Tuesday, October 14, 2014

2014 USATF-New England Mountain Series Wrap Up

Mountain Series Wrap-up for 2014.

Since running the Loon Mountain Race in July (USATF National Mountain Running Championship) and having one of my worst races of the year, I held my own in the last couple of mountain races in the series and ended up winning my 3rd USATF-New England Mountain Series Championship title in 4 years (Individual Final Standings here).   I ended up winning the Cranmore Hillclimb (results) in July.  This was my first ever Cranmore win, in 7 tries.  Cranmore served as the US Championship in 2009 (I was 12th), 2011 (I was 10th), and 2013 (I was 21st).  Other than that, I've been 2nd twice (once to Kevin Tilton in 2010 and once to Marco De Gasperi of Italy in 2012) and 3rd once in my first ever run here in 2008 (all those obviously in non-championship years). So it was nice to get my first win in my 'hometown' mountain race.

Cranmore HillClimb

As my amazing interview by LevelRenner indicates, I did think that this year's rendition of the Cranmore Hillclimb was the 'easiest' one yet.  It just didn't seem that difficult 'course-wise' this year.  Yes, there were a couple of climbs that were typical of the race, but compared to years where it was 3 laps or years where we did the far side (north end) of the mountain, this year's race seemed to be pretty tame.  I spent most of the first lap, trying to shake Todd and Matty Viega.  Matt actually took it out pretty hard early, and passed me only about a quarter mile in or so.  Todd stayed right behind me and by about 3/4 of a mile or so, I was able to pass Matt back before the middle grind up the far south part of the slopes.  There was a steep drop down through a glade and he slowed a bit in this section. I surged ahead and then was in the lead from there.  There was a pretty long climb in the middle of the loop but it did seem to 'flatten' out a bit from time to time.  I started to notice Todd creeping his way up towards me as the climb continued.  Nearing the top of the first climb, there is a flat section before it really goes for the kill.  There was a very steep grind where I ended up losing a lot of time and Todd moved up right behind me.  As I pushed out to the last pitch up the backside of the summit, I was only able to hold Todd off by a few seconds.  But as we crested over the top, I was able to put over a minute on him on the downhill.  Even though I was wearing the MudClaws, I still wiped out twice during the race.  Once right in front of the sign that said 'Ditch' (I went into the ditch anyways) and once while overshooting a turn and running right into the woods, off course, during one of the cut-through sections.

As I rolled through the start/finish area for the beginning of lap 2, I had a decent lead, but was not sure at all whether it would be enough to hold off Todd on the second climb.  He has been climbing a lot better than I have this year so I had little confidence I could hold him off.  My thought was that if I started the second loop with a big enough head start, I may be able to hold him off near the top and then put more time into him again on the downhill.  That is basically how it played out.

While I have no doubt Todd was able to make up some time, I was able to climb relatively steady on the way up the second loop and I never did get into danger of him catching me.  I surprised myself on the way back up and by the time I started the second downhill, I had way more of a lead than I had thought I would have.  It made the second descent easier to deal with. I was more cautious on the way down, although I did have to weave through lapped runners on the way down, which made things a bit more dicey.

In the end, I came through over 2 minutes ahead of a charging Matt Viega, who was able to overtake Todd for second place on the way down the second descent.  Todd finished up in 3rd place, only 14 seconds behind Matt. I was pretty pleased that I was actually able to win not only an overall race in the series this year, but also get my first ever Cranmore Hillclimb win.  (Considering you already probably know I won Bretton Woods before reading below, now, I've won every race in the series at least once, except Sleepy Hollow.  And if Josh Ferenc continues to go to Sleepy Hollow, that will never change :) )...

Strava Activity:










Bretton Woods

Most recently, in early October, I ran in the Bretton Woods Fell Race (results), which served as the last race in the USATF-New England Mountain Series.  Technically I didn't have to go to this one to win the series (as Dave Dunham had calculated that I would have just squeaked by in the series over Todd Callaghan by about 1.4 points or so).  I had done the Vermont 50 the week before, so I was skeptical as to whether I was going to be able to get out to this one and compete.  But as the week drew to a close, I felt better and better and just figured I'd be able to stick close to Todd and try to improve my score in the series (being able to substitute in a decent score from Bretton Woods and drop my Loon score).

My plan at Bretton Woods was simply to run the 'marked' safe route and/or try to stay w/ whoever was leading and just try to stay close and pray that my legs held up.  In the morning before I left for the ride up 302, I noticed on the website that only the route to the first 3 checkpoints was marked.  After that, there was no course markings at all.  This was a bit disheartening and I had to figure out another plan, as I hadn't studied the course at all and hadn't gone ahead of time to do any sort of planning.  When I got to the registration, I met up w/ DD and a few others who all had some intel on the course and potential routes they were going to take.  But the consensus was that Todd Callaghan would be the guy to beat (I agreed) and he had scoped out the course ahead of time (he went up the day before).  So my plan quickly changed to 'follow Todd wherever he goes'.

I warmed up w/ DD and changed into my MudClaw 265s.  My legs were a bit heavy and my calves and hammies were still pretty banged up, but I was excited for the race.

As the race began, there was a mad scramble in seemingly all directions by a big group of frontrunners.  I stuck behind Todd and shadowed every step he took for the most part.  Matt Viega was in tow and so was Erik Vendendries.  DD was lingering and that looked to be what the top 5 was going to be, very early on.   The first climb was a brute.  It was straight up to checkpoint A that was all the way at the top of the middle peak.  My calves got very sore and tight as the climb wore on and I fell back quite a ways.  Matt eventually passed me, as did Erik.  Just before DD rolled up on me, I stepped in a huge sinkhole up to my waist practically.  I could hear DD laughing behind me as I pulled myself to safety.  By the top of checkpoint A, I was in 4th, quite a ways behind Todd and right behind Erik.  I was just barely able to hold off Dave at the top.



