Dare Mighty Things

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." -Teddy Roosevelt

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pemi Wild Ultra

Pemigewasset Wilderness, NEW HAMPSHIRE-- Webster's defines "epic" as extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope. For me, completing the Pemigewasset Wilderness Loop in a single day is an epic trip...31 miles+/-, ten 4k footers, and 9700 feet of climbing. Making it a 2-person team "event" made it an epic race. In 2004, Jay, Ken, and I looped the Pemi (clockwise) in just under 18 hours. We vowed that one day we'd be back and try it in the other direction. Not only did we return on Saturday, we brought friends. Having read a little about team trail racing in the West I thought it would be fun to try to organize a team outing and see what all the buzz was about. And the Pemi Wild Ultra was born. The rules were simple, each team of 2 would have to stay within 50 meters of each other and follow the pre-determined "counter-clockwise" loop around the Pemi Wilderness. First team out "wins". Five teams assembled for a 4:00 am start from the Lincoln Woods trailhead. Mike Wade & Steve Wolfe walked for the first 10 meters and then began running and never looked back. They were followed closely by Jay Myers & Steve Kramer, Kevin Burt & Scott Dodier, Ken Young & I, and finally Mike Sallade & Sarah Silverberg. Not long after getting onto the Wilderness Trail, Ken received his first (of two) "nature calls" of the day. The Mediterranean pizza from the night before had his bowel sideways right from the start. At the West Bond spur we caught a brief glimpse of the two lead teams (Mike & Steve, Jay & Steve) who were running neck & neck. Kevin & Scott were about 10 minutes ahead of us at the time but were looking very fit & strong. We arrived at Galehead Hut (the unofficial 1/2 way pole), in approximately 6 hours to see Mike & Steve on their way out to start the 2nd half of the race. After we refilled our bladders & bottles we dropped our bags for the out & back to Galehead. Less than 100 meters up the trail we ran across Jay & Steve who were descending. The two had fallen back from the leaders after Jay suffered a severly sprain ankle coming down from South Twin (described by some as one of the gnarliest pitches in the Whites). Near the Galehead summit we again ran across Kevin & Scott who were working hard to maintain their lead over us. Although we had less than 17 miles to go, we still had to ascend the two hardest climbs in the Pemi...Garfield & Lafayette. By the time we reached the summit of Lafayette I had burned through my 100 ounces of water and was bone dry with 10.5 miles to go. Fortunately, my father had planned to mule water to the summit of Lafayette by way of Greenleaf Hut. I eagerly accepted his Nalgene bottle of water and after a quick bite to eat we were off to traverse the Franconia Ridge. Right on cue the sun appeared as we trekked across the ridge and afforded us spectacular views of the Pemi Wilderness and beyond. The climb down Mt. Flume was painful as 25+ miles of pounding began to take their toll on both of us. By the time we reached the last 'runable' section of Osseo Trail Ken's knee had flared on him and every step was agony. With running reduced to 15-20 shuffles at a time we attempted to settle into a quick walking cadence as we passed the 15 hour mark and drank our last few ounces of water. Just before 7:30 PM we once again reached the Lincoln Woods trailhead. At an official finish time of 15:28, both Ken & I set PR's for this loop. Back at the condo, the best part of the day was already going on...eating lasagna, drinking Redhook, and hearing all the stories from the day. The individual efforts from everyone involved were nothing short of phenomenal. The Pemi Wild Ultra is and forever will be an epic race, but it's the epic tenacity of an acidotic RACING athlete that will always stand out to me.

1.) Mike & Steve [12:53]
2.) Jay & Steve [14:52]
3.) Kevin & Scott [15:10]
4.) Chris & Ken [15:28]
5.) Sarah & Mike [18:11]

[PHOTO CRED: Chris & Ken on Mt. Lafayette, Franconia Ridge, Mt. Flume summit, carnage]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In transition...

