Tag: Todd Callaghan

Gate City Takes Home 2nd Straight NH Grand Prix Win at Pack

By Mike Giberti

This past Sunday, the Pack Monadnock 10 Miler in Wilton, NH was the race to watch in the New England road racing scene. The event was both the 2nd installment of the USATF-NE Mountain Circuit and the 2nd race in the New Hampshire Grand Prix Series. Many of the top mountain runners made up the front of the field along with the NH Grand Prix series drawing members of the New Hampshire RRCA clubs to add to the depth.

Brandon Newbould (Whirlaway Racing Team) wound up the individual winner of the event with a time of 64’08” over runner-up Kevin Tilton who was about a minute and a half back. Now that doesn’t sound like a blazing fast 10 mile time, but when you figure in the fact that there was 1800 feet of elevation gain from start to finish and the last half of that gain being “Packed” (literally) into the last approximately two kilometers of the race, this is a very impressive finish. Brandon is also the coach of the Greater Derry Track Club team that placed second in the NH Grand Prix team standings.

The top masters for men was Todd Callaghan, who took his second straight masters mountain race title along with double teaming for the Gate City Striders and netting them 10 NH Grand Prix points in the process. Also double teaming for Gate City was top senior finisher Dave Dunham, who narrowly missed the senior’s course record on what turned out to be a warm day for the runners. With a more seasonable temperature, he’ll get that record next year no problem!

In the age-graded individual standings it was the aforementioned Dunham & Callaghan who took the top spots, scoring 10 & 9 points, respectively. This vaulted them into 4th & 5th place for the season. Since they both missed the first event of the series they trail a couple of guys, including series leader Rob Edson. Rob scored 7 points at Pack, which helped him add to the lead he got from his Nashua Soup Kitchen 5k win.

On the women’s side of things, Kath Hardcastle from Watertown, MA broke the tape in a 74’11”. The top master’s female, Christin Doneski, took the 2nd overall honors on the day just three minutes behind Hardcastle and scored 10 NH Grand Prix points out of the Female 40-49 division for the Granite State Racing Team. Doneski was also the top age-graded woman on the day and earned 10 points in the individual standings. Since she also missed the Soup Kitchen race, she currently sits in third. Nashua winner Lynn-Marie Fawcett picked up another 9 points and remained at the top of the standings. Lynn Marie has a bit more of a cushion than Edson does in the men’s standings, but it’s still early and both titles are up for grabs still.

For the New Hampshire Grand Prix, this was hands down the toughest race in the series as the next four races all decrease in distance and are not net uphill. The Gate City Striders took advantage of the home turf location and won the race by a 35 point margin over the second place Greater Derry Track Club. The Upper Valley Running Club out of Lebanon, NH took third once again with the White Mountain Milers, Granite State Racing Team, and Rochester Runners rounding out the NH Grand Prix scoring teams. Here are the official team scores for the Pack Monadnock race:

Gate City Striders – 154
Greater Derry Track Club – 119
Upper Valley Running Club – 57
White Mountain Milers – 28
Granite State Racing Team – 18
Rochester Runners Club – 5

Check out the NH Grand Prix website for the official series scores after the first two races as well as a more in-depth summary by NHGP scorekeeper, Mike Giberti.

Record Setting Day at Pack Monadnock

The Pack Monadnock 10 Miler, the second entry in the 2014 USATF-NE Mountain Circuit, represents a stark contrast to the first race. Sleepy Hollow was all trails and mud, and even the roads leading up to the course were essentially muddy trails. For Pack, it was all on roads and most of it was even asphalt. Make no mistake about it though, it was still a mountain race.

Pack Monadnock Elevation

Courtesy of Garmin, and EJN’s pain & suffering.

Eric Macknight led the charge from the starting command and held onto the lead until about 8 miles in, where Brandon Newbould took control. But even then, it wasn’t in the bag. Brandon coaches some high school runners, and leading up to the race he had been joking around with them, telling them about how much of a beast this particular race is. Brandon explained:

I was telling them about the last time I did this and just how painful the end of that race is, and that I remember going up that (the last climb) thinking, I had the race won, all I had to do was keep moving, and I remember thinking ‘second isn’t that bad.’ A moment of weakness, but today was the same thing,” said Brandon, laughing. That sums up the last climb quite nicely. As Kevin Tilton explained afterwards, the last mile of Pack Monadnock is steeper than what you get at the Mt Washington Road Race. For his part, Kevin did quite well. In fact it was on that last climb, near the grueling end of it, that Kevin reeled in Macknight.

To push yourself to get after anybody going up that wall takes some resolve. Brandon reiterated: “Really all I had to do was hang on but I remember thinking ‘jeez it won’t be that bad if Kevin catches me or if one of those guys gets me. I tried hard,” said with a smile on his face, of course. “To be honest, everybody wrestles with some doubts and stuff, you know and I was able to fight them down but it was an argument. It was just very painful…a very painful finish.” Brandon ended up with a 64:08, with Tilton and Macknight following up in 65:40 and 65:53, respectively.

While not exactly pedestrian, it was a little slower for the lead guys. The same can’t be said for the other leaders. Kath Hardcastle made a serious run at the women’s overall record, her 74:11 falling just short of Gina Lucrezi’s 73:25. Not too bad for a woman with a little bit of Boston left in her legs. Instead she had to settle for the sub-masters record, which was a 76:25 (by Tara Cardi). If you’re not familiar with Kath, it may be because she moved to Montana a couple of years ago but is back in Boston now and taking full advantage of the opportunity to compete in the mountains again.

