That title is horrible. The thing is, I had 50 awesome titles this morning and now I have zero, zip , nada.
Yesterday I participated in the Loon Mountain Race in Lincoln NH. Let me tell you, you have to be a “Loon” to participate in that nightmare. I can’t stress this enough, if you are a trail runner, you love to suffer, YOU NEED TO DO THIS RACE. The only other race at this point in my life that holds a candle to this is the Kismet Beast of the East, and the only reason it was worse was because it was twice as long.
I have runner amnesia from the event. I would love to say “It was such a wonderful experience and cherished every moment” NOPE. My brain screams at me as I try to recall the details. Hell , go to facebook and read all the recaps…they are at best, a brief paragraph. Even the pro’s can’t describe that fucking nightmare. Plenty of pre-race and post race descriptions, but not a single thing about how it feels like your quads and glutes are on the verge of detaching from your skeleton , threatening to toss you down the side of a 40% grade mountain with nothing to stop you. NOPE. You can’t even pretend to understand what it’s like to look up at a slope that is over a km long and you are looking up..like..”Oh I have a fucking kink in my neck” up.
I am going to warn you…the following is going to be a horrible blow by blow of the race as best as I can remember. I may exaggerate in some spots and I may get some of the memories wrong because well I JUST RAN UP A MOUNTAIN. I am writing this so I can do whatever I want. Also- I have no idea how those crazies do this out west…Not only are the mountains three times as big but they have less O2. What the hell?
So to summarize, if you want to try this and don’t want me to ruin the experience for you or scare you out of it, don’t read any further. Also- Block any young-in’s eyes this is going to get graphic.
4:00am Alarm starts to go off and I also start to question my sanity. It’s going to be about 1:45 min drive to the mountain so I want to get some food in me and get all my business done and ready to go. After my disappointment with the Exeter trail race I had several people remind me to get my shit together and stick to my plan this time. I had everything prepped and ready to go so all I had to do was eat, and get the wife up and goin. A+++
6:40am Oopsie- leaving a little later than planned. It’s ok we should be good , I left plenty of travel time.
We arrived in Lincoln about 8:05 am. We stopped at the mcDonalds and got rid of all the coffee I had consumed earlier. We jumped back in the car and drove the last few miles to the parking lot. When we arrived we followed the signs and saw plenty of runners so we knew we were at the right spot. One thing I have learned about runners.. 1. We are assholes when we are in cars. 2. We become bigger assholes to people in cars once we are out of them. The lane is one car wide and four runners walk at the car forming a walking wall and don’t move. I come to a stop and watch them walk around the car and stare at me. SORRY ITS A FUCKING PARKING LOT , I GOT ALL CONFUSED AND THOUGHT IT WAS FOR PARKING. “How are we assholes while in cars?” you may be asking yourself. Well , we can’t park for shit. Arriving late I was scrambling to find a spot. It’s a dirt parking lot and we apparently can’t form straight lines and be efficient . NOPE, the parking lot looks like the start of any trail race, raggedy ass and bunched up. Hey at least we are consistent right?
We head over to registration and it’s packed, I sign the five million waivers required by the resort promising them not to get upset and sue them if I die. If I died there I would just be sitting at the bar stealing beers for all of eternity. I didn’t really read the fine print so maybe they had a no haunting clause too. (It was only one waiver but it seemed a much bigger deal at the time) I got my number and the last buff they were giving away. More on the Buff later…buy one..they are AWESOME
The line was long so I had sent lise back to the car to get my stuff but once the line figured out that we all didn’t have a last name starting with A-F it went faster. I headed back and intercepted Lise and we went to the car to change. I got everything together and gave her a few things to take up to the finish. I did some pre-running trying to get my heart rate up and then recover. It was about 15 min to start so we headed for the start. The start is at the very very bottom..in fact..there’s a river and you start below the bridge and roads that lead into the place…yes the BOTTOM. No one is really standing near the front so I decide, what the heck. About 30 seconds later and looking at the shirtless crazies that started to surround me I decided to move back. I looked around the crowd and saw a few of the faster runners I know and even saw some of the new runners I met at BearBrook a few weeks ago. The race director was giving instructions to us but I think maybe three people were actually paying attention, then he said GO.
The race starts a long a dirt road that is pretty wide and starts up after about 70 yards. I realize pretty quickly that I am near the back. As we get up the first little incline we take a sharp left and I hang wide and then we all take another sharp right. Its flat so I take the opportunity to bust past as many people as possible. We then bear left and start to head up the skidder road. It’s a pretty mellow climb so I keep passing people and then the road narrows and I get jammed up. I end up walking around people as the road spikes up and down over the next hundred or so yards. We get a nice little down hill section when BAM. UP you go. It really get’s blurry about this point. HR just spikes to 170 and stays there for the duration. I remember snaking up the trail and that I was running pretty ok and passing some people but I remember thinking pretty quickly. “Why?” I do remember that we were running along a stream and it was providing some cool air as we trudged along. The pain started to settle in and so did the enormity of the mountain. If you have ever had the pleasure of running a mountain or even hiking you know exactly what I mean. You can feel the size of the mountain standing over you, Making you understand how small and insignificant you are. It’s one of natures greatest tricks, and I honestly believe it’s what get’s people addicted to climbing. They are giants that we need to conquer. It’s almost a natural tug that pulls at you. I also found out it can crush you too. I looked at my watch and we weren’t even at one mile yet and I felt the giant shadow of the mountain pressing on me. I ignored it and pushed on. Runners started to become walkers, I would walk a bit run for awhile , recover. “Save it” I kept telling myself. Use it on upper walking boss, you’ll make up places there. I would only learn later how naive that thought was.
