Ascutney Mountain Challenge
USATF-NE Mountain Series Race #6 of 6
Sunday, July 10, 2011
3.7 miles, 2300 feet ascent-only, 12% avg. grade
38:48 (pace: 10:30)
30th place overall of ~200
12th place AG M40-49
Splits (vs. 2010 splits)
Mile 1 – 9:36 (9:41)
Mile 2 – 11:03 (11:01)
Mile 3 – 11:01 (10:51)
Mile 3.7 – 7:05 (7:01)
Finish: 38:48 (38:38)
All good things must come to an end, and so it was at Ascutney Mountain in Windsor, VT that the USATF-New England Mountain Series would come to an end with a tough race followed by a celebration in a nearby river with fellow Mountain Goats.
The Ascutney Mountain Challenge is known as a mini-Mount Washington because the course covers exactly half the distance (3.8 miles), half elevation change (2300 feet), with the same average grade (12%) as the Mountain Washington Road Race. It cannot be underestimated. It is a tough little race.
I had been looking forward to Ascutney for many weeks. The after-party in the river with fellow Mountain Goats, a title earned by running all six of the mountain races in the circuit, is a fitting way to cap the end of the series. Seeing the same people week after week for a span of eight weeks, if you include Mount Washington, is special; we joke that we are our “other family.” Family we are.
After the two and a half hour drive to Windsor, Vermont, I picked up my race number and warmed up one mile out and one back on the road at the base of the mountain. With an all-road ascent of the mountain as the race course, I didn’t need to pound out trails; hard pavement was fine, as the course went straight up the auto road. Legs now warmed up, I charged the opening quarter mile of the course twice until I felt good and strong.
Now on the starting line, I said hello to friends and wished my buddy Paul Kirsch good luck. Paul and I were in a near tie in the overall standings, me ahead by a few points. Last year was similar; I was able to eek him out by a few points by staying within range in the last race. This year, we calculated that he had to beat me in this last race by 86 seconds. 86 seconds seems like a lot until you know that Paul is a very strong uphill climber on both trail and road – far stronger than I. We are close in the standings because my road runner legs come to life on races with long downhill sections. I came close to beating him at the all-uphill Mount Washington this year, but only because he went out too quickly and slowed drastically. Had he slow a bit in the early going, he would have clipped me by 3 or 4 minutes or more. So here in this last race, 86 seconds for him was doable; for me, I would have to bring my A-game.
That Paul would beat me was not the race; we both knew he would get up the mountain faster than I. The race was by how much time Paul would do it by. Run 86 seconds faster and he had it. Anything other and I would claim victory.
Paul and I talked strategy while waiting for the race to start. Paul’s goal was to keep Stanislav, another fast climber, in sight while my goal was to keep Paul in sight. These plans would be blown away by the first mile mark, but by whom?
The course at Ascutney is a snaking stretch on the mountain auto-road covering 3.8 miles and ascending 2300 feet for an average grade of 12%. It is a tough race. And it gets tough right away.
Through a half mile I was into a good groove and working the mountain. My stride was a bit long, meaning that I was using more muscle than cardio, and I was trying to stay on edge of the pace I thought I could do. I was working hard and already sweating full body in the 80 degree Vermont morning that was just getting hotter.
At this point, Paul was ahead of me by multiple seconds, perhaps 15 or 20, but still well within sight. During this early going, I witnessed Paul pull alongside Stanislav and, not long after, flex his confidence by pushing a step, then another, and then a few more, ahead of him. This told me all I needed to know. Paul was running strong. He would not be caught today.
By the time the marker for Mile 1 (9:36) came into sight, Paul and Stanislav were still within range but even more up on me. Both looked strong. It was here when I decided to not blow up my race by trying to keep with them but rather try to forget about them and run my own race.
Over the next mile, to Mile 2 (11:03), I did just that. Running on edge of my ability, I worked the mountain by staying focused and keeping my legs moving with cadence. Every now and then I would “switch” the legs to use more muscle before switching back to quicker leg turnover. This technique allows me to run a little faster than just using cardio or muscle alone since it allows one system to rest while the other works.
By this point, Paul was no longer in sight. All I knew was that he was running strong; he was now ahead of his rabbit. My rabbit, well, that was Paul, and he was nowhere in sight.
Right about here is when the race gets exceptionally difficult. Last year I hit a mental block on this part, and although I ran well and did not slow down, the mental part of it was very difficult and left a bruise long after the race; this year I was mentally prepared for this dark point. When it came, I stayed focused on running to my ability.
During this time, a familiar face came along side me, as if to pass, but wound up staying. It was Master Runner of the Year (in my book), Paul Buzanchuck. Baz, a strong and faster 50-plus runner, and I played tag for the next ten minutes.
Mile 3 (11:01) came and went. This was also the last time that I saw Buzanchuck. Baz tailed off. I knew he was having a rough day because although I was hurting and holding onto the pain, my pace stayed even all the way through the finish at Mile 3.7 (7:05).
Finish came in 38:48, which was good for 30th place overall and 12th age group M4049.
Ahead of me, my friend Paul had that break-out perfect race. He not only edged me by the 86 seconds he needed, but he also added another minute or more. Congratulations go out to Paul. It was a fun series. The trophy sits in your closet for the remainder of the year. Let’s do it again next year!
In summary, I finished right about where I thought I would – not where I wanted to; where I thought I would – in this race. I was slower this year by 10 seconds over last year. Which is about what I knew, because I feel I am slightly slower this year for a lot of reasons. But I am happy with my race. I feel I ran to my ability with the goods I had. I stayed strong physically and mentally, and I ran decently. There is nothing more I can ask of myself. If I want to be faster, I will have to train harder, train smarter, and most importantly train differently. I know my weakness, and so I have to address it. I knew this last year coming into this year, and I thought I addressed it in my own way that was most appealing and fun, but it wasn’t enough or right. Next year I’ll do it differently.
After the race, still at the top of the mountain but before the awards ceremony, I gathered with the usual suspects for a now-annual run to the true summit of the mountain. We climbed the fire tower for some views and pictures and talked about the race series now being over. Not long afterward, we came down from the summit to gather for the awards ceremony and then the long run back down the mountain. This is one of those races where you get down the mountain the same way you got up: with your own two feet. I didn’t mind the pounding on the body of running down because I knew the after-party in the river would pose as a public ice bath in cold mountain water.
Fun was had by all.