Sunday, June 29, 2014

Loon Mountain Race & Cranmore Hill Climb interview with co-RD, Paul Kirsch #NoSafeWord

Last year we sat down with the 2013 Cranmore Hill Climb and 2014 Loon Mountain Trail Race co-RD, Paul Kirsch. We also followed up with him about this year's Loon Mountain Race, which serves as both the women's and the men's US Mountain Running Championships, he insisted we do it while running up the Upper Walking Boss. Loon Mountain Race takes place July 6th in Lincoln, NH. BE THERE!

2013 US Mtn Running Championships podium
First of all, thanks for fixing it to make sure that our Team Colorado made the US Mountain Running Team back in 2013. Well, what I mean by that is creating the most difficult course you could imagine, not actually setting boobie traps or secret aid stations. You have put this race on in many different forms in the past, how did you come up with this course?

I always look for the World Champs course profile and then try and mimic the profile.  Some years that takes 4 or 5 potential course passes.  This year, the first course myself and Paul Bazanchuk (or Pavel X2, as we like to call ourselves) measured fit the profile pretty perfectly.  

What did you think of having a guy with a golden mullet in the race (we won't use any names here--just a photo)?
The pre-mullet look, where he had flowing golden locks my wife referred to as "The Mountain Running Bobby Brady". I am guessing he turned it into a mullet because he knew I had a Tiki like Greg Brady had in Hawaii and he wanted to avoid the curse. I know, I didn't really answer your question.

People always ask, some complain, about why the National Mountain Running Champs is always in the northeast. Why are you hogging it, why can't we hold it in Colorado?

It's not really all of New England hogging it, it's just New Hampshire. It's closely tied to the First in the Nation Primary. It's written into the New Hampshire constitution that "Our Primary will be one week before every other state and we will always host the mountain championships". Thanks to our forefathers for connecting the two important parts of our democracy. A lot of people know about the state slogan, "Live Free or Die". A lot of people don't know that the runner up slogan was "My Life is Going Uphill". That gets lost in the history books.

Besides that, one of the goals of the championship is to have a course that closely resembles the World Championship course. Team USA's results have proven why that is important. We want the best people for the World course representing Team USA. That being said, we would love to have the mountain champs in other places.  There is some potential to Bend putting in a bid for 2015. I hope that happens. I want this wonderful sport to get plenty of exposure across the country. If you know of race directors interested, tell them to contact me. I think sometimes people get intimidated at the thought of hosting a National Championship. I would love to help work with some other Race Directors to help support them hosting it as well. You will never find more appreciative runners than mountain runners.

I recall one irate person saying that a race at Cranmore is not a "real" mountain race because it does not have a lot of elevation gain and loss, no tree line, no high altitude. What do you have to say to that, other than a two word response?

Mountain Running can hurt you! Brandon Birdsong
shows off his battle wounds at Cranmore. photo: The Prez
Mountain running to me is a pretty big tent. That makes even more sense since a mountain is typically a tall pointy triangle shape, just like a tent is. There are a lot of different types of mountain races, some are much longer distances, some are much shorter. Skyrunning races tend to be much longer (they also have a Vertical K) whereas the ones that the US Mountain Champs are meant to mirror are ones that meet the guidelines of the World Mountain Running Association, usually around 12K total in distance, with some specific vertical ascent/descent. But to me, running up and down steep mountains, no matter whether it's rock or grass or road, it's all mountain running. I think sometimes people associate final elevation with level of difficulty. You can have a pretty killer mountain race that starts at sea level.  

It used to be 10 years ago that all trail, mountain and ultra running events were looked at as "not real running" like road races were. We've moved past that now with golden mulleted runners who can qualify for the Olympic trials and also excel in the mountains and trails so that mountain running is now "real running". So now, I guess we all get to debate which is the most "real mountain running". That's progress. For me, I just love all of the different mountain running events, short, long, rocky, whatever. I don't see the need to define one or the other as the real thing. They both are, in their own way.

Planning an event like this has got to be time intensive. I heard you can't speak for a couple of days after the race because you have gone hoarse. You also have a full time job…and two kids...two dogs...and a wife. How is that possible?

I believe you always make time for things that are important for you. Luckily I have a very understanding and supportive family who know how much I love organizing races. The dogs actually are not supportive at all and still require just as much exercise during race planning season. They do help me mark the course, I use flags and they use, um, well you know.

Glenn Randall and Joe Gray pushing the downhill
photo: Joe Viger
Mountain running truly has changed my life. It's why I started running. It's how I go to my happy place every day. I do hope that I am playing some small part in helping support these athletes in their own quests.That helps keep me going on the short sleep nights. I also love the adrenaline rush of directing an event. I'm a much better race director than I am a racer so, you go with your strengths.

MUT has come a long way, even in the past 3 years, with the likes of Stevie Kremer, Glenn Randall, Morgan Arritola, Max King, Joe Gray…I could go on. Where to you see the sport going in the future?

I think it will continue to go uphill- except every other year when it will go up and downhill.

We are going to see more people from "traditional running" and also from nordic sports give it a try. The success of the US Team and our athletes is opening up eyes. Look at the field at Cranmore this year- we had the usual suspects but we also had an Olympic Road Marathoner (Magda Boulet) and a recent college graduate who made the team in his first mountain race (Zach Ornelas). I think we are going to see a lot more of that.  

