|RACING acidotic alongside the|
guru of mountain racing Paul Kirsch
[Photo courtesy Scott Mason]
PART I (Saturday): New England Trail Running Championships at Northfield Mountain
Northfield, MA -- Snowshoe racing doubles are one thing...mountain/mud run doubles are something all together different. The Hoppin' Mad Mud Run had been on the 2011 schedule shortly after returning from the 2010 event. Funny how motivating a cash prize and free beer are you know. But I had no, zero, zilch, nada intentions of doubling up this weekend less than 7 days from my "A" race of the entire trail running season (Pineland Farms 25k)! That was until my good friend and teammate Rich Lavers coerced me into racing the final Northfield Mountain race under the direction of the incomparable legend Dave Dunham. "Piece of cake." Rich implored. He didn't show up. Completely fine under the circumstances as family always comes first but having committed an entry fee and agreeing to be the carpool driver there was no way I was getting out of it. And I'm really glad Rich "talked" me into it. The combination of it being the last Dunham-directed edition of the race and the fact that it was serving as the New England Trail Running Championships assured that a completely STACKED field would toe the line. Walking to registration I ran into Paul Kirsch. Paul is the driving force behind the USATF-New England Mountain, Ultra, Trail Running and a top notch athlete in his own right. Having dusted me at Mt. Washington last year the fact that he was sandbagging before the race seemed a little peculiar and I let him know that I wasn't going to fall for it. A big part of the lure of snowshoe, trail, and mountain racing for me is the community and the competition. For the most part I know the guys I'm racing against. Saturday was no exception. Shortly after the race started I found Paul and locked in on him doing my best to pick through the traffic and get off his right shoulder. Paul is the definition of a mountain runner. Living and working where he does affords him the luxury of training consistently in the White Mountains of NH. And the Northfield Mountain course set up perfectly for him...3 miles UP the mountain and 3 miles down the mountain. As we began to climb I was content and surprised that I was able to stick with him. He pulled me up the first two miles of climbing. With less than a mile of climbing to go I offered to pay back the favor and pull for a little while as I was feeling strong and owed him a debt of gratitude for the work he had just done. Without consciously trying to pull away I felt him fall back beyond the typical 3-4 meters needed to keep 'hooks' into someone. Really enjoying racing with him I encouraged him to continue to work knowing that it was probably only a matter of time before he raced by. I reached the high point of the course slightly ahead and proceeded to descend. I am typically not a great downhill runner and Paul is equally adept at racing downhill as he is at racing uphill. As I attempted to "relax" and let gravity take over I wondered how long it would take him to catch and gap me. One after one, smaller, lighter, fitter, more courageous runners flew by me like I was watching. But curiously no Paul. Perhaps I had put enough time on him in those final few hundred meters of climbing to hold him off? With a 1/4 mile to go I could feel every downhill foot strike reverberate up through my knees and hips. I couldn't wait for it to be over...give me 20 miles uphill ANY DAY just no more running down! In some crazy stroke of luck I was able finish two places and 19 seconds ahead of Paul. Had the race been a 1/2 mile longer he would have surely passed me. I finished in a respectable 46:26 good enough for 50th overall and 19th master. Always first class Paul was the first to shake my hand.
|Two time Team Champion aR-BLACK (L-R)|
Jason Massa, Rich Lavers, Phil Erwin,
Danny Ferreira, and I.
Amesbury MA -- When you're the defending champion at anything there's always a little more pressure to perform. Add increased expectations to the mix and it'll keep you up at night. And so it was that I brought a completely new team to the 2011 Hoppin' Mad Mud Run in Amesbury expertly hosted by Julian Thompson and the folks at HEAT Event Management. We had such a great time at the '10 event and were treated so graciously that returning to this 2nd year event was a nobrainer. The challenge would be putting together a team that would rival the previous year. For the uninitiated, the HMMR is a 10k road/XC course filled with 'military' obstacles held on the spacious Woodsom Farm. Teams and individuals proceed out in waves. The RD's had given us the preferred "elite" first wave designation (thereby adding to the pressure). The trick would be to stay ahead of any other team in that first wave (obviously) and lay down as fast a time as we could. Not surpisingly the lure of cash, free beer, and glory was enough to get early commitments from Danny Ferreira, Rich Lavers, and Phil Erwin. And needing an 11th hour substitution our newest teammate Jason Massa stepped up and stepped in. Before the start we chatted with whom would eventually be our only competition, the Muddy Trotters, led by masters snowshoe racing champion Theresa Ridgway. It was this same co-ed team that we beat last year by the narrowest of margins. Not having scouted out the newest obstacles before the race the great unknown held too much potential for catastrophe so our strategy was to get out early on the 2.5+ mile road run, establish a lead, and then try to hold on. Passing the mile marker in roughly 5:50 we were running comfortably hard and still densely packed together as we put a gap on the Trotters. Entering Woodsom Farm at just shy of 5km our first obstacle was a series of 5 or 6 Jersey barriers. We would later learn that our GPS 5k split (18:29:13) was Rich's 5k PR...and we climbed over 6 Jersey's barriers and at least 5 low hurdles! As we negotiated the obstacles Danny and Phil took turns leading and pulling, clearly the fittest of our five. Cleanly through 5 miles of fields and obstacles we had managed to establish a lead on the Trotters but they certainly hadn't given up. In fact, at times it seemed like they closed the gap. Then with only a handful of obstacles left and less than a 1/2 mile to go the only "experienced" Mud Run competitor on our team, me, screwed up two consecutive challenges. The first, a reverse slip & slide (in other words you ran up the slip & slide) covered in dish liquid. For some reason I was the last to attempt it and made it barely 1/2 way up before I went to hands and knees and slid all the way to the bottom. Now feeling like 1st place was slipping out of our grasp my haste seemed to make the obstacle even more difficult (or could it have been two 10ks in a row?). With a little coaching and a helping had I finally made it to the top of the 20 foot slip & slide section. As we ran down and back up a small climb to approach the cargo netting I felt like my experience at the Shawnee Peak Challenge last fall would serve me well on the most daunting obstacle. I was wrong. Scrambling up and over the 10 foot high obstacle my left foot hung up on the opposite side of the structure as I attempted to descend leaving me in an awkward position over the top log. Somehow I managed to free my leg and get to the bottom and by this time the Trotters were just one obstacle behind and closing fast. Jason and Rich had run ahead to get a little cushion as Danny and Phil hung back to assist me (again). Pulling up the rear I entered the mud pit with the rest of the team and we crawled to the finish in 43:17.3. Really an astonishingly fast time considering the XC course and dozen or so challenges. In the end, our time was just a few minutes faster than the very gutty Muddy Trotters and we successfully defended our team title taking home a great cash prize, free beer, and some great memories.
NEXT UP: Pineland Farm 25k