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, December 4, 2011

Andover XC Race

RACING acidotic for the final
time in 2011.
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]
"You only live once.  But if you work it right...once is enough."  -Joe Louis

Andover, MA -- My 33rd and final race of 2011 was the Andover Striders 6k XC Race in Anodver, MA.  I discovered this race last fall and had such a good time that I decided to go back...and bring friends.  I rode down to the event with Timmy & Gianina Lindsey and met fellow teammates Kate, Richie, Jeremiah, Jen, Sinthy, Craig, Scotty and Chris.  For me there are a few reasons to love this event; 1.) it's a great early snowshoe racing-specific barometer of fitness, 2.) spaghetti & free beer after the race, and 3.) there's always GREAT competition!  We lined up on the 18th fairway facing in a slightly different direction this year which would result in the course being just a whisper shorter than 2010.  The field was at least 30 wide at the gun and within 150 meters needed to get to 4-5 wide to cross a short footbridge and make a hard uphill left hand turn on a cart path.  Having negotiated it last year I was prepared for the bottleneck and carefully picked my way through this minefield trying not to lose momentum or take down the front of the field.  The course rolls and meanders through the Andover Country Club course as die hard members sneak in a late season round of golf.  Typically we stay to the edge of the fairways with the occasional cart path thrown in for good measure.  Two runners gapped the field within a kilometer leaving a large chase group (20+ runners) to battle it out.  I was just off the back end of that group leap frogging a couple of competitors...I'd pass on the climbs and they'd surge back on the descents.  Despite cutting my training volume back considerably over the last month I felt like I was racing hard and pushing a consistent pace.  As we approached the last mile we emerged into a small gated fairway community and began the last series of climbs.  Peaking back over my shoulder I didn't have any immediate threats.  The final kilometer has the steepest little grassy climb and I felt like I probably could have walked it faster than I ran it but I managed to find my way to the top and then descended down the driving range as hard as I could to the finish.  I taped a 20:45 (5:56's) which was good enough for 27th overall (13th master).  Looking back at 2010 my pace was 6:12's so I was ecstatic with the performance.  Once again quality trumps quantity for me at this time of year.

PS to 2011
What an incredible injury-free year of racing!  Thirty-three events including snowshoe, road, mountain bike, trail, mountain, obstacle, dog n' beer relay, and XC.  I was incredibly fortunate enough to compete in the Northeast Snowshoe Championship, New Hampshire Snowshoe Championship, New England Trail Championship, US Mountain Running Championship, and the New England Ultra Running Championship (as a relay).  I enjoyed 16 Top 10 overall finishes as an individual or a team including four overall team wins at the Hoppin' Mad Mud Run, Tough Mountain Challenge, Rhode Island 6-Hour Relay, and the Hallo-wiener Hustle.  Finally, I must thank my very understanding wife Karen who has supported me throughout the year.  What I do wouldn't be possible without her blessing.  Thank you also to the various RDs from the many races we do who provide very generous "incentives" for us to participate.  And a heartfelt thanks to my acidotic RACING teammates who stood beside me and motivated me to explore the unknown.  It's time to take a deep breath and begin to craft and even MORE exciting 2012!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hallo-wiener Hustle

Finishing the first leg of the
Hallo-wiener Hustle in Manch Vegas
[Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey]
"Drinking beer doesn't make you fat, it makes you lean...against bars, tables, chairs, poles..."  -Anonymous

Manchester, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- You know the old saying...if you can't beat 'em, start racing in hot dog and beer drinking relays!  For the second time in less than two months I found myself dressed in full redneck regalia on the starting line with Perry the Platypus, a 5 foot tall Coney Island Dog, and some dude in a poncho and sombrero.  What in all things Dijon was I doing?  Why the Hallo-wiener Hustle of course.  This new event popped up on the radar back in the summer when the RD e-mailed me to ask for help spreading the word.  Originally the race was scheduled for Halloween but a freak snowstorm forced a postponement.  We lost one of the original four, but found a Disco Bunny as a replacement.  This relay was modeled after the Grog 'N Dog that we did in October...4 person team, 1.25 mile city loop, hot dog, and beer.  Back in Providence last month I held back a little not having any experience with following a run with shoving a hot dog down my throat and guzzling a beer.  Turns out it was still difficult so this time I decided to employ the Fitzgibbon Principle; show up or blow up.  But this event wasn't mine alone to win, I brought three very capable (and very thirsty and hungry) teammates in Dena 'Disco Bunny' Beauchesne, Timmy 'Wiener' Lindsey, and Mariano 'The Nerd' Santangelo.  Without our 4 minute miler Nick Wheeler, who happened to be in Philly trying to qualify for the US Olympic Marathon trials, I would lead off the race and attempt to establish us somewhere in the Top 5.  With the aid of a belt (I didn't wear one last time and ran with one hand on my cutoffs the entire way) I jumped off the line hard and tried to stay with the lead group.  Clearly the ringers would be a 4-some of tight wearing no shirt 20-somethings who apparently thought 'abs' were a costume (thank you Gianina Lindsey for that line).  The youngster quickly gapped myself, Perry, and the dude with a sombrero.  By the time we had run the 1/4 mile up Elm and before the turn onto Blodgett I had moved into 2nd place and was pushing as hard as a redneck could push.  Perhaps pulled by my younger and faster competition or lured by the smell of stale beer and cigarettes in McGarvey's Bar, I arrived back at the start in 2nd place overall in a brisk 6:45 for the 1.23 mile loop (5:30's if you're scoring at home).  Quickly 'hustling' inside I found my place marker at the corner of the bar with my steamed wiener and a 22 ounce Miller Lite.  Not a big fan of the bun dunk and naked dog chomp I methodically alternated between bites and gulps.  With the dog down I still had about 1/2 the beer to go and with two college-sized 'sips' I emptied the plastic cup and set it down emphatically on the bar.  Apparently my skinny-legged ab wearing foe must have been drinking his beer with a straw because I emerged out of McGarvey's in first overall!  Or did I?  Handing the baton off to Mariano we were now in 1st place overall...for the moment, and what a brief moment it was.  The #2 'ab' clad no shirt wearin' track star quickly overtook Mariano making him look like he was running in chinos...wait, he was running chinos.  With a determined look and a pocket protector he bravely held off all other challenges and matained our 2nd place overall lead as he arrived back at the bar.  In a dog eating display that would have made Joey Chestnut proud, Mariano buzzed through his Schonland and empty his beer with dizzying efficiency.  Sort of made one wonder if he had done this before?  By the time he handed the baton to Dena the "transition area" outside the bar was chaos and it was becoming next to impossible to figure out who was where and what place we were in other than behind the "Dudes With Abs" and in front of the "4 Amigos".  In true aR fashion, Disco Bunny Dena ran her tail off (figuratively) and although gave up a spot to a guy in a multi-colored poncho kept us decidedly in the mix overall.  Our anchor, Timmy Lindsey (or as they call him in the 'hood, T-Lin), had made the most ironic journey of all to be in that moment to help us podium.  Only a few short years ago he had found himself topping 375 lbs.  With the support of his family and incredible determination, he had lost over 200 lbs. and is now a multiple time marathon finisher!  As he took the baton from Dena his two worlds collided in the most ironic moment in dog & beer relay history.  Here he was setting off to do something that had become a huge part of his life now (running) to get to a place he had been to not long ago (devoring hot dogs and drinking beer).  In a head-to-foot hot dog costume he steamed the course and pushed up the bar for the last 'leg' of his race and ours.  Harkening back to his days as a semi-pro eater he devowered the dog and polished off the beer in near record time sprinting out of the bar and perhaps into Hallo-wiener Hustle history!  Confident we had to have been in the Top 5 overall and perhaps the fastest co-ed team we anxiously awaited the results.  And when they were finally posted we were shocked to see...that we weren't even listed!?  Fearing there had been a mistake I immediately went inside to talk to the timer (and aR teammate).  Apparently, during the pre-race briefing I was too busy getting in the head of the young guy with tights and didn't hear the RD explain there was one door for going into the bar and another for leaving bar.  And the door for leaving the bar had the official timer.  My lap had never been recorded.  I wasn't alone.  Multiple teams made the same mistake.  But we ran all the loops, ate all the dogs, and drank all the beer.  After a few tense moments and some re-scoring the official annoucement was made...we had won the co-ed division!  Our prize?  A Pabst Blue Ribbon beer wagon.  Oh, how I love these races!

