Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ascutney Race Report - End of another Mountain Series

As someone politely reminded me, "Hey Paul, so you actually run in one of the mountain races and now you're not going to report on it?" Point well taken, so here goes...

Although Cranmore is my favorite race in the Inov-8 USATF-NE Mountain Circuit, Ascutney is the one that perfectly suits my abilities so i always enjoy it. It's short and it's steep- little endurance or speed needed, just strength. I've run at Ascutney 3 times (a 2 year hiatus for injury and another because I was out of town) and it's the only race I have a chance at cracking the top 20. My love for mountain running far exceeds my mountain running abilities.

The morning of the race started with a full car of stuff, gatorade jugs, Hammer Gel and Heed for the RD, Medals from the Mt. Champs to still distribute, several mismatched Ortholite insoles to hand out from the Loon Race, some Inov-8 shoes to sell, plus 4 peanut butter covered waffles and a bottle of gatorade and water for the trek over to Ascutney. Anyone who has ever tried to drive East/West or West/East in Northern New England knows that you really can't get there from here without lots of smaller roads and plenty of North/South driving. It also seems like half of the midsection of New Hampshire has no cell phone reception.

After a few missed turns, I arrived at the race site in time to see Jim Johnson, Jeff Gould and many others already there, getting registered and enjoying the beautiful morning. Lots of discussions were taking place about what the new course looked like and whether to wear road or trail shoes. I was going with my Inov-8 Roclite 320s, which is my Inov-8 shoe of choice. They are a bit heavy relative to other Inov-8s but they still only weigh in at 11 ounces and give me the extra support I need.

After a warmup with some CMS guys and others, and then handing out the Mountain Goat shirts to the 100(!) mountain goats, we got a group picture and then headed over to the starting line. I
felt really strong for the race, very little in the way of nerves, and was looking forward to the run. This is not a normal feeling for me but, most of my best races seem to happen when I almost feel like I don't care beforehand.

The gun then went off and we headed up the mountain. Although the Ascutney road mimics the grade of Mt. Washington, the one difference is at Ascutney there is no downhill start. You start climbing as soon as you hit the road. I felt pretty good, estimated I was in about 25th or 30th place in the first half mile and started to move my way forward and pick some people off. My initial goal was to keep Kasie Enman in my sights, as a good indicator of where I should be in the race.

The rest of the paved section felt really good, my legs felt strong, and I was in a groove. I had just passed Marshall Ambros and then was pretty much even with Brian Betournay when we hit the woods. As soon as we hit the trail section, my legs were in shock. They had been in that good Mt. Washington low gear and now the trail stuff was confusing the heck out of them. I was reduced to a power walk during much of the trail section, running the flats (which were pretty narrow singletrack in some sections) and power hiking the uphills. The rockiness and wetness reminded me of running on hiking trails near home, definitely not what I'm used to in a race.

16 year old Michael Robinson flew by all three of us about .3 miles into the trail section. He made me feel very old and slow at that moment, watching his energy. Brian ended up passing me with about .8 miles left and then Marshall passed me before the final ascent. I was slowly gaining in on Martin Tigue but ran out of mountain and he finished 5 seconds ahead of me. I ended up 18th overall. I still wonder in the back of my mind if I would have had a PR in me if it was the old course. It certainly felt that way at the 2.3 mile mark.

My goal of keeping Kasie in my sights pretty much fell by the wayside on the trail section, as she finished 4 minutes ahead of me.

As I made my way back down from the finish line, I got to enjoy hearing Dave Dunham proclaim his undying love for me from the top of the firetower, always a welcome sound at any event.

Afterwards at awards, I got to chat with a lot of the mountain goats. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to hear how much people enjoy the whole series, makes organizing things so worthwhile. It's quite an accomplishment to just show up at 6 mountain races across 3 states over a period of 8 weeks, let alone run up and down all of the mountains too. My hat is off to all 100 of the goats for your accomplishment!!

When awards were done, had a nice run down with Jim Pawlicki, Jim Johnson, Kasie Enman and others. Then I said my quick goodbyes, sold some shoes and got in the car for the 2.5 hour drive home, with the music way too loud, as I always like it.

My thoughts on the new Ascutney course? Very mixed. I definitely liked the old road only course a lot. The new course to me took away a bit of the racing aspect and made it too much of a power hike. I know that may sound strange coming from the RD of Loon. At the same time, I have to respect the wishes of a RD, but I do hope they will poll the runners to get an idea of what people want for next year.

