Pack Monadnock 10 Miler
USATF New England Mountain Series Race #3 of 6
Wilton, New Hampshire
Sunday, June 5, 2011
2300 feet of climbing
1:19:42 (pace: 7:58)
32th place overall
14th place AG M40-49
Splits (vs. last year)
1 – 7:42 (7:10)
2 – 7:10 (6:36)
3 – 6:53 (6:21)
4 – 7:31 (7:14)
5 – 7:08 (6:41)
6 – 7:41 (7:23)
7 – 7:09 (6:49)
8 – 8:09 (7:59)
9 – 8:38 (8:48)
10 – 11:37 (11:34)
Finish: 1:19:42 (1:16:43)
Race number three in the USATF New England Mountain Series was Pack Monadnock 10 Miler up in New Hampshire. Pack is a point-to-point race with a finish on top of Pack Monadnock. The course starts down the road in Wilton, NH and navigates quiet country roads and hard-packed trails, climbing 1200 feet over 8.5 miles, to the base of Pack Monadnock. The last 1.5 miles is a climb of the auto road, up 1100 feet, and is “as steep or steeper than Mt. Washington.”
What’s interesting is that in spite of my road running and racing background (as opposed to mountain and trail running), Pack, even though it is more a road race, is my least favorite race in the mountain circuit. And it is my least favorite precisely because it is a road race. The 1200 feet climbed over the 8.5 mile warm up sneaks up on you to make the final ascent of the mountain more difficult than you might imagine.
Since I paid the price last year at this race, with the final climb being so stupid hard that it was easily among my worst racing experiences, I decided to be smart about my race plan. Where last year I went out as if it were a 5 mile road race (go out hard and hold on), this year I decided to pace myself the first two miles before locking into race pace.
A lesson would be learned, only not the one I had in mind. Being smart wouldn’t pay off.
After warming up with pal Jeff Dengate over the opening mile of the course, I found myself in the starting gate with 250 other hearty runners. Since this race is unique – or maybe uniquely hard – the crowd is hard core. No newbie runners. Everybody lines up according to ability. There would be no headphone-wearing teenagers in high tops.
Climbing starts immediately. The opening mile of the course rises and rises, dips back down, and rises again. For the uninitiated, having so much climbing this early on can be demoralizing, because you are only a mile in or less and it is already very hard. But not for me. I started nice and easy. This would later prove to be a mistake. Mile 1 came in 7:42.
By the time Mile 2 (7:10) came I was locked into more of a race pace. But something was off. In front of me I watched many runners simply pull away – runners who I am used to be near or in front of. It was as if my legs had reset themselves with a new race pace, one far slower than they are used to. I felt smooth enough and fairly efficient but I did not feel strong or fast. The result was that I was slow, my legs just not wanting to pump too hard. Only I didn’t realize this until after the race when looking back at previous year’s splits.
Mile 3 (6:53), 4 (7:31) and 5 (7:08) were under control. At this point I had no idea just how slow I was compared to last year. All I knew was that I was running near edge. Problem was that I should have been running on edge, not near it. My body just wouldn’t allow. Save something, I coached myself, for the final ascent of the mountain. I seemed to be saving just enough, maybe more than enough.
Through Mile 6 (7:41) with the course rolling mostly up and sometimes down wooded back country roads, cutting in and out of parks here and there for brief runs on hard-packed dirt trails, and on to Mile 7 (7:09) I was feeling pretty good. My pace grew smooth. I worked the long up hills, passed a few runners, and kept effort just below edge.
Where usually I race on edge, where breathing is always on verge of out of control, and often times goes over, I was breathing hard but comfortably. I was passing people. But I could already tell that I was back with a few folks who I normally am ahead of. I chalked this up to them having great days. I would, I knew, make up the time on the final climb. Last year I sucked on that climb. I ran every step. But I was slow. Painfully slow. Not so this year. I so I thought.
Just before Mile 8 (8:09) the course leaves a quiet country road for the major road that goes right by Miller State Park, the entrance to Pack Monadnock. The lead up to the park is where the grade gets noticeably steeper. I was fairing pretty well and closing the gap on all runners in front of me.
Shy of a mile later, the course makes a hard right into the park and up the auto road. I grabbed a cup of water from a volunteer and began the 1.3 mile ascent of the auto road.
It is no joke that the auto road is steeper than Mt. Washington. There are sections that are over 25% grade. I entered the road feeling good but moving slowly. I seem to have only one pace once the incline tips over that magic number of, say, 8%, where I can no longer charge with high leg cadence but instead go it bogged down to slow. But I felt good, far better than last year.
Mile 9 (8:38) came at the early part of the auto road. The remaining mile was very difficult but far more enjoyable than last year. I passed three runners on the way up and was never in threat of getting passed, like last year when the whole race came by me as I plodded along on my toes.
Mile 10 (11:37) came. Finish was 1:19:42, a full three minutes SLOWER than last year. Teaches me for running a smart race.
Upon finishing, I immediately gathered with “the mountain clan” — everybody else who already finished or was just finishing – for a climb of the tower at the top of the mountain. The morning was clear. We could see nearby Mt. Monadnock, farther away Ascutney Mountain, and even downtown Boston. It was a just reward for a difficult course.
Entering this race, I was saddled with a week of low energy due to heavy allergies. It was so bad that on one of the days I actually went home early from work to sleep. Yes, you read that correctly: sleep. This is not like me at all. That could be part of the slowness here. And I bet it is. But it isn’t all.
Another possible reason for the slow time could also be race strategy. I am fit enough, as I was last year, to go out hard and hold on. I should have done that again. Furthermore, sometimes when you start easy, your legs never come around to full race pace. That could have happened to me also. Being tired could perpetuate that.
Finally, I have now seen enough evidence to show that I am indeed slower than I was last year. I am not sure why. It could be age, though I doubt that because just a few months ago I ran near PR for a 5K. It could be my recent training methodology of Hill Immersion not making me stronger but rather just more tired, thereby slower.
I can think of a few other things that might come into play here. I’m guessing all of these factors together are the reason. After some more thought on this, I’ll try to remedy what I can. And if I can’t, well, I’m having a blast challenging myself on these mountain races.
All in all, I am not expecting much two weekends from now at Mount Washington. I believe I am stronger this year, but only slightly and certainly not faster. I don’t think I climb any faster than I did before, but I can do it for longer periods. That’s just reality. Still looking forward to the challenge. MWRR is unlike any there is.
Next up: Mount Washington Road Race then Cranmore Mountain Hill Climb!