[L-R] Dena, Timmy, Chris, Mariano
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]
 NEXT UP:  Andover 6k XC Race

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

RI 6-HR Relay

Finishing lap #4 of the RI 6-HR Relay
[courtesy of Scott Mason]
"The older I get, the better I used to be." - Lee Trevino

Warwick,  RHODE ISLAND -- Among the many things that acidotic RACING provides is the chance to be a part of something great.  Sunday at the Rhode Island 6-Hour Relay, hosted by our friends from the Tuesday Night Turtles, we had the chance to defend greatness.  Last year our 5 person relay team won the event and set the relay course record by running 22 laps (59.4 miles) in 5:54:00.  Four of those athletes including Rich Lavers, Danny Ferreira, Charlie Therriault, and myself would return accompanied by newcomers Judson Cake and Chris Lalmond.  Top to bottom we had at least as strong of a group as 2010 and we had our sights firmly fixed on a record breaking 23 laps.  Judson led the event off and put down a very fast first 2.7 mile lap establishing an early 90 second lead.  And we were off.  Charlie, Danny, Chris, Rich, and then myself took turns looping the gently rolling Warwick City Park bike/walking path negotiating the tight turns, ultra runners, and leashed 4-leggers.  Heading into the event I felt a little tired from a busy year of racing and aside from some annoying nagging hamstring tightness quite healthy.  I opened with a 16:01 (5:55's) and felt comfortable doing it.  When I got back to our team area word had it that Chris' foot issue was a much bigger deal than originally thought.  His opening 16:51 was very uncharacteristic and not at all representative of his immense talent and very high fitness.  As we clicked off the laps our lead began to grow as our nearest competition from Fuel Belt was running a man down with only five.  In the sixth position it was certain that I'd only run three laps total so I attempted to repeat my first effort on my second lap.  At 16:07 (5:58's) I was a little off pace but felt like I ran in control and consistent.  Sitting down to recover between laps the word came that Chris would be forced to withdraw from the event because of his foot.  Although he was obviously disappointed it was certainly the correct decision.  Our overall lead was secure and through a dozen laps we were actually a little ahead of record setting pace.  Knowing I had a little less time to recover and would need to run a 4th lap I adjusted my race plan for lap #3.  Not having any experience running 4 laps at this race I chose to throttle back for my third loop and ran a very conservative 16:45 (6:12's).  By the time I finished I could almost tell my goose was cooked.  I quickly headed to our rest area to hydrate and get my sweats back on my legs to keep them warm.  Laying down I elevated my feet and began to wonder what I'd have left to give on my 4th lap.  As is typical of my aR teammates they gave nothing less than everything they had and their tenacity was infectious.  Everyone was obviously feeling the effects of 5 1/2 hours of very hard racing including Charlie who due to a calf injury could barely manage a stiff legged shuffle during his warm-up only to snap out of it miraculously once he got up to race pace.  Judson was rock solid as always, Danny stayed on course, and Rich exceeded his #5 placing putting in one fast lap after another.  Then with just shy of 30 minutes left in the race Rich handed the bracelet to me for our 22nd and record tying lap.  In order for Judson to have any chance of putting in #23 (and breaking our own course record) I would have to run at least 30 seconds faster than my fastest lap of the event.  I'm as positive as they come but I'm also very realistic about my athletic ability.  I took out of the transition area determined to 'show up or blow up' and to give Judson at least a fighters chance at the record.  I hit the mile split in 5:50, ccertainly faster than my Lap #3 split but not fast enough to run sub 16:00.  I ran as hard as I could but was struggling to find a rhythm.  That was until I met Danny and Rich who had doubled back on the course to intercept me and pick me up for the last 1/2 mile.  Danny immediately got 3-4 meters in front and shouted encouragement while Rich hung back to pace teammate Ryan Welts who was finishing the ultra.  The course rolled over those final few hundred meters and I felt Danny's energy pulling me forward.  Finishing in 16:29 (6:06's) there's no question that without his help I probably would have repeated my 16:45 Lap #3 performance.  Judson knew that 13 minutes and change didn't leave him enough time to complete a full lap but he headed out to cross as many timing mats on the course as he could.  We didn't officially finish that record breaking 23rd lap but we did set a new course record of 22 laps (59.4 miles) in 5:47:33 (5:51's) breaking our own mark by 6.5 minutes and defended our title!  I'm so proud of my teammates for the toughness they displayed including ultra runner Ryan who finished 11th overall running 37.8 miles in 5:48:50.  Just incredible.  For our victory we won three cases of Harpoon beer and a cool RI6-HR Relay pint glass.  A very heartfelt thank you to our hosts Bob and Jackie Jackman from the Tuesday Night Turtles for another fantastic event. 

(L-R) Chris Lalmond, me, Judson Cake, Rich Lavers,
Charlie Therriault, Danny Ferreira
[courtesy of Scott Mason]

NEXT UP:  Hallowiener Hustle

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Weekend Double: 2x4th

Making the turn to the finish of
the "No Brakes" Mtb race
at Stratham Hill (NH).
"Missed it by that much."  -Maxwell Smart

Stratham, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Last weekend was a rare opportunity (lately) for me to squeeze in two races.  They would both be my first experience and I can easily say they won't be my last.  My teammate, Amanda House, alerted me to the weekend's festivities when I saw her earlier this month at the Pinnacle Challenge VII.  At the time she informed me of the No Brakes mountain bike race on some of the newest singletrack in Stratham (NH).  It was only later that I found out that the same morning they held a 5k trail race at the same park.  The RDs spaced the two events so that it was possible to do both...although I would learn that very few would attempt.  A little back and forth on Facebook and I had a handful of teammates doing the trail race and still a few others doing the mountain bike race.  This time of year for me, is a transition from the longer and harder training and racing I do from January through September.  If I'm racing it's generally shorter stuff that's closer to home and the two events at Stratham Hill (5k trail & 9 mile mtb) only 30 minutes from home fit the bill perfectly.

Prior to the race I gathered a little intel from teammate Jeremiah Fitzgibbon who had pre-run the course.  A mix of carriage roads and single/double track with one climb to the fire tower (hence the name).  He told me to expect it would be fast.  He, I, and new teammate Tom Cross lined up with 170 trail runners in the soccer field next to the 4H building on the Stratham Fairgrounds.  Looking around it was obviously a family environment as the starting line was dominated by pre-teens.  Not wanted to risk getting tripped and trampled I decided to get off fast when the gun fired (by Miss Stratham Fair I might add).  Within the first few hundred meters I was in the Top 5 running stride for stride with a young guy who seemed pretty determined to keep me behind him.  The top 2 guys were putting a gap on us by the 6-7 minute mark but I was securely in 5th, directly behind 4th, and could see 3rd place.  Just before the 2 mile mark the young guy in 4th fell back to me and I moved around encouraging him to stay with me.  Approaching the firetower climb I could feel myself closing the gap on 3rd place.  About 1/2 way up the 300+ meter climb I caught and passed the guy for 3rd place to the top of the hill.  But as we began to descend the doubletrack trail he quickly regained the spot and accelerated away.  I obviously still have a lot of work to do on my downhill racing.  Back in 4th place I caught a glimpse of Keith Schmitt closing on me.  Knowing he's a far more talented runner than myself but recognizing the finish was only a few hundred meters away I leaned forward and if he was going to pass me he would have to earn it.  Luckily the finish line came when it did as he was only 2 seconds behind.  I was able to hold him off for a 4th overall finish in 18:50 (6:04's).  I'm incredibly pleased with the result.  I felt strong but not quite red lined.  A really, really great late season effort.