I'm always a little bummed as mountain circuit time ends. In this day and age when people talk about a lack of community, the mountain circuit, just like the WMAC snowshoe series, is a great reminder to me that community is whatever you want it to be if you seek it out. Most of the people I see during the circuit aren't people I'll keep in touch with during the rest of the year, but I still know, come every May, I'll get to see all of them again, trade some stories, and feel that bond I only feel with others who love the challenge of a good mountain race.

Now I begin the process of searching for trail races between now and a fall trail marathon since when I'm in the midst of the mountain circuit, my race planning never seems to go past about mid-July. I've renewed my pact with Kevin Tilton to run up a mountain before work for the rest of the summer, which is a good feeling. Even though that won't count as a race, it will still give me the inner happiness that I always find when I'm out with good friends running in the mountains.

Lastly, I must say a huge thank you to 2 people for your assistance during the Mountain Series- Dave Dunham, for your help on timing and scoring the series and keeping me sane with humor, and to my wife Cat, who is always super supportive during these 8 weeks when it seems like I'm only half there helping out with things at home.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Loon Mountain Race 2009- Race Director's Report

"I'm drunk on hills" - Trail Pixie after finishing the 2009 Loon Mt. Race

The Loon Mountain Race for me has become the closure after a hectic few weeks of getting ready for the Cranmore Hill Climb. Cranmore was more hectic this year with it being National Champs, but, for whatever reason, Loon pretty much falls in to place. It may be that I'm already in Race Directing mode and everything is still out in boxes in my garage from Cranmore. In theory it should be harder for me- Loon is 45 miles from my house and I don't actually ever go to the venue until the day before. I also have a lot of trouble getting volunteers from my running club because at this point they are pretty volunteered out between Loon and Cranmore. Luckily I am always able to get plenty of Race Husbands and Race Wives who are generous of their time to help out, getting a free Gondola ride to the top of the mountain.

This year's realy race prep started the friday before. I started going through stuff in my garage from Cranmore, and realized as I opened boxes and discovered stuff that I had forgotten about, it was kind of like cleaning up after a really big frat party the weekend before-- I had little memory of it at this point but it sure seemed like it was fun. On Saturday, I went and picked up bananas and bagels for the race, stuffed my truck with everything I could possibly fit into it and headed out across the Kancamagus Highway to meet Dave Dunham and Paul Bazanchuk at Lincoln Woods for our pre-course setup run. This has now become a tradition with me and Dave (this is year three for the tradition). I always enjoy the run because it's one of the few times I actually get to run with Dave. Most of the other times I'm seeing him are at races during either warm downs or the race itself. Paul B was a great addition and nicely put up with mine and dave's stupid comments.

After I did my brain dump to those two about Cranmore we finished up the run and headed over to Loon Mountain to set up the course. Much to our surprise, we were met by Tivo which meant for an additional level of stupid comments and jokes as we marked the course. It also meant that we could get a good video documentary of the day, although for the sake of the decency laws most of it ends up on the editing room floor.

We loaded up the gondolas with stuff for the water stop at the 4 mile/finish area, and headed up to the top of the mountain. As we were up there, we noticed some storm clouds coming, so we hustled up, took the Gondola back down and headed over to the start area to start setting up the course flags. As luck would have it, the thunder and rain started. Since this wasn't the Cranmore race, we figured it wasn't safe to be out in Thunder & Lightning so we waited it out in Dave's car. Dave and I took turns trying to do one of the raps from Eminem's new CD (all of which would not pass the decency laws) and then, after excessive fogging of the windows we all got out and headed up the mountain.

The course marking went well, plenty of wild strawberries to eat, and a fair amount of Horse Poop (aka Lincoln Logs) on the service road, courtesy of the new riding stables at Loon. I didn't hear of anyone who ended up running through any of it during the race, which is a good thing. As is always the case, we all remarked how the course just gets so much steeper as you keep going higher, with the final insult at the Upper Walking Boss Trail.

When we were all done, Paul B headed to his campsite and Tivo, Dave and headed back across the Kanc to my house for the night.

Race day morning came early for me and I headed back over the Kanc to Lincoln. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, especially considering the drenchfest that this summer has been so far. It was around 50 degrees with some sun. I will never tire of the drive to Lincoln on the Kanc. It's one of the most scenic drives around here, and at that time of the morning you have little worries of getting a slow train of cars heading over the pass. Race registration started slow and then really picked up about 8 AM. By the time the dust settled we had about 80 day of registrants (a total of 204 people finished the race).

We headed down to the start area after I chatted briefly with Tad Thomas about setting up the water stop at the top of the mountain. Tad is the most wonderful volunteer you could ever ask for. He's always super helpful, has a good sense of humor about the whole thing, and gladly comes out to help at all of the races his son Max runs in.