Last fall was a sobering reminder that for me, 9 months of training and racing is now just a little too much considering where I am in my life. When AT forced me to shut things down for nearly a month and sleep with a God forsaken night splint I made a deal with the devil that if I could ever run again (that's how bad it was by the way) I would reorganize my training and make sure I didn't willfully bring this on again. It got better and I got busy at the drawing board working on a preventative plan for 2009. At the outset the strategy was simple, continue to train in 4 week cycles (3 "hard", 1 "recovery") but schedule two week transition cycles approximately every 6-8 weeks. These transition cycles were intended to provide physiologic and psychological restoration from the rigors of 1.) training, 2.) racing, and 3.) life in general. Everyone knows that our competitive pursuits are intimately intertwined with our personal lives. Nothing happens in a vacuum. For instance, when our training loads are exceedingly high for protracted periods of time it can cause both physical (ie. altered sleep patterns, soft tissue breakdown) and emotional reactions (ie. increased irritability). I'm a firm believer in training the minimal amount to achieve the maximal results, but despite this tried and true theory I still broke down. I also subscribe to the theory of taking rest before you need to rest. With less than a week to go in this, my second transition cycle of the year, I feel very rested and eager to take on the second half of what is shaping up to be the busiest racing schedule of my competitive life.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pat's Peak Mtb Race

Henniker, NEW HAMPSHIRE--The concept of transference is an interesting topic in the field of exercise physiology. It's generally accepted that specific adaptations result from specific imposed demands (aka S.A.I.D. principle). In other words, in order to improve cycling performance you have to include cycling in your training plan. Sounds elementary, and it is. Transference suggests that there may be some carry over with regard to physiologic adaptation (ie. lactate threshold, VO2 peak, increased mitochonrial density, fiber type distribution, etc.) between different training modes. Yesterday's Pat's Peak 6-Hour Mountain Bike Race in Henniker would provide the perfect "laboratory" to see if the concept of transference actually does exist. Admittedly my focus for the past 6 months of training cycles has been running-specific (snowshoe, trail & road running/racing). I've probably had my bike out less than 15 times since the snow abated in April. No excuses, just the way it's gone. My trail & road racing since April has benefitted from the committment as I'm racing as well at age 40 than I ever have. With the 24 Hours of Great Glen mountain bike race approaching in less than a month, Pat's Peak would be an excellent gauge of my bike-fitness as well as a test of the above mentioned transference theory. Brayden and I (and support crew/family) met fellow teammate Steve Sprague on race day morning. Steve, always up for a challenge, was signed up as a solo for the 6 hour race while Brayden & I would ride it as a team. The roughly 5 mile ski slope loop included two major climbs totalling 750 feet of elevation gain. I'd estimate that 50% of the loop was very rideable singletrack with a fast twisty descent toward the finish. The RD estimated the average ride time would be 35 minutes a turn. Brayden, Steve, and I guessed we'd be closer to 45. Brayden led us off with the first lap of the event although a wrong turn (Steve made the same error as did a number of other riders) resulted in a needless descent quickly followed by a grueling return climb. His first lap clocked in around 55 minutes. While he recovered I set out for my first look at the course. The climbs were predictably brutal and with bright sunshine and temps in the upper 70's the entire field slowed to a granny gear convoy. Early on my legs felt remarkably strong and I committed myself to ride every climb. While others walked my fitness confidence grew. My first click clocked in around 41 minutes. As I entered the START/FINISH area I didn't see Brayden. Karen walked over and told me he wasn't feeling well and has requested to skip his turn. Without hesitation I headed back out for a 2nd lap. The climbs the second time around actually seemed a little shorter (as I now knew what to expect) and once again I rode each one. Although my second lap clocked in around 49 minutes, I was very happy with my physical performance...my newly repaired rear derailleur was a another story but mechanicals are part of racing. When I finished my 2nd lap Bryaden was still resting at our tech tent and I willingly joined him. After getting hydrated and fed he headed back out for his 2nd lap. By the time he returned it was obvious that we'd have the chance to put in just two more laps. With a hour of recovery my third lap felt very strong and clocked in at 45 minutes. Brayden rode our "glory lap" and finished just after the 6:00 pm horn. All in all, we rode 6 laps as a team. An excellent performance by us considering the general lack of riding each of us has done. Finally, to answer the question of transference...my lap times were as much a function of bike performance and technical skill as they were bike-specific fitness. In my mind, my running-focused training absolutely transfered to my climbing strength.