The Firetower 5k finished around 9:30ish.  My SPORT class one lap 9 miler would most likely go off around 11:45ish (or when the last of the ADVANCED/EXPERT riders completed their first of two laps).  I changed into my aR cycling gear, drank some HEED, and chatted with teammate Geoff Cunningham who was making his mountain bike racing debut on his new Specialized 29er.  My love/hate relationship with mountain bike racing is pretty well documented.  It can be incredibly exhilarating and challenging but it can also be so humbling that it hardly seems worth the effort.  And the more I've thought about it, the more I realize that it's how the races are organized, not necessarily the sport itself.  And the folks that put the No Brakes race on know exactly what they're doing.  By sending the ADVANCED/EXPERT riders out first and waiting to start the SPORT race until those riders had finished their first lap assured that we (or I) wouldn't be traffic for the faster more skilled riders.  In fact, we would never see each other on the course.  Lining up for my race there appeared to be a small crowd of maybe 20 riders with all ability levels represented.  I actually began to think that it was probably me that looked hardcore in my aR cycling kit.  Little did they know.  I lined up in the 3rd or 4th row and decided I would get a feel for the crowd in the first few minutes of the race and then try to forget everyone else and ride as hard as I could.  As the race started I immediately felt a sense of urgency and pushed toward the front standing on the pedals in the big ring.  Moments later I was again in the Top 5 (like the trail race).  The course consisted of two primary "climbs" connected by some smooth, fresh, twisting singletrack.  I'm a fairly strong climber so I was able to catch a couple of guys on the first climb to the same fire tower I had raced to earlier that morning.  As we hit the singletrack however I started picking my way through and obviously slowing them down.  When I found a spot I told them to go ahead and try to catch the guys on the podium.  For the next 7 miles I essentially rode alone.  I dabbed a few times on the tight switchback climbs...not for fitness, but for lack of bike handling skills.  The singletrack sections were sensational and as I was racing I was already making plans to return and ride these tracks again.  I missed a turn toward the end but quickly figured out my error and probably only lost 10-15 seconds.  Pushing hard on the last 2 miles of flat carriage roads and fields I felt very, very strong as an entire spring, summer, and fall of riding had paid off.  I crossed the finish line in 51:07 and in 4th place overall.  My second race and second 4th place finish of the day.  The race was a blast!  That type of mountain bike racing I love.  Racing against fairly evenly matched athletes without holding up 20-30 elite riders. 

This is most certainly a double I will do again next fall.  And hopefully I'll have some aR teammates willing to try to capture my new King of the Hill crown.

NEXT UP:  Hallowiener Hustle

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grog & Dog Jog

The camera loves me as I'm groggin' & doggin' rockin'
the Mississippi mudflap mullet and Wal-Mart t-shirt
[Photo courtesy of Scott Mason Photography]
"There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous."  -Napoleon

Providence,  RHODE ISLAND -- They say a picture tells a thousand words.  But no amount of those words can describe the fun that was had at this weekend's Grog & Dog Jog at the Wild Colonial Tavern.  Our buddies from the south, the Tuesday Night Turtles, introduced us to this race last year and we were finally able to accept the invitation to join them this weekend.  In fact, we actually sent two teams of aR "athletes" to see what all the fuss was about.  As a jack of all trades master of none this type of thing fits exceptionally well into my fall transition period.  I'm neither 1.) motivated to train, nor 2.) currently training for anything important so the way I saw it, a 1.25 mile city loop followed by a hot dog and a beer would be the perfect "training" for my planned November shutdown.  Turns out, seven of my other aR teammates felt the same way.  I divided us up into two fairly evenly matched teams with (of course) my team constituting not only the lion share of the runners, but the hungriest doggers to ever order a round of grog.  This one, as they say, would be like taking candy from a baby.  My aR-GOLD included Jon "Where's your shirt?" Letendre, "Super" Sam Watts, Nick "Capt'n Feathersword" Lavoie and of course...me.  aR-BLACK was represented by Nick "Malibu" Langelotti,  "Downhome" Amanda House, Jeremiah "Gettin' Tail" Fitzgibbon, and Craig "What are you a pirate?" Poirier.  The two fastest dudes in the bunch, Jon and Langelotti, led off the race for their respective aR teams.  Jon entered the 'Eatatorium' with about a :30 lead on Nick.  However, not having eaten a hot dog in years cost him dearly as his lead was quickly erased by Nick's engulfing the dog with three swift bites and washing it down with nearly one swig of the warm Narragansett.  And from there it was all downhill for my aR-GOLD.  Jeremiah, always a poor front runner, took off like he was being chased by a pack of crazed dogs nearly :45 seconds ahead of me.  Knowing that he has a tendency to take it out hard and then fade back to me I set off with the plastic mug baton to run him down.  What I didn't account for however, was the jean cutoffs and the mullet.  Both binding and billowing I felt like I couldn't really pick up any momentum which was surely aided by my lack of warm-up and/or the energy drink induced slight state of dehydration.  Nevertheless I averaged 5:53's for the 1.25 mile loop.  Just sayin'.  Unfortunately while I made up a little of his gap it wouldn't be even remotely enough as his gullet-stuffing-mashed-dog-regurgitating-beer-swilling exhibition got a HUGE rise out of the crowd and put us even further behind.  It's funny, I never would have guessed how nauseating the smell of steamed tubular pork product would be immediately following a mile dash.  And I like hot dogs!  Okay, love hot dogs.  Fearing I'd take a large bit of wiener sideways down the esophagus and need to be Heimlich'd by a dude dressed like a nun I decided to play it "safe" and alternated chomping small bites with big gulps of 'Gansett.  How did you spend your Columbus Day weekend thank you?!  As soon as I finished the dog and the grog I handed the mug to "Super" Sam who did her best to catch "Downhome" House but alas it was not aR-GOLD's day.  Craig closed the deal for aR-BLACK as the corduroy clad Lavoie represented himself, his family, and the town of Scarborough, ME proudly with an impressive hot dog eating and beer drinking display.  Our guests from TNT won the event again (yawwwwn) but we were really there for the 'fun of it'.  Who takes these things seriously?  The event was hosted by a tavern so I doubt results will be up soon but it really doesn't matter.  I had a great time GROGGIN acidotic with my 'mates and by the smiles on their faces (and the beers in their hands) after the event I think they did as well.

NEXT UP: "No Brakes" Mountain Bike Race

L-R BACK ROW: Jeremiah,  Langelotti, me, Lavoie
FRONT: Letendre, House, Poirier, Watts

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pinnacle Challenge VII

Heading out to loop the Pinnacle for aR-WHITE
at the Pinnacle Challenge VII
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]
 "Teamwork is essential.  It allows you to blame someone else."  -Anonymous