“I had a vague memory of the course but apparently I had forgotten just how hard it was! No shortage of hills the entire way.  I’m still testing the proverbial waters being 3 weeks out from the Boston marathon so my goal with the mountain races is to have fun and love running,” said Kath. Since she didn’t know exactly what was in the marathon-weary legs, Kath pushed it out harder trying to get a bit of a cushion on the women’s field. Would there be enough left in the tank for the climb to get her through to the end though? The strategy paid off this time, with her nearest competition being three and a half minutes back. That runner was Christen Doneski.

snapAcidotic Pack Monadnock Doneski

Christen climbing the last wall, courtesy of SNAPacidotic.

Christen ended up second overall, and although the masters runner extraordinaire didn’t get the outright win (as she did so many times last year), she still had an outstanding race. Her final time of 1:17:39 eclipsed Kathy Maddock’s old record by three seconds. Record setting masters win? Yeah, that should take the sting out of finishing second.

“My goals for Pack were to be first masters and to beat the standing masters record. I figured if I could maintain 7 minute miles on the road that would make my goal of sub 1:17:42 attainable. So that is what I did; my first mile was just over 7 and my second was under 7. I am not a numbers person, but when I hit Miller State Park (editor’s note: just over a mile to go) I knew it was going to be close and that I needed to run smart. When I hit 1/4 mile to go I was at 1:15. As I came over that last wall and saw the clock I had to kick it in and crossed the line at 1:17:39…goal met by 3 seconds. I was happy.”

That was a plan well executed. Christen is also coming off of Boston, and she recognized the tall order that it would be to try to keep up with Hardcastle. Instead, she came up with a plan, ran her own race, and set a record in the process. For the men, the top masters runner once again was Todd Callaghan. Todd ran a 67:49 and finished 7th overall. Not only did Todd have to hold pace to keep any other masters off of him, but if he slipped too much he might’ve been taken down a senior.

Senior Dave Dunham ran a 70:02 and missed Martin Tighe’s senior record by a scant 14 seconds. That is so heartbreakingly close. He must’ve ran about 9.9 miles before realizing he was just going to miss it. Not too bad for a guy who’s had to fight through an ankle injury and a bout of walking pneumonia recently. Dave ended up placing 11th overall, showing that he’s still a force to be reckoned with in the mountains.

Where Dave fell short, Cathy Pearce nailed it. The Whirlaway senior runner ran an 88:37, breaking Lisa Doucett’s course record of 89:04. With the way these ladies are racing, it’s shaping up to be a very exciting year. How many other records will fall?

Next up in the series is Wachusett Mountain on May 24th.

For more, check out pics by SNAPacidotic, and our interviews with:

Men’s champion Brandon Newbould
Women’s champion Kath Hardcastle
Top renners Dave Dunham and Kevin Tilton

Sleepy Hollow Kicks Off Mountain, ATR Series

Mason Sleepy Hollow Enman

Kasie Enman orchestrated a heck of a race, including her own outstanding win. Courtesy of Scott Mason Photo.

The first one is in the books, and boy was it a doozy. The Sleepy Hollow Mountain Race served a couple of different purposes this year and it had more than enough mud to go around for each of them. Traditionally this race has been on the USATF-NE mountain circuit and is once again for 2014. This race is a bit of a hybrid in that it’s also a trail race, and in that role it served as the USATF-NE trail championship race and was also the trail segment of the new All Terrain Runner series. That’s a lot to process right there.

With all that in mind, there was more than just pride on the line. Series points, titles, and of course, bragging rights. Enter Josh Ferenc (aka the Last Hero and Only Hope): ”I was just going to attack the whole time. I knew that it would be really really tough for someone to hang with me.” And attack he did, right from the gun. There’s a brick walk on the far right side of the start area, and while everyone else at the front opted to dive right into the soft, sloppy slope, Josh shot up the launching pad that was the walk way. In fact, in the video below you can see the point at the start where EJN looks over and is thinking “that Ferenc is a clever SOB…”. Josh had a singular goal in mind: to run his race, pushing the needle as close to that redline as he could go, no matter what the competition had in mind for a plan.

There’s a preme for this race, where the first man and woman to hit the high point (just over a mile in) are awarded the coveted King of the Mountain status (and get some sweet syrup). On his way to putting a hurting on everyone (including himself), Josh picked up that preme as well. Said Josh of his effort: “I gave everything I had today. I was really hurting.” It showed in the results too (well, not the hurting part at least) as he ended up with a 2:05 lead over second place Jim Johnson.  Johnson and Kevin Tilton are no slouches (and also no strangers to less than favorable trail conditions), but couldn’t quite keep up with Josh. Jim edged Kevin by seven seconds, which is much closer than it sounds on a trail like that.

The wildcard in it all was Nate Jenkins, the elite road runner who was lured back onto the trails by the new All Terrain Runner series. Would Nate be able to hang with the trail animals? Or would Nate tame said animals? Jenkins held his own in the deep field and ended up finishing 4th in 43:13. Johnson, Tilton and Jenkins are all CMS teammates too, so it was a good day for the Striders.

For Kasie Enman, the race might’ve been the easier part. Kasie is not only some elite, globe-trotting Salomon runner, but she’s also the race director for Sleepy Hollow. “I was nice and tapered, felt good. I also didn’t get to warm up because I was race directing, so I used the first lap as a warm up.” Kasie gave a nice little pre-race speech, then quickly hopped onto the line, and during her ‘warm up’ she picked up the King of the Mountain preme as the first woman to mount the summit.

