Loon Mountain Race Take 2

*** Notice***
By reading this race report you hereby agree to remind me of said race report in the event that you see another short distance mountain race on my schedule.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about Loon Mountain Race. 6.6 miles with over 2,200 3,351 feet of vertical gain, the last kilometer of which hits grades of 40%+. It is intense and challenging – right up my alley! However this year all I could hear in my head was “this isn’t fun.” Perhaps Loon Mountain Race should be a bucket race list and I have checked it off not once, but twice. Enough for me!

I took a shot at this race in 2014 not knowing what I was getting myself into but looking forward to a new challenge. That’s exactly what I got! I placed a disappointing 21st but was hungry to take another shot at it. The need for redemption is always strong in me. In 2016 Loon Mountain Race was again the USATF Mountain Running Championship which meant the field was going to be stacked deep – just as it was in 2014. However this time I decided to throw some specific training into the event in hopes of bettering my position in the final standings. So after 1 week recovery from Cayuga Trails 50 I hopped into a 3 week training plan for a short, intense mountain race. It’s always exciting to throw a different training block into the mix and I was really looking forward to these 3 weeks. My overall run volume did not drop from my lead-up to Cayuga but the intensity increased as well as adding more doubles to the schedule.

After 1 week my training hit a wall much like the one you hit when you make that right-hand turn and face the Upper Walking Boss on Loon Mountain.

upper walking boss
A seemingly minor issue in my lower leg was causing a lot of pain and swelling which would only behave with short, easy, flat runs. Local athlete and ART extraordinaire Scott Field was ready and willing to jump in and provide relief. So much so that I was able to run 2 track workouts the week of the race which turned out to be my fastest track workouts of the year! I found myself itching to race a road 5k instead of a mountain race but I was still excited to give Loon another shot expecting to both race and feel stronger this time around despite the lack of actual hill training in the 2 week lead-up.

I was definitely not in the racing state of mind the morning and felt stressed. I knew I would need to get a decent warm-up in before the start – the climbing begins almost immediately so you better be ready! After about 10 minutes of warming up I felt over-heated and downright exhausted so I headed over to the start line to hang out and wait. Save it all for the race. For me a terrible warmup normally leads to a good race. I was excited to see Katie O’Regan at the start line and it was a relief to hear that someone else had the same goals as me and also the same uncertainty. Neither of us was there to podium – we just wanted to see what we could do. Sayard Tanis also made her appearance to the start line looking primed. It was great to see so many PA runners in the mix!

I had my sights set on top 20 and when the race started that’s exactly where I placed myself in the pack. The first climb felt like we were crawling but was also pretty manageable. In 2014 the women raced a shorter 4 mile course. Turning onto the Nordic Section was new territory for me and turned out to be my favorite part of the course (because it wasn’t totally uphill!) The trail was completely shaded with rollers and a bunch of muddy trenches to run through. Now we’re talking!

Once you pop out of that section you cut across the mountain and prepare to climb for almost the remainder of the race. It was helpful to find markers on the course letting you know how many miles were left. I wore my GPS but never even had a chance to look down at it! With 2 miles to go we rounded a corner where a group of male racers (they started an hour before us this time) were standing to cheer us on. One of them told me I was top 20 but as I started the 2nd hardest climb of the race, Upper Bear Claw, I turned around to see a rather large group of women right behind me. And sure enough the passes started as I was barely moving up that hill. Somehow these climbs felt way tougher than last time even though I felt better equipped to handle them. Wrong!

Finally I reached the gondola where you get some relief before the final, monstrous, Upper Walking Boss. “Haulback” is all downhill from the gondola to the base of the final climb and “haul-ass” is what I did on this section. Even though I knew a top 20 placement was long gone, and after that it didn’t really matter to me where I finished, I still wanted to push. No point in saving my quads so I bombed the hill! And there ahead I saw that final turn where you abruptly face the wall. I knew I would be hiking the whole thing so it was time to put my head down and get it done. My calf felt like it was going to explode at this point and I briefly considered calling it a day here instead of risking damage. On that climb there is no way to approach it gingerly. I immediately realized that was the dumbest thought ever – the Upper Walking Boss is what makes this race epic!

