The most interesting event on the calender this weekend was the Pack Monadnock 10 Miler foot race. It is two weeks before the Mt Washington road race, so I thought it would be perfect training. It doesn't hurt that it is close by, either. Pack is part of the New England Mountain Circuit, a USATF sanctioned series that I believe is in its 17 year. Serious runners participate in these events. So what's a guy like me who runs 2-3hrs per week doing here? Anything that goes up must be good, right? The Pack 10 Miler didn't go quite like I expected.
We really lucked out with the weather. Saturday night called for 90% chance of rain Sunday morning. When I got up Sunday morning, forecast changed to 10% and partly sunny. Cool temps, too. I picked up my bib number with a chip for timing. DaveP, not even 24hrs back from Italy and jet-lagged, made it out too for day-of entry. He lives about two miles from the start line.
The course starts in the town of Wilton, NH and finishes at the summit of Pack Monadnock 10 miles away. There are two lengthy gravel road sections. Half of the 2000+ feet of climbing is gained in less than two miles at the end. Portions of the Pack toll road hit 20% grade. I've biked and run Pack many times, but never at the end of a 10 mile foot race. In fact, I've have never run 10 miles in my life. So not only was I going to run my longest distance ever, I was probably going to run it at my hardest intensity ever. A dangerous combination.
Profile recorded by Garmin 500
In the profile above, I count at least 14 grade reversals, places where the grade goes negative. I don't do well going down hill. I really didn't know how this would factor into the race. Runners that finished near me on Mt Ascutney last year also did Pack Monadnock last year. Assuming I would finish near their time on Pack, or even better since I'm running much more now, I thought I had an outside chance of approaching 1:10 for a finishing time, which is not far from a top-10 overall. Well, it turns out you can't extrapolate from a 12% pure climbing race to one that is more like flat 12k plus a climb at the end. Ascutney and Pack have about as much in common as a hillclimb and an individual time-trial on a bike. Some runners are just built for speed on the flats, while others excel on the steeps. More on this as the story unfolds.
Dave and I did a very minimal warmup, basically walking down to the start line with a few hundred meters of light running thrown in. In the first mile, there's a persistent 200ft climb. I had no idea how to pace on this, other than I expected the race go a lot like the Mt Washington bicycle hillclimb, so I needed to pace my breathing about the same as that. I lined up third row with at least 10 runners in each row.
The horn goes and 200+ runners take off. I'm sure the fast guys went out at sub-6min pace. Just crazy. Humbling was the fact that at least 30 runners charged ahead of me at a completely ridiculous speed for me. So much for a "top-10" finish. I even started to doubt I'd make the bottom end of the range I thought I'd finish in, 1:20.
As we got into the meat of the initial steep 200ft rise, a few runners drifted back. Most runners rapidly pulled away from me. This is not easy! I was pretty sure I was going out way to hard for a 70-80 minute effort. We crested the initial rise, only to give a chunk of it back. I got schooled on the downhill, with many in front of me doubling the time gap in no time and others flying by me. So this is how guys that do Ascutney in 35 minutes do so well here. They can run really fast on flats and downhills. That initial blip down pounded my body. I felt like I was barely in control and flailing. Kind of like ski racing at Weston on icy boiler plate.
The terrain rolled some more, gaining almost no vertical in miles two and three. There were two runners I kept trading places with. They'd drop me on the flats or descents, I'd catch them back on the steeper uphill pitches.
At mile marker four, two other guys decisively caught and passed me. The two guys I was running with until that point latched on. Hmmm, there's no drafting at 9mph. I wondered if this works just like a bicycle hillclimb. If the two slower guys hung with the two faster guys long enough, they'd blow up, then maybe I'd catch them back. While I pondered this, the four got smaller, and smaller as the gap to them grew.
At mile six, a whole pack of runners, guys and gals, passed me at a pretty good speed differential. I knew I was slowing down. I ran the first four miles at a 6:30 pace, way too fast considering the terrain and how long the race was going to take me. Now I was paying for it. This was going to be a bloodbath.
At mile 6.5, the course starts becoming more like a hillclimb race. The flats and downhills pretty much disappear after that. We dropped down onto dirt Old Revolutionary Rd and start climbing earnestly. To my amazement, all the of the runners that had passed me in the last couple miles starting getting bigger again. Some of them were at least two minutes up. The two guys I traded places with during the first few miles did get spit out by the two faster guys. I quickly reeled one of them in. Then others. We popped out on Rt 101. There's a half-mile section with passing lane, which means steep. I now started picking off runners in the pack that passed me at the six mile mark. The interesting thing was, my perceived effort wasn't any harder, yet I was reeling them in faster than they blew by me on the non-climbing part. How cool is that?
We turned into Miller State Park. This is where the horror begins, 12% average grade for 1.3 miles, with sections over 20%. My left calf was doing some weird stuff. I could tell something was getting pulled or torn in there. I was just starting to feel better about the race when I feared I might have to drop out. We climbed only 1200ft to that point. So not sure what was up with the calf. The weekend before I did Kearsarge, which is 1400ft in one shot. I cautiously kept going. I still had two more runners that passed me in miles 4-6 to reel back.
And reel them in I did, as soon as the grade kicked up. One reverted to speed walking on the steepest part. The difference between flat and uphill capability in runners is far more striking than in cyclists. Why would somebody that passed me so decisively on flatter terrain be so much slower on steep terrain? I really feel hamstring strain when running uphill. I believe I heavily use my hamstrings on the bike, so I may be much more conditioned for uphill running than a full-time runner that doesn't train extensively on uphills.
Anyway, I dropped the last of those that passed me mid-race. My placing was now pretty much where it was a minute into the race. There was a big gap to the next guy, but it was narrowing. One thing was certain. Running up Pack after running nine miles is way harder than just showing up and running repeats! But I did 100% run it. No walking. I believed my calf was going to make it, but not without some consequences later.
Hill Junkie in pain, oblivious to surroundings
Dave noticed the camera woman
I reached the final, sustained 20% section and knew the race would be over in less than two minutes. My wife would be up there with the camera somewhere, but my brain was too whacked out by that point to see her taking photos. I crossed the line in 1:14:58, right in the middle of the range I thought I'd finish in. I was not disappointed. It was a solid effort, except for maybe going out a little too hard.
Two months from 50. Age group podium next year.
Dave came through a few minutes later, which is quite impressive, given he climbed something like 40,000-50,000ft this week in Italy and was jet lagged. Sitting for three minutes was probably a bad move. I could barely walk when I got up! Calves, hamstrings and glutes in both legs were completely knotted up. Not cramping, just totally wrecked and tight. At first I doubted I could walk back down to the car at the base. I've never experienced that kind of muscle pain after a hillclimb race. Once on Ascutney came close, but this was really bad. It only got worse by the time I got home.
No point in over-analyzing these results for Mt Washington in two weeks. One runner I talked to after today's race, Jeff, said Mt Washington is nothing like the Pack 10 Miler. Mt W is a very steady grade, which I know well, and I should do comparatively better there. Still hoping for a 1:20 finish on Mt W, which surprisingly is only slightly more time for more than twice as much vertical!