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Running in Holland

I still don’t have internet at my house here so this may be a short post. But I am getting running figured out – who needs internet or a cell phone or food that your youngest child can eat when you know the closest track and a good trail for long runs?
Anyway, I found both of those last two things. It is about a 9 km bike ride to the track owned by Leiden Atletiek, a club I may end up joining. They have a beautiful and well-maintained eight lane outdoor track. I did ride about 18 km yesterday just to get there, as I did not remember exactly where the track was. And no one I asked even knew there was a track in the area – which is no surprise given that the track is hidden with residential neighborhoods on one side and a big urban woods on the other.
But I cranked out six 1000s there in 3:06, 3:04, 3:04, 3:02, 3:00, 2:58, and I think I know how to get back.

Today I went for a long run, maybe 8 miles through the dunes between here and The Hague. Surprisingly, there are some hills here in the Netherlands. Granted, the total elevation change as you run through the dunes is comparable to what you would find in New Hampshire is you worked hard to find a loop with no hills, but a series of hills with as much as 40 feet of elevation in each one is a lot more fun to run on than the completely flat running inland of the dunes. Oh – and the paths there are paved with tiny seashells – I have never run on that surface before!

July

Wow! Blogging has been slow this month. So I will make a quick summary.
I raced Loon Mountain a few weeks ago. I had an unremarkable race to end up third. I like to think that I could have at least scared Ryan Kelly for second place (instead of being a minute back) but I didn’t, and Josh Ferenc was untouchable another 20 seconds up.
And last week I raced the Bill Luti, bringing home my third title in that race with another so-so effort: a younger runner led me through the mile in 5:00, and then dropped like a rock even as I had a lousy second mile up the hill.
The big event of the month was running the Pemi Loop with Kris. We have both had our eyes on this ~33 mile loop with ~10,000 feet of vertical for many years, and finally decided to go for it. We had a perfect day for running – overcast, high 60s, light wind. The downside was that we visited 8 of the most scenic peaks in the state and saw one brief view of Mt Carrigain for about 3 minutes and the rest of the time we saw only fog.
Given that I had done a total of three workouts that exceeded 2:15 this year, surviving an effort that turned out to be 7:30 or logged time (plus 29 minutes of breaks) was a bit questionable. My father resupplied us on top of Mt Lafayette, about 2/3 of the way through. He wasn’t sure I should continue, but I did make it. I even led Kris on some of the late downhills when it became clear that we had a chance of breaking 8:00 total time (the record when we first considered this loop was about 7:20 – it has since dropped to 6:14).
I won’t be running many mountains until next summer – I fly to Holland in two days!

Mt Washington

I have been slow to report on the Mt Washington road race, but it is still worth writing about. In many ways it was actually a boring race. I went out hard on the first couple hundred meters of flat, sharing the lead, fell to 11th when the climb started, and passed about one person per mile until I reached four miles. Just past mile five, former winner Rickey Gates passed me back, and so I finished in 8th place. I was 30 seconds behind Rickey at the finish, and almost a minute ahead of 9th place, so there just wasn’t much drama (unlike last year, where I passed Dan Princic in the final minute).
It was, however, a great day. I ran up the hill in 1:05:55, a little over 30 seconds under my previous best. I have been pretty tired the last couple days in a way that tells me I really dug deep.

Here is a picture of me:
Mt Washington copy

And here is the picture that the Concord Monitor (our local paper) ran. Kris insists it must be that he is just prettier than I am:
Kris Mt Washington copy

This makes four times as the top New Hampshire finisher. This all feels pretty good, but I am certainly not the most impressive finished from last Saturday. For that category, here are the contenders:

Joseph Gray was almost 8 minutes ahead of me. His time of 58:15 (run almost entirely by himself) is the second fastest in the race’s 50+ year history, and he is the first to win back to back races in over a decade.

Simon Gutierrez (the last man to win back to back races) is now 49 years old. I was only about a minute behind him last year, and I thought with a good effort this year I might finally catch him. Instead, he finished in 6th, almost two minutes ahead of me. If I make it back next year, it looks like I am going to be crushed by a 50-year-old.

But Simon has nothing on George Etzweiler. 10 years ago, the oldest age category in the race was 85+, but they have had to amend this twice; George finished the race this year at age 95. He was over two hours behind me, but he made it to the top. I was with a group that stopped and cheered him as we rode down, and you could see that he was working hard to maintain his pace. I don’t enjoy three hour maximal efforts now – I have a hard time imagining trying that 57 years in the future!

Racing Up, Racing Down, and Moving

So usually if a race is a week old I figure there is not point in blogging about it. But I am going to today, because I have an excuse…

Anyway, I raced the Pack Monadnock 10 miler last Sunday. I raced this three years ago, losing to Brandon Newbould in the final climb (the course climbs about 1800 feet, half in the last two miles). This year I entered with elaborate contingency plans should I be racing any of several potential rivals, but none of them showed up. I had a 20 second lead by two miles, over a minute by seven miles, and earned an easy four-minute victory.

Then I went home to work on packing up my house. The next day my nephew and I moved all of our furniture and most of our boxes.

