Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Loon Mountain Race Report

Sunday was the 2014 US Mtn. Running Championships at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, NH. The top 6 men’s finishers and top 4 women would be automatically selected to the US Mtn. Running Team and have an opportunity to compete in Italy later this year.

This year’s event was also the Collegiate Running Association’s collegiate mountain championships. As a part-time student, I was eligible for a free membership to the CRA and had a shot at the available prize money, which went 5 deep.

Saturday morning, after an easy not-quite-seven miles on the roads before breakfast, we packed up the family truckster, dropped Bear off with my parents (and their golden, Abbie) and headed north.

This was our second trip to Lincoln in the past two weeks, as we had been up last Monday-Wednesday to preview the course.

Our first time in town we stayed at the Kancamagus Motor Lodge, where the kids loved the indoor pool, but this time we were at the Mt. Coolidge Motel on Rte. 3, a little further from Loon and off the Kanc. I was glad as we arrived to be staying where we were, because the Saturday afternoon traffic in downtown Lincoln was pretty slow.

The Mt. Coolidge has awesome hosts – the Riley family – and an outdoor pool, which Ben (age 7), Grace (5) and Heather (my wife, age undisclosed) decided to enjoy, while I dragged Emma, our two-year-old daughter, with me to number pickup.

Upon arriving at Loon, I saw Steve Taylor from Collegiate Running Association, but he disappeared before I had a chance to say hello.

I did get to catch up a bit with the Tilton family – Kevin, Jess and Colin; Kevin provided me with the Inov-8 X-Talon 212’s that I would be racing in.

After a decent dinner, we settled down for what turned into a surprisingly good night’s sleep on Sat. night. I had been having trouble sleeping most of the week leading up to Loon. Whether it was nerves or something else (late night Clash of Clans?) I can’t be sure, but it was good to get 7 or 8 solid hours of rest in the night before.

I was up early on Sunday, finished with breakfast by 6:30 – cinnamon raisin bagel w/ cream cheese on one half, PB on the other half, vitamins, OJ, and a cup of coffee from the motel office. Heather went out for an early run around Lincoln, and I got the kids up and dressed and started on their breakfast. It is always an adventure getting everyone in our family anywhere, but we made good time, piled into the minivan and left the Mt. Coolidge before 8:00 am.

When we got to Loon, we did a little wandering around the base area to figure out the gondola rides. It was noticeably warmer than forecast and the sun felt strong already. There were some clouds around, but they didn’t look like they would be able to offer much relief.

I found Kevin T. around 8:30 and discussed a warmup. At 8:40, after making sure Heather and her posse were all squared away with the logistics of getting up the mountain, I met back up with Kevin, JJ, Sam Wood, Ross Krause, for 2 miles out and back on the mountain condo road. We caught up with DD, Jim P., Dan V., etc. on the way back. Conversation mostly revolved around ultras and how to prepare for them and complete them. CMS was rolling deep, and that didn’t even include our top dog, Nate J.

I found Heather and the kids near the start, gave everyone a kiss down by the river and we were off.

Early shot that Heather got

Immediately, I found myself in a sea of people well behind the leaders, who were showing why they get paid the big bucks right from the opening horn. I assumed Joe Gray, Zach Ornelas (1-2 last year), Eric Blake, Zach Miller and several other young guys from higher elevations were responsible. I didn’t abandon my hope that I might catch any number who paid the price for the early effort, but I had a hard time estimating my early position. (maybe 50th?)

Early on I ran alongside teammate and neighbor, Todd Callaghan, who lives in Beverly, MA. Todd just joined CMS in the past year and was sure to factor in the race for top Master and likely to score on the open team for us. We were back and forth a couple times during the first mile, which was along the service road and featured one significant rise as well as a couple descents.

At the mile, I was with Jim Johnson, and we ascended to the Nordic section of the course together. I think I was ahead of him going into the woods, but was aware of him just behind me, and heard him ask someone (who I think went down in the mud) if he was ok. One guy, who I believe was top Master, Greg Ruckman, slipped and fell in the mud just ahead of me. It was wet everywhere on our way into the woods, and I was feeling really good and starting to work my way around people.

On the only significant climb of this section, along a riverbed, I was working with JJ again, unless my memory deceives me. At the top, we took a sharp right and I took off after Ruckman and a pair of U. Richmond runners who were running side by side. I got around them and kept my eyes on a BAA runner up ahead, who I assumed (correctly) was Alex Hall. I caught Alex just before we got out of the woods and got my first glimpse of Kris Freeman, who I would see a lot of over the second half of the race.

During the race’s first significant climb, up Lower Speakeasy, Kris was catching people left and right, and I tried to maintain my position behind him and move up in the ranks. (Somewhere around Mile 5, I was surprised to pass Scottie Pippen, who was much shorter and paler in person. JJ had said there was an Eastern Conference All-Star team reported to be competing, but Scottie was the only one I ever got near. I think MJ and Pat Ewing must have succumbed to UWB – didn’t see them in the results. Seriously, though, props to Nathan Petesch from Waverly, IA for rocking the NBA gear to a Top 40 finish.)

After a brief reprieve and a short downhill, we were back into the grind, up the Upper Great Bear ski trail, which brought us almost to the top of the gondola and Loon Peak. From there, it was just a fast (long) descent on Haulback to the Upper Walking Boss. I caught former CMS-er and current Inov-8-er and Team Colorado runner Pete Maksimow near the top of Upper Great Bear. I knew Pete had just run very well at Mt. Washington, so I received no small encouragement from being able to overtake him.

