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