On Thursday, in addition to more moving-related tasked, I did the downhill race – the Hollis Fast 5 km. This race drops a couple hundred feet in 5 kilometers. I ran 14:37 for 6th – four seconds slower than two years ago but three places better. Maybe the heat slowed people down, or maybe the field was weaker. Either way, it was a decent effort.

One week till Mount Washington. Hopefully I will have finished the many little tasks I need to complete my move before then.

Sleepy Hollow Mountain Race

With my impending move to the Netherlands, I have decided that this is definitely the time to get in as much mountain running as I can while it is still an option. The flat courses in my future could be good for PRs, but this weekend I drove up to Sleepy Hollow for the kickoff of that USATF mountain running series.

I was a little confused about the course and ended up running the middle of three loops for my warmup, when I had hoped to run the final loop. This had no effect on the outcome of the race, nor did the fact that I expected Josh Ferenc, the defending champion who is running more and more ultras, to take the race out slow, and so I arrived at the line having run a fairly relaxed warmup.

Maybe after running ultras this race feels like a 100 yard dash to Ferenc, because he practically sprinted off the line, and the whole field went with him. I was seriously anaerobic about 45 seconds into the race, and sitting in 6th place. By 60 seconds in Ferenc had a small gap on us, and no one seemed interested in bridging it.

The first hill flattened for a bit, and then got steep again, and I worked my way into second place, just ahead of Matt Lipsey and another runner. I crested the hill in second, and was quickly passed by that other runner, and I followed him down the other side. He was going at a pace I liked, which should have been a warning sign because after 30 seconds Lipsey and Alex McGrath passed me and I could feel a group behind them (several runners described running in that pack as being very scary, with people flying down the hill quite out of control). I accelerated and stayed near the front of the group.

As the course leveled out and then started back up (at the two mile mark) I passed McGrath and took over second place. All the way up this, the longest climb, I kept Ferenc in sight, but I couldn’t close any of the 20 second gap. Near the top I opened a significant gap over McGrath and Lipsey, and I even maintained it as I started down the other side. For several minutes I thought I would get to the bottom of the hill first, but finally McGrath caught me and Lipsey was right behind.

We ran in a tight pack past four miles and into the final loop. When it started climbing, I again too the lead, only to give it back to Lipsey when we started running on singletrack. I stayed right on Lipsey and we opened a huge gap of McGrath. As we rolled over the top of this loop, Lipsey got a slight gap on me. He then slowed on the last short uphill pitch, and I thought I could catch him. Right at the top of the hill I made one bad foot placement into some mud and I came mentally and physically undone, letting a two second gap grow to almost 10 in virtually no time at all.

From there I kept the gap fairly constant. I thought I was running the downhill well until I heard footsteps behind me. I adjusted my direction to make sure that McGrath would have to pass me on the outside (we were on a wide trail at this point). I could hear that passing on the outside was taking a lot more energy, and I knew that this was the time to throw in a solid move and try to break my opponent. Unfortunately, I didn’t have it to give. McGrath passed me and even made time on Lipsey; they both finished a bit under 41:00, about a minute behind Ferenc. I finished another 15 seconds back.

For me to be successful in mountain races I am going to need to do some downhill intervals on trails. I am not sure this is part of my plan right now, but it is just sad getting dropped every time gravity starts helping.

Running Season

I just had my first race of the year. It was an inauspicious lead up, as I took most of last week off from training with a nasty virus, and then took Tuesday off of both training and teaching to stay home with a sick child. This pushed my first track workout to Wednesday, only two days before my first race. I have been trying to get away from 400s on the track – I have found that I am getting better and better at doing 400 meter repeats as time goes on but that my performance in these workouts is less and less connected to my racing. So I did three times (200/200/800) with (200/200/400) recovery. The 200s were all 33 and 34. The 800s were 2:25, 2:26, 2:27, as steadily increasing effort levels. This is fairly fast for a skier (or a 38-year-old teacher) but not promising.
I was still very sore when I was warming up for the NHTI Delta Dental 5 km. This is the fourth time I have run the race in five years, and the third course (they have a nice trail that is always underwater in the spring, so they usually have to adjust).
We started out and I hung back in third, letting Jim Johnson set the pace and a younger runner I don’t know chasing right behind him. By half a mile the younger runner took the lead and led us through the mile in 4:50. Way too fast! He faded in the next couple hundred yards and Jim passed him shortly before we crossed the start line and started the second of two laps. I continued to stay behind Jim, occasionally moving back and forth to stay out of the wind but mostly just saving my energy by letting him set pace. At two miles (9:50) he seemed to surge a bit, and I thought he might get away. Then, right around 2.5 miles, he looked back at me, and I knew he was hurting. I made the most decisive move I could, and put a couple seconds on him. There was a fair amount of traffic by now with runners still on their first lap, and I knew this would make it psychologically harder for him to follow me. I didn’t have much kick left in the final stretch, but I had a big enough lead that it didn’t matter. I crossed the line in 15:26, six seconds up on Johnson and 17 ahead of Patrick Ard in third.
I was a touch faster last year, but I am feeling better about my fitness progression this year. I still have a number of races here before I head to Holland (and I am registered for the Dam tot Damloop 10 miler in September, so look forward to a post about running against 50,000 people!