We reached the first water station and I was so out of it by that point I didn’t even notice my friend Craig manning the water station. He caught me last second and yelled my name and rang a cow bell. I gave a wave and took that little bit of energy with me to start running again. The next mile was more of the same..climbing but nothing severe..just a steady grind. Then we turned left onto the grass and the real suffering began. The trail tilted up another 5-10% and as you looked up there was no end in site. I looked around and we were just death marching in a line up this thing. The pain in my upper ankles and lower calves was something I’ve never felt before. The heat from the grass was cooking us from below. There were times I felt like all my muscles were just going to break, on the verge of pulling them all at once. One runner came up from behind still running. I tell him good job but that he was nuts. He said he promised himself to just run the whole thing no matter how slow. He did it. I trudged on. I remember passing one lady who was cheering us and she said we all looked great and to keep pushing. I looked at her and smiled. She turned and I said “In my mind I am running like the wind right now” She said I was and to keep going. Finally we reached what seemed the top of the trail. We were rewarded with a sharp downhill and I ran it as fast as I could trying to recover a bit. It was nice to give the quads something new. The pleasure didn’t last. They turned us again to the right and we started ascending really steep pitches. I put my head down and just kept repeating a song in my head. One foot in front of the other. After awhile a woman was passing me and I turned to tell her good job and she said she loved my socks. Yoohoo socks by the way and they matched my shoes perfectly. All I could muster was a laugh. For the next mile we traded places , pacing each other for 100 yards at a time. Suddenly we started to hear cheering and as we rounded a corner you could see people. It was a steep incline but you had to run…it was the finish line! Wait no…it was the fake finish line! A sign said 4 miles and we ran up trying our best to make it look like we ran the whole way.
That was the best impersonation of a runner I could do.
As I approached the top I knew Lise was around so I started scanning for the bruins hat. I grabbed a HEED water and gulped it down. I realized I broke an important rule..don’t consume stuff you never have before. You know what? I figured I was so broken , shitting myself in front of everyone might have been a welcome distraction. Yes, it was that bad. I headed over to Lise and gave her my sunglasses and she tried to hand me a water. All I could muster was “Can someone shoot me please” I took off and thought..would have been nice to dump that water on my head. I knew the next part was all downhill so I started pounding on my shoes and flying down the hill. It was so steep and I could feel myself losing control but I knew this was it..this was the yellow brick road that lead straight into the buzz saw. I passed a few runners and pointed out holes as I flew past them..letting runners know that there were hidden dangers. Then , there it was. The welcome to upper walking boss sign and I turned the corner and looked up.
You laugh. Really, what else can you do at this point. You are looking straight up a mountain, you see the line of people ahead of you and you can’t see the top. It is the longest kilometer known to mankind. I started running up it but I couldn’t lift my feet high enough. The grass was just pulsating heat out and my heart rate was pegged. About 40 yards up I stopped and turned around and the view was amazing. I let the wind cool me off while I took in the view. Some people passed me but I just didn’t give a shit anymore. I had no idea how I was going to get up this hill. Everything was gone. My legs had gone numb, I couldn’t walk. I was side stepping up the damn thing just to make movement. Some of us started talking in hopes of making the pain go away. One guy was telling us to stay upright…bending over will not allow you to breath. He was right! Onward we marched. After about five minutes I couldn’t take the heat and I was sick of staring at my HR monitor telling me my heart should not be working at its current pace so I ripped my shirt off and my hr monitor. I get pretty self conscious sometimes about my build.. swimming , I don’t care as much but with lots of strangers I get a little wimpy about it. DIDN’T CARE. I was even ready to rip my shorts off for relief…I can’t do any of it justice..you have to really experience it yourself.
There was one point where there was a photographer was in the middle of the hill and as my group approached each runner would start running while he snapped pics. As I got close and he turned to me I started laughing and said “Fine, If everybody is going to do it” I started running. He snapped a bunch of pics but I haven’t been able to find who it was or if they ever got posted.
Finally the top was in sight. After the race I looked at my stats and I was only on upper walking boss for about 15 min but it seemed like hours. Now the fun part. We had to run down the back side of upper walking boss back to the finish. It was only 500 meters but it was amazingly steep. I had to hold back for fear of breaking myself. I saw about four runners on the downhill so I got as close as I could to them. The finish is actually another uphill section but its only about 25-30 yards. As we got on the flat approaching I put it all out and passed three of them on the uphill. They were out of gas and I was THAT guy. Almost caught the fourth guy..missed him by two seconds. I ran through the finish and kept going. I was full on and didn’t have the strength to slow down. Lise was chasing after me and I grabbed a water from her and slugged it down. I was done.
Epiloge – I finished 93rd with a time of 1:11:56 . I had set a goal of finishing in the top 200 and under 1:30. I honestly had no idea I had done way better than my expectations. I have to say I was really happy with the effort but as usual I know I can do better. I have to keep reminding myself that these first time races are just that. Now I know, I know what to expect. I know how to plan for it better. It was my second mountain race but the first one was nothing like this.
A recurring thought I had after the race was I felt like my running soul was crushed that day. Any perceptions of my skill or conditioning were just shattered into a million pieces. I wasn’t exactly upset about this, I kind of feel reborn in some ways. I learned a lot even though I don’t remember much of what happened. I’m still searching for the take away from this race and experience. I think the most exciting thing was that , I wasn’t nervous. I slept great the night before, I felt very casual at the start and the best part…I was ready to run some more that night. My legs felt great, no soreness. I had fatigue but my body was still strong. Is that my take away? That all this running and cross-training is actually working? Stuff to think about.
Since this post is so long I’ll probably go back and edit later. This is strictly a first pass, probably a ton of mistakes but I need to get some sleep. Oh and yea ..get a Buff they are cool. I look like a young Keith Richards walking around the house.