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

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Run to Fall 5k

The beginning of the end of my
Run to Fall
[Photo courtesy of GSTS]
"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."  -Beverly Sills

Northwood, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Two races in a row right in my backyard (sort of) makes up for the 2 hour trips to race all corners of New England.  For the past several years the Dunn's have made the short 30 minute drive to Coe Brown Northwood Academy for the annual Run To Fall 5k XC race.  I enjoy the relaxed low key atmosphere, seeing local aR teammates, and racing a sport (XC) that I don't get a chance to race much.  The course is a reverse figure 8 that repeats sections but never in the same direction.  Last year was the first year of this new modified course.  But it might as well have been the first time because I really didn't remember it too well.  What I did remember was that we'd be running the backstretch of the course on the first and last lap but in opposite directions.  One hundred sixty eager runners lined up on the 100 meter wide starting line and with a starters pistol we were sent sprinting across the baseball outfield to a 15 meter wide opening to the double-track gravel trails.  I typically get off the line pretty well and by the entrance to the trail network was well within the Top 5.  The first mile is a net descent and can be deceptively fast.  My 5:49 seemed exactly where I wanted to be and my Top 10 position after the first mile was also spot on.  The lead pack separated quite quickly and I was left to race with a handful of other folks.  After the first 'trail loop' we were back on the track for the backstretch before heading back into the trail network.  As I approached the backstretch turn I noticed cones marking a cut through on the grass field to the exit of the track.  My nearest competitor was roughly 20 meters ahead and continued on the track and the backstretch turn.  For some odd reason my brain reasoned (in a millisecond) that he must have missed this cut across and was running off course.  I stepped off the track into the grass infield and cut off the backstretch turn (probably 10-15 seconds of running).  When my competitor and I reached the exit of the track he was directly in front of me.  In the time that it took for me to run that 50 meters or so I surmised that I was in fact the one who had run off course and had cut the turn.  Assuring him I knew my mistake I told him to stay in front of me because I was going to DQ myself at the end.  Knowing that I had screwed up but not wanting to waste the effort I continued to race.  My junior competitor fell back a bit in this last mile and I raced back and forth with another 40+ runner only to have him run away from me with less than a 1/4 mile to go.  I crossed the finish line in 19:08 (6:10's), 7th overall, and 3rd 40+.  But all was for not as I reported my error and DQ'd myself to my teammate and RD Tim Cox.  Despite my boneheaded mistake I did win a $20 state inspection in the raffle.  I love this race.

NEXT UP: Reach The Beach Relay

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Barnstead Firefighters Association 5k

Barnstead, NH is home to the only green fire trucks
 in the US.  [okay, I might have made that up]
"It's a pity that, as one gradually gains experience, one loses one's youth."  -Vincent van Gogh

BARNSTEAD, NH -- Feeling foolishly unprepared for next week's Reach The Beach Relay I decided to find a local 5k road race to prepare myself for the rigors of three 6+ mile races in less than 24 hours.  Actually now that I write it down it really doesn't make any sense?  Either way, that was the plan.  A very quick search for 5k's in NH last weekend revealed only one logical choice...the Barnstead Firefighters Association 5k in Barnstead, NH.  Being only thirty minutes from the house meant it was one of the shortest race commutes of the year.  And having Karen come with me to race was an added bonus.  We arrived the customary sixty minutes before race time and found aR teammates Craig Poirier and Richie Blake who had answered my call for some additional aR support.  The out-and-back course was flat as could be with one initial and final 90 degree turn 50 meters from the START/FINISH.  It looked to be a very small but youthful crowd at the start.  It's funny how fast folks look prior to a race as they warm up.  I wonder what people think about me?  Because I didn't recognize anyone that I knew that was faster than me I lined up on the front row with about a dozen runners none of which appeared older than 18.  At the siren we were off.  And it was a predictably fast start.  I had lined up inside the first hard right hand turn and managed to out sprint most of the crowd to the hole shot.  Within 200 meters I was squarely in the top 5 with the eventual winner (Andew Tuttle) already gapping the field.  Over the next several hundred meters things began to shake out a little.  By the mile split (5:47) I was in 5th place with two teenagers just 20 meters ahead.  Just before we hit the turn around I closed the gap and was right on their heels at the 1/2 way mark.  One of the two backed off a little as I ran with the other for the next 400 meters.  He too seemed to fall off the pace just past the 2 mile mark.  Now in 3rd place I called for the hammer to put him away for good but alas it wasn't in my bag of tricks.  As I hit the wall (running a 6:00 3rd mile) the youngster took back the podium spot without any challenge from me.  Lucky to hold off the rest of the field I crossed the finish line in 4th place overall (1st 40+) in 18:16 (5:54's).  Far from my PR at the distance I learned at least one thing this weekend...youth trumps experience in a 5k road road.  Every time.

NEXT UP: Run To Fall 5k

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Greenfield Highbush Half Marathon

Rounding the corner to the finish!
[Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey]
"Today is your day!  Your mountain is waiting.  So...get on your way!"  -Dr. Seuss

Greenfield, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- My latest venture, the Granite State Trail Series (GSTS), is yet another expression of my passion for training and racing in beautiful wild places.  And it's a tremendous pleasure to collaborate with other passionate and talented folks...like the Greenfield Highbush Half Marathon RD Jen Shultis.  Last weekend Karen and I caravaned with our neighbors the Lindsey's to Greenfield for the 2nd race in the GSTS.  Lately I haven't put in much mileage as I've tried to balance my training (running & cycling) so a 13+ mile trail race would be a big stretch for me.  What I might not have had going for me with respect to miles on my legs I certainly made up for it with being rested and injury-free.  Coming off a recovery week I felt great.  The intel on the race was that it was a big clockwise lollipop on a combination of single & double-track with approximately 1000 feet of climbing up and over Crotched Mountain and her sister peaks.  Knowing that my training was rather sparce for this distance I decided to go out easy, hammer the climbs (my strength), and then do my best to hang on at the end.  With the go command the group quickly narrowed to double and then fairly technical singletrack along a beautiful little pond.  Over the first few miles I held my place and pace pretty well as the race became single file.  I settled in with a small group of 2-3 other runners.  I stayed right behind them allowing them to pull.  On any of the climbs they dropped back and I easily ran past.  Then on the descent they would accelerate and run right by me.  We played this game of leap frog right up to the first major ascent of the day.  I'm guessing it was at least a mile climb...probably more.  Playing into my strength I held my pace and surged past the two runners I was trading places with for the first 10k+.  Because of my conservative early pace I felt great on these climbs.  The ascent was a combination of gravel roads, singletrack, and exposed granite "hiking trails" with very steep, but very short, pitches.  Once on the ridge the next mile or two did put me in mind of the infamous 7 Sisters Trail Race with the constant short and steep elevation changes.  Without any particular pace or place goal I actually stopped to pee on the ridge...and three guys ran by me.  I managed to catch up to two of them and when they missed a turn I was able to sneak by them.  It should be known that I hollered to them that they missed the turn and they eventually got back on course.  Always important to bank good trail karma.  As I started the descent I could spy one of guys I had traded places with the entire first half of the race.  He was probably 20-30 seconds ahead of me.  The final 4+ miles were a gradual descent on some of the best singletrack I've seen.  This section was awesome.  At the ~10 mile AS the volunteer told me that I was in 9th place.  At once it was great news and bad news.  Great news that I was actually in the Top 10.  Bad news was that the two guys who had missed the turn earlier were right behind again...and now I was in a race for the Top 10!  For the first time all day I started to "race".  As I picked up the pace I could hear their back and forth chatter getting softer and softer until I didn't hear it any more.  Thanks to my increased tempo with about a mile to go I actually caught up to the guy in 8th place.  I closed a 100 meter gap to just feet before we hit the first of a few very short (10 feet) but very steep (45% grade) ups at which point both my adductors went into spasm as I attempted to run up.  Grinding me to a very slow shuffle my adversary was able to increase his margin on me in very little time.  I was able to run again on the flats but alas like Superman losing his ability to fly, my "climbing powers" had escaped me.  I peeked back to make sure that my Top 10 was secure and 'limped' into the finish in 2:11:38 good enough for 9th overall and 5th 40+.  As a first year race I must say that the course was very well designed, expertly marked, and fantastically organized.  It's a shining example of what trail racing is all about here in NH.  Kudos Jen Shultis and your entire crew of volunteers!

