Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ascutney Mountain Run

Hmm, where to start with this one... When I took up running six months ago to bolster my bone density, I had no aspiration to make anything of it. It was going to be something I just suffered through. But running really isn't all that bad once you gain a little conditioning. I already have the motor, I just needed everything else.

I dabbled in running up a couple local climbs in the 300-800ft range with grades up to 12%. One thing I immediately picked up on was the lack of impact that comes with running fast on flat ground. Running a fast 5k requires powerful snap and good form. I lack both, as these come with years of training. Running up a steep grade doesn't require nearly as much speed in the legs and the technique is much simpler. Each push requires lifting your entire body weight to the next foot plant higher up on the slope. This is not all that different than mashing a big gear going uphill on a bicycle. Running uphill does require much more of the calves than biking uphill, something I'm still developing. So with these similarities between running and biking uphill, I decided to try an actual uphill running race.

Eric from Penguin Cycles commented here a while back that I should consider the race he and and his wife Raina put on at Mt Ascutney. No doubt this would be a well run event like the Ascutney bike race they put on.  They offer cash to overall KOM and QOM winners of combined run/bike times. A little research showed the same kid won it the last two years and probably owns the "unofficial record."  I pondered if I could beat it. Marshall's bike time was almost as fast as my PR time. I'd have to be at least as fast on the bike and be faster on the run. Only problem was I'm not a runner. I've accumulated a lifetime total of 28hrs running so far.  In my dabblings on local climbs, I extrapolated out to Ascutney's vertical. I thought I at least had a fighting chance.

On the fourth of July, I went over to Mt Ascutney on a covert mission. I didn't want to advertise I was going for the KOM title. I feared I would turn a couple Hill Junkie readers on to this climb and blow my chances. I wanted to sneak in under the radar, as they say. So I hit Ascutney after two punishing days of mountain biking. My goal was to see if I could even run up such a beast without imploding. Based on local climbs, I figured 33 minutes was a stretch goal, and 38 minutes was worst case, assuming fresh legs. It was wicked hot on the 4th, and my legs were far from fresh. It took me nearly 38 minutes to summit the beast. Wouldn't you know it, John Baylay, his wife Pamela and others were up there as I summitted. The climb destroyed me. Fortunately, having other hillclimb enthusiast up there took my mind off how badly that sucked. Running up is way harder than riding up.

My time of 37:55 was not fast enough to beat Marshall's KOM record, but I was quite confident in less heat and with fresh legs, I could do at least two minutes faster. I was still going for it.

Heading up I-89 to the race, I couldn't help but notice all the USAT & USATF stickers on vehicles. Normally, when heading up to say the Lake Sunapee bike race, you see a stream of bikes atop cars with USAC stickers on back. At bib pickup, I noticed runners can be even more emaciated than cyclists. Most of these guys and gals had no upper body whatsoever.

Then I spotted a dude that didn't fit in. His biceps were bigger than most quads. Was it... no... hope not! It was. Duncan Douglas decided to drop by for this one. He was one of the two dudes I feared would come.  Duncan owns the run/bike KOM on Whiteface Mtn, taking 2nd overall in both events this year. So how did Duncan learn of this event? I linked to it under my Planned Events to the right. He wondered what that was about, clicked on it, and thought he must do it. Doh! So much for stealthily going after a KOM title.

Upwards of 200 runners lined up. This race is part of the USATF New England Mountain Circuit. Kasie Enman was there, the current US mountain running champion. So not only did I have no chance on the KOM, I was getting girled too.

Since I knew about where I expected to finish (top 20), I positioned myself in second row. Gun goes off, and everybody takes off like it's a flat 5km. Holy crap, this is going to be a beat down. About 20 runners are ahead of me, and Duncan settles in the the lead group that starts to pull away. There seemed to be a select group of about 20 of us that pulled clear of the masses. I wore no bio feedback like HRM or pacing device. I've been up this mountain 25-30 times on bikes and once on foot, so I was going purely on perceived effort and using others around me to gauge pacing.

It didn't take long for things to sort out. Duncan slowly pulled away from me, but drifted back from the leaders. Kasie was right on his heals for the whole race. I traded places with the same three guys pretty much the whole way up. One guy kept resorting to walking, I'd pass him, then he'd come sprinting by a minute later. I think I nailed my pacing, as nobody came from behind and passed me during the race that I could tell. I wasn't passing anybody either. My bike climbs typically go this way.

One thing was decidedly different. Running uphill breaks your will to continue, even your will to live. The suffer factor is 10x biking. I rarely get that urge to stop on a bike, but running, yeah, the demons where taunting me to throw in the towel on this one. How I held the pace to the end is beyond me.

With no electronics on me, I had no idea how I was doing. Since I rested for this race and it wasn't too hot out, I assumed I was doing better than my trial earlier in the week. I hit the line in 35:44, more than two minutes faster than my trial run. This was pretty much where I thought I'd finish. Duncan and Kasie were two minutes ahead of me. I finished 18th overall. I suppose that is not bad for an hour of flat running per week over the last six months. Then I started talking with Duncan. He not only did the Mt Washington Newton's Revenge race in 1:02 the day before, and he not only climbed Mt Ascutney on his bike 1.5 times also day before, but he hasn't even run in the last three weeks. Unbelievable. I was still quite happy with my result, and I think it represents my best effort.

I probably did well enough to break Marshall's KOM record in two weeks when the bike race is held up Mt Ascutney, but I'd have to beat Duncan by more than two minutes to claim the title. That would probably mean breaking the course bicycle record, and that, my friends, ain't gonna happen. Duncan is going for the BUMPS title this year and is already signed up for Ascutney.

With three cycling trips so far this year, I feel my form has come back. This is my twelfth year racing up Ascutney. Just maybe, I can eek out another PR. I would be ecstatic if I did. At almost 49 years old, I can still honestly say I'm in the best shape of my life. The running has brought more diversity into my training and some balance back to my body. I look forward to trying a couple winter triathlons this season.


DaveP said...

Running? Boo.

Mr. Speer said...

So that's why you haven't been blogging eh? Secret training! I feel like the little running I did over the winter really worked nicely into my spring cycling fitness. Keep it up!