, he would have gone way under 35 and maybe even close to breaking 34 with the same effort.  He ended up running close to a minute faster than me.

I went over to congratulate him and found out that he is in fact a very nice guy...he's from England and just moved here about 3 years ago.  As mentioned above, he's 45 years old and in phenomenal shape.  He was a 14 low 5k guy and a 30 flat 10k guy back in his prime, but honestly, he's in some prime shape right now for mountain racing... I looked him up a little more when I got home and he's run 15:20s for 5k and 25:20s for 5 miles this summer.... Not too shabby for any age, let alone a masters runner.  Keep an eye out for this guy's name.

We waited to see Eric out duel 2 younger Vermonters for 3rd place. Eric had to make a move at 4 miles to break free of the two and go from 5th to 3rd.  All of us ran back down and then Eric and I did some more miles over some base trails where they had a 5k trail race he ran a week prior.

Photo above: The elusive Eric Morse and myself at the base trails after our cooldown...

Splits vs Last Year:

Mile2009 Split2010 Split
last .31:501:55

Lesson learned....don't go out too hard in this race!

Top 10 Overall (CMS in Blue)

PlaceNameCityAge GroupTimeTime Back
1Andrew GardinerWellesley MA1 40-4934:49.6
2Jim JohnsonSalem NH1 30-3935:42.40:52.8
3Eric MorseBerlin VT2 40-4936:45.81:56.1
4Marc GilbertsonHyde Park VT3 40-4936:52.12:02.4
5Ryan - Tensing KerriganMoretown VT1 20-2937:28.82:39.1
6Eli EnmanHuntington VT2 30-3938:22.13:32.5
7Ray WebsterHinesburg VT3 30-3938:34.93:45.2
8Bernat OlleCambridge MA4 30-3939:18.64:28.9
9Calvin SwomleyLitchfield CT1 15-1939:59.75:10.0
10Tyler SamlerWaterbury VT2 20-2940:09.75:20.0
174George Boudreau Jr.Ware MA48 40-491:20:48.345:58.7

178 Finishers (and somehow, 1 DQ).

After the cooldown, I headed up the road to the ski area, where the awards and post race BBQ and festivities were and enjoyed a nice day w/ the Turtles and some other folks who had run or biked the race.

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