NEXT UP: Barnstead Firefighters 5k

Sunday, August 19, 2012

24HoGG | 2012

Keepin' the rubber down.
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]
"Discretion is the better part of valor." Shakespeare

Gorham, NH -- acidotic RACING has been built on the famous words of Teddy Roosevelt..."Dare mighty things...".  But at some point as Kenny Rogers sang, "You've got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.".  The 2012 edition of the 24 Hours of Great Glen (24HoGG) was yet another incredible weekend of aR fellowship and racing.  It really is the highlight of the racing calendar for my family and I.  Unfortunately for me however, the course conditions would make my 4 laps around the 8.5+ mile loop an exercise in futility as the tire sucking mud and slippery conditions would spook me into long stretches of hike-a-bike.  I really, really enjoy riding my new GT Zaskar 9er Expert.  The bike is amazing and absolutely everything I've always wanted.  I'm just not a strong mountain biker in general and technical rider in particular.  In most years though the 24HoGG course is 100% rideable for me thanks to the great work by the Great Glen crew to improve the course.  Two and a half inches of rain on Friday afternoon would stretch the limits of any course and crew however and the singletrack and off-road double-track became a quagmire of 6-8 inch deep mud.  The following is a brief synopsis of my four laps;

Lap #1
Time of day: 2:10 pm

As the designated third rider I took my first turn on the course.  Having pre-rode the day before (in a driving rainstorm) I had the lay of the land including some of new singletrack on the Blueberry Hill side of the course.  I managed to ride the first set of climbs up past the Honeymoon Cottage before taking the turn on the new singletrack off the Aqueduct Loop. By the this time the course was already beginning to get chewed up and I cautiously picked my way through the muddy singletrack dabbing here and there and walking some sections.  Once on the nordic track I made the conscious decision to ride conservatively and attempt to save something for the 2nd day.  Although I felt physically prepared, my history of epic physical collapses here are always in the back of my mind.  I rode all the carriage road climbs but was already off bike on most of the sections that were either underwater or sketchy, muddy, rocky descents.  Lap time: 1:06.12

Lap #2
Time of day: 6:33 pm

With a very easy pace on the first lap I was more than ready for my second lap.  The rain had been on and off for most of the afternoon but seemed to hold off for me on this lap.  Once again I rode the switchbacks on Blueberry Hill and up past Honeymoon Cottage.  But the singletrack off the Aqueduct Loop was beginning to fail miserably.  The trail crew were already diverting past unsafe sections and doing their best to fill in the muddiest spots with boulders...slick wet boulders.  I walked this entire 1/2 mile + section.  Mountain bike racing for me becomes a big head game when I'm off bike and pushing.  Walked the same spots on the festival side of the road...slowly.  Lap time: 1:11.10

Laps #3 & #4
Time of day: 2:40 am

As planned, Ri started our doubles at 9:07 pm.  That would give me roughly 5 hours before Andy returned from his double.  For some odd reason I didn't feel like lying down and instead opted to stay awake and watch the race.  Camp aR got very lonely after 11:00 pm as most were either lying down or riding.  I relaxed in my recliner (yup...I have one for the 24HoGG) and attempted to rest as hard as I could.  My hydration and nutrition were spot on and I felt very good physically.  Around 1:00 am I made myself some Starbucks VIA with my JetBoil and tried to get my gear ready for long wet muddy slog.  I typically treat the overnight laps as an adventure race.  Being mentally prepared to be out there for up to three hours in the darkness is really important.  Andy handed off to me at 2:40 am and I set out.  Anticipating a 3+ hour ride I was concerned that I'd have enough lights to make it to morning.  I spared my handlebar light and burned my Exposure helmet light on the medium setting.  Same general description of the course conditions but as can be expected that had continued to deteriorate.  The combination of the darkness, rain, and mud made even walking on sections of the course very hard.  Resigned to very slow laps and long stretches of hike-a-bike I put in two 90+ minute turns.  My estimation of a 3+ hour "adventure race" was pretty good.  Lap times: 1:35.22, 1:33.22

And that would turn out to be the end of my race.  Due in large part to my very conservative approach in very difficult conditions I managed to spare both my bike and my body.  No significant equipment mechanical or physical injuries although I witnessed many riders who were not so fortunate...from busted derailleurs to puncture wounds.  Although there would have been time for me to take one last lap before the cannon fired I choose to pass.  I had had my fill of hike-a-bike.  There would be no glory lap for me this time.  My aR-GREY team (Ri, Andy, myself, and Kurt) did manage to complete 18 laps which was good enough for 16/25 in the 4-person Sport Class.  We had a stretch of four great years with respect to weather and course conditions so it's hard to complain too much about this year. 

NEXT UP: Greenfield Highbush Half Marathon (trail)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Stonewall Farm Mountain Bike Race

Holding on for dear life!
[Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey]
"Nothing defines humans better than their willingness to do irrational things in the pursuit of phenomenally unlikely payoffs."  -Scott Adams
Keene, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- In my on again off again romance with mountain biking, the experience on my new GT Zaskar 9er Expert at last weekends Stonewall Farm Mountain Bike Race has 'spiced' things up a little...to say the least.  Finally I don't need to eyeball the other rides on the rack.  At the age of 43 I now own a certifiable rocket ship.  The only thing holding this bike back is me.  With the 24HoGG looming now less than a month away I've started to shift my training focus to the two-wheeled variety.  I've been under prepared at the 24HoGG and it can be a miserable experience.  So in an effort to get a little racing action on the new bike I talked my teammate and neighbor Timmy Lindsey into taking a trip to Keene (with the promise of a stop at the Elm City Brewery for a beer and a burger afterwards).  Stonewall Farms Mountain Bike Race is part of the Root 66 Series.  Having never raced here before I was drawn to it by the promise of new singletrack.  It certainly delivered.  Riding in the 40-49 yo Category 3 (Cat 3) class we would ride two laps of the 4.? mile course.  My quick race plan (developed in the starting grid) was to go out conservatively on the first lap to see what I was up against and then hammer as hard as I could on Lap #2.  Timmy and I lined up with the other 40-49 yo's in our group and were off.  The lead couple of guys took it out hard.  I held back and found myself nearly next to last within the first kilometer.  The course was probably 90% smooth singletrack with almost zero flat sections.  If you weren't going up, you were descending on tight and loose hairpin turns.  The combination of the track being very new and the course being very dry there was an inch layer of very powdery dirt making some of the downhill turns a little tough (for me).  Thankfully the second half of the loop climbed quite a bit and although not really trying I began to pick up places as riders were off bike and walking the climbs.  My bike felt very comfortable and very capable of attacking these climbs and I alternated sitting and standing up as I climbed to the high point of the course.  As I finished the first lap I peeked at my watch and it read :30 low which meant absolutely nothing.  The objective now was to pick up as many spots as I could taking advantage of my climbing strength.  As in the first lap I continued to consistently pick up places as riders who went out a little too hard for all the climbing started to fall back to me.  Hard as I tried I could still tell I was too heavy on the brakes on the descents but I really thought I was riding it right on the edge.  Keeping the rubber down and only dabbing a few times on some hairpin downs I eventually found myself on the back wheel of a 40-something rider from Cycle Loft as we climbed the final hill.  Partly because I'm still not terribly confident in this sport and partly because I lack the killer instinct on the bike I stayed behind him DESPITE the fact he verbalized at least twice that he was cooked on the ups.  We crested the final climb wheel to wheel and started a spine tingling dirt pump track descent to the gravel road.  In less than a half a mile he put 21 seconds on me because of my lack of nerve and technical descending prowess.  That 21 seconds was the difference between 1st, and in the immortal words of Ricky Bobby...last.  Officially I finished in 1:02:42 which was "good enough" for 2nd place in the 40-49 yo Cat 3 class and 7th overall in Cat 3.  A great beer and lunch after the race with the family capped off an amazing day of racing.  I will most certinaly be back in 2013!

