2014 Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run

For the first time since 1999, neither Debbie nor I competed in the Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run. Her absence was by design but mine was unplanned. I was registered for the race, but didn’t start because of my shoulder injury. Last year we both race, as it was our 15th anniversary race.

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It was impossible to be at the race and not think about the recent passing of Chad Denning. He was frequently a presence at the VT50. There were some banners hanging in his honor, but those who knew him didn’t need the reminder that we were missing him.

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Despite not racing, it was an amazing weekend. We saw so many friends, and the weather was spectacular. Like every year, we had a large contingent from Team Horst Sports, including A. Zane Wenzel, Mike Wonderly, Ted D’Onofrio, Randall Dutton, Mark Hixson, and Arthur Roti. Along for the ride this year was an honorary member and fellow member of Team Pursuit Athletic Performance, Al Lyman. The entire Vermont 50 community is like an extended family to us.

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Debbie and I may not have raced, but our children did. The kids races have become very popular. Like last year, they were held on Saturday afternoon during race registration. There were a 1/2 mile, 1 mile, and 5 kilometer races. Our daughter did the 1 mile and our son did the 5K. Both of them had a blast.

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As awesome as yesterday’s weather was, it was topped by today. I’ve got sunburn. It was extremely warm for late September in south-central Vermont. The temperature soared into the low 80’s Fahrenheit. There was brilliant sunshine and a deep blue cloudless sky. There was a light breeze, which was very nice. The foliage is turning. The trails were in fantastic shape. I wish I could have ridden them as planned. Reports were that it was a bit dusty.

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Zane and Mike had great races, which Zane prevailing by 45 seconds over his teammate and rival. Both rode cleanly on the dusty trails. Once again, Mark and Art were crowd favorites and first place in the tandem division. They got some stiff competition from their perennial rivals, Mark and Vicki Schow.

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Ted rode on his own for most of the race and got it done as he works his way into cyclocross form. Randall and Coach Al met up on Garvin Hill at the 18 mile mark and rode the last 32 miles in each other’s company.

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Debbie, the kids, and I were joined by Al’s friend, Terry Williams. Early in the morning, Randall, Al and I drove to the start from Shack Dutton in Chester. I watched all of the 50 mile start waves beginning at 6:15 A.M., and then hung out until Deb, Terry, and the kids drove over to pick me up. We watched the start of the 50 kilometer run at 8:00 A.M. From the start, we went to Greenall’s Aid Station, also the site of the Vermont 100 start/finish. Greenall’s is at the 31 mile mark of the 50 mile race.

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At Greenall’s, we got a chance to watch Kyle Meyerrose, from Liquid Sky Cinema, pilot a drone called Cinestar 8. He was filming the mountain bikers. There was more carbon fiber parts on the drone than on the bikes that it was filming. Our son got a chance to watch the live feed from the drone mounted camera. It was very cool.

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I still can’t get over how amazing the weather was. One result was that most everyone registered started, which likely made it the largest VT50 ever. That also meant that it was a huge day for spectators. This race is already fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers. It was downright crowded out there.

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The VT50 has been slow to innovate. Debbie and I still have some criticisms and suggestions. With so many runners, they should develop a colored bib number system to tell the difference between 50-milers, 50 kilometers, and relay runners. It’s very confusing. At least after 21 years, they introduced chip timing to improve the accuracy of the results. I’m anxious to see how that worked out.

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This race is made possible by the volunteers, but also through the generosity of the land owners in Brownsville, South Woodstock, and the surrounding communities. These trails are special and race day is the only time you can officially ride or run on them. The course is one of the best in New England.

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I’m sure the race raised a ton of money for Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports. V.A.S.S. has benefited from the VT50 in so many ways.

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I’m going to focus on my recovery before I think about 2015, but odds are I’ll line up for the VT50 again, and it will most likely be on my mountain bike. For now, I’ll keep my unused number plate close as a reminder of how much fun it was to watch this year’s race.

Race Results

1994 Killington Stage Race, Lake Sunapee Road Race, and Katahdin Adventure

Earlier this summer, I wrote about the summer of 1994, which I spent racing the amateur kermesse circuit in Belgium. The fall of 1994 was also an important period for me. I started my “senior” year at Boston College, which was a year later than planned because I “stayed back” after my transfer from Boston University in 1993.

