Going for it!

There were a number of reasons why I wanted to race US Mountain Running Championships this past weekend, instead of going out on my team’s scheduled rollerski and run distance workout. I am a cross-country ski racer, so a long rollerski-to-run is normal; a mountain race is not entirely usual, but not too far out of my repertoire. Some of these reasons to want to race were actually more like reasons I was afraid to race, or details that could have stood in my way but that I was determined to move past.  I’d already decided this summer of 2017 that I wanted to run more and particularly wanted to enter several running races in the Northeast, just for fun and to keep in touch with racing. So weighing “I want to race more” against “I could just go with the status quo and complete a long slow distance workout with my team”, I considered my options.

Making lists. If you’re someone like me, you sometimes have to assign yourself the task of making decisions.

Eventually on the Thursday before the Saturday race, I decided I’d go for it and sign up. After all, if mountain running championships are in your backyard, just a few hours drive away, and you like running up hills, why not go?

Underlying the decision were a host of other thoughts:

I need to reaffirm that racing is fun and that I’m good at uphills, after finishing my ski season feeling weak on the uphills.

I have the fitness from ski training, why not use it?

It’s Mountain Running Champs, so there’s bound to be a bunch of fast people there, who I can run with and learn from.

Last year a 12-year old (a really impressively fast one: see link) beat me at the Loon Mountain race, and I’m afraid she might be there and beat me again this year… but being afraid of the speed of someone 1/2 your age is not logical, so overcome the fear, more reason to race!

I only have old running shoes, what exactly am I going to wear? (Answer: the old shoes. They’ll get muddy anyway. Maybe then they’ll have enough holes that I throw them away.)

I’m not the greatest at downhills, what if I’m good on the ups but get passed by everyone on the downhills?

A race that includes major downhills inherently includes risk of injury, or the pounding that I put my body through could take a while to recover from and impact my ski training. (Good opportunity to get better at recovering quickly. And to be brave but careful.)

My brother does all kinds of mountain running races in AK and MT and it sounds so fun that I’m jealous – it would be silly to pass up my own opportunity to race.

The running scene is a fascinating group of new people who I mostly don’t know, and at 5’9″ tall I feel like a giant, and that makes me laugh, so I should go check it out!

Decision: made. DO IT! Once I had made my choice and got to that start line, it was all for fun and I was happy and relaxed. I wasn’t putting pressure on myself for any particular result, and I figured I’d just go out and move my legs and see what happened. The race itself was good fun, even though I was running by myself most of the time on an unfamiliar course. We had 2 laps, 5k each of up and down Cranmore Mountain resort on a mix of single track and alpine ski runs, to make a 10k race. Kasie Enman (who finished 3rd) and sometimes two other women were visible ahead of me at times. I smashed through the mud puddles with a grin on my face, skier-power-walked most of the steepest climbing, and ran scared but I think pretty fast on the descents. And before I knew it, 56+ minutes after I started, I crossed the finish line in 4th place. Top 4 men and women happen to be invited to run at the World Mountain Running Championships in Italy at the end of July. And guess what? I’m going!

Moral of my story – you’ll never know what’s possible until you go for it. It would have been easier for me not to have made the trip from VT to NH, but I did it. And maybe it’s just my nordic skier side noticing, but 3 minutes from 1st to 4th is a pretty big margin in a race that takes 53 minutes. I’ve been in ski races where the 30th place skier is less than 3 minutes back. Basically I’m saying that I think there are plenty of people out there in the US who could have run faster than me on that course, if they’d shown up and tried it. But they didn’t, and I ended up in the 4th position. Although I am absolutely still training full-steam ahead for the 2018 Winter Olympics in cross-country skiing, you can bet I will be also doing what I can to refine my running fitness for late July. (Pull ups make you better at running, right?) Because I’ll be putting everything I have out there on July 30th in Italy, to represent my country and to have fun!

Thanks to the organizers at Cranmore Mountain for pulling off a great US Mountain Running Championships with over 300 participants.  I’m really looking forward to travelling to Italy and getting to know the rest of this year’s US Mountain Running team and staff!

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Crossing the finish line – you mean no one passed me on that descent?! Nice!  Photo: Richard Bolt/ATRA
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Happy about that mud pit I just crossed, early in the race. Photo: Michael Scott
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Women’s top four just after the finish, L-r Kasie (3rd) Ali (2nd) Addie (1st) and me (4th)!

Story about the race: http://trailrunner.com/trail-news/bracy-gray-defend-titles-usatf-mountain-running-championships/

Full race results: http://www.millenniumrunning.com/results-cranmore-mountain-race-2017/22082#/results::1496684593798

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