Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the mountains. I’ve been run/hiking the New Hampshire 4000 footers as part of my Summer of 48 - AND - I’ve been doing some racing as part of the Western Mass Athletic Club’s Grand Tree. And, while these two endevours are somewhat related (lots of ups and downs) they really are two vastly different kinds of efforts.
Run/Hiking 25-30 miles in the span of 10 hours is all about endurance. You must make sure you stay well below the “red-line” in terms of pace if you want to have enough energy to make it all the way to the end. You’re pushing yourself, obviously! But if you’ve become used to spending that kind of time on your feet, it’s not too terribly tough to move at 2½ to 3 miles per hour.
Racing 7-14 miles in the span of 1-2 hours is a completely different animal. The biggest difference is that you have some company - fellow racers that you are trying like mad to beat to the finish line. Therefore, you are pretty much on the “red-line” for the entire event. Mountain racing isn’t done at the same breakneck speeds (at least for me) as road racing, but you’re still moving twice as fast (per hour) as run/hiking. The good news is, after 2 hours, it’s usually over.
The last three mountain races I’ve done are: The Greylock Half Marathon, The Blue Hills 12k and The Cranmore Hill Climb. Each one was very different from the next and each had VERY different results ...
The Mount Greylock Half Marathon was one of the first trail races I ever did (back in 2001) and featured a 12 mile ramble up, around and over the Bay State’s highest peak followed by a terrifying 2-mile, free-fall down a black diamond ski trail. This year, the course was run in reverse, with the steep, black diamond UP coming first! Just to give you a sense as to how steep it was, I ran the Hollis Fast 5k that week in 17 1/2 minutes & the “first” 5k of the Greylock race in 43 1/2 minutes. The difference? Other than the obvious 26 minutes. The average grade for the Hollis 5k is -1.4% and for the first 5k of Greylock it's +14.6%. Ouch!
The rest of the race went pretty well, relatively speaking. I ran with another tall-ish runner named Ari as we picked our way carefully through the very-wet trails. I passed a TON of people over the second half of the race I was able to finish strong (despite the slippery conditions) in 2:12:53 (9:50 pace) good enough for 38th place and 12th in my age group. More importantly I got 76 valuable GT points to add to the 82 & 75 points I’d gotten at Merrimack and 7-Sisters. Yay!
Next up was Cranmore. The last time I ran The Cranmore Hill Climb the downhill running was so steep and jarring that I puked at the bottom of my first lap. It must have helped, because I ran the second (and final) lap 2 minutes faster than the first! This year, Cranmore would be the site of the 2013 US Mountain Running Championships (so, I’d really be in over my head) AND we’d be doing 3 laps! “Uh-oh” I thought, “This could get ugly”! Of course, I kind of made things tougher on myself by run/hiking almost 83 miles the weekend before. Whoops!
Long story short, Cranmore knocked me down and stole my milk money. But, fortunately for me, my amazing Gate City Strider teammates picked me back up with a silver medal as the 5th (and final) man on our National Championship Runners-Up Masters Team. My time of 1:33:03 (12:30 pace) had me all the way back into 102nd place and 17th in my age group. And, due to the phenomenal performances by the world-class athletes invited to this race, my GT point total will likely be in the 59-60 range. Doh!
Oh well, at least I got T-shirt. And a medal. And a free beer! A pretty good haul, I guess, for having walked most of the race!
Next Up: Bear BrookTrail Marathon