Whiteface Mtn. Foot Race

June 1st was a busy day for racing in the Northeast. Among the numerous events being contested were the New England 5k Road Championships in Rhode Island, the Pack Monadnock 10 miler (the 2nd race in the LaSportiva Mtn. Cup Series) in New Hampshire and the Whiteface Mtn. Uphill Foot Race in New York. I wanted to do all three, but I haven’t yet mastered the art of co-location so I had to chose. After consulting with my friend and “mentor” Dave Dunham, I decided to head to the Adirondacks of NY to race up Whiteface. Dave told me that this race would be great preparation for Mt. Washington. Whiteface is an 8 mile race, whereas Mt. Washington is 7.6 miles. Whiteface has a constant grade of 8% climb, and Washington averages 11% grade. The Whiteface race has been described as a medium Mt. Washington. This race would be more a test of my mental readiness for the big W than of my physical readiness. Last year at the Mt. Washington race I started way too fast and was crumpled in a vomiting heap by the 3rd mile. Mountain races are very different than regular road races; a pace that seems comfortable for the first mile can ruin you by the second mile. It’s about pacing, patience and staying far away from redlining. Then there’s the issue of pain management, you can’t forget that part – are you tough enough to endure intense, unending pain for an hour or more? Whiteface was my chance to find out.

The day before the race, I drove to Montreal to pick up Tera Warner, my new partner in the Running Raw Project. For those of you that don’t know Tera yet, she is a voice for empowering women with raw foods on her site www.therawdivas.com. But more importantly she is a ball of red-headed energy that would cheer me on and film me as I came across the finish line.

Whiteface Mountain, in Wilmington, NY is 4,867′ high, ranking it as the 5th highest mountain in New York State. The mountain gained international fame in 1980 when it hosted the alpine skiing events of the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY. So it is only fitting that for the last few years, this race has been dominated by 2 time Olympian Duncan Douglas. Duncan has been one of the top athletes in the US for cross country skiing and biathlon since the late 80’s and has won numerous national championships. He’s as tough as they get, and this was his home turf.

The field of athletes assembled on the starting line was intimidating. There were many top athletes from around the Northeast. Also of note on the line was 2 time Olympic Marathon trials qualifier Mike Slinskey. Mike’s PR for the marathon is 2:15.

From the start line we could see dark ominous clouds enveloping the summit several thousand feet above us. It could get real nasty up there and I was concerned about what we might face above tree line.

The first mile found Duncan, Mike and myself all running comfortably at 7:30/mile pace and leaving the rest of the pack behind. The next two miles found the three of us pulling even farther ahead. I was feeling good. My heart rate was low and my breathing was comfortable, so I decided to make a move. Duncan matched my move and then some. He picked up the pace significantly. It was more than I was willing to commit to at this early stage so I let him pull away. Mike was drifting farther back. I thought Duncan might eventually tire of the new pace and I’d reel him in, so I stayed where I was in a solid second place slot.

There is a saying about the best laid plans… well, my legs had other plans for me on this day. Somewhere around the mile 5 mark, they gave out. Even though my heart rate and breathing were still comfortable, my legs had just had enough. I struggled to keep the pace for another half mile and then backed off. By mile 6 Duncan had moved well ahead, there was no catching him. The temperature had dropped quite a bit and I was getting cold. The wind was picking up. My legs were getting weaker and weaker with each step. Mile 7 came much too slowly and brought with it the sound of Mike Slinskey’s feet pattering the pavement right behind me. As he passed we introduced each other and shared a moment to talk about the intense wind that was picking up and how cold it was getting. Then he pulled away. I tried to stay with him, but he was edging ever so slowly ahead of me and there was nothing I could do about it.

With half a mile to go the wind above tree line was blowing so intensely (50mph gusts) that I felt like I was being pushed backwards and making no progress at all. The temperature had plummeted into the 30’s and my hands were stinging cold. My back began to spasm from the cold as well. Mike had disappeared into the fog ahead of me. It was the detoughest, coldest, longest half mile I’ve ever run. Then out of the fog a finish line appeared, and cheers could be heard above the screeching of the wind. I was done.

As I warmed myself and re-fueled in the stone castle on top of the mountain, I could see Duncan, outside on the summit platform still in his wet race t-shirt embracing the wind. There are few like him in the world.

My main source of post race fuel was a HUGE bag of sprouted buckwheat granola that I had made the day before. When Duncan came in from the cold I offered some to him. He was skeptical at first, but quickly found it to his liking. After a long conversation with him about diet and performance, I looked down to see that the bag was empty. Perhaps I’ve planted another seed.

I was not the only one on the mountain today spreading the word of raw power. Lauren Warren (who I’ve blogged about before) finished 2nd in the women’s field and helped to solidify the raw vegan presence at this event.

As we all sat around talking about our trials on the mountain, Tera whipped out a box of her homemade chocolate lime balls… wow!! They were a hit… you’ll have to go to her site and get the recipe.

Reflecting on the race on the drive home, I’m not sure what caused the weakness in my legs. Was it lack of mountain training? Improper pre-race fueling? The cold? Or just a bad day. Whatever the case, I hope I can address the situation before Mt. Washington arrives. To lose my legs there would be disastrous.

And you can access interviews with Lauren and myself HERE

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