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

Monday, December 27, 2010

I Love Woodford

There's no better prize in snowshoe
racing then a loaf of bread
from the VT Bread Company!
"True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not the enrichment of the leaders."
-Robert Townsend

WOODFORD, Vermont -- My 2010 racing season came full circle yesterday at the I Love Woodford snowshoe race.  It was 12 months ago that my first race of the year was had on snowshoe's as well.  As the first "Cup Event" of the new Northeast Snowshoe Federation there was extra motivation to take the trip west to the beautiful Bennington County region of the state.  Last winter was brutal for snowshoe racing as many races were postponed and some were even cancelled due to the sketchy conditions.  Rumor had it that Woodford always had snow so NH-Masters Runner of the Year, teammate, and all around great guy Steve Wolfe and I headed to VT.  The "Blizzard of 2010" notwithstanding, southern NH hadn't had a significant snowfall prior to Sunday.  Which meant that my first time on snowshoes (in 9 months) would be race day.  Steve and I arrived early and had a chance to chat with our snowshoe friends Dave Dunham, Bob Dion, and Bill Morse.  It's hard to say what I enjoy more about the sport...the people, the beautiful locations, or the competition?  Then again, why choose?  Wolfe and I headed over to the start about 30 minutes early to warm-up and scout the last few hundred meters.  The roughly 3.5 mile lollipop would be comprised of 100% virgin snow with 90% fast & packed twisting singletrack.  I made a mental note before the race that the first and last 300+ meters was on a park access road and provided plenty of opportunity to pass.  A pre-race scan revealed the typical big hitters including defending WMAC & GSSS Champion Jim Johnson, the #1 ranked Master in the Northeast Tim VanOrden, Dunham, and of course my teammate Steve Wolfe.  I didn't recognize many other faces and the field seemed a little smaller than race reports from previous years had indicated so I felt comfortable lining up in the second row.  As soon as the start command was given and I was 100 meters or so into the race the whole snowshoe racing thing came back to me as if March were yesterday.  And Wolfe was right...it started like a road 5k.  With snow and elbows flying I stayed to the right outside line and focused on not falling on this initial stretch with 100+ sets of sharp cleats bearing down on me from behind.  The field thinned and got in single file as we climbed the first and only significant ascent of the course.  I was directly behind Wolfe letting him pull me up the hill (which he really enjoys).  The two of us were in the Top 10 as we hit the singletrack.  Almost immediately into this section a couple of snowshoers came back to us as we pushed hard on the rollercoaster fast packed snow.  Steve leapfrogged a slower competitor putting that 'shoer between us.  Within two minutes the guy asked if I wanted the spot to which I happily obliged.  At this point Steve had already overtaken another competitor and was quickly working out of sight.  Within a minute or so I had caught John Agosto of the Shenipsit Striders, a fellow Masters competitor, and heck of a snowshoer and trail runner.  John was working really hard and maintaining a great cadence so I stuck on his heels as we flew around Adams Reservoir.  Just before we popped back out onto the access road for the 1/4 mile to the finish I peeked back to see if we would have a challenge.  Without anything in sight it was John and I for the two spots.  As I pulled alongside of him I implored him to continue to work as he had earned the spot ahead of me for his effort on the singletrack.  He thanked me and encouraged me to go ahead.  Feeling fresh and confident of the location of the finish I leaned forward and tried to muster a snowshoe-specific "kick".  I felt very strong and relaxed as I finished in 24:57 and 7th overall (4th Master).  Steve finished about 40 seconds and 1 place ahead of me in 6th overall.  Excellent showing for aR with two in the Top 10.  And just as advertised we were handed a loaf of bread from the Vermont Bread Company.  I ate three slices of my Vermont Sweet (made with VT maple syrup) on the ride home.  As physically demanding as snowshoe racing is it's equally as fun.  It just doesn't get any better than flying through a beautiful snow covered forest with great competitors.  What a fitting ending to a brilliant year of racing!  Can't wait for the next snowshoe race...and the start of 2011.

NEXT UP:  Beaver Brook Snowshoe Race, Hollis, NH (GSSS #1)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Andover XC

aR Takes Home 3rd Place
in the Team Division
"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."  -Sir Isaac Newton

Andover,  MASSACHUSETTS -- Much like many of the events I did in 2010, this one wasn't on the radar last December when I set my schedule...but it's sure to be included in 2011.  The Andover XC 6k was my first ever attempt at a classic XC race.  I played football in high school and ran only as a punishment routinely mocking the "skinny leggers" who thrashed around the woods in tight shorts and waffle shoes.  I am now 'they' and wouldn't want it any other way.  My motivation for heading to Andover on Turkey weekend was simple...a teammate suggested we put together a team to race for a podium finish.  Little did I realize how difficult that objective would be.  Turns out the Andover XC 6k brings out one of the fastest and deepest XC fields in the northeast with some of the best teams around.  Although acidotic RACING is really a collection of multi-sport athletes, there is no "running-specific" team that races with more tenacity than we do.  And some talent up front as well.  Led by our newest addition, Ryan Kelly (Concord, NH), our Top 4 scorers including Ryan, Danny Ferreira (Concord, NH), myself, and Chris Benson (Rochester, NH) finished on the podium in 3rd place less than 2 minutes behind Somerville Road Runners.  Although our Top 4 scored, all eight of the aR teammates in attendance raced with toughness and class.   In fact, Amber Ferreira (Concord, NH) finished on the overall womens podium (in 3rd) with her 41st overall finish.  Individually, I was very pleased with my effort finishing in 34th overall in a time of 21:39.33 (6:12's).  The course was run mostly on the Andover Country Club cart paths with a sprinkling of fairways.  I had bought a pair of ASICS CC spikes which stayed in the truck once I found out that they'd be not only useless but a hindrance on this course.  I raced instead in my ASICS trainers.  The course was dry and the footing never an issue.  As was the theme all year, I caught and passed people on the climbs and gave the spots back on the descents.  It was a fitting end to a very successful 2010 competitive year.  Tomorrow begins my snowshoe-specific preparation and the start of 2011 training and racing calendar.

NEXT UP:  Beaver Brook Snowshoe Race

Sunday, November 21, 2010

RI 6-HR Relay

Going "Pre" With the Retro 70's
'Stache at the RI 6-HR Relay
[Scott Mason Photography]
"I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep everyone's expectations."  -Bill Watterson

