Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mount Ascutney Hillclimb

Sunday - July 10, 2011

Ascutney Mountain Hill Climb
USATF New England Mountain Series Race #6 of 6
Windsor, VT

3.7 miles (ascent only)
Terrain: Mountain Auto Road
Ascent: 2300 ft
Time: 30:08
1st place overall of 192

Mile 1) 7:48
Mile 2) 8:33
Mile 3) 8:16
last .7) 5:29
Finish: 60:32

Race website: here
Results: here
2010 Race Report
2009 Race Report
2008 Race Report

Photo / Video Credits
 and Links
Kristin Johnson: Gallery
Ken Skier
Mr. Ard: 1st Video below

Race Report: 

Sunday I travelled up to Windsor, VT to wrap up the USATF-NE Mountain Series for 2011.  After a disappointing race up Loon last week, I was ready for another crack at a mountain win.  Ascutney is a grind, but after two strong runs up Mount Washington this year, I had a little more confidence in this type of race.  I knew that there was no fewer than 6 guys that could win this race, including Ross Krause (CMS) and Patrick Ard (WHIRL) who are both very strong climbers, but I also knew that Eric Blake wouldn't be back (due to injury) and Kevin Tilton wasn't running.  This gave me at least a chance to try to go for a win to wrap up the series.

The course is about as close to being half of Mount Washington as you can get.  It's about half the height, half the distance, and the same average grade slope.  Any way you slice it, it's a tough little race.  It would be great if it was before Mount Washington, as it gives people who were going to run Washington for the first time, an 'idea' of what to expect, but being a few weeks after, it's mostly attended by mountain goats looking to complete the series.  If you do all 6 races in the series, you are a 'Mountain Goat' and you get not only a spiffy mountain goat t-shirt, but you also get a bypass into the following year's Mount Washington Road Race.  This year there were 99 goats in total!

I warmed up with Tom Brown (CMS) and Patrick but it was cut short and rushed because the mountain goat team photo was being taken (as it is every year before Ascutney goes off) and  we had to wait in a massive line to get our shirts before the photo was taken...so needless to say I was a little flustered by the time it was ready to race.  I wore the trusty f-lite 230s, as I am still waiting on my 155s.  The 230s have been good to me and they are perfect for this type of race.

Tim VanOrden (who was duking it out with Todd Callaghan for the 2nd and 3rd spot in the overall series) told me that another good runner/climber was in the house (as he usually does this to me before races).  This time, it was Duncan Douglas who the day before, had come in 2nd up at Mt. Washington in the Newton's Revenge bicycle race (but he won the first of two heats and it was supposedly supposed to be the fast heat, so he wasn't pleased that a guy in the second wave rode faster and got the overall win).  Tivo wasn't the only person to tell me about Duncan before the race...so needless to say I was a little nervous and figured if he was going to be out front, that was fine...there were a lot of other guys there I needed to worry about.  Ross, Tim Mahoney (CMS), Ryan, Tom, Todd, and a latecomer Andy McCarron, who had been noticeably absent the whole series (except for Northfield).  Andy was 2nd to me in 2009 when I won the race and he's certainly beaten me in enough races in the past to warrant much respect at Ascutney.  He got me a couple years ago at Mt. Washington and I didn't want to give him too much of a lead if any because I know how tough he is to beat.

The race went off and I immediately darted out to the front but backed off quite a bit as the climb started to set in.  Ascutney goes into a grinding climb immediately (after a short 30 yard turn onto the main auto road from a side road).  I was gradually easing into the hill and I was surprised that nobody went out harder.  Last year, Eric Blake and Kevin Tilton shot out immediately and I was pulled along for the ride. This year, I was the one doing the pulling.  After a short while, I heard breathing and footfalls behind me.  I turned quick and thought it was Tim Mahoney, who has started out in this race fast in the past.  After a little while of having him on my shoulder, I turned again and noticed it was Pat Ard.   Patrick is a very strong climber but his recent injuries have made his training suffer quite a bit and his fitness level isn't where it needed to be to maintain the pace.  I didn't know this at first of course, and shortly before the mile we had gone back and forth with taking small leads on each other.  He'd go up on me for a few steps, then I'd catch up and pull ahead.  It was a little back and forth like that for a bit as we crossed through the first mile in 7:48 (1 second slower than I was last year). We opened up a decent gap on what looked to be 3 or 4 guys with Andy McCarron out front of the change pack.

