On the training front, this week was ‘scheduled’ as a base builder. The plan was to get my mileage back into the 90’s and then 100’s the following week in preparation for the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb on August 6th. But pride always has a funny way of sneaking in and destroying your well thought out plans. The butt whooping that I received at Loon Mountain last week, got me to thinking. In spite of the fact that I’ve set new PR’s (Personal Records) in all of the mountain races I’ve done this season (including Loon), I was unsettled by how much my usual cohorts had beaten me by. Considering that the final race in the New England Mountain Running Series, the Ascutney Mountain Run, is an all uphill grind, I feared that it could prove to be equally humbling. After tallying the results of the first five races in the series, I was standing in second place overall and top Master and I was not about to relinquish that position… Something had to be done.
Due to emotional exhaustion (training, home organization projects and trying to create talks in OR and CO in early August), I decided not to push it and took Monday off. As soon as I made that decision, the pressure was off. I decided to give myself an easy week, emotionally and physically. I hoped that this reduced load might give me some extra steam at Ascutney.
To make up for some of the missing miles and to build up my leg strength (which was nowhere in sight at Loon) I decided to incorporate more Upright rower into my routine. These workouts leave my quads feeling like jelly and they give me an opportunity to catch up on popular culture and watch movies as I churn away. As the Summer progresses, I hope to get at least 5 hours a week on the upright rower.
After taking a pretty easy day on Saturday and getting a few nights of good sleep, I was feeling pretty sprightly during my warmup before the race. It’s an interesting pre-race scene at Ascutney as lines of people simultaneously wait amongst the tall white pines to register, to use the porto-potties, and to get their coveted “Mountain Goat” t-shirt (athletes that complete all 6 mountain races in the series are deemed ‘mountain goats’ and get a great t-shirt and a lottery bypass at the following year’s Mount Washington Road Race). You are surrounded by scores of people that you know… ‘intimately’. People that you have shared pain, defeat and triumph with. People that have seen you at your worst, and seen you at your best. People that you will miss when it’s all said and done. Now on this final day of the series, they are all gathered round to share stories, laugh, compare scars, support one another, and run together one last time in the most mentally challenging of all the New England mountain races, the Ascutney Mountain Run.
3.6 miles, 2,300 feet of elevation gain, and an average grade of 13% with long sections upwards of 18%. This race hurts from start to finish. It is a test of mental will more than a test of fitness. The pain nags at you like a stealth mosquito flying around your face as you try to sleep while camping. It’s buzzing growing ever louder and more annoying the more you try to ignore it. It fills your mind and becomes your sole focus. Translate that experience into extreme physical discomfort and you have the race up Ascutney Mountain.
At the gun, Jim Johnson and Patrick Ard took it out hard. I settled into a large chase group that included Andy McCaron (whom I’ve never beaten), Tim Mahoney, Ross Krause, Todd Callaghan (Ross and Todd crushed me at Loon), Tom Brown, Ray Webster, Ryan Aschbrenner, and Master monster Duncan Douglas (two time Olympian and 5 time winner of the Whiteface Mountain Road Race, who finished 2nd at the Newton’s Revenge bike race up Mount Washington just the day before Ascutney). My plan of going out comfortably and picking it up in the second half came to an abrupt halt as Ross Krause surged and the chase pack responded. If Ross and Todd issued me an intense beating again, I’d slide into 4th in the series and also lose my Masters title. I put on my game face and answered their surge. Duncan Douglas, knowing that I was also a master would have none of this and he pushed ahead of me. For the first mile the lead of the chase pack changed more than a dozen times as we all pushed to stay in contention. Everyone in the group was suffering because of it. We were all in over our heads and two-thirds of the race still lie in wait. Up ahead of us, Jim Johnson and Patrick Ard were suffering the same fate. Jim was still in the lead, but we were gaining on him and Patrick was fading fast.
