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.