Monday, July 8, 2013

Race Report: Loon Mountain Race

I've been interested in mountain racing for the past year or two, but that only amounted to looking at some races and results and generally doing online stalking.  With my lack of fast running this year due to injury, and my impending decline in legspeed now that I'm over 30, this summer seemed like a good time to try it out.  Wifey and I headed up to Lincoln, NH, for the Loon Mountain Race, the supposedly most-brutal installment of the USATF-New England Mountain Series.  I chose this one because it's mostly uphill (no return downhill) and it's purportedly the 2nd-most competitive mountain race in New England (or the East?) after Mt. Washington.  My research/stalking indicated that it draws the top mountain runners from the region, and as I wanted to see how I could fare in my debut, this seemed like a good choice.  The course (below) looked miserable, in a wonderful kind of way.  After an encouraging climb during the Greylock Trail Race, I was confident.  Spoiler-- Loon is a much, much harder climb.

My best buddy 'summers' in the area and met us for local brews and grub the night before.  We found some swimming spots and did the whole 'drive around and look at mountains' thing.  We also previewed the course--well, the parts we could see-- from the gondola, which served to intimidate the hell out of me.  Also noteworthy was the size of the bathroom in our very strange hotel room.

<----This square footage in this bathroom is too damn high.

Wifey hamming it up on the gondola

After a too-short warmup, the race started fast, and I passed the first (only gently-uphill) mile in 6:07.  The next two miles saw gradual climbing, a few steeper sections, and (to my dismay) some downhill as we wound our way across the sides of the ski slopes.  I didn't bother with splits as the steep climbing slowed the miles to 8-9 minutes.  Suffering began in earnest around 3 miles in.  Clawing my way to the summit at 4 miles, I was settled into 6th place.  (Or was it 7th? When did the other guy pass me? My brain wasn't functioning...)  Cruelly, the course passes over the top, past the gondola at 3,000-plus feet, and through the eventual finish line before barreling downhill for probably half a mile.  I underestimated the significance of this downhill and I lost ground in the high grass and uneven footing.  My best quad-pounding effort still cost me at least 30 seconds on the guys behind me, 2 of whom caught me just as the trail banged a hard right onto the infamous Upper Walking Boss, a 40%-incline ski slope that would take us over an adjacent summit.

Me in 6th, for a time.

Eric Blake breaking his own course record.

Photos above by SNAPacidotic.  Full gallery here.

The next kilometer (which took me probably 9 minutes to cover) is the most insane "racing" I've ever experienced.  It is the steepest thing I have traversed on foot, in a car, or probably even in a gondola. Some folks "ran", I mostly power-hiked; but neither method seemed any better than the other.  My face was a foot off the ground and a foot from the shoes of the guy in front of me.  He had worked past me and I latched on to him, but he pulled away at the top, rocketing down the other side. What surprised me most was the pain in my calves, but the swimming anaerobic panic in my brain was also quite alarming.

Photo taken by Far North Endurance, from the top of Upper Walking Boss. The steep part is out of view.  Full gallery here.

From the top of this (North Peak) the course blasted downhill again for 500 meters, again through tall grass and some scree-like stuff, where I lost more time.  It didn't matter now though, for the finish was a short and steep climb back up to the main summit, and there was no position to be gained or lost.  I finished 8th in 50:53.  I caught the gondola back down with Eric Blake, one of the best mountain runners on the planet and a guy I've known for years. Someday I'll mine his brain for mountain advice.  I can't believe how freakishly good he is at running up mountains.

I had hoped to prove to myself that I can do the mountain running thing, and while I'd hoped for a better finish, I think the mission was accomplished.  My best finish at a USATF-New England Grand Prix race on the roads is 8th.  This is sortof equivalent for mountain running, so 8th here, after only a handful of specific mountain workouts, is encouraging enough that I'll probably aim for a more focused mountain season in 2014.  Thanks to the race directors and runners for an epic event-- this is way, way better than road racing!

Full results:

No comments:

Post a Comment