Do you know who "Ridin Heffers" and "A-licks Nix-holes" are? Apparently, they made the US Mountain Running Team.

Didn't A-licks just come in second at the Pikes Peak Descent? The other reason I got into mountain running is I got tired of being the least mature person in a room. With questions like this, I now know I am among my own kind.
Yeah, it's that difficult! A-licks wishes he knew the safeword.
photo: Joe Viger

Will you host the National Championships again in the future?

Yes, I hope so. Actually starting the process to organize a committee to try and bring the World Champs to Cranmore in 2017. It's going to take some major sponsorship money to do it but I am optimistic. How cool would that be? We need to bring the WMRC to the lower 48.

And finally, what is your favorite beer? Inquiring minds want to know.

I have two answers to that. The first is, my favorite beer is the free beer. It's always the best one. My second answer is much like the comment about what is real mountain running. I have lots of favorite beers depending on the situation so not a specific favorite. If I need cheap, light and fast (much like you) it's PBR. Otherwise, I tend to like either very hoppy IPAs, which covers a lot of New England or a good chocolate stout. If I really had to pick one, it would be Anchor Steam. I know that isn't from New England, a hoppy IPA or a chocolate stout so I guess I've failed at this answer. 

On a completely unrelated note, you may not remember but when I was hurt in 2005/2006, you gave me a pair of Pikes Peak Ascent socks that you won- kind of to inspire me to get healed up and running again. I still have those socks. That either means they meant something to me or I am a hoarder. 

On to 2014 and the Loon Mountain Race. It seems you are back again directing a US Champs, along with Chris Dunn of Acidotic Racing, but at a different race. So tell us about Loon. Has it been a qualifier before?

Yes, it was the qualifier for one men’s team spot back in 2006 and then was the qualifier for the women’s team in 2012. This year’s uphill race actually has a decent amount of downhill and Loon has some spots so it was the perfect course for it. I was psyched to be able to host again. Some people host big New Year’s Parties, I seem to host mountain team qualifiers.

I started the race back in 2006, planning it with Dave Dunham and Richard Bolt. But Chris and acidotic RACING took it over in 2011 and I stayed on to help out.

What makes Loon unique?

Technically, there is no other race called “The Loon Mountain Race” so I guess that is what makes it unique.

But in terms of the race, I have heard it described as the most like a European-style mountain race of any race in the US. It gets increasingly harder the further you go up the mountain. It is also the only race whose slogan (“no safeword”) provides some fairly offensive search results when you search it on Google or Bing, although technically no one not named Gates uses Bing, even William Frederick.

Where did “no safeword” come from?
I am now starting to get uncomfortable that you keep pressing me on this topic. Does Team Colorado have an HR Department? I feel I should report you. 

Did you change the course this year? Was there a safe word for that course?

Yes. Sort of. The women’s course will be the same as 2012 when it was last a qualifier. It will have little bit more at the very end. The men’s course has another 2 mile trail section that goes through the Nordic trails. It’s a cool addition, in my opinion. It has some mud, some single track, a few rocks and roots too. The World’s Course in Italy this year has some up and down variety on it, so this should be a good test for that course as well.

Did Lincoln grow up in Lincoln, New Hampshire?

He did not. One town over from Lincoln, is Woodstock, New Hampshire. That was named after Snoopy’s friend Woodstock.  Most people don’t know that.  This kind of ties the whole interview together as it is also the home of the Woodstock Inn and Brewery, which makes some amazing beer.

What is the Collegiate Running Association and what is their mountain championship?

TiVO, suffering on Upper Walking Boss
The CRA was started by some forward thinking people in the world of college running. Steve Taylor, the coach at the University of Richmond, helped spearhead it. Their goal is really to give college students exposure to all of their post-collegiate running options, including trail and mountain running. Chris Dunn and I are honored that they picked Loon for the inaugural mountain champs.

Steve and Richmond have sent us a lot of junior athletes for the mountain team over the years. It’s become a great partnership.

You may recognize the University of Richmond name as that is where singer/songwriter Bruce Hornsby didn’t graduate from. Coach Taylor is also friends with Howard Nippert, who starred in the original Smokey and the Bandit movies as Cledus.

Explain Upper Walking Boss…or do you just have the run…walk…CRAWL up it?

Gute: "Is that Upper Walking Boss!?" Eric: "Yeah, that's why
they call me Quadzilla."
Upper Walking Boss is the result of us needing more elevation in the 2006 qualifier. So we got to the top of Loon Peak and needed some more vertical so we shuffled them over to UWB to ascend the Boss. It really is the steepest thing I have ever been on. My calves and Achilles hurt just walking up it. Ironically, my own fastest running time on it is only a few minutes faster than when I hike up it to flag the course. There is something wonderfully mind blowing of blazing down Haulback to then suddenly making a hard right turn onto UWB.  People who are just ahead of you may in fact be a full minute ahead of you. I fully expect some dreams will be made and some broken on those last few spots on the mountain team this year- all taking place in the 1km of UWB.

Thanks, Paul! We all look forward to suffering on your behalf.

Some media from the Cranmore Hill Climb 2013:

Race video by Rich Bolt (no relation to Usain Bolt)


Colorado Runner Magazine

Endurance Sportswire

1 comment:

  1. Great interview! Love Paul's sense of humor and was privileged to meet him at Mt. Washington