Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pack Monadnock 10 Miler

This year has been about venturing into new territory for me. Back in January, I did my first winter triathlon, a run-bike-ski event. Multiple running events are planned for this summer.  In fact, I may end up competing in just as many non-cycling events as cycling events in 2012, if ski training races are included. Podium finishes are hard to come by in running and skiing events, but that is not why I participate in them.  Skate skiing is just plain fun, a lot like mountain biking actually, and running continues to grow on me.

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!


Rob Hult said...

Doug, that's not a bad finish at all considering your running hours. Virtually everyone ahead of you is a full-time runner.

I ran a 1:10:42 for 13th. The guy just ahead of me was 54 (Martin Tighe) and he just missed the 50+ Master's record. I ran with him for much of the race, got gapped in the middle, and couldn't quite catch him on the final climb. That is one sinister race course.

Here are my splits:

1 6:30
2 6:03
3 6:20
4 6:47
5 6:23
6 6:53
7 6:41
8 7:20
9 7:55
10 9:49
Total 1:10:42

I have some ideas on how to go faster next year. The top guys really hit the after-burners on the descents running mile splits in the 5's. The very best guys (top 5) hit it pretty hard once they turn onto 101 and post some impressive splits for miles 9 & 10.

Hill Junkie said...

Rob - thanks for the great insight. Definitely a lot to ponder here, like how far do I want to go with the mountain running thing. Washington and Ascutney are up next. If I do well and stay injury free, I may commit more time to running.

I spent a little time reading your blog posts. Some good stuff in there. I find it interesting that you find running doesn't necessarily have a negative impact on cycling. I believe my cycling cadence has changed as a result of running, but maybe for the better. I seem to have better fatigue resistance, and my power numbers are up from last year. I've replaced 2-3 riding hours per week with running. I'll get a good bicycle benchmark on Ascutney next month, where a PR is not entirely impossible.

Rob Hult said...

If you go too much below a 70-30 split, the sport you are neglecting seems to suffer. If I ride less than 30%, I find that my spin and ability to put out power while pedaling decreases. Similarly, if I don't run enough, I find that when I do, I get beat up more readily and my running stride is not as smooth. I guess it is all a matter of what you want you are trying to accomplish and how much you are willing to invest in each sport.

I also tend to use the bike for my easy days and recovery rides and as a tool for injury recovery. I find it much easier to go for a recovery spin than it is to go for an 'easy' run. This is probably because I am not a pure runner logging 60, 80, even 100 mile weeks.

Rob Hult said...

...oh btw Justin Freeman (who finished 2nd) is really a nordic skier, at least that was his primary sport in the day. He just happens to be damn fast at mountain and trail running too. I think that shows right there that a trained aerobic engine is the key. Then if you put in a little sport-specific training, you can get some good results.

I know for a fact that my weekly running mileage is quite literally half of what the guys finishing just in front (and sometimes behind) me is at the local races. Granted, they aren't riding Gear Works hammer-fests on the bike either, but you get the point.

I've come to the conclusion that hard work and proper aerobic training is the #1 most important factor. Then you just need enough sport-specific activity so that you can race without destroying yourself in the process, hahaha.

Cary said...

Sure Freeman was a USST guy but hard to argue he doesn't have a VERY extensive running background- XC and track through college at Bates and running continues to be exist as the premier dryland training for aerobic development in nordic skiing. I remember reading an interview with Justin during his days at Bates in the late 90s where he described his preparation for the fall xc running season as running 6 days per week, 20 miles each day, at 6:30 pace...

middle.professor said...

Doug : it was nice to meet you at the top. I'll stroke your ego a little: that is an impressive race given your running background. I disagree with Rob a little about big engines in biking v. running v. skiing. There are many, many excellent skiers at the HS and college level that suck at running. An engine helps, but some people can be remarkably average in their non-specific sport. Another example is Lance A. I don't know how much he really trained for the marathon but 2:59 and even 2:46 are stunningly slow for someone who has his engine.

On Mt. W. I ran Mt. W in just under 1:23 2 years ago, when I was in much better fitness. Comparing races (like the Merrimack 10 miler), I'm guessing I was in 1:14-1:15 shape for the Pack Monadnock. That said, I have zero leg strength (and thus power) so short, steep hills (like the first 8 miles of the Pack course) kill me. For some reason, I seem to do a little better on the long, steady climbs. But I'm best on a flat 5K/10K. You seem to have excellent leg power, which is what you need for Mt. W., Maintaining pace over the last 2 miles of Mt. W is tough. My 1:22:xx was about 1:21 pace but I got a nasty sidestitch at about mile 5 which caused me to walk short sections and even stop and bend over in agony. Here is a post on Mt. W prediction
but I don't think that will help you much since you don't have a recent 1/2 marathon time!
Good luck at Mount Washington. I should be up at the top cheering (because I hiked it, not because I got to the finish line before you).

Rob Hult said...

There is some technique involved in skiing. Some kids are efficient and know how to glide. I don't think there is nearly as much technique in running. Running is more about fitness and mental toughness. As Mike Gallagher said, 50% of elite competition is in your head. He won a few races in his day...

...and yes, I am sure Freeman is logging some serious running hours. When he shows up, he is always right up there. You can't just casually run Pack at a 1:02:29. That reminds me of the Mark McCormack, oh I am hardly riding nonsense he would offer up as he won another Pro12 sprint.

Ross Krause was also a roadie cyclist in his day, though now he takes his running fairly seriously (5th in a 1:06:36 on a course that is not his forte, not bad).

Dave Dunham put in 98 miles this past week and ran a 1:06:39 at age 48. Not too shabby. He has also run Pack 17 times.

I ran 29 miles last week (including race) and logged 75 on a bike. There is a big difference. I'm going to Greylock because the course is way more fun than Washington, hahaha, hey I am still an mtb racer at heart.

Good luck Doug! You'll do fine. You like to suffer.

Hill Junkie said...

Better than a mid-pack finishes in ski marathons elude me. Seems skate skiing is at least 50% technique, the rest fitness. Cycling seems to be 95% fitness, at least for a solo effort. Still trying to get my head around running. I've only begun to build a base for running specific muscles.

I checked my training log. I've run only 37hrs so far this year, about 280 miles total, or 1.6hrs per week. No speed work, but some hill intervals the last couple months. I suppose that isn't much of a base to be running 10 milers. Two days later, my legs are still thoroghly wrecked. My legs didn't hurt this bad after a mountainous 100 mile MTB race.

Rob Hult said...

There is an adaptation phase to any sport. The first time I ran 7 Sisters, I couldn't walk properly for about a week. This year was much less damaging.

The other thing with XC skiing is that it can be 50% upper body whereas cycling and running require virtually zero. I mean maybe some core work helps.

HS kids are down right bizarre in their performances. Some go fast and others do not, yet performance at that age is not necessarily a good indicator of future performance. Some of them are not yet fully developed, some are lazy, and a lot of them don't give a crap. Masters racers on the other hand are borderline psychotic in their pursuit of victory, hahaha, I should know!!!

Seriously to post up a time like you did on less than 2 hours of running per week is impressive. It would have been impossible without your skiing and cycling training. It only further emphasizes my point.

Now, if you want your legs to hurt less and you want to move up further, it is simple, run more. Your times will come right down.

Food for thought:
Did you know that Tim Van Orden spent 17 years doing virtually nothing, sitting in front of a computer screen at work. He posted up a 1:06:58 at age 44 and is always a top performer at a mountain or trail race. Now he just runs a lot and adds strength training.