I know I am surrounded by spectators on either side of the trail near the finish line of the Loon Mountain Race.
But I don’t see or hear them at all.
My eyes go from the ground to searching for the summit and the finish line back to the ground.
One step in front of the other, over and over again.
The only sound I hear is my loud thunderous heart beat as I trudge up the 48% grade of Upper Walking Boss.
Where the f@ck is the finish line?!?!
Just like last year, I had zero expectations for Loon Mountain Race. Of course, I wanted to improve my time from 2017 but I honestly thought maybe I could take a few minutes off at best. Unlike last year, I have been running consistently. I’m not coming off a major injury and have more than 5 weeks of running under my belt. I have been doing hills and some mountain training but it’s not like I’ve been hitting major vert every week.
Since this year was the U.S. Mountain Championship, the men and women had different start times. Trail Sisters and Acidotic Racing (who put on the race every year) teamed up this year to do a really cool thing. Mountain running tends to attract more male participants than female. It was super rad to be surrounded by badass ladies for all of the 6.6 miles of climbing. The final count was nearly 50% female participants. There were tons of whoops, “lookin’ strong ladies”, and “great job, girl” throughout the race. Women supporting women. YES!
The first mile or so climbs up from the lower parking lot to a service road and then takes a sharp turn onto the cross country ski trails for a couple of miles of ups, flats and downs. I LOVED this part. I found myself stuck in a pack of ladies and kind of just went with the flow. At one point, someone took the initiative to pass which kind of woke me up to stop being a follower. I put my left blinker on and stepped on the gas. I felt smooth and in control.
Around mile 3, we popped out onto a mixture of gravel service roads and grassy ski runs. We were no longer shaded in the trees and were baking on the side of the mountain. It was hot and I kicked myself numerous times for not bringing my pack or handheld. This is the section where the grade went up to 20% in spots. I was passing people with no problem. My legs felt strong. Of course, my heart rate was through the rough but it would recover nicely when I hiked.
Once we hiked up a very, very, very long 20% grade, we made it to the gondola and the last water stop. There were tons of spectators but I saw and heard nothing. My eyes were fixated on water (one for my head and one to drink).
I love the guy in the background. It’s like he’s sad for me or something. lol!
I knew what was coming up next. We had a steep downhill (15% grade) before taking a sharp right up the infamous Upper Walking Boss (UWB) before the finish. I took off downhill and immediately felt like my legs hated me. They started feeling tight and crampy. The winds got knocked out of my sails. I suck at running downhill and am way to conservative out of fear of breaking myself…which we know I have a habit of doing.
I got passed by a few runners and tried to will myself to push the fear aside.
I’m good at climbing. I can catch them on the climb.
With an average grade of 40% (with sections that are 48%), UWB is a straight climb for approximately 1km but seems more like 5 miles after running 5.5 miles to get to it.
I’ve tried to explain UWB to those who have never done it. Pictures don’t do it any justice. It’s ridiculously hard. You may think, it’s only 1 km but it takes FOREVER to climb it. You feel like you are barely moving. There were times that I bear crawled up because standing up made me feel like I was going to tumble down the mountain. For the most part, I alternated between hands on knees to swinging my arms to try to propel myself upwards.
It’s basically a slog to the top. Even though I was slogging, I was passing people. What?!?! I was sucking wind but my legs felt strong. I imagined it was just another sweat session on the Stepmill at the gym.
I passed through the gauntlet of spectators ala Tour de France style (if there was a guy dressed up as the devil, I’m sorry I missed him!), and felt the urge to pick up the pace. I felt like I was running a sub 6 pace but it was probably more sub 20 as I crossed the finish line.
2017 finish time: 1:44:54
UWB time: 16:39
2018 Finish time: 1:33:54
UWB time: 14:42
Once the thunder quieted in my ears, I was shocked to see my time. I felt good but never expected to knock that much time off. It’s given me another confidence boost that the injury plagued year of 2017 is behind me. I’m strong. I’m not breakable. I can put myself out there and do hard things.
Loon Mountain Race has become one of my favorites. It harder than hard but there’s something so gratifying about finishing a race on top of a mountain. To know that your body powered you up that beast, it’s an amazing feeling.
I can’t wait to see what happens next year!