Sunday, July 21, 2013

Race Report: Mount Washington Road Race

My girlfriend (GF) and I ran just one hill on Saturday, June 15. That's the upside. The downside is that the hill was 7.6 miles long, and had an elevation of 6,288 feet. And was a mountain. 

We ran the Mount Washington Road Race, the 53rd annual run up the Auto Road of the highest mountain on the eastern seaboard. There would be no relief until we reached the top. 

The starting line
In prior years at times of me being in better shape, I had signed up for the lottery for this race. You see, running up a mountain is actually something that a lot of people want to do. So many, actually, that not everyone who wants to run up it can do so. 

Each year, I signed up for the lottery and didn't get picked. So we would go to a bar, have some beer, and talk about how great we would have done. This year, however, we would be talking about it after we completed it. 


When we found out that we were in, quite a bit of fear entered my brain. GF was much more excited than me about it, and I knew that I had to change my attitude about it. I tried. I really did. 

So we did training runs on other mountains. And we did hill runs, and longer runs. But we knew that we could never really prepare for what this race was going to be like. 

I knew a couple of things before I ever toed the line for this race.
  1. This would be a one-time only kinda thing. 
  2. "Race" really wouldn't mean "race" for me.
  3. My sole goal was to finish.
I was correct on all three points. The second that I got picked in the lottery was the first second that I had a fear of doing this and a regret for even signing up for the lottery. In years past, I would have been a bit trepidacious, but nothing like this year. But I knew that I wanted to do this thing and complete so that I could say that I did it, and I could tell myself that I would never have to do it again.

I knew that I didn't have the best attitude about the race. I think if I had been in better shape (like previous years when I didn't get picked), I would have been a lot more excited about it. GF had a much better attitude, and she was really looking forward to it.

Night before

The night before the race we stayed at a house with friends in Jackson (about 20 minutes away). We picked up our race packets and started to get an idea of what we had gotten ourselves into. We ate a very bland meal of baked chicken and salad, avoided alcohol completely, and drank a TON of water. We didn't want anything to make running up the hill any more difficult for us.

Race morning we woke up as rested as we could have been. We were meeting GF's mother and sister there (they were kind enough to drive up and then drive us back down!). There was some chaos meeting up with them, but ultimately they made their way up the mountain and we made our way into a bunch of nervous circles and waiting for the port-a-potty.

The actual race
Around mile 6. Note the ski trails in the distance.

We started at the very back of the pack. We knew we weren't going to set any records that day, so we didn't want to get in anyone's way. GF and I had decided to run the entire thing together. She's a great runner, especially on the hills. She had done more training, but I tended to be a little bit faster and have more endurance. The perfect combination!

It really was great throughout the race because we were constantly checking on the other person. How are you? Do you need anything? Anything hurting? Need to slow down? Etcetera. Etcetera.

The first couple of miles were somewhat reasonable for us. It's 7.6 miles with absolutely no relief as far as the mountain goes. You're going up the entire time, and it's up the auto road. The first couple of miles were covered by trees, so that gave us a little relief from the sun. We tried to "run" the first couple of miles as much as we could. We ended up doing a somewhat fast walk, more than anything.

At the top. 6,288 feet above sea level.
As we start to get out of the tree line, the sun started to hit us, but the wind really hit us! It was beautiful to look at all of the mountains, but it got windier by the step. By the time we got to mile 4, our "run" had been reduced to a moderately fast walk. We were averaging between 15 and 20-minute miles, which was fine for me. Luckily, I brought my yellow windbreaker with me. I didn't need it at all in the first couple of miles, but I was happy I had it when the wind started to whip through us.

By mile 5, we were really ready to be done. We couldn't see any relief, and the mountain was getting steeper and steeper as we went. It was a total ascent to 6,288 feet, but we started around 1,000 feet; so a mile in total elevation. We were exhausted, and our legs were starting to feel like dead weights.

We finally got to the point where we could hear the announcements at the end. It was so unbelievable just to see the Mile 7 sign, but we knew that we still had to complete the last .6 miles, which were a 22% grade. That sucked.

About .1 miles from the finish. We were beyond exhausted at
this point. Note the unhappiness on our faces.
We finally rounded the corner, held hands (I know: groan!), and did our best "run" to cross the finish line. We finished in 2:36:21, a 20:43 pace. We just wanted to finish under the upper limit of 3:02, and we did that with plenty of time to spare. The last couple of miles killed our time, and knocked it from around 15-minute miles to closer to 20-22 minute miles.

We took some pictures, grabbed a blanket, shoved as much food as we could down our throats, and then we had to head back down because they were opening the auto road again!

All in all, I'm beyond glad that we did this race. I'm proud to say that I did it, but I am never going to do it again!

At the finish. With the winds whipping like they were, these weren't a "nice to have."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Preparing for the Mount Washington Road Race

In early April, I ran Mt. Ascutney in Windsor, Vermont with my girlfriend and two writers from Far North Endurance. Ascutney is about the same percentage of incline, but it's about half the distance and half the elevation. Frankly, that sucked.
Road Race in June, I have started to realize how ridiculous this whole thing is going to be, and how high 4,700 feet really is.