 Once at the top, there was a slight reprieve before another climb up to checkpoint B.  I was following Matt and Todd and was able to drop Erik on the slight downhill between the two summits.  By the top of checkpoint B, I had almost caught Todd and Matt.  As the first big downhill started (all the way down to checkpoint C), Matty took off like he stole something.  Todd and I just rolled on the way down.  Then literally Todd rolled.  He took a pretty hard spill and slid down some grassy/rocky slope to the left of the dirt path on the ski slope.  It looked pretty nasty and his leg was all cut up.  He bounced up pretty quick though and we continued to push down the slope as Matt looked like he was pulling away.  I was really hurting physically on the downhill. My calves were getting very sore and my quads and hamstrings started telling me that they hadn't forgotten about the 50 miles I ran the previous weekend.

As we came through checkpoint C at the start/finish area, Todd and I started to gain on Matt a little bit.  Then we saw Matt take a slight left turn and head up a steeper slope than what Todd was going to go up.  I didn't hesitate and followed Todd's every move.  He wasn't even hesitating.  He didn't take the map out, didn't really even look at what Matt was doing.  It was like he was running a loop he does everyday.  I was content following and just remained a step or two behind him all the way up the far right climb.  As we pushed up I had to take an occasional step or two of a walk, because my legs were just really sore.  I wasn't really losing any ground on Todd though when I did this and just did it on and off for the rest of the climb up to checkpoint D.  Once at the top of that slope, there was a hard right up an incredibly steep slope to the checkpoint.  I looked all around and didn't see any signs of Matt or DD or Erik.  As Todd and I basically powerhiked that last pitch up to D, I figured Matt had probably taken a much longer way and gotten lost.  I asked the girl at checkpoint D if we were in 1st/2nd and she confirmed.  I then mentioned to Todd on the way back down, that we probably didn't have to kill ourselves the rest of the way, because I knew he had led us up the most efficient way possible and it was paying off bigtime.  We ran into Matt as he popped out of the woods on the opposite side he came up, and he mentioned he got lost.  We pointed him in the right direction and I knew at that point, there was no way he'd be catching us unless we got lost.  Shortly after seeing him, we saw DD as well, coming towards us.  He had also taken another way up.  I commented to him that right around the corner, he'd have a pretty big climb up to D.  From there, it was just Todd and I. We wouldn't see anyone again after that.

The drop across and then down to checkpoint E (about halfway down the middle slopes) was nice and easy.  Todd and I talked back and forth and I even moved out ahead a couple times but all the while, didn't want to start pushing it, because I had no clue where I was going.  Because nothing was marked, I either had to whip out my map and try to figure it out myself, or just stay with Todd and let him navigate.   A couple times, I moved slightly ahead and had to keep looking back to make sure I went the same way he did.  He would quietly take a left or right after I'd blow past it, and he wouldn't say anything (I probably wouldn't have either :)).  I would have to quickly adjust and follow him.

Once we dropped down and hit checkpoint E, it was back up a pretty serious climb across to F.   It was more of the same. Me shadowing Todd and us chatting about the course, how our training was going, etc.  Todd had mentioned he had a knee issue and he wasn't in the same great shape he was in during the summer.  I slowly started to think I wouldn't have a problem on the way down to the finish, but I needed to make sure I went the right way!  On the last climb up a rugged glade in the middle of the mountain, I saw checkpoint F.  I pushed ahead just a little and hit the checkpoint right ahead of Todd.  I then turned and started to bomb down.  My plan was now to open it up and run straight down (as straight as I could). I had NO idea if the slope I was on went all the way straight down or if it stopped and turned left or right, etc.  I was hoping it did dump out near the bottom, but was now committed to just pushing down for the win.

The more I dropped down through the glade, the more nervous I got as I moved ahead of Todd. I kept peeking back to see his blue shirt and knew I was still on track.  But then I got to a section where there was a quasi-fork in the trail.  I kept going 'straight' and turned around a bit later to see if Todd followed, but didn't see him anymore.  I kept looking and he was gone.  I immediately had that sinking feeling that he took the right way back up at the fork and I was running into never never land.  I pushed more and more down, ran over a wooden bridge, and then dumped out onto a dirt road.  I then came to a trail that dumped out to my right. I looked up it and it was steep as anything.  I looked down the direction I was about to go down and immediately convinced myself it was wrong.  I stopped.  I then tried to figure out if I was going to keep going or go UP to the right.  I saw the condos down to the right through the trees and it was deja vu. I kept thinking about last year.  Where I was running well and then I got lost and dropped out in the area near those condos.   I debated whether to actually bushwhack through those condos again or go right.  I started to run up the right hand slope. I got halfway up and thought that there was no way it could benefit me, to climb all the way up again.  So I turned, headed back down, and then just before I was going to reluctantly cut through to those condos, I turned again to look back up the way I came and I saw Todd's blue shirt coming down the slope!   I was never so happy to see someone catching me in a race.  I immediately turned and headed straight down the slope I was originally going to go down.  Only a few seconds later, it turned the corner and opened up to the start/finish area and I could see the finish line.  I had gone from thinking I was definitely going to win, to thinking I had screwed up AGAIN and was going to DNF, back to thinking I was going to win again. I pushed down to the line and was just 10 seconds ahead of Todd, who did ALL the work.  Matty V held his 3rd place (and secured 3rd place in the series behind Todd and myself), and a bloodied Dave Dunham held on for 4th place.


Strava Activity:



L-R: Matt Viega (CMS), JJ (CMS/Inov-8), Todd Callaghan (CMS)




Video courtesy of the Level.


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