Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cranmore - USATF Mountain Running Championships

Weekend number two in the White Mountains was spent at the Cranmore Hill Climb.  For 2011 it's a 3 loop course climbing 600 feet up Cranmore ski hill in 1.25 miles and then dropping that same 600 feet in about 1.2 miles.  Repeat.  Repeat.
This type of race suited me better than the relentlessness of Mt Washington but since it serves as the USATF Mountain running championships and the sole qualifier for the US team at the World Mountain Championships in Albania the competition would be traveling from a far looking to get one of the six spots available on the team.  Not only would 3 of the 6 runners who beat me the previous weekend return but the prerace favorites would be flying in from Oregon (Max King) and Washington (Joe Gray).  I was excited to see how I could stack up against these guys and even more excited for a chance to run for USA at the world mountain championships.

To run fast at a race like Cranmore (steep ascents, descents, mud, and thick grass) a runner needs a light weight shoe that gives exceptional grip.  A race like this is what brought me to Inov-8 which equipped me in the X-Talon 190's. 
X-Talon 190's post race (Brand new pre race)

At 6.7oz the X-Talon 190 is one of the lightest shoes I've ever owned yet it's aggressive lugs provide stable footing through Cranmore's muddy section and most importantly the steep downhills on loose dirt.  Don't believe me?  Well, 9 of the top 11 men were sporting either the X-Talon 190 or it's bigger hefty brother the X-Talon 212 (a whopping 7.5oz).  Advantage nullified.

Lap 1
At the starting line a quick look around revealed 3 runners who beat me at Mt Washington (Tommy Manning, Matt Byrne, and Peter Maksimow), fellow Mtn Cup'er Jared Scott, reigning USATF Mtn Champ Joe Gray, and the runner I figured to be odds on favorite to win Max King.  Bang goes the gun and Max was off.  He wasn't messing around and began to set a hot pace as soon as we hit the first wall to begin our climb. 
Max King out early as I just clear the woods
I lingered back in 8th place or so but quickly realized that Max and Joe Gray were in front and weren't looking to settle in.  In the first 1/4 mile of the first climb I scooted by everyone in between Max and Joe and closed the small gap they'd already opened up.  I even kept on scooting for a little bit and found myself in front of Joe Gray halfway up the hill which lasted until we hit one of the four "walls" on the course.  I began walking and he kept running.  Spoiler alert:  This would be the last position change of the race for me. 

The "walls" provided me an opportunity to walk; keep my legs under me without losing much ground.  Joe and Max were setting a hot pace and as we approached the end of the first ascent they were still within 10 meters while I had a good 20 meters on 4th place.
Within smelling distance of the leaders
On the descents of the first lap I kept Max and Joe in sight.  Max began to pull away from Joe and I opened up a fairly large gap on 4th place.  I climbed the first lap in 9:17 and descended the lap in 5:04.

Lap 2
As the second climb began there was no big push coming from my legs.  Max and Joe had a bit of a gap and my legs were flat.  The game plan now turned into managing this climb and keeping my legs with the hope that my consistency would result in a late catch of one of the leaders.  I ran more comfortably this lap on the ups and took several walk breaks.  I lost all sight of Max on the climbs and was a good distance behind Joe with Matt Byrne running about the same distance behind me.  I climbed this lap in 9:57 (40 seconds slower) and descended in 5:12 (8 seconds slower).  I lost all sight of Joe at the bottom of the descent and would only catch a glimpse of Matt's Jersey once later on the during the climb.  I was all alone.  The legs hurt but I didn't have to push and was able to maintain a solid pace.
Looking for the leaders
Lap 3
At this point I'm in survival mode.  I know Matt's behind me and my only goal is to get to the top of the mountain ahead of him.  I climbed conservatively in 10:20 (dropped another 23 seconds off my pace) and descended in 5:12 (same as previous lap).  Overall climbing splits were ( 9:17, 9:57, 10:20) and the descents were (5:04, 5:12, 5:12).  Climbing is still a bit of an issue but I stayed strong on the descents.  As the raced progressed that turned into the game plan: Hold a lead on the ups while conserving energy to be able to extend the lead on the downs.  It was a recipe for success for 3rd place. 

I came in about 2 1/2 minutes behind winner Max King and 1 1/2 behind runner up Joe Gray.  I earned a spot on the US Team competing in the World Mountain Running Championships in Albany.  It'll be my first time running in red, white, and blue and I'm very excited for the opportunity.  I'll be joined by Max, Joe, Matt Byrne, Inov-8 teammates Tommy Manning and Jared Scott. 
Top 10 men and women

Jared Scott, a fellow Mtn cupper, grabbed the last spot by dramatically outkicking Scott Gall.  The women representing the US will be Kasie Enman, Michele Suszek, Brandy Erholtz, and Megan Lund.  The last spot on the women's side also came down to a dramatic kick between Brandy, Megan, and fellow NC Inov-8 runner Amber Moran.  That's about all I know of the women's race.  They started 5 minutes after us and only ran two loops so they were done well before the men.
Inov-8 Team

Going Forward
In the immediate days following the race my legs have hurt.  Monday's run was more of a crippled limp with fellow local runner Scott Williams.  I expect sore quads and a general feeling of surviving an auto accident but I wasn't expecting my hamstrings to feel torn in half.  Tuesday turned into an off day and so far it seems to have payed off as the legs are beginning to feel like themselves today (Wednesday).

