Saturday, September 8, 2012

Millen Mile

Coming through the quarter. Photo by Jess Tilton

The mile is not my specialty, but this race is too cool to pass up. Last year was the inaugural Millen Mile, a one-mile track race held at half time of the Kennett High School football home opener, under the lights. It is held in memory of former Kennett High football coach, social studies teacher, and all-around good guy Gary Millen. I only had Mr. Millen for 9th grade Civics, but he was a good teacher and he took an interest in all sports, and you would routinely see him at many sporting events. Gary died of a heart attack in 2006; way too early, especially for someone who meant so much to the community.

Last year I won the race in 4:38, about 3 seconds slower than my PR, but I was pretty happy with it as I pretty much ran alone and hadn't really done much track work to prepare for it. This year I knew I would have my hands full as Tim Livingston has been running well and Fryeburg Academy and University of Southern Maine alum Tim Even would be toeing the line. Adding to difficulty of this race would be the fact that I have felt like garbage all week. I wasn't sick, but I felt run down everyday and each run was not pretty until Thursday, where I managed 3 miles and some drills and strides and I didn't feel like I was going to fall over from dead legs.

All that aside, I got in a good warm-up with plenty of drills and strides and just tried to stay loose. The timing of the start of this race is interesting as you need to keep an eye on the game clock, but you never really know when you'll start because of all the timeouts and such. After each runner was introduced we got on the line and got ready to burn our lungs for four and a half minutes.

Tim Even took the lead early, as expected and Tim L. and I filed in behind him. The pace was a bit quick for me, but then again, any pace on the track is probably too quick for me. I came through the first quarter in 67 just behind Tim E. with Tim L. on my tail. I knew it was a bit quick, but I wanted to take advantage of having both Tims to run with and maybe run a PR, so I went with it. I tried to stay close, but Tim E. accelerated onto the back stretch on the second lap and Tim L. went by me at the 600m mark. My goal was to stay smooth on this lap and see what happens. I stayed on Tim L. to the 1/2 mile mark (2:17) and went around him going into the turn. At this point Tim E. had a pretty good gap on us, but I didn't know what his fitness was like, so I just tried to keep running hard and see how things would shake out.

I was tying up a bit on the third lap, but sub 4:40 mile pace will do that to you. Tim. L passed me backsoon after, and I stayed as close to him as I could and banged out another 70 (3:27). The bell lap hurt like hell, but I felt like I was speeding up. I tried to closer the gap on Tim L. (Tim E. was long gone at this point), and I was hoping to make a move on the home stretch. Fat chance of that. Despite the cheers of the crowd, I couldn't close on Tim and ran a 71 for the last lap. Ugh.

Overall, I am happy with the race as I did zero prep for it and ran as fast as last year. One of these days I really should run an indoor season and try to break 4:30 for the mile and 15:00 for 5k. I don't have the wheels to do that without any track training. Congrats to Tim Even on his 4:29 and the win, Tim Livingston on his fast race, Darin Brown for nearly cracking 5, Gabe Flanders for jumping in at the last minute and running a 5:22 (a PR!), Steve Piotrow and Allen Whitley for pushing themselves on the track, Leslie Beckwith on her win in the women's race running a 5:44, and to Cathy Livingston and Meredith Piotrow for going out and racing hard! Also, thanks to Bernie Livingston and the Millen Foundation for organizing such a cool race and to the spectators for cheering us on. It's a really unique experience to run in front of a crowd like that under the lights.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

2012 Pikes Peak Ascent

Getting chased by Gerald Romero near the finish

Well, that was fun. A week away from the heat, humidity and bugs of New England was just what I needed. Summer is my least favorite season and the crash that I usually experience after Mt. Washington, good race or not, leaves me longing for the cooler air and changing foliage of fall. I wasn't planning on going anywhere for vacation this summer, but early in July Jess and I decided we might want to head out west somewhere for a week. We have both wanted to go back to Rocky Mountain National Park since our trip in 2008, so Colorado it was! No trip to the Rocky Mountain state in August would be complete without racing up Pikes Peak though, so Jess was gracious enough to give up a few days in RMNP to stay in Manitou Springs with our friends Peter Maksimow and Nora Duane.

It was good catching up with Peter and Nora after not having a chance to see them after Mt. Washington. Peter took me on a nice 7 mile run on the Intemann Trail on Friday morning. The legs felt good, but my lungs and head were definitely feeling the altitude a little. I knew I hadn't hydrated on the plane as well as I normally do, but I figured I would just try to catch up before the race. I also caught up on the awesome beer selection of Colorado in Peter and Nora's fridge!

Race day dawned a little warm and humid, but nowhere as near as humid as the weather we've dealt with in New England this summer. Peter, Rickey Gates and I warmed-up by heading to the start from Peter's place, about 1.5 miles away. There are a lot fewer butterflies for me at this race than Mt. Washington, despite the looming task of running uphill for two and a half hours. Lowered expectations will do wonders for your intestinal systems. I got a few last minute pointers from Pikes Peak legend Scott Elliot, then we were off.