Newport, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Growing up playing and loving team sports I find it incredibly special now as a adult to get the chance experience it from time to time.  For the most part endurance sports are individual pursuits but every once in a while I get the chance to contribute my effort to the collective success of a team.  This weekend was a fantastic example of that as I once again raced the Pinnacle Challenge VII in Newport, NH hosted by the folks at Team Pinnacle.  This incredibly unique double duathlon has quickly become a showcase for acidotic RACING as we now send as many as eight teams with a scattering of solos.  This year 32 aR athletes made the trip to RACE acidotic at the Pinnacle.  My team (aR-WHITE) figured to be competitive in the highly contested 4-person male category with our brothers from aR-BLACK being one of the favorites.  Arriving around 8:00 am for a 9:30 am start there were already a dozen or more aR athletes already on site.  It was awesome to see so many friends and all of them wearing the aR colors.  Dan Dion would lead us off on the 5 mile road run putting down an impressive 28:17 and sending me out in the top 5 overall.  As my trail runner Rich Lavers worked to remove the timing anklet from Dan's leg he, in haste, removed the timing chip mechanism and then became all thumbs as he tried to thread it back on the sweaty velcro strap.  With precious seconds ticking away we fumbled for nearly a minute in the TA before finally approximating it close enough to send me away.  Although they immediately began to worry about it staying on, I never thought about it again.  Having raced this course for the past five years I was pretty familiar with the layout...or so I thought.  When I did the Pinnacle mountain bike race earlier this year (and DNF'd) we actually rode to the high point of the trail network (or "Pinnacle") but in years past the double duathalon followed a slightly different course avoiding 100+ feet of climbing.  Because I never looked at the course map I didn't see that the Pinnacle Challenge mountain bike course would be the same as the 2nd lap on the Pinnacle mountain bike race.  By the time I realized we were racing to the top of the Pinnacle I was so focused on keeping the rubber down on the slippery, muddy course that I forgot about my pathetic DNF on Father's Day weekend.  I was passed by at least 7 stronger riders during my 5.4 mile loop but I stayed on the bike, dabbed a handful or times, and only ran-a-bike for 5-10 seconds when I yielded to a faster rider on some singeltrack and put my front wheel in a bad spot.  The new "playground" pumptrack was once again worth the 3+ miles of ascending as I whipped around the 6 foot high berms on the descent to the finish.  I entered the TA in 41:39 and handed off to our road cyclist Jay Myers.  I knew I had given up a number of spots but I was hopeful I hadn't given up the podium spot Dan had handed me.  By the time Rich tore out the TA for the last leg of the race we were in 4th place in the 4-person male category trailing the 3rd place team by less than a minute.  Running with his sights fixed on third place he caught and passed the guy with less than a mile to go and held him off for the podium finish.  As a team we finished in 2:21:14 just 6 seconds from a overall team podium finish.  I was clearly the weakest link for my group of four but me + mtbing = not always stellar.  I feel like I'm giving a solid effort but I'm a very weak downhiller and not much of a risk taker.  Perhaps I can't get the "survive to race another day" mantra out of my brain?  Nonetheless I have a tremendous amount of fun particularly when I'm racing for a team. 

3rd Place 4-person Male
R-L Me, Rich Lavers, Dan Dion, Jay Myers
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]

NEXT UP: Grog & Dog Jog

Post-script:  A big "THANK YOU" goes out directly to RD PJ Lovely and his teammates and volunteers who put together a fabulous event.  It's by far the biggest aR team turnout of any event we race all year.  And what a turnout it was; 32 athletes and podium finishes for aR-BLACK (1st 4M), aR-PINK (1st 4F), aR-DUO (1st 2M), aR-CLASSIC (3rd 4CE), Jay Massa (2nd AG-solo), and Steve Wolfe (3rd AG-solo). 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Reach The Beach

"A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways they’re capable of understanding."  -Pre

NEW HAMPSHIRE -- For the sixth year in a row I've had the good fortune to race with an unbelievable group of friends and athletes in the most epic of relay races in the US.  The Reach The Beach Relay has for Karen and I become "our" event.  The one race we do together each year.  And at 200 miles and 24 hours it's easily longer than all the other races I do the entire year combined!  I coordinate aR's entry and each year the team changes slightly.  This year we added three new members, Bob Swarthout, Piper Davis, and Judson Cake.  Bob and Piper had been alternates on the 2010 team and were the first to be called when Jay Curry and Mike Chagnon gave up their spots this year.  Judson, on the other hand, found out he was racing the day before the event when Doc Sprague hurt his back and had to withdraw from the event at the 11th hour.  Luckily for us Judson is in decent shape.  Joining Bob, Piper, and Judson were my wife Karen, Ann Rasmussen, Nick Lavoie, Matt Rousseau, Kevin Burt, Austin Stonebraker, Rich Lavers, and Scott Dodier.  With Doc originally slotted in my van (#2) I decided that placing Judson in our van would cause the least last minute disruption.  With Judson being a better runner than myself it then made sense to assign him the top spot in our van thereby moving me from the #8 runner position.  In a little bit of musical chairs I took Ann's spot (#9) and she took Doc's original position (#7).  Piper, Karen, and Nick would run 10, 11, & 12.  The entire crew met at the Northwood Mobil Friday morning and headed up to Cannon Mountain for the start.  Our 2:40 pm start time would be the latest we had ever had at the event.  We watched Austin get our race started and then headed down to Attitash to the first Vehicle Transition Area (VTA) to await our pre-determined 7:30 pm start time.  Hurricane Irene had caused incredible devastation along the eastern coast of the US with parts of VT and NH especially hard hit.  Turns out Irene had washed out a bridge on RT302 that the RTB passed through resulting in a last minute course and event plan.  Arriving at Attitash at 4:00 pm resulted in a significant amount of just waiting around.  But I did get the chance to meet our newest teammate Chris Lalmond who happen to be standing next to our van when we pulled in.  We chatted briefly before his team was off to continue their race.  I also ran into snowshoe racing competitor Christopher Smith of Dungeon Rock Racing.  When Ann finally got away it was dark and starting to get cold.  Not accounting for our later starting time I had only packed one change of warmer running clothes (ie. long-sleeve top).  My first leg would be a 6.36 miler starting from HAM Arena and finishing at Madison Elementary School.  As Judson approached it was around 9:00 pm with temps in the 40's.  Fortunately the wind had died down leaving behind a bright moonlight night with a sky full of stars.  It's always a challenge to figure out how to pace at this event.  Racing three times in less than 24 hour while driving 180+ miles without sleeping can wreak havoc with the body.  Perhaps inspired by Judson's presence I took the baton from him and pushed hard out of the TA into the darkness.  I felt a little tight for the first 10 minutes but then settled into a groove.  I had told Piper to expect me in around 40 minutes.  I handed him the baton at 40:43 good enough for 6:25's for my opening leg.  Our van finished running our first legs around midnight and then headed to Laconia for our overnight break.  We got about two hours of rest before Van #1 had us in cue and we were grabbing some Starbucks VIA and banana chocolate chip muffins my mother-in-law Judy had made.  My second leg (#21) would be an 8.5 miler with 554 feet of elevation gain.  Nearly all of it in a 1.5 mile stretch just before the half way point.  I again gave Piper a rough one hour estimate of my arrival time so he could be prepared.  The first 2.5 miles of my leg were downhill but the uneven pavement of RT 107 made the footing a little unpredictable and I was a cautious not to turn an ankle.  Studying the course profile beforehand I knew than just before the 3 mile mark the course began a three mile ascent to the high point of the leg before descending 2.5 miles to the TA.  Running at night gives me a misleading sense of pace...I always feel like I'm running faster than I really am.  After slogging through the climb and beginning to descend a fairly steep slope I felt a sharp pain in my hip with every footstrike.  Fortunately I was able to run through it and I handed Piper the baton at 1:01:56.  I was a little disappointed and slightly surprised with the 7:17's effort.  I knew it was a conservatively paced leg but I felt like I might have held back a little too much.  But the great thing about RTB is that there's still a ton of racing to do and absolutely no time to second guess.  We met Van #1 at Bear Brook State Park VTA around 8:00 am.  They we all in great spirits and were holding up very, very well.  As soon as Nick handed off to Austin we loaded in the van and drove to the Longbranch Restaurant in Raymond for our traditional Saturday morning breakfast.  Once again our nemesis the Grumpy Old Men, led by aR teammate Jeremiah Fitzgibbon, beat us to breakfast and were just being served as we sat down next to them.  After we ate we drove to Sanborn Regional High School VTA to rest before our final set of legs.  When the text came in from Van #1 that they were approaching it was becoming evident that we had a legitamate chance of finishing in under 24 hours.  And as we had progressed later in the event it was also clear that we had raced up toward the front as the VTA's were much less crowded.  My final leg was a 4.15 miler from the TUCK Learning Center in Exeter, NH to Timberland Headquarters.  Warming up my legs felt suprisingly good.  I broke out the racing flats and dug deep into my bag of expectations.  I wanted to go sub 26:00 on the mostly flat run through downtown Exeter and finish my portion of the event as an assest rather than a liability to my team.  The first mile I probably ran sub 6 as the excitement of the downtown crowd and the steady stream of runners up ahead pulled me forward.  But my legs felt heavy in the middle two miles and I couldn't seem to find a pace that felt fast enough not to be too slow.  With a mile to go I recognized where I was and began push a little harder.  I passed off to Piper at 25:19 (6:06's).  For the last leg of the race and without having raced on ashphault all year I was very happy with the result.  The last three legs of the race flew by as they always do and before we knew it we were standing on Hampton Beach with Van #1 waiting for Nick to arrive so we could finish together.  Crossing the finish line around 2:50 pm we celebrated another fantastic aR team performance.  The official results had us in 19th place overall in a time of 22:17:48.  We averaged 6:58's for 200 miles and finished 8th in the MENS-OPEN division out of 119 teams.  I would have never imagined in 2006 when we finished 164th in 30:17:26 that five years later we'd crack the Top 20 without intentionally fielding a Top 20 team.  This race has always been about two things for us; 1.) having fun and 2.) reaching the beach.  I am incredibly proud of my teammates who once again demonstrated what RACING acidotic is all about.