Last Intevals on Upper Osceola

Yesterday I did my final set of skiing intervals, on one of my favorite places for intervals, the Upper Osceola trail at the North End of Waterville Valley. Readers should have three questions about this (listed below in ascending order or relevance):

1. How did the intervals go? Can you give us excruciating detail?
2. Why are you doing ski intervals after all the races are over?
3. What do you mean by final? [You should read this answer.]

And my answers:

1. The intervals were okay. My goal, as it often is, was to go faster each time, and I did that. The snow was wet, dirty, and slow, and I don’t know how well I was skiing, so my time for the first intervals was quite slow – 5:51. On the second interval I managed to hold on to V-2 a little better and got to the top in 5:45. Number three was similar, and 5:44. My last interval was definitely the most ragged, with poor technique throughout and a slow start. But I hammered the top just enough to finish in 5:42. From a technique standpoint, it was mediocre at best, but in terms of taxing my energy systems it was a good day.

2. The reason I was doing skate intervals this late in the season is that I decided it was the best way to prepare for running season. With the local track still under 18 inches of snow, and with me having run 7 miles in the last two weeks, trying to do a good workout on foot seemed like a good way to get injured. And yet I didn’t want to go a month without any intensity. My first race might be just three weeks away, so this was a great way to remind my body what it is like to go hard without beating up my joints.

3. Ah. The point of this post. I am always surprised to have readers at all, and I am guessing that those who care to check out my posts have read down this far. I am taking another big step in my very slow retirement from ski racing – by moving to Holland. For the next couple of years (at least) my wife and will be teaching at the American School of the Hague. So it will be a long time until my next Eastern Cup race, and perhaps a long time before my next ski race of any kind (though I will be back at Christmas and am likely to jump in some sort of race then – and I might race something in Europe as well). I am scheming a bit about nordic skiing in some of the indoor ski areas in the Netherlands, and I will certainly bring my rollerskis. But even if I do jump in a race here and there, with my on snow time limited to a couple weeks in December, plus a week each in February and April (during our breaks), I won’t be keeping my hard-earned ranking as one of America’s 20 best distance skiers.

I will (unless the editors of FasterSkier decide otherwise) continue to update this blog. I figure I write more about running than skiing already, so this might not be a big change. So if you are curious about the Netherlands running scene, or advice on where near Leiden to go rollerskiing, or how easy it is to nordic ski at an indoor area, or what family ski vacations look like in the Alps or the mountains of Norway, my blog will hopefully continue to be worth reading.

A Frustrating Final Race

I skied my last race of the season on Saturday. It did not go well.

The last time I raced the Bretton Woods Nordic Marathon, I dropped the second place finisher in the first 5 km. Even though I knew that several Craftsbury Green Team members would be there, along with David Sinclair and a strong college skier contingent, I still let the memory of easy victory allow me to believe I was the favorite.

Unlike the last time I skied this race, there was still a very large group at 5 km. And I (in what is a bit of a theme for this race) was careless, allowing myself to drift back in the group on a big downhill, so that when I major pile-up occurred at the bottom of the hill, I couldn’t avoid it. I did managed to bail in such a way that I broke neither my own poles or anyone else’s. I stood back up in about 25th place, fought my way toward the front, and then almost crashed again on a sharp left turn — a Dartmouth skier and I both went off the trail to get around the group that had fallen.

At this point, I was sick of other skiers. I worked my way to the front, and on the one solid climb, I pushed at about 95% effort. I anticipated that this would break the field, but all three Green Team members, along with Sinclair and at least one other skier, stuck to me and didn’t seem to be in distress. I just didn’t have enough in my legs to drop them. As we came down from the top of the course to the lap (a long six kilometers of down and flat with only a couple interruptions of climbing) four or five other skiers caught us. I was not feeling good about my prospects in the race.

I felt a lot worse when we came to the lap and Vermeer and Dougherty switched skis. I had not done my homework, and did not know that this was allowed (another unforced error by me). It quickly became clear that not only were the two of them (plus Sinclair, who did not change skis) double-poling faster and more effectively than I was, but they were doing so on faster skis. The three of them attacked on a downhill just after I took a feed, and I had to go nearly all out to keep them in sight. I fought my way from 9th place to 4th. As we started to climb, I would make time each time we strided, and lose it again on the flats. I managed to get to within about five seconds at one point, and by skiing very aggressively through the rolling section at the top of the course I didn’t lose much time.

When, just before the top of the course, I was passed by Jeff Tucker and Vanya Rybkin, I lost motivation. I had used all of my energy to keep in the race until this point, and I just watched as the race unfolded in front of me on the downs, and then as the top skiers went out of sight.

At the time I was frustrated by my poor skis, but this seems silly. Everyone in the race waxed their own skis, so I have no excuse there. And while I was probably the best climber in the field, there were at least half a dozen other skiers who were better on the flats – and this was a very flat course. Maybe on a day where I felt stronger, or different snow, I could have been in the race after 25 km. But the simple fact is, while I have been close to or ahead of Vermeer, Sinclair, and Dougherty on shorter races with more hills, the three of them are clearly better than I am in a race like this.

And as I am not sure I said this very clearly to them at the finish line, I will close this post by offering them congratulations on their well-earned success in this race.

