Week 2: 24 miles at Pineland
Week 3: 7 Sisters Trail Race
I did take 4 days off after the Bull Run Run 50 Miler, but then I remembered that I have a 100 miler to get ready for so I kinda jumped right back into training. The great thing about running really slowly on trails, even for 50 miles, is that the recovery time is a lot quicker than compared to road running.
Going into the 7 Sisters Trail Race this past weekend I was a little apprehensive because I knew I wasn’t well rested, and this has to be one of the most rugged trail races in New England. I know that there are plenty of trail races out there that I haven’t done, but I have never seen a race with more steeply rock infested hills than this. I’m sure Sherpa John will correct me, but mile for mile this has got to be one of the most rugged races around. When it rains all day and night before the race, and the rocks become slick there are fantastic opportunities for injury.
My goal was to beat my time from the only other time I ran this race, back in 2005, and to come away from it without a serious injury. My original plan was to run the first half of this out and back course conservatively and then push hard for the second half. What actually happened is that I ran hard for the first half and struggled through most of the second, pretty typical for me. Not that I’m blaming Jim for my lack of ability to execute a race plan, but his suggestion of starting out near the front of the crowd to make better time up the first climb lead me to run amongst a group that ultimately I couldn’t keep up with. One of the many unique challenges of this race is the start, where there are 250+ runners crowded along the shoulder of a well-travelled road all trying to squeeze into a single-track trail that ascends to the 1010’ summit of Bare Mountain in the first half mile. Jim realized last year that by starting nearer the front he could run most of the first climb without being stuck amongst the masses in the middle of the pack who are forced to walk because of the shear volume of people on the narrow rocky trail.
So the six miles going out went by pretty quickly and without any problems at all. I was working hard but having a good time. I couldn’t help but compare this to some of my recent longer runs, I also wondered how this compared to the course Erik recently ran at the TNF Bear Mountain 50 Miler. In the context of an ultramarathon there is no question that most runners would end up walking hills like those on the 7 Sisters course, but being in a 12 mile race I tried to run as much as I could. I’m glad that I wasn’t wearing my heart rate monitor, I don’t think I would have wanted to see it go over 200 bpm.
The first 2 aid stations on the course consisted of a few dozen 1-gallon jugs of water placed on the ground. At the turn-around point there was a bigger aid station with water, Gatorade, oranges and some other food items that I didn’t really notice. This is the lowest point of the race in terms of elevation, which means there is more uphill on the way back than on the way out. The second half of the race begins with a climb up from the level of the Connecticut River to the 940’ summit of Mt. Holyoke. If it weren’t for the fact that the sky was cloudy all day, and that it’s a very bad idea to take your eyes off the trail even for a second, there presumably would have been some great views from up on this ridge.
I knew that I was starting to slow down, my legs were getting tired and my form was getting a little sloppy. Every now and then I would get passed by another runner. Sometimes I gave up a good fight, other times I just stepped aside to let them go. One such moment came late in the race when I heard two way too cheerful women approaching: “oh my gawd, this is so much fun!” “I know, this is my first trail race and I love it!” I couldn’t listen to this shit so I gave them room and let them go past.
Coming into the last aid station at about 10 miles, which is the only flat non-technical part of the race, I leaned over to pick up a jug of water off the ground and my ankle rolled. I usually pride myself on the flexibility and resiliency of my ankles, but this time it didn’t roll back and I screamed out a very bad word. I was certain that this race, and perhaps my life as a runner, was over. I tried to walk but couldn’t support my weight, so I went through the list of all the bad words I know. This seemed to help and before I knew it I was off running again, first with a limp but it wasn’t long before I was back into that familiar tired stride.
I was definitely a little more cautious during the last two miles. I realized that I had narrowly escaped an injury on the trail, but the race was far from over and I still had to make the wet rocky descent down Bare Mountain, but not before another mile and a half of rugged ups and downs. Thankfully my ankle held out for the remainder of the race and I even managed to pick a few people off along the way. The fear, adrenaline, and profanity explosion gave me enough of an energy boost to pull out a relatively strong finish. Official results haven’t been posted yet, and I only caught a glimpse of the unofficial results, but it looked like I finished in about 2:32. That’s 10 minutes faster than the last time I did this race and I came away with only a minor injury. Not too shabby.
Official time: 2:33:28 (12:47 pace, that's slower than my 50 mile pace)