Video clip of Ann leaving Attitash VTA

Post-script:  Turns out we weren't the only aR athletes who "reached the beach" this weekend.  Thanks to Chris Lalmond, Scott Graham, Dan Dion, Jason Massa, Matt Benelli, Jeremiah Fitzgibbon, and Andy Corrow who all RACEd acidotic for their respective teams. 

NEXT UP:  Pinnacle Challenge VII

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Run to Fall

"Play not only keeps us young but also maintains our perspective about the relative seriousness of things. Running is play, for even if we try hard to do well at it, it is a relief from everyday cares."  - Jim Fixx

NORTHWOOD, NH -- With less than a week to go before Reach The Beach I once again headed 25 minutes north to Coe-Brown Northwood Academy for the 11th Annual Run to Fall 5k XC race.  This is easily one of my favorite races of the year.  It's not just that it's close to home, but it has a really low-key friendly trail running vibe although it's probably technically a XC race.  Hosted by two CBNA XC seniors as their "senior project" it's always very well run.  This year would feature a new course on a recently finished section of double-wide track in a classic figure 8 loop.  Purposely arriving early I was eager to pre-run the course and see the new section of double-track.  I ran into teammate, CBNA XC coach, and course designer Tim Cox before the race and got the course description.  With about 75 minutes before race start I set out to run the course as both a warm-up and preview.  The course begins clockwise on the "old loop" before entering the new section of trail.  This new section rolls and turns for about a kilometer.  The footing is excellent and features smooth crushed gravel.  The figure 8 set-up would have us racing this new section in both directions.  Finishing the warm-up preview I changed into race attire and attempted to stay loose while catching up with numerous familiar faces.  The entire 180+ field lined up on the starting line in the baseball outfield and after a momentary starting gun misfire we were off.  Within minutes I was directly behind the lead pack.  I was warned that the first mile was fast and my 5:48 was proof enough.  A quick checkpoint assessment revealed that although I was pushing pretty hard I didn't feel like I was in too deep.  Around the same time I began to close hard on CBNA alum Derrick Hamel.  A legit 28 year old "skinny legger" the thought crossed my mind that 1.) he must be having an off day or 2.) I'M WAY OVER MY HEAD to even be within 2 minutes of him.  Last year at this race he beat me by almost 90 seconds finishing a very strong 9th overall.  I latched on to his left shoulder and was immediately struck by how effortless he seemed to move.  I, on the other hand, felt a little like an ox at a state fair pulling competition.  But amazingly I held on and actually moved around him on a slight incline.  Before I could get comfortable he blasted by me on the next slight descent and I figured that it would be the last time I saw him.  It wasn't.  Moments later I was again on his hip and matching him stride for stride.  As we entered the final new section of trail with less than a mile to go I gaped him on a climb and remarkably was able to hold on to the very slim :05 margin finishing in 19:12 (6:11's) good enough for 9th overall and 3rd 40+ master.  I am incredibly excited with the performance considering this is the only 5k event I race and my training has been pretty mixed (mtb & trail running) for the last few months.  Now time to recover and begin to plan for Reach The Beach at the end of the week.  Looking to carry some of this mojo with me to Cannon.

NEXT UP: Reach The Beach

Monday, August 22, 2011

Great Adventures Challenge

Finishing the bike leg.
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]
"Children, gather round! No retreat, no surrender; that is Spartan law. And by Spartan law we will stand and fight... and die. A new age has begun. An age of freedom, and all will know, that 300 Spartans gave their last breath to defend it!" -King Leonidas from the movie 300

Bridgton, MAINE -- No retreat, no surrender!  That is aR law.  Heading into the Great Adventures Challenge (Bridgton, ME) I had one single purpose...race as hard as I could and "blow up or show up".  My legs bounced back nicely from my little bicycle ride last weekend aided in part by the planned restoration week.  Doc Sprague had done this race the past few years and was the inspiration behind Timmy Lindsey and I (along with our team photographer Gianina) taking the 2 hour drive north to Shawnee Peak.  The paddle was a mass start of humanity with oars clashing in the craziest game of bumper boats you've ever played.  I was struck by how challenging it was to keep the boat straight with the water so churned up.  As quickly as I could I found some quiet water and spotted the first buoy.  I did my best to pick a straight line wasting as little time as possible with needless zig zagging.  But even by the time I reach the first buoy the leader was already nearly a 100 meters ahead of me and the rest of the field.  I stayed around the Top 10 for the entire paddle neither gaining nor losing any ground to those around me picking a "straight as an arrow" line.  Doc was about 10 meters ahead the entire way and transitioned to the bike almost a minute ahead.  He had paddled with his helmet, bike shoes, and gloves already on while I chose to make a quick "costume change" (thanks Timmy) at the paddle/bike TA.  Doc had a killer weekend at the 24HoGG finishing 4th overall in our King of the Glen competition last week, so I already had my work cut out for me if I had any hope of beating him.  As soon as I got on my bike I stood up on the pedals in the big ring and mashed as hard as I could trying to close the gap.  Immediately I picked up two places passing some faster kayakers but slower mountain bikers.  Within a mile I caught a glimpse of Doc and my energy levels soared.  Not long after seeing him I was on his back tire and made him an offer to work together.  He graciously accepted and I attached myself to his back wheel letting him do most of the work.  Shortly there after I felt him slow on a flat section of road that we should have been hammering.  I decided to jump in front and return the favor encouraging him as I got into position.  He said his legs were gassed from last weekend and for me to go ahead and race for a podium.  I insisted we would race together and help each other to a Top 10 finish.  For the next few miles of dirt road and snowmobile trail we stayed together with me pulling him along.  Just past the half way mark he had fallen back as a signal for me to go.  Standing up again on the pedals I cranked as hard as I could toward the rider a hundred meters ahead.  After a little work I finally caught him and worked my way past.  My legs felt strong and I rode most of the next 5 miles in the big ring with the lone exception of the last hike-a-bike steep ascent back up to the ski area.  I had come out of the water 11th overall (solo's & teams) and finished the bike in 6th.  I transitioned to my trail shoes, grabbed my bottle of HEED, and headed out for the final two miles of the race.  With full sun and temps in the 80's it was a challenge to remain hydrated although I had made it to this point in the race without even so much as a muscle quiver.  I ran the first 20 meters up Pleasant Mountain and then realized it was a futile exercise.  We would gain ~1300 feet in a mile to the summit house.  With 15.5 aggressive mountain bike miles on my legs and very, very little tri-specific training (ie. bricks) in the bag I immediately switched to survival mode.  The two guys ahead of me were walking and as I peeked back EVERYONE else behind me was walking as well.  The way I reasoned as long as I walked as fast as everyone else my place was secure.  Counting the top competitors ahead of me I estimated myself to be somewhere inside the Top 10.  Although I don't know if they were solo's or teams, I lost two places on the mountain.  The downhill sprint was punishing on the legs but it felt great to move so purposely toward the finish.  I crossed the finish line in 2:17:23 good enough for 5th/49 solo (8th/83 overall/).  Obviously I'm really, really pleased with the result.  Despite a couple of sections on the mountain that I wished I was anywhere else but there...I raced hard from cannon to finish and held up remarkably well.  For my first real triathlon in nearly 20 years I'd say it was a success. 

