Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pisgah Mountain 50k

UPDATED: Sunday (9-26) with Video. The day after my fast 5k in Salem (which amazingly still some folks actually   refuse to believe it was 5k, despite me going back and measuring it multiple times, only to find that it was actually, technically a tad over 3.1 miles, which it should be to be each his own...I have faith in my ability at this point and have no doubt that I covered 5k in and around a time I should have been running a year ago), I found myself 2+ hours west in southwestern NH for the Pisgah Mountain 50k trail race.  This was my first attempt at a 50k and I had ZERO idea what to expect aside from knowing that I cramp up in road marathons and I bonk in longer trail races.  And by 'long', I mean 16, 18, 22 mile races. I've never done a 50k before, but the combination of the distance + the trail/mountain aspect of it was very concerning to me.  Those two major disasters would have to be avoided in order for me to finish this thing...and what it was going to take was fuel and hydration.  The two most important things in these types of events.  I took Greg Hammett's advice and ate a ton of food on Saturday afternoon and evening.  I then woke up early and grabbed a sausage, egg, and cheese on a bagel at Dunkin Donuts, as well as a muffin and a Powerbar.  I washed it down w/ a couple of jugs of water w/ NUUN tablets mixed in, and a small coffee.  I wasn't screwing around this time.  I know what it is like to completely bonk early in a longer trail race and do the death march for miles.  No thanks.  I was making damn sure I was fueled for this race.  The worst thing that was going to happen would be a bathroom stop or two. That, I could live with.  Bonking and walking for miles wasn't an option.  My stomach is usually never an issue during a race, so I was pretty sure I'd be ok with a relatively large breakfast. I made the nice, quiet drive out west to Chesterfield, NH and arrived at the starting area in time to spot gads of usual suspects and a lot of top trail runners who would make up one of the most loaded fields in the history of the event.  I saw Ben Nephew (CMS), Justin Fyffe (CMS), Greg Hammett (CMS) (and his brothers), Bryan Johnston (CMS), George Adams (CMS), David Herr, and Brian Rusiecki (Vasque).  All (except Fyffe and Greg's brothers) were running the 50k. That's a pretty sick field for a 50k trail race.  Looking at that field, I was immediately guessing that it would probably be Herr, Nephew, Rusiecki, Hammett, then maybe me, but I wasn't too confident.

After reluctantly registering and joking w/ some folks that I was paying 30 beans to essentially (potentially) kill myself, I went back to the car to strap on my new Camebak 2010 Delaney Plus hydration system that I had purchased the night before with my SalemFest winnings.  At first I thought this thing was way too big to run with and had never even tried it on before the race, but I knew that I had to sacrifice style and potentially even comfort, for sufficient food and water for the race.  I packed the front pouch full of Honey Stinger Cherry Blossom Chews , about 4 or 5 of NUUN tablets, and a half a pack of wild cherry Lifesavers (literally).  The Lifesaver trick is thanks to Danny Verrington.  I also filled the Camelbak Gel Flask full of about 5 Powerbar Energy Gels and stuffed a few more unopened gels in my back pouch.  Needless to say, I was prepared as best I could be, for what was ahead.  I hadn't seen the course (as opposed to all the other top guys there who've either won the race in the past or at least seen it a few times to know what lay ahead.

We all walked over to the starting area as the race was about to begin at 8:45am, and we got ready to go.  I was nervous as hell, as this was me jumping into a very unfamiliar territory racing-wise.  It was about to be my longest race ever and my longest run ever (mileage-wise).

The first bit of the race was up Old Chesterfield Rd. and then onto Horseshoe Rd. before it dips onto the trails.  This stretch was just a bunch of folks spread out and running very easy while looking up to see Justin Fyffe going for Josh Ferenc's record.  He was all alone up front (the first part of the course is the same for the 23k and the 50k).  Then, there were a couple other 23k folks, followed by Ben, Brian, and David.  Then there was a gap and then it was Greg, George, Bryan, and myself.  At the split, where the 50k folks went to the left, it remained Greg, George, Bryan, and myself for at least a few miles.  The pack of Ben, Brian, and David was soon out of sight but I wasn't particularly concerned.  I figured Greg and I (and maybe George and Bryan) would eventually work our way up.

It was single track for quite some time and we stayed pretty close together. I was trying very hard to conserve all possible energy.  I didn't want to do anything extra.  I wasn't pushing it on the ups and I wasn't killing myself to hop over rocks/roots, etc.  I was trying to stay relaxed and proactively keep hydrated and keep up w/ the gel intake (even this early in the race).  Eventually, I found myself up in front of our chase pack and had put a little bit of distance on the other 3.  I started to catch up to the lead pack of Brian, David, and Ben, who seemed to slow up just a bit (though it may have been a combination of me picking it up just a bit and getting anxious).  I pulled up behind the top 3 and stayed there for maybe close to 90 minutes or so. The typical racer in me wanted to go go go, but I stayed relaxed and kept telling myself that this was a game of survival in the early stages of the race, and the last thing I should do is think this is a 10 miler or shorter trail race.

Through every aid/water station, I would fill my water bottle with mostly water and maybe a cup of whatever Gatorade/sports drink they had.  Then I would pop in a salt tablet and be on my way.  There was an aid station at 4.8 miles, 8.1 miles, 12 miles, 13.5 miles, and 17 miles.  I 'think' I was with the lead pack through most of these.  Somewhere along the way, there was a sick climb up a semi-paved auto road that looked to have been last traveled many moons ago.  It was STEEP.  I'm talking worse than Mt. Washington's worst parts, steep.  David started to pull away during this part and by the top, we were spread out a bit.  Then we'd pull back together and then spread out a bit again.  Each time, I was in 4th position, but could still see everyone.