Making my way to the finish

My goal anytime I race at altitude is to find my red line, but DO NOT GO OVER IT. Especially in a race that's two plus hours long. Some people may look at it as a wimpy way of racing, but you have to know your limits. Blowing up 4 miles in isn't going to do me any good running up a 14,000 ft. mountain. One thing I wasn't expecting 4 miles into the race was to get passed by Kim Dobson. Or maybe it was earlier, my brain was already a little fuzzy. The hard part about running by feel and ignoring mile splits is that you never really know how you're running time-wise. I knew Kim was either flying or I was really dogging it. I felt like I might be going a touch fast, which made me think Kim was REALLY moving. After she passed me in the W's I just tried to run smart knowing that I still had 2 hours of mountain running ahead of me.

I was pretty much in no-man's (or no-woman's) land until Barr Camp. Just before we reached the aid station I actually caught Kim and the guy from Arizona with the pink socks. At this point I still had a low grade headache, but I felt like I was getting into a good rhythm. I came through Barr Camp around 73 minutes, about two minutes slower than 2009. Scott Elliot reminded me at the start that Barr Canp is about half way time wise. Just after the aid station I passed Kim and the pink socks guy (Brian Folts). I was able to open a bit of a gap on them as the trail started to get more technical. I also spotted Peter up ahead a little ways and I made a move to catch him.

Peter has done a ton of running on this mountain and I knew I was in good company to be running with him at this stage in the race. We worked together to keep moving up the hill and hopefully catch some stragglers past the A-Frame. As we approached the A-Frame aid station Kim and Brian caught Peter and I and Peter went around me. I guess I was slowing us down and holding us up, but it was imperceptible as we climbed the rugged switchbacks. My fingers were starting to swell and my hands were tingling. The pressure in my skull was getting greater, but it was nothing to be alarmed about. I came through the A-Frame checkpoint in 1:43:26, about a minute and a half behind my PR from 2009 and 14 seconds behind Kim and Peter. I was a little worried that I was slower than PR pace, but I remembered that I did a lot of walking above treeline in 2009, and I was determined not to do that this year.

Running above treeline at Pikes Peak looks a lot like the terrain above treeline on Mt. Washington, but there is actually a trail on Pikes. There are a few rocks to hop over, but it's not constant scrambling like running up the summit cone on Big George. That being said, running above 11,000 ft. is pretty damn tough. At this point my quads were starting to feel the cumulative fatigue of 1:40 of running uphill, and I was getting twinges in my calves from dehydration. I just tried to keep my head on my shoulders and put one foot in front of the other.

At this point I wasn't thinking about racing, just getting to the top as fast as possible. I could see Peter and Kim ahead of me every once in a while, but the trail switchbacks so much you never really know how far anyone is ahead of you. You can also look up 1000 vertical feet and see people near the summit, but you're still a couple of miles away via trail.

Speaking of seeing people above you, I spotted mountain running god Killian Jornet coming down the mountain when I hit the 2 miles to go sign. He was bounding from rock to rock on his way down. He offered some encouragement as I trudged up the mountain. Not long after that he decided to turn around and pass me on the way up. I used him as a carrot and stayed with him until just before the 16 Golden Stairs. There was a search and rescue crew hanging out here and they were playing "America the Beautiful" on kazoos. I kid you not. I asked them if they knew "Another One Bites the Dust". They got a kick out of that.

I got a kick out of knowing that I was almost finished. The 16 Golden Stairs look a lot like New England mountain running terrain, and I take pride in running everything in front of me, but I put my hands to my knees and did the Euro-hike on most of this stretch. Lack of oxygen and fatigue weren't going to allow for any explosive movements from my body, unless they were coming from my bowels or esophagus.

Peter Maksimow, myself and Gerald after the finish

Despite being thoroughly exhausted and having a pounding headache, I was determined to finish strong and run as much as possible. I was even more determined when I spotted Gerald Romero behind me with less than half a mile to go. I was one spot ahead of Gerald in 2009. He was a lot closer this time and I knew I was close to a top 10 spot and didn't want to lose it. I managed to find another gear, the one past the red line, and kicked it in to stay ahead of Gerald and squeak under 2:30 in 2:29:48, a 2 minute PR. My lovely wife was there to catch me and make sure I wasn't drooling all over myself. I was definitely feeling the effort and the altitude after I finished, but I was able to choke down some water, Gatorade and some food before heading back down the mountain. I ended up wearing the new Inov8 TrailRoc 235s which worked great on the hardpacked Colorado trails.

A big thank you to Peter and Nora for allowing us to stay with them in there awesome cabin, and a big thank you to Peter for pulling me along in the race and reminding me how much fun it is hanging out with so many cool runners, even on the weekend of your biggest race of the year.  And a big thank you to the organizers of the Pikes Peak races for putting on a great race and event. Also, congrats to Kim Dobson on an amazing run. Each time she went by me she looked so strong. You could tell she trained hard for this race and was a woman on a mission. She had the 3rd fastest split from A-Frame to the summit! 

As painful as it sounds, I thoroughly enjoyed the race itself and the atmosphere around it. It was nice going into the race with not a lot of pressure to run a certain time or place. I still had goals, but they weren't all consuming. Running is funny. Sometimes the harder you try the further you'll find yourself from what you're trying to attain.

This one says it all