After a dozen butt kicking races in Belgium, my legs were shot when I returned to the USA in August. I raced the Killington Stage Race with my Ski Market teammate and friend, Jon Gallagher. We nearly scored an awesome victory in the second stage circuit race when I led him out in the massive field sprint. Originally known as the “Pepsi Road Race” and then the “Sunrise Mountain Road Race,” it was always one of the fastest road races in New England, with the most harrowing finish of any race we did. The course wasn’t hard enough to break up the field and with hilly stages four and five, the third stage downhill 80 kilometer/hour sprint is fearsome. It was always the best chance for a smart and/or big sprinter to score a victory at one of the premier races.

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I thought I hit the front at the perfect moment, and gave it everything I had. I was leading the 150+ man field with 50 meters to go, spun out in my 53 x 12 gear, and Jon was right on my wheel. It was perfect! The field fanned across the road and I got swarmed as expected. He went by like a rocket in his 56 x 12, but ended up a disappointing second, by less than a wheel.  The finish was memorialized in the 1995 race poster. The look on his face has “bummer” written all over it. The framed poster hangs in our bonus/exercise/toy room to this day. I’m clearly visible just off the winner’s left shoulder (13th place) along with a whole cadre of current and former teammates. Jon is just right of center with that look of disappointment after we nearly executed the perfect plan. It wasn’t a bad day for a two-man team, but 20 years later, it could have been half a wheel better. We have both gone on to have fine results in all kind of races, but that one will always be “the one that got away.”

I wish I had a digital copy of that photo to post, but I made do with a photo of the photo. If anyone has that photo in high-resolution digital, send it my way! The rest of the race was ho-hum. My legs were worked from all the riding I did over the summer. I was hoping for good late season form, but the fitness never really came around. It was disappointing to get worked over week in and week out in Belgium and then return to New England and have dead legs, but c’est la vie.

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September on campus was an interesting time. I wrapped up my road cycling season at the Lake Sunapee Road Race. Later in October, I did the Boston Cup and Lynn Woods mountain bike races, which brings back good memories, and where I salvaged my season with decent results. Sunapee was a different story. It was two laps of the lake on a 23 mile loop for a total of 47 +/- miles. I was feeling good and on the last lap, forced my way into a breakaway on the rolling back side of the course with about eight miles to go. A couple of riders were with me, but they soon dropped off and left me alone on my solo quest. I built a nice lead of  a few minutes and thought I had an incredible victory in hand.

I never looked back and just buried myself. I made it into the rotary at the bottom of the ski area access road and just hammered up the climb. I knew that the field was bearing down on me, but still thought I had it. All of a sudden, I faded badly and I got caught with the finish line in sight. I could have hung on to finish in the top 10 because the group was the small front group had splintered. The field had broke apart on the final climb. I was despondent and just sat up. In my mind, it was first or last. That’s kind of how the summer had gone. I remember coasting and waiting for everyone to go by me before taking off my helmet as I crossed the finish line and chucking it in disgust. It was a fitting end to a frustrating stretch.

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So, the day after the race, I was back in Chestnut Hill, but school was closed for two days because of a major economic summit that was convened on campus. I think the President of the United States was coming, or something like that. I don’t recall. There was a ton of security and lots of restrictions. I used the opportunity to get out-of-town. I needed to clear my head and think through what I was going to do with life. I planned on returning to Horst Engineering, where I worked after quitting BU and before starting at BC. I had my final year of college ahead of me and needed to accomplish something to feel better.

A few years earlier on a Boy Scout trip, I had been thwarted in my attempt to climb Mount Katahdin, an important place for me. So, on a whim, I drove to Maine. I stopped in Freeport and bought a new backpack. Then, I camped out with my Aunt Terry, who was living in Topsham at the time. I got up very early on the Tuesday morning and drove to Baxter State Park. I hiked the mountain via the Knife Edge. It was a glorious day and was just what I needed. Attaining the summit on a solo journey that was very meaningful. I recall hiking in an L.L. Bean ensemble of flannel lined jeans, flannel shirt, and a wool fisherman’s sweater. I have photo proof.

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I was really sore and stiff from the hike. I hadn’t walked that far in a long time. It had been all cycling all of the time since the fall of 1991. I drove back to Topsham and spent a second night there, before driving back to Boston early in the morning so I could make class on Wednesday. It all worked out. I got a new Mountainsmith backpack (made in the USA), which I still use today, and I had an awesome adventure. After that trip, the spontaneous solo adventure became a staple of my repertoire. I had just started Photography 101 at school, and got some really good black and white images that I developed myself in the photo lab. I’ve got contact sheets, but can’t find the 8.5 x 11’s. The photos here are scanned snapshots from the small camera I had at the time.

