Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Agassiz Uphill and Mt Taylor Quad, Round 2

Race Update:

Despite having warmer and drier weather than most spring seasons, Sara and I still managed to participate in two winter races the last two weekends.  We both competed in the Mount Taylor Winter Quadrathlon last year and left it on the to-do list for this year.  The race was the focus of our training (mostly) since we got off the CDT.  But, before we could do the bike/run/ski/snowshoe race, we decided it would be a good idea to race the Gore-Tex Kahtoola Agassiz Uphill the weekend before.

Sara finishing the Agassiz Uphill
The Agassiz Uphill begins at the bottom of the Sunset Chairlift at the Arizona Snowbowl and follows the ski runs 1,400' up to 10,853' and then back down.  Since we had run in the Grand Canyon a couple times we figured we could bounce back from the downhill pounding and have a week of easy running between the Uphill and the Quad.  WRONG!  When I ran this race last year we had two feet of fresh powder (or Devil's Dandruff according to SNL), which made for a slow climb and a well cushioned descent.  This year the snow was rather hard packed, but still soft in spots.  Just about all the competitors found this is not a great combination. 

This year I ran on a team of three comprised of the 2013 US Marathon Champion, Nick Arciniaga, and local triathlete Thomas "Rivers" Puzey (who has turned into some incredible runner in 2014 with a second place finish at the Phoenix Rock 'n' Roll marathon and wins at the Sedona Marathon and Great Aloha Run).  Needless to say, we had a pretty stacked team.  Rivers was able to get an entry for Sara so she got to run as well.  Jared Scott, a former Flagstaffian and incredible trail/mountain runner, was returning for the race so I knew I would have a real challenge if I wanted a chance to defend my win from 2013.

The way this race is "run" is as follows: the race starts, people take off sprinting, then after 100 yards everyone starts walking and power hiking as the slope gets steeper.  This year was no different.  Jared quickly established himself as the leader on the way up and I gave chase.  He ended up beating me to the top by 10-15 seconds, but I used a completely reckless downhill run to pass him and take the win.  Rivers finished third and Nick finished fourth, which secured our team victory.  Sara came in 4th in the women's open division in her first time in this race.

Picture from our run down the Grandview Trail in the Grand Canyon
At first it seemed like it was a fun idea to race.  But the next two days when neither of us could walk because of our severe muscle soreness we realized we may have made a grave mistake.  Fortunately by Thursday I started feeling ok, but Sara was still feeling fairly rough.  This is never a good situation when going into a 43 mile race up and down Mt. Taylor.

We left Friday afternoon to drive to Grants, NM for the race and got there in time to check in our gear and check snow conditions.  Grants, like Flagstaff, has received very little snow so the ski-down course was altered some.  If the Mt. Taylor Quad is new to you, it proceeds as follows: 13 mile road bike, 5 mile run on dirt road, appx 2 mile ski, 1 mile snowshoe (all that takes you from Grants to the top of Mt. Taylor at 11,333') and then back down.  Both of us borrowed bikes from friends this year so we would not be hampered by Sara's 83 pound steel behemoth or my non-aerodynamic set of wheels.

The start was much warmer than last year and started slower.  I latched onto the lead group of cyclists and tried to familiarize myself with the tri-bike I was using for the first time.  By 4-5 miles in the group was down to a few people.  Josiah Middaugh (multiple-time Quad, US Xterra Triathlon, and US Snowshoe champion, and all-around stud) made a move.  I decided that 5 miles into a 43 mile race was as good a time as any to take a risk so I tried to cover.  I didn't quite get back to him, but we managed to drop all the other riders.  From then on it was just me and him.

Sara's ride up the mountain was great for the first 10 miles or so, but as the climb got steeper the higher gears made it a little more difficult.  She still managed to get to the bike/run transition much faster than last year.  The run did not go quite as well for her, though.  The remnants of the Agassiz Uphill let her know that they were still around and made it a rough stretch for her.

My run went great.  Despite having to borrow a tree, I caught and passed Josiah and went into the ski/run transition with a slight lead.  He had a better transition though and I followed him out on the skis.  We reached the snowshoes within a few seconds of each other, but another quick transition saw him leaving 20 seconds in front of me.

Sara's ski and snowshoe uphill went about like the run.  Tough and not so much fun.  On the ski up she got passed by a lot of people, but she had chosen to use heavier skis, which (spoiler alert) helped her later.  The snowshoe went better since the snowshoes were a lot lighter than the heavy skis, and the open views allowed her notice how far we had hiked to get to the mountain in May.

Result of 15 too many falls.
My snowshoe up portion didn't go too well.  I still managed one of the top splits overall, but Josiah put a little bit of time on me, and just before the summit my right snowshoe came off.  I spent 30-40 seconds trying to get the strap back on.  He ended up beating me to the top by just over a minute.  Once I hit the top though I started getting the time back.  After the uncontrollable descent at the Agassiz Uphill, this descent felt slow, but it was enough.  I had the top time down on snowshoes and left the snowshoe/ski transition right behind Josiah.  Then I had issues.

Both Josiah and I opted for skate skis, which are great for the uphill and last year's downhill course.  The changes to this year's course did not suit skate skis.  I ended up falling somewhere between 12 and 23 times and leaving a lot of skin on the slope.  According to my Garmin I spent 1:50 of this section on the ground. I was wishing I was able to spend more time at the Flagstaff Nordic Center this winter so I could reduce my falling to 10-12 times. Josiah put three minutes on me here because he only fell 6-7 times.  I was incredibly happy to be done with the ski.

Sara's decision to use telemark skis seemed brilliant on her ski down.  The metal edges let her turn on the sharp and steep switch backs.  She passed back most of the people who had passed her on the ski up.

The run down went very well for me again.  I regained nearly all the time Josiah had put on me so I went into the run/bike transition only about 20 seconds back.  But then he showed how much he was just playing with me.  I put everything I had left into the bike down, and got to take full advantage of the aero tuck on the tri-bike, but he still put another couple minutes on me.  I managed the course in just over 3 hours and 52 minutes, which was 19 minutes faster than last year, and finished second.  As much as I would have loved to win, I am very happy with how I finished.

Winning the Kahtoola Agassiz Uphill
Sara also had an excellent last couple legs, especially the bike portion.  Using a lighter bike helped her immensely.   She also improved by about 20 minutes and finished as the 4th female overall!  Interestingly we were both more sore from the Agassiz Uphill than the much longer Quad.  Both races are incredible experiences and we highly recommend both. 

For our next adventure Sara and I are going up to Bend to visit Gavin and Megan (our siblings).  We get to spend about 5 days up there, including our birthdays.  I'm hoping to squeeze in a snowshoe race there as well, and hopefully get some adventuring in with family and friends!

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