Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mount Sentinel Hill Climb: Race Report

"There's a long line of cars/And they're trying to get through" Cake
A day late, a buck short. I apologize for the delay on the Mount Sentinel Hill Climb race report. A week or more past, I drafted up a pretty lengthy report only to have my computer freeze and ultimately lose the blog post.

Take two:

Linds took this picture moments after the start of the race from the bottom of the course.
I am visible with a yellow hat and black long-sleeve shirt.
The Mount Sentinel Hill Climb is an all-out effort race up Mount Sentinel's 2,000 vertical feet by way of 2 trails: the shorter and steeper northwest ridge and the longer, but gentler 'M Trail'. All runners are required to take the 'M Trail' to the giant cement-casted 'M' about 1/3 of the way of the mountain. At the 'M', runners are presented with the option of continuing on the gentler 'M Trail' or power up the steeper northwest ridge trail. With a previous PR of 24 minutes and 30 seconds on the length of the northwest ridge trail, I didn't know what to expect with the added distance of the 'M Trail' up to the 'M'.  This was a chance to find out!

Around 9:55AM on the morning of the race, 100 runners self-selected positioning and crammed themselves into the starting channel leading up to the entrance of the 'M Trail'. Although by trail standards the 'M Trail' is broad, it, at widest, can accommodate 2.5 adults shoulder-to-shoulder. I positioned myself roughly a third of the way back. Knowing I would not be running a step of the race, I opted for a comfortable placement that wouldn't impede passage of the swift mountain runners.

At 10AM the gun went off. It took a good 15-30 seconds for the front third of the pack to clear out and get moving up the trail. As spaced opened up, runners to my left and right began to first slowly walk, then walk swiftly and finally run! I was able to open up my power-hiking stride within the first 15 feet and finally get to work doing what I love best: moving swiftly in the mountains.

The longest and most gentle switchback of the entire route occurs first. Although crowded, there was enough space to somewhat gracefully move through the runners. At the turns of the first couple of switchbacks the pace expectedly slowed to a walk as the group made the turns. The first leg up to the 'M' proved a game of leapfrog with runners. On the steeper switchbacks I would pass 3-4 runners who in turn would pass me on the gentler switchbacks when they got back up to a solid running stride.

By the time I got to the 'M' runners had more or less settled into their pace/position for the race: a dozen or so in front of me and 80 or so behind me. I passed in the 'M' (620 feet off the valley floor) feeling strong, beaming brightly and enjoying myself thoroughly! I have no idea how much time had elapsed to get up there and frankly I didn't care. I was having a blast.

A few feet passed the 'M' the course splits: northwest trail or 'M Trail'. This was a no-brainer for me. I live for the northwest ridge trail!

I passed a few more folks on the middle portion of the mountain on the northwest trail as runners began to slow to a power-hike on the steeps. My approach with power-hiking, as it was with marathons and ultra-marthons, 'swift and steady'. I passed my last runner at about the halfway point. From there, I slowly closed in on the guy in front of me, only to have him pull away on the few gentler sections of the northwest ridge trail.

In this manner, the upper half of the mountain proved to much like any of the other 50+ times I had used this route as a training ground in the last year. Again, beaming, I accepted my place and smiled my way up to the final summit ridge of Mount Sentinel.

As I crested the ridge and the slope lessened to the summit, the finish line archway and clock came into view. The clock read 25 minutes and 40-some seconds. I was tempted to run in the last bit and see about getting under 26 minutes, but opted to stick to my guns and keep to my power-hiking race. I quickened to a power-walk and hit the finish line at 26 minutes and 32 seconds. Having never timed myself before utilizing this exact route (the 'M Trail' to northwest ridge trail route), I had nothing to compare it to and decided only to be pleased that I had had such a great time and had set a new PR.

Curious as to how the race unfolded, I checked the results later in the day to find out that I came in 14th place. The winners, elite trail runners, made it to the top in under 21 minutes! Amazing. All told, I am very pleased with my performance (I won't pretend I am not competitive) having not run a step of the race.

I had a blast and loved the low-key, local nature of the race. I will be back next year!

Onward and upward,


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