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.


  1. Blog looks good. We'll see you the day after The Bear. Hopefully you can still walk. Looks like a pretty tough double with just a few days between.