Next Up: Pemi Wild Ultra

[Photo cred: Chris riding through the finish chicane; Brayden at START/FINISH; Pat's Peak race venue; Chris riding Lap #3]

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Oh my aching derailleur

Bikes never seem to find a good time to break. Brayden and I are scheduled to race at the Pat's Peak Mountain Bike Race this Saturday (right...in less than 48 hours). This afternoon while finishing one last ride before race day my rear derailleur contorted in a position not typically compatible with lightweight alloy. The good news is the $25 derailleur hanger broke sparing my $125 Shadow XT . The bad news is I have one day to 1.) find a replacement, and 2.) re-install the derailleur and cable. In an eerily similar circumstance I shredded by last derailleur on a pre-ride of the 24 Hours of Great Glen course. A pre-ride! Not to be defeated I purchased a new set-up (my current XT) on site and raced without incident. Can you imagine a pair of running shoes crapping the bed two days before a race? Now I think I understand my running friends not understanding me.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

MDI Relay

Baa HaBa, MAINE--Leave it to the great folks at Crow Athletics to host one of the most unique events in one of the most beautiful places in New England, the MDI Relay on Mt. Desert Island, MAINE. This 'come as you are' no frills (and no pretension) old school road race is the way racing use to be before prize money and shoe contracts mucked things up. Draw a starting line in the dirt and say go. First one back to the beer is the winner. In a nutshell that's what Austin, Kurt, April, Steve, Karen, Maddie, Katy, and I did to celebrate the 4th of July. The MDI Relay is a 61+ mile loop around Mt. Desert Island travelling through such quaint seaside towns as Bar Harbor, Seal Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Southeast Harbor (anyone sensing a pattern here?), and Tremont. My day of racing would mercifully start and end early. I took the opening 13.67 mile leg and 07:00 start. Eight teams stepped to the line and the young gun from Colby College was out in a shot. He gapped the field within the first 250 meters followed by Maine running legend and MDI Relay (and MDI Marathon) RD Gary Allen of the host Crow Athletics. I tucked in behind a gentleman named Jon from the Somerville Road Runners (MA) and tried to settle in for a "easy morning run" on this beautiful island. At the mile marker my cohort Jon (running with a GPS) noted our first mile split was 6:12. Granted it was downhill, but that seemed a little fast for the start. Completely unaware of the terrain I decided to try to moderate my pace just in case it got hilly at some point. By the 3 mile mark I had pulled away from Jon and set my sights on Gary who had remained within eye shot from the start. Knowing a 200 meter lead was just a blink of an eye in a 1/2 marathon (+) I remained relaxed and began to feel myself pulling him in. By the time we reached the town of Bar Harbor I was on his shoulder. As we pulled through town I felt pretty comfortable that I could match his effort...at least for a while. Gary is one of the most accomplished distance runners in Maine and frankly anywhere in New England. This past April he celebrated his 30-Year Anniversary running the Boston Marathon by racing his 54th sub-3 hour marathon. Although I didn't quite realize it at the time, I was racing with a real running icon. On a couple of the climbs he'd pull away by 10 meters or so, but I'd reign him back in on the descents and flats and tuck in right behind his shoulder. With roughly 3 miles to go he said that he had no illusions of racing me to the 2nd place finish (we were waaaaaay behind the kid from Colby) and I agreed telling him I appreciated his pull and also had no plans of trying to outkick him to the transition. We finished shoulder to shoulder at 1:29:and change (6:30's) as I handed the baton (errr Barbie) off to Austin. As soon as we finished Gary was the first one to offer his hand in congratulations thanking me for pulling him to a sub 1:30 finish. Truth was, without Gary I would have been very happy to cruise along right around 7:00's. It was incredibly rewarding to learn that Gary's tenacity as a competitor was surpassed only by his graciousness as a host. He awarded me the 2nd place award for our leg (the pink granite beach stone pictured next to Barbie). The rest of the day flew by as we raced ahead of each of our runners, stopping periodically to cheer them on and provide aid. We raced in podium position for most of the day and ended up finishing in 6th place overall. To end a near perfect day of racing our hosts supplied a keg of Atlantic Brewing Company's Bar Harbor Real Ale. I think we've just discovered a new great way to celebrate the 4th of July. Thank you Crow Athletics.

Next up: Pat's Peak 6-HR Mountain Bike Race

[Photo cred: Barbie, MDI Relay course, Chris & Gary Allen, Bar Harbor]