The Hills & Hops 5K was on my radar last year. Unknowingly I thought the times were slow for a 5K without doing much research. Low and behold, after sleuthing on Strava for a course profile, there were plenty of hills (4 distinct climbs) with over 600' of elevation. Add to that poor footing in places plus all the "hops" (waterbars) and it is a very challenging course.
Friday night I was on the fence about racing - It was $30, I wasn't feeling 100%, and it's over an hour round trip getting there. That morning I got up early and re-evaluated running the race. In a very last minute decision (7:45AM) I made the call to get my stuff together and head up to Attitash. My reasoning was it would be good motivation to get in miles and a quality effort. I also grew up skiing on the race team so why not support them.
I made it there just before registration closed and had an hour to kill before the start. I went out and ran the course, bringing my phone to take a few photos. We're creeping on peak foliage so the course was very scenic. It didn't take long to realize this was going to be a tough little 5K. The climbs progressively got longer throughout the course. The course winds its way over to Bear Peak before looping back and sharing a couple segments with the outgoing course. The last climb is brutal as it's 0.4 miles of climbing after already working hard for a couple miles.
After my "warm up" I put my bib on and my Garmin which was so low on battery that it powered down while searching for satellites (that's how prepared I was to run!). As far as competition went, I had no idea who'd show up. Ken Lubin had raced the past few years so I knew he was likely to be there. He's a fellow clydesdale who has won the inferno but is coming back from an injury. There wasn't much time between my warm up and the start. Next thing you know there's a pack of 10 kids and their parents in front and I just sat back and waited to see if there were any young punks that would break away. Fortunately there weren't and just after the first little climb (0.5 miles) I was in second behind Ken. The course does a U-turn and drops down to a condo development lawn. Here I passed Ken and settled into a good pace knowing the upcoming climbs ahead. There's another super short but steep (24% grade) climb that I walked in the warm up but charged up and turn left to the nice flat straight-shot over to Bear Peak. Heading into Bear Peak base area there was a big tent for Oktoberfest and this is also near the half-way point. I took the next climb well, just past the Grand Summit Hotel and then made sure the run hard on the descent. Looking back I no longer saw Ken and that took some of the pressure off but my HR was still cranking. The rest of the race I continued to work as hard as my body would allow. When I got to the final downhill which is pretty steep, I tried my best to make up some time lost on all the climbs. I came into the finish somewhere around 20:36. Not my best effort but enough for the win and a "course record", a first for me but it will surely get smashed in the years to come. I think if I had treated this race more like a race (had a couple easy days leading in) I could have ducked under 20 minutes.
I took another lap around the course to get my money's worth. It was such a nice day and I wanted a few more miles while I was there. The awards were an Oktoberfest ticket and mug plus a zip-line pass. With that I guess I had no choice but to head over to Bear Peak that afternoon. It was worth it - dogs allowed and great beers on tap. Thanks to the Attitash Alpine Education Foundation for hosting a great event!