Sunday, June 29, 2008

Cranmore Hill Climb

Holy crap. That hurt.

At some point the day before Mt. Washington, I thought that I might like to try my hand at the Cranmore Hill Climb. Really, I have no idea why I thought this was a good idea. Basically, it fit into the schedule since I had to work yesterday during There's a Black Fly in My Eye and D was running it. Even after running Mt. Washington, I somehow still thought this was a good idea.

We (D as support crew) arrived at Cranmore..."What's Cranmore?" you ask. Oh, it's a ski area. Granted, not a very big one, but you still had to run to the top of it...twice. Anyway, we arrived about an hour and a half before the race start to cloudy skies. The clouds were covering a good part of the mountain, so we couldn't see the top...probably a good thing. I, yeah, I hadn't actually registered yet. So, I hadn't committed any money yet, and I still somehow convinced myself to go. I'm an idiot.

I did a mile warm up, and then went into the base lodge to stretch. Then it started raining, then the thunder and lightening, then the absolute deluge. It poured. Really poured. Hard. The rain turned most of the course into mush or moosh or yuk. It was still raining when we all headed to the start line, and it rained for most of my first loop.

Ah, the course. Basically you weave your way to the summit of Cranmore using the ski trails, some single track trails in the woods and a bit of service road. The final push goes straight up a black diamond. Here's the map. Don't look at it unless you want to cry. Once you hit the summit you take what's really the easiest, i.e. least steep, way down, except for one section that cut through the woods. Then, you do it again. Yup, two laps: up and down. It has to be a full 10k, after all.

The race started, and I settled into a comfortable pace. Things got bogged down as the pack entered the first single track section, and I found myself walking. Rush hour traffic. The climb was totally different from Mt. Washington. It was really steep, but there were breaks when the course would traverse the slope. But when it went up, it really went up...for the most part. Even on the first lap I walked a number of sections. And, I really walked, the black diamond pitch. It was ridiculous. It felt like it was straight up.

I could tell early on that I wasn't going to be tearing things up. My legs were tired. I was tired. This was my third race in as many weeks, and my legs wanted me to know exactly how they felt.

I hit the summit in around 22 minutes and started down. The down felt good because I could actually run, and I passed a few people on the way down. I was pretty certain I would see them again. By the time I reached the base, the rain had started to subside, and D was out on an elevated deck watching the action and cheering. I yelled up, "This is nuts." She replied, "You're the one who signed up." A good support crew is essential.

I went through the start/finish line in 35:00ish, and I knew things were going to go downhill on the uphill. The pounding of the descent had taken whatever friskiness I had in my legs. It was going to be a slog. And it was. I ran when I could, but I walked a lot. Slowly. By this time the entire field had already run the course once, and it was trashed. Just a slippery, muddy, gooey mess. I don't mind tough conditions, but this was messy. I slipped a number of times and fell once near the top. Suddenly my feet were going backwards while the rest of me was going forward. Seven or eight people passed on the way up, which for as dead as I felt was somewhat encouraging. I was still confident that I could make up some places on the downhill.

I hit the top in about 65 minutes. To save you the math, that's a 30-minute climb; 8 minutes slower than the first lap. My legs were barely moving. I was dead. I stopped at the top to take advantage of the water stop. It was less about the water than it was for an excuse to walk on something flat. I started running again and quickly passed a woman who had passed me just before the top and had the same water stop strategy that I did. I passed one other runner on the way down, but that was it. In fact, someone passed me. All those runners I thought I could catch must have gotten rides or something.

My quads were done. I just couldn't get them to respond. I kept trying to go faster, but the pounding on the hill hurt more with each step. And every step seemed to sap more and more energy. Most of the descent is on ski trail, but there is one section that cut through the woods. This section was nasty. Ankle deep mud. Roots. Loose rocks. Just ugly. I had been gaining on one runner until this point, but that section crushed me. I wobbled through it just happy to remain upright.

As I approached the finish, D was there cheering. Or rather warning me that someone was gaining on me. I managed to pick it up slightly and hold off this mystery person. I stumbled through the finish in an unofficial 1:16ish. I was toast. In fact, I'm still toast.

Not a great race for me, but not a bad one. I did learn something important: mileage helps. Really, there's no way I could expect much after running three races in a row on a maximum of 27 miles a week. Not to mention that I didn't exactly pick the easiest races. Today was hard. Not as hard at Mt. Washington, but it hurt more. That downhill was brutal. I'm never running downhill again. But, it was really the uphill were I lost time and places. My legs just didn't have enough in the reserves to handle another tough day of climbing. I was tired. And most of that goes back to my low mileage. As the experiment continues, I now have conclusive proof that I need build up the base. Somehow that base from college is no longer there. Hmmm... So, build up the base is exactly what I'll do. We'll be hiking for most of the upcoming weekends, so no more races for a long time. That's probably a good thing, so I can build up the mileage. Build, build, build.

Oh yeah, that was nuts.

(I'll post the results when they become available.)

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