that after traversing a kajillion mountain miles over the weekend (more on that later) that once ensconced in my lovely suburban NJ neighborhood, I’d be safe.
For the first (and hopefully last) time in 47 years of existence, I was chomped on by a dog. While running. It was not pleasant. It scared the bejesus out of the youngster walking him (yes, he was on a lead). The kid did run home to get his dad, who came with a dry paper towel to help stop the bleeding. Forty minutes later in the ER, the nurses had to peel me off the ceiling after extracting said paper towel from the depths of the wound. I left the ER with an attractive bandage which I then bedazzled with a Hello Kitty band-aid. (yes, after the foot puncture experience, I did return to the pharmacy for those).
The bite came after another first–my first ever mountain racing experience.
Let’s just leave it at mountain racing is nowhere near the same as road racing. Or even trail running. It is crazy hard.
Day 1 consisted of a 3am wakeup call (for me, because I was pulling double-duty–as an extra set of hands for my organization which was responsible for all non-race logistics, and as a racer). We ate at 4:30am, boarded buses at 6 and traveled to Sugarloaf for an 8:30am start. The day 1 course consisted of 4 “check-points,” (Burnt Mt., Sugarloaf Mt., Spaulding Mt., and finish line), and we had to reach check-point 2 (Sugarloaf) by 12:30pm to make the cut-off to continue to Spaulding. Teams that didn’t make the cut-off time were sent straight to check point 4.
The race up Burnt Mt. was hard–about 3,000 vertical feet (over 3 miles to the summit), it was a very technical, narrow trail. There were streams to cross and rocks to scale. I slipped into the water almost immediately, so I spent the rest of the day with wet shoes. Our team reached the summit in about 90 minutes.
And then the trouble started. The downhill. A first for me: I learned I sucked at downhills. My hips just couldn’t take it. The 2 mile downhill took me nearly 90 minutes!
But that was nothing compared to what was waiting for us after we crossed through some woods to Sugarloaf: a half mile long, nearly vertical black diamond! To make the cut-off time, we had 45 minutes to scale this 1/2 mile, plus about another mile to the summit. I was just so happy to be off the downhill portion, I didn’t care.
(this is about 1/3 of the way up)
I was doing ok on the uphill, but my teammate Stephen was seriously beaten down by the heat. It was about 75F, and obviously no shade.
We missed the 12:30 cut-off by about an hour. All three of us were really disappointed. We totally thought this challenge was in reach, but these two peaks exposed all our hidden weaknesses. The saving grace? My cookies. We ate our lunch on top of Sugarloaf, and by this time, my cookies (I brought about 2 dozen up in some tupperware) were seriously weighing me down. We ate a few, and then I passed them around to the race management staff and other teams
crying regrouping on the summit. You would have thought I had packed an ATV big enough to carry us all downhill–the cookies were that well received.
It was at this point that my teammate Doug really stepped up to the plate. He was our team captain, and he just took us aside and said, basically, yes, we’re disappointed we can’t do the long course, but we can do the short course, and finish it strong. We’ll help others and be encouraging along the way, because if it’s tough for us, it’s tough for everyone. And he was right. Already we had passed teams that had abandoned their weaker links, and sure enough, on the way down, we came across one competitor whose teammates left her sitting in the middle of the trail because her too-small shoes had hobbled her toes. Between her and my wonky hips, it took us about 2 hours to descend the 4,000 ft to the base camp. But Doug and Stephen stayed along the entire way (it was actually a race rule–you were not supposed to let more than 100m separate you from your teammates). About 1/4 mile from the finish (and on a relatively gentle slope), team SCI ran (!) through the finish line! And then collapsed. Oh, wait, that was me. Stephen & Doug went to the bar. Total time on the mountain: about 7 hours. Total distance: 8 miles.
Once at the finish we learned that only 8 of 42 teams had made the cut-off time, and that only 12 had completed the shorter course. So we were one of only 20 teams that were still “in the race.” The remaining teams returned to base after summiting Burnt Mt. This made our disappointment at not making the cut-off slightly more palatable.
I spent a lot of time on the foam roller and then bathed myself in Biofreeze and fell asleep. Day 2 had a later wake-up (6:30am) for an 8:20 start from the hotel at Sunday River (our operations base). These peaks weren’t as tall (Sugarloaf is Maine’s 2nd highest peak), and the course involved more traversing between peaks than scaling them from top to bottom. The long course was 12 miles (5 check-points and 3 peaks), and the short course was 3 checkpoints (2 peaks) for 7 miles.
The climb up Oz Peak was phenomenal. Steep, but not overly so. A challenge, but not debilitating. It was a cooler day, with lots of clouds and fog–and at one point at a switchback, the views were just amazing.
(no, we didn’t take the chairlift, but the photo-op was irresistible)
By the way, see the visors we’re wearing? Those were a prize from the dinner the night before. The race management company chose us at “Nicest team” and gave us extra points for both the homemade cookies and helping the abandoned girl down the mountain. It felt really great for that recognition–the race management company had no idea we were connected to the sponsoring organization–they just knew we were Team 29. The word on cookies, though, had spread like wildfire back at the finish line.
Day 2 was not as tough as Day 1. The inclines were not as steep. There were even opportunities to run. But the downhills were still tough. As we were traversing ski slopes, they aren’t mowed in the off-season, and they’re boggy and swampy and have lots of slabs of granite, covered in mud, making them so slick. But we made good time, and at the 2nd check point, we had made the cut-off time and were given the choice of completing the long course or short course.
We opted for the short course, as the fog had closed in and it was getting really really cold on the mountain. As a team representing the sponsoring organization, we were competing in name only–although our finish would be scored, we weren’t eligible for any prizes–this gave us a bit of freedom to thoroughly enjoy the 2nd day, which is why we considered doing the long course until the weather changed our minds.
(wicked fog at check point 2)
My hips were less irksome Day 2, and the lack of sun made Stephen a better climber, so we actually finished the short course in about 3.5 hours, again running the last 1/4 mile to the finish line.
The rules of this competition were different from other mountain races. Winners were determined by both their finish times AND how much their team raised in philanthropy for the beneficiary organization (my organization). Basically, your team would get a score for time and a second score for philanthropy. The scores were evenly weighted and added together to come up with a total. Here was the big surprise for us: we were a complete “middle-of-the-road” team for our time. But we did raise about $10,400–4th best of all the 42 teams. Which propelled us into 1st place for the short course.*
First place! A first!
(*of course we did not/could not claim the prize, but it’s still satisfying even if no one else knew).