NEXT UP: Bradbury Breaker 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cranmore Hill Climb

"Hammering" the final descent
(sort of) at Cranmore
[Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey]
"I have climbed several higher mountains without guide or path, and have found, as might be expected, that it takes only more time and patience commonly than to travel the smoothest highway."  Henry David Thoreau

North Conway, NH - Of all the things I race, I enjoy mountain racing the most.  I am by no means the swiftest nor the strongest yet mountain racing touches a part of my soul that no other form of racing does.  Perhaps it's the duality of feeling so incredibly small when you're standing at the bottom yet so incredibly large when you crest the summit.  And the only way to get to the top is with effort and perserverance.  A summit is never handed to you.  With my crazy busy schedule the Cranmore Hill Climb, hosted by my very good friend Paul Kirsch, is the only "summer" mountain race I can fit in.  But if I'm only going to do one mountain race a year...the Cranmore Hill Climb is the one to do!  There a lot of things to love about this race.  First, it's in North Conway and an easy and beautiful drive north from Strafford.  Secondly, a stop to the Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewery for lunch is a fantastic way to apres after the race.  And lastly, Paul changes the course each year making the race almost entirely new every time you do it!  The 2012 version of the course was two different ascents with a 50% shared descent.  Wanting to get a little intel on the course I found and spoke to photographer extraordinaire Scott Mason, who had previewed the course the previous day, and of course Paul.  In separate conversations they both told me to hold a little back for the second loop as the 1.3 mile ascent (with sections of 30% grade) was a bear.  Always a competitive field I seeded myself in the 2nd or 3rd row and got off rather easy at the start command.  In fact I felt 1/3 of the field surge by me in the first 50 meters of flat before the climbing began.  Wanting to stay patient and stick to my plan I let folks go knowing that the longer 2nd climb was my strong suit.  As we picked our way up a combination of access roads, singletrack, and grassy ski slopes I began to gather folks back in as the elevation began to cause people to walk.  Maintaining a very controlled climbing pace I ran the entire first ascent and then began to head back down to the start/finish.  This section of course was the same as 2011 and I immediately recognized where I was.  Knowing I'm not a strong downhill runner I purposely focused on staying relaxed and trying to hold as many positions as I'd gained on the climb.  By Karen's account, who had made the trip to cheer me on, I was in 24th place after the first loop.  As we began the second, longer and steeper climb, I was feeling great.  Once again I began to reel in other runners who had started to powerhike this unrelenting section.  And by this time the sun was high in the sky and the rain from the previous day made the mountain feel like a tropical rain forest.  Within a few minutes of climbing I spotted fellow masters runner Peter Keeney from Crow Athletics.  Peter and I have raced many times and it's rare that I'm ever close to him.  Setting my sights on him I started to feel the pull and before long I was on his right shoulder.  He acknowledged I was there as we ran together for a while.  I was cautious not to jump out in front too quickly instead settling on letting him do the pulling.  At a aid station he must have stopped or significantly slowed to get a drink because all of a sudden I was out in front of him.  Assuming I was getting close to the summit I inexplicably began to powerhike the last 100 meters.  I don't remember being gassed and the grade wasn't anything that I couldn't run butu for some reason I decided to walk.  Quite honestly, at that point my walking pace equalled my running pace.  Rounding the barrel at the summit I noticed that Peter was right behind me and within 10 seconds of descending he was already by me.  Running downhill hard takes a combination of technique, fitness, and courage.  Three things I obviously don't posses enought of at this point.  Hard as I tried he effortly moved away from me.  The objective then turned to not getting passed again.  Not wanting to risk a fall I didn't look back instead using teamamate Steve Wolfe's approach of "running scared".  I managed to hold off my closest competitor and aside from Peter didn't get passed again on the way down.  Feeling really great I ever kicked a little in the field to the finish and crossed the tape in 52:30 good enough for 18th overall and 8th 40+.  Amazingly I had picked up 6 spots on the 2nd loop.  What an amazing course and an incredibly well run event once again by Paul and the White Mountain Miles.  Can't wait to see what he has in store for us in 2013.

NEXT UP: Stonewall Farm Mountain Bike Race

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Exeter Trail Race

Stuffed in the hurt locker.
[Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey]
"The highest reward for a mans toil is not what he gets from it but what he becomes by it."  -John Ruskin

Exeter,  NH -- Is not having a plan technically a plan?  If so then for the second consecutive year at the Exeter Trail Race presented by GoLite Footwear I executed my plan perfectly.  Problem was that this year, like last year, my failure to plan once again haunted me in the crucible moments of the race.  The XTR is one of my favorite races on the schedule for several reasons.  First, to really race well there you need a combination of technical skill, agility, power, and aerobic endurance.  Every footstrike needs to be strategically placed and there is a continual push and pull of acceleration and deceleration as the course serpentines through a rollercoaster of singletrack.  Secondly, as an acidotic RACING event I'm so proud of the RDs Ri & Sarah who have developed the event into one of the premier trail races in NH.  A record field of 148 runners (4 & 10 milers) stepped to the line and received the start command from Sarah.  After 20 meters the course takes a hard right hand turn into the trail network.  I was on the inside of the turn near the front but nearly got boxed out by 5 runners trying to fit in a space 3 runners wide.  Safely through that section things got single file very quickly and I found myself in the Top 7-8 and assumed that at least a few of the folks around me would probably be racing the 4 miler.  I picked my way around a couple of runners early on and settled into a group with new aR teammate Jeff Hixon in from and teammate Bob Swarthout behind.  Running singletrack can be a little deceiving at times.  When I'm racing hard it always seems like I'm going faster than I really am.  Without mile markers and the potential for face plants littering the trail there was no need to peek at the watch.  I could feel the pace was hard.  At the 4 mile turn around just before we entered the tunnel Bob peeled off and shouted some encouraging words.  The group I was racing with seemed fairly content with the pace and the place they were racing so we held our ground for most of the Oaklands Loop.  Before we passed back under the tunnel Jeff and the other guy I was racing fell back and I managed to pass them.  At this point, although I didn't know it, I was 5th overall.  Not long after that I caught a glimpse of aR's top ultrarunner Ryan Welts, who had just scorched the first half of the race.  Setting my sights on him I was able pull up along his right shoulder.  We ran together for a 1/2 mile or so before he encouraged me to go ahead.  Just before we entered the tunnel for the final 4+ miles of the race I went around him for 4th place.  Still feeling good I tried to maintain the pace I was running.  This particular counterclockwise course rotation is a little 'easier' finishing 5k because the trail is a little less technical.  But as I found out...easier does not equal easy.  With about 5k to go I slowly began to feel a bonk coming on.  I must have looked like a train wreck in slow motion.  My recklessly hard pace early on coupled with a lack of hydration began to take a toll on my legs and my will.  Seemingly out of nowhere Nate Bassett, who had been trapped behind slower traffic at the start, went flying by be like his hair was on fire.  It wasn't long before Ryan, Jeff, and the other guy whom I had passed and dropped 2 miles earlier had caught and passed me like I was a spectator.  Getting passed at any time during a race is hard, but it's demoralizing when it happens in the last section of the race while you're 2/3rds of the way in the hurt locker.  With my legs gone and the fire in my belly extinguished I was helpless to fend off two more runners who also picked the remaining flesh off my bones.  As I passed teammate and traffic cop Mike Sallade for the last time and began the Camel's Hump climb there was no more pretending...I was cooked.  I had run this part in 2011, but not this year.  With my head down I marched up as quickly as a I could and gave one final peek over my shoulder to see if there was anyone else I wouldn't be able to hold off.  When I passed my lovely wife Karen (volunteering at the first major trail junction) I knew I had only 200 meters to go to the finish.  Aided by the fact that it was downhill and I could hear the crowd I managed to pick up the pace (a little) and actually look like a competitor as I crossed the finish line in 1:20:59 (11th place, 2nd 40+).  A quick review of my 2011 result showed that I was about :90 slower this year although the last 5k was almost the same. 