The start went off as the Loon start usually does- you yell start and then climb in a moving pickup to get ahead of the runners behind you. After it was done, we headed back to the Gondola and made our way to the top.

On the way up the mountain, I rode with a woman and her grandson who were there to cheer on the kids' dad in the race. As we headed up the mountain, I could see what I thought was Jim Johnson with a slight lead at the 2.5 mile mark over Abdeltif Faker. After we got out at the top and we set up the finish area, Jim Johnson came through, looking strong as he headed down the other side down the Haulback Trail to start the final 40% grade climb up Upper Walking Boss. Jim knew he didn't have a sizable lead as he went through but he looked focused and strong.
The next time I saw Jim, he was flying down Sunset trail before the short steep section back to the finish line. After he crossed, I found out that he had been passed on the uphill by three runners but he was able to get ahead of them on the downhill.

On the women's side, Kasie Enman came through the water stop with that same look on her face I see on her in every race- one that's a combination of focus and strength and you know she means business. Kasie, like Jim, was on a recovery week after Cranmore but you would never know it as she motored on by. kasie set the women's course record in 2007, the last time she ran at Loon.

Although as a race director I know I'm not supposed to play favorites in a race, I do have to admit it was great to see Jim Johnson get his first win at Loon. Jim is in his second year on the mountain circuit and, much like his unending energy on the road racing and snowshoe circuits, Jim is a great ambassador for the sport of mountain running. So it was really great for me as a race director to see him cross the line first today. Kudos to him.

Kasie, in her "recovery week" set a new course record of 53:17, finishing 13th overall, beating her old course record by 19 seconds. Kudos to Kasie too. She is relatively new to mountain running as well (although no stranger to trails) and it's exciting to see her back out in the mountains, with her 4th place overall finish at Cranmore and her today's new record at Loon. She continues to just get stronger and stronger. I look forward to see what she will do next year at Mt. Washington.

I also was really psyched to see Dave Dunham finish 5th overall. Loon is Dave's kind of course. he's not a huge fan of downhills but the steeper the hill is, the better for Dave. 5th overall is incredible enough, but when you have someone generous enough with their time that they will come out and help you mark the course the day before it makes you appreciate what Dave gives back to the sport.

For me that ends my race directing for the summer, which I say with a mixture of relief and sadness, as it's really hard to beat that hectic feeling on race day when everything is a little crazy but it all somehow falls in to place. I am looking forward to getting out to Ascutney next weekend to race the new course there. That will close out the Inov-8 USATF-NE Mountain Circuit for the season. As of right now I think we still have about 100 Mountain Goats who have completed all of the races. Almost double what we had last year. My hat is off to every one of you.

A special thanks to all of the volunteers, especially DD, Paul, Tivo, Laurie, Kristy, Chrissie, Tad, Joanne Fedion, Nancy Drach and Smitty, who all helped everything go so smoothly.

Results can be found here
Scott Mason pics here
Kristin Wainwright's photos here
Race reports I'm sure will be posted by all of the above bloggers very soon.

See you next week in Vermont!


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cranmore Hill Climb 2009 - Race Director's Report

As I look back on this year's Cranmore Hill Climb, I can only hope that I am somehow able to bottle up all of the good memories I have from the past 2 weeks working on the race. I usually end up writing this race report the day after the race but, for various circumstances, that didn't happen this year so this one will be a little shorter than 2 years ago with a lot fewer details as the memories have already begun to fade. The story still essentially ends in that "I love you guys!" feeling, that makes me wonder how the race went by so quickly, even though I realize I've been vested in this one more than any other event I have ever been involved with in my life.

A couple of memories and observations I did want to share...

1. I'm at best, a top 15 finisher at local mountain races. I have been in the top 11 only once in a race on the New England Mountain Circuit. I am by no stretch of anyone's imagination an elite runner. So, when I get to take a group of elite athletes on a tour of a course that I designed, it's a huge honor for me. Not everyone gets to meet the people that inspire them, and I feel fortunate to do just that. I get to run with them too. And of course, the best part is, they're all just regular people who are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.

2. The residents of the Mount Washington Valley will never cease to amaze me with their generosity. Housing close to 40 athletes in people's homes is not something every race can offer. And from the feedback I get, the experience for both athlete and host are both pretty rewarding. That makes me really proud to live here. I feel such a strong sense of community, which is a wonderful thing.

3. I feel that same sense of community among the New England Mountain runners. The number of people who offered to provide rides for athletes or ask how they could help out after the event, was just so incredible. These events feel more like reunions of friends sometimes more than they do a race.