Kasie impressively finished 16th overall with a 46:44 and must’ve been pretty comfortable with the home course advantage. Kasie was able to put some distance between herself and her nearest competitors, which happened to be a couple of Somerville Road Runners: Kath Hardcastle (49:02) and Kate Hails (52:40).

Top masters runner and defending mountain series champion (overall) Christin Doneski was in unfamiliar territory: 4th place. Although her 53:43 was good for top masters runner on the day and 46th overall, Christin was faced with stiff competition for the overall win. The fact that she was even that close despite having recently run the Boston Marathon was a feat in and of itself. Between the marathon fatigue and the deeper field, it made for a challenging day. On her race, the conditions and her fitness, Christin said:

First, I have NEVER run in conditions like that. I was actually in a very good mood going in to this race. I was worried about my fatigue (from Boston and my post-marathon cold) but I was happy to be there and thought the sloppy conditions would be fun. They were fun and exciting initially but by the end my legs were pretty tired. Having to really pick my feet up for every step took it’s toll. What do you call it “post-holing” when you stride and one leg sinks in to mid calf….well whatever it is called I did that a number of times and it really brings your momentum to a stand still. The conditions were certainly part of the fun, but also an area in which I was entirely inexperienced. That said, I know coming off Boston definitely impacted my climbing. I am usually much stronger on the uphills than downhills and I was not as strong on the uphills as I would have liked.

Post-holing really is the perfect way to describe that energy sucking phenomenon that plagued runners throughout the race (and just added to the fun of it all).

Speaking of the masters, Todd Callaghan got exactly what he wanted: mud. Todd knew those conditions would play to his strengths and he capitalized on the opportunity by running a 44:20. That was fast enough to place him 9th overall and make him the fastest masters runner on the day.

Next up is the mountain series is the Pack Monadnock 10 Miler, while the window is now open for All Terrain Runners to get their track 5k in.


Callaghan’s a Mudder!

Todd Callaghan wanted mud at the Sleepy Hollow Mountain Race, and boy did he get it. Todd went on to win the masters division, running 44:20 for 10k and placed 9th overall. The race served as the first entry in both the USATF-NE Mountain Series and All Terrain Runner series, as well as the New England Trail Championship.

Trail Magic

Pacing at the Rio Del Lago 100 Miler

by Todd Callaghan

Editor’s Note: This is the second portion of a two part story from Todd on his experience in pacing his friend Eric Litvin at the Rio Del Lago back on November 10th and 11th. Part I (Behind the Sweepers) was published on November 20th.

All this time, I had forgotten about Eric, who was receding inward—the sweat from his previous hard work and stress now evaporating, his muscles contracting-a sugar low setting in. His mind is in ontological rewind—becoming a child, an infant, an egg. A situation familiar to winter hikers and trail runners who for whatever reason suddenly have to stop, then realize they can’t feel their hands, can’t remember where they are, need to switch into survival mode.

At this point, several highly improbable events aligned and we were able to rejoin the RDL race course. Suffice it to say that we experienced firsthand some very necessary Trail Magic. For the first time in several hours I felt some sense of relief. We just might get another chance to do this thing. Trail Magic.

Then Eric says “I’m cold,” and we see that he is visibly shaking and uncomfortable. Jeff gives him his down jacket and we prod him to start moving. He’s chattering and moaning, but at least he’s moving. I give him a few stiff-arm shoves to make sure he is moving fast enough—getting blood flowing again and his core temperature back up. As bad as this seems, I’m ebullient.

As we plod through the dark night, I’m enervated by how alive the woods are. There is scraping, scurrying, hissing, and hooting. Our headlamps illuminate the creepy orange zombie eyes of browsing deer. At one point I see a pair of green eyes low to the ground and I make out the spotted hunched back of a snarling bobcat. Later a striped skunk waddles across our path. Near the Granite Bay aid station we pass right under a pine tree where a great horned owl is hooting its territorial call. These calls and close calls bring another dimension to the otherwise two dimensional night. We’re both stumbling, tripping over the rocks that menace our ankles and shins as clouds of light dust swirl above the dry trail with every footfall. Our only focus at that point was to make it to Beals Pt., mile 78 (more like 87 for Eric), before the mandatory 4 AM cutoff.

Several hours later, as we approached the spiraling, red runway lights that directed us down the chute into the aid station, I had an awful realization that it wasn’t over yet. The way the Rio Del Lago course finishes is with an 11-mile backtracking across some of the most difficult and rocky terrain and then runners head out yet again across the same boulders back to the finish. This makes sense from a race organizer’s perspective and for the safety of the runners, allowing the last painful miles to be familiar and close enough for a rescue if necessary. But for a tired runner, it messes with your mind to be at the finish and then have to leave all that comfort behind and head back into the bush for another 22 miles. I tried not to think about how it would feel to have to turn right back around and face upstream into the migratory path of the lucky runners finishing their last few miles. I pushed those selfish thoughts aside and remembered that I was in this race as a pacer. It wasn’t about me. My job was to motivate Eric and keep him on his feet and taking steps forward for the next seven hours.

