“Just think, you could be running a flat 5k right now instead of this!”
At least that’s what I thought she said. It was hard to hear anything other than pounding of my heartbeat in my ears. You gotta love spectators who can make you laugh when you are struggling up a 53% incline.
Over the weekend I ran my first race in 10 months. After all the ankle drama last year, I really had removed myself from wanting to actively train for anything let alone race. I just wanted to run.
I signed up from the Cranmore Mountain Race with no expectations. I knew it was a tough race that consisted of grass ski slope, cat track service road and some single track. At 6.2 miles, it had over 2400 ft of elevation loss and gain with each lap. It’s a two lap race meaning once you ran up and down, you got to repeat it all over again. Fun right? Oh, I forgot to mention that right before the summit, we run up the Koessler Trail. It’s a black diamond ski run that’s only 0.2 miles long but has an average grade of 37% and MAX grade of 53%. That’s more than Loon Mountain or Mount Washington. Like I said, fun!
This was my first mountain race that had a downhill portion. With Mount Washington and Loon Mountain, it was all uphill. Running downhill on trails scares me. I am ultra conservative on downhills. I don’t like the out of control feeling. I feel like that’s where I’m going to blow out a knee or mess up my ankle again. It’s definitely my weakest spot.
The race started off with a short flat section before taking a sharp right hand turn up a single track glade section that caused a bottle neck and made everyone stop in their tracks. We were back on the ski slope soon enough where the crowd thinned out. I fell into a rhythm and felt comfortable climbing while still running. Soon enough it was time to power hike. And power hike is what I did for most of the 1.3 miles up to the summit. It was hands on knees, eyes locked on the ground ahead of me. I passed a few people and tried to keep up with a woman just ahead of me.
It flattened out a bit and was runable until I took a left and stared straight up at Koessler Trail. Black Diamond ski runs are intimidating when you are skiing down it. Staring up at it as you are about to power hike it (because there’s no way anyone is running up a 37% grade) is equally intimidating. Footing was tough in spots thanks to loose gravel, leaves and trying to heave myself over bigger rocks.
When I got to the summit of Koessler Trail, I was seeing spots. It was hot, I was thirsty and my heart was pounding. Thankfully, there was an aid station where I grabbed a cup of water to dump over my head and one to drink. We looped down a short service road before heading back up before the descent.
Immediately, the group that I had been running with took off down the grassy ski slope. I tried my best to keep up but was constantly getting passed. Although I think I did pass a few people. Woohoo!
Now let me clarify what a grassy ski slope means. It’s not grass like in your backyard. It’s almost like running on piles of hay with sticks, holes and rocks pocking up. Footing is difficult at time especially because you are either running straight down or at an odd angle of running down hill but into the side of the mountain. My quads were feeling the decline immediately because I can’t get into “falling in control” when I’m all about “don’t break anything!”. Thankfully, the slope sections were broken up with traversing through the woods on single track. I tried my best to let loose on those sections since that’s what I love. There were some pretty nasty wipe outs from those who were bombing down the hill. Amazingly, they popped right back up and continued to bomb away.
I finished the 1.1 mile descent in 14:45 to complete the first loop in 45:51.
I looped through the only flat section at the base of the mountain, grabbed some water for my head and to drink and started on lap two. Immediately, I could tell this lap was going to be a lot slower. My quads were beat! I fell into a rhythm with a group of running/power hiking (with a lot more hiking than running). Hitting Koessler Trail for the second time was a lot harder. I was tired and oh so thirsty. But I kept up with the group and even managed to laugh at the spectators joke(see above). I again grabbed a cup of water for my head and to drink. I stopped to walk and drink and before I knew it I was alone. Like ALL alone. The group I had been with bombed down the hill and were gone. There was no one ahead of me and no one behind me.
Was I seriously in last place?
I spent the next 15:40 thinking I was dead last. During that 15:40 I tried to push it as much as I could. My legs were toast. I really wish I had someone to chase at this point. I do so much better in races when I have someone I can latch onto. I know I slowed down because I was tired but also because it didn’t feel like I was in a race. And I had to pay attention to where the course was. I’m more of a follower!
My first wipe out happened on a grassy slope section. I think I tripped over a root. Nothing hurt so I popped back up. At least no one saw me fall since I was all alone! As I got closer to the base and the finish line, I began to hear music from the band. Finally, a building appeared with a man on the deck. That’s when my second wipe out occurred. He shouted out, “Nice job!” as I proceeded to roll my ankle (the left, of course!) in a hole and fall face first on the grassy slope where I ate dirt. Thanks for the jinx, dude! I started laughing because this stuff can only happen to me. I popped up and immediately knew my ankle was hurting. Thankfully, I was able to walk it off in a few steps. I turned the corner around the building and tried to run it in to the finish as fast as I could hobble.
I finished the second lap in 51:08…over 5 minutes slower than lap one. How ’bout those positive splits?
Finish time: 1:35:58
And I wasn’t in last place. I was in the middle of the pack…but all alone. Lol!
Despite not being able to go up and down stairs without holding onto a banister for dear life and having a gnarly gash on my shin and knee, I had a great time! Take aways from the race: I really enjoy the climbing portion of mountain running. Downhill running on trails is something I definitely need to work on. But that’s going to have to wait until I can walk normally.
Side note: My friend and coaching client, Kyle, did amazing! This was her first mountain race and she crushed it. I’m so excited to see how she does at Mount Washington in a couple of weeks!
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