Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bretton Woods Bro-Out and Winning the Mountain Series

I didn't put a fine point on it, but with a 3rd place finish at last weekend's Bretton Woods Fell Race I did manage to attain my primary objective of 2015-- winning the USATF-New England Mountain Running Series and enjoying the hell out of the process.  Here's how that went down.

In convincing Matteo Jesus and Stoneman Legend to accompany me on this trip, the weekend's prospects were looking good: 2 days of camping, Bro-time, and running.  We stopped in St. Johnsbury VT for food and to buy Stoney a sleeping bag-- which he'd forgotten.  Ignoring this bad omen, we arrived after dark at our campground near Mt. Washington and found it wonderfully dark, half empty, and sparse.  In the darkness I wasn't able to figure out how to fully zip my sleeping bag so I spent the night mostly wide awake and freezing.  Duct tape helped make Saturday night better but most non-running time this weekend was spent being profoundly cold.

view of Mt. Washington from checkpoint b.  Courtesy aR team photog Gianina Lindsey (SNAPacidotic). 

The race: I  planned a conservative strategy, maximizing my chances of winning the series but hurting my chances of winning the race. This being a fell race, runners had to navigate between checkpoints- there is no marked course. The tough and wily Todd Callaghan, sitting in 2nd place overall in the series, would surely have pre-scouted the course and might be counting on me to get lost.  If he beat me by 20% in this race I'd lose the series (likewise, Matt Viega needed to get 30 pts on me.)  I'm not bad with directions, and 20% amounts to something like 12 minutes in a 1 hour race, but this was a real possibility on this course considering I hadn't been out the day before and I'd only studied a map. Hearing stories from previous years didn't ease this fear.  (Apparently Jim Johnson crossed route 302 one year, leaving the resort property altogether. And he's won this race!)

Map provided to runners; checkpoints labelled but no route marked.  Planned my intended route in yellow. Managed to mostly follow it, for what that's worth.

So I hung with Todd and Matt Viega on the first climb.  The footing was tough here and would continue to be for much of the race-- ski trails left unattended during the off season, some turning into rock beds, small streams, and fields of shrubbery.  Near the top of the first climb Todd quietly changed course and I didn't notice.  Had I spotted this and gone with him, I'm not sure how the race would have played out. Soon Matt took a different route, also clearly better than mine, as I was in 6th place when I rejoined most of the runners at a different trail and had to work my way back up to 3rd before the descent.  Crap on a stick!

Matt V, Todd, Me, Matteo Jesus. Photos by SNAPacidotic.

From the top of the mountain I chose an obvious route, mostly straight down, but not as straight as Todd's, and my descending wasn't up-to-par with Matt's.  Climbing back up to another side of the mountain I eventually caught up with Todd (who had ducked straight into the woods at one point) and Matt, but with only downhill remaining, I had no intention of making a move for the win.  My conservative plan had kept me in the hunt but I didn't have enough course left to win, which I accepted somewhere near the top of the mountain and tried to enjoy the rest of the race.  Matt bombed the final gnarly/overgrown slope like a pro, and Todd, continuing to impress with his route choices, took a much friendlier (though perhaps steeper) trail down, also out-descending me.  In the final mad sprint to the finish I could barely make out Matt winning ahead of me in 58:17, then Todd in 59:11.  I crossed in 59:39 for 6.7 miles (well, probably more given my route).  Matteo Jesus had a good outing just one place behind me, while Stoney had a navigational mishap and had an extra long run on the mountain.  Big thanks to aR and USATF-NE for the awards-- beer for my 3rd place finish, cash for the series win, and a spanking-new Suunto gps watch won in the raffle. Hot damn!  The beer was consumed (rashly) all in one go at the campsite that night, which probably kept us warmer and fueled us for a run up Zealand Mountain the next morning.

top o' the mountain after the race

Should a fell race be part of the mountain series? Lower turnout at this event suggests that it scares folks.  It introduces several variables other than running prowess: map reading, the ability/willingness to pre-scout the course, intuitive sense of direction, etc.   I hadn't run all-out and that doesn't feel like a race to me.  But I got beat by those more well-prepared and more daring, and there should be races that reward these qualities. Chris Dunn and acidotic RACING did a fine job creating an event that tests competitors on these merits.

Final thoughts on the 2015 mountain series: I wish I'd found these races years ago.  This is where it's at, and this is my favorite accomplishment to date. Thanks to Todd and Matt V, who nipped at my heels and kept me honest, and a few superfast guys who humbled me at Sleepy Hollow and Loon (you know who you are! Come out and race the whole series!). That I managed to win without seriously improving my downhill running skills probably owes to 1) several paved, uphill only races and 2) the best downhill mountain runners not running enough races this year to score.  I think I can now, on a good day, just about climb with anyone in New England (well, not Eric Blake) but holding my own on some of these courses will require new skills. For now, it's time to stop racing for a few months.  See ya'll on the trails and mountains in 2016.

Zealand Mountain run (and, well, power-hike)

view from the top of Zealand Mtn. From nhstateparks.org.
...and thanks especially to Wifey Michaela for supporting me through all these races this year!


  1. Awesome man. Congrats on the title! Glad you enjoyed the hell out of it.

    Did you get to Magnaball this summer? If you didn't, at least I hope you, being a scientist, take the opportunity to dissect the profuse amounts of data available.

    PS-check the 8/22 Tweezer/Caspian if you already haven't

  2. Thanks! We hoped to do Magnaball but work got in the way. Sickeningly I ended up out there (near Watkins) that weekend for family stuff, without tickets. Listened live bia the Bunny and welt quietly. Great shows. Did you attend?

    Was hoping for a winter tour....

  3. Wept. I wept.... I did not welt.