Tuesday, October 17, 2017

2017 racing season reflections

It's been a long time since I blogged about my running and biking. But if training like this is still worth doing at 35 years old, then it's also worth reflecting (even publicly) from time to time.  So... read on if you can handle the self indulgence and probably typos too, beacuse I don't have time to edit this!....

I managed to win my first two mountain races of the year-- Wachussett and Ascutney, short paved courses up these mountains-- but with times slower than years past. This wasn't a problem, nor much of a surprise... whether due to age, training or both, my VO2 max probably isn't what it once was.  This proved to have little bearing upon my big goal for early summer, the Mt. Washington Road Race, which at over 1 hour is long enough to forgive a lack of top-end aerobic capacity, favoring instead the specific ability to clear lactate while running straight uphill nonstop.  I'll avoid the details because I feel increasingly protective of my training, and it could drone on forever, but the short version is I figured out how to train for and race Mt. Washington.  On my 3rd try, I scored a slight PR in 1:08:35, good enough for 6th place (results).  I really feel like this was my best result: 6th against that field feels legit, and it was the warmest (slowest) day of the 3 years I've run it. I still want to run 1:06, and on a perfect day I think I would have. So, I will likely try again, though part of me wants to be done with this race because it is a devestatingly intimidating and painful challenge.

Scott Mason Photography
Bike for Bovines. Photo- Scott Hussey.

My favorite mountain bike race was a week later-- Domnarski Farm.  I raced Category 2, unsure if I had become fast enough to race Cat 1.  I won by 5 minutes I think, catching people from the waves in front of me and getting hung up on them in the singletrack but still setting a Cat 2 course record.  I
was "encouraged" by several in attendance (and later on Facebook) to move up to Cat 1, which I did for my late August race, Bike for Bovines.  The longer courses of Cat 1 racing seem to suit me and I finished 2nd in the 30-39 Cat 1 group, with the 4th fastest overall Cat 1 time, 2 seconds out of 2nd overall.

Oh, I should add that UMass brought back their old mountain bike race, across the street from my house, in April.  That course didn't suit me but it was fun as hell.


Just as in 2016, I worked myself into great shape by August.  And just as in 2016, this did not result in multiple satisfying race results.  This stung even more this year than last. After the Mount Washington Road Race in June, I averaged 14 hours/week of running and mountain biking, with lots of quality...15,000' feet of climbing, hard workouts, and hard rides each week.  This proved to be a bit overzealous and I aggravated an Achilles
RTTVT. Photo- Lee Krohn.
tendon problem, forcing me to skip my August mountain running race (Race to the Top of Vermont) and focus only on the bike portion of this event, in which I finished 4th, with some dissapointment.  With lots of arrogance I was sure I'd win this race. Not even close! I'm a runner who mountain bikes; I'm not a cyclist.  Aaron Stone was the most impressive of the day, faring well (top 10) in the run, racing back down the mountain, and riding up in the bike race, following in Josh Ferenc's footsteps (which are not easy steps I can tell you from experience).

In September I got healthy and kept training.  Well, my Achilles got healthy, but a cold and sinus infection coupled with being busy (wah wah, lots of complaints here) set me back a step.  Actually all of that was fine- the problem was that when I lined up for my last mountain running race of the year at the Race to the Summit (Stratton Mountain) in October, I didn't focus.  I didn't want to hurt.  Halfway up the mountain, in 2nd place, Ferenc passed me and...I just let him.  Spending mental energy on so many other things this fall (like work-- imagine that) left me unfocused.  It's no excuse, I just got my ass kicked. Third overall, 1 minute slower than last year in a short race (23 min).  We did have a great time with the winner, a Latvian (now American) 4:01 miler, on the right of this picture.

At least then I could focus on the race I looked forward to most: Circumburke, a mountain bike race over a 27 mile loop around Burke Mountain in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.  The course was about half doubletrack and fireroads, half super-flowly new-age style singletrack.  LOTS of climbing-- 3,500' feet of it.  I went hard from the start.  Constant lactate in the legs; scary at minute 1 of a 2.5 hour race.  But I felt better and better as the race wore on and was top 10 (and moving up slowly) at mile 16, when I hit a waterbar on a fast descent and blew out my tire. I'm to blame here; higher tire pressure could have prevented this.  Three minutes later I had fixed the flat by putting in a tube, but one CO2 cartridge wasn't enough, and eventually another rider gave me one so I could get back on my bike.  I lost 11.5 minutes, spent the next 10 riding modestly, and then got back up to near-race effort.  Those 11 minutes cost me, at least on paper and by doing maths, a 6th place finish. Factoring in the time I spent pedaling easy and feeling sorry for myself, I potentially could have finished 3rd.  But wishes are ponies and that didn't happen, and my result was 20th (out of ~385- results) so I have to own that.

Circumburke Start. credit: Burke Mountain
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Reflections on the year

Other than 3 race results I'm happy with-- Mt Washington, Domnarski and Bike for Bovines-- 3 great things happened this year because of my racing.

1) I was fortunate to test my limits with great athletes, many of whom I now call friends.  The mountain running and mountain biking scenes are loaded with positive energy.  I can't even begin to summarize these stories in this post, though you've probably seen some of them on my Facebook, as I can't help but share the overwhelmingly positive vibes that these people have given me. You know who you are!  From the races, to the big training runs I've done with you guys this year....thank you.  And thank you to my team, acidotic RACING, for your support and all that you do for endurance sport.

Race weekend camping with Stoneman and Wifey. 
2) I had the luxury (and it is a luxury!) of spending LOTS of time with two of my favorite people: my
wife Michaela, and Aaron Stone, both of whom joined me for many of these races, which really are weekend adventures in the woods and mountains.  The memories from this year, and the last few years with them, are my fondest from all of my competitive years.

3) I confirmed a hypothesis this year, one that will keep me motivated for a few more years at least: Mountain running and mountain biking at the highest levels possible (for me) are wholly compatible, even complimentary.  I could (and may) write a post concerning my training philosophy here.  I don't think that mountain bike training is compatible with, say, road running, but for the running races I do now, these things go together like peas and carrots.

My dad reminded me last night that 35 is past your prime for mid-distance endurance sport.  Of course I know this is true-- or at least, 35 is the upper-end of prime time.  I've always said that when I no longer get faster at a discipline I'll stop, and I've been doing this, switching first from road running to trail and mountain running, and most recently placing more emphasis on mountain biking.  I'll have some of the same goals in 2018 as I've had the last few years, but I'll set a few new goals too.

 I can't wait to get back to hard training again, because this stuff makes me feel alive.

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