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When I told people that I was going to run the Loon Mountain Race (LMR), the immediate assumption was that it was a trail race around Loon Mountain. When I told them it was a trail race up Loon Mountain, this immediately changed the tone and nature of the conversation. The typical response was along the lines of “better you than me.”

Quite honestly, the LMR was not on my original list of races for the year. However, it did enter my radar (ever so briefly) earlier in the year when I first heard about the race. But then I set any thoughts of running it aside and went back to my original race plans.

As the date of race approached, however, LMR resurfaced. I had some friends who would be running, and I decided a couple weeks prior to the race to join in. Based on this timeline, it’s easy to see that I had not been actively training for a mountain race. Even though I have been increasing my mileage and am training for a fall marathon, a mountain race is a completely different beast. I hadn’t even been running very big hills (maybe 300-400 feet of elevation gain on an average run). And I somehow convinced my wife to join me too!

The race was held at the Loon Mountain Resort (a ski resort in northern New Hampshire) in Lincoln, NH. After getting up early and driving a little less than two hours to Lincoln, we picked up our bibs and settled in on the banks of the Pemigewaset River before the 9:00 start time.

Around 8:45, we all gathered around the start line and tried to hear the pre-race announcements (which were unintelligible for the most part from where we were standing). The race started, and we were on our way.

The course starts off with some winding trails with a small amount of incline and quickly changes into a climb, much of it runnable (if you have trained for it). Since my wife and I were in it just to have fun for the day, we had to keep reminding ourselves to look around and enjoy the views (whether it was the beautiful vistas or the wildflowers or the wild strawberries along the course).

There were a few points when we thought that the course couldn’t get steeper (even though we knew it would). But then there was just enough leveling off or downhill to take our minds off of it. That is until we finally hit the Upper Walking Boss trail which was saved for the very end of the race. Upper Walking Boss is a double black diamond ski trail with an average 40% grade over the course of approximately one kilometer (0.62 miles). Upper Walking Boss was a challenge to even walk up, but we did it!

After an hour and thirty-eight minutes on the trail, we finally crossed the finish line … approximately 5.5 miles and 2,700 feet later. There were some great runners who had already finished the race hanging out at the finish line to cheer on the rest of the finishers, and it was a great welcome!

After rehydrating and hanging out at the summit for a little while, we got into the gondola and rode down to the base. We stayed around for the awards ceremony and the raffle. I had been told that there is always a great raffle. There were quite a few prizes given away, including free pairs of Scott running shoes, supplement powders and maple syrup. And I ended up winning a pair of Scott running shoes (which I will review once I spend some time running in them)!

Overall, acidotic Racing did a great job with race. Everything went smoothly, and there was a great group of runners. If you haven’t run any trail races or spent any time with the trail running community, I highly recommend that you do so as soon as possible.

After the mental fatigue of running trails up Loon Mountain wore off, I realized how fun mountain races can be. I even signed up for the Cranmore Hill Climb (race review to follow) on July 21.

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way … 5.7 miles?? Yes, it was the Stratham Fair Road Race is a 5.7 mile race. This year was the 40th running of this race, which takes place in Stratham, New Hampshire, every year in conjunction with the Stratham Fair. This year’s race was held on Saturday, July 20.

In all honesty, this race was not originally part of my race plans for 2013. However, our running club (Coastal Athletic Association - CAA) encourages our members to run this race every year. It is a small race (167 finishers, including the relay teams), but it also includes a running club challenge between CAA and The Winner’s Circle Running Club. Thus, my wife and I decided to sign up and run.

We arrived in time to pick up our bibs, t-shirts and commemorative pint glasses (there was no pick-up prior to race day). This gave us some time to do some socializing prior to the race.

When 8:30 AM start time came around, the weather was warm and humid. I lined up with the thoughts of taking it easy since I’d be running another race on Sunday. However, when we started, my strategy went completely down the drain. After the first two miles, I was running just over a 7:00 pace, and I’m not a 7:00 pace kind of guy.

Needless to say, the fast start combined with the humidity and the rolling hills quickly took their toll on me. I found myself slowing down, taking water at every water stop (they increased the number of water stops based on the weather) and running under the hoses and sprinklers of the thoughtful homeowners along the race course who were out there trying to keep us cool. Eventually, I found myself alternating between walking and running.