Google Earth map and elevation profile.  As you can
see, Pleasant Mountain isn't so much.
Post-script:  I must say "kudos" and "thank you" to race director Rob Knowles for putting on such a unique race.  Rob was very gracious and generous with all three aR athletes in attendance.  This really is a great event.  Super challenging and fun course and a killer free lunch with burgers, dogs, and ice cream.  Great volunteers and a heaping dose of Maine "charm" make this a race I'd definitely go back to do...I just hope he moves it back another week from the 24HoGG.  I'm going to "run" Pleasant Mountain next time!  [At least to the first aid station]

NEXT UP: Reach The Beach Relay (NH)

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Sunrise on Sunday morning starting
my second of two laps.
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]
"We do not remember days, we remember moments."     - Cesare Pavese
Gorham, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Like Reach The Beach and Pineland Farms 25k, the 24 Hours of Great Glen mountain bike race I've now done for the past five years.  It's an event that everything else gets scheduled around.  I even plan my work vacation in conjunction with the race.  And the funny thing is...I'm only a recreational mountain biker.  Yeah I've taken strides over the last 15+ years to improve my 'technical ability', but really I'm an average trail/mountain runner who happens to love this little 24 hour mountain bike race.  Those of you who follow this blog and these race reports know that there are times (very recent times) that mountain bike racing hasn't gone very well for me.  [Reference " The Pinnacle"]  My love-hate relationship with the sport is well documented.  But the 24HoGG is different for a few very important reasons and those start and end with my aR teammates.  I race the event as part of a 4-person team and have shared some pretty incredible experiences with some pretty incredible people over the years.  This year was no exception.  aR brought the most teams to the event in our history (3) and it would be the first time that all four winners of the King of the Glen award would race together including Steve McCusker ('07), Steve Sprague ('08), Ted Hall ('09), and Jay J. Dunn ('10) It's also a special weekend because I get to share it with my family.  My son Brayden and brother Jay have raced the past two years and my wife and daughters typically come up on Saturday and follow the action through the cannon on Sunday.  Last year I had a pretty miserable time and it was completely my own fault.  I got a little too caught up in the intra-aR competition and I lost touch of why I love the weekend so much.  This year I was determined to re-focus my attention, race as hard as I could, stay healthy, and enjoy what really is one of my favorite events of the year.  When I put the first two teams together back in the spring I attempted to make them as even as possible.  aR-BLACK was led by Ted Hall and included Austin Stonebraker, Ri Fahnestock, and myself.  aR-GOLD was captained by my brother Jay and included Steve Wolfe, Steve Sprague, and Brayden.  Shortly after these two teams were finalized there was enough interest to form a third team, aR-GREY and it included Timmy Lindsey, Jay Curry, Steve McCusker, and invited guest David Cretsinger.  With Timmy and Curry as first timers and David an unknown it was really unclear as to how this third team would fare in the competition between aR teams.  The week leading up to the race was anything but typical for me.  Fortunately I had taken the week off from work because I spent most of it nursing a strained muscle in my back suffered at work the previous week.  I took 4 consecutive zeros and spent most of the time lying on the floor as it was the only position that provided any measure of relief from the crippling back spasms.  I had actually lined up my teammate Amanda House as a replacement if I couldn't ride.  Hell, I could barely walk less than 4 days prior to the race.  Needless to say it wasn't the ideal way to taper but by Thursday I was feeling better and felt confident that I would be able to ride (racing may be another story).  With three very strong and very experienced teammates to back me up I took the 4th place in our rotation.  My first lap was serviceable as a I rode a 51:04.  With the improvements to the course I was able to ride the entire 8.5 mile loop including the infamous "bone yard" plunge at mile 8.  Other than some expected stiffness my back held up and I rested up for more riding.  A little before 6:00 pm I went out for lap #2 and decided to tone things down.  Like so many of my longer events I have experienced some epic physical collapses at this race which significantly reduces the "fun factor".  I once again rode all 1100+ feet of climbing and logged a 56:28 for Lap #2.  At this point we were able to determine some predictions about subsequent laps based on lap times.  It looked like my next single lap would be under darkness with lights around 9:30ish pm.  Ri came storming into the transition area at 9:24 pm and I was off for my first night lap.  Knowing that it was my last single before a solid five hour overnight break (while my teammates did their 'doubles") I continued my conservative approach trying to ride smooth and clean.  Riding all the ascents on the "Blueberry Hill" side of the operation I settled for walking the new Whiplash and Angel Station singletrack climb.  It was a little disappointing because in past years I've ridden the Angel Station singletrack on every lap.  With discretion being the better part of valor I walked but maintained a brisk up tempo 'hike-a-bike' cadence.  I finished Lap #3 in 1:03:28.  After a quick shower and a snack I set my alarm(s) for 2:30 am and laid down in Wolfe camper.  Steve has brought the camper for the past few years and has graciously offered a bed for me to sleep in during the overnight.  I rested as much as slept and awoke just before the alarm chimed.  My 'double' was next and thanks to my rider position and the timing, I would only have to do one of the laps with lights because in all likelihood my second lap would be started at dawn and finished around sunrise.  Overnight doubles have psyched me out in the past so knowing that I'd be riding in the daylight was a huge mental relief and it allowed me to relax and enjoy the 17 miles of riding.  I walked quite a bit of the first lap (Lap #4) and finished in 1:12:53.  I quickly ditched my lights and hydration pack, ate a quick snack, and then began my second lap.  Shortly after starting and right around the Honeymoon Cottage I was caught by my son.  He had done his overnight double hours earlier and was setting out on his 5th lap.  He offered to ride with me to pull me along and thanks to his company (and draft) I was able to negative split and ran a 1:12:36 for my Lap #5.  And by riding together we kept our two teams (BLACK & GOLD) in a virtual deadlock for the aR team title.  To this point in the event my conservative strategy had paid off.  I hadn't had any health issues and was having a great deal of fun hanging out with teammates between laps.  All that conservative fun and games changed less than three hours later and my son and I waited in the transition area for our riders (Ri & Doc) to arrive.  Since we had handed the batons to Ted & Jay hours earlier the two teams had battled neck and neck and were still less than a minute apart after having raced for 20+ hours.  Knowing I had raced a smart race to that point and knowing it was not only my last lap but it was also a chance to help keep aR-BLACK on top for our last two riders I was going to give it everything I had.  Ri came into the tent less than :10 seconds before Doc.  It was my 18 year old son and myself for bragging rights on the last, typically hardest, lap.  Right out of the transition area I stood up in the big ring and hammered with what little I had left.  As I made it to the Blueberry Hill switchbacks I could see him right behind me riding hard and closing fast.  He had crushed me at The Pinnacle in June so this was my chance at revenge.  Riding through the tunnel I felt as if I had kept the slim :10 margin I had started with but with 6 miles to go I knew anything could happen.  Brayden is particularly fearless on the descents and with his carbon fiber bike and 18 year old fearlessness I knew I had a race on my hands.  Giving it everything I had in as big of a gear as I could push I started to lose glimpses of him behind and I felt like I had gaped him.  I rode most everything I could and ran with my bike on everything else.  At one moment during the Angel Station singetrack climb as I pushed my bike hard I felt my quads begin to quiver.  I quickly pulled out the Endurolyte FIZZ I had put in my back pocket just in case.  Popping it in the water I had left in my bottle I drank a 1/4 of what was left and almost immediately felt better although this bobble allowed Brayden to close and although I couldn't see him I knew he was right behind.  When I made it back to the meadow I once again stood up on the big ring and peddled as hard as I could through the chicane finish, dismounted the bike, and handed the baton (and a :30 lead) to Ted.  Thanks to Brayden's 'push' I rode a solid 56:32.   After he finished, Brayden told me that he had to stop to fix a chain suck just before the last switch back climb.  He said he had started to see me again before the mechanical but the :30 he took to fix his bike was the difference in our lap times.  With very strong efforts from Ted and Austin were able to hold off the very tough aR-GOLD team by just a scant few minutes with each team completing 26 laps for the race.  As I reflect on the race, I had a much better time this year than last and it was probably due to 1.) my new Felt Q720 ran like a charm with zero mechanicals, 2.) my racing approach consisting of riding to my fitness level, and 3.) my general disregard for competing specifically against any other rider racing the course and myself instead.  If you're a mountain biker you must do the 24HoGG as a 4-person team.  It's an incredible experience and a fantastic weekend.