There was A LOT of climbing in this race, and I was still trying to conserve as much energy as I could and continue to drink and take in fuel.  I figured if I could hang for at least 3 hours, I could get through it, but I've bonked and started the deathmarch in far too many races like this before, so I didn't have too much confidence. As we approached 2 + hours, It became apparent that David was making a move.  Brian was going with him.  Soon I found myself just with Ben and letting him do the leading.  I started to notice his powerhiking in front of me (which is still pretty fast).  I didn't have to powerhike just yet on some of the steeper ups, meaning that I was still feeling relatively good.  I felt like I could go a little harder, but had no idea of what lay ahead, how much time was left, etc. so I stayed put.  During a 2-3 mile stretch of single track ups and downs, David and Brian pulled away.   I asked Ben around 2:25 or so in, how much we've run.  He said close to 20 or so and that the aid station was near.  Not too soon after that, we hit the aid station at 20 miles and we were met with some fanfare as Fyffe and some of the Keenyans were there cheering us on.  They said we were about 3 minutes back of the leaders at that point. Ben went straight for the Coke they had at the aid station and I quickly filled my bottle with the water and sports drink combo, thew in a couple of NUUN tablets,  and started on down the wide trail that makes up the first part of the Kilburn Loop. I turned a few times to see where Ben was and it was apparent that he wasn't coming with me.  It was the first time I was dictating pace and he was hanging back a bit as we rolled on down a nice downhill section that soon turned into twisty single track again.

In the Kilburn Loop, I really started to take more and more water and fuel.  Gel and chews were saving me at this point.  Coming back up the loop, there is a lot of single track ascent and now it was ticking over to 3 hours.  This was the danger zone for me.  At right about 3 hours I started to hit the wall and was close to bonking.  I came to a crawl up the single track climbs and almost clicked over into a powerhike for the first time.  I immediately took a ton of gels and chews and kept pounding the water and felt better after a few minutes.  During this entire time, I kept looking back and couldn't see anyone.  I also kept my eyes open up front, thinking I could maybe run down Brian or David if they ran into trouble.

As the Kilburn Loop comes up and connects back to the Pisgah Mt. Trail, I noticed that I was back on a section that I had already run before.  I got very nervous here and for a few minutes was convinced I had gotten lost. I didn't know the course and really wasn't sure if I should be back on the same section I was already on.  When I came back to the aid station that we had past at 20 miles, it was now 25.4 miles in, but this time the volunteers pointed me to go up in the other direction, up Kilburn Road, which connects to the Davis Hill Trail. I asked frantically if I was going the right way and was assured I was.  I started the climb up the fireroad which connects back to some single track.  I had about 6 miles to go, but had no clue.  I continued to push up and it seemed to climb most of the time on the way out.

As my watch ticked past 3:10, 3:15, 3:20, I kept asking folks as I came across hikers and other spectators, how much distance was left, but nobody could give me an idea.  At one section, we come out to a parking lot (paved area) for a small section before the trail cuts back into the woods and climbs a pretty sick ascent which seems to be a mile + long, on all old wide trail and fire road.  When I refer to 'fireroad' in this report, it shouldn't be confused with actual 'driveable' road.  It is pretty rocky, rooty, grassy, muddy, and otherwise slow going.  I had a false sense of being 'almost done' with the race when I hit that parking lot, but there was still a few miles to go.  As I made the continuous climb up the last major ascent (which I'd say may have been either Davis Hill or Hubbard Hill by looking at the course map, but I'm not sure), I knew I was doing quite well as I maintained a running stride the entire time. I hadn't bonked and I was 3:20-3:30 in.  I was still racing and now actually running probably as fast if not faster than I had the entire day.  The fact that I was still moving fast up the climbs was a true testament to my nutrition and hydration during the race.  I kept looking back and could see (in some spots) back quite a ways...maybe 200-300 meters, and didn't see anyone.  I was half expecting to at least see Ben or Greg or George pulling up on me, but there was no one.  I knew I was running pretty fast at this point and that I may be able to hang onto 3rd or even pick up a spot over the last couple miles.  One thing that was sticking with me however, was when Ben had said that we were running kind of slow and that he wasn't sure if we'd be under 4 hours, when I asked him before the 20 mile aid station how we were actually doing.  That made me think that maybe I wouldn't even be under 4 hours even with my current pace.  That meant that I had much more race left.  It would have helped if I knew the course.   As I made my way down the backside of the hill, I started to become aware of my hamstrings, feet, quads, etc.  I was so concerned with bonking for 3+ hours, that I really hadn't given too much thought to how my muscles were going to hold up over the later parts of the race.  Now, as I made some steep descents, I started to feel my muscles getting a little tight.  No cramping yet, but I got really nervous that once that started happening, my position and even race could be in jeopardy.

