Monday, July 22, 2013

Racing Mountains

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 TreeAnd, 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 the Blue Hills 12k. This was the first time I had done this race, so I had no idea what to expect. The elevation gain/loss seemed reasonable (relative to Greylock) so assumed it would be a pretty quick race. I was dead wrong! Other than the last grassy descent and a little fire road section in the middle, this race was VERY, very technical. Meaning, there were rocks and roots EVERYWHERE with really no place to “open it up” and run fast. Even on the “flats” I always had to be focused on the trail ahead and see where I was going to put my foot next.

Blue Hills
The other thing that made the race slower than expected was the heat. Despite the 8am start, the temps at the beginning of the race were in the high 70’s with nearly 100% humidity. Over the course of the race, those temps would climb to the mid 80’s. It was not pretty, at least for this “super-sized” runner - and my results reflected that! I ran as hard as I could for most of this12k race, but could only manage a paltry 1:22:27  - 11:00 min per mile pace. Fortunately, this was good enough to get me 15th place overall and 3rd in my age group - netting a whopping 79 GT points!

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!

After my previous hiking trip, it took me 9 full days before I started feeling like myself again. This time, I only had 6. So, as expected (and deserved?) I had a very tough day in North Conway. I was feeling OK for the first lap. The downs were quick & painful and the ups were slow & painful. Pretty much what I expected! But, just about halfway through my second lap, the power just went out. I’d drained what little I had in my over-used well and I was done. With more than half the race to go!

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

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