Warwick,  RHODE ISLAND --  One of the best things about the evolution of acidotic RACING is the plethora of opportunities to race "team"-type events like the Rhode Island 6-Hour Relay hosted by the Tuesday Night Turtles.  When I put the call out a couple of months ago, the six team spots filled immediately and with the response that I got it appeared this collection would be pretty competitive.  The only one of the 'original 6' who did not make it to Warwick City Park last Sunday was Geoff Cunningham who remained sidelined with a sore toe.  As it turned out his replacement, TNT's own Alan Bernier, more than made up for Geoff's absence.  Rich, Wolfe, Danny, Charlie, and I met Alan in Warwick on a chilly RI Sunday morning.  While we had discussed several race strategies, the final decision wasn't made until less than an hour before race time.  We would run the first rotation 1 lap at a time and then make a decision about doubling up or sticking with 1 each.  When everyone else had arrived it became apparent that our competition would come from two teams...Pat Moulton and his girlfriend and at least one of the teams from FuelBelt.  Charlie led us off and scotched the 2.7 road course finishing in the lead with FuelBelt and Pat in hot pursuit.  Alan, an equally accomplished runner, padded the lead with a blistering turn of his own.  Now almost 2 minutes up on the next two teams Danny took his turn.  In what was perhaps one of the most fitting karma moments of 2010, Danny missed the first critical left hand turn less than 50 meters from the start.  Danny had been dogging me during the car ride down about my failure to correctly navigate the Busa Bushwhack several weeks earlier resulting in my first loss to teammate Rich Lavers.  Danny not only missed the turn, but ran sub 5:45's for another 2-3 minutes before realizing his mistake.  By the time he doubled back and hit the 1 mile split (at 11:00 and change) he had not only given up the lead, but he put us 2+ minutes behind the 2nd place Pat (running the first 3 hours by himself).  Clearly upset with himself  he retreated into his fortress of self-reflection and geared up to help us get back to the top of the podium.  Wolfe took his turn and ran a very brisk sub 16:00 getting back almost 2 minutes to the leaders.  By the time Rich handed off to me (running #6) we were within :45 of Pat (in 2nd place) and :90 to FuelBelt (still in 1st).  Aside from Reach The Beach, I hadn't run a "road race" all year.  A few weeks back when Wolfe asked me to estimate my pace I told him I'd be happy to run 6:10's but wouldn't be surprised if I ran 6:20's.  I also hadn't raced this short of a distance (2.7 miles) all year.  When Rich handed me the bracelet I took off after Pat whom I could see just ahead.  I tried to get out hard in the first few hundred meters, settle into a groove, and at least maintain the gap that the 2nd place team had on us.  I figured with our top two coming up again after me, if I didn't give anything else away I'd be doing okay.  I was stunned when I hit the 1 mile marker in 5:44.  Taking stock I felt like I was running in control and certainly not redlining.  Pat was just ahead but I felt like I was closing the gap between us.  By the 1/2 way mark I had run up behind his left shoulder.  A much smaller and infinitely more talented runner that I, the objective became to use his incredibly consistent pace to pull me along.  We ran together past the 2 mile mark (11:48 split) and finally caught our first glimpse of the 1st place FuelBelt team.  The course rolled through the final .7 and it was here that I moved around Pat and attempted to track down the guy from FuelBelt.  Within 200 meters I had caught and passed the 1st place team erasing the final :90 gap and putting us back on top of the podium...where we'd stay for the rest of the event.  I finished my first lap in 16:00 (5:56's) and then went on to run a 16:06 (5:58's) and 16:08 (5:59's).  We ran the rest of the event 1 lap at a time slowly building our lead behind the strength of our runners.  When the overall team win was secured, the next question was whether we'd be able to surpass the 60 mile mark.  In the end we set a RI 6-HR Relay record by running 59.4 miles (22 laps) in 5:53:58 averaging 5:58's.  FuelBelt finished 1 lap behind.  For our efforts we won 3 cases of LongHammer IPA from Redhook.  Oh the hoppy taste of success!

NEXT UP:  Andover Striders 6k XC Race

Monday, November 1, 2010

Busa Bushwhack

"Lost time is never found again."  -Ben Franklin

FRAMINGHAM, MA--On Sunday teammate Rich Lavers and I headed down to Framingham for race #21 in the Grand Tree Series, the Busa Bushwhack.  I typically don't race in October, preferring instead to spend my weekends on the couch with a beer, the remote, and more football than is humanly necessary.  But I'm also very easily pursuaded by gentle peer pressure to get out and race.  Especially if I get a chance to spend the morning with a great friend and teammate.  And, after all it was my debut as a GoLite Footwear sponsored athlete.  Initially Rich had planned to race the 10 mile option, but after a couple whiney e-mails (by me) I had changed his mind.  My rationale for racing the 5.3 miler was solid...1.) I hadn't run more than 5 miles in a month and 2.) I had no desire to start this weekend.  Scouting the race results from '09 it appeared that the two of us had a pretty good chance (assuming a typical turnout) of cracking the Top 10.  We met up with Jim Johnson and Ben Nephew before the race and chatted briefly about the course and the upcoming snowshoe racing season.  As we lined up for the remote start on the street of a residential neighborhood (this is a trail race right?) Rich spotted Rich Miller and we got some recon on the course.  What I took from Rich's comments was that the course wasn't well marked and to be very careful not to miss the final right hand turn back into the col-de-sac for the final 3/4 mile road run to the finish.  Both races started together and the pace at the start was purposeful and brisk.  We ran for about a 1/4 of a mile on the street before the end of the col-de-sac filed us into Callahan State Park.  I was immediately fixated on the trail leaf litter which covered fiendish ankle turning roots (fitting on Halloween).  The course was a long stemmed lolli with both distances racing together for approximately the first 3 miles.  Rich hung onto my left shoulder for the first few flat miles before we hit the one "hill" on the course.  We ran up the gradually sloping side, down to the bottom, up the other steeper side, and then down to the split in the course where the 10 milers went right and the 5.3 milers went left.  Somewhere on the second ascent I had put a little gap on Rich but knowing him he'd rally and push me hard right to the end.  When I hit the split all of the guys I was racing around went right and continued on the 10 mile course.  Which left me to go left seemingly by myself.  As I raced back against slower traffic I received words of encouragement but no race updates (ie. you're in 2nd, you're in 4th, or whatever).  Assuming I wasn't leading but figuring I was up near the front I tried to focus on avoiding the slightly hidden rocks and roots strewn over the trail.  I literally ran alone for the next mile and a half.  The marginally reliable odometer in my head began to alert me to raise my focus up from my feet to the trail ahead guessing I would need to make that right hand turn Rich had warned me about some 30 minutes earlier.  The next few minutes were an absolute abomination.  Figuring it was my turn I took the next right hand turn.  There appeared to be arrows on the trees that may have pointed me in that direction but the information came way too fast for my neurons to process.  As I strided down this narrow trail I was almost immediately struck by how unfamiliar it looked...even for an out and back.  By the time I noticed that I hadn't noticed any pink tape on the trees I had already committed at least :90.  Panic overtook me.  Turn around?!  NO!  What if you're right and you run back AT the rest of the field!?  Fortunately (if you look at it that way) before I had a chance to stop and turn back I popped right back out onto the race course...about 25 meters from where I had taken the wrong turn!  My 1/3 of a mile side trip had cost me at least three minutes but in a stroke of luck I had taken a loop instead of a trail to "Lord Knows Where".  As I crossed the final side street before the finish I asked the volunteer how many were in front and he said "7".  I taped the finishline in 38:29.  Rich (who had an incredible race finishing 4th overall) was standing there at the finish and had a very familar "what the heck happened to you?" look on his face.  It appears that my extra .3-.4 mile cost me not only 3 minutes but it also cost me six places.  Apparently I was in 2nd place overall (1st Master) at the time of my screw up.  I finished in 8th place overall and 2nd Master when the results were finalized.  Never had a Top 10 and podium Masters finish seemed so dissapointing.  This weekend I learned the hard way that part of trail racing is staying on course.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shawnee Peak Challenge

The "Golden Helmet" for my 1st Place Masters
Finish at the 2010 Shawnee Peak Challenge
"The impossible often has a kind of integrity which the merely improbable lacks."  -Douglas Adams

