Sleepy Hollow Mountain Race
USATF New England Mountain Series Race #1 of 6
Sunday, May 13, 2012
10K (~6.1 miles)
Ascent: 1600 feet over three loops
28th overall of ~150
9th AG M40-49
Just as children of all ages excitedly look forward to their home town baseball team’s season opener in spring, so too do mountain runners in the New England area look forward to opening day of mountain race season.
Instead of opening at Fenway Park in the big city of Boston, mountain runners make a pilgrimage to Huntington, Vermont, a small town in a mountainous region south-east of Burlington, where Sleepy Hollow Ski and Bike Center, not to mention trails that ascend and descend at steep inclines, awaits.
In years past, the first race in the mountain circuit had been at Northfield Mountain. But because Northfield fell through this year, opening day went to newcomer Sleepy Hollow, and wow, what a great replacement. In fact, the course and set up at Sleepy Hollow was so good that it is among my favorite of the mountain races. And that’s saying a lot. Great job, Kasie, for pulling this off!
The course covered 1600 feet of ascent with an equal amount of descent, over three separate loops, each that started with a long, grueling climb on grassy fields and some single track, and bombed down the same terrain on the other side. Making it even more fun was the mud. You could not run this course and come away clean. Mud flew everywhere.
I had been looking forward to opening day at Sleepy Hollow for many months. The mountain running people are awesome. Although each of the six races gets between 150 and 350 participants, there are over a 100 that show up at each and every race. To say that we share a bond is an understatement. This is why it was like a family reunion.
To prove the familial feel of love, consider that the average person drove over 3 hours just to do the race. Those who did not stay in the area overnight, they drove over 6 hours total on the day, and maybe over 7, just to make opening day.
For me it was up at 4:30 AM and in the car by 5 for the 3 hour and 30 minute drive. I arrived at the Sleepy Hollow Ski and Bike Center with 45 minutes until race time. I gave hugs to friends I hadn’t seen in months, picked up my bib, and got dressed. Because of the reported sloppy course, I chose to wear a pair of terrain gripping Inov-8 Rocklite 295’s. These proved to be a GREAT choice for the slippery, muddy course.
As I warmed up on the opening mile of the course, a stretch that consisted of a hundred yard jog on a grassy section in front of the lodge followed by a .75 mile tough climb, I couldn’t help but smile. Here I was, reunited with good friends, people I’ve spend the last several summers with, and about to kick-start the season. Life was good. I jogged back down, not really warmed up for anything, and got into the starting gate for more hugs and hellos.
Go! The race was started.
Having logged 26 miles with much elevation the day before, I settled farther back in the pack than I normally do. I knew this was going to hurt. I knew it would take a while for my legs to get pumping. And I knew I would struggle on the early part of the climb. But I also knew that hills, especially of the long and grinding variety that go straight up at steep inclines, tend to normalize not only the field right away in how it selects placement in race by ability, but it also is so hard that the fight-or-flight reaction smoothes over many deformities, such as the residual tiredness from having run for 4 hours and 10 minutes with over 3000 feet of elevation change the day before.
By the time the first climb ended at about a mile in, sweat was pouring off of me and my legs were pumping strong.
Bombing back down a steep, slippery section, I was now catching back up to where I should have been in the race. Being a strong downhill runner, I was now slowly catching up to those ahead of me. That’s when I saw a familiar shirt up ahead of me. I knew it belonged to pal Paul Kirsch. The chase was on.
To the second of three climbs, I had settled in with the first place female and closed the gap to 20 feet on Paul. Just as we started the climb, this one roughly a mile, and the longest on the day, Paul and the first place female slowly pulled away. I passed two others and played leap frog with another.
Three quarters of the way to the top, that’s when it got very hard. I was feeling the effects of the long run the day before, and I was barely moving. Mud didn’t help. When the grassy slope tipped a bit more, I slipped and immediately got tricked into a walk. Hurting badly, I milked it. I shouldn’t have been walking, but my legs were beat, and the climb was long. A few walk paces more, I got back on it and slowly worked the hill. By the top, Paul had gotten back much more a lead. I could no longer see him. No worries, though, as I knew I’d catch up to him on the ensuing down. And that’s what I did.
Meanwhile, the second place female was using me as a rabbit. She mirrored my every move. She was just as good as me on the downs, so she followed suit. I first caught the first place female, where my trailing friend took the reigns of the woman’s race, and next caught up to Paul. We exchanged a few words about how awesomely hard this was. “First race is always a bitch.” We both agreed.
Through the Finish area we went for one more loop, this one with the steepest climb of the day followed by sweet rolling and snaking single track made smooth by mountain bikes, followed by wide grassy trails that bombed downhill for a blazing finish.
Entering the climb, myself, Paul, and the new lead woman were together. Since I knew he first place female was a stronger climber than I, I let her go. I considered letting Paul go but had a few paces on him at that point that I decided to just keep on the gas. I was afraid of walking too soon, because I knew that would slow me down, and I didn’t want to get fooled into walking as had happened on the second climb, because once you start you lose at least a few steps.
On the up Paul was very strong. We pushed each other nicely. The first female gapped us both, while we stayed mostly steady. Finally to the top of the climb, I slapped on my road legs and spun them up for some fun. As I was bombing away at record pace, I started catching up to the first woman and another guy, only I ran out of room.
Finish came in 52:41, good for 28th place overall, 9th AG M40-49.
Although the wait for opening day at Sleepy Hollow was long, it was so worth it seeing friends again and running mountains.
Mountain running really is the most fun you can have on the run.
Try it sometime.