[NOTE TO 44 YEAR OLD SELF:  Run the first 7 miles a little more conservatively in 2013 so you've got a little something left for the final 5k.]

NEXT UP: Cranmore Hill Climb   

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pineland Farms 25k

RACING acidotic for my team and my
sponsor GoLite Footwear
[Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey]
"The best things in life are unexpected-because there were no expectations."  -Eli Kharmarov

New Gloucester,  MAINE -- Just run.  That was the race plan for this weekend's Pineland Farms 25k.  If I've learned anything over the last five years at this race it's that planning doesn't necessarily equal success.  Last year I had meticulously calculated PR splits only to run my slowest time at this race.  And because 25k is a little bit of a reach for me, I decided to try something new this time around...no plan, just run to feel.  Which might be easier said than done with so many friends and teammates whom I have raced with and against for years.  A particularly stacked front end lined up at the starting line under bright blue skies, light winds, and temps in the 70's.  I purposely lined up a little closer to the front so as not to get caught up in traffic even though I did not intend on hammering the first downhill 5k.  I patiently held back a little through this first section as teammates and friends worked their way by me.  At some point early on I hooked up with GCS foe Mike Wade who seemed to be using the same tactic.  We hit the 5k mark at 22:03 (7:05's).  The 2nd 5k makes up half of the elevation lost in the first 5k with some open field rollers.  I felt very under control and strong on the short climbs although I knew my pace had slowed considerably.  I had moved around Mike but I could see that he was within 25-50 meters.  My 10k split was 46:30 (7:51's) for this net gain 5k.  The 3rd 5k is a net zero with the first half a descent and the second half a roughly equal ascent.  Again, I felt very strong on the climbs and actually started to pick up spots.  Although the open mowed fields were hot and slow, the woods were shaded with a beautiful breeze making the conditions quite tolerable.  I hit the 15k mark at 1:10 (7:47's).  With roughly 1.5k to go before the START/FINISH area I finished my handheld bottle with Hammer Nutrition FIZZ (a first at this race).  Coming through the START/FINISH Karen handed me my second cold bottle of FIZZ and focused on the 4th 5k.  Sometimes the little things can make all the difference in the world.  The combination of my lovely wife's support and the cold FIZZ immediately perked me up and I felt as ready as ever to attack the last two segments of the race.  The 4th 5k climbs for the first mile to the high point of the course and then descends an equal amount (common theme).  With my attention squarely focused on the 20k split I ran very well on the climbs and continued to pick up spots on the ups.  At this point of the race I typically begin to experience leg weariness and twinges of cramping but none of that emerged this time around.  I marked at 20k at 1:35 (8:00's).  Slower for sure but still motoring on the climbs and with the toughest (in my opinion) section of course remaining.  The final 5k is a net gain and includes several hundred meters of open field before crossing back over the road to the finish area.  Just past 21k my teammate Steve Wolfe finally caught up and ran by me like it was his first 5k.  He implored me to tag along and I did for a little while but as soon as hit the fields and I asked my legs for more they had nothing left to give.  Not wanting to risk paralyzing cramps I held steady and let him go.  I finished the last bit of FIZZ, put my head down, and raced to the finish.  My 1:58:05 was good enough for 33rd overall (13th 40+) and my 3rd fastest time in six tries.  I guess I proved to myself that it's definitely possible to over think this race.  Very pleased with the performance and very grateful for a large aR turnout. 

Special thank you to my sponsors GoLite Footwear, Philbrick's Sports, Redhook, Young's Restaurant, and Poco's Bow Street Cantina.

NEXT UP: Exeter Trail Races presented by GoLite Footwear

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hoppin' Mad Mud Run

(L-R) Bon Swarthout, Jason Massa, Chris J. Dunn,
Jeremiah Fitzgibbon, Rich Lavers
[Photo courtesy Craig Poirier]
 "Even absurdity has a champion to defend it." - Oliver Goldsmith

Amesbury,  MA -- Getting to the top is hard, but staying on top is even more difficult.  Particularly when you lose two teammates within 72 hours of a two-time title defense.  aR had made two previous trips to the Hoppin' Mad Mud Run and walked away with two 5-person team titles in this challenging 10k obstacle course race...well, more like a 5k road race followed by a 5k obstacle course race.  And without a doubt that first roughly 5k on the road has played to our advantage.  Obstacle course competitors, for the most part, aren't necessarily all that keen on fast 5k road races.  But to take home the cash prize you've got to do what you've got to do.  Title defenses are indeed impressive particularly when you bring a different team each year.  This year was no exception.  Bob and Jeremiah would join our 5-person team for the first time (Bob's 2nd HMMR and Jeremiah's 1st).  Rich, Jason, and myself had all returned from 2011.  Actually, both Bob and Jeremiah were very lat minute additions with the late scratches of both Phil Erwin and Ryan Welts who were both injured less than a week before the event.  As in 2011, we were seeded in the "elite" first heat assuring we'd have a clean run at the course.  Again, the first 2.5+ miles were on the road as we worked our way to the back of the event property.  Predictably the field went out fast at the start command.  Almost immediately our group of 5 was mixing it up toward the middle and back of the top 10.  As the first mile progressed however, many of those eager obstacle course racers began to fall back.  I led our team of 5 through the first mile in 5:44ish.  The second mile rolled a little and was a bit slower as we approached the last uphill segment of road before heading onto the farm.  By this time Bob and I were running side by side with Jason, Rich, and Jeremiah in tow.  The first few obstacles were basically the same as before including a handful of high/low hurdles and 5' walls.  When we approached the steep 200 meter uphill/downhill lollipop (covered in a tarp with dish liquid in 2011) we found a pile of tires.  Selecting one we carried it up, around, and down the lollipop.  Jason had effortlessly moved around Bob and I on the walls and we both watched him run up the steep grassy hill with the tire over his shoulder.  I opted for the powerhike also putting a little distance on Bob in what he would later note as my "old man strength".  An important change to the event was how the teams were timed and scored.  This year we would all be independently chip timed with our 5-person average time as our overall team "score".  Without the shackles of dragging us through the course, aR's expert obstacle course warrior Jason Massa ripped through each challenge and actually appeared to get stronger as the race progressed finishing 2nd overall!  Bob and I continued to race side-by-side through mud pits, low crawls, high crawls, agility tires, 45 degree rope assisted ramp climbs, and cargo netting.  Despite a couple of navigation foibles were managed to stay in the Top 10 overall with Bob finishing 5th and me finishing 7th overall in 47:00.  Rich was close behind in 8th and Jeremiah in 13th.  With 4 of our 5 in the Top 10 we easily took the 5-person team title again.  It's very likely we'll be back to defend again...I'm just not sure who it'll be?!

NEXT UP: Pineland Farms 25k Trail Race

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Merrimack Rivah Trail Race

Finishing another 'Rivah'.
[Photo courtesy Dave Dunham]
"Despair is most often the offspring of ill-preparedness." -Don William, Jr.