Bridgton,  MAINE -- Sometimes it pays off to branch out a little.  This past weekend fellow aR mate Dwight Hartman (of Tough Guy UK and Death Race fame) and I took the scenic drive to Bridgton, ME for the inaugural Shawnee Peak Challenge.  Approximately a dozen 'military-style' obstacles scattered over 5 km of ski slopes awaited us at the Shawnee Peak ski area.  We arrived early enough to scout out a handful of the challenges located close to the bottom of the mountain.  Because of my healthy respect of high places the three cargo netting covered A-frame structures (12 ft, 10 ft, & 8 ft) positioned near the finish line immediately caught my attention.  I had no idea how I'd get up and over them but I did know that I'd soon find out.  The 210 eager competitors were divided into two waves with my 10:30 AM wave to go off first.  Along with me were mates Dwight, Kim, and Doc.  Our 5th teammate, Jerry Fitzgibbon, would race in the 2nd wave.  Looking around at the start there appeared to be a fair number of "serious looking" athletes along with a hodgepodge collection of CrossFitters and men in military fatigues.  It was going to be interesting for sure.  The race started with an immediate 100 meter climb DIRECTLY up the mountain before veering off to the left.  At the top of this first climb I found myself in a lead pack of 4 or 5 guys.  The course twisted back to the right, went under a low crawl obstacle, and continued to climb to a set of balance beams.  Not 4 steps onto the balance beam I fell off and had to restart.  I quickly figured it out, completed the obstacle, and raced after the lead group whom had begun to pull away.  Fortunately for me there was still about a 1/2 mile of climbing to do in this initial section including a 100 meters of hand over hand mountain aptly named The Bitch.  It was here, on The Bitch, that my year long training and racing on hills and mountains started to pay off.  One by one I caught and passed each of the early lead pack until I found myself alone at the front at the top of the first ascent.  Down and across the mountain I raced over barrier walls, under low crawls, through tires, across monkey bars, and carefully through the Normandy walls.  More than few times I peeked back over my shoulder but didn't see any significant challenge.  At least once I thought to myself, "Save yourself...you've still got one more time on this course.".  Of course I was referring to the "Champions Race" that would be held immediately following the 2nd wave and would determine the overall winners.  As if once on this course wasn't enough...you'd get to do it again!  The final few obstacles turned out to be my favorites.  Up and over a soft sand pile and down into a mud pit set everyone up for the A-frames.  Admittedly I was a little freaked out when I lay on the top of the 12 fter and threw my legs over to the great unknown that was the other side.  The 10 ftr and the 8 ftr were a relative piece of cake and I crossed the tape in 28:47 and first overall.  I was as surprised as anyone to have won my wave.  Dwight came in shortly after in 8th place and we both waited for the RDs to post the Champions Race qualifiers.  Assuming I had qualified for the finals I headed back to the truck to change into some drier clothes, hydrate, and get off my feet.  Less than :90 later the finals had been announced and we were once again at the starting line.  This would be completely uncharted territory for me but luckily everyone else was in the same boat.  That 'everyone' included my teammate Jerry who would turn out to be my competition for the 40+ Masters title.  At the gun a very hearty group attacked the mountain again led by eventual winner and elite triathlete Aaron Coleman.  He was clearly the class of the field and had gapped the rest of us within the first two climbs.  Again I found myself at the front and passing my younger competitors on the steep climbs.  As I finished The Bitch I quickly peeked back before taking the turn back down the mountain and noticed that Jerry was less than 100 meters behind.  Now securely in 2nd place overall I worked to cleanly negotiate the final obstacles...that was until I reached my nemesis, the Commando Rope.  Because of a lack of understanding of proper technique I had failed on this challenge in the opening round.  When I reached it again in the finals I had already made up my mind that I couldn't do it.  I attempted and failed.  The chase pack, including Jerry, closed.  I passed on my second attempt and took my 30 second penalty.  It was easily the longest 30 seconds of my life.  By the time I left the challenge and began the final climb the group that had been chasing me had reached the obstacle.  They were now less than 20 seconds behind!  I peered back one last time as I finished the climb to see them slowly trudging up the hill after me.  Down I went, under the barbed wire, over the soft sand, through the mud pit, and onto the A-frames.  By the sound of the crowd I knew they were right on me but my focus now was on climbing and descending the cargo netting.  As I reached the bottom of the final structure I sprinted to the finish and crossed the line in 2nd place overall and 1st in the 40+ division!  Although the finals were "untimed" I did hear the announcer say that I had actually raced the finals faster than my qualifier.  Pretty cool.  As you can see the winner of each division received perhaps one of the most unique trophies I've seen.  A Golden Helmet with the race logo on the frontJerry finished moments behind me as the 2nd overall Master and Dwight narrowly missed the Master's podium sweep in 4th place.  Obviously the terrain played to my strength but I think I more than held my own on the obstacles.  Seems like all those pull-ups in the gym are good for something after all.  This is an event I'll definitely give another go at...that is if I can ever lift my right arm over my head again.  Guess I'm not 21 years old.

NEXT UP:  Busa Bushwhack

Monday, October 11, 2010


"As you sow so shall you reap."

Sunday River,  MAINE -- Einstein's definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  He must have known about me and MNT EPIC.  Before I go any further I must say that as brutally difficult as this race is for me, it's one of my favorites and is hosted by one heck of an RD in Erik Boucher of TRI-ME.  October is a funny month on my calendar.  It's by far my favorite time of year.  I love the fall foods, the football, the cool crisp days, the leaves changing...anything right now that doesn't include me doing a lot of training.  With the Pinnacle Challenge, MNT EPIC, and the Shawnee Peak Challenge this month is as busy as any during the year yet my level of commitment to train is lower than at any time since last December when it began.  And once again my physical performance at MNT EPIC suffered because of it.  Mountain and trail races are a great opportunity to see my friends in these communities (Ian Parlin, Paul Kirsch, Kevin Tilton to name a few).  And sometimes I get a chance to meet a couple of new ones.  Before Sunday I've followed Paul Bazanchuk from afar through his blog and snowshoe racing performances in the WMAC.  I've also had the challenge of racing against the kilt-clad Chuck Hazzard of Trail Monster Running.  I had the pleasure of meeting both of these men at MNT EPIC, Paul before the race and Chuck during our first 1500 foot ascent to Barker Mountain aid station.  Paul approached me before the race, introduced himself, and asked a couple of questions about the course.  I chased down and caught Chuck while we climbed.  He was incredibly affable under the relentless duress of MNT EPIC.  Paul caught and passed me just before Barker Mountain aid station and immediately became my new endurance idol.  At 55 the guy is a machine.  If I'm half as fit as he is at 55 I'd be thrilled.  Remembering the debacle that was the last 4 miles at this race last year I eased off the throttle on the first major descent.  About half way down I heard gasping and groaning that could only mean one thing...okay, it could actually mean a couple of things but in this case it meant that my teammate Brent Tkaczyk had finally caught me after pacing his wife Amy on the first climb.  And he was F-LYING down this hill.  His arms and legs rag dollied as he leaned forward at a gravity defying angle.  He shouted something to me about "I'll see you on the climbs!" but all I could do was marvel as his reckless disregard for anything quadriceps.  Sure enough as we began our second 1400+ foot climb to Spruce Peak aid station I did catch him and actually pulled him along for a while.  The two of us worked together and caught Chuck and could see Paul and a couple of other runners up ahead.  By the time we reached Oz Brent, Chuck, Paul, and myself were within 15 seconds of each other.  By the time I reached the finish four miles later they all were nearly four minutes ahead of me.  And even more remarkable, finished within 20 seconds of each other!  As much as I work to solve the riddle, I just can't bring myself to let it fly going down from Oz and Jordan Bowl.  Watching the three of them move away from me was devastating.  There's some switch in my head that I just can't flip.  When I finally made it to the singletrack section I again had my adductors seize up on me.  That for sure is a training issue.  I probably haven't run more than 10 miles in a month and a half.  Unlike last year when the same thing happened I had to walk for a short spell.  This year I managed to run through it.  Believe me, not very fast but I did make it look a little like running.  I felt every foot strike reverberate through my entire skeleton the last few hundred meters of descending on the gravel road.  Despite my tentative descent and adductor issues when I peaked at my watch I realized I still had a chance at a PR.  The only thing that potentially stood in my way was the vaunted mud pit.  Last year I cramped violently when I hit it.  Sadly, this year wasn't any different.  As soon as I entered the water my left calf locked up and I actually fell forward on my right knee and left a six inch gash of skin on a hidden boulder on the bottom of the pit.  Somehow I managed to get back to my feet and dragged my sorry broken carcass across the finish line.  My watch read  2:05:12.  Incredibly, a PR by almost 2 minutes and my second 13th place finish of the year.  From a team standpoint aR captured another team title over our rivals from TMR.  Our top 4 scorers were Tim Cox (4th), Brent Tkaczyk (8th), myself (13th) and Austin Stonebraker (16th).  I can become a better descender and I can put more training in for this race...but probably not.