I returned to Katahdin again in 2002 and then again in 2012 for my 40th birthday. I wrote about that solo adventure on my blog.

The mountain holds a special place in my heart. I could use a trip there right now, but at the moment, can’t fit it in to the schedule. I’ll keep the images close and I’ll get there again. Pretty soon, I’ll be able to take my kids and show them why it is such a special place.

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2014 International Manufacturing Technology Show

Last week’s International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago was fantastic. I’m always cautious about praising the economy, particularly the manufacturing economy, but I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the level of business activity. Don’t get me wrong, business is still hard. At the Horst Engineering Family of Companies and across our industry, costs are high and we have challenges of all types, but at least we have sales to support our effort to overcome these issues and make a profit.

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After years of recession and a tepid recovery, manufacturing is making a comeback. I’m proud to lead a 68 year-old family firm that makes stuff. Our core aerospace and defense business is driving our growth as a wave of new aircraft programs bolsters the industry. The resurgence in manufacturing, particularly USA manufacturing, is vital to the overall economy.

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The costs and challenges in the three states in which we operate (Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Sonora), and elsewhere include high taxes, high labor costs, high health insurance costs, high energy costs, stiff pricing competition, regulations, inflation, and a lack of skilled labor. These are not small issues to deal with, but its much easier to take on these headwinds when you have the benefit of business volume.

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I’ve been repeatedly asked, “How’s business?” I heard the question many times last week at IMTS. My standard answer has been to say that we have good business volume, but that we still face significant challenges and need to drive our own business performance if we are going to capitalize on the opportunities now and ahead. I just can’t be bullish anymore. I’ve seen what bad times look like and we are in a better situation today, but I won’t get too excited because work is work.

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The entire USA economy is growing slowly, but folks are looking for more improvement in the employment rate, but more importantly with wage rates. The subject of wage growth is a difficult one to debate. Real wages may not have grown much in recent years, but the cost to employ people is higher than ever. Health care costs, unemployment insurance costs, payroll taxes, and other benefits, suck up a large and growing portion of overall wage costs. Much of the compensation for today’s employees is indirect and does not go to the employee in the form of pay. For wage driven disposable income to meaningfully grow for middle class manufacturing workers, then our industry has to rein in costs, increase productivity, and strengthen our pricing like never before.

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At Horst Engineering, Thread Rolling Inc., and Sterling Machine, we say that we have a two-pronged approach to stay competitive:

1) Technology

2) Continuous Improvement

A lot of that technology was on display last week in Chicago at McCormick Place. The stats on this year’s show are impressive. There were 114.147 attendees and nearly 2,000 exhibitors from all over the world. The show is massive. The largest booths cost the exhibitors more than $10,000,000. The show is a huge investment for the machine tool, tooling, gaging, supply, software, service, and other vendors, but clearly, they get a return on investment.

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Like any marketplace, IMTS is fertile ground for deal-making, and that was evident. Optimism was the word of the day as vendors cited a “perfect storm” of activity. In addition to the aerospace market, other markets requiring advanced manufactured/high precision products are strong as well. Those include automotive, power generation, oil & gas, and medical. The resurgence of North American manufacturing and reshoring has benefited domestic companies.

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USA, Canadian, and Mexican businesses are some of the most productive in the world. That productivity is a direct result of the technology and continuous improvement (lean enterprise). In New England, we have some of the highest costs in the world, but we also have some of the highest skills in the world. Right now, having skills is an advantage. We need a next generation of skilled workers interested in manufacturing to emerge. That is critical.

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At least the buzz at IMTS helped renew the cry for skills. I saw a lot of youth in attendance, and if more youth could be exposed to IMTS type technology, then they too would be excited about careers in manufacturing. I was stoked to see the automation advancements and 3D printing along with the traditional processes that I know well. We depend on our people. They are our most important asset. We train and we will be training more, especially as we introduce new technology. We are constantly working to be more efficient. We intend to keep the momentum rolling, and with Manufacturing Day on 3 October, we have the opportunity to keep the promotion rolling.

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We are in investment mode at our businesses. Our customers are driving us to build new capabilities and increase capacity. Customers are the key ingredient, but success will only come if we can compete with the world. Business requires risk taking and no one will guarantee that business volume will continue to increase, but after 68 years, we have a track record of investments to lean on. Not all of our moves have paid off, but enough have for us to survive. After a trip to “the show” last week, I’m keen to make a few more moves and see how the game plays out.