Andover, MASSACHUSETTS -- The winter that never was has given rise to a bountiful spring of opportunity.  Having probably put in more 'longer' quality training units than in the past several winters, the Merrimack Rivah Trail Race was an excellent venue to test my early spring fitness.  Last weekend was my third trip to the "Rivah".  I had PB'd last year by almost two minutes (1:11:15).  Father Time marches on for everyone, but nevertheless my goal was to get in under 1:11:00.  To do that, the plan was to split sub 35:00 and then find a dance partner to bring home.  An absolutely beautiful day greeted us at the start line with temps in the 60's, a light breeze, and full sun.  I lined up 2-3 rows back and waited for the start command.  As predicted when the race started everyone took 7-8 very slow choppy steps forward and then came to an almost complete stop as 25-30 runners attempted to funnel through a very tight opening to the trail network.  I managed to make my way through the mess without hazard but again felt like I had started too far back as I had to pick my through and around some slower competitors to find some clean trail.  As things began to thin out I found Trail Monster Running's Ian Parlin who had gotten off to a great start and was running very strong.  I tucked in behind him and tried to match his pace as he accelerated around slower runners.  Although I wasn't looking for it I happen to catch a quick glimpse of the 1 mile marker and looked down at my watch...6:08.  Drawing on experience, although it was much quicker than my average pace would be at the end I knew that to get to the turn around in under 35:00 the first 5k would need to be very brisk.  I settled in over the next few miles and ran comfortably hard as my pace moderated a little probably in the 6:30's.  In the 72 hours leading up to the race I was very concerned about the state of my legs and my overall fatigue.  I wasn't feeling at all myself and actually considered going to see my PA...but I didn't.  I chalked it up to a couple of really hard training cycles including a month's worth of three days a week of run/ride doubles.  My concerns faded away quickly when I got up to pace and was able to maintain the effort.  Right around 4 miles we popped out to a series of very steep and loose powerline climbs.  I ran all of the ups and cautiously picked my way down the downs hitting the 5 mile split in 34:42.  The first part of the PB mission was a success.  I had placed myself in great position at the half way mark to meet my goal, now all I needed to do was find someone to run with to force me to stay on pace during the last 5k which tend to be my nemesis.  Luckily I had several guys within 2-5 seconds/mile of my target pace who were more than willing partners.  We cruised through the last few 'in' miles maintaining a very strong and consistent pace, albeit slower than our 'out' pace.  With a little over a mile to go my new teammate Gabe Flanders caught the group I was racing with and went around.  He apparently had run a very conservative first half and was saving his legs for the final 5k.  Both he and the guy I was running with began to accelerate away from me leaving me in the dreaded "no mans land".  They were just a little too strong and I was a little too apprehensive to TNT my PB so late in the race so I let them move away as I focused on straying relaxed.  Moments later I spied the overpass and quickly looked at my watch.  As long as I avoided a catastrophic fall I was in position to run under 1:11:00.  Rounding the final turn I accelerated back to the pavement and the finish line in 1:10:33.  My second PB at the event in as many attempts.  The finish was good enough for 20th overall and 6th 40+.  My 'in' split of 35:50 was clearly slower than my 'out' 34:42 but I'm convinced that for me not only was the sub 35:00 'out' the correct tactic by my return split variance (:42) was as good as I've done at this race.  Needless to say I was very, very pleased with the result and encouraged that as poorly as I felt heading into the race that when the lights come on I'm able to rise to the occasion. 

NEXT UP:  Hoppin' Mad Mud Run, Muddy Moose, or perhaps Willowdale MTB Race

Sunday, March 18, 2012

WinterWild Championship at Bretton Woods

The finish to a long descent at the WinterWild
Championship at Bretton Woods
[Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey]
"Champions know that success is inevitable; that there is no such thing as failure, , only feedback.  They know the best way to forecast the future is to create it."  -Michael J. Gelb

Bretton Woods, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Nothing like finishing a lousy winter of snow-related sports with a FANTASTIC championship event!  aR played host to the WinterWild Championship at Bretton Woods this weekend.  Not being a skier many of the WinterWild stops have been first times for me at these mountains and Bretton Woods was another fine example.  The facilities are simply amazing and the mountain absolutely majestic.  Although with a dark and foggy 6:30 AM start there really wasn't anything to see when we got started.  My teammates Rich Lavers and Danny Ferreira expertly pulled off a terrific event in their RDing debut's.  As I've mentioned in other WinterWild recaps, these events have been a tremendous amount of fun and I'm already looking forward to more of them next winter.  Of course the great thing about these races is that even if Mother Nature doesn't blanket us with enough snow to snowshoe on...she keeps it cold enough for the ski areas to make snow.  Having missed a race two weeks ago (Mt. Sunapee) there was no chance of catching masters leader Mark Hecox for the series title so my focus turned to giving one more quality effort this winter and ride the good vibe right into spring trail racing.  But a week before the race I learned that my mountain running arch nemesis, Paul Kirsch, would be making his WinterWild debut.  As a fellow masters runner, Paul is best known for his mountain prowess.  Living in the NoCo gives him easy access to big tough trails and his mountain racing times reflect his training and his experience.  It's fair to say that I measure my fitness and training with head to head performances against Paul.  To stay close to him in a mountain race is a huge victory...to beat him is the ultimate confirmation that my mountain/hill-specific training is dead on.  I helped with registration so didn't have a moment to warm-up so when Rich announced the start had been pushed back to 6:30 AM I was thrilled.  Paul and I chatted briefly before the race and he did his best to lower expectations.  The way I saw it, despite the fact that he hadn't raced since last June didn't diminish his toughness and experience with mountain races.  With a final course modification announcement (we'd miss the two peaks due to poor snow coverage and the course would be shorter) the race got off under misty darkness.  I had turned my Petzl Tikka Plus2 on just before the race but within 10 minutes of the start the sunrise began to lighten the shadows and the course became easier to follow.  Assuming the field would be strong I took off hard right from the start.  Climbing is the stronger aspect of my mountain racing so I pushed hard on the initial series of ups.  The over OPEN leaders, Kevin Tilton and Andy Greene, along with several elite Nordic guys gapped the field within minutes.  Mark, appearing stronger than ever, never let me get anywhere close and hammered out a secure 3rd overall (1st masters) spot over the first half of the race.  I settled into the 5th overall place (2nd masters) during the first 800+ feet of climbing.  Peeking back a couple of times I didn't see Paul but knew that as tough as he is on the ups, he's just as fierce on the downs which is the weaker part of my game.  Just before we took the final turn back down the mountain the younger guy I was racing stopped to re-adjust his MircoSpikes and I moved into 4th overall OPEN (still 2nd masters).  As I took the turn for the long descent of Sawyer's Swoop I noticed that I had several pursuers but couldn't make out exactly who they were.  Almost immediately as I began to descend the younger guy bombed past me with his MicroSpike back in place...5th place.  Half way down the run I felt like I was going hard relaxing and letting gravity pull me to the bottom.  The footstrikes were soft and at times I felt like I left a 4-6 inch divot.  Then I began to hear the pounding of footsteps and the paced breathing of more than one runner.  Whoooosh.  Two more guys passed me...7th place now (? masters).  I watched in amazement as they hurdled effortlessly down the mountain.  By this time I needed the race to be over before I fell out of the Top 10 all together.  When I could see the finish I peeked back one more time just to make sure I wouldn't be edged at the line again (see Pat's Peak).  Without anyone in sight I strided to finish in 32:29 good enough for 12 place overall, 7th place OPEN, and 4th master.  Of course it bothers me to give up a Top 5 finish and a masters podium but it strengthens my resolve to train as hard if not harder on my descending technique this spring and summer.  My good friend Paul finished just behind me.  He was right...training fitness isn't the same thing as racing fitness.  I expect to see him again soon and there's a pretty good bet I won't be looking down at him in the results. 