Three Point Three

That was my margin of victory Sunday. I just typed a long race description, which WordPress lost, so I will just say that I was only able to ski faster than Gordon on this course because I have skied that loop hundreds of times, including over a dozen races and dozens of intervals, over than past 32 winters. I guess I should clarify that the race was a Holderness, about 15 minutes from where I now live.
I got one split, about 1.5 km from the finish. I was told I had “a couple second lead.” I wasn’t sure how accurate this was, but I pushed harder than I thought I would be able to all the way to the line. Without the extra motivation of believing it really was a close race, I don’t know that I would have finished that well. And if I really had a lead at 1.5 km then Gordon also skied a really strong finish, because I was pretty impressed with the way I climbed the last couple of hills.
Anyway, this is probably my last USSA scored race of the season, so it was nice to end on a strong note. One or two more races and then I can focus on just enjoying the snow, which hopefully will stay around for a long time.

Pro!

I raced two SuperTour races this past weekend, and had by some measures my best result since my “retirement” 9 years ago.

Saturday was a 10 km freestyle, and was a combined Eastern Cup/EISA College Race/SuperTour with 214 racers on the start list. I was in the second seed group, which started after the first seed, so if anyone had been giving me splits this would have been an advantage (but no one was…) I started very aggressively, attacking the first kilometer of the course and catching my 15 second man by the two km mark. I passed a couple of others who had started just in front of me as well, and caught my 30 second man near the lap. I drafted him for a bit, then took the lead again. He stuck right on me, and I was unable to generate the same power and speed I had on the first lap. Still, we worked well together. He pushed me hard up Screaming Mimi (the big hill at the end of the Craftsbury course) and then passed me, and I worked to hang on to him…he was spent as we crossed the lower stadium with only a couple hundred meters to go, and I thought I could get around him, but he crossed the line about a second before I did (for a race time 28 seconds slower).
I received no information on course, so while I knew from how I skied relative to those around me that it had been solid, I had to look at results to discover that I was 11th place, 1:35 behind my brother, 31 seconds off of Lex Treinen in third, and 19 seconds out of sixth place (and thus a cash prize). I was behind only five college skiers (four Americans and one Canadian).
This result is comparable to what I earned in the same 10 km skate race a year ago, and I followed that with a very disappointing 20 km classic, so I really didn’t know what to expect on day 2. It was cold with fresh snow, so I felt comfortable waxing my own skis – a newer pair of Salomons (three or four years old now) with a fairly recent (in terms of number of races) LS1 grind, and a mix of Swix BD4 and Toko LF red. For kick I started with Rode Multigrade Blue, buried a layer of Swix Extra Blue, and then covered with two partial layers of Swix VR30. My skis felt fast, with good but not perfect kick; I was feeling good and I wanted skis that needed a real racer to make them work.
The start of the race was refreshingly calm. The front two rows were all experienced skiers who had no need to take an early lead when all that meant was the chance to plow the tracks for everyone behind. I was in the lane behind Eric Packer, and after he made clear that he could have taken the lead, he pulled up, and I was able to follow him into a good early position.
Silas Talbot of Dartmouth was the only skier interested in pulling us around, so we settled in behind him. I was mostly able to hold on to fourth or fifth place, and so save the energy of slowing down or speeding up too much as the pack went up and down hills. Not much happened in the first lap and a half…there was some scrambling on some of the climbs, but I was able to cover all the moves without losing position or tiring myself too much.
Around the middle of the second lap I found myself at the front of the group. It wasn’t a conscious effort, but we were starting to climb so being in front wasn’t a detriment, and I skied at a solid pace. On the rolling section in the middle of the biggest climb, my brother asked me to let him by. I moved left, let him slip past, and then, the next skier in line having let a gap open, I slotted myself back in behind him. Kris attacked, and only one of the Green Team was able to go with him. At the top of Screaming Mimi Kris had only a few seconds on us, and next to nothing on his closest pursuer, but by the lap just one kilometer later he had a solid 15 second lead.
I fought for position in the chase group. With Kris gone it was clear that no one in the group was too much stronger than me, but I tried not to worry about finishing position and just tried to ski smart. I failed at that a bit going up the sprint hill, opening up a gap that was a little too big to be just relaxed skiing but far too small to be of any use. Still, I figured it was safe to keep the lead on the downhill, so I was still right at the front as we started climbing with 2.5 km to go.
The pace steadily increased as we climbed, and I could see a couple skiers getting away from me. I tried to pull them in on the descent before Screaming Mimi, but they had a length or two at the bottom and it was all I could do to hold position as we made the final climb. By the top Gordon Vermeer and Lex Treinen were clearly dropping me, and my connection to Eric Packer and Frederic Touchette was tenuous. Somehow I held on for the very small final descent and then put everything I had into the last few hundred meters. I couldn’t catch Packer but Touchette was behind me with 200 to go, then 100 to go, and even at 50 to go. I honestly had a hard time believing I had out-double-poled anyone at the finish, but I came across in fifth place, earning money in a FIS race for the first time since the 50 km national championship in 2006 (another race my brother won, and I would put up money we are the only two racers who finished both of those events).
The joy of my good race was somewhat dampened when I was accosted by two of the APU racers who accused me of … actually it is hard to say what they were accusing me of. They wouldn’t say directly, just that they used to respect me and now didn’t. What I could piece together from what they said to other people at the race is that they thought I was intentionally blocking for my brother, and that we had planned his breakaway.
There is video available on FasterSkier, and in particular you can see the top of Screaming Mimi early in Kris’s break. I think the video speaks for itself. (Also, there were three lanes on pretty much the whole course. Three.) I did Kris a favor when I let him by me, but that was two seconds out of the race, and the rest of the time I was focused on skiing my own best race.
I was rather annoyed with the accusations, particularly given that they were made almost entirely to people who were neither me nor race officials. But with a little time to reflect, I realize that this is well within the range of how basically good people react to being beaten by a guy who has been retired for nine years. In the unlikely event that I or some other long retired father of two manages to out-ski two different APU skiers on both days of the same weekend, I am guessing the team will respond with far more grace.