4. There is a cool vibe in the air for me on the morning of race day at about 5:30 AM at the course site. It's quiet, no craziness yet. Very peaceful. It gives you a chance to stop for a moment and enjoy the day for a few precious moments.. I always like to take a lap on the course then to try and imagine how the race will go.

4. This year seemed *way* bigger and more involved than the 2007 championships. That made for a hectic last few months but the race day experience was amazing because of it. There's something extra special about seeing athletes from different countries compete in their national uniforms.

5. The National anthems for all three countries was such a nice touch. I really appreciate it that Andy Schachat thought of bringing them.

6. I will always cherish the new friends I make at these events. I never really expect that to happen but it always does. This year was no different.

7. I can always measure the scheduling challenges in my life by whether or not my cell phone is on. I don't get cell reception at my house so most of the time, it's not on. That's not a bad thing either. I confess to not being a big fan of cell phones. I like to be unreachable sometimes.
This year, with helping to coordinate rides for Mt. Washington and with Cranmore having so many out of town runners coming in, I think I used my cell phone more in the last 2 weeks than I have since, well, Mt. Washington last year.

I guess that's it for this year. For us locals New England Mt. Goats, it's on to Loon and Ascutney. For everyone who got to come and experience our little Valley, thanks for coming and don't be a stranger! We'd love to have you back next year. Maybe we'll even get some sunshine then.

Thanks for coming.

Race website with photo links and results

Friday, May 15, 2009

Head for the Hills

The days are getting longer, birdsong growing more plentiful, neon green leaves unfurling over the trails.  Snow is growing rare even on higher elevation pathways.

Spring is here, and we're training, people!  With Mount Washington just over a month away, and the Mount Cranmore race not long after, many Milers are out there seeking the steeps.  Some folks (including our Dear Leader, Paul Tse Tung) are doing Auto Road training runs, some hitting trails closer to home, and some are tilting the treadmills to ridiculous angles.

Yesterday I scurried forth under threatening skies.  I headed straight up the front of Cranmore, which incidentally is a terrible way to warm up...  Then gasped over the top and headed toward Black Cap.  

I pivoted left onto the Red Tail Trail, enjoying sweeping views and really fun downhill singletrack.  Late in the year the clear-cuts are full of blackberries... and bears.  Don't trip on the blood-stained mountain bike tires.

Veering back east, I leaned into the Hurricane Mountain Road hill, my first time on it actually.  Disappointingly, not a single Maine-bound car passed to give me a ride.  Finally I tagged the summit of Black Cap and raced the raindrops down the Cranmore Race course downhill.

I'm not sure of the exact mileage, but I highly recommend this circuit for it's variety of ups, downs and footing as well as great views.  What else are people doing to prepare for Mount Washington, Cranmore, and/or other tough races?  


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I love snowmobiles (winter trail running)

I've never owned a snowmobile and probably never will. I don't have anything against them but it's just not something that really interests me. What does interest me about the are the trails the snowmobile clubs and the state maintain in the Mt. Washington Valley.

Trail Running for me used to be something I did until the trails were all snow covered. Then I would switch over to XC skiing and road running for our 6 long months of winter. A few years ago I discovered the wonders of snowmobile trails in the winter.

If you're a resident of the Mt. Washington Valley, you are lucky to have access to a trail network in the winter that makes the summer trail network seem small in comparison. In the winter you can run on trails that aren't even accessible in the summer, whether they be through a swamp or on land you normally wouldn't be able to go on in the summer. What I'm talking about is running on the miles and miles of snowmobile trails in this area.

Running on snowmobile trails, especially in a winter like this, is similar to regular trail running- the footing is often better than in the summer and you save the pounding of being out on the roads. If the weather warms up, the trails can be a little soft in spots, so you have to run based on level of effort, rather than a specific per mile pace (much like regular mountain and trail running in the summer). If conditions are a little icy, I will use my trusty YakTrax, available at EMS for $30, they'll give you the extra traction you might need in icy conditions. There are also some fancier shoe options from companies like Inov-8 who offer a trail shoe with an aggressive tread and spikes in the sole for additional traction - their Mudclaw 340 shoe.

So, what's a good place to run on the snowmobile trails? One of my favorite places is starting right behind Walmart to the left of the store around back. You can join up with the Corridor 19 trail and head North over past the Redstone Quarry or follow it South along Pudding Pond towards the Mineral Site off of Passaconaway Road. The best time of day to go out is earlier in the day (especially on the weekends) as there tends to be less snowmobile traffic. Keep your ears and eyes peeled anytime you are on the trail though- the people on snow machines might not be expecting to see a runner out there.