2014 Riverfront Crossfest

Cyclocross season is getting cranked up. Today was the Riverfront Crossfest at Riverside Park in Hartford, Connecticut. Team Horst Sports promoted this race many years ago when it was the Connecticut Riverfront Cyclocross. I think we last did it in 2009. I miss the race, but Dave Arnold and the Newington Bike crew worked with Ron Manizza to bring it back. Horst Engineering is a longtime supporter of Riverfront Recapture, the non-profit that is responsible for the boathouse and riverfront trails. They do a great job managing the park.

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They had a different course than we had, but the park is still a great venue. Today, the weather was spectacular, with brilliant sunshine and cool temperatures. I was registered for the 40+ race, but with the recently fractured scapula, I was sidelined.

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Still I went to watch, cheer, and take photos. I watched the 40+, 50+, 60+, and kids races. It was a glorious day. Yesterday was the Silk City Cyclocross in Manchester, so it was a great weekend to kickoff the Connecticut Series of Cyclocross. Ron puts on a good race. We supported him with Horst Spikes for prizes and will do so again at his next race, the Mansfield Hollow Cyclocross.

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2014 Run for the Woods Trail Race

We had an awesome time at the third Connecticut Forest & Park Association Run for the Woods. Debbie, the kids, and I have been involved with this race since its inception. I am on the Board of Directors of CFPA, and it is one of my favorite .org’s. It’s been great to see this event grow and 2015 should be even bigger and better.

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This was the seventh race in the inaugural Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series. We have three races to go. I’m bummed to not be running, but I’ll be cheering from the sidelines. I’ll definitely be at the NipMuck Trail Marathon to help out.

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The Shenipsit Striders had a great showing today, taking the first overall place for both men and women in the marquis 10K trail race. Debbie got top honors in her category and Sean Greaney scored for the men. It was also great to hang out with Coach Al Lyman. He took 2nd in his age group. Debbie is part of Al’s coaching team. Our son did the 5 kilometer race and had a ton of fun despite the oppressive humidity on this early September morning.

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CFPA is fortunate to have a wonderful staff and great volunteers. The timing was handled by Jerry Turk from RAT Race Timing. Jerry (Mr. Bimble) also handles timing for the Soapstone Mountain Trail Race and many other Connecticut events. He does a bang up job.

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The race had fantastic sponsors, food, and prizes. Debbie and Sean both went home with custom walking sticks compliments of the Connecticut Woodcarvers Association. The carvers are a fixture at CFPA events and they had a sweet demonstration area. Both of our kids went home with birch sticks that they carved.

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Session Woods Wildlife Management Area is a great venue with lots of hills and challenging single track. We saw so many friends from the CFPA community and the Connecticut trail running community. I love these local races. Run for the Woods is an important CFPA fundraiser, but an even more important awareness raiser. Many people don’t realize that CFPA is a non-profit conservation group that is responsible for maintaining more than 825 miles of hiking/walking/running trails in Connecticut.

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Many of the trails are on private land and it is the most extensive trail network per capita in the country. CFPA does important advocacy at the state capitol, fighting for clean air and open space, and invests heavily in environmental and outdoor education. I’m serious when I say that every Connecticut resident should be a paying member of CFPA and that includes outdoor enthusiasts and trail runners. With the constant downsizing of state and federal resources, non-profits like CFPA are critical for nature.

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We hope to see even more runners and walkers in 2015.

Race Results

Top Ten Benefits of Crashing On My Head + Recovery Update

Top 10 benefits of crashing on my head and shoulder:

10) The ANSI and SNELL helmet testing is validated.

9) My Seven Axiom SL now has “character” like many of my other bikes.

8) The scratches give me justification to buy another bike…just maybe.

7) I finally had a reason to go to CVS and get a pair of Dr. Scholl’s custom foam orthotic inserts for my sore foot.

6) When I travel on business to Chicago next week, I can get early boarding and preferential treatment from the airline.

5) I rarely shave, but now I have a better excuse not to shave.

4.5) I set a two-day record for number of Life Adventures blog post views.

4) I can sample all the whiskey I’ve recently acquired without waiting until after cyclocross season.

3) I only have to wash some of the dishes in the sink.

2) I got to update my Tetanus shot and now have a handy wallet card to remind me of the date of my accident.

1) The outpouring of support from friends and family has lifted my spirits.

Another key observation is that bad news, violence, and sensationalism sells! In the old days, it drove the sales of newspapers. In the digital era, it delivers eye-popping results in Facebook “likes” and spikes in blog posts read. You could say that crashing was good for the media business. I ought to insert that as benefit 4.5 in my top 10. I just did.

Thank you to everyone who has thrown their support behind me. I’m still a little shocked from the crash. The pain has barely subsided, but I’ve kept busy with work. Even though only three days have passed, it is quite frustrating to miss out on outdoor activity during my favorite time of the year. The weather has been awesome.

This morning I met with an orthopedic doctor at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. He reviewed the x-rays and CT scan. He agreed with the diagnosis of broken scapula. He showed me on a monitor with a cool 3D software tool. He rotated my upper body like we would rotate an aerospace part in Solidworks at Horst Engineering. He said that my arm angle looked OK and that the bone did not require surgery. He said that he will see me in two weeks to move my arm a bit and determine if there was damage to the rotator cuff or other soft tissue. He thinks it is OK, but can’t know for sure until swelling goes down and they can move the arm without severe pain.

He said the bone will heal quickly and that I can’t make it worse as long as I wear the sling and take it easy. He said I can begin moving the arm in two weeks and then after that do light strengthening exercises depending on the rotator cuff determination. I’ll be in the sling for a while as a precaution. I can ride a stationary bike when the pain subsides and when I get some range of motion back. He says there should be no long-term effects and obviously, being in top shape is an advantage. Of course, being in top shape is why I crashed in the first place, so as far as I’m concerned, they cancel each other out.
So, this is all generally good news.
On my way to work after the appointment, I was thinking about one of my inspirations, Fiorenzo Magni. I wrote this appreciation for him in a  2012 blog post. He is famously known for being one of the toughest riders in the bunch. He broke his clavicle in the Giro d’Italia and continued to ride in the race by supporting his handlebars with a strap clenched in his teeth. I’m not sure what my mother would think if I showed up at tonight’s Rocky Hill Cyclocross with my bike and a strap. For now, I’ll take her advice, and take it easy, considering I can’t put on a shirt without asking for help.
I’ve shown my cracked helmet to several work colleagues and it hammers home the importance of properly wearing one. The really good news is that my kids totally get that.
Another step I’ve taken to kick off my comeback is to finish revising my Toughest Ten blog post that I started in May. Check it out.

The Revised Toughest Ten

I drafted my inaugural Toughest Ten in December 2009 and after running the Wapack and Back back in the spring and then witnessing the Peak Ultra 500 this summer, I determined that it was due for an update and have worked this post on and off for a few months. I figured I would finish it, publish it, and use it as inspiration during my post-crash comeback.

Through today, these are the toughest races that I have ever done:

1) Jay Challenge, Jay, Vermont, 29-31 July 2005, 20:09:11

Hands down, this is the grandaddy of my palmares. Just finishing the Jay Challenge was an accomplishment.  It is a bit different from others on this list because it was a three-day stage race with the overall winner achieving the lowest cumulative time. Each of the three stages would make this list on their own. I was 10th overall and know I would have done better with a faster kayak, but that doesn’t matter. Finishing was the real accomplishment. The first day was a 27 mile kayak paddle across Lake Mephramagog from Quebec to Vermont. The second day was the classic Jay Mountain Marathon, but it wasn’t 26.2 miles, it was 33. The third day was a 65 mile mountain bike ride on hilly terrain. You summited Jay Peak in both the run and bike. There was so much climbing in this race (except the paddle) that it made you silly. The race was in late July and at the time, I had never been more fit. We completed our End-to-End hike of the Long Trail three weeks before Jay, so I had a pain threshold like never before…and never since. I could go all day long, get up and do it again. The LT was 13 days and 285 miles of supreme effort, so three days at Jay was simple, yet still very hard. Pain Index: 10

2) Ironman Brasil, Florianopolis, Brasil, 30 May 2010, 9:58:53

I’ve never gone deeper. As one day races go, Ironman Brasil  will be hard to top. I earned a Kona slot and had a sub-10 on the line with 10K to go and I buried myself to reach the goals. I was delirious at the finish and it was surreal. It was an epic trip with the family, which made the race that much sweeter. Check out the report and the coda report for the blow-by-blow. Pain Index: 10

3) Sea to Summit Triathlon, Jackson, New Hampshire, 22 July 2006, 9:29:21

It was difficult to rank the Sea to Summit Triathlon third ahead of races four and five because they were all wicked hard. However, given the fitness I had at the time, this one beats out the others. The Sea to Summit Triathlon was an 112 mile jaunt from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Jackson, New Hampshire. The race consisted of a 12 mile kayak up the Piscataquis River to Berwick, Maine. Then, after a transition, you rode 90 miles to Jackson, New Hampshire. From there, you ran four miles uphill on Rt. 16 to Pinkham Notch. Then, you ran/hiked five and a half miles up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the summit of Mt. Washington. Only 40 people were allowed into the race. It was a special day, though I suffered dearly. I started the morning at sunrise in the pea soup fog at sea level near the mouth of the river. I finished wearing a skinsuit and a windbreaker on the top of the mountain in gale force winds blowing cold rain and sleet at 6322 feet, the highest point in New England. If it wasn’t for my awesome crew (Debbie, Art, Mel, and Bill), I might still be out on the course. It was shorter than an Ironman, but the weather conditions, lack of organized support/aid stations, and terrain, made it tougher than any other triathlon. Bad decisions by some of the racers resulted in a challenging day for the race directors and the race hasn’t been held since. Pain Index: 10

4) Ironman World Championship, Kona, Hawaii, 09, October 2010, 10:27:31

Despite the five months in between Ironman races, I still wasn’t on top form for the Big Dance on the Big Island, but I still survived the Ironman World Championship and lived to tell about it. The race report and highlights tell the story. The no-wetsuit swim was painful and I suffered dearly on the bike from the heat. The sun and its burn (mostly during the bike leg) sucked the life out of me and made for a very miserable marathon, but I never walked. I sorted of slogged my way through it. I feel like I honored my slot, though I missed my time goal. It doesn’t matter because I got to the race and got through the race. 2010 was a pressure packed year and I really haven’t been the same since then. Yeah, it’s four years on, but I left something on the course back in Brasil. I went so deep in that race that everything since then has sort of felt different. Pain Index: 10

5) American Zofingen Ultra-Distance Duathlon, New Paltz, New York, 12 October 2008, 8:28:02

The American Zofingen was also run at a time when I wasn’t quite at my top fitness, but it helped me get back to a high level after my first real long layoff. That means it hurt a heck of a lot. After I finished it, I knew that if I could learn to swim, then I could finish an Ironman. Zofingen is the toughest duathlon in the country, and maybe the toughest in the world. The first leg was a 5 mile trail run in the Mohonk Preserve. The second leg was an 84 mile bike ride around the Shawangunk Mountains. The third leg was 15 mile trail run on the same course as the first leg. Again, at 104 miles, it was shorter than an Ironman, and there was no swimming. Still, due to the terrain (major hills) and my lack of fitness, it was harder, but not by much. Pain Index: 10

6) Ironman Lake Placid, Lake Placid, New York, 26 July 2009, 10:44:48

Ironman USA in Lake Placid was an amazing race. I did it in August 2010 and it was my longest ever one day race at the time. 2.4 mile swim/112 mile bike/26.2 run. That should be enough to put it on the top of this list. However, I managed to get into top form, so it hurt, but not as bad as some of the other races on this list. I had my rough moments, and the swim was terrifying, but I managed to race within my limits and finish strong. The support was phenomenal (great volunteers) and the conditions were good. I’m sure that most people would put Ironman at the top of their list. For various reasons, it isn’t quite there for me. Thinking back, Zofingen and Sea to Summit were just plain harder, but mostly because I fell apart in both of those races. I was strong to the end during Lake Placid. I’m still proud of my first ever Ironman finish. Pain Index: 9

7) Wilderness 101, Coburn, Pennsylvania, 28 July 2012, 8:30:55

The 101 was ridiculously hard. It is my longest ever mountain bike race. I did it with teammate Arthur Roti. We were rookies at the 100 mile distance. This course is as rugged as it gets. The 30 miles of singletrack were hard, but the washboard/washed out dirt roads were even harder. I did the race on my Seven Sola SL singlespeed with a rigid fork, which was nuts. That is a brutal way to ride a race like this, but I wouldn’t do it any other way. The race organization was awesome. It was so hard that so far, I’ve had no desire to go back. Pain Index: 9

8) Wapack and Back 50, Ashburnham, Massachusetts, 10 May 2014, 11:53:20

I first ran a 50 mile trail race at the Lookout Mountain 50 Miler, but Wapack made Lookout look like a cakewalk. In hindsight, Wapack is what led to this year’s left foot stress fracture that has been a real drag on my year. I haven’t run in 13 weeks. The Wapack Trail just pummeled me. I pushed as hard as ever in an effort to stay in front of Debbie. See, were aren’t that competitive! I finished and said I would never run another 50 and certainly never run a 100, but time heals and you never know. Pain Index: 9

9) Survival of the Shawangunks Triathlon, New Paltz, New York, 13 September 2013 and 09 September 2012

I always knew that S.O.S. was hard from hearing the war stories of other athletes. I always wanted to do it and finally committed in 2012. I’m a weak swimmer, but the beautiful course really appealed to me and I wanted to test myself. This race is the real deal. I cramped horribly in 2012 and it slowed me a great deal. I figured I would return in 2013 and improve my time, but the cramping and suffering were even worse. After last year’s debacle, I had no interest in returning for 2014. I’m glad I didn’t because I’m injured now and the race is coming up soon. Maybe it will be a comeback race for 2015 when it celebrates its 30th year. I don’t know. It just doesn’t suit my strengths, but it is brutally hard and a finish is something to cherish. Pain Index: 9

10) Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb, Gorham, New Hampshire, 23 August 1997; 1:14:54, 21 August 1999; 1:10:37, 19 August 2000; 1:08:04, 25 August, 2001; 1:11:04, 16 August 2014, 1:17:33

I’ve done the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb five times, including this year after a 13 year layoff. Incidentally, I’ve run it once, but it is the bike race that destroys the legs and puts your heart rate into a new category. Each time, I  pushed so hard that it made me dizzy. The last 22% grade is nothing like anything you have ridden before. As far as I’m concerned, it is the hardest section of road on Earth.  It comes after 7.6 miles of constant uphill at an average grade of 12%. For a hill, on a bike, this is as hard as it gets. My best finish was in 2000 when I rode a 38 x 25 low gear, which was way too hard. This year, I rode a 39 x 27, which isn’t much better. My knees are still hating me for that decision. Back in 2009, I said, “I haven’t done the race since 2001 when the entry fee rose to $300 (though it is for charity) and the event got too popular. I’ll do it again someday.” This year was the year to do it again and I was slower, but so happy to finish. This is the shortest race on the list, but there is no resting, and it is one of the most intense. The weather at the top is the most inhospitable in the world, with constant wind and cold temperatures, even in August. It is no surprise that two of my top ten toughest races have finished on the Washington summit cone. Pain Index: 8

Former Top Ten Toughest races that dropped off the list since 2009:

Ultimate XC (Jay Mountain Marathon), Jay, Vermont, 28 July 2007, 6:51:37

The Jay Challenge has not been held in the past few years, but the race morphed into an ultra-distance trail running race, when it was reduced to one day from three. Now known as the Ultimate XC, the Jay Mountain Marathon started as a run years ago, became part of the three stage Jay Challenge, returned to a run, and eventually migrated from Vermont to Quebec. A version of the race has also been held in Moab, Utah the past two years. All of the variations and names are hard to keep track of, but the one constant is the difficulty of the courses. This run took us up Jay Peak to an elevation of nearly 4000 feet. Then, it plunged us down the backside, through deep mud, into a bushwhacking section, then into a series of streams, then to a river crossing, then through a swamp, and eventually back to town. It was 33 miles of agony. Debbie caught me at mile 16 and I hung with her for 15 miles, before she dropped me like a wet sandbag. I finished, and that is what counts. Pain Index: 9

Hampshire 100, Greenfield, New Hampshire, 17 August 2008, 7:41:57

Other than the third stage of the Jay Challenge, the Hampshire 100 is the hardest mountain bike race that I have done. It was 100 kilometers, but it felt like 100 miles. Thanks to a month’s worth of unseasonable rain, the course was a quagmire. It was one big loop, which added to its epic nature. There was a ton of climbing and there was the added benefit of racing against two teammates for the honors of fastest mate. I kept dropping off their little group, before getting shed for good. Then, I had a wild mechanical failure when a stick wedged into my lower derailleur pulley going downhill at 20mph. I came to an abrupt halt and my chain was jammed. With less than five miles to go, I was afraid that I was going to have to walk the rest of the way. I made a delicate repair, extricated my derailleur from my rear wheel, and rode it in. It was a long day! Pain Index: 8