NEXT UP: Shawnee Peak Challenge

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pinnacle Challenge VI

(R-L) Me, Cox, Christian, & Derrick
"The underdog often starts the fight, and occasionally the upperdog deserves to win."   Edgar Watson Howe

Newport, NEW HAMPSHIRE--The Pinnacle Challenge VI was not only the biggest aR showing of 2010, it may have been the most successful and one of the most competitive.  Thirty-three aR teammates travelled to the Lake Sunapee area of NH for this very unique double duathlon.  Four teammates race four disciplines including road running, mountain biking, road biking, and trail running.  This year would be our biggest turnout as we fielded eight teams of four plus one duo team.  Two of those teams, aR-WOLFE and aR-HAMEL, were poised to take a serious run at a podium finish.  But perhaps more importantly, they would take dead aim at each other with team bragging rights on the line.  Geoff's big toe injury resulted in his unfortunate late scratch.  With less than a week to race day Captain Wolfe was suddenly without his very strong trail runner.  Knowing that Steve Wolfe would rather have acid-tinged white hot ice picks jabbed in his eyes than lose to me, I figured he find someone to replace Cunningham.  Turns out that he not only found someone to replace Geoff...he somehow managed to talk one of the most talented road/trail/ mountain/snowshoe racers in the entire northeast to replace him.  None other than Jim Johnson (aka DoubleJ).  Almost by default if you've got a nickname, you're bad ass.  And as badasses go, he one's the baddest.  It wasn't long after aR-HAMEL (Derrick Hamel, myself, Christian Muentener, Tim Cox) had gathered that aR-WOLFE's (Jim Johnson, Austin Stonebraker, Ted Hall, Steve Wolfe) devious plan became apparent.  At the last minute they announced to us that they would be switching runners, Jim would run the road and Wolfe would run the trail.  Perhaps they were banking on J2 putting enough of a gap on Derrick at the beginning of the event that neither I nor Christian could close thus leaving Wolfe with a leisurely "victory lap" for the aR team title?  Either way, each of us knew exactly what was in front of us...an epic battle mano e mano.  A very competitive and very fast road runner field took off very quickly when the event got underway.  Then the waiting game began.  Less than 25 minutes later the first runners appeared off in the distance as they raced toward us.  As the road runners appeared everyone frantically squinted to figure out who's runner was in the lead?!  When they arrived DoubleJ had run a killer race and was in 2nd place overall.  After a hand tag Austin was on his bike and out of the transition area without haste.  Less than 90 seconds later Derrick, who had run an 8k PR, was in the TA.  Once tagged I hopped on my GIANT Trance3 and away I went trying to stay within the 1.5 minute lead Austin had been given.  I'm fairly familiar with the mountain bike course, having raced here 3 times before.  The first half of the 5.4 mile course climbs and the second half descends.  Always confident in my climbing I knew that if I had any chance of closing on Austin, who's supremely fit and a very good mountain biker, it would have to be on the climb.  Within 10 minutes I saw him in front of me for the first time.  As we climbed I felt him slowly come back to me and before long I was right on his back tire.  As we rode the tight twisty singletrack he briefly dabbed I darted around him.  Knowing how strong a rider he is I knew I was going to need the ride of my life to maintain the advantage.  By the time we reached the high point of the course I peeked quickly but didn't notice him directly behind.  As strong of a climber as I am, I'm probably equally as weak on the descents.  I guess I just can't justify the risk of breaking a collarbone or tweaking a knee if I were to Graham.  Figuring Austin was back there somewhere, and probably somewhere close, I rode the last downhill singletrack like I had stolen it.  This newly re-designed section of course was a combination pump track and carnival ride.  Just awesome.  I was actually disappointed when I finally appeared behind the school by the transition area where Christian was waiting.  I entered the TA in 37:20 and tagged Christian almost at the same time as Austin tagged Ted.  Without knowing, Austin had hammered the last 200 meters of course and nearly entered the TA at the same time as I did.  Ted and Christian left the transition area together for the 3rd leg of the race, the 13 mile road bike.  Ted Hall is one of the best all-around aR cyclists.  He won the King of the Glen in 2009 and nearly took the title again in 2010.  Apparently, Christian is no slouch either because after 35 minutes of riding it was Christian who entered the TA first, with Ted in hot pursuit.  In fact, these cyclists had ridden to a near tie.  By virtue of Ted and Wolfe transitioning a little quicker it was Wolfe who left the TA ahead of Tim by about 2-5 seconds.  And that gap would hold...for about the first 200 meters or until as Tim would tell it, "Steve got into the woods.".  Tim was no match for Steve.  At that point the only thing in question was whether or not aR-HAMEL would podium.  Tim was third out of the woods in a blazing 23:05 and our 2:05:50 team finish was good enough for 3rd place overall.  A little over 2:00 later Steve crossed the finish line helping his team to a 4th place finish.  As we've had here at this event and others, it was great aR vs. aR racing from start to finish.  When the results were finally posted I had a chance to see how my split compared to the rest of the field.  Admittedly, mountain biking is my "crosstraining" sport.  While I love it, I probably spend way too little time on my bike to be competitive but there are only so many hours in the day.  My 37:20 split was 15th overall out of 57 total riders (including solo's which perhaps is an unfair comparison).  Ultimately my goal here would be a Top 10 overall mountain bike split.  Looking at the results I'm going to need to find another 2:00.  Guess I need to put in another 1 or 2 rides a week in 2011.  All in all, another fantastic day of great friends, great weather, and great racing!  The Pinnacle really is one of my favorite events of the year.  PJ Lovely and his crew of teammates and volunteers do a fantastic job.  For an event with so much diversity their organization is top notch.  It's one of the first races scheduled on the aR calendar every year.  And it will be again in 2011. 


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Our Official Footwear

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Reach The Beach

aR RTB-2010
(L-R)Ann, Austin, Doc, Nick, Karen, Kevin, me,
Rich,Matt, Scott, Jay, and Mike.
"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad."      Anonymous