The final mile or so of the course is entirely on a gradual uphill. After recovering from everything that went wrong, I managed to kick it up a bit at the end and finished the race with a decent kick. As I crossed the finish line, I ended up with a 7:59 overall pace. This was far from what I planned on, but given the conditions, I can’t complain that much.

After crossing the finish line, we were handed cool, wet towels. This is the first race that I’ve ever run where this was offered. It was a brilliant idea and exactly what I needed at that moment. Not long after I finished, my wife crossed the finish line too. We spent some time talking with other runners and encouraging the runners still on the course for a few minutes before heading over to the pavilion for some more liquids.

After the race was over, there was an awards ceremony and a raffle where quite an abundance of prizes were given out.

This was a very well organized race, and it is always great to run with a great group of runners. The Stratham Fair Road Race is definitely a race that I will consider running again next year. Maybe I’ll see you there!

After crossing the finish line of the Loon Mountain Race, I said that I had gotten the need to run mountains out of my system. I was convinced. But it’s amazing how quickly things can change. On the ride home, as I had some time to decompress from the day’s events and my body started to recover ever so slightly from the run, I started to think about the Cranmore Hill Climb, which was scheduled for two weeks later.

After a couple days, I found myself online registering for Cranmore. I looked at some pictures of the course, and it seemed much more runnable than Loon. So why not? The added bonus is that the Cranmore Hill Climb had also been selected as the USATF MUT (Mountain/Ultra/Trail) championship race and team selection race for the world mountain running championships to be held later in the year in Poland as well as the 2013 NACAC (North America, Central America and Caribbean Athletic Association) Mountain Championships. What could be more fun and exciting than to run a mountain race with some of the best mountain runners in the world from the U.S., Canada and Mexico, right?

The race was held on July 21 at the Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway, New Hampshire. The course was designed to try to mimic the world championship course that would be held in Poland and was a down and up course (yes, run down the mountain and back up). Because of the championship aspect, this year’s race took place as two separate races: the women’s race and the men’s race.

The women’s race was an 8K race (two laps of the 4K course, so runners would go down and up twice) starting at 8:15, and the men’s race was a 12K race (three laps of the 4K course) starting at 9:15.

On race day, I got up early and headed up to North Conway, which is just over an hour and half drive. I arrived, picked up my bib and then hopped on the chair lift to head to the top of the mountain to watch the start of the women’s race. This was followed by the wait, since an hour remained until the men’s race started. I spent some time warming up and some time in the lodge at the top.

As 9:15 approached, I made my way to the finish line to watch the top women finish the race. The U.S. women dominated the race. While the remaining women continued on, we [the men] gathered at the start line and then it began.

The course starts with a very short uphill just before the summit and was quickly followed by some fast downhill. For the most part, the downhill was packed sand and gravel with some grass off to the side, although there were definitely some spots on the steeper descents with loose gravel and rocks.

I never considered myself a very good downhill runner (and compared to the elites who would pass me later on, I definitely am not); however, I took advantage of the downhills and run a decent pace. The uphills, on the other hand, resulted in quite a bit of walking. So my day was made up of fast, strong downhills followed by some serious hiking. Overall, the course was in really good shape with only a few spots of mud (which by the final lap had become relatively deep and mucky — I ended up going fully ankle deep in the mud on that lap).

After one lap, I questioned my sanity for signing up for the race, especially since I hadn’t been training for this type of running and was doing this just for fun. Ascending the final hill of the second lap, I was truly questioning whether or not I had one lap left in me. However, I pushed on. The fast downhill always provided just enough of a break physically and mentally to let me push on a little more.

Finally, after just over two hours on the course, I crossed the finish line. I headed over to the lodge, picked up my bag and hopped onto the chairlift to make my way to the bottom on the mountain. I hung around for a little while for a drink (there was a free beer after all) and the awards ceremony. Then I hopped into the car for the hour and a half drive home.

In retrospect, it was a great race and I’m very glad that I decided to run it. Recovery, on the other hand, was a little grueling. All the downhill definitely took a toll on my quads, but I was back on the roads again on Monday.

I can’t say enough about the great job that the race directors and organizers did. The race was incredibly well run, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in running it next year.

As I write this, I’m contemplating running the entire mountain series in 2014. Maybe I’ll see you there …

First of all, this race report is extremely late. I’ve been meaning to write it, but it just never seemed to happen. So, here it is.

The Saunders 10K, which took place on August 15, poses a few challenges. The first one is that is on a Thursday night at 6:00 PM. The second one is that it is in the middle of August.

