Monday, May 18, 2015

Feats of Strength by Ruralites: the Mountain Series begins

The slogan for the Sleepy Hollow Mountain Race in Huntington, VT, is at least as rad as that of the Loon Mountain Race ("No Safe Word").  I'd also like to think it's a nod to Seinfeld.  Anyway, for the 4th year in a row, this race- hosted by the super cool and also fast Kasie and Eli Enman- kicked off the USATF-New England Mountain Running Series. Up near my old college stomping grounds in northern Vermont, this was a 6-hour round trip, but I shared a ride with local mountain runner Eric Wight. Good dude. I also ran into a whole lot of Acidotic teammates- we even had a group cheer before the start, my first such tribal yell in many years. My college coach "JoeConn" (one word) showed up and was promptly put to work by the RD, who appeared dismayed that Joe would attend without volunteering for a task. I later saw him handing out water along with the well-practiced encouragement of a longtime coach and race director: "Water first, Gatorade second... lookin' good!.."  I didn't, however, hear him utter his most famous phrase-- "Keep it Rollin!".

Kasie, the 2011 World Mountain champ, created a brutal 6-mile up/down course utilizing all of the climbs on the Enman's cross country ski center property. I skied here (very poorly) in college so I remember the topography, but racing over any terrain always seems to hurt more than you expect. My goal was to get as close to Josh Ferenc (course record holder and fantastic trail/mountain runner) as possible.  This and the 2nd race of the series (Wachusett, this coming Saturday) should be, on paper, my weakest, so the goal is damage control for these-- get at least 95 points in each, 5% off the winning time.  Then try to win one or two races later, when the courses suit my strengths more. I walked and then jogged a bunch of the course with some Pennsylvanians, really nice younger guys, who had noticed my thigh tattoo.  I guess I can't be modest about such things-- I do have ink on my upper thigh, so I guess I'm encouraging the looking. (It's not a running tat, though! No, more hippie pretentious than that.)

Still I thought I had an outside shot at chasing down Ferenc and the other handful of fast-looking dudes who showed up. I had taken an easy week and the legs felt good. Several notable New England mountain names were absent, but some different ones had taken their place: Justin Freeman, former Olympic cross country skier and now excellent uphill mountain runner, was present. (I'm not even sure he races trails but he's got a huge engine.)

The race starts and I'm oddly calm. The course consists of 3 big climbs (the 2nd being by far the worst) and 3 descents, with mixed trail conditions. On the first big climb I held my own, topping out in 3rd place. I know I'm not a good downhill runner, but I've gotten better, so I was astonished by the speed with which 4 or 5 guys passed me on the first big descent, which was steep and had some technical sections.  I lost so much ground.  Still in oxygen debt at the start of the 2nd and biggest climb, I regained most of these spots to move into a lonely 5th (where I'd stay), but this climb hurt a hell of a lot...I was in late-race suffering (lips going numb, anaerobic panic) by the top, which was not yet halfway...a bit early for this pain. The second descent was long and gradual and I motored down as best I could...nobody in sight. It was also damn hot, offensively hot, at least it felt it. The last loop has a singletrack technical climb, and I'd planned to attack it, but I was in survival mode, apparently losing another 30 seconds to Justin Freeman. I probably could have run a bit faster over this last loop if anybody was near me, but I definitely suffered for this entire race so I know I ran honestly.

Finish: 5th place, 42:21, 2 mins 22 sec out of first place, which should get me 94 points or so. I climbed as well as anyone (save Ferenc) but my downhill running cost me lots of time in this race. This was as expected. Still, I'd hoped to get a little closer to the front and finish top 3. All good though- not a bad start to what I hope will be a great season. Running around in the mountains with some decent dudes is never a bad day.

I didn't actually place in my age group (Open- 19-39) but the "no double dipping rule" meant I got a prize! Homemade granola, to go with the onsite-produced maple syrup ("Running Saps", pun intended).

Results here.

1st descent. Photo- Scott Mason.

Suffering on the last lap. Photo by Snap acidotic.

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