I totally sucked all spring long and just could not get myself to sit down and write. Turns out training for your first 50M while also planning a wedding abroad takes all of your energy, creative or otherwise. Go figure! Anyways, before I get on a plane in TWO DAYS for Elkhorn Crest 50M (but it’s 53, you get 3 for free!) I should give a mini-breakdown of my training races/run-ventures this spring/early summer.
April 20th – TARC Spring Classic: This was my first time running more than a half marathon in 2.5 years! To say I was nervous would be a huge understatement. And unfortunately I ended up doing my 21M long run on pavement, which meant I was way under trained in terms of time-on-feet. Oh well! Race day was >90% humidity at the start, making it hard to breath and just downright uncomfortable. This race was looped, and at the marathon distance I had 4x a 6-ish mile loop, plus a mini-loop x2 out of the gate. On the two mini-loops and the first full loop it refused to rain, and I was mentally panicking that I wouldn’t be able to hang on in such conditions. Sausage fingers, dripping in sweat at only 8 miles in when I hit the start/finish/aid station the first time. Oy! But as soon as I started loop #2, the sky opened up and boy did it come down! Unfortunately, it was that hot sort of rain where you don’t really feel refreshed, you just feel still hot but now wet. Awesome. It rained off and on for the rest of the race, and despite there not being much elevation throughout the loop the time-on-feet is what wrecked me. Convincing myself to go out for my last loop was so tough and I walked a lot. Thankfully, I bumped into a woman who I met at one of my Trail Sisters Boston meetups – who was out there battling to finish her first 50K! – who breathed new life into my soul and legs. I was at around mile 22 when we met up and hugged and commiserated about being stuck in the Pain Cave. I was able to choke back the tears and find some last bits of determination to run the last few miles in. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t easy, but I got it done.
May 18th – Goat Hill Trail Race 24M: The day before flying out to Iceland to GET MARRIED I decided running another 20+ mile race was a great idea. This race has ~1000ft gain per 8M loop, and I found it just so hard. It was a HOT day, and it hadn’t been that hot yet this year. I spaced on bringing anti-chafe because I hadn’t needed it yet. I also decided to try out my new Osprey pack (Dyna 15L) for the first time…at a race. Folks, don’t ever do this. It’s what everyone preaches and they do it for good reason: so you can learn from their mistakes and not have a miserable race due to unoptimized gear. Well, I’m here to add my voice to the choir. With no anti-chafe on my back, I went out in a racer back tank top and a new pack.
After the first two loops, my back was chafed to bleeding from the hose connector for the reservoir. Cool. I’ll drop it and just take a 10oz handheld, that will be enough for 4M to the aid station at halfway in 80+ degree heat. Sure. NO. Thankfully, I ran this entire race with a (different) woman from TS Boston, who regaled me with Tinder horror stories when I sat down 1M into the third and final loop and whined about the heat, the course, my feet/legs…all of it. She pulled me out of my funk and I chased her bright rainbow compression socks for 5.5 more miles until the lead woman of the 50K caught us. She looked STRONG I decided to draft off of her and run our last 1.5-2 miles to the finish HARD. This race was so tough, but again I finished despite all the bumps in the road. I took first female for the 24M, but I’ll point out that only 5 women started this distance and 3 finished. Where all my ladies at?!
June 8th – Chocorua Mountain Race: The same week we returned from our wedding and honeymoon abroad I got right back on the horse for this race up in the White Mountains. Billed as a 25K loop (it was actually a little short, at 23K), this race was nothing less than what I expected from a day out in the Whites. The opening few miles were rolling snowmobile trails, up to a gravel road with a view of beautiful Chocorua.
We ducked back into the woods onto a trail that was more of a bushwack than anything else. It was hard spotting the race ribbons and there were several river crossings before shooting straight up on a deer path on the backside of the mountain. It was all loose dirt and a gauntlet of black flies. It was hard trying to swat them away while also gripping to the dirt/small trees/rocks to try to progress upwards. Once I finally made it to the rock scrambling, I was sure I was close. Wrong!
I had initially thought the summit would be at about half way through the race, but I was already past that in mileage and I was still only on the shoulder of the mountain. Hmmm…. We were then directed DOWN on a small loop before summiting, because why not? Upon completing the small descent loop, there was a traverse across the exposed rocky shoulder over to the true summit chimney climb.
