This is neither a “Race Report” nor an “Adventure” story, but it is a bit of both. Some have heard me claim, and some would claim my claims border on complaints, about how my running volume has declined. In reality, in this post-Beast, pre-???? year, volume should be reduced. Still, I seem to have done a number of races this year, and am planning several more, so I guess “rest” means no 100s
The eight day week starting Saturday, the 7th ending Saturday, the 14th, is a perfect microcosm of this year as a whole: intense rest punctuated by intense un-rest(?). Saturday the 7th had two relatively long planned, and totally unrelated training runs scheduled. Spuds was “hosting” an AM run for Dan Lehman, the RD of the Highland Sky 40, who was “in town” for a wedding. Given that he was such a great host to all us Bimblers down in West Virginia, it seemed wrong to not participate, so I did. I ran over to the start, so as to shorten my miles of running (seriously, this made sense to me), and fortunately, Dan Lehman happened upon me, driving his van, over by Sunset Hill, shortening my warm-up run in exchange for getting him to the start on time! A big bunch of Bimblers was there, arriving by foot, bike, paws, and cars. Some went long, some went longer, and we followed up this buggy / muggy run with a large gathering at Common Grounds, along with several “coffee only” Bimblers. Hot, bitten, and dirty, I headed home for the next run…
Despite being tired at this point, participation in the PM run seemed appropriate, as I was leading it! Catamount and I had planned an easy run on unfamiliar trails after dark as part of his “finishing work” for VT100. Unfortunately, it was scheduled for the same day as the aforementioned run, and it was not nearby. We planned a 5 hour run with a 6PM start on the east and west branches of the Nipmuck Trail. Nipmuck was picked because it would be “unfamiliar”, not TOO technical, and not TOO hilly, just like VT. Super Mudder was up for an adventure, Sidestitch said she would do “half”, which worked out well for all of us, and Mike, known to many from Bluff Bites, and also headed to VT, showed up for the “fun” as well. On the LONG drive to meet Sidestitch at the turnaround point, I made a fateful, if ill-informed, decision. I TXTd Suds to let him know that “yes” I DID want to go to the Loon Mountain Race on Sunday. I met Sidestitch at 5:45 at the West Branch Trailhead where her car, and supplies, got “stashed”. We then drove to the East Branch trailhead, where Super Mudder, Catamount, and Mike were waiting.
Reasonably uneventfully (ie: nobody got hurt, nobody got lost) we made our way north on the East Branch, then south on the West Branch, arriving at Sidestitch’s car, and cookies, just about sunset. Mike had turned back a little earlier, at the 2 hour mark, as he felt he was moving slower, and that we would soon catch him. I was a little worried about him not refilling his hydration pack, but he was pretty confident that he knew a place to refill on the return trip.
We left Sidestitch’s car with headlamps on, looking forward to a cooler (hopefully), less buggy (NOT!) return 12ish miles. All went well, but slowly, maybe a little slower than planned. Things went well all the way north along the West Branch, and some of the way south along the East Branch. Ultimately we got done in by that classic mistake: running along, 3 abreast, chatting amiably, on a smooth forest road, missing the marked but not-overly-obvious, sharp turn left onto single track. The forest road dumped us into a large sand pit in the middle of a pine forest. It looked VERY much like a sandy area we had run through, in the opposite direction, several hours earlier. Unfortunately, it was not the same place. We kept trying all the trails that radiated in all directions up and out of the sand pit, with nary a blue blaze to be found. Finally, we opted to return to the road and “head back”. At this point, we were so turned around, we couldn’t find it!
We ultimately decided to use the compass and head generally south, cross country. We eventually popped out on to a road, but not the one we thought it was, and not nearly as close to our cars as we had hoped. With the last few milli-amps of battery charge in Mudder’s iPhone, we got a GPS fix, and a viable 4 mile road route back to our cars. Along the way, we saw the Nipmuck Trail cross the road, and while we WERE tempted, we stuck with the road. We returned to our cars around 12:30 AM, hopeful that Mike made it out OK. I was never so happy to see a missing car! Post run refreshments, scraping off of mud, bugs, etc… and on the road by 1AM. I was scheduled to meet Suds at 5AM, so…
I TXTd Suds again, confident his phone would be off. I told him I would be somewhere around exit 93 on I-395 and that he should call me when he hit the road, so I could tell him exactly where I was. I found an all night Dunkin Donuts which supplied my beverage for my 1:30AM dinner and my 4:30AM breakfast coffee. I was “asleep at the wheel” in between.
Suds came zipping into the commuter lot a little past 5AM, and was shocked, and leery, when I offered to drive. Still, my shirt said “Trust Me”, and he did. We had a pleasant ride up to Franconia Notch, my 2nd trip there in a week! The White Mountains are awesome, literally. We arrived in plenty of time to soak up the pre-race atmosphere, and for Suds to indoctrinate me in the “who’s who” and “what’s what” of mountain racing.