Two weekends ago, I ran the auto road of Mount Kearsarge. That was about the same distance as Ascutney, but the elevation and incline weren't as bad, although it had its moments.

As it relates to Mount Washington, I was lucky enough to be interviewed for their piece on preparing for the Mount Washington Road Race. Be sure to read the actual experts' stories first, well before you read what mostly sounds like unbridled fear from me.

It's now just over a month away, and it's getting closer by the day. I'm torn between being excited for it to happen and petrified that it's going to happen. I'm sure it will be fine and we'll finish (which is the only goal), but I can't imagine how I'm going to feel when it's done (both good and bad). But I can imagine how good the beer is going to taste.

Far North Endurance is a blog dedicated to trail running in the northeast. The founders realized that there wasn't a spot for interested trail runners to go, and no one was focusing on the runners themselves. With the feats that some of these trail runners have completed, they should be getting a lot more notoriety. Enter the fine folks at Far North Endurance.

Preparing for Mount Washington (Far North Endurance)

Friday, April 12, 2013

My summer/fall race schedule

Unlike last year, I'm mainly staying off the trails this year. Last year, I did the Western New Hampshire Trail Series. While I loved the races, they were quite a distance away. I was frequently traveling one or two hours to get to a race, and by the time I got home, I had blown most of my Saturday.

Not the case this year. I'm doing the Capital Area Race Series (CARS), which is a series of seven races around the Concord, NH area (where I live). Some of the races are as close as 15 minutes away, and the farthest one is 30 minutes away. I'll finish the race and still be home by 11--just how I like it. Plus, I get to run it with my girlfriend a bunch of friends, which is fun. The races are usually only 5K's, so a lot less effort is required than the trail runs last year.

I've also added a couple of races outside of the CARS series, only one of which is overly ridiculous. And I added a half marathon, so that's at least something with a little bit of distance to get my training going.

  1. Gilmanton 5K road race (March 30)
  2. SEA 5K road race (April 6)
  3. NHTI Delta Dental road race (April 19)
  4. Canterbury Shaker Village XC 5K (May 11)
  5. Harpoon 5-miler (May 19)
  6. Over the River and Through the Woods (June 1)
  7. Mt. Washington Road Race (June 15)
  8. Bill Luti 5-miler (July 20)
  9. Canterbury Woodchuck Classic 5K (July 27)
  10. Covered Bridges Half-Marathon (September 1)
I'm definitely happy to be staying closer to home and that I'm getting at least one crazy race in (the 7.5 mile run up a mountain). I think I'm going to pick the bike up a bit more this year, especially if I can coax some people to join me.

And away we go!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Running up a mountain (literally)

Well, if I was looking for motivation to kick my training up several notches, I found it. I am running up Mount Washington in June. For fun. Really.

The organizers bill this as the race with only one hill. Ha, I get it. I see what you did there. It is only one hill, but that hill is a 7.6 mile run up a mountain with a 10-13% incline the whole way. The course rises 4,650 feet from start to finish.

For years, I've actually wanted to run this race. Really. The Mount Washington Road Race is supposed to be the race to do, whether it's just to say that you did it or because you want to win it. I fall into the former category and definitely into the category of just finish it so you can say you did it and you never have to do it again.

In years past, I have signed up for the lottery only to be turned away. But not this year. I'm running with a number of people from Far North, which is a thrill because they are some serious runners and all around awesome people.

If I sound a little concerned, I am. I've got three months and bunch of hill work in my future, and I'm hoping that I can make it happen. I don't want to DNF and I'm feeling somewhat confident that I can at least do 15-minute miles, which means that I'll finish in around 1:45. I actually just want to finish it before the time limit of (oddly) 3 hours and 2 minutes.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Injuries only in my head

I have recently started to feel aches and pains when I know that I have to go out for a run.

Sometimes I feel the pains when I wake up at 5:30 am to go for a cold run in a New Hampshire winter. Sometimes I feel the pains the night before when I decide when to set my alarm. Sometimes I feel the pains after I've decided not to run because of the pain. Those post-non-run pains allow me to justify not having run earlier.

The crazy thing is that I know that the pain isn't real, or at least I'm 99% sure that it's not real. They're knee and foot pains and sometimes they even amplify into limps and aches during the day.

I'm pretty sure the pains aren't real because when I finally push myself to get out and run, I feel totally fine. The foot, knee, and back pain is gone. Or, more correctly, they were never there to begin with.

It's a phenomenon known as psychosomatic injuries. In other words, though my injuries or aches feel very real physically, they're caused by my brain creating them or making them worse.

I've been running for the last 7 years or so. I think what's happening is that running is becoming a chore for me. I know that it's the quickest and most efficient way to burn calories and it doesn't require me going to the gym. So, at least in the last year, that's why I've been running. I've been running not because I love it as much as I used to, but because it's the easiest way to burn calories.

But this isn't the first time this has happened to me. I've been able to get out of it by trying to stay out of my head. I've tried to make some games out of running (hence the run from Philadelphia to Los Angeles over 3 years), and all of those things seem to have worked. So, now, I just have to do it again.

And until I'm feeling like I can run and never stop, I'll still get myself out the door and put one foot in front of the other. That's how I started and that's how I'll keep going.