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

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.