NEXT UP: Great Adventures Challenge (Bridgton, ME)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tough Mountain Challenge

aR @ Tough Mountain Challenge
[L-R] Jason Massa, Dan Dion, Chris J. Dunn,
Rich Lavers, Steve Sprague
"If you can't take the heat, don't tickle the dragon." - Anonymous

Sunday River, MAINE -- Obstacle course racing is a fairly new genre.  I actually find the stunning popularity (reference 20,000 people at an event in Amesbury, MA this month) quite an interesting phenomena.  And I've had long discussions during equally long car rides, without consensus, about the explanation behind it.  Regardless, aR has capitalized on the novelty of the sport to carve out some measure of success winning back-to-back titles at the Hoppin' Mad Mud Run.  I'll admit that 80% of the field at most of these events are groups of co-workers, sorority sisters, or weekend warriors but the task is always the same...be the fastest team to cross the finish line.  And don't get me wrong, I think the whole idea of folks getting out and crawling around in the mud, hurdling walls, and running through the occasional pit of fire is a great way to promote physical activity and teamwork.  It may actually be the spark (pun intended) to light a fire under the asses of some people in need of a little motivation to 're-start' or 'ramp up' their exercise programs.  And without the aforementioned 80%, there would be very few (or no) opportunities for the other 20%.  So with that, when the Tough Mountain Challenge came to our attention a few months back (just off our win at Hoppin') we didn't hesitate.  Three of the five from the podium crew at Hoppin' (Jason Massa, Rich Lavers, and myself) would travel to Newry, ME along with newcomer Dan Dion subbing for the injured Steve Wolfe.  But we weren't the only aR members racing.  Steve Sprague raced as a solo with Nick Langelotti and Craig Poirier both leading duo's.  The group that we had assembled to challenge for the 4-person team podium was presumably as strong any team there but because this looked like a bigger event there was no way of telling what the competition was.  With a 1:20 start time we'd have a long time to sit around and anticipate the task at hand.  When it was finally time to start we had full sun with temps easily in the 90's.  As I said to the group before the start if some other team jumped us early on let them go but keep them in sight.  The intel we had received from those who had already finished the course suggested there was plenty of climbing to do which played right to our strength.  As if scripted, when the go command was given for the 1:20 start a young team of guys hammered off the line and began the first ascent.  Running up a muddy ski slope through the water spraying snow cannons was tricky but felt great after baking in the sun at the starting line.  By the time we finished the first 300 meter climb the group of 4 that blasted the start had become three.  We easily cruised by them and began to open a gap on the rest of the field.  The roughly 3-5 km course was a steady diet of up and down the mountain with obstacles like 8 ft climbing walls, spider webs, tunnels, and steep 25 meter rope-aided ravine ascents.  Amazingly there were no back-ups and we took advantage of racing out front to cleanly negotiate the obstacles...for the most part.  With Jason leading we ran through the first tunnel and after popping out continued to traverse the gnarly rocky ravine to the second, must smaller and sketchier, tunnel.  It was only when we emerged from the second tunnel that we realized we had gone off course.  After a brief discussion we scrambled back up out of the ravine in the direction we had travelled and quickly got back on course.  Fortunately we had a large enough lead on our nearest competitors that our position in the heat was secure, but we all knew that there was still at least one more wave of 4-person teams to follow.  We were racing the clock for sure.  Excelling in the tight twisty singletrack sections we began to catch the slower teams from the 1:00 pm starting wave.  We flew down the final 'slip'n slide' obstacle and ran through the finish together in 34:50.97.  And in the end it turned out that even our 2:00 "extra tunnel" gaff left us enough cushion to take home the win in the 4-person category as our closest competitors finished 5:00 back.  We weren't the only aR podium team however, Nick and his buddy took 2nd place in the duo category.  Overall the event was extremely well designed and run.  Kudos to the folks at Sunday River for putting on a great race!  We'll be back in 2012 to defend our title for sure.  And who says belt buckles are for sub 24 hour 100 miler finishers?!

1st Place Buckle!

NEXT UP: Kingman Farm Trail Race presented by GoLite Footwear

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bradbury Scuffle

The aR crew: (R-L)
Me, Judson, Doc, Dan, Gary, Austin, Craig, & Mike
In some mysterious way woods have never seemed to me to be static things. In physical terms, I move through them; yet in metaphysical ones, they seem to move through me.  - John Fowles

Pownal,  MAINE -- This morning I took the trip up I295 to Bradbury State Park (ME) for the Bradbury Scuffle hosted by our good friends from Trail Monster Running and expertly co-directed by Ian Parlin and Ryan Triffitt.  I've raced at Bradbury on trails and snow but never on the "other side of the road" so this would be a new experience for me.  When I arrived I parked next to aR's Judson Cake and we chatted while the rest of the crowd began to arrive.  I warmed up on the last few hundred meters of the course just to get a sense of my surroundings although as it turns out I didn't 'pre-run' back far enough.  Starting on double-wide I tried to seed myself approximately 3 rows back somewhere in the Top 20.  Being a 6 miler the front group went out predictably hard and I did my best to avoid the scattering of rocks and roots early on while in a constant elbow to elbow mosh pit for position.  Within a few hundred meters I found myself behind RD Ian Parlin who was running at a very good pace.  An extremely strong and talented trail runner, with far more miles on his legs in 2011 than I, it became my intention to stick with him as long as possible letting him show me the way through the 2+ mile section of twisting singletrack.  Ian and I picked off a handful of runners in this section as we rollercoasted through this sweet flowy section of trail.  At one point I actually felt a little dizzy staring at his feet watching for the rocks and roots that would appear in an instant from under his step.  Approaching the first aid station around 3.5 miles he pulled over for a drink allowing me to run ahead.  I fully expected him to surge back and retake the position so I focused on the next group of competitors up ahead trying to get hooks on them.  As we spilled back onto double wide for the last 1.5+ miles I spotted a group led by Trail Monster Running's Jeremy Bonnett.  He had passed Ian and I on along the singletrack section and accelerated away.  I was surprised to see that I had made up some ground on his group.  On a slight incline I accelerated by and took the lead on this hard charging group.  Jeremy uttered some words of encouragement and I could feel someone come along.  Turns out it was him.  Using the Steve Wolfe approach of running 'ascared' and not looking back I picked up the cadence and tried to relax my upper body on the smooth slightly rolling section of double-track but I could feel someone within striking distance.  With less than a mile to go on a very small climb Jeremy passed me again (this time for good) and put the hammer down.  I picked up one more place in the last few hundred meters and finished 12th overall (3rd masters) in an unofficial 44:09.  After last weekend's embarrassment at Loon Mountain Race I felt like I ran very hard and raced for the first time in a while.  It's possible I may have made my move past Jeremy's group a tad too early as I could not hold him off in the end, but all in all I'm very pleased with the effort.  After three consecutive weekend's of racing I'm looking forward (but not as much as Karen) to a weekend off.  From a team perspective we had a great turnout with a number of awesome performances.  It was great to see Austin, Doc, Craig, Mike R., and Dan D..  And we had two podium finishes...Judson who was first overall setting a new course record and Gary who won another age-group podium.

