Going up! Ascutney Hill Climb.
Don’t you just love it when mountain races are referred to as a hill climb. My legs and lungs would have to disagree as I huffed and puffed up Ascutney Mountain last weekend. This was no hill. This was 2300 ft of elevation gain over 3.7 miles. This was a mountain climb and one that I would have to cajole my body into running up rather than walking.
I arrived at the race venue early. What I love about this race is the low-key nature. The Ascutney Hill Climb is part of the 2018 USAT New England Mountain Running Series. It takes place in a State Park and the race route is up the mountain access road so it is on pavement to the top. My friend Brandon, the Head of Team AMP is the race director and did a fantastic job of organizing this must do race if you are into mountain racing. I didn’t feel nervous as I prepared for the race. I had no time expectations as I had never run this race before and my biggest goal was to have fun (if that’s what you can call running up a mountain). I got my race bib and check out the course map which was straight forward, no trails to get lost on and there would be plenty of people to follow.
I love seeing all of the kinds of people who show up to run this kind of race. There were plenty of fast runners in speedy looking race kits, 2 kids (who rocked it and got a huge round of applause at the finish) and even a lady running in her pearls. Many people who were running were running as a part of the series to get Mountain Goat Status (you have to run 6 out of 8 of the races in the series) which guarantees entry into the Mt. Washington Road Race for the following year. Maybe some year I’ll complete the series . . . we’ll see. But for now it was this race and perhaps I’ll tackle the Loon Mountain race again.
I warmed up with some light jogging with some pick-ups and did a dynamic warm-up. I have been working on adding this in lately. My dynamic warm-up consists of butt kicks, high knee kicks, air squats, walking lunges, and side leg swings. The dynamic warm-up helps to improve your range of motion prior to running, to stretch the muscles and to increase your heart rate and respiration.
The temperature on the race morning was perfect although it was warming up. Thankfully most of the course was shaded by the trees as I forgot my sunscreen. Finally it was time to line up at the start. And with a simple command we were off. I started in the middle of the pack but was able to work my way up into the top third. As we got moving I worked to get myself into a comfortable pace without going out to fast because once you burn it out in the early parts of a mountain race it is hard to recover. I established an even pace focusing on my breathing and the sound of my foot-strikes. I worked to stay with the same pack of runners as we quietly ran upwards. I vowed to run for the first two miles as in this type of race there is inevitably some power walking when the course gets steep and when your legs start screaming. I worked on using my glutes and my hamstrings along with my strong-arm swing work my way up the mountain. I kept telling myself that this is where the CrossFit would pay off.
As we reached the 2 mile mark, my Garmin beeping I was still feeling strong so ran a little further before allowing myself a little time to power hike. Thankfully there was a water station with water and Gatorade as the temperature was climbing and the sweat was dripping. It’s amazing how long 3.7 miles can feel when you are going up. I continued running with only a few breaks to walk and pushed on with the same pack of runners in a back and forth of passing each other. Finally we came to a spectator with a cowbell and a few racers (already finished and on their way back down) who alerted us that the finish was around one more bend. I was behind a woman who had passed me however hearing that the finish was just ahead I know I had some kick left in my legs so picked it up to pass her into the finish.
My finish time: 49:22, good enough for 6th out of 19th in my age group. I am pleased with my overall finish time as I was able to place in the top 3rd for my age group. The view from the top was gorgeous, it was a crystal clear day (too bad I didn’t have my camera). I was happy to see a few familiar faces at the top and indulged in some fresh bread with Nutella and watermelon to start the post race refueling. Since this race was from the bottom to the top you either needed to catch a ride back to the bottom or you could hike or run back down. Feeling pretty good and wanting to enjoy more of the beautiful day, once I was refueled and rehydrated I ran back down the road from the top to the bottom to give my quads a little taste of what they had missed on the way up.
I would definitely recommend this mountain challenge to any one looking for a beautiful mountain run!
Have you ever raced a mountain race? Which one?