I consider myself to be a pretty passive, laid back, considerate person. But there are moments where I become consumed with a predatory instinct. Seeing Patrick losing steam like a wounded gazelle in front of me flipped the switch. Despite my better judgement, I ramped it up and began to run him down. The chase pack did not respond and I quickly opened up a gap on them. Within a few hundred meters I was passing Patrick and heard him say “I’ve got nothing. Go get JJ”. As we neared 2 miles Jim was only about 15 seconds ahead, but I was hurting badly and decided to back off a bit and try and hold onto second. Jim quickly pulled away. I couldn’t hear any footfalls behind me, and I hoped the chase group was suffering just as much as me and wouldn’t try to reel me in. My mind swam with negative thoughts as the pain ground itself into every neuron of my brain. The voice of “Quit!” was screaming inside my head as mile 2 went on for what seemed like forever. Suddenly, I was snapped back into the outside world by the sound of labored breathing and peppy footfalls. Someone was coming up fast. Moments later, Ross Krause was by my side and saying “keep it up TiVO”, then he quickly surged ahead. The voice of defeat rang throughout and part of me just wanted to stand still and let the other cheetahs in pursuit have their way with me. Fortunately another voice chimed in, “Try to stay with him… Just for a little bit… See if you can do it”. It didn’t tell me that I had to beat him, which in my current state seemed like a ridiculous notion, it just said “Try to stay with him… Just for a little bit”. Although I was in no mood to increase the amount of pain I was in, it was just for a little bit… It was just a little test. So I dug in and caught back up. I could see he was surprised that I was now running at his side and this took a little bit of the pain away. He had hoped to break my spirits with a quick surge past me (a common racing strategy) but here I was, and he was paying for the extra burst he had put forward. We ran together through the 3 mile mark, then he surged again. I answered. Running next to him allowed me to focus on his breathing and his footfalls rather than my own. I made a game of trying to match his footfalls exactly and trying to relax my breathing so that I was taking fewer and deeper breaths than he was per stride. This would last a few moments before the building nausea and searing pain would again take over my thoughts. I was running at my limit… perhaps a bit beyond it.
The final quarter mile to the finish is brutally steep and seeing it wind out before you squashes any ideas you might have about a finishing kick… it’s the mountain that does the kicking. Apparently Ross didn’t get the memo. With about 200 meters remaining he launched ahead. I was already at the vomit threshold and was afraid that any increase in speed would have disastrous results. Ross opened a 20 foot gap. I held on, hoping that there was no one closing on me. As we rounded the last bend I could see the finish line some 80 feet away and I decided that I was not going to go down that easily. With every bit of grit I could muster I tried to run Ross down. As he crossed the line to finish 2nd, I was only two feet behind him. I’ve never been more proud of coming in third.
So ends another Summer of mountain racing in New England. The final standings for the series saw Jim Johnson take his second overall win. I had my best placement ever, holding on to my 2nd place overall and Masters win. Todd Callaghan and Ross were third and fourth, just a few points back.
Following the race, a good 40 of us mountain goats headed down to a crystal clear swimming hole in a stream nearby for a good soak, some good food, and a sharing of war stories about the mountains that do their very best to break our spirits… but never succeed.
- Total Training Time – 13:15:53
- Total Running Time – 11:36:53
- Total Running Miles – 75.2
- Total Elevation Gain – 11,063 ft
Monday July 4th – 00:00:00
- REST – Emotionally beat.
Tuesday July 5th – 02:53:58
- Trails – Bennington, VT – 11.36 miles, 1:58:41
- Roads – Bennington, VT – 5.2 miles, 40:17
- Upright Rower – 15:00
Wednesday July 6th – 01:10:45
- Roads – Bennington, VT – 9 miles, 1:10:45
Thursday July 7th – 03:08:13
- Upright Rower – 30:00
- Trails – Bennington, VT – 10 miles, 1:38:01
- Roads – Bennington, VT – 5.1 miles, 40:12
- Upright Rower – 20:00
Friday July 8th – 01:45:05
Saturday July 9th – 00:41:57
- Roads – Bennington, VT – 5 miles, 41:57
Sunday July 10th – 03:35:45
- Race Warmup – Brownsville, VT – 1.36 miles, 13:27
- Mount Ascutney Challenge – 3.55 miles, 31:31
- Race Warmdown – Brownsville, VT – 5 miles, 51:44
- Mount Ascutney #2 – Brownsville, VT – 9.1 miles, 1:39:03
- Upright Rower – 20:00
Weekly, Monthly and Yearly training totals can be found at http://runningraw.com/training.html