SuperTour

I drove up to Craftsbury this morning to race in the 30 km classic mass start SuperTour race. It was a small race – just 33 entrants, but a fairly strong field, headed by my brother.
After two weekends of college racing the start was refreshingly mellow. We went out for a couple kilometers and everything was pretty easy. I had asked Zach Caldwell for skis with killer kick even if it cost me on glide, and he delivered; while I think he was a bit disappointed in the less than perfect glide on my skis, I had incredible kick the whole time, even when my technique went near the end of the race.
But this did put be a little behind the lead group as we started up the hill on Ruthie’s. I caught the group remarkably quickly, and was surprised to find myself sitting in 11th place at 6 km, just off the back of the lead group. Over the next 13 kilometers, I pretty much sat in 11th, sometimes in the lead group, sometimes five seconds back. At 19 km I looked ahead and noticed two things: one, my brother was leading for the first time, and two, I could not keep up any more. I was a good 10 seconds off the pack as we came through for the lap at 20 km, and losing ground all the time. I thought I might have a long slog by myself (especially challenging in the light snow that was falling) but Gordon Vermeer fell off the back of the pack a minute later. He had about 15 seconds on me at that point, but over the course of 4 kilometers I slowly caught up to him. I made the decision to lead down Ruthie’s as I was a bit worried about my ski speed, and then I let him lead the double-pole section. With a kilometer to go I switched lanes and tried to attack, but nothing happened. I fell in behind him, then had better technique at the top of the last big hill to open a tiny gap. He got me back on the downhill, and then I took the lead on the gradual climb toward the finish. I was still ahead at 100 meters to go, and I really thought I could hold on, but he ended up nipping me by 0.4 seconds.
Anyway, it was a good day for me, just under 2 minutes back from my brother.

More Intervals with Kris

About a year ago I posted about classic intervals up Tripoli Road (pronounced “Triple-Eye” by a majority of locals, in case you are curious), where Kris gave me a 30 second head start and then chased me down. He apparently enjoyed it, so this week we returned and tried it skating.
Last year, as best I can remember, Kris was theoretically in level three for the early parts of his intervals and only hitting race pace late. This year, he was race pace early and above race pace at the end. And whether on not that is true, I am sticking with that story because otherwise I have lost too much fitness in the last 12 months. Last year, I held him off for over 8 minutes each time. This year, he caught be at about 7:15 (6:45 for him) on the first interval, 7:10 on the second, 7:00 on the third, and maybe before 6:00 on the last. I was actually pretty consistent, reaching my stopping point at 7:28, 7:32, 7:38, and 7:45. I might even have been faster on the last one had I not sprinted for 20 seconds trying to keep ahead of Kris, thus completely blowing up.
Anyway, there is a chance my brother is actually in shape this year, and after that workout I am hoping to improve on last weeks results when I take on the College field again this Saturday.

This One’s For Paddy

Paddy Caldwell asked me today if I would blog about the weekend’s races, so I figured it was time to write something. Apparently I still have fans.
Anyway, I headed up to Rumford yesterday to race in the Bates Carnival. I was the only non-college racer to enter (I believe that between three and six slots are reserved for guest racers), so the majority of the other racers were born while I was in college, and the rest while I was in high school.
Friday was a 20 km classic mass start. An interesting fact that I will note here is that World Cup mass starts feature the third most aggressive fields in the world. Second are Eastern Cups, and first are Eastern college carnival races (World Loppets generally have very wide starts, so at least near the front they aren’t bad. SuperTour races are definitely calmer than any of the top three, as are OPA cups and Canadian NorAms.)
What this means is that the experience of starting in the second row of a 100 racer college carnival is not a fun experience for someone with as little starting speed as me (you might suggest that I have had a lot more time to work on this than my competition, and you might be right, but it doesn’t change the facts). I was is bib 14, but I was probably in about 40th place at 1.5 km. Once we started climbing it wasn’t too hard to get into the top 20, and after the first trip up High School Hill I was near the back of a lead group of 14.
I was feeling pretty good until about 7 km, when a snow squall blew in. It dumped over an inch of snow over the course of the next lap. I had been a little nervous and put one too many layers of wax on, so the fresh powder made my skis painfully, absurdly, and comically slow. The others in the lead group were affected as well, but the slowness of their skis only required two adverbs to properly express it. I found myself falling a little off the back of a pack on nine on the downs, and having to work hard to catch up on the climbs.
Meanwhile, Colin Abbot of Carleton University had the best skis in the bunch, and escaped off the front. Around the time the snow ended, I made a weak attempt at a move around the outside of the group. It didn’t accomplish anything, but a couple of skiers decided to attack, including Paddy Caldwell, who bridged the gap to Abbot. Meanwhile, the chase pack started to split up and to drop me.
The third time up High School Hill I was still in contact, and I think even through the stadium I was more or less on the tail end of the chase group. While my skis were never fast (and as my own wax tech I have no one else to blame), they were responsibly for maybe 5-10 of the 60 seconds I lost over the course of the last lap. I crossed the line in 10th.
Saturday was a shorter race (and a shorter description, I promise). I had great skis, as did almost everyone: it’s hard to mess up waxing for a skate race on cold, dry snow. I went out very hard on the downhill, and skied pretty effectively on the early hills of the skate loop. I skied deliberately up the early parts of High School Hill, and pushed well over the top, dropping the skiers I had been with. I came into the stadium feeling pretty good until I saw Paddy Caldwell leaving it. I glanced twice at my watch to determine that he had put 36 seconds into me in the first lap.
I was a bit depressed by I kept hammering. According to the official splits I actually slipped a spot during the second lap, but I felt like I was skiing well. I held technique pretty well, and I certainly gave it everything I had. I crossed the line in ninth place, way behind Paddy but only 35 seconds out of second place.
All in all it was a solid weekend of racing. Hopefully next weekend will be even better!