Suddenly, as I was on my way down a well needed descent, I could see a gravel/semi paved road through the trees and it looked like the trail was coming out that way and there was a big visible clearing through the woods.  It almost brought tears to my eyes and I was praying that that was the last stretch of road to the finish and that the trail didn't just cut across it or turn away from it. I was thrilled when I came down to the gate and saw that in fact we did go down that road, and I knew in the back of my mind now that I was almost done.  As I got down onto Winchester Rd. I got a rather unfamiliar feeling of being able to look up and not worry about where I was actually stepping.  It was nice being back on the road and at this point I was still peering behind me on the long stretches to see if I could see Ben or anyone else, but knew for the first time that I was going to at least hold 3rd.  This last stretch was LONG.  The map says about 1.3, but it's a long 1.3 miles and there are a couple of STEEP climbs.  I knew I wouldn't be bonking on this stretch (something about being out of the woods made me confident that potentially bonking was no longer a possibility) but I did pay very close attention to my hamstrings, which were going to be the only thing that would sink me before the finish line.  One one of the straight sections, I looked up to finally see Brian Rusiecki way off in the distance and knew I wasn't going to have any chance of catching him.

I came up past a group of folks having a BBQ in their front yard and they were cheering for me and one guy told me I had about a half mile to go.  It was a great feeling to hear.  Just as I passed the group, I dropped my water bottle and it rolled over into the bushes.  I had to turn and go back a couple steps to run it down before I made my way up the last fairly steep climb up the road.  As I came up and crested the hill, there was a straight stretch before I passed by Glenn Hammett's house and saw all the CMS/Keenyan folks standing there cheering for me.  I raised the roof as I passed and turned the corner to see I was about 100 yards from the finish line.  I crossed over in 3:47:29 for 3rd place and about the 7th fastest time (since 2000) and the 4th fastest individual.  I was about 1:25 behind Brian and 5:03 behind David, who broke Ben's course record from 2004.  Considering David beat me by over 5 minutes at Wapack last month (that was only 18 miles), I considered this a pretty good performance.  Ben came in 5 minutes later, with George Adams right behind him (33 seconds behind).  Greg Hammett rounded out the top 6 with a 4:04:07 and was the 4th CMS guy in the top 6.  Not too bad a day for the striders (Fyffe was just off of Josh's record in the 23K).

I also got to 'townbag' 3 new NH towns I've never run in before:
  • Chesterfield
  • Hinsdale
  • Winchester
After the race, I milled around a bit (or maybe an hour or so) trying to replenish some fluids, eat some food, and converse w/ the other folks who braved the Pisgah State Forest.  There was a get together literally 50 yards away at Glenn Hammett's house and I eventually joined Glenn, Greg, Bryan, Fyffe (and Mrs. Fyffe), George, Jeff Goupil, Josh Ferenc, Jen Fice, and a few others for some drinks and laughs on the side of the last stretch of road before the finish line.  Glenn's house is literally on the last corner of the course... It was a really good time, hanging out, throwing the frisbee around, wrestling w/ Glenn's dogs, and trying not to cramp up too badly before my ride home.  Below, J.Fyffe showing off the new CMS sponsor for 2011....

Pisgah Blog (with links to other writeups).

Unfortunately I don't have any actual photos of me running...hopefully the site will link some soon.

Pisgah Mountain Trail Race Stats for the 50K:

Top 7 times since 2000 *:

2010: 3:42:26 - David Herr
2004: 3:44:33 - Ben Nephew
2003: 3:45:26 - David Herr
2010: 3:46:04 - Brian Rusiecki
2005: 3:46:28 - Ben Nephew
2005: 3:46:54 - David Herr
2010: 3:47:29 - Jim Johnson

* cannot find data from before this.

Race winners since 2000 **

2000 - 3:56:11 Leigh Schmitt
2001 - 3:49:00 Ben Nephew (approx. info from Ben. Can't find results.)
2002 - 3:52:00 Dave Mackey (approx. info from Ben. Can't find results).
2003 - 3:45:26  David Herr
2004 - 3:44:33  Ben Nephew
2005 - 3:46:28  Ben Nephew
2006 - 3:55:00  David Herr
2007 - 3:56:15  David Herr
2008 - 4:05:22  Greg Hammett
2009 - 3:54:40  Brian Rusiecki
2010 - 3:42:26  David Herr

** cannot find data from before this.

Video Courtesy of Jess and Justin Fyffe... I almost get lured up the hill on the wrong lap!

Monday, September 20, 2010

SalemFest 5k

Saturday morning I headed just 5 short miles across town to my first ever race in Salem, NH. The SalemFest 5k (results) was the scene, and it ended up being a great day for me.

Since I've lived here AND been running (moved here in 2004, started actually 'racing' in 2007), there hasn't really been any races here. Since I started really racing a lot, there has only been 2 that I know of: Kiwanis Run the Highlands for MS (XC race in November of last year) and the first annual SalemFest 5k in September of last year. There was a 'Salem Run for Relief 5K' in 2008 and in 2007, and that was it. There used to be a 'Salem Five' race that ended in 2005. I believe this was the 'Shirt Factory 5' or 'Silkscreen 5' that was a very popular race for many years... But since I've been living and running here, there really hasn't been much to point to as far as an actual race in Salem, which I've found odd considering the size of the town and the location. When I saw the 2nd Annual Salem Fest on the Coolrunning calendar, I had to try and make it (even if it was before my planned 50k).

