Monday, July 6, 2015

No Safe Word: Loon Mountain Race 2015

I'm writing this race report Sunday night in the afterburn of the post-race drive home and subsequent beers because on Monday I'll engage a reentry trajectory into real life.  A thesis must be written, an online college course must be taught, and I'll retreat back into my mostly solitary training.  It's not all bad though -- I'm psyched for these things.  Racing is damn hard and I'm looking forward to a break.

Michaela (aka Wifey) and I headed up to Lincoln NH on Friday to make a long weekend of the Loon Mountain Race, stop #5 on the USATF-New England Mountain Series.  This year also served as the USATF-NE mountain championship race, the mountain part of the USATF-NE all-terrain runner series, so it would be more competitive than the other races this year.  (Last year's race was the USA mountain championships.)

After a short and steep hike on Friday partway up Mt. Moosilauke to see some waterfalls...

...we dined at our usual (predictable, good) pub in Lincoln.  From this point forward we were keenly aware of our tourist status.  This town seems driven by the service industry and every employee we met -- waiter, hotel staff, retail worker -- was friendly but 100% burned out.  One guy told us he'd worked 84 hours that week and then Michaela saw him at it again the next morning.  I think he wanted me to end his suffering, but I'm a man of slight build and I'm not equipped for such mercy killing. While I'm on the subject of observations: outside of the tourist towns, some of New Hampshire has really taken their state creed of militant individualism to heart, at least as evidenced by the bumper stickers and general state of things that we passed today. Don't Tread on Me...etc.  I guess I don't understand the urge to present such a defensive and aggressive front to the world.  How is this really working out for them?  Hopping over to 91 in Vermont, the vibe changes.  Maybe it's Bernie Sanders' influence, I don't know.

lunch by the river

Saturday found my legs fresh so I did a very short run and then some light hiking with Michaela.  This was the first week since last fall that I've really backed off my training so I had twitchy legs.  We helped out the aR crew with registration that evening and then met up with mountain newbie and all-around cool dude Matt Lipsey and his buddy Kevin for dinner and beers, highlighted by a wild 8-year old running through a screen door.  I ran into Matt at the Sleepy Hollow Mountain Race in May where he kicked my ass thanks largely to his crazy downhill running skills.  He bears a disturbing resemblance in appearance and temperament to my homeboy Matteo Jesus and so makes for good company.  He and Kevin had an interesting camping plan, and as he was present at the starting line, I guess these mavericks survived the night.
Lipsey w/ ground-score -- a gobstopper, lick-tested but ultimately discarded.
Sunday's starting line had a few big guns.  The competition: Josh Ferenc, mountain/trail runner extraordinaire. Both Freeman brothers, Olympic XC skiers and strong mountain runners.  A fast triathlon guy perhaps drawn by the all-terrain runner series.  Lispey.  Alex McGrath.  Nipping at my heels, hopefully not too closely, would be top masters runners Todd Callaghan and fellow aR runner and neighbor Ethan Nedeau.  Plus whoever else I didn't recognize.  
the 2015 course
The race started with a hard steep sprint.  I settled in and enacted my plan to listen to my lactate governor and ignore the other runners.  This put me in 6th or 7th place after the first mile of climbing.  I lost a place or two on the muddy downhill on the nordic trails section, the only racing that would take place in the woods.  Lipsey flew by and McGrath challenged.  As we exited the woods around mile 3 and the serious climbing resumed, I was back in my wheelhouse and settled into 4th/5th working with Kris Freeman.  Not far ahead, close enough to see, were the leaders-- Ferenc, Ryan Kelly (the tri guy), and Justin Freeman.  Kris and I would remark after the race that there are SO MANY downhills on this course that you don't expect.  It has 3100' of climbing but also 1400' of descent (a bit more descent than last year's course) and while most of this descent is packed into 2 big downhills there are several when you least expect them.  Not great for me -- I'm a climber and I'm fast enough on flats but I hate steep downhills.  Kris too, so we worked well together.  Another revelation every year is that the climbs are ALL STEEP.  Unlike the paved auto road courses, there are no prolonged sections of 12% grade here.  The climbs at Loon come in chunks of >20% grade through tall grass with chewed-up footing or loose scree-like service roads.  If you rely on a Zen-like rhythm you're gonna have a bad time.  

I hit the summit of the mountain, around mile 5 with roughly 1.5 miles left to run, just behind Kris.  Backwards glances confirmed that McGrath wasn't likely to close the gap with the distance remaining, so I could focus on catching Kris.  Crashing down the biggest descent of the day I was actually resigned to finishing in 5th, but as we began the ridiculous 6/10ths of a mile climb up the 30-48% Upper Walking Boss trail, my mix of "running" and power hiking pulled me just past Kris.  I hadn't saved much for this climb but it didn't matter.  Being fresh here wouldn't help as you're limited by physics and's that steep.  Here's a shot I grabbed from another site ( to give an idea:

I had perhaps 10 seconds on Kris as the climb topped out.  Distance here is deceptive given the super-slow pace but I was starting to catch Justin.  Too late though.  I ran the final downhill -- 400 meters of loose dirt and scree and chunky grass -- right on the edge of control.  It was just enough to hold onto 4th place up the final short climb to the finish line, where I sucked wind on the ground in a quasi-fetal position.  Ferenc had won in 56:48, followed by Ryan Kelly in 57:07, and Justin Freeman was almost within my reach in 58:09.  I had come through in 58:26, a minute slower than last year but given the course changes I'm not really sure how it compares. Probably similar. 

Fourth didn't get me on the podium, and I had hoped to be in contention up front, but I nearly barfed in the gondola so I'm happy with the effort.  I finished reasonably close to the front (1:38 out) so that will have to suffice for now.  I haven't mixed up my training in many months so maybe I'm getting stale.  I'm thanking the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I have 2 months until my next planned race and I'm looking forward to just training.  

Thanks to: Paul Kirsch, Chris Dunn and aR for a first class event; Wifey for the support and companionship this weekend; and, as always, the rad dudes on the mountain running circuit. Thanks for the vibes. 

Real race coverage can be found at (Quick women's recap-- 2011 World Champ Kasie Enman won, followed by aR's Kim Nedeau.)

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