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Recap: 2017 USA Cyclo-Cross National Championships

It’s been more than two weeks, but I finally had the time to write a recap about the 2017 USA Cyclo-Cross National Championships in Hartford. After the incredible first day of racing (Tuesday), I wrote about the Masters 40-49 Non-Championship race, but that was just the beginning of an amazing week.

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Photo Credit: Alan Grant

In addition to all of the racing that the Masters on Team Horst Sports did, we had Junior riders compete in their own races. It was so inspiring to see the kids out there in the same tough conditions. My son’s race was on Saturday. It was so cold, but he toughed it out and will look back and smile.

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Photo Credit: Alan Grant

I raced two more times in the Masters 45-49 Championship (Friday) and Singlespeed Championship (Saturday). These were my first ever cyclocross races in January. Since I started racing cross in 1995, and after more than 150 races, I had never gone past Christmas. This season, with “Nats” in Hartford, it was a special year. I raced Nats six times before: Leicester in 1995, Ft. Devens in 1998, Baltimore in 2001, Providence in 2005, and Providence in 2006.

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2006 was the last time the championships were in New England, and since then, the annual event was moved from mid-December to early January to coincide with the national championship race calendar in Europe.

Photo Credit: Alan Grant

Photo Credit: Alan Grant

This made for a long cyclocross season. I did 21 races starting back in late-August. During the season, programmed in a couple of two-week periods without racing, which allowed me to keep my fitness through year-end. Another key with staying fit at this time of year, is to stay healthy and illness free. With young children in the household, this isn’t an easy task. Throughout December, we had small bouts of sickness in our house, but I focused on hydrating, eating well, and getting good quality sleep. Things worked out, I stayed healthy, and this was my best season yet. The capstone for the season was an amazing Nats race week.

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As far as results goes, the non-championship race on Tuesday was my highlight, finishing 19th in a competitive field. It was a crazy race, made famous by all of the photos and videos, including Ron Manizza’s viral sensation of the infamous “Slip-n-Slide Hill” at Riverside Park. The heavy rain and muddy conditions were epic.

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There is no other word to describe conditions in Hartford. They were Epic pretty much every day, but Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday had the fiercest weather and course conditions. I use the word sparingly and it only describes a handful of runs/rides/races a year, but Nats was packed with epic moments.

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So, after all the hype and getting the first race out of the way, I think my form had peaked. I also had some business travel on Wednesday of race week, and a lot going on with Horst Spikes, including our Open House and Plant Tour on Thursday night. It was a busy week for us. We welcomed more than customers from all over the country and gained many new customers as the week went on. The exposure for our Cross Spikes™ product line was even greater than we anticipated and could hope for. The super-challenging Nats course (which kept changing like a chameleon) was the ultimate proving ground for spikes, with slippery run-ups, steep descents (some unrideable), and numerous off-camber sections.

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With everything going on, my legs were tired by the time my championship race at 2:50 P.M. on Friday afternoon. We awoke on Friday to several inches of snow. The muddy course from earlier in the week had hardened as the temperature dropped, creating frozen ruts. The fresh layer of slow covered the ruts and ice. It was very cold (and breezy) by afternoon, but bright sun warmed sections of the course, which turned it into a frozen mud/ice mixture. These were some of the most challenging conditions of the week. Whereas Tuesday was pure (and deep) mud, Friday was a slick mix.

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I’m still happy with my result. I had a really good start from the fifth row and was in the high 20’s after the first lap, but the technical conditions muted my fitness/power and I faded throughout the race. Ultimately, I finished 42nd (out of a 100 riders or so), after yielding a few more spots on the final lap. I had one hard fall, and sadly, on a paved path, and it cost me some time. I wasn’t happy about getting passed by so many guys after my good start, but I had taken enough chances and was tentative on some parts of the course. I can’t say enough good things about my gear.

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All season, I’ve been racing my five-year old SevenMudhoney Pro. The bike is going to need some post-season work, but the machine has done great. My Campagnolo drivetrain and Zipp 303 wheels held up great. I could have used fresh tires, but with everything going on, didn’t have time to glue them, so I rode the Tufo pair that I had used for most of the season. My gear didn’t hold me back. Ultimately, I didn’t have the legs to repeat the strong ride that I had on Tuesday. Still, at the finish, I was all smiles.