Hampton Beach, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Another Reach The Beach Relay is in the book.  For Karen, Kevin, Nick, and myself it would be our 5th consecutive RTB and our ticket into the 1000 mile club.  As far as I can remember (and admittedly that's not very far) my RTB consecutive appearance streak is the longest of my 20+ year competitive 'career'.  There's a strange allure to this event.  It's as physcially difficult as it is wildy entertaining.  The shear spectacle of 400+ teams and 3000+ runners covering 200+ miles in 24+ hours is just amazing.  And sharing all of that with a great group of teammates and friends makes this a race that's easy to fall in love with.  For the first time since we've raced the event, we made it to Cannon Mountain on Friday with essentially the same group of 12 that we started with back in April.  Unlike a number of other teams we knew, no last minute alternates were needed.  Much like in years past we had a couple of 'newbies' joining us and the event for the first time including Mike, Jay, and Scott.  Also 'new' to our team this year (but not new to the event) were Ann, Rich, and DocAustin, Matt, Nick, Kevin, and Karen were all back from the 2009 team that reached the beach in 28:40:38 and good enough for 193rd place.  With half the team new this year we had very few expectations other than 1.) get to Hampton, and 2.) have a great time doing it.  For the second consecutive year I'd have runner position #8.  As the team and SUV captain it's important for me to take the most difficult position in our group.  The 2010 version of the race for me would be mostly the same with legs 8 & 20 the same, but leg 32 would be dramatically altered from a 2.2 miler last year to a 6.69 miler this year.  Knowing the physcial toll this event can take, I was quite uncertain how I'd perform on day #2.  When we received our start time a week before the race it became apparent that this may collectively be the most talented group we've ever assembled.  Our 1:40 start time was the latest we'd had.  The later start time pushed everything back for us and actually resulted in two of my three runs being under the cover of darkness.  Van #1 arrived at the VTA in Attitash around 5:30ish.  Jay was the first out for us and had a moderate 7.23 mile cruiser to Echo Lake State Park where I was waiting.  He arrived almost to the minute that he predicted and set me out for my first leg of the race around 6:30 pm with headlamp lit and blinkies a blinking.  My 6.61 miler was once again on West Side Drive outside of North Conway, NH.  The route is rolling without any major climbs and in fact profiled to be a net downhiller.  Last year, motivated by 'running' into PR's Chris Benson I ran a 42:06 (6:22's).  Knowing that I still had close to 16 miles to race after this leg was finished I attemtped to moderate my pace and save some energy.  The race plan for Leg #8 was simple, run at a "3" on a 5 point scale for the first 30 minutes and then pick up the pace for the final 10+ minutes entering Conway.  By the time I reached the intersection of RT16/113 in Conway I knew I had ripped off a fast one.  With only a few hundred meters to go I was well under 40 minutes.  Picking off a few additional runners here on this stretch added to my confidence and I cruised to the transition area and handed the baton to Rich.  When I stopped my watch I was amazed...41:09.  I had easily run 6:13's.  In fact, my previous PR at the 10k distance was the 40:13 (6:22's) I had run at Saunders back in 2007.  That confidence quickly turned to trepidation knowing what lay ahead in the early morning hours of Day #2...my nemesis, Leg #20.  The rest of the group including Nick, Karen, and Ann ran their tails off and we arrived VTA #2, aka the Kenneth Brett School, shortly after 11:00 pm.  We piled in the SUV and headed directly to NH Technical College (VTA #3) to get our 'overnight' rest.  By the time we all laid down it was midnight.  Once again a beuatiful star filled sky greeted us in Laconia.  I had asked Van #1 Captain Kevin to give us a heads up text when he sent his next to last runner out to give us at least an hour to get ready.  That text came at 2:00 pm...they were approximately 90 minutes away.  I quickly rolled and packed my sleeping bag, deflated my sleeping pad, and quietly roused the rest of the group.  Jay would have a moderate 4.33 miler before meeting me at Belmont High School.  Van #1 arrived at the VTA in advance of their runner (Doc Sprague) and they looked in good shape and spirits.  When Doc handed the baton to Jay we headed back to our vehicle to drive ahead to the next TA.  My second run (Leg #20) is not only the longest leg of the race but it's rated the most difficult (taking into consideration the distance and the elevation profile).  In fact, the route mostly climbs for the first 5.5 miles (+642 feet).  The saving grace, if there is any on this type of course, is that you can't see the top of the climbs in the dark...but you can see the little blinkies waaaaaaaaay UP ahead.  They almost look like aircraft lights.  In 2009 I had a pretty good race on this course finishing in 1:06:15.  When Jay and I transitioned I set out to simply race as consistently as I could but to keep in mind that I still had a 10k+ left later in the day.  For what it's worth I have a tremendous amount of confidence in my ability to climb.  I'm not necessarily fast, but I feel that I can maintain a consistent pace and being able to pass people the entire way really does help to make the minutes go by.  Speaking of passing, it was on this leg last year that I suffered my only pass.  This time around I was passed again...twice.  Both times the 'elite' skinny leggers ran by me like I was Wolfeing it.  Not to worry, my net 23 passes for the leg more than made up for it.  As I approached the final slight uphill to the transition I peaked at my watch and was pleased to see that I would finished sub 67 minutes.  I handed the baton to Rich at 1:06:39 (7:13's).  Yes it was 34 seconds slower than in 2009, but I felt good that I stayed patient, climbed well, and still felt like I had saved something in the tank.  When our group finally fininished our 2nd legs we headed to our favorite Saturday AM stop...the Long Branch Restaurant in Raymond, NH for breakfast.  When we arrived we noticed that the same group of Grumpy Old Men led by aR teammate Jerry Fitzgibbon were still ahead of us!  The grumpy old bastards had been kicking our asses since we started together at Cannon the previous day and were now to only enjoying a hot breakfast, but an hour lead on us.  And wouldn't you know Jerry couldn't stop talking about it.  After a delicious hot breakfast and a real bathroom stop we drove up the street to Rich's in-laws for a dip in their pool and a chance to re-pack and prepare for the final legs of the race.  At this point the combination of sleep deprivation and the cumulative trauma of two road races in 10 hours starts to take it's toll.  With Jay's final leg being a very short 2.43 and the traffic typically being a little heavier toward the end of the event, we made the decision to drop him and head to the next TA.  This gave me around 45 minutes to attempt to hydrate, stretch, and rest before my final (and perhaps most challenging) effort of the race.  By this time at RTB I never feel completely ready for what lay head.  I'm typically a little dehyrated, a little sunburned, and a lot tired.  Before Jay arrived I had decided that I would break this final 50+ minute run into two 25 minute efforts.  I would go out conservatively in the first half and decide what I had left in my legs.  At the 25 minute mark I would break the final 20+ minutes up into two 10 minute runs and pick up the pace in each successive interval finishing as strong as I could at the transition.  The first three miles of my 6.69 miler was a net climb.  Although the total elevation gain was only a little over 100 feet it felt like a 1000.  Playing right into my race plan, the final 3.5 miles were a net downhill.  Running a "2/3" on my intensity scale I was consistently passing runners for the first 20 minutes.  This has an amazing ability to energize dead legs and lift sunken spirits.  As I crested the high point of the course I was just shy of 21 minutes and  knew that I was way ahead of my conservative 7:15 pace estimation.  For the next 10 minutes I picked up the pace as I raced effortlessly downhill.  By the 40 minute mark on my watch I knew from the surroundings that I was getting close to the transition and guessed that I had less than five minutes to go.  Not wanting to leave anything left I leaned forward and raced as hard as I could.  I handed the baton to Rich for the final time and stopped my watch at 45:02 (6:44's).  Incredibly pleased to be able to run sub 7's for a 6.7 miler at RTB I was also glad my event was over.  With the progress we had collectively made over the past 195 miles attention now turned to our team finish.  As we hit the final three TA's it was obvious that we were at the front of the field.  The crowds that we had battled at the TA's earlier in the race had all but dissappeared.  Some quick calculations based on pace estimates revealed that we were very close to a sub 26 hour finish.  When Karen transitioned with Ann we piled into the SUV and headed to Hampton Beach to join Van #1 and wait for her to finish.  Unlike the incredible traffic jam we encountered in '09, we drove right into the beach parking without as much as a traffic light stop.  Ann arrived right on que and our entire team crossed the finish line together.  When the results were posted we were stunned...25:50:05 (7:24's), 36th/429, and 10th/117 in our class (Men Open)!  That result was easily the best in the 5 years we've raced RTB.  I can't say enough about the incredible efforts of the entire team...Captn Kevin, Mike, Scott, Austin, Doc, Matt, Jay, Rich, Nick, Karen and Ann.  These athletes truely epitomized what it means to RACE acidotic. 

Next Up:  Pinnacle Challenge VI

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Run To Fall

"Experience tells you what to do; confidence allows you to do it."  -Stan Smith

Northwood, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- The 10th Annual Run to Fall cross country race is one of those events that I typically decide to do the week of the race.  Occurring less than six days before Reach The Beach , it falls at an awkward time on my racing calendar.  There have been years that for health reasons I've passed and others that I decided to run with my youngest daughter who really wanted to do her first 5k.  As a fundraiser for the CBNA XC program (and a parent of an athlete on the team) I feel obliged to help support this terrific little race.  With a week to go before the event I made the decision that I'd race it.  I was feeling very good physically and I've had a very successful racing season to date.  At 5k it would be the shortest race I've done (excluding snowshoe racing), but probably the most intense due to the expected fast pace.  A brand new course this year threw out any comparisons to the one year I actually "raced" it so whatever happened I'd be setting a PB on this course.  One of the benefits of the race is that it's really a family affair.  Madison, my oldest daughter, is a senior in the program and participates in "spirit stations" along the course with her class & teammates.  Brayden, my oldest son, volunteered to pick up some additional community service time.  Karen, my wife, raced it as she's done for the past 4 years and my mother-in-law Judy was there as our cheering squad.  My race plan was pretty simple...run hard and consistent and use the event as a confidence booster for Reach The Beach later in the week.  At the gun I took out hard to try to avoid the potential bottleneck in the hole shot at the end of the open field.  By the time we were several hundred meters along I found myself behind the lead group.  Obviously a little too fast for me, but I felt good that I had positioned myself where I needed to be.  When I reached the mile split, Brayden (now working to call out times) called my split as 6:07.  Pleasantly surprised my quick inventory revealed I was feeling pretty comfortable with the pace and the effort.  Not terribly familiar with the course I pre-ran the 'woods loop' to see where the 'spirit stations' were located to give me an idea of where I was on the course.  The freshman were stationed just a hundred meters or so from the track and the end of the first loop.  By this time I hadn't been passed and was running within 10 meters of the guy ahead of me.  I would catch him on the small ups and he'd pull slightly ahead on the downs and flats.  Despite this I felt that I had a pretty good chance of getting ahead of him so I waited patiently.  By the time we reached the 2 mile mark, without a purposeful surge I had caught and passed him giving him a word of encouragement to stay with me and work to the finish.  Within the next 200 meters I also caught a younger runner from CMS who had been just ahead of us.  He obviously didn't take too kindly to an old bastard like myself moving in front of him and he promptly regained the spot and accelerated out of sight.  The last 300 meters were around the track and when I got there I peaked behind quickly to make sure I didn't have to try to outkick some hotshot to the finish.  The guy ahead of me at this point was just too strong and easily maintained his 50 meter lead.  I crossed the finish in 19:19 (6:13's) which was good enough for 12th overall and 3rd master.  Surprisingly, when the results were posted I realized that I was only 10 seconds from the Top 10!  Upon reflection I was very pleased with the effort.  Racing 5k's is tricky if you haven't done it much.  The roughly 20 minute sustained hard effort is quite different from the longer trail races I've done this year. 

