Saturday, July 2, 2011

US Mountain Running Championships

This past weekend was the 2011 US National Mountain Running Championships (results) at Mt. Cranmore in North Conway, NH.

This was my 4th Mt. Cranmore race and my 4th US Mountain Running Championships.  Cranmore hosted the US Championships in 2007, 2009, and again this year.  Last year at Cranmore, Kevin Tilton and I had a close race, going 1-2 with Tommy Manning (Inov-8 - CO) a close 3rd.
The difference this year (besides being once again the National Championship and the ONLY selection race for the US Team that will compete in the 2011 World Mountain Running Trophy in Albania in September, it was a pretty dramatic change in course.  To mirror the Albania course, race director extraordinaire Paul Kirsch made the course a 3 loop odyssey that didn't quite go to the summit (as it had done last year with 2 loops).   This meant it was about the same length, but not as much climbing and descent per loop.  I had mixed feelings about not being able to go to the summit, but I would soon find out that there was plenty of climbing to be done.

This year, even with 2009 champ Joe Gray coming back, it was apparent that Max King (Montrail - OR) was going to be the obvious favorite but I wasn't counting out Joe to at least give him a run for a little while anyways.  Tommy was back (2nd at Mount Washington this year) and I knew he was ready to go.  Scott Gall was also in attendance and beat me in March at the Snowshoe Nationals in Wisconsin.  Scott has made the team a couple times and has run the Olympic Trials Marathon, so I knew he'd be a top contender.  Ryan Woods (Inov-8 - NC) (7th at Mt. Wash) was again back up in NH for a chance to make the team, as was Peter Maksimow (CMS / Inov-8 - CO).  Matt Byrne (PA) was also back to try to make another US team after a good 3rd place finish at Mt. Washington this year.  Jared Scott (Inov-8 - AZ) also made the trip over from Arizona and was 2 spots in front of me back in March at Snowshoe Nationals.  Other guys in the mix would surely be Mario Mendoza (OR) who was USATF Trail Runner of the year last year and John Tribbia (NC) who has always run well at Mt. Washington and in the mountains / trails.   I also didn't want to count out local New England powerplayer Judson Cake (acidotic - ME) who is always a threat no matter what the race.

I warmed up with teammates Kevin Tilton, Joe Shairs, and Whirlaway superstar Patrick Ard over the trails at the base of Mt. Cranmore.  I was pretty nervous as I knew the course was probably a good fit for me, but I also knew there was a deep field here and it was going to be tough to even make the top 10 or 15.   I got my lucky #13 bib (2nd week in a row with #13, as I got the same for Mt. Wash) and headed over the to starting line in my Inov-8 212 X-Talons to get my race on.

As the race went off, I got positioned pretty much right where I wanted to be (in maybe 15th-20th place) and just tried to relax (as much as you possibly can relax as you climb a ski slope).  Kevin was initially behind me but then made a push up ahead as I just tried to ease my way into the first of three loops.  I didn't want to go crazy, as 3 laps could be a make or break situation for me.  I think I went by Judson Cake somewhere on the middle climb of the first loop but he stayed pretty close behind for most of the way.  I was able to run the entire way up on the first loop with no power hiking.  I was also able to pace myself right behind Kevin Tilton and John Tribbia as we made our first descent down the mountain.  The descent was nowhere near as steep and out of control as it normally is and you can really stay on the gas on the way down.  All 3 of us rocked the first downhill section and weaved back and forth down the last stretch of flagged trail and out onto the flat section that went by the start/finish for the first loop.

The second lap's ascent started with more of the same, as I was able to stay right with Kevin and John for most of it.  For a moment, Kevin made a slight push ahead and I ran side by side and right behind John for most of the next part of the race and up to the summit of the climb.  I think all 3 of us were pretty much together as we started the 2nd downhill section and we again came across down to the start / finish together.