Jay Mountain Bike, Jay, Vermont, 30 July 2006, 8:56:00 DNF

It is a testament to Jay Race Director, Dan DesRosiers, that his events show up on this list three separate times. They are unique, they are painful, and they are unmatched. He goes out of his way to make the races difficult. You feel like a champ just for finishing. Unfortunately, this one, I didn’t finish. I was a DNF at the Jay Mountain Bike, with only five miles to go in the 70 mile race. It was one of two DNF’s on this list. I stopped at nine hours and I was at least an hour from the finish. Debbie was eight months pregnant and crewing for me (no excuse). It was hot (no excuse). I did Sea to Summit  a week prior (see number two on this list, but no excuse). I just didn’t have the legs, and suffered terribly. I walked the five miles before I quit and was resigned to the fact that I just wasn’t going to make it, so I climbed off after hours of struggling on the bike. It was the brutal fresh-cut singletrack that was the last straw for me.  No regrets. Pain Index: 8

Borgt-Grimbergen Kermesse, Grimbergen, Belgium, 06 August 1994, 2:19:56

I spent the summer of 1994 racing kermesses all over Belgium. In 15+ races, this was the hardest one. There have been many longer bike races over the years and many that hurt a lot, but the Borgt-Grimbergen Kermesse had the romance of racing in Belgium. I made the front group for the first time all summer. There were 15 other riders in a breakaway and I had to give it everything I had just to stay with the group and take my pulls. My heart rate hit 200bpm in this race, which was typical at the time, but still very high. This was the race where I started to burn out on road cycling. The other riders in the break were downright violent. There is no question that performance enhancing drugs (amphetamines) were being used. I risked being crashed out of the race at the hands of these merciless riders. I was happy to be up there, but wasn’t going to make it to the finish with them anyway, so I dropped off the group and finished behind them. I’ve never had to ride harder to stick with a break. Pain Index: 8

Race for the Gate, Nashua, New Hampshire, 24 June 2000, 1:08:00, DNF

I did a lot of tough road cycling events over my career. I’ve wrecked in many, but that doesn’t mean they were hard. There have been long and hilly road races. There have been intense cyclocross races where I was in oxygen debt. But, the longest cross races were 65 minutes. I did the Race for the Gate criterium when it was held as a twilight/night-time race. That alone made it different and difficult. I recall that it was a crash fest. The race was delayed by a huge pileup and people were going down left and right. The shadows cast by the large spotlights that the organizers had on the course, were very deceiving. There were more than 100 riders in this Pro/1/2/3 race and I was hanging on for dear life. I wish I had made it to the finish, but I got popped off the back with only a couple of laps to go. I was completely anaerobic and I was in danger of losing control in a corner. I was ecstatic to have made it as far as I did. It was a long criterium and it was a hard one. Pain Index: 8

Honorable Mention’s in no particular order: Ironman Mont Tremblant, Lookout Mountain 50 Miler, Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island, NipMuck Trail Marathon, 7 Sisters Trail Race, The Bluff 50km, National Cyclocross Championships (Providence), Vermont 50 Mile Ride, Vermont 50km Run, Wapack Trail Race, Six Foot Track Marathon, Walt Disney World Marathon, Moby Dick, Mt. Washington Road Race, Tour of the Adirondacks Road Race, Stowe Road Race, Killington Stage Race, Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon, National Collegiate Cycling Championships Road Race

Most of these races can be easily searched on my blog. Some wintry day, I’ll add the links. I look forward to the day that I displace the next race on this list and get to update it again. I’m open to suggestions. Tell me how to top these. But for now, I’ll go for a little rest and recovery.


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Not a bad view of the finish stretch. I'm ready for a #beer Watching this race is a lot of work! #vermont50 #vt50 #mtb #ultrarunning #ascutney #mountascutney #mountainbiking #horstengineering #teamhorstsports #pursuitstrong @vermont50 #vermont50 #vt50 @perfectvermont #ilovevermont #liquidskycinema Last start of the day! @vermont50 #vt50 #vermont50 Lot of friends in the 50K. #ultrarunning #vermont50 #vt50 #pursuitstrong Our little man finishing the #vermont50 kids 5K #trailrunning race yesterday. #vt50 #pursuitstrong #teamlivingston #teamhorstsports #horstengineering #ascutney #mountascutney #foliage One of the best @vermont50 starts of the weekend. Yesterday's 1 mile kids fun run. #vermont50 #vt50 #foliage #pursuitstrong #teamlivingston #teamhorstsports 50 mile runners start the @vermont50 #vermont50 #vt50 #pursuitstrong #ultrarunning #trailrunning The two #tandem teams (rivals) from #teamhorstsports and #bikebarn start the #vermont50 #vt50 @vermont50 Ride strong! It's the Schow's v. Roti/Hixson again! Sport start. #vt50 #vermont50 @vermont50 #teamhorstsports #pursuitstrong #horstengineering #mtb

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