UP NEXT: Tough Mountain Challenge, Sunday River, ME

PS.  Thanks to Ian, Ryan, and the entire Trail Monster Running team for another outstanding event.  These folks are the standard by which we measure our event hosting.  Once again a job very, very well done!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Loon Mountain Race

The beauty and misery of
Upper Walking Boss.
[Scott Mason Photography]
"No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied-it speaks in silence to the very core of your being." -Ansel Adams

Lincoln, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- It's amazing the difference a week makes.  Buoyed and a little cocky after last weekend's "conquering" of the Cranmore Hill Climb (ran the whole damn thing) I came plummeting down to earth at yesterday's Loon Mountain Race directed by Paul Kirsch.  If it's an epic physical collapse you're looking for look no further than my racing resume.  My Top 10 is as ugly as they come.  And while the 15+ minutes I spent on Upper Walking Boss may not make the all-time list...it was nonetheless a gruesome slow motion one-sided beatdown.  Like 50% of the races I do, Loon Mountain wasn't on my schedule at the beginning of the year.  But the events of the week prior (see below) made it mandatory that I be there...and if I was going to be there I was going to race.  I pride myself as a very capable climber relishing the challenge that any hill or mountain has to offer.  Because this would be my first Loon Mountain Race, I gathered as much intel as I could from trail/snowshoe/mountain running friends like Scott Mason, Paul Bazanchuk, and Rich Miller.  And I'm so glad I did because they told me that the infamous Upper Walking Boss section of the course (700' of vertical in 1 km) was not the end of the race and that one more steep descent and ascent to the finish remained.  Along with 218 other (fool)hardy mountain runners we took off along the Pemigewassett River for a short section of downhill racing on double wide gravel road before a "S" turn got us to the mountain.  I ran comfortably hard during the first 10 minutes of the race trying to find a low sustainable climbing gear.  Was fortunate to have the opportunity to run with Jeff Dengate early on but couldn't hold him as he slowly moved away.  Shortly after Jeff moved out of sight Paul Bazanchuk approached on my right shoulder and gave me the thumbs up.  He and I ran "together" for the next 15 minutes.  At some point just below the final climb before Upper Walking Boss I gave up the silly idea of attempting to run opting instead to powerhike behind Paul as he continued his amazing ascent of the mountain with a steady and resolute short-strided running cadence.  As I picked my way down toward UWB I briefly took in the amazing views of the Lincoln area while attempting to hold off a hard charging crowd back behind.  As a first timer to UWB you cannot imagine how steep and how long it looks as you make the sharp right hand turn onto the climb.  The competitors at the top look like ants.  As you begin UWB it's a full on assault with the mountain simultaneously stealing the juice from your quads and ripping out what little courage you had left in your soul.  Not five minutes into my first UWB experience I felt humbled, over matched, and under prepared.  I was passed by at least 10 racers without as much as an iota of fight.  I paused briely to stand upright every 20 steps or so just to stretch my back and hamstrings.  I was so deep in the hurt locker that I just continued to stare at the mountain under my feet as each agonizing minute passed.  I kept telling myself that every climb has a top and eventually so did UWB but not before it ravaged my legs and whatever Top 40 finish I had going.  As I began the final descent I felt my right calf tighten in an ominous warning of a monumental physical breakdown.  Deciding it was better to finish than to run the last downhill I choose to walk the first 50 meters before testing the calf out a second time.  Miraculously it held and I was able to negotiate (albeit slowly) the final 100 meters of ski slope.  With a cheering crowd I was able to run the last climb up to the finish.  My 1:06:48 was good enough for 51st place overall (20th master).  aR as a team had a pretty good showing with Dan Dion (42nd), Richie Blake (87th), and 'Drea McCusker (104th) making the trip.  After the race Paul announced that he was stepping down from RDing the event he started in 2006 and that aR would take over the direction of the race.  It's really an incredible honor and challenge for us but one that we are excited to tackle.  Without question Loon Mountain is one of the most spectacularly beautiful and demanding races I've ever done.  And for my money, Upper Walking Boss is the most brutal 10-20 minutes of any race anywhere.

UP NEXT: Bradbury Scuffle

Photo courtesy of Scott Mason Photography

Monday, June 27, 2011

US Mountain Running Championships

The "down" side of mountain racing
at Cranmore.
[Photo courtesy of Joe Viger]
"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." - Sir Edmund Hillary

North Conway, NH -- Sunday's Cranmore Hill Climb served as the 2011 US Mountain Running Championships and provided me yet another incredible opportunity to race against the best.  But it wasn't the guys from CO, WA, & CA that I was at all interested in...it was the men whom I've done battle with on the snow, trails, and mountains of New England that I was most interested in testing my mettle.  At 42 years of age I'm very fortunate to be in good enough health (and decent enough physical condition) to be able to compete.  While not a "mountain goat" I am very comfortable racing up mountains and actually consider hill climbing a strength.  So when it appeared as though the Cranmore Hill Climb would finally fit in my schedule I committed.  Teammate Ken Young and I drove up to North Conway and met fellow teammates Dan Dion, Dan Hayden, Andrea McCusker, Ahna McCusker, and Judson Cake.  The layout of the course was pretty straightforward, three 3.87 km laps up and down the mountain with 206 meters of gain on each lap.  Not having scouted the course I decided to attempt to gain as much pre-race knowledge as I could and polled nearly everyone I knew including master's mountain running legend and fellow competitor Paul Bazanchuk.  Paul and I have raced against each other on snow, trails, and mountains.  I have a great deal of respect for him and his incredible fitness and tenacity.  Although I frequently see him before a race I rarely see him during them.  He's typically way out in front.  When I saw him finishing a warm-up lap before the start I took the opportunity to ask him about the course.  Gracious and forthcoming as always he offered up a little inside knowledge.  And when I asked if all of the climbs were "runnable" he said that they definitely were.  So, I quickly formulated a race plan no less than 10 minutes before the start.  I'd go out conservatively on the first lap to see first hand how challenging the climbs were and then from there would attempt to run the whole damn thing picking off the guys who may have gone out a little too hard in the beginning.  Tim VanOrden told me at Mt. Washington last year that it's always better to be passing people rather than getting passed at these mountain races.  As the "Go" command was given by mountain running legend Dave Dunham I hung off the back half of the field as the top mountain runners in the US blasted off of the line and hurdled themselves at the mountain.  After roughly 100 meters the course began to climb.  Almost immediately I encountered slower traffic (some walking) and hugging the far right side of the access road made my way around 15-20 people.  The course was a great mix of ski slopes, access roads, and singletrack with traverses and even a couple of brief descents in the 2+km climb to the high point.  After having run the entire first climb I attempted to relax on the descent and hold whatever places I had gained.  Still needing a great deal of work in that area I gave back a handful of places to runners who seemed to be flying 2 feet off of the ground as they glided downhill.  Passing the START/FINISH I grabbed a splash of water and headed up for lap #2.  I leap frogged 3-4 guys passing them on the ups (which I was still running and they walking) and then giving back the places on the descents (which they were running faster...still).  I passed the START/FINISH again in approximately 40:00 having run two very consistent laps.  Just past the 1km mark of the last climb I caught a glimpse in the distance of Paul Bazanchuk.  Because I am very, very rarely within 5-10 minutes of him I was immediately buoyed seeing him within striking distance.  Picking up the climbing pace (still running) I was able to close the gap and get to his shoulder.  Without speaking he acknowledged my presence and I felt incredibly uplifted.  As we both slogged through those final few climbs (running by the way) I briefly got in front and implored him to follow feeling that I owed him the favor of pulling him up the last pitch after he let me ride along for the last few hundred meters.  Beginning the last downhill I knew that as good of a climber as I am...Paul is three times as good of a descender.  And it wasn't longer before he blasted by me chasing down the 2-3 guys just ahead of us.  Not really sure how to go any faster than I was going and stay on my feet I made my way back down to the bottom of the mountain and crossed the finish line in 1:00:40 and 52 place overall (19th master).  As proud as I am of a Top 20 finish at a US Championship I much more proud of the fact that I ran the whole damn thing.  I realize that there were scores of men who beat me and walked, but I was also in a private 1-on-1 battle with the mountain.  And this time, I won.

Photo credit: Joe Viger Photography

NEXT UP: Bradbury Scuffle