After the summit it’s down the Piper Trail to get back to the finish. I passed 10-15 people in my sprint to finish, hoping at every step there isn’t a killer rock or root hiding under all the leaves. Once the trail leveled out I encountered a guy walking out on the trail against us with a beer in hand, shouting that we only have ¼ mile left. Really? I’m only at 14M! It’s a short one and I finish with 14.3M on my watch. Ben Nephew tries to chat with me as I wait in line for a lemon sorbet, but I’m too starstruck to make much conversation. I’m an idiot.
Belknap Range Traverse Full Loop: Kevin – my friend who will be running Elkhorn Crest 50 with me – drove up from Philly to get into the thick of my training block with me. We target the Belknap Range, 1.5 hours from Boston, directly West/overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee. I did this range back in October, though this time I’ve got my eye on doing the full loop which clocks in somewhere around 23 miles and 6000ft gain. I need to start getting more serious vert on my legs since Elkhorn Crest has ~11,000ft. Woof. We get started around 8am out of the Gunstock Mountain Resort parking lot heading straight up Rowe on the gravel road. We bang out the first three summits quickly, then it’s over to do the first out-and-back over Piper and Whiteface. I recall the descent and climb back up Piper as being pretty heinous, but we are able to run more of the trails versus power hike than I had previously. We are making great time because if memory serves, once we get on the trail to head down to Round Pond I know we won’t be doing much more running for the rest of the summit tagging. We try not to break our ankles and reach the pond where I dunk my buff in to try to cool off. We go off route slightly, and start the “hard part”. The middle loop of mountains in the range are TOUGH. They are all short, none getting much higher than 2000ft, but the trails are littered with rocks and it’s just slow going. Thankfully it’s a clear day and we get some great views as we suffer along. We have “lunch” on top of Mt. Major as we look down on Lake Winni, enjoying the breeze that we couldn’t feel on any other mountain but Major.
Now the suffering really begins. It’s another 1.5 miles to back track so we can finish the middle loop on the Quarry’s and Rand. I had thought doing the range this way would make Rand less heinous. I was wrong…so very wrong. This was the worst summit of the day, bushwacking like we were on a damn safari across the Quarry’s and then four-points-on scrambling up to the summit of Rand. I sit down on the summit rock, covered in ticks, and eat an RX bar while I pout and swear. After some time we get up, ready to tick off the last summit of the day on Klem. The descent off of Rand is as grueling as I remembered, and the ascent up Klem is equally so. But we’ve done it! We’ve bagged all the summits, so now it’s time to head down and out. If we had been smarter, we would have shuttled cars and left one near the road by Round Pond. We are not clever, though, so after descending Klem on screaming quads we still have 4ish miles of rolling fire roads to get back to the car. The day wasn’t getting any cooler, and my legs only had small bursts of energy left in them. There was a lot of walking, some running, and a bit of shuffling while navigating back to the resort. What. A. Day. We did it, though! 23 miles and 6300ft of gain. The icing on the cake was finding a local gem – Kettlehead Brewing Company in Tilton, NH – which had fantastic food and great beers to celebrate a successful training day!
Devil’s Path: Next up for the following weekend – Devil’s Path in the Catskills, New York: a 24ish-mile point-to-point with ~8500ft of elevation gain. This thing is a beast. It’s classic Northeast rocky, root-filled, and technical. The ascents are total grinds complete with steep, rocky 4th class scrambles and descents that will have your knees screaming for you to just quit. It’s an ankle buster from start-to-finish, with very little flat spaces to run much. We start at Prediger Road trailhead and it’s a cool 50-something degrees.
It’s wet, and we encounter a fair amount of mud within the first few miles. It’s going to be slow-going in sections that never see the sun, that’s for sure. Indian Head yields some beautiful early morning views, and then it’s on to the Twins. The breeze up top is glorious and we briefly stop to grab snacks and enjoy the wildflowers on one of the Twin summits. The next descent is steep and we need to keep up with nutrition today if we are going to have enough energy for the final push up West Kill late in the afternoon. Sugarloaf is STEEP, with chimney climbing and grabbing roots and trees to pull up on. But another beautiful summit has us grinning wide and we start the equally steep and technical descent to Mink Hollow. We discover an aid station down there – it’s for Manitou’s Revenge! A 54-mile race that includes the Escarpment Trail, Devil’s Path from Indian Head through Plateau, and then a turn off toward Silver Hollow and finish over Tremper. It boasts ~14,000ft elevation gain and is some of the baddest, meanest East Coast trails I can think of to combine into a mammoth of a race. We don’t see any runners coming through and decide to bee line up Plateau to get out of their way (Hi, Ben Nephew!). The summit of Plateau is soft and covered in pine needles, perfect for running if there weren’t so much mud. We take this slow and continue the power hiking to conserve energy. Plateau – as the name would imply – has a wonderful open, flat area which is perfect for a seat and lunch. I swing my legs over the cliff’s edge and enjoy the expanse of surrounding peaks as I munch on half of a bagel and some jerky.