On the third lap I came through right behind Kevin Tilton and right beside John Tribbia.  Not much changed between laps 2 and 3.  As I came through the start/finish for the start of lap 3, I passed John and Kevin started pulling away a bit.  I tried to stay in touch and not lose too much ground on Kevin, but I knew that he'd most likely pull away on the climb and would find the usual 15-20 seconds he usually beats me by in these types of races.  I fully expected to lose touch rather quickly, but halfway up the climb, I realized that I had put good distance on John and Judson and the chase pack behind me, but I had also managed to stay right with Kevin more or less.  

About halfway up the climb on third lap, I started to off-and-on power hike, as I could not continue a running push on the really steep climbs.  Kevin continued to pedal the bike up the mountain and didn't walk once.  I had to do this a few times and each time, I lost more and more ground on Kevin, as he finally started to pull away.  But during the few instances where the course would level out and drop just a bit as it cut across the mountain, I would catch back up to him.  

On the last steep climb up past the water stop, I grinded out a decent last push and was only a couple seconds back of Kevin.  At this point, we were weaving in and out of lapped runners and I couldn't really see who was next behind me.  All I was thinking now was maybe top 10.  I had thought we were 9, 10, 11 through the second lap (as people were calling out places to us as we ran by).  Seeing we dropped John, I figured Kevin and I were 9,10 and I was pretty pumped that I thought we'd both medal. However I didn't want to settle for 10th, so I stayed right on Kevin for the beginning of the last descent.  After a minute or so, I realized that he was not going quite as fast as I think we should have been going for our last push, so I went wide and up around and passed him.  It was a bit early as I think we still had about a half mile to go, but I figured it was now or never.  If he caught me back, at least I tried.  I just threw down and got on it for the next half mile as the course drops down past oncoming (lapped) runners  and then eventually weaves back and forth down the final stretch of flagged pathways down the face of the major ski trail.  While I was running down that final stretch, everyone was cheering and giving me some encouragement.  As I passed DD I thought he told me 9th and I heard him say 'every place, every second counts'.  I knew what he meant.  Last year at Mt. Washington (the 2010 qualifier) Chris Lundstrom was 8th and ended up going to the Worlds because both Chris Siemers and Matt Russell couldn't go. I knew it was a long shot, but I kicked it in anyways and thought I was 9th as I came across the line.  I would find out later on that I was actually 10th and that it was a good thing I actually passed Kevin when I did.

Top 10 Men and Women (above).

Team Inov-8 representing (above).

Top 20 (Plus CMS in Blue) - Men

546:11TommyManningInov835Colorado SpringsCO
746:25ScottGallRunning Village36Cedar FallsIA
947:03PeterMaksimowCMS / Inov-832Manitou SpringsCO
1047:20JimJohnsonCMS / Inov-834SalemNH
1147:39KevinTiltonCMS / Inov-829ConwayNH
1247:54JudsonCakeAcidotic32Bar HarborME
1549:10TimVan OrdenCMS43BenningtonVT
1850:14PatrickArd Whirlaway27RaymondNH
2052:24AllanSerranoShawangunk Runners43High FallsNY
2653:44Tom BrownCMS25BeverlyMA
3156:30SamWood CMS24LaconiaNH

165 Total Finishers (Men)

The tenth place finish put me just in the picture for a USATF National Championship medal.    I had thought I may have an outside shot at top 10, but it's always tough at the mountain championships and you never know how it's going to go for not only you, but others.

I am psyched to have won another National title with the CMS boys.  This is our 3rd Mountain gold in a row  (my 3rd Gold with CMS). Everyone ran really strong and we had 5 in the top 15.  This is a perfect example of why I love being part of this matter what type of race, where it is, how long it is, how much climb, how much mud, how much pain, it doesn't matter...we get guys to show up and give it their all....most importantly though, everyone seems to have fun and that's the most important thing!

Videos below by my Dad and his cell phone cam:

Lap 1 - coming through the start/finish with Kevin Tilton and John Tribbia:

Lap 2 - coming through the start/finish with Kevin Tilton and John Tribbia (and lapping some folks):

Lap 3 - Finishing (and still lapping folks) up in 10th OA:


  1. Great Job Double J! It's gotta be the beard!

  2. You better keep doing those hills ...just in case.

  3. I think I finally caught a few reasonably good pictures of you Jim!