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, 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]

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Exeter Trail Races presented by GoLite Footwear

Exeter,  NEW HAMPSHIRE -- After a string of unsatisfying performances I was overdue.  And there was no better time or place to shake out of my funk than at the 10 mile Exeter Trail Race presented by GoLite Footwear.  With the added 'pressures' of a head to head battle with our nemesis Trail Monster Running (TMR) and wanting to show well for our newest sponsor GoLite Footwear, everything came together in what ended up being one of my best efforts this year.  Over the last two weeks I, along with TMR's Ian Parlin, have worked to develop a team trail running challenge between our two groups that we have named the New England Dirt Cup (NEDC).  Consisting of six races this year, each club's top 5 performances at these races score points toward an overall team total.  As a NEDC race, our TMR rivals made the trip from Maine led by outstanding trail runners Jeff Walker and Floyd Lavery.  One of the beauties of trail running is the low key vibe and tremendous sense of community.  Another is the smaller fields allow you to have a pretty good idea who you'll be racing.  And when I say "racing" I really mean chasing.  Jeff and Floyd have dominated me at every event we've competed in this season.  Honestly, I'm happy to run within minutes of these two.  But Sunday was different, it was our home turf and it counted.  Although I had only raced one more time on these trails than either of the other two I felt like I had somewhat of an advantage.  The question would be if I was fit enough to make the most of it.  With Jeff positioned just off my left shoulder at the start I decided to start strong knowing that the trails would very quickly narrow into a serpentine-like twisted roller coaster and passing opportunities would be limited early on.  At the start the lead group pulled by teammates Geoff Cunningham and Tim Cox were out of sight within the first 100 meters.  I settled in behind a very strong group of three which included one of my newest teammates Bob Swarthout.  A former collegiate runner, Bob is a very strong and for a few minutes I wondered if I had gone out too aggressively.  Knowing this freight train could pull me along if I stayed within 3-5 meters I worked hard to stay connected.  Running in the woods always gives me the sense of running faster than I'm actually going but the pace my group was maintaining early on had to have been in the 6:40's and surprisingly I felt very comfortable.  Somewhere around the 4 mile mark my train conductor decided he was tired of doing all the work and before I knew it I was in front.  Faced with two choices...fast or faster, I decided that it was time to lean forward and see if the group ahead of us was attainable.  I had seen glimpses of them from time to time so I knew they were within striking distance and there was enough race left to catch them.  The funny thing was that our original group of five was now just two, myself and a taller gentleman who apparently was running his first trail race at this distance.  For the moment he was content with letting me do the pulling.  As we pushed forward, we slowly began to reel in the loosely organized group of three ahead of us.  When I was close enough I was astounded to see that one of those runners was Floyd!  Once within shouting distance I yelled to him that I was closing on him (he later admitted that my yelling had startled him a little).  After expending tremendous effort to close on him I wasn't sure I would be able to match his suddenly surging pace.  I hung on for a few minutes and then decided that the best strategy would be to get in front of him and 1.) make him run my pace and 2.) make him work a little harder to pass me if he was so inclined.  It worked.  Once ahead of him I relaxed a little and made him slow down.  While it worked nicely to contain Floyd, it opened the door for the guy still racing off my shoulder and he flew by me in a blurr.  Content, I was happy to race with Floyd as long as there was no sign of Jeff.  The final challenge of the race was a devilish little section of trail called the Camel's Hump.  Aptly named, this 25 meter climb looked more like a series of three small walls than a trail.  With plenty of hill training under my belt I blasted up the climb and quickly regained my rhythm knowing that the time to hammer was at the top of the hill when everyone else would be trying to recover.  With less than a mile to go I peeked several times waiting to see someone trying to close.  Luckily, the race course ran out and I was able to maintain my place.  Finishing in 1:14:59 was good enough for 12th place (5th Master...what the heck is it with fast guys in their 40's?!) and a 6+ minute PR from last year.  But perhaps the best news was that I was finally able to beat both Jeff and Floyd.  Always gracious competitors we shared congratulations and some great stories after the race.  Overall, acidotic RACING again won the team title over our Maine rivals.  The next race in the NEDC series is the Bradbury Mountain Breaker hosted by TMR in August.  As for me, it's time to taper (again) for perhaps my greatest mountain (or is it road?) challenge of my life.

NEXT UP: Mt. Washington Road Race

[Photo credit: Brent Doscher Photography]