PS.  My winter racing and training is now wrapped and other than the disappointing snowshoe racing season I feel really good about my performances.  When we did race on snowshoes I think I put in solid performances.  The competition wasn't as tight this winter because of the snow.  I missed racing against the likes of Steve Wolfe, Sean Snow, and David Principe.  But I more than made up for those absences by trying to stay close to Mark Hecox in the WinterWild series.  I'm probably not as fit and definitely not as light & lean as this time last year but I'm healthy and I'm ready to start racing on trails and mountains really, really soon.

NEXT UP:  A well earned transition then the Merrimack Rivah Trail Race (MA)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

NH Snowshoe Championship

Finishing the final km at the Glen
[Photo courtesy Scott Mason]
"Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere as long as the policy you've decided upon is being carried out."  -Ronald Reagan

Gorham,  NEW HAMPSHIRE -- As incredible as the winter of 2011 was...the 2012 version was equally as disappointing.  That is if you plow snow for a living or love snowshoe racing.  When it snowed last Halloween I was absolutely convinced that this was the winter we'd break attendance records.  That this was the winter that we might see the first 250 participant field at a NH snowshoe race.  And that this would be the winter of ALL winters for those of us that love racing on the racquet's!  And then a funny thing happened...it really didn't snow again.  Although we managed to squeeze in a race in North Conway in January and a soggy slushshoe in Merrimack, everything thing else was scratched because of the paucity of snow over much of NH.  Everything else that is except the Granite State Snowshoe Championship at the Great Glen Outdoor Center in Gorham, NH.  Reports from the Mt. Washington valley in the week leading up to the event were that the snow cover was decent.  My very good friend and teammate Timmy Lindsey and I rode up to the Glen the day before the race to mark the "2nd 5k" singletrack on the Aquaduct Loop and were met by teammate Leslie Beckwith.  On the drive north from Strafford many of the towns on Route 16 were snow-free.  I assured Timmy that "everything will be fine" when we got to the notch.  In fact the snow cover did pick up as we continued further north and began to gain some elevation.  But pulling into the parking lot of the Great Glen Outdoor Center my first impressions of Blueberry Hill (the link between the Nordic 5k and the Aquaduct 5k) were not very promising.  Large patches of bear ground dotted the landscape.  We met Leslie inside, packed our backs with flags, and headed out to see if we could salvage a course on the "singletrack" side of the course.  Rounding the storage shed adjacent to the main building my heart sank...the 8 foot bridge to the Blueberry Hill singletrack was bear.  No snow.  And just pass the bear bridge were fist sized drainage rocks followed by a ice with a very thin coating of fresh snow.  If the bear bridge, rocks, and ice weren't that big of a deal there was some crusty snow.  At this point my mind raced and multiple contingency plans were beginning to take shape include the creation of the dreaded "snow bridge".  I have, in an effort to solve thin snow cover, shoveled snow to make a "bridge" over bear patches of ground.  We continued to tramp up and around Blueberry Hill for another few hundred meters but just as we headed back behind the building the final blow to the singletrack plans was thrown.  Yet another critical 3-5 meter stretch of course was bear.  The Aquaduct Loop would be eliminated from the course.  Most of the significant elevation and all of the sweet singletrack would be gone from the 2011 version of the event.  Needless to say I was devastated but because there wasn't a lot of time to wallow in pity, the three of us got busy on a Plan B.  Without any real great options we decided to make the Championship 10k a 'double looper'.  We headed out to lightly mark the course and scout out the conditions on the Nordic side of the operation.  The snow was very hard packed and noticeably icy in spots although offered 100% coverage.  We finished up, said goodbye to Leslie and then headed to our favorite north country watering hole (and BBQ joint) for an adult beverage.  On race morning we arrived early to put the last finishing touches on the course and set up registration.  I'm so very, very lucky to have my wife Karen and great friend Kate take care of registration at all our events.  Particularly this one because it's one I enjoy directing and racing.  As always time flew by quickly as I visited with the dozen or so aR teammates who showed up to race.  A very small, but enthusiastic field of 30 snowshoers stepped to the line as I gave the final instructions and with a "Runners ready...GO!" command we were off.  One of the top snowshoers in all of the northeast, Jim Johnson, was predictably off the line fast with myself, Dave Dunham, Peter Keeney, and teammates Rich Lavers and Phil Erwin in pursuit.  But by the time we cleared the stadium and turned onto the NordicMeisters course he had put a 10 meter gap on Dave and a 20+ meter gap on myself and Rich who were running 3rd & 4th.  In the past few years I've been just ahead of Rich on the snow but with the volume of training he's logged this winter and a couple of recent srong road performances under his belt I wasn't at all surprised that he was pushing me so hard so early in the race.  He stayed just off my right shoulder as we raced harder that I thought we should through the meadows.  10k on snowshoes is a haul and this loop was deceptively hilly once...not to mention twice!  With Dave out of sight the focus was on holding off Rich and the multiple pursuers that I knew were directly on our heels.  As the course began to climb I felt him drop back a little.  The first chance I had to glance back on a switchback I noticed that Phil had caught Rich and the two of them were racing together less than 50 meters behind.  Generally two snowshoers working together are faster than one racing alone so I knew that despite my early success that the race was far from over.  With every opportunity I stole a peek back at those two and mentally measured the gap.  Popping back out into the meadows we raced around the tubing hill and completed the first 5k with the encouragement of course marshall and teammate Scotty Graham.  Although I struggled to find a rhythm in the first 5k I did manage to get in a groove on the second loop.  Rich and Phil stayed close but weren't able to close the gap and I held them off for 3rd place overall (2nd 40+) in a time of 42:56.  A short season for sure but a very successful one.  I'm thrilled with my effort and performance.  It was great to see so many teammates and friends come out and support the race.  I'm very grateful to each and every one of them.

NEXT UP: WinterWild Championship at Bretton Woods

Sunday, February 19, 2012

WinterWild-Pat's Peak

Brandon Baker and I pacing each other after
finishing the first of two laps.
[Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey]
"The higher you climb on the mountain, the harder the wind blows."  -Sam Cummings