Every time I looked up it hurt just a little more when you cannot see an end in sight. One female had already passed me so I stopped looking up and decided to instead look back. There were a few women behind me but they seemed to be moving at the same pace as I was – can you even call that a “pace”? This motivated me to keep pushing and hold onto my spot. I got really excited to see the “500 meters left” sign only to realize that 500 meters up that mountain meant I was still nowhere near close to the finish 😉 But now we were getting into spectator zone and the guys did a great job at motivating us up that climb!

As I drew closer to the finish I looked back one last time to hear one of the guys say “no one’s close – you got this”. Another guy shouted “1:09” in an attempt to get me to push for a sub-1:10 finish. That was just what I needed to hear as I tapped into my empty tank for one last push to the finish. I didn’t have a time goal for the race but having someone motivate me to look up at the clock and inspire me to finish strong was huge. I finished in 1:09:38 which put me in 25th place. Katie hit her goal of top 20 snagging the 20th spot, and Sayard was right with me finishing 27th.

That race downright hurt. Brutal. But it was great to connect with friends I haven’t seen in way too long and I also got to meet fellow Topo athlete Kyle Robidoux. He is beyond amazing!

Now don’t let me scare you away from this race. Loon Mountain is a course you should definitely experience if you’re a mountain-lover. Acidotic Racing does an excellent job organizing and hosting this event. I mean, already by the end of this race report my mind is churning – should I go for redemption on my failed redemption? And this is where I go back to the top of the race report to read it again .

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Caumsett 50k National Championship – A Day of Shortcomings

Before I get to the race, let me first mention how I arrived here. As many of you know, I was training for a road marathon – a marathon that is taking place this weekend. The half marathon I raced two weeks prior was to obtain elite entry to this marathon. While far from a PR, I just squeaked out the time I needed. I submitted my results that Monday and waited, and waited – rather impatiently – for my entry to be granted. By Thursday I followed up with an email asking if they received my submission and when I would find out if I was in fact racing. On the following Monday, still not having heard back from them, I made the decision to bump my race date up a week and compete at the Caumsett 50k National Championship. This wasn’t really a big stretch – only one week earlier and 5 miles longer is not a huge change-up. It just meant I had to start my “taper” that day. I registered for the race, booked my hotel room and changed my focus solely to this race.
arrgghhAs luck would have it, Friday night I received an email from the Rock ‘n Roll marathon coordinator confirming my elite entry 😦 It was too late to turn back and I kept my sights set on the 50k that was now 2 days away. I also held off on responding to the coordinator, just in case something went wrong on Sunday and I would be able to race the marathon as a back-up. Luckily a back-up plan was not needed.

I felt oddly relaxed going into this race. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that my training partner Jason Friedman was racing also. This race was 10 laps of a 5k loop with a small out-and-back section. In a way it was like chasing him around the track. Okay not really, I knew I should be nowhere near him on this course. But the fact that I knew I would see him occasionally would make me feel at home so to speak. When I found out Joe Murphy would be running that bolstered my spirits even more. Another competitor who would undoubtedly be faster than me, but who I had familiarity in running with (even though only for a short time).

at the start with Joe on my left shoulder and Jay on my right

At the start with Joe on my left shoulder and Jay on my right. Photo: SC Photos

It was going to be a beautiful day weather-wise. The sun was shining bright at Caumsett State Park. My biggest concern for the day was what to wear. It was in the low 30’s and expected to reach 40 by the time I would be finishing. I went with capri bottoms, a short-sleeved top, arm warmers, a hat and gloves with hand warmers. In hindsight I think I would’ve preferred tights – I do like keeping my legs warm. Otherwise I felt comfortable throughout the race except that my face constantly felt frozen. That was odd.

The course was great – a lot of flat stretches to really settle in with two rollers on the backside, and one tiny kicker on the out-and-back section. The toughest part was navigating the 180 degree turn around a cone. Simple enough on the first few laps but as the course became congested it was a spot that really slowed you down. GLIRC did an excellent job with this championship course.