Getting Blood Pressure TakenWhen we finally made it to Beals Pt., it was 3:30 AM-we made the cutoff by a half hour. Caroline and Ryan were there but I honestly don’t remember seeing them. I recall Eric checking in with the medics, getting weighed, them pressing him to see if he really had it in him to continue. I recall them noting that he was dehydrated and making him swallow a few salt pills. The medic looked at me and said “How is he?” I flatly replied “He’s good.” I was terrified that they’d force us to turn in our race numbers. Word of our getting lost had been passing though the various aid stations and the medic admitted that he’d been keeping an eye out for the two of us specifically. I was relieved when the medic said “Give him another salt pill in 20 minutes” as he thrust a capsule into my gloved hand. It was a good reminder that I should be taking some myself. Everyone was rooting for us at this point—as they were for all runners—but us in particular because of our inadvertently adding on a 10% bonus to the length of the course. Later, after the race, the medic would admit to Eric that at 3:30 AM, he “looked awful” but the medic knew that Eric had “the heart to finish”, so they didn’t pull him from the course.

The last 22 miles were drudgery. At times I had to Heisman Eric in the back to keep his feet moving forward. At one point Eric pointed to a large wildflower bending into the trail and said “There it is” and kept moving peremptorily onward before I could resolve the mystery, as if we had been botanist explorers looking for this rare, withered weed but he was too busy to stop to retrieve it so now it was my job to pluck and preserve it for posterity. Sometime later, Eric declared that he had seen Smokey the Bear. No stranger to the occasional hallucination myself, without skipping a beat I said, “You mean with the hat and ‘Prevent Forest Fires?’” “Yes, in the manzanita,” he said, meaning it. I was warned by our crew chief, Ryan, to expect at least one major crash, a belligerent denial of food, water, and all things rational. Luckily, I have a four-year old at home. Noticing that Eric was filling his pockets at the aid stations but wasn’t eating anymore, I asked him to reach into his pocket and eat three things. This sort of nibbling, setting a defined limitation to the amount that I was asking him to push down his gullet at any one time, seemed to work. Every 20 minutes or so, I’d ask him to eat a chocolate or another three things. Once, he projectile vomited a whole mouthful of pretzels that I had badgered him to eat. So I kept it simple and small. Later, I tricked him by saying that I’d open a GU gel for him and eat half and give him the other half. I wouldn’t eat any and he’d force all the calories down.

When Eric’s pace slowed to nearly a stop, I’d entreat him to swing his arms back and forth and the momentum would help keep his knees moving forward. I also showed him how to press his palms on the end of his thighs near the knees and powerhike up the hills like the European mountain runners. At night, some clever trail elves had hung glow sticks that helped to keep us motivated, giving us a clear visual goal to run to, then slow back to a power walk. To his credit, Eric ate, drank, and forced himself to jog whenever I asked. An ultrathon forces a runner to dig deeper than they ever have before and Eric was there, in his own personal well, willing himself forward, with a strength few people dare themselves to find.

The miles crept on and on like this until the sun came up and we found new energy in being able to see the trail, feel the orange sun vaulting over the ridge, get some dopamine flowing back into our brains. When we reached the last aid station at Granite Bay, about 5 miles from the finish, our entire crew and Eric’s daughter were there. Eric visibly sucked energy from Maia’s hug. I grabbed his water bottles and filled them with a mixture of water and Tailwind energy drink, which I had been doing surreptitiously for about six hours ever since he started to rebel against it (drinking 300 calories per hour was a key part of Eric’s race nutrition plan, so I tried to stay with it).

Ryan had taken a photo of a finisher’s belt buckle (the traditional finishers’ medal for 100-mile races) and showed the photo to Eric. “See this Eric. Only five more miles and it is yours.” I guzzled four cups of flat Coke, ate three boiled potatoes with salt, and devoured the most delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich made by Jeff and Caroline’s daughter, Francis. I was powered up and focused. Knowing how hard the last few miles of a marathon are, and having seen even 2:30 marathoners slow to a jog or walk at the end, I knew that this race wasn’t over. Even though we had an hour and a half to move our bodies only five miles, the California sun was heating up the parched terrain and Eric had been up for 28 hours, covering over a hundred miles. I didn’t want him to blow up.

We kept our focus, and even passed a few struggling runners in the last few miles. We were cheered on by mountain bikers and Sunday hikers enjoying Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, incredulous that any human could run 100 miles, let alone do it continuously for almost 30 hours. The roar of the finish line drew us forward. I told Eric that I was going to peel off at the end, let him run through the chute on his own. This was his race, I was merely the pacer. Seeing my friend Eric cross the finish line 29 and a half hours after starting the Rio Del Lago ultrathon, hearing the announcer shout his name, seeing Eric’s daughter Maia run into the chute to greet him, in my addled and vulnerable state, it was like a childhood birthday and Christmas, Halloween, and Easter all rolled into one. It was like burying my whole face into my first birthday cake: a chocolate cake heaped with butter cream frosting, decorated with Elmo holding hands with a purple fairy princess, riding a sparkling rainbow unicorn. It was delicious. I wept.

Author and Finisher

No worse for the wear: Eric (L) and Todd (R). Photo credit: Caroline Hamilton


If you’ve never attempted an ultramarathon or never volunteered at one or crewed for a friend, I highly recommend it. Add it to your running life list. The ultra community is tight, but welcoming and ever-supportive. I didn’t see any competition per se as we know it in the USATF series’ we obsess over here in the northeast. But I did see some awesome competitors and they all appeared to honestly wish their fellow runners well. While a 100-mile race might seem like a 20-plus-hour sufferfest, I cannot tell you how many smiling, cheery, downright perky, runners I saw at the RDL. We’ve got some great ultra races here in New England: the Pineland Farms 50K and 50-mile in Maine, the Vermont 50 and 100 milers, the Pisgah Forest 50K in Vermont, and the Stonecat marathon and 50-mile in Topsfield, Massachusetts, among others. Even if you are not ready to log the hours necessary to finish an ultramarathon, get yourself out there and help someone else achieve their dream: work an aid station, be a pacer. Or just forget your road mileage for a day and ramble in the woods for a few hours, infuse your mind with the sounds and smells, build your own cathedral, create a little Trail Magic.