8th on my 38th

Last Sunday I raced the Craftsbury Opener. It was my fifth day on snow – and I actually had a three hour overdistance workout under my belt by then. Plus I even did some good rollerski skate intervals a week and a half before – and two core strength workouts! So with all this training, plus being only 30 seconds behind my brother on Mt Moosilauke I was a bit surprised not to win the race.
Okay, not really. But I was racing on my 38th birthday, making me a solid 15 years ahead of the other contenders (they even started me at the end of the field with the other master skiers), and the training described above shouldn’t have me in particularly good shape yet, so I was actually happy. And when I realized – not that I am obsessive or anything – that this would have been about a 92 point result if it was a USSA race, I felt pretty good. Hopefully with a little more training, I can have a solid season of racing against skiers who are less than half my age!

Intervals with Kris

I ran intervals with Kris today. It was a good workout – 6 times 1 mile on the track near my house, in the rain. Kris was taking long (5 minute) recoveries, and while I have not been too focused on running fitness lately, I am still quite fit. Kris’s goal was to run 5 times 4:59 and then see what he could do. I acted as pacesetter, and while I was occasionally a second fast or slow on a lap, I brought the first four through exactly on pace, and Kris was on pace for three, but on the fourth he fell behind, finishing in about 5:08. We discussed what to do, and decided that I would pace him for 5:08 on the fifth one. I was right on, and Kris stuck to me like glue. He wanted to do one more – I agreed to pace him halfway. I brought him through 800 meters in 2:34, and then took off, running the next 800 in 2:20. Kris stumbled in not quite 100 meters back in 5:09.

It is a solid workout for him, and I am impressed by his fitness level. I am not confident that I could win an uphill race against him right now (though I would give myself slightly favorable odds). I do take issue with the end of his blog post, however, where he claims that he was the faster runner when we were both skiers. We raced the Tilton-Northfield 5 km three times in this stretch, and I came in ahead twice, and also owned the fastest overall time. And while he defeated me several times in the SoHo 10 km race, I ultimately set the record on that course, putting it so far out of his reach that he hasn’t dared even try to beat it. He may be a much faster skier than I am or ever was, but in the totally irrelevant contest for running dominance, he loses by any measure.

Lone Gull 10 km

Five years ago I ran a PR at the Lone Gull 10 km in Gloucester. I matched this time (31:36) three years ago at the James Joyce 10 km. Seventeen years ago, on the Tufts University track, I ran my fastest 10,000 m, in a time of 31:21.
Last year, despite a lackluster season, I went into Lone Gull hoping to set a PR, but missed by about 17 seconds. I knew I was running better this year, but signs were not good. I was on duty in the dorm, so I had to stay up past midnight the night before and then get up at 5:45 AM. Then I was tired and sluggish getting ready, so I didn’t arrive with as much time to warm up as I hoped. And then it was noticeably windy (yes, again – other people commented on it too). And while I didn’t know this at the start, I had failed to properly tie my shoes so that one would come unlaced with a mile to go in the race.
Even the start of the race was inauspicious. There was some confusion and delay, and then the start was with a police siren, and everyone took an extra second to start because no one realized that we were supposed to go.
For the first mile the substantial wind was at our back. I let the top five go and settled into the front of the chase pack, hitting the first mile in 4:50. I settled in behind a couple other runners for the second mile, as we contended with cross winds, taking the lead only on a very minor uphill. We hit two miles in 10 flat, and I thought about leading again, but the pace picked up and we had a nice group of five (places 7 through 11) go through three miles in 15:02.
At this point there was still a tight pack of five in front, with one runner in no man’s land, and then a group of five chasers. I made a decision that I would sit tight as long as I could and then move about a minute before the five mile mark. We cruised through four miles in 20:10. On a slight rolling section someone pushed the pace, I moved toward the front, and then we were four. I settled back in behind, out of the wind.
At 24:00 into the race I went to the left side of the group and attacked. Almost simultaneously – I don’t think it was a response – one of the other racers attacked as well. I had more in me, and by the time I passed five miles in 25:09 I was all alone. Around this time I realized that one of my shoes was coming untied. I could not – and cannot – believe I made such an amateur mistake. Still, the shoe was on tightly enough and while I made very slight adjustments to my stride to avoid stepping on my laces and tripping, I mostly just continued.
Ahead of me a couple runners had fallen off the front group and were coming back a little, but I had no hope to catch them. I just focused on running a fast, even pace, and went through six miles in 30:11 and cruised in to finish in seventh place at 31:18. This smashed my PR from age 20 and proved that I still have some very fast races left in me. Suddenly, this whole season seems a lot more successful, and I am excited to take down my five mile PR next summer, and maybe even find a track meet where I can better my 800 m and mile marks which both date from high school.