NEXT UP: Reach The Beach Relay (race report coming soon!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bradbury Mountain Breaker

Rocking my new Buff on the summit
of Bradbury Mountain
(Photo: MaineRunningPhotos)
"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but refusing to stay down."  -Anonymous

Bradbury State Park, Pownal, MAINE -- A golfer will tell you that as they stand on the tee box of a short par three with water in the front, they never want the thought "don't hit it in the water" to cross their minds.  Two weekends ago (before I took a week of vacation hence the tardy race report) at the Bradbury Mountain Breaker trail race I spoke openly to some teammates before the race about "not falling".  The hosts from Trail Monster Running go on and on and on about how gnarly the course is and who broke this or that while racing it.  Although I had previewed the trails several weeks before I guess they got in my head.  For months now I've specifically focused on one of the weaker aspects of my game...downhill running.  As good as I am uphill, I'm equally as weak running downhill.  I guess as I get older the risk:reward analysis of bombing a steep rooty boulder field just don't come out on the side of running fast.  A two loop course, the Breaker has two different descents from the highest point on the course.  It was the second of the two that led to my demise.  The race was not on my radar in December when I planned my 2010 schedule but as the New England Dirt Cup evolved and our rivalry with TMR grew, this was a race that 1.) became part of the NEDC and 2.) would be a chance for us at aR to see our buddies from Maine (and hand them another beatdown).  Familiar with the course, the plan was to run hard but consistently.  I had zero intention of walking either of the ascents up the Summit Trail so I tried to save a little in the tank without letting TM's that I should be beating run away from me.  A very talented field including my teammates Charlie Therriault, Geoff Cunningham, and Steve Wolfe went out hard with TM's Blaine Moore, Andy Kiburis, Jeff Walker, and company.  Fellow aR 'mate Rich Lavers and I settled in with the next group and just tried to stay up on our feet as the well graded Northern Loop Trail connected to the root and rock filled Boundary Trail.  [NOTE: by the time I reached the Boundary Trail I had passed TM Ryan Triffitt].  I managed to pick up a couple of spots by the time we reached the Summit Trail and had not been and stayed passed.  Surprisingly, runners were already walking the first big climb.  I put it in a very low climbing gear and ran the whole damn thing.  I finished the first loop in 35:57 and was feeling very much in control of my race.  Running by myself for much of the 2nd lap it was difficult to resist the temptation to back off.  I did manage to pass a couple more racers walking the big climb (again) as I was determined not to walk the climb.  I may have been running slowly...but I was running.   Then it happened.  As I raced down the Terrace Trail (the 2nd descent) I must have caught my foot on a root or rock and in an instant I was falling face first down the hill.  Amazingly, I hit the ground pretty softly, slid for a couple of feet, and immediately sprung back up on my feet almost completely unscathed (less a small bruise on my hip and a little trail rash).  It's almost as if I knew I was going to fall and anticipated it.  Strange.  I quickly peeked back uphill to make sure the guys I passed on the climb weren't going to get the spots back.  Without anyone in sight I quickly (but cautiously) made my way back down to the Northern Loop Trail and ran hard to the finish.  I crossed the line in 1:13:12 (13th overall, 4th master).  In one final pleasant surprise I beat TM Jeff Walker for the 2nd straight trail race after he took a wrong turn (on his own course).  Not that I'm keeping track or anything.  Overall, I was very pleased with the effort.  My weekly 1200' of hill repeat training clearly paid off as I hammered the climbs and actually picked up places.  I still have some work to do on the descents, but I've also added that to my training as well.  aR had a great day as well picking up 2 of the top 3 overall spots (Charlie & Geoff) and we once again beat TMR in the team category (taking home two cases of Smuttynose beer) thanks to a very strong showing and a huge turnout (13 aR athletes) made the trip.  Trail Monster Running put on another incredible event and it was really, really great to see and catch up with all of them.  It really is a pleasure to race against them.

NEXT UP: Reach The Beach

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Long Trail: Day #2

"The mountains are calling and I must go." ~ John Muir

Long Trail, VERMONT -- I awoke on the morning of Day #2 to the familiar sound of an alarm.  In a moment of complete confusion I almost forgot where I was for it was not my bed that I lay nor my alarm that chimed.  At exactly 6:00 am our shelter-mates awoke to their pre-set watch alarm.  I immediately sat upright on my sleeping pad but neither Jay nor Karen seemed to notice the strangely misplaced sound.  Jay would later tell me that it wasn't the alarm that woke him but rather my stomach that began to churn and growl some 2-3 hours before.  It may have been earlier than I would have wanted to get up but I hadn't slept more than 90 minutes at a time and I almost felt relieved that the morning had finally arrived.  I think I saw every overnight hour on my watch.  Each time I felt a limb go numb I would roll to my back or side and look at my watch...12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00.  And apparently I make a lot of noise because both Karen and Jay commented that every time I changed positions they woke up as well. 

With one day of morning routine to draw from we were just as slow at getting to it.  I watched the end-to-enders once again move with curious coordination and precision as breaking down their sleeping set-ups seamlessly melded into getting breakfast cooked.  We wished them well a little before 8:00 am as they continued on their way south.  It took us another 30 minutes to finally set out for the last 11 miles of our trip. 

GoLite Comps in the mud.
Aided by a gradual descent for the first 0.9 miles to VT73 we moved swiftly only pausing to take a picture of the Great Cliffs of Mt. Horrid.  The cliffs are closed for much of the spring and summer as they are a protected breeding ground for the peregrine falcon that call these woods home.  In looking at the map, the second day would be defined by the ascents of Cape Lookoff Mountain (3216') and Worth Mountain(3234').  The plan was to hike to Sucker Brook shelter, take a break, and then finish the day with the big climb of Worth Mountain.  Thanks to the overnight rains and humidity that lingered above 75% for the second straight day everything on the trail was wet...including the plethora of roots and rocks that littered the steep descents from our climbs.  The combination of the elevation and the trail conditions made the travel much slower than the previous day.  We arrived at the Sucker Brook shelter trailhead but chose not to walk the additional 0.2 miles down the spur as we had already put enough miles on our legs and the toughest miles were still to come. 

Pushing off from our 15 minute break and heading up to Worth Mountain it began to rain very lightly.  Jay and I looked at each other and decided that we'd probably just keep walking unless it started to rain a little harder.  Not a minute later the skies opened up and it began to pour.  We ditched under an evergreen to put our rain gear on which gave Karen a chance to catch up.  Perhaps the first technical mistake of the trip was opting for the EMS stash jacket instead of the poncho.  Jay slipped his poncho on over his pack while I put my jacket (with long sleeves of course...and it's 80 degrees) under my pack.  My already heavy EMS 3000 absorbed the rain like a sponge adding what felt like another 5-10 pounds.  As we climbed the trail began to look like a river as the water rushed downhill from the higher elevations.  Any idea of keeping our feet reasonably "dry" was now out the window as we splashed and slogged uphill toward the summit.  Luckily the rain only lasted for 30-40 minutes of our nearly 70 minute climb.  From the summit of Worth Mountain to Middlebury Gap and our drop vehicle was mostly downhill and only 2.7 miles.  We would later learn (from a sign near the trailhead) that the wilderness from Worth Mountain to Middlebury Gap is, perhaps not surprisingly, owned by Middlebury College.  Buoyed by the idea that we were less than 2 hours from the end the last few miles went very quickly and by 2:30 pm we were finally at the LT parking area on VT125. 

