Monday, May 25, 2015

Wachusett Mountain Race

Saturday's Wachusett Mountain Race was the second stop on the USATF-New England Mountain Series. It's been really competitive in recent years, and it has an up/down format, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The week before the race, it was announced that only the 3-mile mountaintop split would count for mountain series scoring, effectively creating a race within a race. Understandably this late announcement sat poorly with some runners. I think this raises a more interesting question: What should the mountain series be?

Really the only mountain in Central MA. photo: BU Outing Club.

Everyone has an opinion, just like everyone has, um, armpits. (You know the adage.). My humble 2 cents, as a newbie: I'd argue that New England mountain running should include uphill-only paved courses (because Mt. Washington is the grandfather of our mountain running here), and up-only or up/down trail events. (Edit for clarification: Why not up/down road events? Because racing down a mountain on pavement is stupid. It's a contest to see who has a longer stride. Down-mountain trail running, rather, is a skill, and is primal.) While our series does have some great trail-based races, including ones that I'm not really competitive at (see last week's blog post), how great would it be to have a run up Mt. Mansfield's escarpments? Or a protracted, soul-crushing climb up Mt. Washington's Tuckerman's Ravine? Maybe the measuring stick for a pure, badass mountain race should be inaccessibility by car. Look to the West...even though Pikes Peak has a paved road to the summit (the only 14er to have one, I think, and it's a damn travesty), they still race up the trails. Europe, home to Skyrunning (registered trademark) and often the site of world mountain running championships, is largely trail-based and seems to stick to big mountains, and they recognize clearly delineated subdisciplines such as the Vertical Kilometer. In New England, mountain racing is defined differently, if it's really defined at all. Anything really hilly might be considered a mountain race. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing--the roots of our mountain circuit lie in road racing, and this gives us great races like Washington (and I'd say Ascutney), and I do love these races (well, ask me in a few weeks about Washington!).  But why not take a cue from our Western bretheren and scramble up the rocks and scree more often like so many mountain goats, our official mascot? Hear ye!
photo by snap acidotic

The race report: As the race had become a 3-mile 1200' blast to the top of the mountain, I had more confidence than I had a few days before with the original 10k format. After 200m I was in the lead followed closely by Josh Ferenc and then Alex McGrath.  I held a 20-25 second lead until the last 2 minutes, when I backed off a bit, then missed the final turn (lots of confusion at the top with nobody giving clear directions), and came through the 3-mile mountaintop finish in 18:56 with a narrow gap that had closed to perhaps 15 seconds. (It may have been 19:07.  Results don't match the finish clock, and I was sans watch, so who really knows.)  Ferenc was close behind and decided to continue down the mountain to get the 10k win, while I opted to end my race at the top. I was glad to hear after the race that he had raced me to the top honestly - any day I can outclimb a guy like that is a good day. Because I was only focused on getting a mountain series win and some points, I jogged down, which felt really lame but was the right decision for me. Also encouraging is that unlike most races I never really suffered.  Apparently I'm fit enough that I need a longer race to scrape the well (or I'm out of practice at engaging short-range gears). Overall, another fun day on a mountain! And still so much racing ahead, surely with some great battles, sharing in the suffering with some gnarly dudes.

3-mile results

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