As a team competing at the World championships I'm hoping we can compete for a medal.  Max and Joe are clearly contenders for the top 10 overall.  I feel like I've identified an area for improvement (climbing) and have a few months and several hill climbs to prepare better for the event.  I'm hoping more competition throughout the entirety of the race can keep me closer to Max and Joe.  I know Matt's got more in his legs as he's beaten me before.  He's been beat up a bit since Rothrock 30k and by September he'll be ready to go.  Tommy's new to me but he ran very well at world's last year and hearing him talk post race he seems to be gaining confidence in his descending.  Jared has beaten Matt this year and has improved a lot since I first race him at the USATF trail 10k championships last year.  He's been healthy and it shows.

In the meantime I'll start immediately working on my climbing by heading to Vail Colorado this weekend for the Vail Hill Climb.  It's a 7.5 mile race that climbs 2000ft.  Hardly a climb compared to Mt Washington but the first mile is flat.  The competition will be excellent once again as Matt Byrne and Jared Scott will be there as well as a few Coloradans.  Four days after the Vail hill climb I'll be lacing them up again at our local hill climb "The Bear."  It'll be my 13th running and I'll be looking for my 5th victory on the just short of 5 mile run up Grandfather Mountain.
Bear run 2009

Post Race Feast
Kadie's sister Melissa and her boyfriend Tyler came up from Boston to watch the race and Tyler took me to his favorite BBQ place in New England, The Yankee Smokehouse.  Ironically during last years Reach the Beach Relay David Patterson and I stumbled upon this gem after our first legs of the relay.  This time around I had the beef brisket and ribs.  Perfect!

Post Race Brew
The Atlanta airport shutting down for a few hours gave me time to kill in Boston so I stumbled in a Harpoon pub at the airport.  I had an IPA and called it an evening.  Nothing too special about the Harpoon IPA and even less special was being in an airport bar.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mt Washington

7.6 miles and 4600ft of climbing greeted runners lucky enough to win the lottery to get an entry into the Mount Washington road race.  Just a few minutes after the gun sounds just about everyone's luck runs out. 
View from the Start
I'd had my eye on this race for years.  Partially because of the challenge and partially because of the prize purse.  I've been doing mountain races over the last 2 years and I felt I was ready this year to tackle the challenge.  I felt I was prepared to grind out the 7.6 miles because I've had the experience climbing Squaw Valley (3.6 miles/2000 feet), 14 x's the bear run (4.75 miles/1500ft), a handful of trails up and overs, and a more regular training regime covering Elk Knob (1 mile or 1.5 miles/1000ft) and Mount Jefferson (3 miles/1400feet).  I felt I was mentally prepared to keep one foot moving in front of the other ignoring the burn in my quads and calves.

I was wrong.
Nothing I had done had prepared me for the length of Mount Washington.

First 3rd of the race
In review of the race I can break it down into three 2.5 miles sections.  The first 2.5 miles went according to plan.  The rain that started an hour before the start let up and left the air thick with humidity but it was still fairly cool out.  Shortly after beginning the one hill I found myself in a pack with Matt Byrne and fellow Inov-8 runner from Colorado Peter Maksimow and we had a short visual to the spread out leaders of Glenn Randall, Rickey Gates (eventual winner), and Tommy Manning.  I was patient, felt good, and stuck in that group for about 2.5 humid and warm miles.  I have had a lot of experience racing Matt so I was confident that I was with the right group.  According to the garmin I went through the first third of the race in 20:01 and climbed about 1450ft.  Towards the end of this segment my legs were getting heavy and in order to keep them from going lactic I decided to walk a few steps to keep my legs under me.  That's were things fell apart.

Middle 3rd
I could see Randall coming back and Matt had caught him with Peter shortly behind.  I thought I'd still get past him and be running for 5th place the rest of the race looking to pick off anyone else that had gone out too hard.  But I was the only one doing any walking.  I wouldn't see anyone else walking either. 

Shortly Eric Blake and Simon Gutierrez had caught me.  Each time I walked I lost ground and my legs weren't getting any fresher.  Once Simon and Eric caught me I ran with them as it was much easier for me to set a pace with others around me.  But Simon had a gel is his shorts which he sucked down at the half way point and proceeded to surge ahead as if he were floating on clouds of caffeine.  At this point Eric (a former champ struggling with injuries) was trying to set an even pace up the mountain while rookie me kept surging past him, walking, then surging past again.  It was pathetic and I could tell he was annoyed but I couldn't find a rhythm and kept on sloppily making my way up the mountain in that manner even after Eric said "if we keep an even pace we can hold on to our position."  A very polite way to say "screw you newbie."  Those middle miles were a mess.  I ran my middle third of the race in 23:24 and climbed around 1700ft.  That was the slowest section of the race.