Henniker, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- It's rare that I wake before an alarm...particularly a 3:00 AM alarm.  But on Saturday I had a mountain to climb and an age-group series lead to maintain at WinterWild-Pat's Peak.  The third race in the five race series.  Brayden and I packed the Explorer the night before.  We picked up the Lindsey's around the corner and then Rich at the Concord P&R.  Arriving at 5:30 AM we had plenty of time to leisurely change and chat with friends and teammates before the start command was given at 7:00 AM.  In some strange twist of fate I had found myself tied for the 40-49 year old series lead with Mark Hecox of Henniker.  He and I had traded age group wins in the first two races.  WW-Pat's Peak would be the largest race of the winter with over 225 starters.  At the start command a group of about 10-15 wide (including skinny plankers) took off on a flat section of mountain and within 25 meters were funnelled into a 15 meter shoot wide enough for 1 or 2 skiers and not much else.  I did my best to get off fast, stay to the left edge, and try not to get a pole in the eye.  As we made the sharp left hand turn up the mountain most of the top Nordic guys were already a few meters ahead but I had once again found myself running out amongst the front of the open category.  Mark must not have had a great start because it was a several hundred meters up the mountain before he pulled alongside.  We acknowledged each other and focused on dodging the skiers as we attempted to find a clean line up a relatively easy pitch.  The first 2/3 of the climb up Puff (green) was absolutely runnable and Mark and I stayed close to each other.  It wasn't until we made the turn onto Twister (black) for the last ascent that things got considerably more difficult and Mark made his one and only move.  I tried to quick chop the first few meters but decided very fast that it would be better to power hike this section as it was the first of two trips we'd make here.  And walking turned out to be every bit as fast as "running".  Mark, on the other hand, had made the decision to go for broke and muscled his way up this 200+ meter climb putting a 20+ meter gap on me in no time.  At this point I still felt like there was a lot of racing to do and I was confident that I was improving my descents.  I didn't want to risk the entire race to chase him down and figured I'd be able to recover and close on him during lap #2.  Mark had other ideas.  He stayed in sight up Twister but disappeared as we crested the mountain into the full splendor of a beautiful NH sunrise.  As I began the descent of Breeze (green) I could see him slowly increasing his lead as he hammered down the mountain.  Hesistant not to blow my legs up trying to close an almost insurmountable gap, I pushed hard but conservatively, working with young gun Brandon Baker to pick our way down the mountain.  Passing the START/FINISH Mark was out of sight and my goal quickly changed to staying in the Top 5 open category.  Running 5th as we started back up the mountain I felt strong and in control.  I ran all of Puff and again power hiked Twister back to the sun splashed summit.  I peaked quickly just before setting off down the mountain and didn't see any immediate open threat.  Relaxing a little more on the second descent I could feel my turnover increasing and my legs slowly going numb.  Luckily Breeze, Zepher, and Blast are all gradually sloping green trails keeping the pounding on my legs at a manageable level.  Making the turn around the chairlift at the bottom all that was left was a 100 sprint up a slight incline to the finish.  Then it happened...out of nowhere I had someone on my left shoulder.  Right away I assumed it was Brandon who had caught me but it was actually another 20-something challenger.  We ran stride for stride for five or six steps and then I felt him pulling ahead.  With 10 meters to go, in one last "old man" attempt at holding my spot I leaned forward and "accelerated" with everything I had.  For 2-3 strides I actually felt like I had pulled ahead but with less than 5 meters to go he just barely pulled ahead and beat me by a nose.  It was the first time in recent memory I had to finish with a sprint.  Guess I need to work on my explosive foot speed.  My unofficial finishing time was 37:50 and good enough for 6th overall open (3rd 40+ open).  With Mark's 90+ second win he's now back on top of the 40-49 year old series open category with two races to go.  I have fallen back to 2nd.  If this is going to go down to the wire, and there's no reason now not to think it will, I need to have a game plan in place for Sunapee.  Any move he makes will need to be immediately countered because I've learned he's a great closer.

NEXT UP:  WinterWild-Mount Sunapee

Sunday, February 5, 2012

WinterWild-Ragged Mountain

Leading the field up Exhibition at the
2012 WinterWild Ragged Mountain Race
[Photo Gianina Lindsey]
"I have climbed several higher mountains without guide or path, and have found, as might be expected, that it takes only more time and patience commonly than to travel the smoothest highway."  -Henry David Thoreau

Danbury, NEW HAMPSHIRE - Sometimes things just 'click'.  I'm not the strongest nor fleetest of foot but there's something about mountain races that I thoroughly enjoy.  Standing at the bottom and gazing up there's an incredible sense of excitement for the adventure to come.  I've never run to the top of any of these mountains so everything is new.  Everything is an exploration.  For me the lure is the challenge.  To do something that many wouldn't dare.  And so it was that I once again rose to a 3:00 AM alarm and with bleary eyes climbed into the back of the aR caravan (aka the Lindsey's mini-van) for the roughly two hour trip to Danbury, NH for WinterWild-Ragged Mountain, the 2nd race in the five race series and the brainchild of Chad Denning.  This time, however, I'd be joined by my son Brayden who would make his aR snowboard racing debut.  Check snowboarding off the list of sports that we now compete in.  We arrived in plenty of time to get registered, changed, and warm-up a little before the race.  The temperatures were much warmer than two weeks earlier at Whaleback.  Also different from two weeks prior was the presence of the other winter disciplines including Nordic, Tele, and Alpine (ski & board).  Chad gave his final race instructions including the process for the "orderly" descent down the mountain...runners to the LEFT and everyone else to the RIGHT.  From everything I'd heard the Nordic guys typically have a big advantage and usually dominate the overall results.  Although they might not be able to climb as fast as a runner they more than make up for it on the descent.  I saw a handful of familiar faces including my new WinterWild masters rival Mark Hecox (Henniker, NH) who just nipped me at the line at Whaleback.  As the race began I was surprised to find myself leading for the first 100 meters.  My visions of grandeur were short lived however as the nimble, light, and young guns began to motor by me.  I was able to hold onto 3rd/4th place as Mark and I raced neck-and-neck up the hill.  Roughly 500 meters into the race I noticed someone making a hard push on us.  At this point I was still running (slowly) but my new masters OPEN challenge was maintaining a steady pace as he walked by both Mark and myself.  I later learned it was Paul Doe of Derry, NH.  He easily pulled away from both of us as he marched up the steepest section of Exhibition toward the summit.  Not long after Paul went by us I began to separate from Mark.  He and I had been racing on opposite sides of the ski slope with me taking the inside line.  It really wasn't a purposeful tactic on my part I just chose to take the shorter of the two routes.  By not racing within the magic 3 meter range it allowed me to get a little gap on him although in the back of my mind I was reminded how strong he was on the descent at Whaleback so I knew our race was far from over.  Reaching the summit Paul had a 50 meter lead on me and because of the hairpin summit turn I couldn't determine how close Mark was.  And down we went.  As firm as the ascent was, the descent was equally soft with spots that left a 3-5 inch footstep.  Not sure if it made it harder or easier as my focus was squarely on finding a line and falling forward down the mountain.  Roughly 500 meters into the descent I could hear the first Nordic guys coming.  Three of them "WHOOSHED" by in a full tuck blur.  Because I wasn't really racing those jokers it didn't bother me.  Paul really pushed on this final section and wouldn't allow me to close.  As I spied back up the hill on a few occasions I noticed my pursuers but they didn't seem to be making up any ground.  When I could see the lodge I knew we were getting close.  I rounded the chair lift and made the final 10 meter "uphill" push to the finish without having to fight for the place.  My 22:07 (7:23's) was good enough for 7th overall, 4th OPEN, and 2nd OPEN 40+.  Mark finished just behind me.  Having traded 40-49 OPEN wins in the first two races we are now tied for the 40-49 OPEN series podium.  Can't wait to take on WinterWild-Pat's Peak in two two weeks.  It should be the biggest challenge of the winter as the race is a two loop course. 

Here's some great POV video that Brayden captured of the descent.  Gives you an idea of the spectacle that is a WW race.  [NOTE:  shot with our DRIFT HD170]

NEXT UP:  Horsehill Snowshoe Race, Merrimack, NH

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Scramble

The start of the 2012 Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Scramble
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]
"The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure."  -Sven Goran Eriksson
North Conway, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- One of the not-so-obvious benefits of frequent racing for me is a lack of fear.  So often endurance athletes are hesitant to push beyond the obstruction for fear of what lies on the other side.  The result so often is finishing a race with regrets about leaving "something in the tank".  Experience (and racing a lot) has taught me that I can go to that incredibly uncomfortable place and stay there assuming my training and preparation has been consistent and purposeful.  This weekend was my second snowshoe race of 2012.  I picked up my teammates Timmy & Gianina Lindsey for the ninety minute ride to beautiful North Conway for the Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Scramble hosted by Kevin & Jess Tilton.  I was very pleased and proud to see such a great acidotic RACING turnout as well as some of my good snowshoe racing friends.  The Scramble would be a 4 mile combination of groomed nordic and fresh powdery snowshoe singletrack with what seemed like 75% climbing.  I had apparently repressed the memory of how much climbing this course had because I was amazed how much we went up.  Fortunately I fashion myself as a climber so it actually fit my strength.  At the gun I got off fast and found myself running in the top 5 stride for stride with past US Snowshoe Racing champion Dave Dunham.  In short time however Dave began to move and effortlessly pulled away from me as he chased down the leaders Jim Johnson, Judson Cake (aR), and Danny Ferreira (aR) leaving me in 5th place overall.  The course switches and winds back onto itself enough to occasionally catch a glimpse of the pursuit.  And I could clearly make out my teammate Ryan Welts and a member of the Tuesday Night Turtles (who I later learned is named Chris...interestingly enough).  I've only occasionally beaten Ryan on snowshoes and it's almost always early in the season before he gets his "racquet legs" under him.  A fearless and tenacious descender I had a feeling that when we eventually lost the elevation we'd gained he would shoot by me as is his MO.  What I didn't expect however was to be overtaken by this newcomer from the TNTs.  At approximately the 1/2 way mark he passed me on a short groomed nordic descent and would maintain the 50 meter gap for the rest of the race.  I pushed as hard as I could on the singletrack sections as the soft snow provided very little purchase and occasionally spied back at Ryan to measure the gap.  Surprisingly he didn't seem to be getting any closer.  When I popped back onto the ball field for the last 100 meters of the race I looked back one last time and didn't see him.  I finished 6th overall (2nd Masters) in 31:11 (7:47's).  Amazingly, I ran the exact same time last winter on this course but finished 16th overall.  I'll never be a podium contender but I'm no less satisfied with my results particularly when I can take a seat on the 'pain train' and ride it to the last stop.