As a result of our Long Trail Brewery kitchen experience from Friday we wasted no time in getting ourselves and our gear into Jay's car and heading south on VT100 toward our well earned reward...burgers and beers at the brewery.  Our two days on the Long Trail were a great learning experience and have given me an appreciation for the preparation it's going to take to complete the 272 mile trip.  I need to refine my gear as my pack is still way too heavy.  I also need to do more backpacking to improve my technique and efficiency on the trail.  While there is much to be done, I am incredibly excited about the adventure.  I couldn't have asked for two better trail mates than Karen and Jay.  They were both very consistent and very strong and simply great company.  With a little good fortune I'll get back out on the LT this fall to compare the conditions.  Until then, I'm thoroughly enjoying sleeping in my own bed.


Sunrise shelter to Middlebury Gap (VT125)
11 miles (1977' elevation gained) in 5:39 minutes (moving time).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Long Trail: Day #1

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."  ~ John Muir

Long Trail, VERMONT -- I don't exactly recall when the he idea to 'end-to-end' the Long Trail (LT) was born?  All I know is that since the seed was planted in my mind I have thought about little else.  At 272 miles, the Long Trail is the country's oldest long-distance hiking path and was the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail.  I'm only a recreational hiker and have never backpacked yet in the summer of 2011 I'll set off from the MA-VT border and head north to Canada with my buddy Jay, a support team, and an unfulfilled dream.  This past weekend Jay, Karen, and I spent two days on the LT and covered 30 miles in an attempt to see the path firsthand and begin the long slow process of gaining backpacking experience. 
Friday afternoon, on our way to our northernmost car drop, we met Jay at EMS in Concord.  We had stopped to pick up a few last minute items including a UV water treatment system, the SteriPEN.  Having done a little research it seemed to me that UV was one of the lightest and fastest systems on the market.  Funny how a "few last minute items" at EMS almost always adds up to $150.  And in true Jim Dunn-like cooincidence we ran into teammate Mike Sallade who was browsing EMS during a break from work.  We arrived at the LT parking area on VT125 around 5:00 pm, transferred Jay's gear to my car, and headed back down VT100 to grab dinner at the Long Trail Brewery.  The plan was to grab dinner and then hike the 1.4 miles in to Tucker-Johnson shelter for the night.  Sometimes the best laid plans go awry.  Little did I know that the brewery's kitchen closed at 6:00 pm.  We didn't arrive until nearly 6:30 pm but the waitstaff was kind enough to recommend a pizza joint down the road.  Ramunto's Brick & Brew Pizza was a great little find.  Turns out they've got live music on Friday night and one of the most extensive speciality pizza menu's I've ever seen.  And, among the nearly dozen beers on tap they had Long Trail!  The downside was that the music, pizza, beer, and conversation were far more interesting that the final packing and hiking we had planned for the evening.  Somewhere between the wings and the last round of beers we decided to camp in the parking lot on VT4.  We would head out of Sherburne Pass in the morning on our way to Sunrise shelter...our first 19 miles on the LT.
Without any backpacking experience getting ready on Saturday morning seemed to take forever.  That was, however, no fault of my new JetBoil personal cooking system.  Two minutes to boil 2 cups of water was amazing.  We all ate our own doctored version of quick-oats with me opting for the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, walnuts, and dates version.  Washing it down with Starbucks VIA instant coffee we were ready to roll.  The first few hours on the trail were a mix of excitement and a stark realization that the Vermont wilderness is vast...beautiful, but vast.  With the exception of the ever present mud, the trail was pretty easy for those early miles.  The trail was pretty easy (minimal roots and rocks) and the elevation change modest.  Making good time we stopped for lunch around 1:00 pm and refilled our hydration bladders at David Logan shelter.  The shelter system on the LT is really impressive.  On the 19 mile stretch of trail we hiked that first day there were no fewer than four shelters all providing enough floor/bunk space for at least 8-10 hikers.  And each of them had a water source (marked) in very close proximity.  Two of them even had privy's!  We contoured for the most of the rest of the afternoon around Mt. Carmel (3365'), Bloodroot Mountain (3485'), and Farr Peak  (3522') arriving at Sunrise shelter by 5:30 pm. 

Because we hadn't seen more than a few other hikers all day we expected to have the shelter to ourselves but when we arrived we found that two end-to-enders had already arrived and set up camp.  In a way, it was actually a blessing.  The two young folks had been on the trail for 14 days as they trekked south.  We chatted with them watching how they moved around the campsite with incredible economy and purpose.  We broke down our packs and set up our sleeping arrangements.  Although overcast with the threat of rain, knowing I would be out of the elements I decided to use my Sierra Design bivy and a sleeping pad.  The next adventure was dinner.  I'm pretty finicky so the thought of freeze dried food from a bag was not terribly appealing.  Hunger has a funny way of changing one's perspective.  Within 15 minutes Karen and I were enjoying our first 'dinner in a bag'.  I hate to admit it but the Mountain House terriayki chicken was fantastic.  After dinner Jay and I made water filling our hydration bladders and an additional 4 liters for breakfast the following morning.  By the time we made it back to camp our end-to-end mates were already racked.  Noteworthy because at 7:30 pm the sun had yet to set.  I wrapped up some last minute business while Jay tended to his feet with some good old fashion backcountry surgery (see above).  Despite a couple of blisters and some aching knees the three of us fared pretty well on Day #1.  Jay was a great trail leader keeping a strong and steady pace all day while being ever mindful to keep the group together.  Karen was predictably rock solid keeping up with Jay & I despite the unfamiliar weight of her pack and the slippery muddy mess of a trail we negotiated for most of the day.  As we closed our eyes we all eagerly anticipated what lay ahead on Day #2.

To be continued...

Sherburne Pass (VT4) to Sunrise shelter
19 miles (1929' elevation gained) in 8:39 minutes (moving time).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Broken Boulder Dash

"The greatest achivement of the human spirit is to live up to one's opportunities, and make the most of one's resources." -Vauvenargues

Madbury,  NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Brayden and I headed over to Kingman Farm early this morning to ride the Broken Boulder Dash course I had set the night before.  There were a handful of flags pulled and replaced but all in all everything seemed to be in place.  By the time we got back to the trailhead Michael and Alex had arrived and were setting up.  Today's race was a 3C Race Productions event, but aR (ie. me) had been hired to design and mark the course.  A really easy task considering that 90% of the course was identical to our Kingman Farm Moonlight Snowshoe Race.  As competitors began to arrive it appeared that the field would be rather small, but enthusiastic nonetheless.  I had made the decision to race as soon as we were asked to help with the event.  Measuring at 5.5 km it would be my shortest trail race of the year.  Generally speaking I've attempted to avoid these distances for two reasons; 1.) I'm not very fast and 2.) fast is something I'm not.  But because I was already there, knew the course, and needed to put a run in this weekend I figured I'd give it a go.  After I gave the course description and Michael gave the command to step to the line to my surprise there were very few takers.  The usual cast of characters (including teammates and friends) that dominate me and the rest of the Top 10 weren't around.  As the "RUNNERS READY..." command was given I realized that I had been presented with a very unique opportunity.  With "GO!" I led the field of 44 from the parking lot into the Kingman Farm trail network to race the course I had designed.  Having never been in the front of the field at any race I was actually a little unsure as to how to race from that position.  The course begins to climb the shoulder of Hick's Hill within the first few minutes of the start and early on I could sense someone(s) close behind.  By the time I reached the main doublewide track I stopped hearing footsteps and attempted to settle into a comfortable, but hard, pace so as not to give back what I had worked hard to establish.  Just as I reached the low point of the course I could feel (and hear) someone close on me.  When I looked back over my left shoulder I realized it was fellow snowshoe competitor Phil Erwin of New Durham, NH.  Phil is a very talented snowshoe/trail/mountain runner and happens to be in my age group (40-45).  But for everything he has going for him, he's not familiar with the Kingman Farm property.  As we raced, he off my left shoulder, I started to get the feeling he was using my knowledge of the trails to his advantage and was waiting for his chance to strike.  When we reached the start of Hick's Hill we were almost side by side.  After the first prelude, a gentle little climb, the course narrows to the switchback singletrack where passing would be difficult on both the ascent and descent.  If Phil was going to challenge I knew he may have missed his opportunity in the open fields.  As we began the climb I felt him slip back as I pushed hard silently grateful of my many repeats up Mt. Blue Job.  As I negotiated the steep and narrow switchback descent I stole a couple of glaces back to determine how much time I had gained.  But to my surprise Phil was nowhere to be seen?  I assumed that I had put some time on him in the up but couldn't have imaged I would have gapped him so significantly.  A few quick looks back in the last 200 meters showed no other contenders and I cruised across the finish line in first place with a time of 23:12.  As soon as I finished I heard a voice call out from a few meters away, "What happened?!".  It was Phil.  He had finished a minute or so ahead of me as a result of a missed switchback.  I'm not sure who felt worse, me as the course setter, or Phil for missing a chance to catch and pass me on the singletrack descent?  Opportunities for a race win are few and far between for a 41 year old trail runner like me.  In fact, as far as I can recall, it's the first race I've ever won.  I really wish that every runner had the chance to feel what it feels like to race at the front of the pack.  It was really, really cool and really, really hard but easily one of the most special experiences I've had in my very fortunate athletic life.