Kevin has a bag o’ chocolates which haven’t melted given the 60 degree temps, and we delight in the sweet sugary richness. It beats gels and blocks any day. The descent off Plateau is loose and we half jog/half surf down. This is the first of many loose sections to come and we don’t want to fall only halfway through. We drop all the way back to the road to Stony Clove Notch, cross, and immediately start the long trek up and over Hunter. We skip the summit loop and head right back down to Diamond Notch. This is the muddiest bit of the day, and there are sections where I wasn’t sure if I was in the creek or on the trail (or maybe it was both?). Our feet are wet, and it’s a slow trudge down to the falls and bridge crossing. Mentally, this was tough knowing that in drier conditions you could fly down this trail and be down in half the time. But we are reduced to hopping on rocks, tight-rope walking over logs to avoid shin-deep mud, and otherwise slip-sliding down in the overflowing creek. The bridge and falls are peaceful and inviting – it’s easy to consider kicking off our shoes and mud-filled socks and soaking them in the river. But there are miles to go and beers waiting in Kevin’s car at the far end, so onward and upward over the hardest climb of the day – West Kill.
We fall silent at some point on this climb and I resign myself to not stopping until we reach the summit. I’ve blacked out the majority of this climb as it was extremely buggy and miserable in a much denser forest than any of the earlier sections. There are less rocks but more mud and loose dirt so that every step up you take you feel as though you’ve slid back half a step. Progress is slow. I start to think that our original goal of getting Kevin a PR (he finished DP a year ago in 11:36) is out of reach, and also out of touch. He’s stronger than I am and I should have known I had no business thinking I could pull out a time anywhere near that. I flip back and forth between berating myself and laughing at myself for having such a lofty goal. It’s out-of-character for me, I usually set super conservative goals. All the internal arguing has me shocked when I see the summit sign at 9:50. Holy shit! We have a 4.8-mile descent to the parking lot and we still have a shot at a PR…if we run. I look over and Kevin looks trashed, but my excitement can’t be contained. I grab his shoulders and give him a shake, “We gotta run, but we can make it!!!” I take off at full throttle and eventually I hear Kev’s somewhat reluctant footsteps behind me – the game is on!
Now, I’d love to cut to the chase and say that we ran it out and got Kev and I a sweet PR of 11:17. Which is true. But I’d be leaving out what was honestly the TOUGHEST part of the whole damn day – the descent off West Kill, complete with an ascent of the low peak, St. Anne. This trail was gnarly, technical, and everything in between. It had steep rocky sections, loose gravel sections, mud, creek crossings, MORE ASCENT, and it was an ankle buster. Maybe it’s because we were so tired by the time we got to this section, maybe it’s because I got over-excited and went out too hard too fast, but this was the longest 4.8 miles I’ve ever run. But we eventually made it to the car and celebrated with ice cold beers, victorious with a 19 minute PR.
Homemade 50K @ Blue Hills: Having done three back-to-back weekends of traveling to three different mountain ranges I decided to do my peak week at home. Running around in circles and using the car as an aid station sounded like a nice change of pace from the big days out in the mountains carrying more weight than I planned to carry for the race. I set my alarm clock incorrectly and ended up starting an hour later than I had originally planned. This worked out well later for having some friends pace me for my last loop, but worked out poorly in terms of hours spent running at the hottest point of the day. I took my time and walked the uphills on my first pass on the White Triangle trail near Houghton Pond. It was humid, but still somewhat cool at 6:30AM in the woods, and it felt nice to have that time completely to myself on the trail before the crowds started to roll in. I crossed the street and went up for a lap on the Yellow Triangle trail, still power hiking the ups and trying not to bomb the downs. I saw one man hiking laps with a heavy pack and his dog, but otherwise had this all to myself as well. I hadn’t been on this trail since late March after the last dusting of the season and noted how completely dry it was compared to the deep mud that had plagued me earlier in the year. My first stop at the car to refill: about 10 miles down and I hadn’t drank much water. Suppressing any panic, I drank ⅓ of a liter of Tailwind and ate some watermelon I had cut up the night before. I took a gel and decided to head out to try to get Skyline done as soon as possible. The temperature was really starting to climb by now (quarter of 9AM) and I would be exposed on a lot of the sections. I decided against trekking poles and regretted it for the next 10+ miles. Just one of the many mistakes I would make. I became more liberal with how much water I was drinking in hopes of making up the difference from not drinking much in the first 10 miles. There is a skating rink at the far end of Skyline in Quincy – I had used their bathrooms many times before in the fall and winter – and could fill my reservoir back up there. I didn’t bother checking to see if the rink was open, which was the second and probably most vital mistake I made. Skyline is tough: rocky and technical ascents as well descents make it slow going. There aren’t many runnable sections on it, and the elevation change over the course of the 10 mile out-and-back is surprising given that none of the hills along it are very tall individually. But this is what I told myself I needed: tough terrain both physically and mentally in order to prepare for race day. Sometimes training needs to be a total sufferfest so that you can enjoy yourself on race day, having put in all the hard work already. And suffer I did.