Shortly after the mile, I pulled ahead and quickly lost earshot of Pat's breathing and footsteps.  I chugged onward but felt terrible as the climbing is just relentless (see here for a cool video of a car going up the course in the auto race).  Even though I clicked through the 2nd mile in 8:33 (13 seconds faster than last year's split), I felt awful and kept looking back to see how far back Andy and the chase pack were.  I had zero confidence and thought I'd be caught the entire time.  I was passing bikers who were training for the bike race that happens here in a week or two and I was passing the occasional hiker and I wished I could just stop and walk as I passed by them, but I kept going and kept thinking that I could maybe grind it out if I can just make it to the couple of 'flat' sections that were in the later miles.  There are actually about 3 sections where the course levels off for a small bit before kicking you in the ass again.

Somewhere deep into the third mile, I started to not see anyone behind me on most of the sections. A couple of the switchbacks allowed me to peer through and see people, but I was able to somehow open a gap and by 3 miles I was comfortably ahead.  I looked back on some of the longer sections and didn't see anyone.  I started to feel more and more confident and I clicked through 3 miles with an 8:16 split (14 seconds faster than last year).  I knew I was now looking at a potential sub-30 run and I needed to try to hit about a 5:22 or so last .7.  Last year I ran 5:36 for my last .7, but I was also racing 2 people (one up front and one behind).  This year I was solo and the effort just wasn't there over the last .7.  I knew at 3 miles that I couldn't be caught on this course (as the ascent makes it very difficult to 'catch' people once a gap forms, unless someone starts walking).

I hit the last couple of climbs to the summit and every corner I came around I thought it was the end (or should I say I 'hoped' it was the end) but it felt like it kept going.  Finally I started to see people on the side of the road taking pictures and cheering and I knew I was just about done.  In the end I came through in a 5:29 split (7 seconds ahead of last year's pace for that final .7) and just missed going under 30 with a 30:08 final time (I had ahem, 30:07 on my watch after stopping it well after the line).  That's a 29 second PR on the course so I'll take it!  There was a great race behind as Ross just outkicked Tivo to the line and Andy, and Tim Mahoney were not too far back.  It was a clean sweep for CMS with the top 5 spots.

Top 10 Overall

PlaceTimePaceName AgeCity/StateTeam
130:088:09Jim Johnson       34Salem NH       CMS
231:328:32Ross Krause       31Easthampton MA CMS
331:338:32Tim Van Orden     43Bennington VT  CMS
431:498:36Andy McCaron      28Keene NH       CMS
531:568:38Tim Mahoney       31Holyoke MA     CMS
632:228:45Todd Callaghan    41Beverly MA     GCS
732:298:47Patrick Ard       27Raymond NH     WHIRL
832:348:49Ray Webster       36Hinesburg VT   
932:468:52Ryan Aschbrenner  34Nashua NH      GBTC
1033:229:01Duncan Douglas    45Honoye NY      

After the race, a large group of us ran up to the summit tower for a group photo and to take in the view as we've done each year at this race.  A great way to wrap up the day before heading down to the bottom.  The hike up to the tower from the finish line (which is in the parking lot at the summit) is about .7 of a mile.  We ran back down, then headed down the mountain for a cooldown, which trashes your quads and legs in general, but it's a must after this race.  It's easier than running down Mt. Washington because it's only half the distance, but the grade is about the same and by the time you reach the bottom, you are glad to be running for the day.

After the race, and cooldown, we all headed over to the river for a dip and a drink (or two).  It's a great way to cap off the series for sure.  Lots of folks just wading in the river, tossing back a few beverages, eating lunch, and (ahem) there may have been a whisper or two about snowshoeing as well! ;).  It was sad to see the mountain series once again come to an end, but I am psyched to have won my first overall title for the mountain series (after being 2nd last year behind Blake).


  1. Are you going to bike mt. Ascutny too?? My teammate did that double (and stowe the next day) last year.

    Share my new blog http://ayedubbscclark.wordpress.com/ my friend (who won the 12k last year) and I started it. It's about getting healthy again. I swore if I got healthy I'd run Mt Washington. :)

  2. Nice Race Jim. Another option is to bike the six gaps in VT on Sat and Stowe on Sunday... Just saying that you did mention you wanted to bike more.

  3. With that beard you're starting to look like a real mountain runner! I say keep it after Stowe!

  4. Jim, congrats on the race and mountain series win. Quite impressive of a feat with that kind of competition. Nice format to the race report ;). Speaking of report, this was a good one, complete with solid pictures. Fun tradition in hitting the true summit after the race and then throwing ourselves in the river after it's all said and done. Who asked about snowshoeing?! :)