I had multiple goals for this race. Beyond my A and B time goals, this race has the added bonus of being a Boston Marathon qualifier. They had a timing mat set up at the marathon mark to record your split, and then all you needed to do was finish the race for it to count. This was my first goal mark for the race – I was planning to hit the marathon mark in just under 3 hours, and then hold onto a sub-7:00 pace for those last 5 miles to reach my A goal of 3:35.

Once the starting gun went off I quickly settled into a relaxed pace, clicking off ~6:30 miles. It was only slightly faster than I needed to go, but knowing how I like to race it was good for me to have a slight buffer on those early miles. I hit the first 5k at 20:13, then 20:25 and 20:55. I was progressing as planned and still feeling somewhat relaxed. I knew within the first mile of this race that it was a race for 2nd place. Caroline Boller went out hard and appeared to be getting stronger each loop. The out-and-back section was great because it gave me a chance to see her in her groove and cheer for her, then also cheer for Jay and Joe who were both looking smooth and strong as well. And then of course, to see where the next female was 😉

Those early miles - still looking happy. Photo: SC Photos

Those early miles – still looking happy. Photo: SC Photos

On the 4th lap I started to feel that gurgle inside me. I knew I didn’t need to use the bathroom – I know it’s TMI but I certainly took care of things that morning. No, this was the good ol’ GI issue that had plagued me for a long time. The one that I have 95% under control. I was sure this wasn’t going to be an issue, but also realized that I wasn’t drinking a whole lot during these early miles. With cooler temps I wasn’t as thirsty but quickly realized I needed to start hydrating to avoid issues. Finishing loop 4 I grabbed my pre-made bottle of Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix from the makeshift aid station Jay set up for us. I decided to carry this for one loop and sip on it through those 3 miles. I clocked 21:00 even on the 4th lap.

Upon finishing that lap I dropped the bottle off at our station, but knew I needed to duck into the port-o-pot. Luckily it was a quick stop but it still interrupted my rhythm, and increased my 5k to 22:05 for that loop. At this point I was mentally struggling a little – I know that when this issue starts, it only gets worse and it saps my energy. So I focused on staying positive. Lap 6 put me at 21:45.

Lap 7 is where I started falling apart, and I was no longer running sub-7 minute miles. I still felt the urge to use the bathroom, and now my bad hip was starting to hurt with every step. I of course started cursing road running for beating up on me. However most of my training up to this point had been on pavement and I hadn’t experienced any pain outside of the norm, so why now? Was it all in my head? I knew I needed to use the bathroom again, but the 1 port-o-pot at the halfway point was occupied when I arrived and I definitely didn’t have time to wait for it to open. I decided to tough it out until I finished the lap. I was happy to see that my lead on the third place female was growing when I was finishing the out-and-back section, but as I stopped for bathroom break #2 – this one taking much longer than the first – I began to panic that all of the time I was putting on her was going down the shitter (pun intended). Lap 7 – 23:27.

The growing agony on my face. Photo: We Are Athletes! Racing Team

The growing agony on my face. Photo: We Are Athletes! Racing Team

Lap 8 was all about trying to stay positive. The marathon mark was drawing near and I was doubting my ability to run sub-3:00. By now the pain in my hip had spread to my right glute, and I could feel it shutting down. Soon after that pain was growing in my lower back. Obviously whatever I was feeling in my hip was causing me to change my stride. I focused on form. I also made a pact with myself that I would not use the bathroom again until I hit that marathon mark. I couldn’t waste another second. I got to that out-and-back section with high anxiety as I waited to see the 3rd female coming my way. I never saw her. Phew! This eased my mind as I hit that 5k in 22:33.