We watched the Elite Women’s start. They were vying for all the positions on the US Women’s Mountain Racing Team. About 20 minutes later, we were off. Suds and I played tag for the first mile or so, but we were so anaerobic from the first stride there was not even enough energy for a friendly grunt “hello”. None of the race is paved, much of it is on grass, and some is on dirt road. It alternated between going straight up the mountain, then briefly swooping downhill on a traverse, only to head up again, on a more easterly slope. Finally, we began the final assault: “Upper Walking Boss”. It is said that fewer than 10% of all competitors run this last mile. Well, “we … are … the 90%”. Still, it was competitive, and I was challenged, and happy, to pass 4 people on the final slope, which is graded as 40% in some places. Suds had warned me to minimize looking up, and never look down, or was it the other way around? Anyway, the ground ahead was easy to see, being only a foot or two in front of my nose! In my hypoxic state, I became irrationally fascinated by the tiny wild strawberries that carpeted the ground. I was tempted to stop and graze, but I was convinced a single moment’s rest would become an eternal halt, so I pressed on. Finally, I heard a spectator shout “run all the way to the clock”, and when I lifted my gaze (away from the strawberries), I was shocked to see that yes, the clock was less than a hundred yards away. So I did run. I do not know how. Suds came motoring in a few minutes later, with me making the same exhortation, to which he responded identically.
High fives, woohoos!, and some fluids, and we were ready to get off the windy, chilly summit. We were so high, we actually had to run, shuffle, walk, about a half mile downhill to get to the top of the gondola. We shared a ride down with Jeff Welts and Kristina Folcik, local mountain legends. During our chat, we found that I will be seeing them again later this year at MMTR. Small world…
Back at the bottom, we soaked in the river, watched the women’s team take the podium, etc… then hit the road. I was able to show Suds where the Woodstock Brewing Company was located, having discovered it only the previous weekend. Inexplicably, Suds, no stranger to beer (they don’t call him Suds because he like soap, ya know), nor a stranger to New Hampshire, did not know where it was, despite it being just down the road a piece. Burgers and beers, and we were ready to head home. I must admit, the weekend events had begun to wear on me, so Suds did the bulk of the driving.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, rest… Thursday, a quick 7 miles, Friday, a half day of work then off to the Dam Wakely 55K. This was a race Ultra and I had planned to run since February, made even better by the fact we would be meeting The Mayor there. Unfortunately, The Mayor failed to train, Ultra failed to catch himself before falling off a ladder, I was stuck forever on the waiting list… it looked like it might not happen. But it all came together, almost. I got stuck at work, but Ultra remained calm. The Mayor decided he could “just fake it”, I mean, it wasn’t a 100, right? Anyway, as Ultra and I drove up to the ‘Daks, I realized that Ultra really wasn’t running, he was just along for the fun. I was disappointed, but I must say, he seemed to REALLY enjoy himself. There was a great check-in/dinner Friday night, then we retired to our campsites, taking a little time out to light a fire and tell tall tales, and catch up on all the goings on in The Mayor’s life. Just a great evening.
Because Ultra would be “crewing” instead of running, and because there are NO aid stations and no crew access points, Ultra did all he could, which amounted to driving us to the start, so we did not have to take the bus. It was a very low key scene at the Wakely Dam, assembling on top of the dam, snapping a few pics, then “go”. 55K through the woods, without a single road crossing, without a single view of any man made structures, except a few lean-tos. Unbelievable. I saw a handful of backpackers, NO day-hikers, and a few of my fellow racers, but for the most part, it was a whole lot of “quality time” with me, myself, and I. It was a great learning experience. I TOTALLY botched my hydration and nutrition. A couple liters of filter bottle water and 2 hammer gels. Oh, and 1 salt tab. For seven hours. 90 degrees. 34 miles. Brilliant. No aid station buffets, no “I know better than you” crew. I had about 10 miles left (I didn’t know it at the time) when I started hearing cars in the distance, 5 miles left when I saw them through the trees, on some imaginary road crossing the trail just about 100 yards ahead. Needless to say, there were no cars all the way to the finish line. I knew there was a parking lot, where the trail breaks back on to the road, within sight of the finish. I decided that if Ultra was there, with his car, I would DNF. Seriously, with 99% of the race done, I would have gladly DNF’d. Sadly, Ultra was there, without his car. Surprising myself, I was actually running, pretty fast, at that point. I was quite proud of myself. Ultra noted that the second place woman just passed me, and that I should go get her. I took a swing at him, or at least I think I tried to, but it apparently did not work as he not only remained standing, but paced me in the last couple hundred yards. In his Crocs. Maybe I wasn’t going as fast as I thought?
The finish feast was as good as the meal the night before. I went back to the campground showers, Ultra continued to provide aid to finishers (I think he REALLY enjoys the races he does not run), and we prepared to hit the road. We did not expect The Mayor until who-knows-when, so we packed up his tent for him, and hit the road. The Mayor came in about 2 hours after me. So NOW I know exactly what all my training buys me!
Home from an epic adventure in a foreign land in time for dinner. Loopy chided me for getting “double chicked”, having been updated by Ultra, but said I did OK, all things considered.
A “week” with two very hefty bookends, and not enough rest in between. As I sink deeper into the “beyond masters” division, I find that heat and lack of sleep become harder to overcome. Still, you can’t give in, pushing beyond your limits is what stretches your limits. I think the three rest days, unusual for me, are a step in the right direction. Play hard, rest hard. That’s my plan. Just like Booman.