|The beauty and misery of |
Upper Walking Boss.
[Scott Mason Photography]
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