And try and remember, these are snowmobile trails, so give the people on their machines a wide berth on the trails to let them pass you. Their trail fees and groomers are what pay for the trails you get to run on. If you get inspired, make a contribution to your local snowmobile club too.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sidehiller 4 Mile Snowshoe Race

The Sidehiller Snowshoe Race brings me back to my first winter activities when I moved to NH with my wife in 1992. We both helped out with the Sandwich Notch 60 Sleddog Race for 10 years, when we lived in Holderness. We got to know a good number of people in Sandwich through the race, and also many members of the Sandwich Sidehiller Winter Trails Club- the club that grooms the snowmobile and skiing trails in the area. So when I wanted to start a snowshoe race it was only logical to approach the Sidehillers, even though I don't live one town away anymore (ok, it's only 3 towns away but Sandwich always seems like it's in the middle of nowhere, in its own little universe, especially to those of us living in the bustling metropolis of Madison, NH).

This year marked the 5th Annual Sidehiller Race, and we had our best turnout yet. The turnout is due to four reasons- it's the only race that's part of both the Granite State Snowshoe Series and the Dion/WMAC Series, it's a US Snowshoe Association Qualifying Race, and because of the support of Bob and Denise Dion, who provide free loaner snowshoes to anyone who wants them for the race (The Dions do this for all of the WMAC races).

Working on a race with the Sidehillers is always funny because they are the most dedicated bunch of volunteers you could imagine. Other than a few emails and phone conversations with members, I never met with any of them before the race to go over volunteer logistics. But, come race morning, after I said hi to Jim Johnson, Kristin, Dave Dunham and Jim Pawlicki on Bean Road, up comes this guy who I didn't know, driving a tractor towards where I was parked. The first words out of his mouth were "So, where exactly is the crossing so I know where to break through the snowbanks?" It was one of the Sidehillers, there to help put snow on the road for the one road crossing in the race. The Sidehillers always are great about shoveling snow on the road there. Heck, it seems like half the town gets involved in some way or another with the race.

So after I chatted with this guy, I went out and finished the markings on the woods side of the course while Dave, Jim and Jim marked the Fairgrounds side. The snow seemed really packed, like it was earlier in the week when I had done some marking on some of the woods section. Unfortunately, that was wrong as I think the very cold winter we have had led to a course that seemed packed but offered pretty dry, sandy snow just beneath the surface, making for a slow grind for most of the day.

After getting back to the fairgrounds, more volunteers showed up along with Chris Dunn from Acidotic Racing, who came early to help setup registration and mix the all important Heed Sports drink. I got to say hi to a lot of people I knew, either from other snowshoe races or from the mountain circuit.

The race went off at 11 AM and it seemed the field went out pretty fast. I later heard from several runners that the whole pack went out pretty aggressively. The battle for first place was between Kevin Tilton and Jim Johnson, with Kevin chasing down Jim for about the first 3 miles of the race, fittingly enough catching him on the last "Sidehill" before the final downhill back out of the woods. I have run a lot with Kevin and seen him finish a lot of races and this was one you could tell that he was pretty spent afterwards. Jim gave him a great fight, finishing 13 seconds back, never letting up even at the end.

Of course, both being in great shape, Jim went on to race at another snowshoe race on Sunday and Kevin went out for a long run on snowmobile trails on Sunday as well.

Dave Dunham rounded out the top 3 for the men, the first half to a double racing weekend for him too.

On the women's side, Kim Webster of Framingham, MA, took the win, with Leslie Dillon of Troy, NY second and Amber Cullen of Concord, NH 3rd.

The youngest finisher of the race was 17 and the oldest was WMAC Silverback Richard Busa, age 79. Richard finished with a smile, out there enjoying the day as he always seems to. I hope I'm still able to drive to races when I'm 79, let alone run them!

A special thanks to Kevin O'Hara, the Sidehillers, Mocha Rizing for providing food, the CMS trio for helping mark the course, Chris Dunn and all of the racers from Dungeon Rock and Acidtotic who have helped to completely energize the new Granite Staet Snowshoe Series.

Results can be found here, photos from Kristin here, more photos from Tad Thomas here and race reports from Jim Johnson and Chris Dunn and Dave Dunham

So ends another Sidehiller, right in the middle of a really great snowy winter. It's February 8th and if you wonder how much snow we've had this winter, I've had to run on roads only twice this winter- once down in Philly over the Xmas holidays and once when the snowmobile trail Kevin Tilton and I wanted to take was closed. The rest of the time has been all on snowmobile trails. Thanks to the Sidehillers and all of the other clubs that keep them groomed for us. It makes for great rail running.