Monday, July 25, 2016

Loon Mountain Race Report-Tons of fun running uphill

I cannot remember who told me or posted about the Loon Mountain Race but boy, do I have some choice words for them!

The Loon Mountain Race is the USATF Mountain Running Championships held at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, NH. So the field is stacked (many runners from out west), the hills are steep, and the entire community is super rad.

This past winter I participated in a International Paralympic Committee ski race at Loon so I was stoked to be back for an "off-season" race. Albeit running uphill this time. 

First, my hat is off to the entire Acidotic Racing crew. In addition to putting on a fabulous race, they supported me from day one. I always send race directors an introductory email before signing up letting them know I will be running with a guide etc. Chris Dunn, one of the RDs, replied immediately and essentially said “we would love to have you, let us know what we can do to support you.” This good vibe carried over to race day.

This was my first official mountain run and the course climbs 3,200’ feet (essentially to the top of a Loon peak) in 10k. I put in a fair amount of hill training including some Blue Hills repeats and a lot of road hills. That said, I had no idea what my pace would be heading into race day. That was kind of refreshing and added to the overall excitement.

My three race day goals: 1) Do not get lapped by the women who started an hour behind the men 2) Finish before my ½ marathon PR 3) Do not cry on Upper Walking Boss. I achieved two out of three.

I met my guide Pete Houde around 7:30AM and we did a quick 1-mile warm-up on the course to sync our guiding goals and loosen up our legs. Pete is an experienced guide (thank you Randy Pierce for loaning him out!) so I felt very comfortable with him.

We lined up toward the back of the pack and started right at 8:00AM. There was an immediate almost u-turn at the beginning so it was cool to see the elite men charging up the hill. We started on a dirt cat track with about 200’ climb. I was thrilled to see my Topo Athletic teammate Laura Kline (who had a stellar race) out there cheering runners on and snapping photos. Pete and I ran about halfway up the hill then power walked the rest.

Photo Credit: Laura Kline

The first two miles or so were a mix of dirt paths that were a bit washed out. Pete settled into guiding and we were feeling good. This ended pretty quickly when the path took us into the woods on more of a cross-country trail with single track mixed in. Also, due to the heavy rain two nights before, the trail had some huge puddles. Pete tried to guide me around the puddles (I teased him that he didn’t want to get his new shoes all dirty!) which became too challenging so I just decided to walk/run through them. That was fun! My Topo Runventures were up for the muddy challenge and pretty much drained and dried out within a mile or so.

Due to the mud and terrain (a fair amount of roots) we did more walking on this section than I anticipated. Therefore, a number of runners passed us and I ended up in my usual trail race position-dead last.

We hit the aid station (thanks volunteers) around 3.5 miles and settled into a pretty good climb on a dirt path. We began to run on a nice, somewhat even in terms of terrain path and my legs and body were feeling strong. The views of the White Mountain were breathtaking.

The remaining miles were pretty much uphill. 

I was passing a few runners on the hills then being passed on the more technical terrain which was fine. I was also conserving energy, especially on the uphills, knowing that Upper Walking Boss was looming around the corner.

The second to last climb for me was tougher than Upper Walking Boss, especially psychologically. It was about a .9 mile incline that climbed roughly 740’ and at every corner and false summit kept going up. My back (thank you weak core) was killing me and my quads were not thrilled.

Thankfully, about 200 feet from the top I saw Jill and Lucy walking down to greet us. I may have actual run for a few steps. Pete was really encouraging me to run this section and in addition to being my guide was super encouraging. We shared this section with Pete’s Coastal Running group mate which made for good conversation.

Lucy ran ahead to refill my water bottle at the aid station and I gave Jill a very boring recap (about as boring as this one).

Cresting the 2nd to last hill. Photo Credit: Laura O'Brien
We finally peaked and ran by the Gondola and cheering crowds. It was nice to see my friend Laura O’Brien and her Dad out cheering and taking pictures. We tore (meaning I was actually running) down a long grassy decent and turned the corner onto Upper Walking Boss (UWB).

Photo Credit: Laura O'Brien

Zombie ants! That was my first reaction to looking up UWB. There was a long line of runners slowly marching uphill. UWB is a kilometer long at roughly 45% grade (the standard treadmill maxes out at 12%). We crossed the timing mat and began “power” walking. My goal was to keep moving forward which for the most part I did. There were a number of trenches carved into the Black Diamond ski trail to help with drainage. Pete did a great job calling these out-“sloping down and now quickly back up!” At a few of the steeper sections the “back up” actual rocked me backwards and the poor runner behind me must have thought I was coming for him. We passed about five runners while walking up and proudly did not get passed by anyone.

Pete was kind enough to call out the 400 meters sign and we told each other-one lap around the track. Uphill at 45% though! I thought we were almost done when we passed the 250-meter sign. Buzzkill.
All of a sudden we heard people cheering and screaming for us and encouraging us to run. I thought we still had a little bit to go so I kept on power-hiking. Then we crested the hill, Pete started yelling that there were these huge rocks and we crossed the finish line!

My finish time was 1:50:04 and UWB split was 15:01 (to put in perspective, the top male, who also had the fastest UWB time, crushed it in approx. 7:20).

Overall, this was a super fun race. I did not come in last and I reached two out of my three goals-my finish time was about 4 minutes slower than my ½ marathon.

By the time we walked back down to UWB the elite women were just starting up UWBJ
Pete did a fabulous job guiding me while being tethered as well as single file running up and down the hills. His positive attitude made all the difference. The Coastal Running Club post-race tail-gating was the best way to cap the morning.

Thanks again to the race crew, all of the volunteers, folks who came out to cheer, and Jill, Lucy and Laura for your support.

Definitely going to do this race again and I encourage anyone else who enjoys well run races, challenging trails, and a fantastic time to check it out. 

Happy Running!

Topo Athletic teammate & superstar Laura Kline.