I’d like to say that I pushed lap 9 to get that sub-3:00 but sadly it wasn’t happening. Now I made a pact with myself that if I just stayed strong through mile 26 I could back it off for the final lap and a half. All I needed to do was run sub-8’s for those last 5 miles and I would hit my B goal of 3:45. It was with mixed emotions that I crossed that marathon mat – my time was 3:01:22 (per Strava – not official). I was bummed to have come up short on my goal but also happy to have hit this point in the race knowing that I only had to finish this lap, and then run one more. It felt good to ease up a little – I was still running sub-8 but felt way more relaxed. Finishing lap 9 in 23:45 I confirmed that the third female was still nowhere in sight and I could “enjoy” my 10th and final loop. As I made my final turn toward the finish line I saw that I was just out of reach of going sub-3:40. I wish I would’ve looked at my watch sooner and pushed just a little harder to reach that mark, but I was satisfied with my 3:40:17 and 2nd place overall female finish. Jay was waiting at the finish line for me and we both celebrated a tough but rewarding day. Both Jay and Joe had strong races – Jay snagging 3rd in the 40-44 age group and Joe placing 9th in the open division.

The Aftermath
I woke up Monday morning feeling totally recovered. Yes, I normally recover quickly due to my vegan diet, but this was way more noticeable. I had minimal soreness in my legs, and even my hip pain had subsided. I could’ve gone for a run in the morning (don’t worry, I was smart and didn’t). Most of the soreness I felt was in my back and shoulders – likely from running tense. I thought this was a fluke at first, and that the soreness would kick in later that day or the next. It didn’t. This made me feel better about backing off on those last laps instead of pushing through the discomfort. What do ya know – maybe I’m finally becoming a smarter racer!

My unexpected energy and happy legs also had me thinking I should go ahead and race the marathon this weekend. Why not shoot for back to back races and see what I could do? How quickly I forgot the pain in my hip and how I swore off long distance road racing only 2 days prior. I was riding on a post-race cloud – feeling invincible for bouncing back so quickly and wanting a 2nd chance to redeem myself for my missed goal.

Luckily I got off that cloud (thank you Jay for helping to talk me down). I need to take advantage of this quick recovery and dive into my next block of training. It’s time to start running on trails to prepare for my next 2 ultras, and more importantly, structured bike workouts that I’ve been neglecting since September. Another long race means another week off from strength training that I cannot afford. So I emailed the Rock ‘n Roll coordinator to tell her I would not be racing Saturday just to seal my decision. Even though as I type this there is still that voice in my head saying “just go for it!” Oh the trials and tribulations of a race addict…

 

Cayuga Trails 50 – The highs outweigh the lows

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

What is the best way to race your first 50 miler? On a course that is equal parts challenging and stunning on a day where the weather is as close to perfect as you could wish for. I am known for paying zero attention to my surroundings when I race. I get into a zone and often when people ask me about a race course I have little recollection. The Cayuga Trails 50 course – that is a different story. You can’t help but notice the breathtaking scenery throughout this course. I am sure there is still a lot I missed but it was definitely a day where I felt lucky to be out there doing what I love in a magical place. It helps you through the rough patches for sure.

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

6 am

The start time for the race. While I was a bundle of nerves coming into this race I was also calmed by the notion that the longer the race distance, the more relaxed the start. Instead of trying to tame a racing heart I can just focus my mind on settling into my pace. It also helped having my two Jason’s lined up with me. Jason Mintz from Syracuse was kind enough to bring me on a training run to scope out the course in April. Jason Friedman is a training partner here in New Paltz. Both are very talented and experienced runners – both having raced Cayuga Trails previously. I was in good company.

The Course

We run two 25 mile “loops”. The loop is more of an out-and-back, so the best way to tackle this was to split it up into 4 sections. As you can see below, each section provided some steep climbs and descents!

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile

Part 1

The first and 3rd sections were in my mind the most challenging. My plan was to run them conservatively – especially on loop 1. There was no point in me running the steep hills or the stairs (did I mention there are like, a million stairs? Yeah, I’m pretty sure it is a million). I also made it a point to take the descents conservatively too. This is a quad-bashing course and I wanted to save as much as I could to finish the longest race (and run) I’ve ever done. My main goal mentally in this race was not to worry about what other racers were doing. There was a list of very talented and experienced females on that start line and I had no business concerning myself with position. Within the first mile Amanda Basham passed me and it was actually a relief to know that I wasn’t going out too hard (so I thought). When she passed me again at mile 3 (I only passed her back because she stopped to tie her shoe) I gave her words of encouragement as I knew I would not see the back of her again over those next 47 miles. She was obviously strong and there to kick some a$$.