I'm old...but not as old as my
snowy beard would suggest.
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]

NEXT UP:  Sidehiller Snowshoe Race, Center Sandwich, NH

POST SCRIPT:  Tremendous kudos to Kevin & Jess Tilton for putting on another outstanding event.  The course was expertly marked and very well designed.  Registration was effortless and well organized.  There were even handmade prizes again this year.  A nice touch.  And a heartfelt thank you to my teammates Gary, Richie, Lisa, Timmy, Ryan, Kristina, Mariano, Mike, Danny, Jay, Robin, Leslie, Dan, and Judson for showing up and RACING acidotic.  Not to mention winning yet another team title and putting two on the overall podium (Leslie 1st and Judson 2nd).  I'll look to carry this momentum onto Sidehiller next weekend against the deepest and most talented field I'll face all winter long.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Weekend Double: WinterWild & Hebron Hills

"Gravity is the contributing factor in nearly 73% of all accidents involving falling objects."  -Dave Barry

SATURDAY:  WinterWild Whaleback

Enfield,  NEW HAMPSHIRE - Everyone once in a while it's good to try new things.  Even if those new things drag you out of bed at 3:30 am in January, drive across the state, and run to the top of a ski slope...and of course back down.  Such was my first experience at the wildly popular new race series here in NH, the WinterWild hosted by Chad Denning.  Full disclosure:  aR will be hosting the WinterWild Championship at Bretton Woods in March so I thought it would be a good idea to check the 'phenomena' out for myself.  Plus, I'm a decent uphill runner.  Going back down, however, is another story entirely.  I met teammate Rich Lavers at "the" Park & Ride in Concord and we drop up together.  Rich is a veteran of these races but hadn't done this particular stop in 2011.  We arrived about an hour before the start and got the intel on the course...0.6 miles to the summit and then a return trip back down on the same slope.  There would be about 100 meters of flat with a slight uphill finish in soft chewed up snow.  I changed into my MicroSpikes and trail shoes and warmed up.  Just as soon as the race started a group of about 10 competitors pushed hard on the initial flat and attacked the hill.  I stayed cautiously to the outside edge of the pack and settled in as we began to climb.  Within 30 seconds of ascending I could feel my heart pounding out of my chest as my complete lack of preparation for this type of race became painfully obvious.  Learning to stay patient with uphill-type races I found a cadence and slowly began picking people off.  I ran approximately 1/2 way up the climb before alternating between running and walking particularly on the very steep sections.  By the time I reached the top I had managed to move into 6th place overall.  As I began the descent I noticed two competitors directly ahead.  Traditionally I've struggled with descending.  It's probably more fear than lack of fitness.  For some reason however this time was different.  Feeling confident in my grip I leaned forward and used my arms like windmill counterbalances as I wildly threw myself back down the mountain actually picking up two places in the process!  Just as I leveled out at the bottom I gave 4th place back and lost to the overall masters winners by a second.  I finished the 1.2 mile course in 13:13 (2nd Masters).  While cooling down with Rich my left calf felt very tight and a little crampy.  We drove back to Concord in a snow squall...where was this weeks ago?!

"A true friend is someone who thinks you're a good egg even though he knows you are slightly cracked."  -Bernard Meltzer

SUNDAY:  Hebron Hills Snowshoe Classic

Hebron,  MAINE --  This really is one of my favorite races and race courses of the entire year.  Our teammate Austin Stonebraker has designed a fabulous track on the campus of Hebron Academy.  This year, however, the course had to be slightly modified due to the lack of snow.  Much of the killer singletrack would be left out but all of the hills would remain...and we'd get a chance to do all of them TWICE as the course would be a double loop measuring around 4.5 total miles.  My calves were trashed from my WinterWild exploits 24 hours earlier.  I actually had a noticeable limp when I attempted to warm up.  And "warm up" was a relative thing as temperatures were close to zero with wind chills in the negative double digits at the start.  Sizing up the competition at the start it was obvious that I wouldn't be running with the top 2...aR's Judson Cake and top masters snowshoer Scott Horney.  Also in the field was my good friend Chuck Hazzard from Trail Monster Running.  Chuck and I have duked it out on trails, mountains, and snow over the years with  our overall head-to-head series probably dead even.  Right there at the start I devised a plan...I'd race with Chuck and let him keep me company.  Not feeling quite 100% and the first time racing on the racquet's this winter it seemed like a good strategy.  When the race started Judson and Scott quickly gaped the field.  Chuck also got a great start and shot out ahead obviously not having planned the same race strategy as myself.  Within a 100 meters I had caught him and we were running side by side and all alone in 3rd & 4th place.  And moments later we having a conversation...perfect.  I think he figured me out right away and because he's such a great guy he played along.  We tempo'd the course with me pulling slightly ahead on the ascents and him bombing by me on the descents.  As we neared the finish line he just nipped me at the tape.  I finished 4th overall in 41:22 (2nd Masters).  I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to run every hill on the course including "breaker" both times.  All in all a great start to the 2012 racing season!

NEXT UP:  Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Scramble (North Conway, NH)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Racing Recap

Me & T-Lite 'Doggin' it at the
HalloWiener Hustle in ManchVegas
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]
Wow.  What a year!  Thirty-three events was by far the most I've ever done.  Credit two things, 1.) avoiding injury and 2.) Karen being in graduate school.  Karen finished her degree in December so I expect to race a little less this coming year.  Great times with great friends.  Everything I love about endurance sports in New England.

- Old Salem Greens Snowshoe Classic (5th)
- Feel Good Farm Snowshoe Race (13th)
- Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Race (16th)
- Sidehiller Snowshoe Race (17th)
- Hebron Hills Snowshoe Classic (5th)
- Exeter Snowshoe Hullabaloo (12th)
- Horse Hill Snowshoe Race (9th)
- Bear Paw Classic Snowshoe Race (5th)
- Northeast Championships (16th)
- Bradbury Blizzard (5th)
- NH Snowshoe Championship (10th)
- Merrimack River Trail Race (29th)
- 7 Sisters Trail Race (83rd)
- NE Trail Championships (50th)
- Hoppin Mad Mud Run (1st team)
- Pineland Farms 25k (22nd)
- Exeter 10m Trail Race (10th)
- Pinnacle Mtb Race (DNF)
- US Mnt Running Championships (52nd)
- Loon Mountain Race (50th)
- Bradbury Scuffle (12th)
- Tough Mountain Challenge (1st team)
- 24HoGG (18th team)
- Great Adventures Challenge (5th)
- Run2Fall 5k (9th)
- Reach The Beach (19th team)
- Pinnacle Challenge VII (3rd team)
- Grog & Dog Jog (?th team)
- Firetower 5k (4th)
- No Brakes Mtb Race (4th)
- RI 6-HR Relay (1st team)
- Hallo-Wiener Hustle (1st co-ed team)
- Andover XC (27th)