By Lori Mitchener
Race director Bill Conley thought running from his hometown of Manchester to that mountain over there would be fun. It turns out he was right. This dream of his led seasoned ultra runners and newbies through the back roads, trails, quaint towns and oh yeah, up and over Mount Monadnock. The inaugural running of what I hope is an annual event did not disappoint in its challenge, direction, and camaraderie.
A field of just 34 runners towed the line at the Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester, NH at 4 AM to test the their meddle last Saturday. The first six miles were rail trail illuminated by head torches and filled with chatter about running pedigrees and expectations. I did not feel confident to hold that pace for the duration so I quickly fell back as the course crossed over to rolling hills for the next several miles.
Mount Uncanoonuc was the first warm up mountain along the course at around mile 12; it was steep and over quickly. The transition from road to steep trail, both up and down, and back to road with many miles to go made me question my training, and I had not even reached the second aid station. I caught some runners once I got there, since I am not one for hanging out, but they quickly passed me two miles out. It is said that ultra running is 90% mental and the other ten percent is in your head. As I ran over the rolling hills through miles 20 to 30 I checked out mentally, my day was over… should I even continue?
My crew supplied some true New England fare: Dunkin Donuts coffee and a sandwich at 50k. All the quaint New England scenery was lost on me as my crew asked how I was feeling; I just put my head down and decided to Hoka up. I had run the next 13 miles though Peterborough, NH before in training shoes and knew it was more road climbing and knee-pounding descents. I also knew that I’d be alone because I had not seen another runner since I was passed at 22. This was not my day, not by a long shot. My crew ran with me for a couple miles through the town festival in an attempt to lift my spirits. I barked at them and skipped the forty mile aid station entirely.
The course flattened out around mile forty for about a mile. I called my crew to apologize, and I was informed that I was a half-mile or so behind the lead female, and she was walking the flats. I highly recommend a crew that knows exactly how your mind works, even the ugly, prideful, unflattering parts. My crew chief is my partner and he knew telling me that would flip a switch. And it did. The spring in my step came back and that 90% mental was indeed switched; yes I was in my head convincing myself that I could actually win an ultra.
The relentless hills kept coming, but I knew these hills and how to work them and at mile 44 I made my move. I knew there was a long stretch of downhill and I could pass her and use the adrenaline and gravity to put some distance between us. From that point on it simply did not matter that it was a tiny field or that the hills were just getting steeper, this race was mine to win. My crew chief looked at me at mile 46 as I worked the hills and just said “Focus”. Mile 47 was the start of Pumpelly Trail, and I smiled at the volunteers and had one thing on my mind: GO.
Ascending Mt. Monadnock after running 47 miles is silly. The technical trail that is runnable ends about 2 miles in and quickly changes to a rock climb up through the tree line. I could see the summit volunteers and willed myself up. When I finally was within ear shot one yelled, “ I think she is one of us” then another yelled, “She’s wearing a Level shirt, she is a runner.” I just grinned from ear to ear as the volunteers and other summiteers cheered me on doling out accolades about being the first “chick”. For this mid-packer, it pretty much does not get much better.
All I had to do was stay up right on the white arrow trail and this was mine. That sounds easier than actually doing it. Navigating rocky outcrops down back below the tree line through the moist roots and stone after 52 miles proved difficult and for the first time I wondered if I might fall off the mountain. I did not and the adrenaline took over when I hit dirt, all the way to the base of the service road and passed the Parker trail to the finish. I thought I blew it, I had been telling myself it was mine to win and in that moment of premature celebration it was mine to lose. The thought of not going back up was quickly pushed out of my mind and I raced back up to the trail and just hoped that I had not been passed. With a quarter mile of a 55 mile race left a volunteer told me I was first female. This race tested every fiber of my being, physical and mental. It exposed me. It was everything a race should be.
Thanks to Tom Frost for the pics. They’re cool shots to begin with, but the fact that Lori is wearing our singlet makes that that much better. Congrats Lori! Full results can be found here. Ryan Palmison was the overall winner in 8:58:12. Lori ran 13:28:30 and placed 9th overall. Not too far ahead of her was another loyal member of Level Legion: Thor Kirleis. Thor ran 12:09:21 and came in 6th overall.