So what does this mean? It means that you never know what you’re going to get on race day. Did you have a bad day at work? Did you eat well during the day? Is it a hot and humid New England summer day?

Well, luckily, none of these factors came into play for me this year. I took the day off from work, so there were no concerns about the effect of the work day on me, and the weather turned out to be beautiful with no humidity.

All that would matter is how well prepared I was for the race, which introduced another twist into the evening. I have been training for a fall marathon through the summer, so from a mileage/training perspective, I should have been OK. However, I was also helping to coach an intermediate 10K running group that was training to run this race.

The training consisted of meeting and running with the group twice a week: one day on the track for speed work and the other day for a group run through the streets of Portsmouth and New Castle. This is the aspect that truly added a twist, because during the training group I was always training at someone else’s pace (slower than my normal training pace) and not my own. Would this effect me negatively? Only time would tell.

I met up with some friends at the start line, and I decided to start off running with a friend who had participated in the 10K training group. We ran together for about half of the race at a pace that was slower for me, and probably even a little too slow for my friend. Being familiar with the course, I knew that there was one small hill about half way through the course and then it would be all down hill. Once we crested the hill, I decided to pick up the pace and run my race for the rest of the time.

I started passing people and continued to do so for the rest of the race, right up to the finish line. It always feels great to be passing people at the end of a race and not being passed. When I finally crossed the finish line, I ended up with a 7:31 overall pace. I definitely could have run faster, but this was still a 10K PR for me and I still felt good after it was all over. So I’ll take it.

So in the middle of next August, when you’re looking for something to do on a Thursday night, definitely run the Saunders at Rye Harbor 10K! Maybe I’ll see you there.

The first annual The Salmon Run 5K Road & Trail Race took place in Rollinsford, NH, on Saturday, September 14. This race was held to benefit the Friends of the Rollinsford Public Library, and since I live in Rollinsford and the race was being organized by friends, I decided to run this race even though it was not originally on my race calendar.

The race course is different than the typical 5K in the area in that it incorporates both roads and some light, easy trails. The race started in front of the American Legion and immediately began up a hill. This was followed quickly by two more hills within the first three-quarters of a mile. After these hills, the course flattens out for about a quarter of a mile. Then there is a quick up over a bridge that goes over the train tracks. This is followed by a little more running on the roads before turning into the woods on the edge of Scoutlands.

The first half of the trail is a wide access road with some light rocks and roots (all the roots had been painted orange to make sure that they were seen and to make the off-road experience more accessible to those who may have been intimidated by the word “trail”). About half way down the trail, it turns into a hard-packed gravel/dirt access road. In all, this accounted for about one mile of the race.

After coming off the trail, the course ends up in downtown Rollinsford. After going through the town, there’s a quick uphill and then it’s all downhill to the finish line.

Being familiar with the course and having run these roads and trails on a regular basis, I had a two-part strategy. I knew where the uphills were and where the downhills were, so I could plan accordingly. The other part of my strategy was that I was going to run easy since I was two weeks prior to running a marathon and didn’t want to risk any injuries or issues.

Well, the second part of my strategy didn’t seem to work out very well. As I was running, I was feeling good and I could see the front of the pack so the competitive side of me started to come out. I started to run harder, pass people and never looked back. I ended up passing a final runner with just under a mile to the finish line.

In the end, I didn’t push myself to a PR level, but I did run the race. I finished with a time of 22:07.43 and a pace of 7:08. This was enough to get me an overall sixth place finish and first in my age group.

For being a first-year race, the race was well organized and included a kids’ fun run with a monster mascot. This is definitely a race that I would run again. Check it out next year.

So where should I even begin? I am still new to distance running after having started running again (and calling it again is a stretch if you define “running” as an occasional 5K or 10K without training for it). I ran my first marathon this year (the Delaware Marathon in May 2013) followed shortly thereafter by a 50K (Pineland Farms also in May 2013), so this was my second marathon and my third endurance event.

To complicate things even further, I ended up injured a few weeks before the Delaware Marathon. I still completed the marathon, but so many things went wrong. So I really couldn’t completely use that marathon as a template for what to do and what not to do going into the Clarence DeMar Marathon. The upside, however, is that my training for this marathon went much better and I didn’t end up with any significant injuries.

Why the Clarence DeMar Marathon?