Racing for Place

I almost called this post Racing in Vermont, but I think what my last two races really have in common is racing for position rather than time. This tends to be hard for me – patience has never been my strong suit, but with practice maybe it can be.

My plan at Race to the Top of Vermont was to hope that Eric Blake was too tired/happy after his solid race to want to race, and then to draft Josh Ferenc for three and a half miles before attacking near the top. The first part worked, but those that clicked on the link above will know that Josh has been prepping for a 59 km race in Columbia and so was unavailable to race up Mt Mansfield. This left me thinking it could be an easy day. Still, I tried to run contained. I sat up the steep first pitch, then made a small move by accelerating on the nearly flat section right afterwards. Only two runners went with me. I didn’t make them lead, but I consciously ran hard but controlled on the steeper parts and fast on the flats. By a mile and a half I was all by myself. It was tempting to go after Ferenc’s time from two years ago (the second fastest running time, I believe) or at least to try to better my own time from last year. But I was focused on staying consistent and having something to give just in case one of the runners behind me was stronger than I thought.
Thus I arrived at the top four seconds slower than last year, but first by a minute and a half. It was a beautiful day and I jogged on to the actual summit before heading down.

That was over a week ago. Yesterday I raced the GMAA Labor Day 15 km in Burlington. With two sub-2:20 marathoners in the field, I had no aspirations of victory, so I again started conservatively. Five runners were off the front (Ruben Sanca and Nate Jenkins, the aforementioned runners, two Kenyans from my running club, and Ryan Place – though I only learned who he was after seeing the results). It was very windy (I know, I keep writing about the wind, but it is true, very windy this year) and so I had to make a choice between chasing the leaders who took it out in 4:55 and sitting in the chase group at 5:25. I sat in the chase group.
The group swelled to maybe a dozen runners after the first mile, and was still large at two miles (10:46). We went though the 5 km in 16:40 with still a fair number of runners. I am proud to say that at this point I had never shown my face at the front, just letting others do the work. I did lead a bit in the second 5 km, but not a lot and only when running with the wind. By 10 km (33:20) we were a pack of three, and bearing down on my teammate Peter Omae. I started to push the pace here, and we passed and dropped Peter and then it was just me and one other runner. I traded leads with him all the way until 9 miles, when I attacked. I had quite a lot left; I put nine seconds into him in a third of a mile, and he was nearly caught by the two runners behind. I finished in 49:30, meaning that my final 5 km was 16:10, half a minute faster than the previous two. I like to think I could have run maybe 30 seconds faster in different circumstances, but I earned a solid fifth place finish, and I don’t think I was strong enough to take the guy in fourth no matter what, so I am calling it a good day of racing.

Cigna 5 km

On Thursday I raced the Cigna Elliot 5 km road race in Manchester NH again. I’m not sure how many times I have raced it, but I have been going since at least 1995, though I missed most of 1998-2005…
Anyway, the race is usually dominated by a literal busload of Ethiopian, Kenyan, and occasionally Moroccan runners based out of New York, but there is still a chance of prize money because they pay $250 to every runner under 14:50. I have done this twice, once by six seconds, once by about half a second. Given my season so far, my early goal of a PR (14:43 or better) seemed like a stretch but I thought I could make some money. There is also a $100 bonus to the fastest NH runner, an honor I have achieved three times.
At the start line it seemed this goal would be easier. There were only four Africans there, two men and two women. Making money by being in the top five seemed possible.
At the gun Abiyot Worku took the early lead, with Brian Harvey (a grad student I have been racing for at least four years) in his draft. And with the strong headwind the draft meant something. Within a few hundred yards I was starting to drift behind them and ended up drafting Abu Kebede. We were losing time on the two leaders but gaining time on the field, as the wind seemed to keep back the usual pack of fast starters.
After leading me for about 500 meters, Kebede suddenly pulled aside and made me lead. At fifty pounds more than Kebede, I imagine I offered him a far better draft that he gave me. I only lasted about 400 meters before asking him to lead again, and I drafted about another 400 meters…just before the mile mark (4:52) he as starting to fade again and I retook the lead.
In retrospect this might have been a mistake, but Harvey had been dropped and as we continued into the wind I thought I was catching him a bit. At about a mile and a quarter there is a sharp left turn out of the wind, and I continued to lead Kebede through this corner, not really gaining on Harvey but not losing anything either.
With the wind no longer an issue there seemed to reason to ask Kebede to lead, and he was content to draft me. We went through two miles in 9:32, and I kept ahead of him down the minor hill at this point.
Over the last mile Kebede seemed to slow a couple times, and I made three separate surges to try to gain a permanent advantage. On the second surge I think I had a very small gap, but he rallied to catch back up and I was unable to shake him.
As we rounded the final turn and approached three miles, I tried very hard to find some sprint in my legs. I wasn’t very successful, and with 150 meters to go Kebede easily kicked past me, opening up a gap of two seconds. I finished in 14:57, not quite the time I was hoping for, but solid nonetheless, and I believe 4th place plus first NH finisher is worth four hundred dollars, so it is hard not to be satisfied with the day.