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Saturday was the coldest day of the week. Overnight on Friday, the temperature plummeted again, making the course hard, icy, and fast. Many of the Junior races, including the 11-12 year old race that our son competed in, were held in the morning. They enjoyed a precipitation free race, but by noon, the snow was flying again. Debbie and our daughter came to watch, but everyone was cold, so they returned home after the boys raced.

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I was registered for the Singlespeed Championship at 2:50 P.M., and the snow was coming down heavy. Since my race on Friday afternoon, I had been hemming and hawing about doing one more race. It would have been easy to bag it. With a banged up knee, sore legs, and cold hands/feet; I decided to skip it. Then, the snow got heavier. I looked around and realized that I would regret not racing. The singlespeed race would likely go down as one of the most epic ever.

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I thought about driving to Horst Engineering in East Hartford, only five minutes from the park, but instead decided to drive the 20 minutes home. It took 30 minutes because of terrible road conditions, but I was able to get there with enough time to warm up, change my clothes, and get ready for my last race of the season. I decided to drive in my kit so that I could go from the parking lot to the Team Horst Sports tent and not have to change at all.

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When I got back to the park, there were more than four inches of snow on the ground and it was still falling steadily. This was my first ever singlespeed cross race. I converted my 20-year-old Richard Sachs. It’s a great bike, but I haven’t raced it in years and I’m not nearly as comfortable on it as I am on my Seven. I’m not a very good snow rider and it showed. This was the largest race of the week with more than 120 strong riders in the field. I was 74th, but that doesn’t matter at all. I had a blast. Crowds had formed on the dike, and the atmosphere was electric. Just like the mud race on Tuesday, riders were falling all over the place. The big difference was that everything was white and there wasn’t a drop of mud to be found.

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I slid my way around the course and amazingly stayed pretty warm. I had dressed right for the occasion. I didn’t linger long after the finish. With more than five inches on the ground, I made my way back home to clean up my gear and store it for winter. I did drive back to Hartford late in the evening to watch the Mechanics Championship at the Black Bear Saloon. The crowd was festive and I saw many friends.

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The members of Team Horst Sports also had a great week. Arthur Roti, Wade Summers, Matt Domnarski, Dave Geissert, Paul Nyberg, and Tom Ricardi all raced multiple times. In addition to those guys, it was fun to see so m any friends from the New England cycling community. It was great to battle with so many of my “rivals” and I’m already looking forward to the beginning of the 2017-2018 season in August.

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Sunday’s Elite races were the culmination of a fantastic National Championships. My son and I returned to Riverside Park to watch. This was one of the best days the New England cycling community had ever seen. The snow had changed the complexion of the course yet again. The clouds cleared and bright sun shone. This caused quite a bit of melting, so once again, mud returned. This made for both visually appealing, and very challenging racing. Victories by Katie Compton and Stephen Hyde, who were both using their Horst Spikes™, topped off the festivities. Even in the cold, snow, and mud, the fans came out in force. The atmosphere was electric and many of us can’t wait until Nats return to New England. Hopefully, it isn’t another 12 year wait. Next year, the event is in Reno, Nevada.

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Race hosts, the Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program, and their cadre of volunteers (many from our team) put on a good show. Come spring, Riverside Park will require some repairs, but that’s OK. This was a great event for Riverfront Recapture. They want to see people using and enjoying the parks that they manage. The Internet is full of great images and stories from this amazing week of racing. Hartford has always been on the map, but many people were skeptical about the idea of Nats at Riverside Park.

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When Team Horst Sports put on the first cyclocross race there in 2003, we knew that the venue had the right characteristics and was a championship course candidate. We organized the first ever Connecticut Riverfront Cyclocross at Riverside Park. We weren’t directly involved with bringing Nats to Hartford in 2017, but I have no doubt that we sowed the seeds for what was an awesome event.

I’m so proud that the race was in Hartford.

Race Results

2017 USA Cyclo-Cross Nationals 40-49 Non-Championship

Wow. Wow. Wow. What a race. I left my iPhone back at Horst Engineering by mistake, so I don’t have any of my own photos from the race. I capture a few images of the “aftermath.”