Behind the Sweepers

Pacing at the Rio Del Lago 100 Miler

by Todd Callaghan


The Rio Del Lago 100 mile Ultrathon, “The Jewel of the Sierra Nevada Foothills” began in 2000 and runs from Beal’s Point along Folsom Lake, about 40 minutes east of Sacramento, out to the town of Cool where runners do two 8-mile loops and then head back to Beal’s Point.  The course traverses oak forests, meadows, expansive river valleys, and scenic bridges. The course is well-marked, well-staffed, and the atmosphere at the aid stations is festive throughout the race, even at night. The race director, Julie Fingar, is an ultrarunner herself and manages several of the popular ultras in California. She and her team NorCalUltras do an excellent job keeping runners safe and focused and most importantly, I was impressed by how they all were rooting for every runner to finish the race, even ignoring their own self-imposed cutoff of 30 hours to allow the last runner to see the finish line in 30:15:14.

Editor’s Note: This is the first portion of a two part story from Todd on his experience in pacing his friend Eric Litvin at the Rio Del Lago back on November 10th and 11th. Part II (Trail Magic) will be published on November 21st.

RDL Racer and Pacer

Pre-race photo: Runner Eric Litvin and pacer/author Todd Callaghan. Credit: Maia Litvin

We follow the windy road down into a desolate canyon until it dissolves into a concrete spillway running dryly into some unknown Stygian river. The rushing violence sounds as cold and dark as the lonely night pressing down upon us. I get a sense like vertigo where I want to throw myself into the marching, wet chaos—end this nightmare.

We’re 55 miles into the Rio Del Lago 100 miler, or at least that was the mileage at our last aid station, Auburn Dam Overlook, before we got lost for two and a half hours. I’m miserable and can’t look my friend Eric in the eyes. As his pacer, I joined him at mile 47, ostensibly to help him get though the second half of his race and safely through the night—whose oppression on a sugar-starved mind can produce an insidious delirium. Simply put, my job was to ensure that he didn’t die, give up, or get lost. I’ve got one strike already and I fear another wicked curveball coming up.

“Maybe it’s a little further” he says hopefully, referring to the elusive race course that we know must lay somewhere in this unforgiving canyon. But there is no further here—just wet, cold, and dead in the murderous river. “No it’s not” I say tersely. I know we need to head back out of this canyon—a steep one-mile climb on an abandoned road violated by bear droppings and the treacherous white arrows that led us astray.

As we start the long climb back up, he says “It’s over” and I sense his resignation in ways beyond auditory. His soul is crushed. I feel sick to my stomach—like when your wisdom teeth are being pulled and you can feel every one being wrenched out, because there is no local anesthetic and they don’t go without a fight and it’s you pulling them with your rusty fishing pliers, one by one. I’m really nauseous and feel the flutter of my flight or fight response kicking in. I am coming to the realization that this dream, to help my college roommate and life friend achieve this goal that he has been working toward for months, is evaporating quickly.

I think back to the Cool aid station at mile 31 (yes, it is in the town of Cool, great name, huh?) when it was 75 F out and Eric didn’t want to eat. “This is so indignant” he complained as I forced him to swallow a fistful of calories without chewing and his 10-year old daughter filmed it on her iPhone for later blackmail currency.  As the turnaround point for the race, as well as a mandatory medical check station and the nexus of two 8-mile loops, the Cool aid station was a convenient place for runners to drop out, to decide that they had given it their all. At least 10 people did, in fact, opt to open their post-race beer at that point.

Red Bull Music Truck

Optimus Prime, er, Red Bull music truck. Courtesy of Todd Callaghan.

The Cool aid station was a study in contrasts. The station volunteers all had on capes: purple sparkles, Superman, Batman, and a red one covered top to bottom with race numbers. As the weary runners approached the station, the caped volunteers were the kindest mothers, medicating with their mellifluous voices and nourishing ministrations. This was counterpointed by a militant bald man with a clipboard keeping track of runners coming in and out of the aid station, unsmiling, pursuing his daylong task with grimacing efficiency. The aid station table was covered with potions, lotion, and ice. Runners staggered over to the orderly rows of drop bags and pillaged, ransacked, and disordered their well-packed bags as they searched for that special something that was going to keep blisters, hunger, and thirst at bay. Crouching nearby was a ginormous Red Bull, four-wheel sound machine. Like a transformer, the roof separated from the chassis and speakers emerged on pneumatic pedestals to pulse the runners with energizing music. Cool was where day merged with night for some of the back of the pack runners, as happened with us.

But that was ages ago and our reality now is that we’re hiking back up this damn hill and we can see a ridge with lit house windows mocking us. Eric says “Let’s bushwhack up to those houses.” He’s delirious with the fear of his hard-earned miles going to waste. We’ll be disqualified from the race if we do not reach the Beal’s Point aid station by 4:30 AM. Beals Pt. is 24 miles away—a good six hours at the pace we were going before we got lost. But it is now 9 PM and we’re at the bottom of some forgotten valley, getting cold, despondent, and now completely unsure of our ability to get back on course.