After 4.5 miles I reached back to check on my water – I was almost out. No problem! I was almost to the far end and therefore to a refill. Something inside me whispered “Save it, just in case.” When I got to the final road crossing I thought about turning back sooner than the trailhead. “What if the rink is closed? I should turn back now instead of adding the extra mile.” Just then, I felt my phone vibrate. A friend was texting me encouragement, telling how badass I was for being out in this heat grinding away at this training block. She’s right! I’m out here getting it done, I should just do the full trail!
I picked up the pace to the far trailhead and slapped the sign. The sight of the parking lot made my stomach drop, though. There was fencing all around the ice rink and a few construction vehicles behind it. There was no movement, but the rink was definitely closed for renovations. CRAP! I took off my vest to get a more concrete idea of how much water I had left: maybe 8 oz. For 5 miles and >1000ft elevation, exposed in the sun, on the hottest day of the year thus far, I would have next-to-no water. Cool. Well, I probably won’t die from only a few hours without water, right? I’ll just slow down a little and try to manage sweating. I took off my shirt and stuffed it in my vest. It was dripping it was so soaked through and I immediately felt myself cool a few degrees. Ok, nothing to do but get moving back towards the car and back towards my water supply. Sitting here pouting about it isn’t getting me closer to a solution. Within the first mile I pass two men chatting: both of whom I had passed earlier individually. They shout for me stop and chat, and while I’m preoccupied mentally with my water problem, I oblige them. “What the heck are you training for?! You’re putting us to shame out here!” “Oh, thanks.” *Awkward laughter* “I’m training for my first 50 miler. Trying to get close to 30 in today.” We exchange some more small talk, I explain that no, it actually has taken me years to get better at running through all this technical terrain. They inquire about my vest and reservoir. Yes, it holds 2 liters. And now my mind is right back on my problem: that it is currently near empty and I need to get a move on.
The middle portion of this is a blur. I try not to drink, instead just wetting my mouth with the few remaining drops I have left. I get to the final road crossing and decide that instead of resummited Buck Hill I need to go around on flatter terrain. It’s longer, but will be much quicker. I want to cry/scream at what a doofus I am for making such a huge error in calculating my water needs on a day like that, but convince myself that crying will just be a waste of what little liquid my body has left to spare. I stumble and pout the final 2 miles back to car, tossing my vest into the trunk and collapsing in a heap on the ground. I drink the remaining electrolyte and eat watermelon while on the verge of tears. I don’t feel well, and I have 9 miles left to get 30. My friends do some parking gymnastics and meet me by my car, they are psyched to help pace me but I am in the pain cave. My legs cramp from sitting and from dehydration. I confess to them my mistake and apologize for how slow and grumpy I’m about to be, but they shrug and laugh like it’s nothing, ready to drag me through the remaining miles if necessary. I fill up my reservoir and add a handful of ice cubes to keep it cool and toss my vest back on. Ow! My back is…burning? Is it the ice? Oh, no, it’s chafing. I ran the last 5 miles back to the car in just a sports bra and now my lower back is rubbed completely raw. I ask my friend to give me his shirt and we fold it up and use it as a barrier between my skin and vest. Fuck it, I’m tired and fussing with my vest is the last thing I want to be doing.
We run/walk the White Triangle loop and my spirits are in better shape, but my legs are done. The cramping is severe, and my calves are screaming at me to please stop. We get to the final junction where we should turn right to go back and do the Yellow Triangle loop again, but I veer left and down to the pond. I’m done, and if so I want to jump in the pond and cool my body off. We float about in the shallows for a bit and it feels wonderful to be weightless.
We follow the pond with frozen treats at the concession stand and victory beers I had in the cooler. Even though I only finished just under 28 miles I still feel victorious for having done so in the horrible heat and humidity. I follow it up with 9.5 miles the next day, wrapping up my longest week of running by over 10 miles. Two weeks of taper and then it’s time to play in the mountains of eastern Oregon.