I headed over in the morning, and LOVED the fact that my drive was literally like less than 10 minutes.  Shortly after I registered for the race, I saw Patrick Ard (Whirlaway) who is coming back from injury, but has been keeping fit and is (as I put it) 'well rested'. :)   Pat and I headed out to run over the course for a warmup and we discovered the course was anything but easy to follow.  The course has 27 turns.  It was so confusing (doubling back over itself in multiple areas) that they had little orange signs on each corner, that were numbered from 1 to 27.  You just had to follow the numbers.  I had a course map in hand, so we were also following that as well.  The course is entirely in a neighborhood in the center of town, but loops all through various streets.  I was hoping for a lead vehicle to help me along and relieve me of having to figure anything out during the run.  Shortly after getting back, we met up with Dave Quintal (CMS), who was late getting to the race and didn't do much of a warmup.  Dave was also coming back from injury, but has been keeping very fit (even if he refuses to admit it) and is also 'well rested' ;).

As the gun went off, I headed out immediately and worked to get out and on my way.  Nobody seemed to come with me and I was soon alone (after only a couple of turns).  I knew I had to be sharp here, otherwise Patrick would surely run me down, even though he hadn't been racing much road stuff lately.  I felt really strong and seemed to power around each corner and enjoy the fact that there were no really long straights for me to mentally check out on.  I clicked through the mile in 4:49 and felt pretty strong still.  About halfway through, we go up and around a little turnaround area near some condos and I got to see Patrick and DQ in 2nd and 3rd places respectively.  I came down and through 2 miles in 9:42 (making my second mile a bit slower in 4:53).  I still felt really strong and kept pushing, now thinking I could salvage a good time, maybe in the low 15s if I didn't let up too much.  As I came through 3, I knew I was running fast, clicking through in 14:28 (for a 4:45 3rd mile) and just had a good downhill push to the finish. I started to hammer this last part, not letting up and going all out in the end stretch for the first time in a 5k, since I can remember. I wasn't even trying this hard at Cigna, to run fast at the end.  I knew if I could just keep it at 30 or under, I'd be safely under 15.  With the little downhill and then straight shot to the finish, I was able to cruise down and through in a new road PR of 14:54.

Top 10 Overall (CMS in Blue):

1Jim Johnson     33SALEM NH14:544:48
2Patrick Ard     26RAYMOND NH15:595:09
3David Quintal   47SALEM  NH16:485:25
4Joe Mulligan    48METHUEN MA17:245:37
5Michael Fraysse 38DERRY NH17:305:38
6Trevor Bouchard 20DERRY NH18:225:55
7Zach Blinn      21PLAISTOW NH19:106:10
8Eric Rahtamoni  17SALEM NH19:496:23
9Scott Turner    45HENNIKER NH20:036:27
10Tom Ramsdell    43SALEM NH20:046:28

132 Total Finishers.


1 Mile) 4:49
2 Mile) 4:53 (9:42)
3 Mile) 4:45 (14:28)
3.1) 14:54 (4:48 pace) - New PR.

** last .1 was slightly downhill then flat...

Course Map (check out how crazy this course is).

Photos (except the one of myself and Pat Ard) above are from the SalemFest Flickr page.

There was also video of the finish I believe, but it is not up online yet. I'll post when it is up.

Lastly, after running the race and thinking about the time all day, I decided to go back and make sure the course was a full 5k.  I don't want to call something a PR when it was short.  All of us were getting together, talking about how fast everyone ran and how it 'must have been short'.  Most of the time, if I run a short course, I can tell immediately that it was short because I just didn't put the effort in that I think it would have taken to run that fast...but this wasn't one of those times. I know I'm fit and I feel strong (legs are beat, but I'm strong after all the workouts and training I've been doing).  I guess the combination of Pat and Dave both running faster than they were expecting, made me feel even more like we got short-changed with this course....I just kept hope alive, thinking that maybe just due to the nature of the course, we all ran faster than we would have if there was any sort of major hill or two in this race...the course has only 56 feet of total ascent and 56 feet of total descent.  Practically flat.  I went back to make sure it was a legit 5k course and to prove to myself that we all ran well today.

Race Course Examination - Post Race - via Car and then via Bike.

Photo 1) My odometer after I pulled my car right up to the start line, cleared the trip computer, and drove the course (cutting tangents as best I could while other people were still on the road)...It hit 3.1 about 30-40 yards or so BEFORE I reached the finish line. This was to be expected, based on the fact I couldn't cut left-hand turns as closely as you would be running them.

Photo 2) My bike's trip computer as I start to ride from the starting line. Note, it is zeroed out.

Photo 3) Trip computer at the 1 mile mark.  This mark in the road was exactly where the stand-up marker was during the race. Note the distance is 1.05 miles.  I cut every possible tangent (even closer than I ran in some spots).  I kept the bike within a foot of the grass or sidewalks on the turns, to make sure I was getting the shortest possible distance, to err on the side of caution w/ the measurement.  I also kept the bike straight to all the tangents on the straight parts.

Photo 4) Trip computer at the 2 mile mark.  This mark in the road was exactly where the stand-up marker was during the race. Note the distance is 2.07 miles.  I cut every possible tangent (even closer than I ran in some spots).

Photo 5) Trip computer at the 3 mile mark.  This mark in the road was exactly where the stand-up marker was during the race. Note the distance is 3.06 miles.  I cut every possible tangent (even closer than I ran in some spots).

Photo 6) Trip computer at the scribbled out 'Start'.  Initially I thought this was the Finish line. If you look at the next photo below, you'll see there is a difference of about 10 feet or so, with this scribbled out 'Start' being BEFORE the real Starting line.  I figured this was where the finish was, until I looked closer at the photos from the race on Flickr and remembered that the actual clock and finish line was AFTER the Start, making this course even LONGER than 3.16. Note the distance is 3.16 miles on my trip computer as I come through this mark.  I cut every possible tangent (even closer than I ran in some spots).

Photo 7) The evidence of the scribbled 'Start' and the real 'Start'.  About 10 or so feet. We started at the non-scribbled start.  I stopped my bike's computer at the scribbled start, initially thinking that was the finish, when in fact, the finish was even further up, past the real 'Start' in the road.

Photo 8) The 'scribbled' start evident in this photo of a little dude finishing the race.  Note the finish line is absolutely PAST this mark (making my 3.16 distance actually short of what the race really was...which, for an 'official' 5k, it should be a little longer than 3.10 miles).

Photo 9) The start photo, showing exactly where the staring line was.

In summary, I have no doubt this is a fast 5k course, but a real 5k nonetheless.  If it were ever to be certified, it should pass as-is for sure.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

2011 WMAC/Dion Schedule Coming Together...

Exciting news on the snowshoe front...I know I's only September...but it at least in ain't still August... The WMAC posted the early-bird WMAC/Dion Schedule for the 2011 season.  As the website indicates, many dates are listed, but the individual race pages have not been updated just yet.  So far they listed 16 events with dates + another 4 without dates and then the holdover events.  This is making me want to lace up the 121's right you think I can get Bob to replace my ice cleats if I bend them on the pavement doing a nice shakeout run tomorrow? ;)....Or would that kind of void the warranty?....

Here's the schedule:

December 26, 201010:30 A.M.I LOVE WOODFORD3.5 MilesWoodford, VT
January 08, 201110:00 A.M.TURNER TRAIL5.0 MilesPittsfield, MA
January 15, 201110:00 A.M.GREYLOCK GLEN3.9 MilesAdams, MA
January 16, 201110:00 A.M.BRAVE THE BLIZZARD3.8 MilesGuilderland, NY
January 22, 201110:00 A.M.HOOT TOOT N' WHISTLE3.3 Miles Readsboro, VT
January 29, 201111:00 A.M.SIDEHILLER4.0 MilesCenter Sandwich, NH
January 30, 201110:00 A.M.CURLY'S RECORD RUN4.0 MilesPittsfield, MA
February 05, 20119:00 A.M.NORTHFIELD MTN5.3 MilesNorthfield, MA
February 06, 201111:00 A.M.SARATOGA WINTERFEST5 KMSaratoga Springs, NY
February 12, 201110:30 A.M.CAMP SARATOGA8.25 KM Wilton, NY
February 19, 20119:30 A.M.MOBY DICK7.0 Miles Lanesborough, MA
February 20, 201110:00 A.M.HALLOCKVILLE ORCHARD3.8 Miles West Hawley, MA
February 26, 20119:00 A.M. NE CHAMPIONSHIP10KM Northfield, MA
February 27, 2011 10:00 A.M.MOODY SPRING5.5 MilesWest Hawley, MA
March 05, 201110:00 A.M.HAWLEY KILN NOTCH5.0 Miles Hawley, MA

There are also additional events that are still being worked into the schedule:


As usual, there are also 'holdover events' to be used if poor conditions jeopardize any of the above:

NORTH POND - Florida, MA
SOUTH POND - Florida, MA

Looking at the above, I am getting very excited about the season to come.  I am pointing at Sidehiller as being my main focus, and derailing the Kevin Tilton dynasty in Sandwich, NH. Other than that, it's going to be interesting to see what the Granite State Snowshoe Series does with dates and with series participation guidelines.  I was lucky enough to do both series last year and would love to be able to do the same this year as both of these organizations put on fine events.   A couple of the NY races above (aside from Brave the Blizzard, which I've done the last 2 years) will probably not make my schedule, as they are just too far (especially for just a 5k). It's also interesting to see a race preceding I Love Woodford, which has been the first race in the series for the past couple years (maybe even more).  The 2010 'Mass State Championship' will be interesting when more info is announced.  The New England Championship in February at Northfield will also be interesting when all details are in.  I can't wait until the GSSS schedule is announced so I can begin to put together a plan for this winter.

I hate the fact that it is only September!

Below...they look out of place....

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wapack Trail Race

Better late than never... Last weekend's Wapack 18 Mile Trail Race (results) stuck with me a little longer than I care to remember... I headed over to New Ipswich, NH to take part in this long (by my standards) and hilly trail race. This race goes from New Ipswich, NH (on the MA border) down into Ashburnham, MA and back. It climbs 4 peaks (Barrett, New Ipswich, Pratt, and Watatic, from north to south) and has a total climb and total descent of about 7,500 feet each. The website says: "Don’t attempt it unless you are in excellent shape." Holy crap is that an understatement.  I don't know...maybe I'm just a huge wimp when it comes to these types of races, but damn this was tough.  I still have a lot to learn about nutrition and energy efficiency when it comes to these types of grinds.  I'm learning as I go and have really decided that I want to try to get good at these types of things, but it is going to take time.  I am running off of ability that I've built up thanks to some of the shorter mountain/snowshoe/trail stuff I've done, and my road racing, but I need to condition myself to be able to run these races without the death march of the last few miles, that I constantly encounter. (Photo above - before the race (so I was still able to smile) L-R: Jimmie Cochran, Mike St. Hillaire, JJ, Hammett)

Some good tips I learned from Greg Hammett (CMS), after he saw me attempting to 'warmup' before the race was to: NOT warmup.  His point was pretty good and seems now to make a lot of sense.  He doesn't warmup for races like this because 1) You go out really slow anyways 2) Not warming up forces you to run slower at the beginning, as you are still somewhat tight and nothing's gotten going yet bio-mechanically 3) It's all about conserving energy. That third point is huge.  He's totally right about making sure you conserve as much energy as possible and not try to burn through any before the race actually starts.

The last tip he gave me was AFTER the race (so I'm skipping ahead a bit)...Unfortunately, I didn't get this memo until after I already bonked and finished the race, but basically his advice was to eat a big breakfast...he mentioned bacon and eggs, etc.  I ate next to nothing, as I usually do before races...I had a pop tart and a Powerbar.  Not smart.  I am too used to the 5k mentality where that is plenty of food...for these long trail/mountain grinds where it doesn't matter if you have to stop for a bathroom break 60 minutes in, I have to make sure I have enough fuel to burn throughout the race...that was obviously not the case here.  For my Pisgah attempt, I will follow Greg's advice and eat a decent breakfast early in the morning so I can see if it makes any difference (I'm sure it will).

As the race went off, Brian Rusiecki (Vasque) went right to the front and Greg and I latched right along side him.  We were trailed not too far back by William Hawkins (NY) and a couple others, but they hung back a while.  The course starts out on some grassy fireroad and then eventually cuts into the woods and up a ridiculous single track climb.  Only 10 minutes into the race I was thinking this race could be in the mountain series for sure (I just think it's too long to be feasibly in that series...and it's too much of a trail race, but the climbing is certainly there).  For much of that climb and the subsequent racing after that, over the ridge, down the backside and up the second climb, Brian was in the lead, followed directly by Greg and myself.  William Hawkins and David Herr joined up and it was a pack of 5 for a while.  Somewhere after that, Will dropped back out of sight and it was just 4 of us, with no one wanting to do any trail blazing except for Brian.  Every once in a while, someone would say something, but it was relatively quiet.  There was some discussion back and forth between Greg and Brian about other races, similarities to other courses, etc. but for the most part, it was a quiet, focused run.  Somewhere before the last descent, they mentioned that the way back up after the turnaround (it was an out and back course) was brutal.  The climb back up, starts only a few minutes after you reach the halfway aid station and it was apparently a bruiser.  I wasn't feeling that hot already, and we hadn't even made it out halfway.  I made a point to take my sips of water (I brought my handheld) and my gels at precisely the same time Brian did...corny I know, but I figured that this kid does ultras all the time and he knows what he's doing.

When we reached the turnaround point, Brian filled his bottle first and I waited for the volunteer to open an new bottle and pour it into mine.  Brian got a little bit of a jump on the way back and I was in tow, followed right behind by David and Greg.  All 4 of us hit the aid station essentially together.  I sprinted up and past Brian,  and hit the climb first.  David Herr got right behind me.  It was us 2 up the first major ascent on the way back (the worst of the day in my opinion).  I led for maybe 95% of the climb before David went past me when I stumbled and fell to the ground.  I turned to look and we had put some good distance on Brian and Greg, who were now separated from each other.  As I hit the top (after passing a few racers still on their way down), I caught back up to David after a couple minutes.  That was short lived however.  On the very next climb, he put a little distance on me and it was too much for me to make up.  At this point, we had shaken Brian and Greg, but for how long, I wasn't sure.  Brian has come back to pass me before and was most certainly in better shape for these types of races, so I was fairly sure my move was going to come back to haunt me.  Greg is fit as well, and I was thinking 4th or even 5th at this point, even though I was still just out of the lead.  There was a lot of race left and I felt terrible.   By about halfway back, David was still in sight, but I was slowly and steadily losing him.  He outworked me on all the climbs and I found myself once again in the familiar position of walking the uphills.  Once this starts, all you can do is keep peering over your shoulder and wait for the next couple guys to eat you up.  It's a horrible feeling, but one I know all too well by now.  I walked probably all the uphills from just after first climb on the way back. I was completely spent.  I could muster an 'OK' pace on the downs and struggled to keep up a good pace on the flats, but I was still running.  The course footing was brutal.  Very rocky, lots of jump-downs, etc.   A lot of obstacles that continuously drain your energy twice as fast as a regular race. On the top of the last climb, as I came up over the rocky summit, I took a wrong turn down another path along the ridge and came to a dead end.  I started yelling as I was not only completely out of gas, but now miffed that I couldn't find the trail. Some hikers heard me and yelled through the woods that they 'thought the race went up that way', so I bushwhacked up and over to where they were and found the trail... not 20 seconds after that, I wiped out again and fell flat on my grill.  It wasn't going well, but I was still in 2nd place.  I couldn't see David anymore, but knew it was mostly flat and downhill after that so I tried to salvage the race as best I could, while half clumsy jogging and half powerhiking.  I kept looking at my watch at this point and tried to figure out approximately how much time I had left.  All the while, peering behind me to see if I was going to get caught.  When I found myself back on the last long single track descent (which we had come up on the way out), I knew I'd probably be able to hold off the next runner.  The finish line 'seemed' to be only a couple minutes beyond the bottom, but I was remembering it very wrong.  I ran just fast enough on the way down, not to get hurt and kept peering behind.  When I reached the bottom and looked up to the right, I still didn't seen anyone and thought that the distance between where I was and where a runner would be at the top of that, would be too great to make up over the last little bit of the race.  What I didn't remember is how freakin' long that first fireroad is on the way back.  I also didn't notice that it was almost entirely downhill on the way out, meaning it would be mostly up on the way back.  Around every corner I turned, the road seemed to stretch up and on forever.  I kept peering at my watch as the minutes came and went.  I kept peering back over my shoulder to see if I could now spot either Greg or Brian running me down as my pace slowed to a mere jog.  Somewhere along the way, my hamstring started to tweak...also another familiar feeling in these races.  It got so bad, I literally started to stiff-leg jog on the flat fireroad, enough to stay in 2nd place and just try to finish.  I passed Emily Trespass and someone else standing on the side of the road as they gave me some support, but I was borderline out of it by then.  I was hoping the finish was somewhere in sight and it just seemed to never come... Eventually, I turned one last corner and spotted some orange cones at the top of the road and knew it was it.  I heard the commotion from some volunteers that another runner was coming and I 'think' I cracked a smile for the first time in hours.  I looked up to the right as I ran past the xc ski center and saw David Herr grabbing a drink and talking to some people. He had been done for a while.  I came up and through in 2:28:13 (4:23 back of David) for a surprising 2nd place overall.  Brian was not too far back (2:33 behind me) in 3rd place, and Will Hawkins actually passed Greg for 4th place. Greg finished up in 5th place.

Photo to the left, courtesy of Kim Allen.  Don't be fooled, I am actually racing in this photo...grimacing as I shuffle across the finish line... ouch.

I came to the conclusion that I suck at maintaining energy in the later stages of these races. I also know that had the race been even 1 mile longer, I would have been caught by Brian, no doubt.  I was lucky to even have finished this race, let alone been ahead of these guys... David Herr is just a monster right now.  The guy is in brilliant shape for these types of races...I have a lot to learn, but will hopefully get there by just watching what these guys do.  The same lot of us will be at Pisgah, but I'm just looking to finish that race.  A finish will be good for me.  I couldn't care less about place at this point.  I just want to be able to run strong and run across the finish line.  That said, I may be letting all of these blokes go early and just jog the first 10-11 miles and make it a 20 mile trail jaunt...All I know is I'm not even going to think about racing during the first 90 minutes.

Top 10 (CMS in Blue)

Place      First              Last      M/F      Age      Town      St        Time   
9DonaldPacher, Jr.M38EasthamptonMA2:53:32

71 Total Finishers.

Photo above: Chillin' w/ Wolfetracks after the race and knowing I'd be messed up for most of the following week....Steve's singlet was actually white and black, but was saturated by blood, so it appears red in this picture.

Photo above: JJ w/ the elusive Mike Casner (CMS). You want to know how good this guy is...take a peek at the Mt. Washington results from any of the years in the 1990s...1:05 guy..not too shabby!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Race to the Top of Vermont

Sunday was my second go at the Race to the Top of Vermont (results) up in Stowe, VT.  This race goes 4.3 miles straight up the toll road of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont's tallest mountain at 4,393 feet.

I headed up to Stowe on Saturday afternoon to make it up there in time for the VIP Reception that was being held at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, right across from the ski area where the post-race festivites are.  The reception was for sponsors, elite racers, Board of Directors and invited guests. It was out on the beautiful fire pit terrace overlooking Mount Mansfield.  The weather was perfect and the lodge and views were spectacular.  I talked a bit w/ some folks from NJ, Ottawa, and a couple of others including Ken Skier, who was a fellow mountain goat this year.  The race director, Jim Fredericks even called me up to say a few words, which I probably was horrible at, but it was fun in any event.  He was also gracious enough to invite me to the event and wave my entry fee based on my win the previous year (although next year I'm sure I'll be paying my own way again :) )...  After the reception, I headed back down Mountain Road to the Golden Eagle Resort, where I had stayed before the Stowe 8 Miler, but this time, instead of a single room, it was back to the same small house that the Tuesday Night Turtles had rented last year.  It is still part of the resort, but is a standalone house w/ a few bedrooms and ample space for everyone.

In the morning we all headed up the street to the Toll Road for the start of the race.  In the parking lot, I saw Eric Morse (CMS) who ran this race last year (2nd).  Eric is a multi-New England Champion at various distances and has been arguably the most consistently successful overall competitor at the Mt. Washington Road Race ever.  He's been on many US National Mountain teams that have competed at the World Championships and his PR's are insane.  He's been quiet in recent years on the racing scene and only occasionally pops up to local stuff here and there.  He's still very fit, but his motivation for racing has been low (I'm going to work on that though!).  Eric and I went for a warmup that included the first mile of the course.  I struggled to just jog up it and we both joked back and forth about how bad we were going to do (the usual sandbagging was going on)...we also were still wondering who was there for other competition (besides Bob Jackman (TNT)).  Shortly before the race actually went off, I noticed a guy running around in a matching singlet and shorts, who looked pretty serious.  I pointed him out to Eric and the Turtles.  I then got next to him on the line and he asked me a bunch of questions about my previous year's time, and where the course went and finished.  Based on his questioning and his appearance and his accent (English), I jumped to a very far fetched (sarcastic) conclusion that he may in fact be pretty good.  Well, I was about to find out that I was indeed right on target w/ that assumption.

Photo: View of the first climb from the starting area.

As the gun went off (or maybe it was just a 'go command'), I immediately shot out to the front and started the climb (which begins immediately).  Looking back quickly a couple of times, I didn't notice anyone near me and nobody seemed to want to hang on to me from the very start.  At about the half mile point, I turned to look and expected to see Eric right there, but instead saw the same guy I had noticed at the beginning of the race (the Englishman), in the blue and red uniform.  He was gaining on me pretty good.  I had no clue what I was doing timewise, but it felt slow.  Somewhere around the mile point, he caught up to me and started running right alongside me.  We clicked through the mile in 7:29, 25 seconds faster than I went through last year with Eric. I told him we were ahead of pace and shortly after that, he started a move that would be all he'd need.

He seemed to pull away from me on the steepest switchbacks and all I could do was try to maintain a running stride.  This course was WAY harder than I remembered.  It was killing me early, and I felt like it was not even in the same league as Ascutney or even a couple of the other mountain races like Wachusett or Northfield.  This thing was hard.  It was also brutally hot out. Near, if not, 90 degrees with zero breeze.  Being all below treeline, but still with essentially no shade, makes this a stagnant and uncomfortable run if it's hot and sunny out (which it most certainly I got a good sunburn, not wearing a singlet).

I clicked through 2 miles still ahead of last year's pace, but I knew it wouldn't last.  I was only a few ticks faster on my 2nd mile and still had a half of a minute to work with, but I'd soon loose that cushion over the next 2 miles.  Just past 2 miles, I started to think that I just needed to hold off Eric and whoever else was back in 3rd and 4th, etc. but I couldn't see them back there and knew I had a decent pad on the next guy.  I had visions of maybe catching the leader if he faltered, because I wasn't sure if he was an experienced mountain guy or maybe if he just went out too hard, thinking it was a regular road race, and would soon be coming back to me.  I thought about this right up until about 3.5, but then knew he was still pulling away and that was going to be that.

As I went through 3, I was hurting bad.  I was barely keeping a running stride going, but knew most everyone else was in the same boat. I came through in about 6 seconds above where I was last year for this mile, but was still ahead of overall pace (that would all go flying out the window soon enough though)... At one point before the 4 mile mark, I thought maybe the leader had stepped off the course somewhere and into the woods for a pit stop, because when I came around a switchback and started another climb, I could no longer see him (I could see him essentially the entire race up until that point)... Even on the straights after that, I couldn't see him any longer.  I thought that he had to have stepped off.  As I passed by a couple of folks periodically on the side of the road, I expected to hear them say something to the effect that I was in the lead, or something like that, but nothing... then, soon enough, I came to a long stretch of climb where it opened up and you could see pretty far up the mountain and I saw him still plugging away in 1st place.  He was just picking up ground on me and I was slowing pretty badly.

I came through 4 in a colossally bad 9:21, a full 32 seconds slower than in 2009.  There went any hope of a faster time for me.  I managed to hang on and keep the last .3 (which may actually be short) close to last year's time, and pathetically limped across the line in still a solid 2nd place behind Andrew Gardiner, who killed my course record in his first ever uphill race (yes, he hasn't run any ascent-only or mountain races in the past)...At 12 years his junior, and the fact that I've been doing mountain racing for the past 3 years, I can honestly say I have no excuses here...He outclassed me on a pretty tough day weather-wise.  I think if he had run last year, he would have gone way under 35 and maybe even close to breaking 34 with the same effort.  He ended up running close to a minute faster than me.

I went over to congratulate him and found out that he is in fact a very nice guy...he's from England and just moved here about 3 years ago.  As mentioned above, he's 45 years old and in phenomenal shape.  He was a 14 low 5k guy and a 30 flat 10k guy back in his prime, but honestly, he's in some prime shape right now for mountain racing... I looked him up a little more when I got home and he's run 15:20s for 5k and 25:20s for 5 miles this summer.... Not too shabby for any age, let alone a masters runner.  Keep an eye out for this guy's name.

We waited to see Eric out duel 2 younger Vermonters for 3rd place. Eric had to make a move at 4 miles to break free of the two and go from 5th to 3rd.  All of us ran back down and then Eric and I did some more miles over some base trails where they had a 5k trail race he ran a week prior.

Photo above: The elusive Eric Morse and myself at the base trails after our cooldown...

Splits vs Last Year:

Mile2009 Split2010 Split
last .31:501:55

Lesson learned....don't go out too hard in this race!

Top 10 Overall (CMS in Blue)

PlaceNameCityAge GroupTimeTime Back
1Andrew GardinerWellesley MA1 40-4934:49.6
2Jim JohnsonSalem NH1 30-3935:42.40:52.8
3Eric MorseBerlin VT2 40-4936:45.81:56.1
4Marc GilbertsonHyde Park VT3 40-4936:52.12:02.4
5Ryan - Tensing KerriganMoretown VT1 20-2937:28.82:39.1
6Eli EnmanHuntington VT2 30-3938:22.13:32.5
7Ray WebsterHinesburg VT3 30-3938:34.93:45.2
8Bernat OlleCambridge MA4 30-3939:18.64:28.9
9Calvin SwomleyLitchfield CT1 15-1939:59.75:10.0
10Tyler SamlerWaterbury VT2 20-2940:09.75:20.0
174George Boudreau Jr.Ware MA48 40-491:20:48.345:58.7

178 Finishers (and somehow, 1 DQ).

After the cooldown, I headed up the road to the ski area, where the awards and post race BBQ and festivities were and enjoyed a nice day w/ the Turtles and some other folks who had run or biked the race.