Sunday, May 4, 2014

May 4 (Sunday) - Sleepy Hollow Mountain Race

The start of Sleepy Hollow in Huntington, VT with RD Kasie Enman giving the last second instructions.

On Sunday morning, the soon to be established East Madison Track Club president and CEO Paul Kirsch picked me up (and Kevin Tilton as well) on his way over to Huntington, VT for the 3rd Annual Sleepy Hollow Mountain Race (results), which not only kicks off the USATF-New England Mountain circuit for 2014, but it also serves as the New England Mountain Running Championship AND the New England Trail Running Championship.

After a 3 hour ride over to a very wet and muddy northwestern VT,  I got together with Kevin, Josh Ferenc, and Greg Hammett (who wasn't racing) and headed out for a warmup over parts of the course to check out the conditions.  The course was super soft, wet, and muddy.  It was going to be a very interesting race for sure.  The field was pretty deep with Josh as my pick to win for a 3rd year in a row.  I think he's proven himself to be one of (if not the) best trail runner/racer in New England for sure. I was thinking the only one in the field that was going to give him a scare would be Nate Jenkins, just on his ability and talent alone (with little trail/mountain experience).  Outside of those two, I was picking Kevin for third, Scotty McGrath or Mike Galoob for 4-5, and then possibly myself battling it out with the likes of Mike Quintal and a slew of others (including Jacob Barnett who beat me at Wachusett last year).  The ridiculous state of the footing would definitely even the playing field a little for most of the men in the race...I did think that Josh would be able to muscle out a decisive win however, if he ran his race right from the beginning....which is what he would end up doing.

The start of the race with Josh out early...

As the race went off, I stayed under control and behaved myself as the course immediately begins to climb.  It was interesting to see where everyone ended up picking their lines.  Everyone was spread all over the course with some picking the middle, and others struggling on the side rails of the wide xc ski trails to desperately find a solid piece of footing to grab a hold of.  I felt myself zig zagging all over the place, trying to make sure I stayed on my feet and didn't tucker myself out trying to push off in 6 inches of mud with each stride. I looked up a few times to see Josh immediately take off like a boss and establish himself as the clear favorite.  I looked around me about halfway up the climb and noticed I was in approx. 7th place with Josh way out front, Kevin making a strong push to catch him, a BAA runner (ended up being Alex Hall) running very well early, Eli Enman and Nate Jenkins running right next to me, and Mike Galoob, John Stanton-Geddes, and a couple others mixed in there all in a relatively tight pack.  Mike Quintal blew past me on the way up the first climb as well and looked super strong.  I was biding my time as I knew there was a killer climb at 2 miles and didn't want to empty the tank to early on the first climb.  I tried to relax and not worry about my current position.

The course flattened out a little bit and I ended up rolling past Mike Quintal as there was a slight descent.  But then, as soon as the course hooked left and started to climb up again through the first mile, he blew passed me again like I was standing still.  A little while later, on single track right before the summit, I was able to go past Mike Quintal again and Mike Galoob who politely moved to the side a little bit as I went past.  I assumed I'd see him again though, as he's tough as nails and it was still very early.  As we went up and over the first climb (where Josh got the coveted King of the Mountain title again), I was probably in 5th or 6th place.  Then came the first real descent of the day and the major separator of trail vs road guys.

I started to roll down the slope, at first relatively relaxed and cautious but then slowly started to pick up steam.  I immediately passed John and Alex, and set my sights on Nate and Kevin who were a bit ahead.  Kevin is a great downhill runner on the trails and Nate is just a great runner in general.  I was shocked to see both of them coming back as I was beginning to bomb down the muddy and treacherous hill.  About a quarter of the way down, I passed Nate and was shocked.  I then passed by Kevin not too much later. I could not believe that once again found myself in 2nd place (like last year) out of nowhere.  I almost went down a couple times across some very soft open areas, and I was constantly slipping and sliding on one foot plant after another in certain spots.  I had gone with the X-Talon 212s as footwear but I was beginning to wonder if any shoe was going to be able to help in these conditions.  I was wishing I had gone with my Mudclaws instead (which have a larger lug) but had run this race last year in the 212s so I was hoping they'd help me stay afloat again on the way down.

As the descent flattened a bit and we headed towards the field, I had a decent lead on Kevin and Nate, but they reeled me in.  I couldn't really see Josh, but I almost wasn't even looking for him.  I was only concerned with who was right behind me.  My goal at this point was to simply break away from the rest of the field and fully expected Kevin and Nate to roll past me on the climb.  I felt I had done my job on the steeper descent and held up a bit to try to recover and prepare for the long grind that is the second ascent of the day right at the 2 mile mark.

As I hooked right and passed the 2nd mile marker, Kevin rolled on by, right on queue.  I let him go.  Nate came up on my shoulder and was breathing hard.  I could tell he was out of his comfort zone for sure after that climb and then shockingly messy descent.  Nate and I would continue to push up the long grind of a climb together for the next mile or so.  Kevin pulled away a little but not too far.  He maintained about the same lead on us the rest of the way.  Halfway up the climb, John caught Nate and I and then passed us by a stride or 2 in spots.  The three of us would trade lead duties (by a step or two) for the rest of the way.  All 3 of us summited the climb (finally) together, basically 3 across.   I had peeked back a couple times to see blue shirts in the distance (not too far back). I knew it was Quintal and Galoob lingering.  I never saw Scotty McGrath but knew he was also there, along with 4 or 5 others that could possibly catch us.  There was a long way to go.

