A few weeks ago I laid out my summer running goals (for races) and the Cranmore Mountain Race was filed under "hard effort". That basically meant that this wasn't an "A" race and while I always expect to race hard if I'm going to pay for a race entry, I didn't have a place or time goal. With a talented field of runners I figured I'd land somewhere in the 30 - 50th place range. My legs were tired and sore heading into Saturday with 50 miles on the week already - that didn't help the confidence. Here's how the day unfolded.
The men's race started at 8:45 and I had already picked up my bib the previous afternoon which made for a relaxed morning. Hilary, Squall, and I arrived at 7:45 with plenty of time to get ready for the start. I warmed up a couple miles with Tristan Williams and the legs felt good considering. Hilary went up to take photos and video (see below). After a few announcements and the national anthem, we toed the start line. I was a couple rows back and knew that I would get bottlenecked but would have plenty of space on the first climb to work back up.
The race started and I was trapped 40-50 racers deep and just rolled with it. As soon as things opened up on the South Slope it was nice and spread out. Everyone settled into their pace really quickly - mine turned into a power hike early which was a disappointment but I just don't have the uphill running fitness right now to grind it out. I ran on some of the flatter sections and would resume a power walk when things got steeper. I looked up as we crested the top of South Slope. I was in good company so I knew my pace was fine. We jogged across to the next climb - Koessler Trail - I had already resigned to a power hike on this section after previewing it on Wednesday. It was a grind and I was redlined but it's nice to work different muscles. I passed a few people along the way and reminded myself that this was just LAP 1.
At the top of the climb we dropped down to the left before climbing runnable singletrack to the summit. As we scrambled up past the Meister Hut, I took in the views but was surprised how big the pack I was running with. I figured things would have thinned out more but I was yo-yo'ing with a pack of 10+ runners. The course drops off the backside and climbs back up the access road to the summit, a nice little section before the real descent.
The descent was hard but allowed me to catch the faster climbers. I opened it up as much as I felt comfortable and was able to make up a minute gap that some of my "pack" had made on the ascent. Going into the race I wasn't sure how much risk I'd take on the down and that was answered when I started straight-lining sections of steep singletrack to pass runners. We popped out in the wet section of an open trail with a left hand turn. I was extra cautious and really wanted to stay upright and not lose a shoe in the muck. I thought I was in the clear until the very end of the wet section, well past the crux of the turn, and was down on my side. I recovered quickly and with wet shoes, stopped avoiding the wet sections.
When you pop out back on the North Slope you still have a half mile grind to the end of the loop. I cruised this section and passed the start with a 27 minute lap. Mentally I was in good spirits, my legs were feeling the first lap and as I started climbing again, I immediately got passed by a few of the racers who I had passed moments earlier. Didn't matter, I knew I still had another fast descent left in me and if I could just grind out another climb I'd be in good shape. There was a lot more walking on the second lap but I was maxed out. Not much I could do at this point but hold on. Heading up Koessler the second time, I counted 10 people marching up in front of me. I started thinking about places and realized that a little extra effort could mean a dramatic shift in my result. I didn't pass anyone on that final climb but hung on enough that on the descent I could hunt down several runners. I think I was able to pass six or seven on the second descent including a tumble and hitting a tree. I recovered from both well but I was getting sloppy trying to push it. I kicked hard at the finish and was able to pass Dave Dunham at around the bend to the finish. I was surprised with a time of 55:46. 1:30 faster and I would have been in the top 20.
There was no cool down but Hilary, Brian MacIlvain, and I hiked up to watch the women's race. Overall the day was a massive success and I got my hard effort and some good motivation heading into the summer. The course was awesome and if anyone is looking for a technical mountain course with a lot of variety I highly recommend this race. I don't plan on doing any of the other races in the mountain series but I'd like to try some of them next summer.