Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Up Down and Around Challenge

The Up Down and Around


In its second year, the Wachusett Ski team hosted the Up, Down, and Around challenge adventure race. The proposed course takes athletes on a 5 mile run with about 50% trail, 8 mile hilly bike over some pack dirt, a climb to the summit and ski down. Yet in adventure racing proposed courses don't always stick.  Like many of the other end of the ski-season races this year, snow was lacking. In response, the pentathlon was changes to a quadrathlon, run, bike, hike to the summit, and a downhill run.

There was a good turnout for the race with 50 solo competitors otherwise known as" mountain men and women" and 11 teams. The solo division brought out some tough competition that included triathletes, trail runners, rando-racers, and other multi-sport adventure racers.

The run took us on a beautiful loop through non technical fire-roads, quaint neighborhoods, and a challenging hill at the finish. Still feeling tired from last weekends Berkshire Pentathlon, I focused on keeping to an easier pace and save some juice for the climb. I finished the run leg in 8th place right along  Dave Mangori. Dave and I had an epic battle a month earlier at the Jones 10 mile road race and it looked like this could be a rematch.

I brought my tri bike for the ride and kept with the skinny tires. The website told cyclists to ride with a bigger tire but for this day, i found the dirt roads manageable with a racing set-up. The dirt road only lasted about 1.5 miles towards the end of the course. I would though recommend a road bike as the roads are  rolling with one steep hill, a couple fast descents, and quite bumpy. As a result, I did not ride as aggressive as i would have in my road bike. I was though able to move up a couple of positions on the bike, but Mangori was no where to be seen.. Mangori was able to increase his lead by 2 minutes over me on the bike....nice ride Dave!

The hill climb went straight up Conifer, one of the ski slopes at Wachusett. The trail was muddy with some pockets of snow to maneuver around. I was running when i could and walked when the slope got too steep or I felt my heart rate pumping out of control. I felt good while passing a few more athletes, then at about 3/4 of the way up i saw Dave. I caught up but I knew i had to build a lead. Dave is an excellent runner and i did not want to compete with him head to head on the downhill. I finished the hill climb with the 3rd fastest time of the day. I felt redemption after last weekends struggle up the very short climb of Berkshire East.

The Downhill route went half-way down the Summit Road and turned off onto a really nice single track. Athletes finished with a half lap around the lodge and under the banner. I ran by myself most of the way down not seeing anyone in front or behind. That was until we came out of the woods when i turned around and saw Mangori closing in. We sprinted around the building and though Mangori pullled off the 2nd fastest downhill time of the day, i was able to hold on to my lead and finish 11 seconds ahead of Dave, and 6th overall.  

The Up, Down, and Around went off great in spite of the changes of the course. This is another example of how adventure racing is all about racing in the conditions that are present on that day. I would suggest if the downhill run/trail run happen again, to utilize the trails on the east side of the mountain to the summit. There is beautiful single track there! 

A great day by all and thanks to Wachusett for putting on the race. I hope to see it back every year and hopefully next year with some snow!

Tough Competition!! Four of the top seven place finishers, Dave M (7th place), Jeremy A(5th place), Josh F(3rd place),and Russ J(Overall Winner). Where is that growler Russ?

Check out the nice video put together by Rt2 photography


Friday, April 6, 2012

Berkshire Highlands Pentathlon

I bumped into Bruce Lessels last year at the Wildcat Pentathlon, a race consisting of a run, downriver paddle, bike, hike, and ski. Bruce and his cohorts of the West County Old Stars had the great idea of creating a race just like that of the Wildcat Wildfire, but here in beautiful Western MA. Why not, we may have possibly one of the best venues in Charlemont, Monroe, and Rowe, MA.
Top of the run! Looking below at the Warfield House
In its inaugural running, the Berkshire Highlands Pentathlon features some of the best of what is offered in Western MA. The race consists of a 5 mile trail run,  23 mile road bike ride, 5 mile class 1 and 2 downriver kayak, a hike/run/scramble up Berkshire East, and ski run to the finish. Sounds like a challenge heh? Well there is more! The run includes 1100ft of climbing through mud, rocks, roots, jeep roads and single track (and amazing views with bag pipes!) The bike includes over 2400 feet elevation gain, 2000 ft in the first 12 miles straight up to the wonderful little town of Monroe with the townspeople out cheering you on.. The paddle is down the chilly 40 degree waters of the Deerfield (don't dump!) and the ski has variable spring conditions and gates with a finish at the lodge of Berkshire East and a BBC in a pint glass waiting for you!

Run route
Bike Route

The view from the Warfield House
Charlie, Katherine, Crystal and I took residence at the Warfield House for the weekend.  What a cool place!  When we weren't hurting ourselves during the race or pondering over what to wear, we chased chickens around the barn, talked with the goats, and 'hang' with the horses. (Yup, there is a private joke there for my comrades!) Friends, I cant talk up this place enough. What a great B and B.

Crystal trying to get breakfast

The challenge with these in-between season races are logistics. There was a forecast for 1-2 inches of snow for the race and we had to decide between slow and safe or fast and risky for the bike. I decide to set up my bike with the slower 28mm tire the night before figuring I would have time in the morning to change them back.  In the morning, the roads were dry, but after a lengthy mandatory meeting, time ran out and there would be no time for a tire change. Bad time management on my part...i was riding the big wheels.
Charlie and I setting up skis and snowboard prior to the race.