Right around 6 miles, before the top of the gondola, courtesy of SNAPAcidotic

After a tough climb up to the gondola, I heard rather than saw my lovely wife (and knew my kids were there, too, although their quiet nature got the better of them, and I was in no shape to lift my head to look around for them) and received some strength from her encouragement. Her “Go, Sweetie!” is something I have heard in countless races, but probably never came at a timelier moment.

Here's a couple pictures Heather got at the top of the gondola:

That's me by the volunteer in orange, trying to chase down Kris Freeman, Olympic nordic skier

The steep downhill after the gondola surprised me a bit, and I didn’t attack it like I probably should have. With Kris, Gabriel Rodriguez, and Drew Best all in sight, I wish I had run with a little more reckless abandon on the long downhill approach to the Upper Walking Boss. Admittedly, I wasn’t looking forward to ‘the Boss’ all that much and had a hard time fully buying in to a downhill sprint, which would only hasten my arrival at its base.

Looking at Krissy K.’s pics from this stretch, I was actually right behind Gabriel Rodriguez at one point, which I don’t ever remember. My thoughts were somewhat consumed with a combination of dread and a will bent on ignoring that dread. Here are some of the great shots Krissy got:

As we started up Upper Walking Boss, I was right behind Kris, and he immediately went into power hike mode. For my part, I continued to “run” (creative license requested), pumping my arms and lifting my knees like I was trying to fool the mountain into thinking I was running up it. I stayed with Kris and kept my head down, looking at the ground in front of me. A couple times I glanced up and I think my deranged mind believed I was gaining some on Drew and Gabriel.

Thank you, Scott Mason, for getting this picture of me doing my utmost to get up UWB:

After two failed attempts to go by Kris, I mustered the strength with under 250m to go (course signage appreciated!) to get around him and ahead of him. 

Thanks to Joe Viger for capturing the moment here:

Unfortunately, when Kris came by me with under 100m left, I was unable to respond and pumped and flailed on the uneven ground, through the finish, happy to be done.

I had dreams of being up with Brandon Newbould, (who I had a chance to talk with briefly at the summit along with Zach Ornelas, a fellow U of M grad, who, unlike me, actually ran there) Josh Ferenc and others who broke 57:00, but it was not to be. The Last Hero has said, “You THINKING you can beat me but me KNOWING I can beat you means the race is over before it starts!” Touché. 

(A quick note to Josh, whose blog is the most confidence-inspiring I read, my one gripe is that you sell yourself too short on the roads. Either you need to come back and destroy some mortals at Lone Gull 10k, Yankee Homecoming 10-Mile, etc. or come out with the real explanation of why the road saps the POWER OF FERENC. I was thinking maybe the petroleum is like a kind of kryptonite for Vermonters, so when you do battle on the roads, you are only at 10% of your potential or something like that. I’m sure the REAL NEOTENY TRUTH is worth reading.)

Tommy Manning was the only guy older than me who finished ahead of me, so that is pretty cool. I mean, he is on Wikipedia.

Miles (according to Garmin):
9:51.6 for last .62, including 8:48 for Upper Walking Boss

Heather trekked up from the gondola with Emma on her back and Ben and Grace in tow, which was at least as physically strenuous as what I endured, and after a few shots (pictures) with most of the CMS guys at the summit, we back tracked to the gondola. 

Some of the CMS men: Dan V. (2nd 50+); Matt V.; Nate J. (12th); Sam W.; Todd C. (2nd 40+); Jim P.; Me; Ross K.

We were able to enjoy a brief time of worship with the Loon Mtn. Ministry at their Sunday morning summit service, and then we took the gondola down together. We arrived after the collegiate awards had been given out, so I missed my fifth place being announced, but my $250 check was still there, so I happily picked that up and caught up with a couple teammates before heading back to the Mt. Coolidge for a swim.

We went for an early dinner at Truants Tavern in Woodstock – 24 beers on tap, including Dogfish Head 60, which went down real easy after a hot day in the mountains. Hope we will be able to get back there if we happen to be in Woodstock another time.

The next morning we grabbed White Mtn. Bagel. I had an interesting honey vanilla latte that I would definitely be willing to try again.

All in all, I felt good about the effort and result at Loon. Although I was 15th at the mountain champs last year, and a little closer to the leaders (6 ½ minutes last year vs. 11 ½ minutes this year), I was closer to 6th place (3:57 in 2014 vs. 4:41 in 2013). The top two finishers, Joe Gray and Patrick Smyth, were just absurdly far ahead of everyone else.

Looking forward, I will probably aim for a good effort at the Firefighter “5” in Hamilton on the 22nd of this month (sub-26) and then look to lower my 10-mile pr at Newburyport the following week (53:19 from 2006).

I am planning on running the Grand Prix 15k and 10k later this summer, but can’t stop thinking about trying a 50-miler. It must have been the pre-race conversation at Loon that planted the seed…


  1. Great report. I am running Loon next month and I would love to chat with you about the terrain. Can you shoot me an email at kylerobidoux at yahoo dot com ? Thanks so much

  2. Great report. I am running Loon next month and I would love to chat with you about the terrain. Can you shoot me an email at kylerobidoux at yahoo dot com ? Thanks so much