Race to the Top of VT, Back Down, and Up Again

by EJN Comments (0) Articles, Racing

Strange things happen at high elevation. For instance, in Vermont it’s been said that as you go higher up the air gets thinner and the syrup gets thicker. Perhaps this is why people lined up at Mt Mansfield to see who can get to the top quicker?

Whatever it was waiting for finishers at the top, it must’ve been great because Josh Ferenc attempted to beat the field to the summit twice, with essentially no rest in between attempts. Before we get into the nitty gritty of that, here’s a little info about this course (from the race website):

The course is 4.3 miles long and climbs 2,564 vertical feet on the famous Mt. Mansfield Toll Road to the summit parking lot. The course begins at an elevation of 1,279 ft and climbs to the summit parking lot at 3,843 ft. Racers will experience a steady incline averaging about 11 percent over the length of the course.

So Josh raced the runners up to the top, then turned around and had to hustle back down to immediately line up and then get on his bike for race #2. Incredible. “It was very cool to crest the final descent to the start line and have all the bikers whooping and cheering me on. I only had 90 secs before the bike race started,” said Josh.

Said Kim Nedeau, winner of the women’s race: “I think Josh Ferenc has set the bar incredibly high for normal athletes like me! His accomplishment is incredible! My husband Ethan was at the base of the mountain with the kids. He reported that Josh arrived back at the start with only enough time to drink a quick water and then hop on his bike before the gun went off.”

The foot race started at 9 am with the bike race following at 10 am. But, as Kim suggested to us, maybe they’ll consider bumping the bike start back to 10:30 next year to give more athletes a chance to get back down in time to attempt the double. I guess it all depends on how influential Ferenc is. Did he start a new trend at the Race to the Top of Vt?

Back to the foot race, Josh won but “didn’t have the day I thought I was going to.” Impressively that still meant he ran 35:47 and still won by nearly a minute. “I didn’t run as fast if a time base on the effort. I tried to get out in front and run as comfortable and fast as I could to win before I had to haul majoring cussing cuss to the bottom.”

As tough a competitor as Josh is, it’s no surprise he would take on a challenge like this. Training through a race is one thing, but what would this be called? Racing through? I guess you could call it a double, but for some reason it just doesn’t sound right. Maybe triple would be more appropriate due to the way he had “to haul majoring cussing cuss to the bottom” to get to the bike start.

“I had a ton of fun and climbed well but my legs were dead from running down as hard as I had too so when I tried to stand up my calves almost cramped so I was seated for most of the race,” said Josh. “I could see 3rd for the whole race, just didn’t have any legs left to make a move and catch.”

“It was awesome and tough and I really had fun. Frustrated I didn’t run as comfortable as I wanted, but like Cazz Michaels Michaels, ‘I’m never satisfied…'” Because of that, we’re expecting to see him attempt this again in 2015, only better situated for the double win with this experience under his belt. We think he’s feeling the same way: “This left me with undoubted confidence that I’ll be awesome at bike hill climbing if I ride more than just one race.”

For Kim Nedeau, the foot race turned out about the same as it did for Josh: a solid win, with about a minute gap between her and her closest competitor. Her final time was 41:26. The big difference here is that Kim got to relax and soak in the view when she got to the top (at least for a little bit).

For Kim, who was out in the lead early in the race, it was a get-out-in-front-and-hold-on kind of day: “I can’t say I never looked back because on those hairpin turns, I checked to make sure no women were near. I could see I was running on my own but I felt insecure the entire race because I wasn’t having a particularly strong race. I was struggling on the uphills (ha!) and a couple of men passed me. I was just holding on for the win.”

With any race, you never know who’s gonna show up. Either it could be any unexpectedly easy day at a traditionally fast event or just the opposite. At this race, there was a known, established force in the form of Liz Stephen who won in the previous two years and set the course record last year. That was reason enough for Kim to temper her expectations: “The woman, Liz Stephan, who won the previous two years is amazing. She is an Olympic nordic skier and does better to compete with the men than the women. I knew if she showed up, it would be almost unreasonable to run with her. On the other hand, winning is always on my mind. My uphill workouts were going really well so I was hoping for a fast race (if you can call mountain running fast!). I didn’t know what Liz looked like but when the gun went off, it was clear that she wasn’t racing. Her absence left the race wide open for the mortals.”

Kim is no mere mortal though. It’s a tough balance for her, juggling the racing schedules of herself and her husband Ethan Nedeau (another badass runner in his own right) along with raising a family. “My challenge will always be finding that sweet spot in my training that combines just enough running with just enough cycling so that I can run fast and stay injury-free. With old injuries just under the surface, that seems to be about 20 miles per week.”

That’s a very low mileage number, especially for someone as competitive as her. But she makes it work, which is no easy feat. Understanding your limits and being able to work within those restrictions is something that many people just don’t get. “It’s never as simple as running a ton of miles and doing a little stretching so I started working with Chris Dunn of Acidotic RACING in early spring. His understanding of this balance far exceeds mine. His focus on heart rate monitoring has been a game changer for me, particularly with bike training. I realized that I wasn’t working hard enough on the bike. I spent the winter reading good books while I biked but that habit changed once I had heart rate goals.”

With all that biking, maybe we’ll see her saddle up next to Ferenc in the bike race next year, too.

For a little more on Josh, check out this entertaining pre-race interview, which includes an amazing Q&A in which Josh asks and answers the questions.

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