Monday, July 7, 2008
No Safeword at the Loon Mountain Race
Race day preparations for this year's Loon Mountain race started the day before the race as they always do, meeting Dave Dunham for a run at Lincoln Woods before heading over to Loon to flag the course and set up registration and the water stops.
As always, setup is an entertaining affair, as was the run, it being one of the few chances I get to run with Dave outside of a race (and then it's more of me running way behind Dave). We were joined by Tim VanOrden, who proved up to the rigorous task of providing as many stupid comments as Dave and I both do while we mark the course. Many know Tim on the Mountain Circuit as the Running Raw guy. He is also currently within a point of Dave for a spot in the top 3 in the spots in the LaSportiva USATF Mountain Circuit, which makes him a pretty great runner too (besides just being a nice guy).
When we got to Loon, we saw the sign announcing the race at the entrance (see photo Dave took, above). Loon always does a great job of publicizing the race. This time, their weekend events made for an interesting listing on the sign, having a Hot Dog Festival (complete with hot dog eating contest) the day before the race. I don't know of anyone who entered both the hot dog contest and the mountain race but if there was, that would make for an impressive double, some would say more impressive than a Pikes Peak double. Dave tried to convince Tim that if he ate the hot dogs raw, it would still count for his raw diet but Tim wasn't giving in.
The three of us loaded the supplies for the water stop on the gondola and then began our marking of the course.
The course at Loon was originally designed to be a European Mountain Race style of course, as the race's inaugural year served as a qualifying race for the US Mountain Running Team. It's a course that gets tougher the higher you go, not because of altitude but just because of plain steepness. The worst section of the course, both mentally and physically, is from about mile 4.5 to a little past mile 5 on the Upper Walking Boss ski trail. It's a black diamond trail that averages about a 30% grade the whole way, with some sections getting as steep as 45%. The majority of the runners in the race end up power walking this part. Mentally, if you are trying to catch someone in front of you, you will quickly realize that 100 meters ahead of you might translate to a few minutes of power walking/running time. Even marking the course, this section seems tremendously steep. The Wandersurface blog has a great course elevation profile here.
Having Tim along on course setup means some great video footage of the course so you can see the steepness . Go here to watch his video.
Race day morning, I left the house at 5:15 to go pick up fellow White Mt. Milers and volunteer, Tim Livingston and then we made the trek across the Kanc to Loon Mountain. I always enjoy that 45 minutes of race morning before registration opens. It's quiet, peaceful, and you know things will get hectic soon so you start going thru all of the Race Director mental notes in your head to make sure nothing was forgotten.
As runners came in to register, I was pleasantly surprised to see New England mountain racing legends Craig Fram and Eric Morse show up on race day. I knew this year's Mt. Washington winner, Eric Blake, was also racing. Combine those 3 with Dave Dunham, Kevin Tilton, Tim Van Orden, Todd Callaghan, Jim Johnson and Justin Fyffe, and I knew it was going to be a very strong mens field. We had a really diverse set of day-of registrations, with people from Illinois, Colorado, Ireland, and all of the Northeast coming in to register for the race. The Loon Race attracts a slightly different crowd than some of the other mountain races in the USATF-NE Circuit. This may because of its location, how well the mountain publicizes it or who knows, but it's always exciting to me to get a whole new group of people exposed to the sport of mountain running.
After the race gun went off, I headed up the gondola to the water stop and finish area at the top and waited for the first racers to come through. Eric Blake came through first, followed by Morse and Fram and others. They all looked strong but also looked like they were beginning to feel the effects of the warm conditions. Standing at the finish line of this race, you get some great visuals of people flying down the Sunset Trail off of North Peak and back to the last hill at the finish line.
The first woman through the 4 Mile point at the water stop was Masters runner and USATF-NE Points leader Nancy Cook. She was followed closely by Jennifer Johnson.
Blake ended up winning the race, setting a new course record formerly held by Paul Low. Eric's time was 46:01. An impressive pace considering the steepness of the course and the heat. He was followed by Eric Morse, Justin Fyffe and Todd Callaghan. Dave Dunham rounded out the top 5, followed by Tilton, Tim Van Orden, David Herr, Jim Johnson and Craig Fram. Incredibly, 5 of the top 10 runners were Masters runners.
On the women's side, Johnson ended up passing Cook to take the win in 64:15, with Cook finishing in 65:15, exactly a minute behind her. They were followed by White Mountain Miler Lynne Zummo of Intervale, NH. The women's course record is held by Vermonter Kasie Enman, who won the 2007 race in a time of 53:36. Enman was unable to race at Loon this year as she was in Mexico helping the US Women's Team win the 2008 NACAC Mountain Running Championships.
The youngest finisher of the day was 13 year old Patrick McDonough of Durham, NH, while the oldest finisher was 76 year old John Parker, who is a regular on the Mountain Circuit.
It's always tough for me to direct races and not get to race myself but, if you have to do that, one of the best places to be on the course is helping out at the finish line, where you get to see everyone's sense of accomplishment for completing a pretty tough mountain race. No matter what the place or the age, everyone who raced at Loon on Sunday knew they had done something pretty impressive to tackle the black diamond slopes without giving up. 170 people in all completed the race.
A big thanks to sponsors Inov8, Fuel Belt, Hammer Nutrition, Julbo and for the Glaceau Water crew for coming out to provide water to everyone before and after the race. An extra big thank you to all of the race volunteers who helped out. A special note of thanks to Tad & Sheri Thomas for cleaning up everything from the top water stop and getting everything down the gondola to the bottom. A race doesn't happen without volunteers and this one is no exception. There was some great high energy cheering at the water stop and the finish line.
For those of you bitten by the Mountain running bug and those looking to become Mountain Goats (finish all 6 races and get that coveted Mt. Washington bypass), it's on to Ascutney in Vermont for the last race of the Circuit. For everyone else, I hope to see you again at Loon next year.
Some great race pictures by Scott Mason are here and Jim Johnson/Kristin Wainwright's are here. Jim Johnson's blog has a great a race report and another good one at Wandersurface as well. Full race results here.