LINCOLN - This morning, "The Boss" will decide a lot of things at Loon Mountain, including which six men and four women will represent the U.S. later this year at the 30th World Mountain Running Championships in Casette di Massa, Italy.
"The Boss" - full and proper, Upper Walking Boss - is a kilometer-long, black diamond trail that rises to Loon's North peak and whose rise is marked in some parts by slopes in excess of 40 degrees.
This morning, "The Boss" will be part of a 6.95-mile course for men and a 4.83-mile course for women that will do double duty as both the qualifier for the USA Track and Field's Mountain Running Team which will compete for the world championship on Sept. 14, as well as the Collegiate Running Association's Collegiate Mountain Running Championship.
The races are being directed by Chris J. Dunn and Paul Kirsch of acidoticRACING and the course, which Kirsch was laying out on a soggy Fourth of July, was designed by Kirsch, Rich Bolt, and Dave Dunham, a former Granite State resident who was among the first Americans to compete in the world mountain running championships.
In 1992, in Susa, Italy, Dunham was the top U.S. finisher, in ninth place. Now living in Haverhill, Mass., Dunham, 50, is the fifth-ranked competitor in the USATF's New England Mountain Series, while his CMS teammates Jim Johnson, of Madison, and Kevin Tilton, of North Conway, lead the pack.
In the 2013 Loon Mountain Race, Dunham placed ninth out of a field of 315 male and female runners. Eric Blake, of West Hartford, Conn., was the top finisher with a time of 44:58 while Brandon Newbould, of Nottingham, was the first Granite Stater across the finish line with a time of 48:24, which placed him in third. Tilton finished in fifth and Tristan Williams, of Jackson, was sixth.
Christin Doneski of Hopkinton was the 23rd finisher overall and first woman to complete the LMR last year, with a time of 57:52. Whereas all competitors previously ran the same-length course, this 2014 LMR has different distances for men and women in an effort to match the format of the World Mountain Running Championships.
Hirsch and Dunn pointed out that the US Team has learned over the years that the best way to be competitive at Worlds is to have qualifying courses that simulate the WMRC course in surface, elevation and distance. The recent podium finishes of US men's and women's teams since 2006 has supported this thinking.
Sunday's race begins at 8 a.m. for women and 9:30 for men. The new course starts along the service trails heading up Loon Mountain before crossing into the resort's Nordic-trail network. It then follows the traditional route of dirt trail, service roads, and ski trails to the Summit Lodge with the finish line at the top of Upper Walking Boss trail."The Boss," said Hirsch and Dunn, has gotten the LMR really noticed within the mountain running community, citing industry press to back up their assertion.
Runner's World magazine wrote, "This race up Loon Mountain is an annual benchmark on one of the country's most competitive trail running circuits. Among the most dastardly hill climb races in the country, the course of this five-miler has an average grade of 10 percent - but in some places it ascends at an unthinkable 40 percent."
Outside Magazine said the LMR belongs on a trail runner's "bucket list," adding that is "widely considered the New England Trail Running series' most difficult event," while Competitor.com placed the race on its "Dirty Dozen" of America's best trail races.
"Running 5.5 miles with 2,200 feet of vertical gain will definitely make you question the sanity of running up Loon Peak instead of skiing down it - especially on the black-diamond ski run portion, where racers navigate a 40-percent incline," said Competitor.com. "Front-runners dance up the grass ski slopes, dirt trails and service roads like mountain goats," the website said, summing up that as the 2014 USATF Mountain Running Championship, spectators "can expect to see some of the best mountain runners in the country pushing the pace."