Summer Racing

I guess I have been too busy spending time with my family and sneaking out for the occasional race to keep the blog updated, so I will have to do four race reports in one. A week after Mount Washington I raced the Tilton-Northfield 5 km, winning easily in about 15:40. This is a solid time, but not quite as fast as my best, which has been a theme this summer.
Next up was the Woodstock VT 7.2 miler on the Fourth of July. Again I won comfortably, and again I ran a solid time, 39:26, but well off my best (which is probably in the archives of the blog somewhere, maybe 40 seconds faster).
I didn’t race for much of July, with fun obligations on the weekends, but my training was solid: over 80 miles and at least two solid intensity sessions each week. I went into the Yankee Homecoming race in Newburyport thinking I had an outside chance of setting a PR. I ran solid for six or seven miles, battling it out with Brandon Newbould. Around seven miles we caught up with the runner in 3rd place, who had gone out way too fast. We started to gap him, but he rallied and then he and Brandon pulled away from me. They both ran times near my best, and I stumble across the line 30 seconds later in 52:53. Not bad for 10 miles, but not quite what I hoped for.
I had a fourth race in the same vein this weekend. I raced the Bridge of Flowers 10 km for sixth or seventh time. My best time on the course (32:06 – which is quite fast given the huge hill) would have won last year, and I thought I had the fitness to achieve that time. I executed well for the first four miles; I was five seconds behind the two Kenyans who were leading at two miles, I let them open up to about 15 seconds on the first half of the hill, and then I ran hard on the last stretches of the hill and over the top to be within seven seconds at three miles. On the screaming-fast fourth mile I ran around 4:45 to maintain my position, but on mile five I fell apart, running about 5:08 and giving up 20 seconds. I rallied in the last mile, going under five minutes and losing negligible time, but the damage was done and I finished in 32:28, a little over 30 seconds out.
Overall, this seems to be the second-best running season of my life, which is no small feat at age 37. But given how well training has gone, and given how fast I was coming into the season, I am starting to fear that I may never match the running prowess I had three years ago, and that my age is actually becoming a limiting factor in my fitness. In four days I have a 5 km race. We’ll see what happens there.

Mount Washington

Yesterday I ran the Mount Washington race for the fifth year in a row. I went in feeling strong; I thought I had a good chance to run my best time ever, possible taking my record from 66:28 to sub-65:00. I also, based on results sheets, thought that I should have the Crossan Cup for the fastest New Hampshire pretty well wrapped up, so that there was no reason not to be bold in going for that record.

The race started well enough. At the start line, the started told us that the race would start with the cannon. Then he paused for a beat, as if he were about to give more instructions–and then the cannon went off. There was an extra jolt of adrenaline as people tried to react, and I found myself leading the race 50 meters in. As we came to the actual climb 100 meters later, I allowed a pack of nine to form ahead of me, and was running at the front of a small chase pack.

I have never been the kind of runner who hits his watch mid-race to collect splits. In most races I can remember them, and in others it doesn’t seem to matter, but at Mount Washington I am often curious about my splits but never can keep them straight. But I think my first two miles were a little slower than they should have been. By the one mile mark a few runners had fallen off of the lead pack and I was running in a group of three (fighting for eighth place) and watching 6th and 7th place not so far ahead of me. Not much changed for the next two and a half miles. I went through the halfway point in around 31 minutes, possibly on pace of 65:00 but suddenly feeling very tired. I let the two runners I was with go and suffered for the next mile. At five miles Zach Caldwell gave me a feed. He was helpful and supportive, and the calories definitely helped, because I started running a little better.
Somewhere in there I realized that Brandon Newbould had closed to only about 20 second back from me. My first reaction was despair–I didn’t think I had much left. Then I thought I should go hard for a few minutes to bluff. Then I figured he wouldn’t even notice, that he just had his head down and was trying to run up the hill, and I did the same.
Around a mile to go–as I often do–I got an extra surge of energy. I was still mostly running away from Brandon but I started catching up to Dan Princic as well. Will less than I minute to go I surged past him. He said “Well played,” but didn’t otherwise respond. I had to sprint up the final climb (a bit of a contradiction, but extremely painful nonetheless) to make sure I stayed ahead of him. I almost caught the 8th place finisher in the process, but settled for 9th place, in 66:29, one second slower than three years ago.
After the race, with a winter hat, pants, gloves, and three layers on top I started down with Kris (15th, three minutes behind me) to look for our father, who was running his first Mount Washington in 20 years. It was so cold that we ended up huddled out of the wind on some warm rocks. Fortunately he had a good day, finishing in 1:43:00 and first of 33 runners in his age group. As soon as he was past we went back and took shelter in the car.