Sunday, July 9, 2017

Loon Mountain Race 2017

This was only my second mountain race ever, with the first also being Loon just last year.  Yes, it had that much of a favorable impression on us!  Last year the race was shortened to a standard 10K distance to accommodate it being the USATF National Mountain Running Championship, and this year it reverted to a 6.6 mile race by adding a downhill 0.4 miles to the top of the gondola.  My only goal for this year was to run a faster time than last year (not including the course extension).

The start (Start to Mile 1):

After a warm-up with Matthew on mostly flat surfaces near the base, we were ready to go.  Unlike road races, I don't have much nervousness before the start of trail or mountain races.  It's just more relaxed for me knowing I don't need to hit a certain split at given miles or push hard on long, boring straight stretches of road.
Lined up in about 6th row at start
(3 runners to right of "Start" flag, in light blue singlet)
Pics courtesy of Jana
Took off reasonably hard jockeying for a good position before leaving the flat grass field for the first ascent, up a gravel road with washout impediments.  I got passed by several people, but also passed a few myself, including the only one I recognized close to me:  Rob Buttermore of Waterford, CT.
Crazy jockeying at start.
Matthew in lower left.

As the RD had advised, less than 1/2 mile in,
runners had to choose from running uphill in washed-out gravel section
(as Matthew in green WTAC singlet did) ...
... or run uphill through wet, muddy, tall grass
(as I did above, in light blue singlet rightmost in first row of runners above).

The mud (Miles 2 & 3):
After climbing 280' in the first mile mostly up gravel roads, you make a sharp turn off the gravel road onto dirt trails.  Was so surprised that I could still see Matthew up to this point, as well as Brightman.  That bode well for me in my quest to run faster than last year.

This 2-mile section of dirt trails is by far my favorite section on the course.  It was fun last year with just the few puddles and sections of mud that existed.  This year it was even more to my liking with streams, puddles, and mud pretty much the entire section.  I hadn't gotten far into the trail when I saw the 2nd woman ahead of me stopped and retrieving something out of the mud.  What the heck is going on?

It's her shoe!  Her shoe must have gotten sucked up in the mud quicksand.  Glad I tied my shoes tight and double-knotted them; hope that will do the trick.  In this section, I am passing many more people than the few passing me.  Especially when we hit streams or mud sections, I would plow past runners that slowed for any reason.  Fun!

The breather (Mile 4):
This will be the final mile of continuous running for this flatlander.  There are indeed some climbs in this mile, and by now, some have resorted to hiking, but nothing is terribly steep here and I saunter on with a run.

The suffering (Final 2.5 miles):
Right around 4 miles in, we start the steepest climb thus far in the run.  A sign proclaiming "this is only 20%" does not help!  Looking up the ski slope, a good 90% of my competitors ahead of me are now power-hiking, and I take my cues from them and join them.  The rest of the run will be a combination of hiking the steep sections and running the rest.

About 5 miles in.  At a snail's pace,
I'm ascending Loon Peak the first of two approaches.

Actually running, but almost at a crawl

Passing through the top of the gondola station, Jana is there with Gatorade, which I gulp down before the 1/2 mile 400' descent down the Haulback trail.  I feel like I'm hauling a$$ here, and now looking at Strava, I can see I dropped below a 6-minute pace for most of this section.  I pick off about 4 runners going downhill, and the last one I pass looks like Dave Dunham, but I'm thinking that can't be.  (It is him, and to be fair, he's not only coming off injuries, but just ran a 50K the previous weekend.)  He gives me a shout-out as I pass him, and I reply back that it will be short-lived and he'll be repassing me very soon on the uphill.  He replies that everyone runs their strengths.  Indeed, downhills are my strength and uphills my Achilles' heel.

Upper Walking Boss.  I run uphill a few meters, and them am done.  It's a struggle for me to get up Upper Walking Boss, even hiking.  This is not power hiking; it's finding the effort and technique to just get up the insane slope.  Dave Dunham passes me easily as expected, but so do many more that are just hiking.  It seems throngs of runners are hiking right past me.  I fret that the entire rest of the field is about to pass me.  As I go past Scott Mason near the top, I actually fall right next to him.  What a clod!  By some miracle I make it to the top of North Peak.  Hallelujah!  This was the finish point of last year's race, so I quickly check my watch and find a time of 1:08.  Four minutes faster than last year.  Yes!  Goal accomplished.

The rest is relatively easy:  a 350' descent, followed by a final 50' steep climb back to Loon Peak for the finish.  I pass about another 3 runners in this section, but the final runner I pass retakes me on the uphill.

Runner in white singlet is descending about 5.3 miles into race.
I'm finishing up.

Final results:  1:12:30.  36th overall out of 482.  5th in age group.  Full results here.

Taking four minutes off my time from last year (again, adjusting for course extension), I am real happy.  Meanwhile, Matthew finished 11th overall!  He is the fastest under-20 finisher on the day, but unfortunately he is in a "0-39" age group.  Really?

A guy who forgot to pack his WTAC colors,
a "frenemy" with an anti-WTAC shirt,
and the only guy who got the shirt right.

Cooling off and washing off the mud
in the swollen and frigid waters of the Pemigewasset River.


Upper Walking Boss ("UWB") Analysis:
Just looking at my UWB splits relative to other runners finishing close to me, it was readily apparent that my UWB time was quite slow.   I consider myself to be a stronger downhill runner (relative to others) than an uphill runner, and the data for this race certainly bore this out.

But the data geek inside me wants to examine my UWB shortfall a little further (and besides I’m a little bored sitting on a transcontinental flight as I type this out).  It’s not fair for me to compare my UWB time to the winner, nor is it to last place.  How can I normalize this?  How about time spent on UWB as a percentage of total LMR time?
No matter how I slice it, I am spending far too much time getting up UWB (as a percentage)
than any benchmark for peer groups that I have chosen.
Not sure what the magic answer is, but I clearly have much room for improvement here.

Looking a little deeper at the data, am I at a competitive disadvantage in coming from a "flat" state, where runners from other states likely run more hills in training?  I first compiled the data for all states, but then to get rid of outliers, eliminated all states with less than 10 participants, which coincidentally left only the six New England states.

Finally, a correlation!  Hardly shocking, but participants from the mountain states of VT and NH significantly
outperform the other states both in raw time and percentage of time spent on UWB
So what does this mean, and what am I to learn from it?  1) I'm slower uphill than most mountain runners (which means I need to incorporate more hill running, but also piques my curiosity even more to run up AND downhill races like Cranmore), and 2) living in coastal RI puts me at a competitive disadvantage to run mountains, and while I can't replicate the mountain terrain that my NH/VT brethren are training on, maybe I at least need to occasionally seek out some bigger hills (Yawgoo Ski Area?  occasional western CT/MA?).

1 comment:

  1. Excellent recap! Trail races (especially mountain trail races) rock. I totally agree about your last paragraph, and your takeaways from the race. I felt totally outclassed at Whiteface, except on the downhills, where I was way more comfortable. More hill training! That's the ticket!