I reach into my running vest and pull out my phone. I have to give credit here to my wife, Laurie, who earlier harangued me into promising that I would carry a phone with me. Remarkably, I have cell reception. I leave a message for Ryan our crew chief—the guy staying up all night to meet us at the various aid stations to provide support, food and water, change of clothes, but most importantly, mental support—affirmation that all is OK and that we “look good.” I tell Ryan’s answering service that we might not make it to the Rattlesnake Bar aid station where he is waiting. Despite the situation, I used the term “might not” because I’m still holding out that we might experience some “trail magic” and rejoin the trail and get back into our rhythm.

On Friday, after all the racers had gotten weighed and had their blood pressure checked—a process that would be repeated during and after the race to ensure runner safety—the original Rio Del Lago race course designer, a peppy septuagenarian stood up before us with his wife (who has run six 100-milers since she turned 66 he pointed out to those of us who might be doubting our own abilities) and told us about “Trail Magic.” A 100-mile ultrathon is long and arduous, but as many have attested to while hiking the Appalachian Trail, mysterious helpers, both human and supernatural, supply food, drink, a ride, or mental support, just when you need it most. He mentioned being kind to others out there on the course, respecting the wilderness as well as the race, and picking up after one’s self. Lost as we were, we were definitely in need of some help, supernatural or otherwise. Earlier in the day, Eric had bent over to pick up a Styrofoam cup, the remnants of a soup hastily disposed of by a tired runner. As he did so, another runner passing said “Trail Magic.” Maybe, just maybe, our cosmic karma would turn this situation around.

Having not reached our teammate Ryan on the phone, I call Caroline, who was also crewing for Eric all day, but who was now at home getting ready for bed. Her voice sounded tired. I asked her to text Ryan for us to tell him that we might not make it to the next aid station. Her husband Jeff asks for the phone and asks me what has happened. Jeff Hamilton is a former speed skier (and world record holder) and is a good friend of Eric’s from their Aspen days. Jeff and Caroline are Eric’s daughter Maia’s godparents. That is to say, they are in this too, and are willing to do what it takes to help us get back on course. So it’s no surprise—though I was extremely relieved—when Jeff says “I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Luckily, Jeff and Caroline are staying in the town of Auburn at his parent’s house. He grew up in the town where we happen to be lost and knows the terrain well. We agree to meet back at the Auburn Dam Overlook aid station where there is easy access for vehicles.

RDL Drop Bags

Drop Bags at Cool Aid Station. Credit: Todd Callaghan

We finally pull ourselves out of the canyon and can see Caroline’s flashlight at the end of the dirt road ahead. While Caroline stands with us and helps us try to find an explanation for what has transpired over the last three hours, Jeff takes off in his truck and drives down the road apiece, to find where the race course diverges from the paved road and tucks back into the woods. There is a concrete culverted stream there, something called “Shirland Canal” I will later learn from Google’s orthophotos. This is what a helpful couple at the Auburn Dam Overlook aid station was calling the “aqueduct” when they attempted to give us directions after the first time we had gotten lost (did I mention that we got lost twice?)-which made no sense to me as I hadn’t traversed this part of the course before. Besides, it resembled nothing like an aqueduct, no sweeping Roman architecture, but instead a rather pathetic, meager rill.

As we are staring into the woods, the helpful aid station couple pulls up in their car and say “You got lost again?!” incredulously, and in a way that seems to me to be taunting. I was angry with them as they were the ones that I had asked specifically if the course turned with a white arrow in the road, went through a green gate and descended a road. “Yes, yes”, the woman said at that time, “Down a long, windy road and then take the right at the bottom.” She was right, but we were thinking of different gates and different roads about a quarter mile from each other. Both of which descended into the canyon, but only one of which connected with the race course.

The helpful couple went ahead of us briefly in their car and then stopped at the entrance to the trail. The old man leans out his window and drops the hammer: “You’re behind the sweepers.” It doesn’t register to my foggy brain what this means. “There are volunteers following behind the last runners and they are removing the orange tags from the trees and all other trail markings.” Oh shit. I look into the woods and there is an obvious path, but who knows what sort of crossroads, forks, river crossings, might lay unmarked ahead. I had not seen this part of the course so I have no mental trail memory to rely upon and it is becoming clear that Eric’s reserving all of his blood flow for muscle movement. After starting down the trail I freeze in my tracks. A terror sets in. Again, I feel sick—“It’s over” repeats in my mind.  They are going to yank us off the course, I fear. The older woman is now trying to give directions again and I feel a shrinking inside. I want to push forward but the risk of getting lost—yet again—is palpable. There is a taste like gun metal in my mouth.

To be continued…

Loon Mt: There Is No Safe Word

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Loon race action, courtesy of Scott Mason Photo.

The next stop in the 2013 USATF-NE Mountain Series is the Loon Mountain Race this Sunday (July 7th). Hundreds of runners will descend upon Lincoln, NH and then attempt to ascend one of the most challenging courses around. If you really want to test your mettle on a mountain, Upper Walking Boss is just waiting to test your fortitude. And at a pre-reg price of only $20 ($25 for day of reg), it’s quite the bargain.

The Level will be there covering the race this year. In addition to covering it, EJN (and his brother BroJN) will both be running it. EJN only has one race under his belt during his comeback (delightfully downhill Hollis), but he is hoping to avoid letting Upper Walking Boss turn him into a Lower Crawling Bitch. Remember… There Is No Safe Word!

Speaking of the infamous Upper Walking Boss… The Boss is an approx. half mile stretch near the end where you’re running up a black diamond ski slope that is at about a 40% grade. Legends are made in an environment such as that.