When I started to look for a fall marathon, my parameters were that it had to take place somewhere where I could drive to and from in the same day. This gave me a radius from Boston to western New Hampshire to southern Maine. Thus I began my search.

There were actually quite a few choices: the Smuttynose Rockfest Marathon in Hampton (by far the closest, but it is also a double loop on a relatively flat course), the Maine Marathon in Portland, the New Hampshire Marathon in Bristol, Bay State Marathon in Lowell (a double loop through the streets of Lowell wasn’t high on my list), the Manchester City Marathon in Manchester and Clarence DeMar. The timing of Manchester City eliminated it, because I already had plans to run the Seacoast Half Marathon the week after Manchester.

After reviewing the courses and reviews, I chose Clarence DeMar for a couple reasons:

  • Point-to-point course (Delaware was a double loop, and I was looking for something different)
  • Small field (in 2012 there were 175 finishers, but the field grew to 410 finishers this year)
  • Great reviews
  • Beautiful course
  • Downhill start and some rolling hills
  • Affordable

Based on these criteria, I signed up and started training. Having kept a decent mileage base since Delaware, I was able to put many more miles under my belt during this training cycle, which definitely made me feel more confident going into the race.

Who was Clarence DeMar?

It’s worth taking a quick sidebar here. If you’re running a race that’s named after a person, you should at least know a little something about the person.

Clarence DeMar was a leading marathoner in the early 1900s. His accomplishments include winning the Boston Marathon seven times as well as a winning a bronze metal in the 1924 Summer Olympics. He settled in Keene, NH, where he taught at the Keene Normal School (now Keene State College).

Clarence DeMar died in 1958, and the Clarence DeMar Marathon was established in 1978 in his honor.

In the 2013 Clarence DeMar Marathon, Clarence DeMar’s granddaughter spoke and ran the race.

Logistics and the Course

As I mentioned previously, this marathon is a point-to-point marathon. If you’re not getting dropped off at the start line by a friend or family member, you park on the campus of Keene State College and take a shuttle bus to the waiting area in Gilsum. As we arrived in Gilsum, the race director personally boarded the shuttle each time, greeted the runners and gave some basic instructions of what was available and when we woudl proceed to the start line.

The waiting area was on the grounds of W.S. Badger Company (one of the race’s sponsors). Water and portapotties were available for the runners. If you hadn’t picked up your big or you still needed to register (yes, there was a day of race registration option), you could do so at W.S. Badger.

There was also a bag check area so that your bag would be waiting for you at the finish. The morning was a typical, cool New England morning so I waited until the last minute to shed my sweatshirt and check my bag. It was cool enough that I had wished that I had brought a pair of disposable gloves with me that I could drop once I had warmed up, but alas, I didn’t plan for that.

With just about 10 minutes to start time and after the final shuttle bus had arrived, the race organizers ushered us to the start line. The walk from the waiting area to the start was along a dirt path and then on the road, and it took about five minutes.

As the start time approached, the race director stood in the back of a pickup truck and yelled his announcements to the racers. It was difficult to hear him. A microphone or bullhorn so he could be heard would have been greatly appreciated (but that’s probably my biggest complaint). We waited for the last few stragglers to make it to the start line before the race officially started. So we ended up starting about five or ten minutes past 8:00.

The course is a fast course. The elevation profile shows a 4% decline in the first half and a 1%-2% incline for the second half. The question remaining in my head was how aggressive should I be on the downhill. I decided that I’d run by feel and not worry about my watch too much.

As the gun sounded, we quickly started downhill. There are no steep downhills, but the downhill was definitely steady. The first break in the downhill was around mile four. It was a quick hill, and at that point in the race, it didn’t feel very significant.

Quickly over the hill, we were back on the descent. The course from Gilsum until it reaches Keene is a very scenic course. Parts of the course run along gently flowing streams and rivers through wooded and mostly shaded roads.

I continued to run feeling strong. The first real challenges came about half way. The first was the out and back on Surry Dam. There was short bit of elevation to get onto the dam, but this gave way to a flat and scenic (yes, try to remember to look around and enjoy the scenery as you’re running) run across the dam and back. With the fall foliage, this was probably the most scenic view on the course and a place where you would normally want to stop and take a picture (but no time for that today).

The dam was followed by the biggest hill on the course around mile 14 and a series of rolling hills began. These hills rolled on long enough to be challenging and to make me miss the previous downhill.

