Striving For A Goal For Some Reason | Mt. Tom Challenge | Tyoga Running Club
I love trail running. I run mostly trail races. But most of my running miles are logged on roads. Roads are just more convenient and make sure I am at least getting some miles.
Last year I logged fewer miles in general and probably a lot l fewer than years past miles on trails. I was battling injuries most of the year so my running had to be really conservative. Trying to balance maintaining some level of fitness with avoiding increasing injury risk.
And suddenly it is 2023. And welcome to the Mt. Tom Challenge the 2023 edition held by Tyoga Running Club.
The Mt. Tom Challenge is a challenging event that I first attended several years ago because a friend convinced me to go. Now I am usually the one trying to convince people to go with me. I completely understand why most people I try to convince to join me there don’t take me up on it. It’s winter. Usually cold and snowy. It is also hard. And hard in a way that most people, even runners, do not consider fun.
The Mt. Tom Challenge works like this. It’s a timed event, as opposed to an event where the goal is to reach a specific distance. The course is essentially a loop, really more a lollipop course. The timer is set to 2 hours. Runners have 2 hours to run as many laps around the course as they can. As long as you start your lap before the 2 hours is up you can continue the lap and it counts towards your finish. I think every year I begin to like this style of event more and more.
Here is where the Mt. Tom Challenge diverges from most events. The event is held at tis name sake Mt. Tom. And this mountain features prominently in the event.
The course for the Mt. Tom Challenge takes runners straight up the mountain. No switch backs. No breaks for a flat section. Straight climbing for about 1 mile. Straight up. Go for one mile gain 1,000 ft. of elevation. At the top of the mountain there is a short flat section to recover for a minute from all that climbing. Then you descend down the backside of the mountain. Multiply this times as many loops you want to or can complete.
I have joined in on this event several times. Recently I have been able to complete 2 loops. My goal the last few times have been to complete 3 loops. Last year it was cold and snowy. My feet were not appropriately attired. My feet were completely numb and frozen after 2 loops so I did not go for a third loop.
This year I really wanted to complete 3 loops. I wasn’t sure if I would actually be able to do it though. There were pros and cons.
On the pro side: The weather was supposed to be pretty good. Cold at the start, I mean it is February after all. But not too cold. It was sunny and it was supposed to warm up as the event went on. And on the plus side there was unlikely to be particularly challenging trail conditions. There has not been a ton of snow this year. And it has been warm recently. Most of the snow is melted. So there is unlikely to be snow and ice on the trail. And on top of that the trail was essentially frozen so there was no mud and there was good footing.
On the con side: I have been struggling with a couple of nagging injuries. I spent last year trying to overcome an Achilles strain or tendonitis of some sort. And in recent months I have been struggling with some plantar fasciitis type issues. And the fun part is each of those issues are on opposite feet. But the injuries have not been preventing activity and I give them rest when needed. Right now I am feeling like I am still building towards a comeback. Slowly increasing my mileage and getting back to where I have been in the past. I large part due to those injuries my fitness level is not where it has been in the past. But I also have not been running the longer style events or even training runs I have in past years.
Climb, Climb, Climb. Keep a consistent pace. Not going easy but not going too hard. Stay steady. As always this first climb of Mt. Tom was tough, but it didn’t kill me. And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? I got to the top and walked a bit on the flat to let myself recover. Then I started running. Not fast, just trotting along. Next up descending the backside of the mountain. I tried to keep it easy going down the mountain. But, I found that as the slope became steeper I sped up. Definitely building the burn in my legs. By the time I got to the bottom I knew I had gone a little too hard on the way down because my quads were on fire. I finished lap 1 in a little under 40 minutes.
I checked in at the aid station and then I got started on loop 2. After making good time on lap 1 I knew I didn’t have to go fast on loop 2. I could actually afford to back off a little. I started climbing but I took it a little easier than on loop 1. I was getting hot and sweaty on the climb. Unzipping my jacket. Taking my hat off. Sweat just dripping off my face like a leaky faucet. When I finally arrived at the top of Mt. Tom for loop 2 I stopped and took a moment to take a few photos. Then I started to make my way across the flat top of Mt. Tom. And as I descended for the second time I stopped to take a few more photos. Finally arriving at the bottom for the end of loop 2. I finished loop 2 in under an hour.
I got done with lap 2 and had 30 minutes still on the clock. So, I could either stand around and do nothing for 30 minutes or I could get going on loop 3.
After I finished loop two I proclaimed “ I should have gone slower so that I wouldn’t have enough time to go out for another lap.” I’d like to think that got a chuckle from a few people. I was tired. I didn’t really want to go back out for a third lap. I had 30 minutes on the clock so there was plenty of time I could spend resting. No need to go right back out on the trail. It wasn’t going to change anything. I wasn’t going to finish in time to start a 4th lap regardless. However, the longer I stood at the bottom the easier it would be to talk myself out of a third lap. Muscles and legs start two tighten. Fire and friends at the bottom of the hill. But once I start loop 3 there isn’t really an option for me to stop.
A third lap wasn’t going to feel good. But it is not always about what feels good. It is about seeing what you can do.
The final climb
I started to ascend Mt. Tom for a third time. On this loop I had no reason to go at any particular pace. This would be my last lap. I had as much time as I needed. I wanted to “enjoy” this lap. Or at least not feel miserable. So I took it really easy. Just going slow. Trying to keep my heart rate low and control my breathing. After what felt like a really long time I eventually got to the top. Then I began the slow trot back towards the bottom. At one point I looked at my watch and thought, maybe I can make it back to the finish in under an hour on this lap. I thought that would be really cool considering how slow and deliberate I was on the climb. So I started to pick up the pace on the steeper part of the decent to see if I could make it. My legs were really burning now because of the increased exertion. Finally I reached the bottom. I finished lap 3 in just over 1 hour.
Surprisingly, According to Strava, I actually had good times and even some PR’s on the Strava segments on this course.
I am honestly not sure what attracts me to this event because the main component of this event is the aspect of trail running that I enjoy the least, climbing. I struggle with climbing. I am slow at climbing. It drains my energy faster than anything else. I guess I just do it because it feels good to do hard things even if it doesn’t feel good while you are doing them.
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