Water crossing #1 took me by surprise. Photo credit: Mountain Peak Ftiness

Water crossing #1 took me by surprise. Photo credit: Mountain Peak Ftiness

I was surprised at how quickly the race thinned out. It was already very lonely on the course. At this point I was wishing I had more people around me simply because there were times that I was questioning if I was on the right trail. At a few sections just as I was ready to stop and turn around I would see another pink marker. As I got closer to the turnaround another runner joined me and I was definitely pumped to have some company. Joe Murphy from NYC and I chatted for a few miles and I shared a gel with him since I had just one to spare. We were both looking to finish our first 50 milers today and he was on track to exceed his goal. Soon after the turnaround he pulled away from me and I was on my own again.

Running with Joe Murphy - Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Running with Joe Murphy – Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Part 2

Everything was going fine heading back to the start until around mile 20. Nothing significant happened but I noticed that I was feeling really beat up…already. I was expecting to feel this around mile 30-40, but 20 miles in was way too soon. My goal for the first loop was 4:00 – 4:10. I set this goal realizing that I am not a negative split racer. I wanted a decent but manageable first loop knowing that I would fall behind on the 2nd. Here I was not even at the end of the first loop wondering if the wheels were falling off already. Was my first loop goal too ambitious? Was this a result of not hitting my goal weekly training mileage at all this year? Was I not yet recovered from American Zofingen 2 weeks prior? All of these questions were running in my head as I was trying hard to avoid going into panic mode. My answer now is that it was probably a combination of all 3. I convinced myself that I just needed to finish this first loop and then things would turn around. I crossed the line at 4:06 – right on target but I didn’t even care about that goal anymore – I was now concerned with not crashing and burning.

Finishing Loop 1 - Photo credit: Mountain Peak Fitness

Finishing Loop 1 – Photo credit: Mountain Peak Fitness

Loop 1 fun stats: 4 bathroom stops, 1 bloody nose

Part 3

When I was coming into the finish/start I passed Amanda on her way back out. Her gap was what I thought it would be and she looked strong. As I was heading out onto my 2nd loop I saw the next female, and then the next 1, 2, 3…4. There they all were – the heavy hitters that I was expecting to dominate this race – all together and ready to pounce on this no-name multisport athlete who decided to try a 2nd attempt at a 50 mile race in the middle of what should be triathlon and duathlon season. Aha – here comes that “what am I even doing here moment?” Which starts the domino effect. I wasn’t expecting to podium at this race. Once I saw the lineup my goal became top 10. So seeing all of these girls right on my tail was not hard to swallow – it was the thought of being passed by them all at once 😉 I would much rather be picked off one by one.

A better crossing the 2nd time around. Photo credit: Kate Paice-Froio

A better crossing the 2nd time around. Photo credit: Kate Paice-Froio

This 3rd section was rough. Really rough. As I was about to climb Lick Brook I turned around to see Jackie Palmer right behind me. I knew she was going to be a top contender and I was excited to see her opening up her race on loop 2. We both took it easy up the climb and at mile 33 she made her pass. It wasn’t long before she was out of sight. Mile 35 brought the next pass – Liz Gleason flew by looking strong and fresh. At this point I was in 4th place. I didn’t even mind being passed – I was happy to see someone having a good time and looking energetic. I was not.

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Every weakness in my body from the strength/stability work I neglected recently felt magnified. Then there was the knee that I smashed at JFK last year which led to my demise. I took time off to let it heal, it did, and it hasn’t been an issue since. Now it hurt at the exact spot. Where was this coming from? I kept telling myself it was in my head. However most concerning is the one I can never shake – pain in my pelvis where I had my fractures, and twinges in my groin leading to it. I never have an easy time convincing myself that this pain is “all in my head.” So I started to panic even more. I remember saying out loud “what did you do to yourself?” I was imagining that I just put the rest of my season at risk by running this race. I made myself sick to my stomach. Yep – that pretty much sums up where my head was.