Final 3rd
The final third of the race actually got better for me.  As I got closer and closer to the finish my confidence grew and I walked less and less.  I didn't walk at all in the last 1.5 miles except for two steps on the final 22% percent grade wall greeting finishers.
The 22% grade wall to the finish (Courtesy of Inov-8)
 I covered that section in around 22:53 and pulled away from Eric in the 6th mile to finish 7th overall in 66:18.  It was this last section of the race which added confidence that I can mentally and physically improve those last miles. 

Final Thoughts
Going into the race I'd hoped to have run 63 minutes and finish in the top 3.  I felt I could run 65 minutes and finish in the top 5.  I was a bit off but not too much considering how disappointed I was with the middle miles.  I feel that another attempt at the race in two weeks would results in minute or two improvement and with a few tweaks in my training I expect to take that time off next year.  I also learned that nothing I had done adequately prepared me for the length of the hill.  Truth is there's very little that can be done anywhere to prepare for that grade over that distance.  I suspect the Rockies would be a good place to look though as 5 of the top 6 men were from Colorado.  Next year I expect to prepare better and improve my performance by a couple of minutes. 
Male and Female winners with Matt and I at the Summit

Next week I'll be back in the White Mountains of NH for the Cranmore Hill Climb and a shot at running for the US at the world mountain championships.

Post Race Beverage
I went over to check out the Cranmore course and on the recommendation from Chris, my ride down the mountain, I swung by Moat Mountain Brewery and had an IPA.  Delicious!

Next Day's Run
The legs weren't sore but my head was woozy after a few short miles at Bass Lake.  As I crested by the manor house I shortly found my legs to be wobbly on the downhill back towards the lake and a long run quickly turned into a shorter run.  By Monday I was feeling back to normal.  Overall a good outcome for a ridiculous climb.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Getting Started

Well, after some time thinking about how I'd like to start a blog this will be the start.  It will be unenlightning and fairly basic information about me and where I'd like to take this blog.  First, I'm a chiropractor and a runner.  Here's a bit of a brief run down of my running. 

I got my start at Watauga High School in my current home town of Boone, NC.  We won the 1996 NCHSAA cross coutry team title which propelled me to a walk-on spot at NC State University.  At NC State I spent 5 years running cross country and track for an xc team that didn't finish lower than 11th in the nation during my tenure.  I also earned All American honors on the track at 5,000m and won 3 ACC track titles.  I then spent 2 1/2 years running for the Nike Farm Team in Palo Alto, CA before heading to Florida to start my chiropractic career and turning solely to road racing.  In 2008 I came back to Boone and started my appropriately named chiropractic office... Marathon Chiropractic.  In 2009 I ran my first trail race.  Since I've been racing trails and roads and maybe one day I'll even toe the line for a track race.

15 years in 15 sentences or less.  Less.

Back to present day and the kick start of my "Runnings and Ramblings" blog.  It's a great time for me and my running and I want to start sharing these events with friends, family, patients, running peers, and future me.  I've got a great upcoming schedule and I want to document and share the miles and climbs that lie ahead.  In just the next two months alone I'll be running the prestigous Mt Washington Hill climb, competing for a spot on the US Team for the World Mtn Championships, racing two more La Sportiva Mtn Cup events, racing the NCUSATF 5k Championships, and even competing for the umpteenth time in my local hill climb "The Bear." 

Not only do I have a great upcoming schedule but I've kicked off this run with my best road 5k since 2008.  Last Friday at the China Grove 5k I posted a 14:46 to outkick Stuart Moran and John Compton.  Garmin of race.  It was ideal June conditions in North Carolina's piedmont as the 92 degree temperature dropped dramaticaly in the 90 minutes before the race from a neighboring storm.  Luckily the storm just blew in cooler air without a drop of rain keeping humidity levels shockingly low.  Stu took the race out from the gun and led us through the first mile while I purposely and consciously sat back and waited.  Well, with about 8 of us together through the first mile I got impatient and started pushing.  John, Stu, and I were then alone and we stayed tightly together till the last quarter mile.  John set most the pace while I surged several times thinking I could pull away.  I couldn't.  But that last quarter mile I opened up like I haven't done in several years and pulled away.  The Garmin put me at 3:51 pace for the last .11 miles which was about what the previous .11 miles was.  I don't think I could go to the track right and do that. 

A fast overall time and a big kick has momentum riding high.

But back to the notion of a blog.  I plan to update with my runs of course but I'd also like to talk some about healthy and nutrition as well as running equipment and some of the great pleasures in life... beer, wine, dogs and cats (Timber and Charles Henry).  We'll see how it all develops.  I encourage any and all to follow and comment.  Up next is Mt Washington on Saturday.  7.5 miles long and 4500 feet up.  Right now it's game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.  Go Bruins!