After a 2 week hiatus, this Fourth of July weekend marked the 5th race in the USATF-NE Mountain Series, at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, NH. So far, each mountain race, save Wachusett – where I felt relatively strong and comfortable – has been a kick in the pants. It’s a totally different kind of race for me and mentally defeating right from the start. As Max King noted about his recent VK race, you’re basically red-lining the entire time.
John was still out of town until Saturday afternoon and with Friday off, I felt like I had a lot of time on my hands. My teammate, Bev, planned to run a small-town 2 mile race on Saturday. Even though I had race plans for Sunday, I figured 2 miles couldn’t hurt. Even though I am not at all a short distance runner, it seemed like it would be a fun way to spend Saturday morning.
Bev warned me that even though the Chelmsford race only had paper registration, it drew a pretty competitive crowd. I eyed the results from the previous years, and it was true, there were consistent racers in the high 10 to low 11 minute range. However, it looked like if I ran under 12, I could at least win an age group award (ice cream gift certificate!).
I met Bev and her husband, Chris, at 8:30 and we warmed up along the first mile of the course. The first 100-200 meters were slightly downhill and then the course continued up a pretty gradual hill for the rest of the mile. I didn’t get to check out the second mile pre-race, but it turns out that after the mile mark, the course dips with a nice downhill for about maybe a quarter of a mile, before flattening out a bit, with about 400-600 meters of gradual uphill to the finish. It wasn’t ‘hilly’, but it clearly wasn’t comparable to the speed you’d have on a track (or maybe even along the river). I stuck with my conservative, “I’ll be happy under 12 minutes” and towed the line next to Bev, who was shooting for under 11, and about 50 kids ready to take the race out full speed against a slew of competitive adults.
Due to the eagerness of the kids on the line, this race has adopted a very smart “fake starting line”, so that the children who have lined up for 30 minutes prior to the race, do not get trampled by the adults going for course record bonuses. So about 30 seconds before the start, we were called forward to the real start line.
Terrifyingly, we all took off like a shot and I saw a man beside me go down and skid along the pavement while being trampled by the runners from behind. I screamed and continued on my way, hoping to goodness that I didn’t meet the same fate.
The race was over fairly quick (yay!) and I managed to run 11:40, well under my (admittedly conservative) goal. Bev ran 10:50. We earned the 12th and 5th place spots, respectively (the winning women’s time was 10:11!) and cooled down back to our cars. No free ice cream, but at least some Saturday morning fun with friends!
On Sunday, I woke up at 4:45am, threw on my clothes, made a piece of toast and hopped in the car for the 2 hour drive up to Lincoln. Pre-race was pretty uneventful – I got my number, warmed up with a slow 2 mile yog, and then got on the line. I didn’t know much about the course – other than it was 6.6 miles and there was one point, ‘Upper Walking Boss’, with about 1km of 40% grade. 40% seems like not that much, until you’re “running” up it (or crawling – hands and feet – which is literally what I did at points).
The course started up a steep little sprint and then up a hilly dirt road until the mile point, when it turned onto some nice Nordic ski trails. This part of the course was unexpected – but very pleasant. The next two miles were in the woods, up and down some rollers with some decent sized mud puddles. I splashed right through them, enjoying the shade and the nice speed that you feel when rolling along some singletrack that requires focus and agility.
At the 3 mile or so point, we came out of the woods and back onto the (sunny) access road for some steep ascent. I ran most of this first hill, but at some point about half way through this mile, when I felt like I was barely moving, I took my first “power hike”, and alternated for the next 1.5 miles between that and some moderate ‘running’.
At mile 5+, we hit the gondola, and a water stop. I chugged two cups of water, threw the cups in the trash, noted Josh Ferenc just finishing/winning (you can actually see me run by at the end of this LVL video, seconds 9-10), and then headed down an amazing downhill. It was so enjoyable to just let go and cruise after a mile or so of relentless climbing, but I knew (since I had just seen Josh finishing) that any descent = future ascent, so it was bittersweet. At the bottom of the downhill, we took a right turn into a wall of an uphill. This must be ‘upper walking boss’.
Basically everyone was walking from the very start (and as far up as I could see), so I joined, trying to remember Kaci Lickteig’s speedy power hike from Lake Sonoma, and not settling into a slow walk. At points I turned around to walk backward and use some different muscles – as my legs were burning in spots. I even took a few ‘breaks’ to put my hands on the ground and crawl my way up the mountain. Ridiculous as I probably looked, I was able to maintain a decent pace on this, and passed a few people on the way up.
Once we got to the top, it was a flat and then a downhill before a short steep sprint to the finish. I started to catch a guy (who I had ascended UWB with) and goaded him to not let me out sprint him. He put his foot on the gas and pushed it to the line for a finish about 2 seconds ahead.
I was so thankful to be done!
Mountain races are so so so hard – completely the opposite of how I approach marathon/ultra-distances, which is basically to carefully ride the line of discomfort -to push hard, but at a point where I feel like I can hold steady for …ever (or at least a long time). Certainly it’s not comfortable, but it’s a discomfort that I feel that I can manage for an extended period of time. Mountain races are painful from the first 5 steps and it’s a shock to my body, but mostly my mind, trying to understand and deal with this totally different kind of pain that must also be managed. There seem to be more highs and lows in mountain races (for me). Sometimes I feel SO AWFUL and then moments later, I’m on flat or descending and my body feels immediately better and it’s time for my mind to focus on navigating a descent. Every time I run a mountain race (at some point or another), I ask myself why I’m doing it. But the camaraderie, the beauty of the courses, and the variation in the challenges faced in this type of race (high heart rate, burning legs, rocky/technical descents, navigating single-track and staying upright, etc.) are really unmatched by road races.
By the time I’m getting in my car after the race, I’m looking forward to the next one!
PS – I came in 7th (for women)! Full results here!
Kudos to all the women (and men!) who dominated the course on Sunday – particularly Kasie, whose speed and strength is really awe inspiring. Regina and Leslie, who so quietly and powerfully eat up the hills, and Heather – who I met on the course – (runs with my teammate, Mariah) and who was doing a mountain race for the first time! What a doozy of a course to pick!
Third Bonus Race:
On Saturday, I actually ran an unplanned bonus race (for a total of 3 weekend races!) at the Park’s annual Fourth of July celebration. The race was part of a Rowing – Baby Stroller Footrace – BeanBag Toss Triathalon. While it might not have been the most challenging race of the weekend (fairly short and most of us fairly conservative due to the precious cargo), it was probably the most terrifying! -Balancing being amongst a group of highly competitive runners, while also maintaining child safety as priority number 1!
New Craft Singlet/Uniform
Altra One2 (Saturday’s 2 miler)
Altra Superior 2.0 (Sunday’s Mountain Race)
Suunto Ambit Peak 3