Most of us are probably familiar with the really dark place deep inside us where we sometimes need to go. I try to avoid going there but it was time. I tapped into that well – remembered why I am here and why I do this. And I knew not to stay here – just take what I need and get back out – if I stayed there I may not finish the race. At this point I was descending one of the steeper hills of the race and the downhills were hurting the most – sometimes reducing me to a hobble. Eventually I made it to the aid station at Buttermilk Falls – 1 more section to go!

Part 4

I don’t know exactly what happened but I felt like a new person climbing out of Buttermilk Falls. I think my body was happy to be going uphill instead of down, and mentally I was re-energized as it was the last portion of the race. Not that I was running any stronger at this point but the improvement I felt overall made it seem easier than that last section. At around mile 40 I heard someone behind me and turned around to see Karen Holland right on my tail. It was obvious she was next in line to pass me. This would put me in 5th place and that was totally acceptable to me. But I decided I should at least try to make it a challenge unlike the last 2. I started to pick up my effort and before long I didn’t see her behind me.

The Flower

At the top of Lick Brook I came across another female athlete who just tackled the climb. She handed me a purple flower and told me to take it for good luck. She said it had been given to her for good luck up the hill and it worked, so now she was passing it on to me. This was such a sweet gesture and I happily took it and thanked her. I didn’t realize at the time how much this flower would mean to me in my exhausted mental state 🙂 I kept holding onto that flower even after it was totally wilted and falling apart. I convinced myself that if I let go of this lucky flower, I would most surely be passed.

Clenching the wilted flower in my left hand

Clenching the wilted flower in my left hand – Photo credit: Kate Paice-Froio

Once I hit the single digits of miles remaining I was feeling more and more energized. I was “running” up some spots that I had been walking the last time around. I was just so excited to finish this race. As I came off the trail and onto the park road it was time to make the u-turn onto the grass field which left you a 1/2 mile to the finish. After making the turn I looked across to see Karen was right there. She saw me too. I had a feeling this could be a battle to the finish so I needed to turn it up right now. I was running a sub-7 minute pace – desperate not to be passed in the last 1/2 mile. With about 100 meters to go I finally had the confidence to toss the flower and hit the finish line just 1 second under 8:52 in 4th place.

A familiar face, Jeff Merritt was also there to cheer me in.

A familiar face, Jeff Merritt was also there to cheer me in.

Finishing was a great feeling, not so much for my legs but for the rest of me. My crew was there – Jared, Kate, Suzie and Thad who spent hours chasing me around the course to cheer and take pictures. I cannot express how great it was to see their smiling faces every few miles! I was also greeted by my new friend Joe who had an amazing race, along with Jason Mintz who nailed his time goal and placed 13th overall. Jason Friedman had a PR for the day too. Success all around!

Loop 2 fun stats: 1 bathroom stop, 1 bloody nose

Post-race

Here is the progression of my thoughts during the hours after the race:

1) I don’t plan on racing another 50 miler for a long time.
2) Next time I race a 50 miler I’m going to make sure that I can devote my training to racing a 50 miler.
3) I can’t wait to race another 50 miler now that I have learned so much.

That is the excitement for me and what keeps me going. I am driven by the potential of doing something better. No matter what the outcome I am hungry for more. I really wish I could find a way to fit all of my race goals into my schedule. This season has already been a testament to how I can’t do it all and expect my best performance. As long as I am putting my all into it and having fun!

Ian Golden of Red Newt Racing put on a top-notch event. It was cool to have USL.tv providing live coverage and tracking for those following along at home. And the aid stations were well-run by the Finger Lakes Runners Club, Ironheart Racing crew, and my buddies from TrailsRoc.

Although I was 4th overall in the race, I was 3rd Overall for the USATF 50 Mile Trail Championships

Although I was 4th overall in the race, I was 3rd Overall for the USATF 50 Mile Trail Championships

I can now check a 50 miler off my list 🙂 I know I will do another one sooner rather than later, but probably not this year. Next time I want to do it right. I want to make it my A race without having to prioritize other training and racing disciplines. Okay let’s be realistic, I want to at least try to devote my training towards my next 50. For now, it’s time to race an Ironman 70.3!

And of course another awesome race video courtesy of Jared: