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 …