After making it past the hills, the course flattened out again and remained relatively flat.The course faded from New England fall foliage to suburban streets as we entered into Keene.

Other than trying to get past the wall (which for me was around mile 18), there was only one remaining challenge: Greenlawn Cemetery. It is ironic that the race organizers added the cemetery to the course. The challenge here is that to get out of the cemetery, you had to run up a hill. The hill itself (on a normal day) is nothing that you would even think about. However, when it’s a mile 22, it was challenging to run through the cemetery reminding yourself that you’re not dead and that you’ve almost made it to the end.

After exiting the cemetery, there are some small rolling hills which lead you to back to Keene State College, where you hopped on the shuttle bus earlier in the day. The race ends running down the main street and takes a left onto the campus. As soon as you turn left, you can see the finish line as you start your kick to finish strong.

You’re greeted by cheering spectators, a finisher’s medal and a very welcome bottle of water.

Post Race

After crossing the finish line, I had some water and checked out the food. There were bagels, fruit, pastries, yogurt and soup as well as juice, soda and water. I had a banana and some orange slices and continued to watch some runners finish the race.

If you checked a bag in Gilsum, bag pick up was just around the corner. I made my way to get my bag and then to find the car. Finding the car was a little disorienting, because I did not have a good sense of where I had parked based on where I was at the moment (this could have been marked better). After wondering around the wrong parking lot for a little while, I found the right one and found my car.

I grabbed my bag and went to the gym, where free showers were available. I washed up, got changed and headed home.

All in all this was a great day. I ended up with a 3:41 finish. My goal was a 3:45, but I was mentally prepared to be happy with anything under 4:00 (not sure if I would be able to run a 3:45). In retrospect, I could have pushed a little more and shaved a few more minutes off my time simply by pushing myself more mentally.

But as someone had told me before, you have to run three or four marathons before you really know what you’re doing. With number two under my belt, I’d have to agree. I’m already working on my strategy and my revised training plan for the next one.

Recommendation

If you have the chance, I highly recommend the Clarence DeMar Marathon. The race director and volunteers did a great a job with all the details. It’s a great small race that probably won’t stay small for too much longer. With 175 finishers in 2012 and 410 finishers in 2013, who knows what 2014 and beyond hold in terms of number of runners.

The Great Island 5K took place on Sunday, October 13, in New Castle, NH.

This would be the second time that I had run the Great Island 5K. I first ran in it in 1998 (with a time of 30:44 and a pace of 9:53 at age 27). There were a few things that would make it different this time:

  • I have been training and running regularly (something that I wasn’t doing in 1998)
  • I had run a marathon two weeks prior
  • I was coaching a beginner’s 5K group

So I had some things that were going for me this time, and some things that would remain to see how they would impact me.

The race starts at the Great Island Common in New Castle. The course is composed of a few rolling hills as well as a short run on a gravel road. It’s a scenic course with views of the harbor and ocean from the Common as well as along the course.

After meeting up with the other coaches and members of the Runner’s Alley Beginners 5K Groups that had been training for this race over the past 8 weeks in Portsmouth and Dover, we all made our way to the start line.

I started the race running with a friend. Our goal was to try to run a sub-7:00 pace. The last time that we had raced together with finished with a 7:02 pace. At this point, neither of us were sure that we were physically ready to achieve this goal.

We ran our first mile at right around a 7:00 pace. I was feeling much better than expected at this point. Although I always feel bad leaving a friend when we’re running, we always agree that if the other person should always run their own race. So I picked up the pace to see what I could do.

My running started to click, and I continued to pick up the pace and pass people along the way. In my head, I was thinking about the irony of my race attire. I was wearing a shirt from the training group that I helped coach, and on the back, it read: “Beginners Runner’s Alley Group.” This actually became a topic of conversation on a run later in the week, when someone mentioned that she had been passed by someone in one of these shirts and was thinking that she must be getting slower or wondering why this person was in a beginner’s group.

As we entered back onto the Common for the final loop into the finish line, I continued to pass people. I crossed the line with a time of 21:10 and a pace of 6:49. So I achieved my goal and got a PR.

After finishing, I made my way to the entrance to the Common to cheer on the members of the training group as they finished up their run. Even better than setting a PR was to see these runners finishing strong after all the work that they had put into training over the past eight weeks.

If you have a chance, you definitely should plan on running the Great Island 5K in 2014. It has an added bonus of being part of the Seacoast Road Race Series.