Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Loon and the Story of Three Mountains

This past weekend I took on my third and final mountain race of the year at Loon.  Each of the three races were held on very different terrain, complete with their own challenges.

Loon Mountain Race

Location: Lincoln, NH
Date: 7/5/2015
Distance: 6.6 miles (3100' of climbing)
Goal: Survival / Beat Bradley
Actual: 1:18:18 (11:52 / mile)
Place: 65 / 349 OA

After a rough race at Mount Washington, a good mile at the 26 X 1, but with a pulled hamstring, I was anxious to see how I would be able to perform at Loon.  Unlike Washington, Loon was entirely off road (mostly fire
Bradley, Jen, and I
Compliments of Dean
roads) and had some steep ascents and technical descents.  I was hopefully this would fit my abilities a little bit better.  

The race starts with a couple of climbs and drops and some muddy trails over the first two miles and then has a mile with a net downhill before the real fun begins.  From mile 3.5 onwards is a battle, whether it is multiple climbs in 30-48% grade range or one of two 20+% grade descents.  The recommendation I got going in was "Run the first three hard as you will be walking a bunch after that."

I started off pretty strong dropping a 9:24, 9:40, and 8:26 over the first three miles.  Over the next mile I climbed 750' with four good walking breaks.  The fun continued for another half mile with another 500' of climbing before the first of two downhills.  

Somewhere between 3.5 and 5.
Compliments of Gianina Lindsey
At this point you are at the top of the Gondola and the finish, but like so many other races, they point to the side and tell you to keep going.  While the hardest was still yet to come, it was a relief to get here.  Just 10 minutes earlier, there was a sign mocking you that said "Easier way up, Gondola to the right, $15."

I blitzed down the next section the best I could holding anything from 6 - 8 minute pace.  Finally, I turned the corner and was confronted with the trail the race is famous for, "Upper Walking Boss," a black diamond ski trail.  

Last December I skied down "the boss" knowing that I would be running it this July.  I clocked somewhere around 30 mph on my skies.  Today as I walked up it (walking switchbacks at some points to lesson the pain) and held about 30 minute mile pace.  The trail climbs about 700' over .4 miles with a max grade of 48%.  

As I got to the top, I jogged a little and then dropped straight into a crazy downhill.  Now this trail was only a blue square, but it still hit the mid 30% grade.  After finally reaching the bottom, there was a short flat and a short climb to the finish.  I sprinted both of them and hit the line 1:18:18.  

All and all pretty happy with my race.  I felt I paced and raced this one much better than Washington two weeks before.  

A Story of Three Mountains

This is not the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears or the story of the three little pigs.  I did not find a mountain that was too big, too small, or just right.  I found three separate mountains, each that required quite a bit of grit to summit.  Each of them spiked my heart rate to near its max multiple times.

The story begins on a snowy day in Western North Carolina last February.  It was about 22 degrees and overcast.  It started with three miles of road, was followed with three miles of single track in the snow, seven more on packed snow fire roads, a mile of descent on the Blue Ridge Parkway and finally a four mile ascent to the top of Mount Mitchell.  At the top I was greeted with a 10 degree wind chill.  It was hard, but I made it.

Mountain number one, Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi was conquered.  3 hours 25 minutes, 19 miles, 4800' climbing, 10:47 / mile.

The next chapter takes place nearly 4 months later and over a 1000 miles north east of the first.  Mount Washington is a completely different beast, with nearly the same amount of climbing as Mitchell, but condensed into 7.6 miles.  While the footing (all paved or dirt roads) was significantly better, the unrelenting climbs made it significantly harder.  After fighting through almost the entire course, I reached the summit, exhausted, but happy.  

Mountain number two, Mount Washington, the highest peak in the North East / home the highest wind speed recorded by man (231mph) was conquered. 1 hour, 37 minutes, 7.6 miles, 4700' climbing, 12:46 / mile.

The final chapter took place just 15 days after the second, less then 50 miles west of the previous.  This one had a bit of everything from steep climbs and descents to my favorite, mud.  I whipped through the first three miles and fought hard through the remaining 3.6,  After a walk up the steepest trail I have ever gone up, I reached the summit and promptly bombed down the back side to the finish.

My third and final mountain, North Peak Loon Mountain, which included a 48% grade climb, was conquered.  1 hour, 18 minutes, 6.6 miles (6.1 to the summit), 3100' climbing, 11:52 / mile.

All and all I am proud to have tackled all three mountains.  These have been some of the hardest races I have ever competed in and mountain racing is no joke.  So what have I learned?

1) I am not very good at running slow.  I mostly already new this looking at some of the other tough races I have done (Virgil and Leadville for example) which has caused quite a deal of pain in the back half of the race.

2) You can't train for mountain running without a mountain (or at least a crazy steep hill).  Over the past two weeks I have clocked some of the miles with the most climbing in the my entire life.  I found I can run a bunch of 400' miles (as shown by Mitchell), but I am in no condition to handle the 600+ ones.

3) That I prefer both off road and longer races.  I enjoyed Loon a lot more then Washington for a couple of reason. I liked the trails and didn't mind the harsh ascents and descents as it broke up the monotony of running up hill.  At both Loon and Washington I was fried by the time I hit the summit, but still felt like I had energy to keep going, just not up hill.

I have no other mountain races planned in the near future.  That isn't to say that I won't do another, but it probably won't be one that I have already done.   I think I need to drastically change my training before my next one.  

What's Next

I am happy to say I am officially registered for nothing at the moment.  This is probably a good thing with the baby being due in 13 days.  Onward, upwards, and forward.

- Scot

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