As the downhill started, I made another push on my normal downhill pace and broke away from Nate and John.  I was surprised (again).  John had caught us and really pushed us on the uphill.  I was surprised that I was able to leave those guys behind on the small drops over the next quarter mile or so (which had some small ups and downs).  I was slowly catching Kevin but now knew that it was Nate's time to make a push to go after Josh.  The rest of the course only had one major climb left and that wasn't too bad (single track).  I figured he'd blow past us and that would be all she would then be a race for 3rd.  But I continued to catch Kevin all on my own and I finally rolled up on him with about half mile to go from the bottom.  I slowly inched forward and he kept a few strides behind me.  I kept peeking back to look for Nate's white jersey.  I couldn't see it.  I was still somewhat in a haze but I kept plugging down the hill.

Eventually I came through the start/finish area (4 mile mark) with Kevin directly in tow and the rain beginning to come down.  We looped around the finish area and headed down to the last loop of the course, which has some slight downhill and then a steep singletrack climb, followed by a steep singletrack drop and then an up and down and up again on XC ski trail to the finish.  At this point I had raced well but was convinced I was going to be 4th.  I figured Kevin would kill me on the climb up and then be able to hold me off on the last mile of xc trail which doesn't have quite enough downhill (or so I thought) for me to make up the difference. I also was sure that Nate would kill this last section and possibly get 2nd.  Josh was completely out of sight at this point.

I hit the single track and proceeded to immediately move over so Kevin could go on ahead.  We both know the drill by now.  I have no business being in front of him on a climb and know my place in that relationship.  I moved over and let him go.  I started to look back periodically to see if Nate was coming.  I could make out his white jersey in spots but couldn't figure out how close he was.  I didn't fall too far behind Kevin and thought about just keeping him close and trying to hold off Nate.  I love Nate, who is also a teammate of mine (like Kevin is), but I also love the fact that I was actually in front of him in a race.   That was uncharted territory for me :).  I would have wanted to beat anyone in this position, but it just happened to be a guy whom I had never been in front of in any race, ever, at any time.  It felt nice for once ;).  It just took a horrible mudfest of a mountain race for me to actually do it :).  Lifetime, I'm probably 1 for 30, so let me have some glory for once ;)...

As we hit the top of the single track climb, I immediately rolled up on Kevin and we both started the push down.  I yelled at him to keep moving as Nate was lingering.  He promptly moved aside and motioned for me to go on by. I did so, but knew Kevin wasn't just letting me go.  I pushed down the hill and bottomed out with him right behind.  At this point it was both of us working together on the last uphill on xc ski trail, followed by a sustained subtle drop for a while (which I had really forgotten about).  I yelled back at him to keep pushing forward and wanted to work together.  I was able to move out just a bit ahead and pull out to a small lead.  But just before the end of that stretch, Kevin started to close down some of that daylight.  I peeked back a bit more for additional jerseys behind Kevin and didn't see any.  I then looked up and saw the orange cones that were at the bottom of the last climb to the finish.  There was about 200 yards left.  I peeked back one more time and saw Kevin there, but I looked to have enough of a lead to squeak out an unbelievable 2nd place in this amazing field of guys.  I pushed up the last climb and rolled through the finish only 7 ticks up on Kevin.

Nate obviously closed hard but had John in tow as well as they both came up through the finish in a close 4th and 5th place finish.

I was pretty pumped about being able to squeak out a solid race for having little to no real preparation of workouts of any quality.  I have only been doing 50-60 miles per week (not even).  I have done a couple of trail races recently but nothing really close to a mountain race.  Also, I had raced a 5k the day before, so I was literally shocked I even finished the mountain race, let alone beat some amazing guys.  Josh had long been done and was already back at his car updating his Facebook fan page.

Kevin, Nate, MQ, and I headed out for a 3 mile (which felt like 20 mile) cooldown on the dirt/muddy roads. I bonked something fierce and barely made it back.   After downing a bunch of food at the lodge, it was time for the awards.  I had no intentions of placing on the podium so I hadn't known there was cash for top 3.  The first year of the race I was 3rd but I believe only top male/female got money.  The second year I was 4th and top 3 got paid.  This year I figured top 10 would be good for me so I wasn't even thinking about cashing in.  On top of some money, I got a monster jug of quality maple syrup (not as big as the moonshine jug Josh got, but still...) and a nice USATF-NE silver medal for the Mountain/Trail championships.  I also got to say I beat the guy who beat the guy who won the Boston Marathon this year...

Top 3 Overall - L-R: JJ (2nd), Last Hero and Only Hope Ferenc (1st), and Classy Tilton (3rd)

Top 20 Overall:

140:44JoshFerencSaxtons RiverVT
342:56KevinTiltonNorth ConwayNHCMS
443:13NateJenkinsNorth AndoverMACMS
843:52MichaelQuintalN AndoverMACMS
1245:43MikeGaloobPeace DaleRI
1847:34TimVan OrdenBenningtonVTCMS
1947:40DaveDunhamWard HillMACMS

215 Total Finishers. Full Results.

CMS put 7 guys in the top 20 to take the early lead in the USATF-NE Mountain Series Team scoring...edging out 2nd place GMAA and 3rd place acidoticRacing.

I have to say that my expectations for Pack, Wachusett, and Ascutney are almost non-existent.  I have no delusions of making any podiums in those races with no real good sloppy downhills to run.  Kevin will beat me by many many minutes at Pack and I'm ready to face that reality.   The course here played a huge role in my ability to be able to place as high as I did.  The rest of the courses (short of maybe Loon and Cranmore) will not be in my best interest, based on my current fitness, but I'll be there to enjoy the amazing experiences that make up the USATF-NE Mountain Series.

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