Pack Monadnock 10 Miler
USATF-NE Mountain Series Race #3 of 6
Wilton, New Hampshire
Sunday June 6, 2010
Finish: 1:16:43 (7:41 pace)
34th Place Overall of 375
13th Place M40-49 of 77
Total Ascent: ~2200 feet
Race number three in the USATF-New England Mountain Race Series had me trekking to Wilton, New Hampshire for the Pack Monadnock 10 Miler. Pack, as the race is known, is different than the first two races of the series. Where Northfield and Wachusett were technical, combining trail and mountain running over short distances, Pack was road and open dirt path over long distance, testing endurance and mountain running.
The race could be broken into two parts: an 8.5 mile road race on rolling hills of paved and dirt roads gaining over 1000 feet, and a 1.3 mile ascent of Pack Monadnock, the auto road, gaining 900 feet.
I had been looking forward to this race for many weeks. With an opening section more like a road race, I figured I could gain a few points in the Series rankings. On top of that I was really looking forward to the final climb to the summit. The climb, as everyone told me, was reflective of and sometimes harder than what could be found at the Mt. Washington Road Race two weeks later. It would be a test of my readiness for the big mountain.
Standing in a pouring rain along with 375 others while awaiting the start of the race, I had no idea that I would, in a sense, fail the test before me but still come out feeling ready for Mt. Washington. But before the test would come, I had an 8.5 mile road race to get through.
A horn sounded to start the race. Already soaking wet, I settled into an honest pace on the up hill opening mile. Although I paid close attention to talk about the course before the race, I somehow kept overlooking the “road race” portion of this race. It was only 8.5 miles, right? Wrong.
Coming through Mile 1 (7:10) at an effort closer to 6 minute miles, I realized I was in for more than expected. It wasn’t just an 8.5 mile road race before a final climb. The road race had to gain 1000 feet. It would be no Sunday stroll. This section, with rolling long hills both up and sometimes down, would take a lot out of me.
By Mile 2 (6:36) place in the race was set. There was very little passing going on, with runners locking into pace. Mile 3 (6:21) had a fast down hill only to catch back up with more up (Mile 4 – 7:14).
Through Mile 5 (6:41) I passed three guys – one of whom would later catch me on the ascent to the summit – and got passed by one, the legendary Dave Dunham. I was expecting Dave since in talking to him before the race he said he was going to start out with two easy miles and work into a good rate, something I should have done for myself. But I didn’t. Dave did. And here he was passing me.
Mile 6 (7:23) and 7 (6:49) had many long up hills with some slight downs. Effort was dialed in at a high work-rate. I let breathing get a little bit too labored in spite feeling smooth over the terrain. My effort was steady as I bided my time until I knew the road would dump out onto Route 101, where the real hill would start with the extension to the summit. It was my hope to dial back effort once on Rt. 101 so that I could get some rest before the massive ascent up the auto road.
That was the plan.
Not long after Mile 8 (7:59), the road dumped out onto Rt. 101. That’s when I realized that the previous mile had a lot of climbing. My legs were taxed, already feeling heavy. My breathing was labored. And now on Rt. 101, when plan had me dialing back effort to recover before the final push, there was no recovering. I tried to dial back effort but felt as if I were walking. The ascent to the summit would not be pretty. And it wasn’t. I had nothing. The road was already closing in on me, tilting up more and more.
After turning right into the park and going through a final aid station, now on the auto road proper, the real climbing began. Although for me, the opening 8.5 mile road race and not respecting the more than 1000 feet of climbing it had, this was merely a continuation of the previous mile. I had already been climbing. Which meant I was in trouble.
As I started up the auto road, there were two guys ahead of me. A guy in red and one in yellow. I caught the guy in red right away. A minute later I caught the one in yellow, only he was doing a walk-run-walk-run. I would pull ahead when he walked only to fall behind when he rested enough to resume running. I was determined the run the entire way, as short as my steps might have been and as slow as I was. This was a test. This was no Galloway walk party.
A short way into the 1.3 mile climb, marker for Mile 9 (8:48) came quickly. Still, it was a rather rude awakening to think there was one more mile remaining. Still going back and forth with the guy in yellow, my stride was an inch at best. My heart was thumping in throat and ears. If I weren’t breathing so hard I might hear the wind blowing the trees. I willed myself to continue on. Walking was not an option.
Sections of the auto road were as steep as 20 and even 25%, while most were 12 to 15%. I had nothing. I couldn’t get my legs turning over fast enough, like I always do, even if I shortened my stride even more, for to shorten my stride any more would have me standing still. It was then that my greatest fear become clear, a weakness exposed, this hill bringing it all out.
What I learned was that although I have held my own on these mountain races, I still a road runner in my strengths and in my weaknesses. I do not have the leg strength, as in raw power, as compared to true mountain runners. When the road tilts up beyond that magic incline, when I can no longer use a high cadence leg turnover to make my way up the mountain, I do not have the sustained anaerobic leg strength. A weakness exposed. There is no over-drive power gear in my legs. Road tips too much and I bog down to a crawl.
Weakness now fully exposed, I still had another half mile of pure torture. Still running, still playing tag with yellow guy, negative thoughts started up. With no raw power in my legs, how would I ever be successful on the big mountain two weeks from now? I knew this weakness. I should have known better than to think I could work around it. But now, the weakness is out in the open, left to no guessing, it being raw truth. Just then I realized I let my guard down. It was time to take control again.
Breathing hard, I kept working, kept my legs moving as fast as I could, chugging, chugging, not moving very fast, but still moving forward. As if a joke, the road tilted up even more. A wall, there was a wall before me, as if the previous section wasn’t steep enough. This really was a joke. Just when I thought my body might involuntarily stop, there was a glimmer of hope. Now half way up the wall, I could hear voices not far in the distance. And up ahead were orange cones, following the road as it twisted around a bend and out of sight to where the voices were coming from. This, I knew, meant one thing: The finish was right around the corner.
Mile 10 (11:35) was pure torture. I did not conquer. I was not fast. And it was not pretty. But I survived. Which I will do two weeks from now on a far bigger mountain.
I was quite pleased with my finish time. Before the race I had looked at prior year’s results and lined them up with a few runners around my ability. I figured I would finish between 1:15 at the absolute fastest and 1:20 to 1:23. Seeing the clock ticking at in the 1:16’s was at least a happy ending to the harsh realization of my biggest weakness. Because if you told me before the race that I’d get a 1:19 or even a 1:20, I would have been happy.
In looking back on the race, there are a few things I’ve learned. The most glaring is that although I have to date held my own in the mountain running series my biggest weakness is raw power in the legs. As long as the incline isn’t so steep where I can still keep my legs turning over at high cadence, I will climb along with the best of them. But when the road tilts up over that magic number, where it calls for raw anaerobic leg strength, I slow to a crawl, my weakness exposed. I fear Mt. Washington will do this and do it too early for me to be successful. But what I’ve also learned is that mountains cannot be owned the way hills can. You never own a mountain. You will never feel good going up. Rather, you work it. You work it with your strengths. You work it around your weaknesses. And you take what the mountain gives. But one thing you can never do is let it crack you. Even if you are forced to a walk. You must stay in control. Stay strong mentally. And keep working.
1 – 7:10
2 – 6:36
3 – 6:21
4 – 7:14
5 – 6:41
6 – 7:23
7 – 6:49
8 – 7:59 (“real” climbing starts)
9 – 8:48 (auto road starts at 8.7 miles)
10 – 11:34