We started the race at the bottom of one of the ski slopes. The trail in front of us was covered in mud. I was loving it already! We ran through the mud and into Charlemont as we were greeted by locals, volunteers, and neighbors sitting out on their lawns in the chilly, damp 40 degree air. I cant speak highly enough of the support that the town of Charlemont gave. THANK YOU!! The run quickly turned onto Riddel Road which  became a dirt road and then a muddy dirt road. As we climbed Josh and I pulled ahead of the other competitors.  As we approached the top of the hill, the sound of bagpipes filled the air as we overlooked a beautiful view! Josh and I hammered down the Sound of Music field and headed back into the woods. I really enjoyed running the trails with Josh. We competed but also helped each other as we searched for the pink ribbons. The run ended with a super fast descent. My new Inov-8 x-Talon 190s gripped the trail beautifully!

Josh and I racing over the field

The bike course was part beautiful, part suffrage, and another part suffrage.  The climb up to Monroe was long and steep and I rode the granny gear most of the way. From the top, the descent was steep, fast, and somewhat dangerous. For this reason the race organizers "neutralized" the descent. Riders where not suppose to go more than 15 mph. Volunteers let cyclists know when they entered the neutralized zone, but then i was not sure where it ended. Next year, I think having signs informing cyclists where the zone ends would be helpful. Also volunteers told me that  the front riders where riding quite a bit faster than I was. I would have only saved 10 or so seconds but then again I lost 3rd place by 3 or 4 seconds. Fifteen mph on a steep descent is really difficult to maintain without burning out your breaks. I think 20 mph would be a better limit and keep riders at a closer speed. Regardless, I'm happy that no accidents happened.

With the lack of snow and rain, the river was quite a bit lower than it usually is at this time of the year. Usually the river would be running at 2000cfs. On this day, it was only about 800 cfs of dam release water. Low, but still plenty enough water to race in if you can follow the lines. Reminders of the floods brought on by hurricane Irene where evident on all the banks of the river. Huge trees, branches, and limbs where piled up 20 feet high, maybe more.   I felt sluggish in the low water as i tried to find the best lines. I definitely missed a few lines of current and the low water got me stuck on a few rocks.

Nice move Katherine!!

This was Charlie's first multi-sport with a kayak leg. Charlie rented a kayak from Zoar Outfitters and with very little kayak experience, and almost no down-river kayak experience he was able to get down the river with no problem. He said he loved it! Time to get him into a faster boat!

This was also Katherine's first roll as support crew. Look at her go!...she had no idea what she got herself into! One of the reasons I love this type of race is working with a support crew..it becomes a team event even racing as an individual. Though at first Katherine may have been a bit hesitant to the role of support, I think she ended up having a really good time!

I pulled up to the river bank to see my support ace Crystal wildly ringing the cow bell...yup..i got the best support crew! I slipped on my running shoes and went running off to the hike. After sitting in the boat for 44 minutes, I was feeling the excess lactic acid built up in my hamstring and the muscles were not liking it.

I got to my back pack and headed up the slope...The hike was a bit slow but as I reached the top i was still holding 3rd place. As i got the skis off my back pack, which took much longer than I planned, I noticed my boots where on the wrong skis. Duh! I did not want to waste time switching them, so I left them as is. Then as I was getting my feet into the boots, I couldn't loosen my buckle to get into the boot..argh...utter, pure frustration, intensified by fatigue. (I'm sure if i wasn't tired, i would have no problem with any of these chores). The hike to ski transition took me 5 minutes, just enough time for the 4th place guy to catch up. I skied down the slope, dealing with the mismatched skis and taking a fall where the snow turned to mud. Then at the end of the snow covered slope, I got the skis off, ran towards the end, and lost by just a couple seconds just as Jonathan Swan passed me at the finish.
Whats left after the snow-less summer like winter. I m in the mud after loosing balance. Jonathan is on my tail...

I was certainly disappointed mainly because its was a frustrating finish. Regardless Jonathan Swan had a great race and deserve the spot on the podium. Next year I will be back with a better ski set-up and will be sure to double check my gear before the race!

This race was a huge success mainly because of the volunteers and folks that came out to make this race fun and safe.  Pictured right is Coach, 83 years old. He first directed runners down the streets of Charelmont and then was at the finish 3 hours later to shake hands and offer praise to the participants. Thanks for the support coach!

Josh Wins!!!  Good job Josh

Josh had a great race winning the BraveHeart solo division and placing ahead all but 2 teams. He is a machine! Watch out for him at Tuckerman's Inferno this year!

Mike McCusker and Bruce Lessels did a fantastic job putting this race together. Pictured right is Mike with our dedicated bagpiper. Mike led the award ceremonies and recognition in an enthusiastic Scottish accent, adding a great finishing touch to the whole event ( left).

This is my type of event and i hope it continues to grow. When i think of adventure racing, this is it! To top it off, the race benefits local land preservation and local education. I'm already looking forward to next year!

The Team!

Beers after the race...do we look tired?