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

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