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, 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