There’s something tough and pure about the mountain series that is right in line with the spirit of Level Renner. Runners go to the mountains to push themselves harder than they can on the roads. Man’s battle against the course is a key element to the race, and that is amplified so much when the race takes place in such a majestic location: out in nature, on a mountain. A bear was photographed on the course at Loon in the past (last year?), and a moose crashed onto the course at the Bretton Woods Fell Race earlier this year. You’re out in it; not only are you going to toe to toe with your inner demons, but you could wind up racing a moose.

Odds are you’ll just be competing with your fellow runners. Many of them have more than just the race on the line since they are competing for the overall Mountain Series championship. The mountain series doesn’t seem to get the attention that the road Grand Prix gets, but it is still fiercely contested. A couple of submissions from two of the finer mountain runners around seem to sum this up.

Todd Callaghan submitted this shortly after placing 5th at the Ascutney Mountain race:

“Another great battle with some of the best mountain runners in NE. I looked around me and noticed that this was the most stacked the front pack of the Ascutney Race has been in several years (D Dunham concurred). I am usually just behind the front pack and in front of the chase pack in a no-man’s land, but this time I was surrounded by hard-breathing runners from the get-go (Newbould, MacKnight, Ferenc, Krause, Dunham, Williams). It looked to be anyone’s race. Mac the Knight tried to put the field off balance with an early surge, but Ferenc took one more evil step toward world domination by pulling ahead of the field for the win.

Callaghan Ascutney

“I have attached a photo that I like that appears that I am leading Krause and Newbould, who admitted that he allowed the surge because it was my wife taking the photo.”

Brandon Newbould, one of the subjects of that submission, also sent something in. Brandon’s was about his race experience at Mt Washington. It just wasn’t a good day for him, and because of that it looks like it could be a pretty tough day for those trying to beat him at Loon: “I’m pissed off, but the good news is that my back will heal very soon and I’m going to hit Loon with the fury of a prizecock on crack.  I have a chip on my shoulder and I want to make some people hurt… if they beat me I will make them bleed for it.  I have three weeks to groom myself for a noble death, and I plan to take full advantage.”

A noble death. Give you chills just thinking about that level intensity. Who needs mud or elaborate obstacle courses? Mother Nature created quite a few challenging courses and they’re called mountains. If you really want to see what’s inside of you when a race takes you to that scary place (The Line), Loon will be your next chance to do so.

Speaking of Loon, check out these race videos by Tim VanOrden. This one is a bit of a race preview featuring a few familiar faces:

Here is some good old fashioned race coverage.

Still plenty of time to pre reg, so hopefully you can fit the race into your weekend plans. We’ll see you there.

Cover shot also courtesy of Scott Mason Photo.

Loon Mt logo

Last Hero, Only Hope & King of the Mountain

The fourth mountain series race was this past Sunday (June 9th), with runners this time attacking Ascutney Mountain in Windsor, VT. No moose sighting in this race, and the Sasquatch was subdued. Josh Ferenc picked up his second win of the series (the first coming at Sleepy Hollow). Ferenc ran a 29:54, and the rest of the field started coming in 44 seconds later. Macknight, Newbould, Krause, Callaghan, Dunham…some of the usual suspects right there. Callaghan was the top masters runner again (5th overall, 31:37) but Dunham gave him a fight and was right behind him.

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Josh in action at Sleepy Hollow, his first 2013 series win. Courtesy of Scott Mason.

For now Josh isn’t quite a threat in the overall series standings. Missing the last two races hurt him there. Meanwhile, Macknight and Newbould took turns winning the last two and have put up solid races throughout. At the moment Newbould enjoys a slim lead over Macknight with two races left.

The women’s race was close, but there was no epic finish this time. Abby Mahoney again took down Christin Doneski, and both runners placed in the top twenty (16th and 19th, respectively). Doneski had to settle for knowing she was the top master in the race.

Mahoney, like Josh Ferenc, has only run two of the races this year. But also like Ferenc, she’s won both of her appearances. Although currently not threatening the series leaders, people still know she’s in contention when they see her on the line. Doneski is still sitting pretty on the top of the board through four, with Karen Encarnacion and Sarah Schlaack right behind her.

Next up is the ol’ Rock Pile, Mt. Washington. Although it’s not part of the series, it’s still one of the most iconic races around and brings out more than just the mountain goats.

Walking On Fire

“Friends, I normally try to avoid boasting. But when I have material that will surely intimidate possible racing opponents, I like to make it freely known:

“A couple nights ago I walked across hot coals barefoot. Four steps, and I didn’t pussyfoot it either. I walked calmly, like a man. Racing Sleepy Hollow this weekend and I’m calling the New England mountain goats out – I might not be in any kind of shape to race, but I’ll come at you with everything I’ve got.”

Brandon Newbould, 5/2/13

Brandon ran a 2:25:45 at Boston so it was surprising to see him not only racing again so soon but to be coming out firing like that. Surprising, yes, but also wildly entertaining and the type of stuff we love. A couple of days later I was on the phone with him and after talking about hot coals, he told me what Josh Ferenc had been up to. Josh had blown the doors off the field at the Muddy Moose 14 Miler the previous weekend and it was shaping up to be an epic race at Sleepy Hollow.

Josh ended up winning again at Sleepy Hollow, and two minutes later the chase pack came in (Eric MacKnight, Newbould, Jim Johnson and Todd Callaghan). Not only can these guys run but they can also provide some entertaining material. Here’s a Q&A with Ferenc and Newbould from the days following the race (over email):

How were you feeling going into it?

