Sunday, Suds, El Toro, Soupergirl, Spruce, and myself ventured north, as far as you can go without a passport. That seemed to be the SHORT part of the trip.
Suds and I had discussed the Jay Peak Trail Running Festival as soon as it appeared, “out there” on the internet. Many Bimblers contemplated, and in the end, four of us went to run, and one to “crew”. I was very excited that this would be my son’s second “crewing” trip this year, after a 6 year hiatus. He seems to only crew 50Ks, I guess the longer races scare him
Spruce and I have been going to Jay Peak, only for skiing, forever. We had never ventured into the Northeast Kingdom without many feet of snow on the ground. Then, due to various circumstances, we never skiied last winter, so we were both liking the irony of going there this summer.
Jay Peak has transformed itself, and continues to grow, from a remote, rather ramshackle, “skiers and riders” mountain into a true four season resort. We have watched the transformation wearily, worrying about what it would mean to people who just want to ski. My son was already thinking it might be time to move on, and see if there were any remaining “hard core” mountains in New England.
El Toro and SouperGirl made this part of an extended camping adventure, and Suds traveled as part of a larger visit with family. So Spruce and I rode up Saturday morning. We had an excellent, and frighteningly indulgent, breakfast, at a place recommended by Sidestitch: Curtis BBQ in Putney. Yes, I said breakfast. Pulled Pork, Cole Slaw, excess. Outrageous.
As we got farther north into “The Kingdom” it was a real eye opener. We got to see all these places we had been driving through for at least 10 years but without a blanket of snow, it was strangely familiar, but also “new”. Then we approached the mountain with trepidation. The beat-up old base lodge and ready-for-condemnation hotel has been replaced with huge luxury suites, an indoor ice rink, multiple upscale restaurants, an indoor water park, a golf course, and, something truly unique for arriving at the race start: valet parking! I checked with Spruce to see if he was OK, and he said he would try to absorb and accept all of it.
I strongly suspect that Jay Peak may have priced themselves out of our future skiing plans, but the trail race people had arranged an awesome deal with the resort. It included very luxe lodging, use of the tram, the skating rink, and the water park, all at a ridiculously low price. We walked around after checking in to the hotel , with time to kill before bib pick-up at 5. We walked around in a bit of a daze, induced by the small town having sprouted where none previously existed, and also by the abundance of green. Oh, THAT is why they call them the Green Mountains!
We got in touch with El Toro and Soupergirl, did some internet navigating to find a nearby campground, and agreed to meet at the hotel for dinner. Spruce and I then hopped on the 4 PM tram to the summit, and planned to walk down. The views of Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and a huge swath of Quebec were amazing. Stepping off the summit, a couple of guys came along with LOTS of little orange flags, confirming that the race would be coming to the top. Spruce and I hiked down, sometimes on the race course sometimes not. The slopes that seemed SO steep in winter seemed even steeper in summer! It took us over an hour to hike down less than 3miles!
We arrived at the base just before 5:30, only to find El Toro and Soupergirl enjoying the late afternoon sunshine on the patio, already in possession of bibs and beers. We settled on pizza for dinner, and they headed back to set up at their campsite. Spruce and I, after much debate, headed to the water park. This was all so strange, but familiar.
Saturday, they had 3 separate 5K races, Sunday was, as the worker at the water park explained to me, for the “elite athletes”
The 8:30 start time seemed ridiculously late, particularly when your hotel room is 50 yards from the start line! The pre-race briefing was minimal. Suds had arrived shortly before, and we were all assembled. El Toro and I were both wearing our 2012 Bash shirts. I was quite surprised to see someone else in the same shirt! Off we went, both 25K (1 loop) and 50K (2 loop) runners all together. I kept El Toro in sight for maybe the first 2K, then wisely abandoned that effort.
Somewhere on the REAL steeps, the guy in the Bash shirt appeared at my side, so we chatted a bit. He advised me that it was the Jay Peak thread on the BS that got him and the woman he was running with (Eric and Yvonne) to sign up. It was really funny to hear him ask me “are you Forrest?”. Talk turned, between gasps for breath, to CT running and runners. Out of the blue, the question of how ShellyGirl’s foot was doing (not from me), and then, when ShellyGirl’s “real name” was spoken, somebody else said “Hey, she was my teacher!”. What a small world we run in. At the 10Kish mark, the summit is achieved. The rest of the loop is a seemingly endless criss-cross / up-down of the middle part of the mountain. It was strangely familiar, as I knew this terrain SO well, but had never encountered it going UPHILL.
I finished the first go-round in 3:15. It was brutally hard, and I would have liked to stop. The RD made a point of saying, at the start, that there would be “no shame” in stopping after one loop. Still, the cut-off was 5 hours, so I couldn’t justify stopping. Then, as soon as the 2nd loop started, it goes up, continuously, for 10K. Ugh. I toyed with the idea of dropping at the summit, since the tram is available for a ride back down (I found out later that at least one 50K runner did exactly that). Yet, when I arrived there, I convinced myself that the remaining 15K is all downhill (it isn’t) so I shuffled on. I spotted El Toro once on an out-and-back, and I only saw one runner ahead of him. I thought it a distinct possibility that he was in 2nd place. Sometime around 35K, I started bad cramping. Every time a downhill changed to uphill, my inner right thigh would just seize up, Another runner was having the same problem transitioning from up to down, so we leap-frogged each other for a while. Someone offered me salt tabs, which I politely declined. He then suggested that, at least for him, screaming four letter words at maximum volume often had therapeutic value. I gave that a try. It worked. The cramps disappeared after about 7k. On one swoop down near, but not to, the finish line, I heard the loudspeaker blaring “here comes our 2nd place runner”, no name announced, but I just knew. I started doing my typically bad clock math and decided my hoped for 7 hours was impossible, then, a guy running barefoot, said to me “2 miles to go” and I started pushing. I came across in 6:50ish, I think. Shortly thereafter, after ET confirmed for me that he finished 2nd, SouperGirl came flying over the line to finish 2nd as well!
An excellent post race meal followed, although the Tram Ale was at extra cost Suds had left a little earlier, El Toro and Soupergirl went off to break down camp, and I showered and changed, as Spruce refused to drive me AND my stink home.
Thoughts: Nice medal, great food, incredibly hard course. Beautiful environment, nice people. Typical first year hiccups for a new race. Talking with the RD, we agreed that this festival could make a nice “bookend” for summer along with Pineland Farms on Memorial Day weekend. The course will change next year, as this year’s course was not the intended one. Next year, permitting problems will be resolved, and there will be much more single track. If conditions permit, I will be back!