Thursday, May 30, 2013

Wachusett Mountain Race

This past weekend I headed down the 3 hour ride to the Wachusett Mountain Race (results) in Westminster/Princeton MA for the second race in the 2013 USATF New England Mountain Series.  I have been struggling with a bad foot since the week before the first race up in Sleepy Hollow, but truthfully I think I've held my own in the first two races all things considered, as guys like Eric MacKnight, Josh Ferenc, and Brandon Newbould have no business finishing behind me in anything at this point in my running career.   I knew the field for Wachusett would be missing Josh who was up crushing souls at Vermont City this weekend, but I also knew it would be deeper with the likes of the increasingly elusive Kevin Tilton and others who usually show up at the CMS event (which seems to be constantly changing shapes and this year is no exception).  The course this year was an up and down 10K (maybe even a tad longer) that would take me (for the first time ever) up to the actual summit of the mountain.  I have run this 4 times now and it has never gone to the top as long as I have been running it.  The last 3 years have featured some single track even.  This year, it was back to basics (almost) in that it headed up the auto road to the summit, and then came screaming down on the paved road and then gravel roads/ski trails to the base again.

It was an early morning as I had to be up at about 4:30 so I could hit the road by 5:00am or so.  After falling asleep continuously on the way down, I arrived nice and early and in plenty of time to register and take my time getting ready.  The weather was cold and wet.  Not an ideal start to the memorial day weekend.  It was so chilly in fact, that I was contemplating wearing a long sleeve and/or hat and gloves.

I warmed up (in long pants, jacket, hat and gloves) with my old college teammate and high school rival Brad Klinedinst (New Balance Boston) on the first 'mile hill' road and then back down the old single track from the past few years of the race.  It was great catching up with Brad though and he was looking fit.  It was just another lad out there I had to worry about.  The numbers of good runners I was catching a glimpse of on the warmup was increasing.  I was thinking top 10 at least, would be a good goal to shoot for.  I had already seen the Girlaway, I mean Whirlaway squad with MacKnight, Newbould,  Steve Dowsett, and even 'THE' Craig Fram milling around near the start.  Add those names to the list of CMS guys and some of the Hello Kitty AC team members, who for whatever reason decided to race under not only alias' but also incorrect age groups which completely screws up the results.  Don't get me started on how dumb that is...

I decided to go with the new Team Inov-8 uniform and the Trailroc 245s, but also a cap to keep the rain out of my eyes and some gloves and arm warmers, as the weather still was a bit on the chilly side.  I think having the weather that cold in a historically warmer month makes it seem even worse than it actually is.  I lined up right in the mix of all the younger studs and the race was underway.

Immediately the race pace felt pedestrian as there was a gigantic group of runners all bunched together for the first half mile or so.  It seemed like nobody wanted to take the lead.  Brandon and Eric seemed to be itching to go but everyone was holding back.  If this was 2 or 3 years ago I would have been gone.  I didn't mess around back then in these races.  But lately things have been horrible for me and the way my body feels, so I was in no rush to do anything dumb early.  Kevin Tilton seemed to wake up and soon I found him out front bossing people around and pushing the pace.   It looked like classic KT.  He's the best climber in the field but I wasn't sure if he was particularly in 'race shape' enough to go for it and hold off this pack...especially with 3 miles of downhill after the climb.  Had this been a 6 mile all-uphill race, he would have been my pick (even with some subpar training as of late).  But somewhere around the mile mark or so, everyone was waking up.  There was a good established top 5 of Newbould (Whirl), MacKnight (Whirl), Tilton (CMS/Dion/Inov-8/WMM/acidotic), one of the Hello Kitty runners whose name may or may not be 'Trudy' and Jacob Barnett (SRR).  I was hanging back a little and had lost a little ground.  I was having a quiet battle with Brendan Callahan (HKAC), Craig Fram, and a few others.  We were in a chase pack and I felt horrible to say the least.  I knew guys like Ross Krause, Tristan Williams, Todd Callaghan, Tivo, Tim Mahoney, DD, etc. were all lingering as well. My confidence was pretty much blown as my fitness was immediately giving me reason for concern.