Josh: I was feeling like a big bag of cuss the whole week leading in, which didn’t do anything helpful for my psyche. I had a nice showing the week before on a 14 mile trail race but wasn’t sure that would translate to a 10k or would make a difference with added competition. I wanted to do well, especially because it is a VT race, and I wanted to live up to the hype of being VT runner of the year by New England Runner mag (not all of the hype is self made). But once I got there I felt scary, like the energies and power of Voltron coming together.

Brandon: I don’t really know, I tried not to think about it. I mean, I wasn’t prepared to race at all, but I was excited to tangle with anyone else dumb enough to put themselves through the mountain series. I’ve never tried to race within a month of a marathon finish before, so this was new territory for me. I took a couple weeks after the race to purify myself with homebrew and saunas, then started running easy through the woods about a week before Sleepy Hollow. The only running I did faster than 8′ pace was some strides mid-week. The marathon training and racing was still fresh in my head even after the break, so I was excited to get into the mountains (where I belong?) for the summer. If I knew what was coming I probably would have experienced more foreboding.

The lead pack charges up the mountain. Courtesy of Scott Mason.

The lead pack charges up the mountain. Courtesy of Scott Mason.

Pre-Race: What was the strategy? Was there any particular runner you were especially wary of?

Josh: I was concerned with Jim Johnson because you never know with him. He’ll sandbag you before the race, then be in the mix. Eric MacKnight is also very fast. He won Northfield in a fast time (still not as fast as my average pace… ;) and this course is very similar. Jim proposed leaving Eric home, but I bit the bullet and gave him a ride to the race. Owls kill things and all (99%) are loyal to the brethren of Keene State. Through the grape vine (Jim) I heard Brandon Newbould would be there. He’s always tough and he destroyed my taint at the DHJones 10 miler. He’s from Alaska, so of course he’s tough. He was raised wrestling grizzlies.

Brandon: When I left Alaska to come back East I thought there wouldn’t be any rednecks out here. Then I met Ferenc. I’m comfortable around guys like that, and I thought one way or another that we would have a showdown out there – even though it really looked to me like Ferenc was beaten by Kim Kardashian in a trail race the previous week (look up the results, I’m not lying). Turns out it wasn’t much of a showdown, and I had to deal with a few other guys. I knew Todd Callaghan and JJ would be there. Todd races with the tenacity of a gila monster so I didn’t count him out, and JJ is sort of a wood nymph. That is, he’s a tricky little fella, and he’s dangerous. Mack the Knight showed up race-day, which was financially irresponsible. That struck me as a bold move so I was prepared for a fight with him. Then again he’s my teammate, but then again (again) I knew he would race ferociously. That last part turned out to be downright clairvoyant.

How did the race go?

Josh: I went to the race for two reasons; see some friends and kick some ass. Saw my friends in the parking lot then kicked their asses…haha. It went well but I had to work harder than ever, and I was very fortunate to win. Anytime you can win with tough competition, it means it went well (at the least). I committed to a race plan and executed it nicely. That course favors a runner like me.

Brandon: Have you ever played with porcupines? They have really unexpected range with their tails, that’s why people think they can shoot their quills (they can’t). This race was kind of like messing with a porcupine – I thought I had the upper hand, I was fine, then wham, I got nailed a few times. Mack took it out but I pulled him in on the first climb, then Ferenc got right on my ass and started quietly chanting a mantra. What a creep. I couldn’t tell what he was saying. Maybe it was “es ist ganz einfach,” like the guy in Saving Private Ryan right before he pushes the knife into his opponent. Because then Ferenc sort of gently eased by me (enjoy those pancakes, friend) and I was dead. I like my downhill running fine but it wasn’t there that day. JJ caught me, Todd caught MacKnight, Macknight caught Todd, I caught JJ, Macknight caught me, Gonads & Strife. That was the race up front. Oh, and Ferenc got out of sight on the second climb, turned into the forest and traversed around the mountain back to the course. At least that’s what I figure he did since I don’t know how else the guy put two minutes on all of us.

Ferenc: I love his interpretation of my heavy breathing as a mantra… hahaha. I breath like a fat kid running towards the last Twinkie on Earth (on all my runs). Haha

Post-race: Any lessons learned? What’s next?

Josh: I learned that I’m more fit than I thought I was, Brandon ran a marathon then didn’t leave his couch except to walk on hot coals (which I wish I knew before hand, I wouldn’t have worried as much about him catching me the last mile). The clinking and clanging ain’t change in my pocket but brass balls banging together (glad that sound is back). My race strategy and tactics were almost perfect.

Brandon: I learned that breathing heavily in Vermont is dangerous. After the race we were all hacking like it was an indoor mile in January, then all the next day I was continually alarmed by what I can only describe as vibrantly colored pollen jellyfish coming out of my lungs. I learned that next time Ferenc passes me I should probably trip him, and I learned that this is going to be a great mountain series. JJ ran that race on one leg and still had a good showing, and that precocious youngster MacKnight does not respect his elders. I’m all-in for the mountains this summer and I’m starting to train again now, so this is going to be a lot of fun.

And Christin Doneski reacts to this by just shaking her head and says “boys…”. Okay, I made that last part up, but it seemed like a funny reaction. Had to give her a shout out here since not only was she the first women’s masters runner, but she was the first woman of any age across the line and placed 11th overall. That’s pretty bad ass.

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