PS.  aR had a very good day for a very light showing with Austin Stonebraker in the Top 10 (6th), Timmy Lindsey in the Top 20 (18th), and Gary Reuter 27th overall.

Broken Boulder Dash RESULTS

NEXT UP: Bradbury Mountain Breaker

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mt. Washington Road Race

"The secret of discipline is motivation.  When a man is sufficiently motivated, discipline will take care of itself." -Sir Alexander Paterson

Mt. Washington, NEW HAMPSHIRE--Since I was a boy I've looked up to my father.  When I became a man, his athletic accomplishments served as the yardstick by which I have measured myself.  "Family Records" aren't mere notches on a belt, they are instead a means through which I am afforded the chance to race against my hero.  The hands of time have stolen the opportunity at a head to head meeting, but the record book gives us the chance to measure our commitment and resolve without the constraints of history.  The 50th Mt. Washington Road Race (MWRR) was one of those rare opportunities to race my father.  My dad began running in the 70's when the running boom was at it's zenith.  Although not a naturally gifted endurance athlete (he was a football player in high school and college), through incredibly hard work he fashioned himself into a very good runner.  In the early 70's he and a few of his running buddies headed to the Mt. Washington valley for a road race to the summit of the highest point in the northeast.  Back in the day, as he tells it, they walked up to the 'toll both' on the day of the race and paid their entry fee.  And 1:39 minutes later he stood on the summit.  My mother tells me that my brother and I were there, but my early childhood memories are buried too deep for me to remember.  Fast forward to the spring of this year.  When the MWRR lottery results were announced it was a 'good news, bad news' story.  The good news was that my number was actually called, the bad news was that my teammates Geoff and Rich (who talked me into entering the lottery in the first place) were not chosen.  Because of the randomness of the lottery draw and the incredible demand for the event, I had let this race fall off my radar instead focusing my attention for the past 15 years on my dad's elusive 3:14 marathon mark.  When I called my parents to tell them of my good fortune, I was reminded of my dad's family record on "The Hill".  That was all the motivation I needed.  Karen and I met Geoff and Rich at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center shortly before 7:00 am.  The three were planning to hike to the summit via Lion's Head and arrive in time to see me finish.  I arrived at the race site around 7:30 am and after picking up my race packet stood under the tent and waited for teammate Gary Reuter and my designated ride back down courtesy of Diane and Don.  Once my stuff was stowed away in Don's car I headed back to my own vehicle to begin my race preparations.  I had corresponded and talked with a number of MWRR veterans all providing me with valuable pearls of wisdom.  Perhaps the most common piece of advise I got was to go out easy in the first half because it may be the toughest 3+ miles on the course.  The #1 objective was sub 1:39, but in the back of my mind I felt like I was capable of 1:30.  To that end I planned a :43 split at the 1/2 mark knowing that nobody runs a negative split on this hill.  The way I figured it, if I ran a :47 second half I would still be in at 1:30 and safely set the family record.  At the start, Steve Wolfe and I seeded ourselves conservatively in around 250-300th place.  Not :30 before the start I had seen Tim VanOrden who reminded me that it's always better psychologically to be passing people as you go then getting passed.  And I must say he was absolutely right.  When the cannon fired Steve, myself, and 914 others began the slow and methodical march to the summit.  I could sense Steve's frustration with our seeding from the start as he darted in and out of other runners in the first 1/4 miles of DOWNHILL on the course.  Resisting the temptation to chase him I also picked my way through the hoards but repeated the mantra...PATIENCE, PATIENCE, PATIENCE.  Interestingly, before we reached the 1 mile marker people around me were already walking.  I had accepted that walking would be an option but was hoping to delay it for as long as possible choosing instead to go to the lowest climbing gear imaginable and grinding to the 1/2 way split.  Somewhere around 3 miles I finally caught Steve.  Although I had no intentions of passing him, my climbing gear was just seconds faster than his and I slowly pulled ahead.  Choosing to look neither back nor forward I focused on the 2-3 meters in front of me and settled into a rhythm.  When I reached the 1/2 way point I hit the split function on my watch...:44:16.87.  No doubt a very respectable split, but about a minute behind my target pace.  I quickly took inventory...physically I was feeling very strong and very much in control of the race.  The focus for the remainder of the hill would be on the next mile marker as I attempted to run the best 3.8 one mile uphill races of my life.  It was somewhere around this time that I also caught and passed Mike Wade of TRIAD racing.  Mike had put the beat down on me at Pineland last month and the fact that I had caught and passed him really boosted my confidence.  Like the great competitor he is, he shouted a few words of encouragement as I went by him.  Popping out of the trees, the course begins the long sun splashed ascent to the summit.  The strong wind gusts forcasted before the race never really materialized instead the mountain provided a welcome cooling breeze.  On the toughest mile of the race (mile 5 if you're scoring at home), and old familiar foe appeared at my left shoulder.  Wolfe had, through a combination of recovery walking and running surges, reeled me back in and took back the spot I had "borrowed" from him :20+ minutes earlier.  My desire to "race" him at this point in the race was superseded by my #1 objective, the Dunn family record that I still had a very good chance of attaining.  Adding to my hesitation to 'chase the Wolfe' was my opportunity to run the whole damn thing that Trail Monster's Ian Parlin and Ryan Triffitt had suggested.  By the time I reached the "hairpin" I still had only walked through the aid stations to drink water.  And as advertised, the hairpin was steep and took every bit of 'mountain' I had to run through it.  With less than 200 meters to go I ran up on another familiar snowshoe racing mate, Kurt Gustafson.  Kurt was knee deep in all kinds of hurt and I encouraged him to run with me and work together to the finish.  The plan worked great for Kurt, not so great for me.  Apparently, my words of encouragement grew wings on his ankles and he surged past me as we hit "The Wall".  With a warrior cry that would have given William Wallace goosebumps, he cast his giant frame forward literally attacking the last 50 meters of vertical hell.  Now on the homestretch I caught a glimpse and an ear full from Karen, Rich, and Geoff who had made it to the top in plenty of time to help pull me in.  I had not "had" to walk for 1:31:30 and had no intention of needing to then either.  The crowd on "The Wall" erupted with encouragement as each runner waged their own battle with gravity and lactic acid.  I don't know how anyone could have walked on this part of the course (anyone, that is except Danny Ferriera who claimed his "Type D" personality doesn't get that caught up in those things..en route to a 1:31:16)?  I shuffled to the top and across the line in 1:32:00 (180th and 21st in age group).  The first call I made, while standing at the summit, was to my dad. 

My Mile Splits (for those interested)
Mile 1: 10:41.74
Mile 2: 11:23.56  [22:05.30]
Mile 3: 11:26.92  [33:32.22]
Mile 4: no split taken
Mile 5: 11:52.30  [58:32.00]
Mile 6: 13:11.68  [1:11:44]
Mile 7: 12:40.90  [1:24:25]

Next Up: Broken Boulder Dash

[Photo credits: Geoff Cunningham]