The more the climb progressed, the more I lost touch with that lead pack.  Somewhere shortly after the race took a turn down off Mile Hill Rd. and dipped a little bit, Kevin all of the sudden seemed to come back a little bit.  I found myself only a hair ahead of Tristan Williams and not too far behind Kevin.  The group of 4 runners up front continued to pull away slowly.  For the next mile or so I broke a little away from Tristan and remained within shouting distance of Kevin, but he continued to push ahead and I couldn't make up any ground on him.  I started to feel around 2 miles or so, like I may be able to hold 6th if I could just survive the climb, not get passed on the way to the top, and then try to destroy the downhill.  I noticed Kevin continuously looking at his watch and he started to seem like he was no longer making a push to try to keep in contact with the lead group.  As we crested near the top of the climb I started to reel him in.  As we hit the turnaround at the top I had just about caught him. It came very fast.  I went from thinking he'll get me at the top by 20 seconds or so and then pull away on the downhill before I even get to him, to just about being even with him at the summit and thinking I'd have him on the down.

As we started the descent, I pulled up along side Kevin immediately and asked him quickly whether we were going down the same way we came up (because it looked like we were going to do that).  He quickly told me that we take another turn and head down the other side.  Right after that, I opened up my stride and started to push downhill (which seemingly doesn't bother my foot nearly as much as the climbing).  The first mile or so of the downhill is all on pavement and it is pretty steep down.  I stayed on the gas and tried not to think of the downhill as a recovery but rather a place where I needed to continue to accelerate and maybe make up some time on people in front of me (and lose some guys behind me if possible). I was shocked to see that during the first mile of descent I quickly came up on the Hello Kitty runner who was out front on the road climb for a while.  He looked to be running cautiously downhill but was flailing around like he was out of his element a little bit.  I came up next to him and he kindly gave me some encouragement and kudos for the downhill running I was doing.  He said 'I don't know how you are running so fast downhill'...  I looked over at him and told him to get back on the gas and come with me.  He gave a little up on me at first and dropped back but when the course leveled out a bit, he pulled up beside me again and I looked over at him and told him to get after it and go get those next couple guys.  I told him to just stay on the accelerator and actually race the downhill, not just coast or survive it.  He actually responded and took off on a little surge.  It was pretty cool to see, but I started to think that maybe I should have not said anything :).   Not too long after that though, once the course started to dip again, I found myself going back by him.  Then the course turned onto the dirt road and that was it.  I didn't see him again.  I quickly gained distance and knew that if he was not running as hard on the paved section because of the slope of the course, that the dirt section was probably going to slow him down even more.

The more the course descended on the dirt access road, I knew I was going to get 4th at the worst.  I couldn't really see anyone behind me for a long while.  Up ahead I started to see everyone.  I could see Eric, Brandon, and Jacob.  They were all close together but the distance seemed too much to make up. I was on the gas but I would have needed to run 20 seconds faster per mile on the way down to catch Eric and that wasn't going to happen. I was already in the 4:40s.  Near the end of the course, there is a small uphill section before the last bit of rough, rocky, uneven downhill and I mailed it in from there.  I knew that my few seconds of actually thinking of being able to catch Jacob and Brandon were just a pipe dream and I really lost them in the last half mile or so.  I dropped back and ended up rolling down in 4th place overall.  Not a bad finish considering my fitness (or lack thereof) and my foot problems.

I cooled down again with Brad down the road and around some off road areas on the way out of the ski area.  My legs were beginning to get sore and my calves were really tightening up due to all the downhill.  As I write this entry, I am still tight 5 days later.  On a positive note, no one older than me beat me.  I guess I have that going for me....which is nice.

Top 10 Overall:

Place Time Name Town, State Team
1 35:50 Eric MacKnight    Ballston Lake, NY  WRT 
2 36:09 Brandon Newbold   Nottingham, NH     WRT 
3 36:12 Jacob Barnett     Medford            SRR 
4 36:58 Jim Johnson       Madison, NH        BAA 
5 37:28 Trudy Delhagen    Brooklyn, NY       HKAC
6 37:40 Tristan Williams  Jackson, NH            
7 37:53 Todd Callaghan    Beverly            CGCS
8 38:06 Kevin Tilton      N Conway, NH       CMS 
9 38:29 Brian Keefe       Medford            SRR 
10 38:36 Ross Krause       East Thompson, MA  CMS 

297 Total Finishers

My history at Wachusett:

2010 - 4th (up and down on road and trails)
2011 - 1st (up and down on road and trails but more single track and more dangerous that 2010)
2012 - 3rd (up and down same as 2011)
2013 - 4th (up and down but longer and no single track...longer ascent on the road)

Maybe next year I'll get that 2nd I have been after... or 5th... This year's edition of the course is my favorite by far (so far).  Interestingly enough I have never run the original course but this was kind of close for the first part of the race...  I gathered my things after the awards (I was 2nd in my age group because Brandon Newbould is starting to get old, but not as old as I am) and I hit the bricks.  3 hours back up to God's country.  Hopefully I can continue to train around my foot issue and try to get back into shape while trying to figure out what is wrong.

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