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That’s OK, I needed both hands to hold on to the handlebars! The 2017 USA Cyclo-Cross National Championships kicked off in a big way today. I’m feeling a bit sad for the Riverside Park course. It’s already taken a beating and there are five days of racing to go.

I love cyclocross and the environment, so I’ll be there (with the crews) in the spring to fix the course up. Cross does do damage when conditions are as wet as they were today. Riverside Park isn’t pristine anyway. It is in the Connecticut River flood plain, which made the mud so, well…muddy.

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The rain came down heavily and turned the course into a quagmire. I pre-rode yesterday when it was 34 degrees Fahrenheit, firm, and a bit icy. Today, it was 40 degrees and pouring. Many of the rideable sections became unrideable as the race went on.

The downhill off the dike was treacherous. I opted for caution, which may have cost me some time, but saved me in the long run. I’ll be able to go to work tomorrow! I had a really good start, lost some ground, made up a little ground, made a few mistakes, and then pretty much survived until the finish.

I was able to get three laps done, but only cover 5.8 miles in 44:36. That was good for 19th out of about a 100 riders. I would love to break the top-15 in the 45-49 Championship Race on Friday. There will be a little more top competition, but filter out the “younger” guys, and it’s possible.

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Adam Myerson, who is one of our sponsored Horst Spikes athletes, rode marvelously for the win. I’m pretty sure he was using Ice & Snow Cross Spikes, just like me. Horst Spikes have been popular this week. We are letting athletes pick-up at our 36 Cedar St. plant, which is only five minutes from the park. Toe spikes were critical for maintaining any grip on the uphill sections.

The entire Team Horst Sports 40-49 year-old squad did well. I was followed by Wade Summers, Art Roti, Andris Skulte, and Randall Dutton. Our 50-59 riders were on the course when I packed up and headed for a warmer environment. I shouted loudly for Matt Domnarski, Tom Ricardi, and Dave Geissert. I had a lot of friends in the race too, and they weren’t all local. Aaron Ofsiany was in town from San Francisco. I’ll see him again later in the week.

I started on Row 2, along with my long time friend, Jon Gallagher. Jon and I spent the summer of 1994 together and we have had some great adventures over the years. This was another one to add to the list. I chased him for the first part of the race before he pulled away to finish 13th. His timing services business is handling all of the official results for the race this week.

Judging by some of the Facebook and Instagram footage, anyone who raced today deserves monster kudos.

Race Results

Preview: 2017 USA Cyclo-Cross Nationals

I helped with the Horst Spikes marketing related to next week’s USA Cyclo-Cross National Championships. Here is the basic info. Be sure to check out the Horst Spikes News, in case you haven’t seen it already!

Next week, Hartford, Connecticut is welcoming the 2017 USA Cyclo-Cross National Championships.

 

Today, we launched a special edition of Horst Spikes News that is chock full of resources for athletes, volunteers, and spectators. It’s a comprehensive guide to everything happening next week. Check it out.

The cyclocross season is winding down, but it will go out with a bang! The 2017 USA National Cyclocross Championships are a week away. This will be the biggest cross race that Connecticut has ever seen. The KMC Cross-Fest in October was a fantastic success and we look forward to 2017, New England has hosted the national championships on several occasions, but this is the first time the event has come to our home state.

Horst Engineering is heavily invested in the success of this event. We were founded in Hartford and our headquarters is on the Connecticut River in East Hartford, a stone’s throw from the Riverside Park venue. We are longtime supporters of hosts: The Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program (CCAP) and Riverfront Recapture.

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Team Horst Sports members will be competing in several races, including the Masters Championship and Juniors Championship events. Many team members, including those who don’t race cyclocross, will be volunteering to help.

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We organized the first ever Connecticut Riverfront Cyclocross at Riverside Park in 2003. Our lineup of Horst Spikes™ cyclocross toe spikes were tested and developed on our hometown course. Cross Spikes™ have brought us back into the bicycling industry in a big way. Our roots are in bikes and we couldn’t be more proud of Hartford to host such a cool event.

2016 Scrooge Scramble

Today, we did the 26th Scrooge Scramble 5K in Rockville, Connecticut. The annual Christmas Day race benefits the Cornerstone Foundation

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It was great to see so many friends. Both the Shenipsit Striders and Silk City Striders were well represented.

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The course was slightly different from past years. We took a left into the driveway for Cabin Hill Greenhouses. We did a loop in front of their building, and then returned to the regular course.

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Debbie ran with our daughter. My son and I ran hard and we both pushed it a bit, but our main event is in 10 days when we race the 2017 USA National Cyclocross Championships at Riverside Park in Hartford. We had great weather with bright sunshine, a mild temperature in the low-40’s Fahrenheit. This fun run is a nice tradition.

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Race Results

2016 Elm City Cyclocross

Wow, what a race! Today, we had true New England cyclocross conditions at the Elm City CX in New Haven’s Edgewood Park. After yesterday’s white out, we the temperature warmed overnight, and we were rewarded with an absolute mud and slushfest at today’s race.

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It was snowy. It was icy. It was wet. It was slippery. It was dirty. It was challenging. It was so much fun!

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I know I have good legs, but I wasn’t able to use them to the best of my ability because of the technical nature of the course. The snow turned to mush and it went from white to brown after the first few races of the day.

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The Team Horst Sports Cub Juniors were out in force today. Cole, Shepard and Sean, who both raced yesterday at March Farms, were joined by Lars and Nate. They started a bit late, around 10:00 A.M. By then, the Category 4/5 Men had turned the course to mush. As the temperature continued to climb, peaking around 53 degrees Fahrenheit, the course got softer and muddier as deep ruts were worn into the ground.

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Several parts of the course had hot pockets of air. Other sections, there were cold pockets. It was weird. You would ride into the woods and hit a wall of warmth, which would instantly fog your glasses. Speaking of fog, it was hanging low over all of New Haven as the moisture from the cold ground evaporated.

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After the deep freeze two days ago, then the snow, and now the unseasonably warmth today, we are headed for more arctic cold tonight. By the early afternoon, the weather was changing again. The wind started to blow and the temperature, which had risen so rapidly, was already starting to drop.

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This sort of changeable weather is sort of normal for Connecticut, and it made for awesome cyclocross conditions. So, the Cub Juniors did really well. Sean scored 4th place again, securing a high-ranking in the CT Series of CX, since this was the final race.

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We have a three-week break from cross. This was the last regular season race, and in any other year, it would be the last race of the season, at least in our region. Technically, it is the last race of the year, but not the last race of the season. In three weeks, we will welcome nearly 2,000 racers to compete in the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships at Riverside Park in Hartford.

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There was a lot more riding today. Yesterday, the snow was dry and deep. Running in it was like running in sand. Today, the snow was like mashed potatoes. It stuck to your pedals, your wheels, and especially to your shoes.

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I had a solid race, but couldn’t open it up as much as I would have liked. I’ve gotten better at these technical races, but I’m still not the best when the traction is as poor as it was today. I feel like I had something left when I finished, but I couldn’t go any faster.

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For the first few laps, I was alone chasing the three leaders (Garth Schwellenbach, Brian Girard, and Joe Kubisek), but then I was joined by several other riders. Stan Lezon, who is one of my Bolton neighbors, has quickly become my new “nemesis.” We have been battling all season long. He has gotten stronger and we have had some good tactical races, trading positions on several occasions. Yesterday, he finished second, and I was third.

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He was in the group that bridged up to me. My teammates, Wade Summers and Art Roti, were also at the tail end of the group. Karel Citroen and John Meyerle were also in the mix. I kept the pressure on and eventually the group blew apart. I know that several of those guys went down, a few of them multiple times. I was able to stay upright. Maybe I wasn’t pushing hard enough? Either way, I had my share of close calls. I slammed my right shoulder on a tree when I slid out in a corner, but I didn’t crash.

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As the race went on, the course got even more slippery. Some sections, including the tricky descent were pretty dangerous. It was the kind of exciting riding that we love. The only drawback to a race like this is the damage it does to your gear. It takes time to clean all of your stuff, including your bikes, shoes, and clothing.

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Stan and I changed places a few times with two to go. Then, we came into some lapped traffic. The 50+ riders had started a minute or two behind us. Stan got held up around a hairpin turn, so I dismounted, cut it hard on the inside, and ran past, taking the position. I didn’t hold it for long. He caught me and dropped the hammer. I closed the gap one more time, but then he was gone. He might have taken a few more risks and the gap grew.

The last time up the hill, Karel surged past me and we rubbed shoulders a bit, but I couldn’t hold his wheel and he got away. I was able to hold my spot and ended up 6th. Team Horst was also represented in the 50+ field with Matt Domnarski, Dave Geissert, Tom Ricardi, and Paul Nyberg all finishing in the top 15. It’s been a great season racing with all of these guys.

It’s sad for the Connecticut series to end, but we have Nats to look forward to. After that, there will be a long break from cross. Over the next few months, we will turn our attention to watching the big European elite races. There were two this weekend in Belgium. Yesterday, the top riders were at the Scheldecross, and today, at the UCI World Cup in Namur. It would be fun to see those top racers ride a course like Elm City. It would be fun to see how fast they really go. The crew from Amity Bike and the Laurel Bike Club did a great job with the race and deserve extra credit for putting on an event in such foul weather. Last year, the weather was spectacular. Today, it was spectacular in its own way. I heard several other riders proclaim that they are sad to see the season come to an end.

Race Results (will be posted when online)

2016 March Farms CycloMadness

I’ve got soreness in muscles that I didn’t even know I had! Today’s March Farms Cyclocross was insane. We awoke to three inches of snow on the ground and by the end of my race at 11:15 A.M. there was more than six inches. It snowed steadily all morning and made for a treacherous drive to the Litchfield Hills. We took our time and got there well before the 9:30 A.M. Cub Juniors race.

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It snowed heavily during the kids race and for the first half of the Men’s Masters race, but by the end, freezing rain and rain were falling. Shepard, Sean, Cole, and the other Juniors who braved the elements deserve serious “cred” for their grit. It was cold, windy, and wet. This was the race to test Horst Spikes Ice & Snow Cross Spikes.

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The funniest moment of the day came in the Cub Juniors race when one not-so-happy cross racer promptly stopped his forward momentum and called out, “That’s it, I’m done,” and heaved his bicycle into the snow. His Mom, who was shadowing him on foot, said, “Oh no you don’t,” and prodded him to remount his steed. I couldn’t stop laughing. He finished.

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There was less riding in this “bicycle race” than any bicycle race in my career. I was forced to shoulder or push my Seven Mudhoney PRO for 90% of the 2.7 mile race. Can you believe that? In 34 minutes, I only averaged 4.8 mph “with a bicycle.” My heart rate averaged 174 and peaked at 184, so it was an all out effort.

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I was joined in the Masters race by Arthur Roti, Tom Ricardi, Paul Nyberg, and Matt Domnarski. We looked shell-shocked after the finish. Our pit bikes were covered in a layer of frozen ice. It was nearly impossible to clip into your pedals. The pedals springs were frozen shut and giant snowballs collected on the bottom of our feet. We had to repeatedly bang them against our pedals to knock off the snow and ice.

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On several of the descents, I was able to get enough connection with my pedals to ride for 20 or 30 seconds at a time before being forced to run again. March Farm is the most hilly race in the CT Series of CX, but conditions were much different compared with last year’s race. Last year, I wore shorts.

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I ended up third in the 40+ field, but it didn’t matter. Everyone who raced was a champion today. Stan Lezon got the best of me. I guess you could say that I got “dropped on the last lap.” Of course, there were only two laps. A third would have been a death march. We gained nearly 500 feet on the undulating course, and the climbing was ALL on foot. The downhills were hair-raising. A few times, I wasn’t clipped in at all and was just hanging on for dear life as I coasted to the bottom before getting off to run again.

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Today, the best strategy was to make sure you were dressed warm enough and to have a lightweight bike. The running was awkward. The footing was difficult, uneven, and slippery. Cyclocross is run in all conditions, and deep snow is no exception. I’m hoping for some wild weather at next month’s USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championship at Riverside Park in Hartford, but not this wild.

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The crew at March Farms did a great job despite the challenging conditions. The volunteers and officials also had to brave the conditions. They had a great bonfire, a warming tent, and even a mobile “pub.” Sadly, I wasn’t in the mood for a beer, but we did stop at the farm store before heading home. We showed our support by doing some Christmas shopping.

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We have to do it all over again tomorrow. The gear is drying. The bikes are still in the trailer. The temperature is supposed to rise overnight and the Elm City Cyclocross in New Haven is going to be a messy affair.

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Race Results (will be posted when online)

2016 Hellgate 100K

This weekend, Debbie returned to run Hellgate for the second time. She first ran it in 2013. My prior blog post covers some Hellgate history, has some good photos, explains the Beast Series, and links to several other great races that she has done. In 2013 we had some snow, but it wasn’t as cold. Check it out.

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This year’s report isn’t as expansive because I’m still thawing out. This was the coldest ultra we have ever been to, and we have been to many. Mercifully, it was dry. For Hellgate, I was the crew chief and the chauffeur. Our kids stayed home. It would have been super-challenging to have them along for this one. Between working in Lynn and Boston last Wednesday and Thursday, traveling back to Connecticut late Thursday, driving to Fincastle, Virginia on Friday, driving all over Jefferson National Forest on Saturday, and driving home yesterday, I’ve added another 1,600 miles to my Subaru’s odometer. Thankfully I do a lot of bicycle commuting, partially in an effort to offset the impact of driving to the races.

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Last Friday, we broke up the drive with a detour to Front Royal and Shenandoah National Park. We drove up to the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. I brought my mountain bike, and rode for 65 minutes out and back on Skyline Drive, and then down to Front Royal where Debbie was waiting for me. It was a welcome break and I got to stretch my legs, take in some nice views, and come up close with a few deer grazing on the side of the road.

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We got back in the car and finished the drive, arriving at Camp Bethel at 5:35 P.M. in time for dinner and the pre-race meeting. Race Director, Dave Horton, has his fingerprints all over this race. He gets ample support from a cadre of dedicated volunteers. Many of those volunteers are from Liberty University, where Horton has been a long time professor. Long distance running has become a big deal at LU and he even offers a course on running, which includes a requirement to run an ultramarathon. Many students used Hellgate to complete that requirement.

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Debbie likes Hellgate. The point to point 66.6 mile course is a mix of singletrack and forest roads with more than 13,500 feet of elevation gain and loss. The climbs are tough and the terrain is rugged with lots of rocks and roots covered by leaves. The course criss-crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway and crests 3,000 feet several times, climbing as high as 3,600 feet.

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The first half of the race has more climbing, but the hills are relentless the entire way, with the last big hill a mere 3.5 miles from the finish. There were 140 starter and 117 finishers. 111 made it below the 18 hour mark. That’s a 79% finish rate for those below the official cutoff and 82% overall, which is remarkable given the harsh weather conditions. Last year, the race was run in ideal (unseasonably warm) conditions and was dubbed, “Sissygate.”

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This year couldn’t have been more different. The relatively high finisher rate is attributable to the fact that there are no rookies at Hellgate. Horton vets and selects runners who have pedigree. I have a hard time watching, and wanted to be out there in those crazy conditions doing it myself. It was about 21ºF at the 12:01 A.M. start on Saturday morning, and the temperature plummeted to 8ºF at the higher elevations, with the coldest time of day around 5:00 A.M. The wind was howling and brought the effective temperature well below zero. By noon, the temperature had warmed to 30ºF in the valleys, but it was below freezing all day.

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Every Hellgate race report is going to cite the weather conditions, so I won’t belabor it. It was challenging for the crews, the volunteers, and especially the runners. However, we all know that ultrarunners are a tough breed, and most relished the opportunity to run in such interesting conditions.

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After driving from Camp Bethel to the start, I saw Debbie at Aid Stations 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, and the finish. Fellow Connecticut friends, Scott and Sarah Slater, rode to the start with us. Both Slaters tackled Hellgate and finished together. Six crew accessible aid stations and the finish is a lot for a 66 mile race. There was no overlap due to the point to point course, so if you want to get to every aid station, you have to hustle.

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There were two early stream crossings, which spelled disaster for some runners. Debbie had several sets of gloves and after dipping one into a stream, it turned to a block of ice. I had a spare set for her at Aid Station 2, so she wisely changed them. Her Altra shoes were also frozen, but she opted to keep going.

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Aid Station 4 Headforemost Mountain around mile 25 at one of the various Blue Ridge Parkway crossings was  the coldest part of the race for crews and volunteers. Debbie got there around 5:30 A.M. It was 1oºF and the wind was whipping. There was a huge patch of ice right in front of the Christmas tree festooned aid station. I was wearing lots of layers. At first, the car was parked a long way from the aid station, and I didn’t know when she would arrive, so I had her spare socks tucked in my pants. I was wearing her UltrAspire hydration pack under my jacket to keep the bladder and hose from freezing. I had all of her other spare clothes stuffed inside my jacket too. She opted not to change her shoes, which was a good thing because I didn’t want her to stop. I helped several other runners who didn’t have crews as they fumbled with their drop bags. I got one pair of shoes off of a runner using a borrowed screwdriver.

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After she came through, I headed to Aid Station 5 Jennings Creek. A volunteer asked if I could shuttle another runner who DNF’d. His name was Lanier Greenshaw, a veteran ultrarunner from Alabama. He made it to Headforemost, but was frozen and exhausted after slipping in one of the water crossings. He was groggy, but in good spirits. He is proof that even the most experienced runners can have troubles and he was confident in his decision to call it a day.

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I was happy to have company for several hours, though he dazed in and out of sleep as we made our way to Jennings Creek. It was a perilous drive off of the ridge on a series of rough forest roads. There was nowhere warm to leave Lanier, so he stayed in the car while I waited for Debbie. She came through around 6:50 A.M. She dropped her waist lamp, but kept her headlamp, even though the sun was rising in the east. It was still dark in the trees.

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She was feeling good, but needed some food. Every time I saw her, I gave her a stocked UltrAspire pack. She would swap the one she was wearing for the one I had and then get moving again. Lanier and I drove to Aid Station 7 Bearwallow Gap, stopping a few times on the parkway to take in the incredible sunrise from various overlooks. It was perfect timing for us. We went from having a fantastically bright moon before it set, to having amazing starts set against a deep black sky, and then we got this cool sunrise. I love races that are out there in the woods!

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As soon as we got to the aid station, a van load of dropped runners were getting shuttled back to Camp Bethel. This was good for Lanier, so we parted ways. I hope to see him at a future race so we can continue our conversation.

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I got there before the top runners came through, so it was fun to see everyone come by over the three hours that I was there. I cheered for them, took some photos, and eventually walked down the trail to meet Debbie. She was hungry when she arrived and finally wanted to change to fresh shoes and socks. Someone suggested that I use hot water to melt her laces. I got some boiling water in a cup from a volunteer and voila, it was easy to get her frozen shoes off. The food and shoe change gave her a boost and she was off running again.

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When I saw her at Aid Station 8 Bobblet’s Gap, she was dragging a bit. She had a major sidehill traverse and then a big climb up to the gap. I rode a mile and a half down the jeep road on my mountain bike and cheered for her. She arrived at the aid station, but didn’t stay long. She crossed under the parkway and headed for Day Creek, the last aid station before the finish.

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I had a long drive to get to Day Creek, so I stopped for fuel and still had time to get to the aid station, hang out, and watch many other runners pass through. Her pace had slowed considerably when she arrived but she was positive. She dropped her heavy gloves, swapped packs and kept moving. Her original goal to finish in the top five wasn’t attainable (she ended up 8th) but she still wanted to break 16 hours and beat her 2013 time of 16:03:29.

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The drive to the finish was also long because we had to go all the way around the mountains. I got to Camp Bethel, and then rode back on the course (dirt road) until I intercepted her. She was flying down the hill as only she can do. I was proud of her regardless of whether she broke 16 or not, but she wasn’t giving in. I encouraged her and then rode back to the finish and waited. I kept glancing at the clock. She passed several runners in the last mile, including Shuhei Yamashita, a Japan native living in New York, and Marcello Arias, from Chile. She blitzed those final miles, but came up short, finishing in 16:00:29.

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Still, she was very happy. Horton gave her a big hug and she was relieved to finish this one. I was proud of her fortitude. She ran a smart race, dressed well for the conditions, and avoided any stomach issues. She sustained her energy most of the day and did the best she could. I know that she will recover quickly and will be thinking about 2017. Two weeks ago, she sort of got lucky in the Hardrock Endurance Run lottery. She is 7th on the “Never” wait list. Who knows if she gets in to Hardrock? We will see. Right now, the plan is to train for it and go visit Colorado anyway. She plans to register for another Hardrock qualifier just in case. ULTRA-TRAIL Mt. FUJI only qualified her for two years. It’s time to run Hardrock…or another qualifier.

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At Hellgate, there were many fine performances. Brian Rusiecki did all New England runners proud by taking the win in 11:01:26. He ran a smart pace and surged to the front after 25 miles or so, and eventually put 35 minutes into Matt Thompson, his nearest competition. Third through fifth were Jason Lantz, Luke Bosek, and Jordan Chang. Jordan boldly led in the early going, and hung in there for a strong finish. He was one of the crazy runners wearing shorts!

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On the women’s side, Sarah Schubert led the way in 13:04:16, a stellar time. She was 12th overall, and at 28 years old, probably has many strong races ahead. Second place went to 21-year-old Hannah Bright, who represents that next generation of ultrarunning talent. Debbie didn’t run her first ultra until at 24 (the 1999 Vermont 50) and that was 17 years ago! Bright overcame a bout of “Hellgate Eyes” which struck her around the 30 mile mark. I saw her at the Aid Station 7 Bearwallow Gap, and she was struggling to follow the trail. The cold dry area causes a type of snow blindness that has to be very uncomfortable. Thankfully, she got warmed up, and the situation appeared to clear itself. She is one tough cookie! Third through fourth were Kathleen Cusick, Alexis Thomas, and Alissa Keith.

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I love the community attracted to these Beast Series races. Debbie and I saw many old friends and met new ones. Amy Rusiecki was there to crew for Brian, so it was fun catching up with her. Unfortunately, Ian Golden hurt his ankle very early in the race, but it was fun to catch up with him as he tagged along with Amy throughout the day.

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I had a chance to catch up with fellow Connecticut mate, Dan Broom, who was doing a super job crewing for our mutual friend, Jerry Turk. Turk finished his 14th consecutive Hellgate, which is a remarkable accomplishment. I love watching Jerry (aka Mr. Bimble) run because he is so steady and so strong. 14:47:02 for a 58-year-old is magnificent. Experience will help you every time!  I hope I’m going full tilt like that in 14 years when I’m his age.

Both Debbie and I will be on a Hellgate high for a while. We had a blast…a cold blast!

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@trailrunningmom at the counter @veggiegalaxy where they serve breakfast all day long! #vegetarian #vegan #cambridge Great seeing fellow ultra-runners @spencer.farrar @mikewardian and @trailrunningmom @racemaniaexpo in #boston #trailrunning #ultrarunning "Looking back, 2:04 does sound better than 2:05."-- @ryanhall3 (Being interviewed by Dave McGillivray @racemaniaexpo in #boston ) #running Even though I've heard @markallengrip tell his 1989 @ironmantri World Championship story many times, I never tire of it. He presented @racemaniaexpo @bostonu this morning. #markallen #ironman #triathlon Coach Al and @trailrunningmom demonstrate a proper front #plank and illustrate true #functionalstrength at their #trailrunning camp at @camphazenymca Campers had a day packed full of learning, exploring many other topics: descending technique, pacing, mental strength, nutrition, essential oils, and injury prevention. They even did pre-dinner #yoga and I joined them!  #fitinspiration #teamhorstsports #shenipsitstriders #ultrarunning #pursuitstrong Our version of the Poggio...after 10 years of waiting, I think we found a new training partner in the household to join @trailrunningmom and me...at least on the easy days. I'll take advantage now since in another 10 years, I'll be the one getting dropped. #horstspikes #cycling @islabikesusa #islabikes #teamhorstsports #boltonheritagefarm #bolton #Connecticut L to R: Places 2, 4, and 3 at the frigid  #BoltonRoadRace We had lots of fun. The best part is that I tower over the crew in this photo! #shenipsitstriders #silkcitystriders #teamhorstsports #railtrail #vernon #Connecticut @seven_cycles #sevencycles #teamhorstsports

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