Friday, June 25, 2010

MWRR 2010: The Race That Never Was

DNF. Those are three letters that I never thought I would be associated with at Mt. Washington. The forecast all week called for highs in the 80's at the start and high 50's at the summit. I knew that I normally would wilt under those conditions, but I was confident in my fitness, especially after running a 10k PR the week before at Market Square Day. I tried to stay relaxed all week and not stress about the race too much. I think I did a pretty good job and slept pretty well most of the week and didn't get to pre-occupied with the concept of racing up a 6,200 foot mountain.

Race day dawned with warm, but not too humid air. I have found I can handle heat or humidity, but not both at the same time. The drier air was buoying my confidence of having a good race after 4 lackluster finishes in the last 4 years. I tried to stay hydrated before the start and stayed in the shade under the tent. The butterflies started to kick in a few minutes before the start, but not any worse than any other race. I knew I was geared up to run hard.

The start was packed as usual with an interesting mix of mountain running veterans and newbies who had never even seen the road. I lined up right behind the eventual women's winner, not overly concerned with getting out too hard, especially on a warm day. Before I knew it the canon had been fired and I was mired in a quagmire of runners who were hell bent on spriniting the first part of the race. Did I mention there were a lot of newbies? I finally worked my way up to the back of the lead pack a few hundred yards into the climb. I just tried to latch on and do as little work as possible. I noticed my heartrate was high and I was breathing pretty heavy, but I figured it was just because of the fast start.

As we ascended the moutain on the hot black top, things weren't getting any easier. The grade steepened and a few people dropped back, but I was intent of gutting it out no matter how bad I felt the first 2 miles. I knew from my spring races and workouts that it took me a good 2 miles to get into a good rythmn. A few guys started to string the pack out and passed the mile in around 6:12, with me and a few others passing the mark in 6:20. I was thinkning the split was a little quick, but not insane and I was where I needed to be to race for one of the top 6 spots.

Mile 2 is a gut wrenching mile (as if they all aren't) where you really need to bear down and just grind, especially if you plan on racing and not just finishing. I was losing a few spots in this mile, but felt the effort was where it needed to be, and I was keeping people in sight and not losing time to them as they passed me. I battled back and forth with Justin Freeman to the 2 mile mark (8:38). Seing the split got me a little worried, as I was hoping to come through about a minute faster, but I knew the heat was going to slow me down, and hopefully everyone else.

I made it to the infamous 2 mile mark, but I could tell I was starting to crack. I started losing ground to Justin as we commenced the grindind after we crossed the Appalchain Trail. My shoulders were hunching up, my stride shortened, and I started running on my toes. I really worked on using my quads more in training this year, but the heat was causing me to lose my focus. As I rolled into the 2.5 mile water stop I knew it was going to be a long day. Numerous thoughts crosseed my mind. Do I want to finish? Can I still manage a 1:05 or will I crawl across the line in a 1:09 and embarass myself once again? I took a cup of water and dumped it over my head, but I felt no relief; from the heat or the anguish of knowing that I was going to have another shitty race. I say shitty in English because it sounds more convincing than in French. At that point I spiked my water cup into the road, grumbled an expletive or two, and tried to avoid being run over by people who were mentally stronger than me on this day. I sat on the concrete headwall that overlooked a small stream which was washing away the mountain water as quickly as the heat had dried up my dreams of gaining a spot on the US mountain running team.

After a few minutes of wallowing in self-pity on the side of the road, I headed down as the masses headed up. I knew how mind-numbing it can be to run down the road in training, but it did nothing to prepare me for the mental beating I took as I walked along the edge of the travelled way with my head down and my singlet in hand, trying to hide the fact that I was potentially the first person to drop out of the race. The good intentioned questions from friends who were still pushing up the hill were appreciated, but each one hurt a little as I acknowledged there concerns.

After nearly an hour of walking and jogging, I finally made it to the base. I gathered my warm-up gear and soaked in the Peabody River before finding a spot in the shade to lay down and sulk, far away from anyone who knew me.

Nearly a week has passed since the disatser that was my race, but I'm over it, mostly. I've moved onto thinking about new challenges and focusing on the future of my running. Cross country is going to be my main focus this fall. I learned a lot about myself this spring in training and in racing. I'm convinced that Washington was an anomally. I was well prepared, in great shape, and mentally ready to run well. It just wasn't my day. This has also made me realize though how hard I need to work in order to achieve my goals. I'm not going to make the US mounain running team on a bad day. I have to have EVERYTHING come together at the right time. I don't have a 1:06 half marathon or 14:xx 5k to fall back on. My genetics and home climate don't seem to allow me to run well in the oppressive heat that others thrive in. To some this might be discouraging to have the odds stacked against them all the time. To me int's nothing new. It's all about putting one foot in front of the other, then repeat.


  1. It was definitely a tough day out there Kev. That stuff happens and I won't try to sugar coat it any further... All I can say is that you've got the right attitude about it and you're a class act all the way man... you handled it a lot better than I would have and that's definitely admirable. When I ran 7 minute pace at Boston a couple years ago, I almost quit on running and quit on myself... you took the afternoon with your thoughts, shook it off, and came back with your head held high...that type of focus will pay off for you. You'll be more stronger now on that hill than you realize... See you this weekend man. A good win for you at Cranmore will make everything ok again ;).

  2. I know that Washington was an anomaly. You were (and are) super fit. You had a great spring of racing and one bad race doesn't change that. Everyone that's raced seriously has had this experience and can empathize. It might not make it easier but we've all sat in the stream, all alone, after that shockingly disappointing race. I'm looking forward to you bouncing back and knocking some heads this summer.


  3. The greatest athletes in the world have the shortest memories.

  4. "ah shit" was the first thing to cross my mind when I saw you coming down the hill but silence is golden when a man is in the spot you were.
    Glad to read your write up and not hear you were wandering in the Great Gulf somewhere :)
    See you at Cranmore.

  5. Kevin,

    Take what you have (great fitness) and move forward. Your best days lay ahead.

  6. "a few people dropped back, but I was intent of gutting it out no matter how bad I felt the first 2 miles" - I've heard that said before by many. I think you always have to take whatever your body will give you (and the Mountain will allow) and disregard splits and what anyone else is doing out there.

    If you put it on the line enough times you will have a DNF (I've got two in the World Championships). The key is what you learn from it and how you move forward.

    Your last line is so true - "It's all about putting one foot in front of the other, then repeat".

    I look forward to talking with you this weekend!

  7. I like your last line as well. There is still no erasing the frustration, as I am right there with you. Look back just long enough to see if there was anything to learn from it, sometimes there isn't. Then on to the next step. I look at the frustration as a sign the competitive fire is still there.

    Look forward to seeing your results through the summer.


  8. Kevin, Thanks for sharing. I have been trying to write down what happened to me that day, too, but it's just too hard. Just know that you were not alone. It was great to see you have such an awesome race today at Cranmore!

  9. Kevin,
    Last year I felt like you did at the Colorado qualifier. I was mentally beat up for a week then I regrouped and told myself that I had to do everything possible to make the 2010 team so at least I could say I tried.Don't give up on your goal. With hard work, anything is possible.

  10. Kevin - just catching up. From what I gather, you brought it at Cranmore. Well done.

    I have thought that part the reason we engage in this sport is to find our limits ... and that makes us stronger, smarter, better. I guess one can find those without never DNF'ing but it seems less than likely to me.