Trail Monster Running

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Beautiful Loop + Lunchbreak Hill Repeats

Last week during the run on the Beautiful Loop with Zak I had the sinister idea of running the BL (15+ miles) and tacking on repeats up and down Bradbury Mountain at the end to bring it up to 20 miles. It was kind of a joke, like what's the most difficult 20 mile route I can come up with from Bradbury in the winter. I never expected so many people to think it was a good idea, or to tag along despite the fact that it clearly wasn't a good idea. Especially in the conditions we had today. Not that anyone knew what to expect, but given the conditions we had over the past few weeks I figured it couldn't be any worse. I was wrong.

Near perfect conditions for the first 5 miles

Fezzik, Crux, J-Rock, 6-Pack, Tenacious-Z, Scout and Squirrel (I just made up a few of those) were all at the park this morning and everyone seemed up for at least the BL, with most planning to tack on the hill repeats at the end. Things started innocently enough, and the combination of good firm snow conditions and 6-Pack up at the front lead to a pretty quick pace for the first five miles. But when we got to the power lines things went downhill pretty quick. The reason we only run the BL in the winter is because along the power lines the trail is dependent upon swamps and rivers freezing solid and being buried under many inches of snow. The recent warm weather we've had has caused both of those typical winter attributes to be non-existent.

The first watery challenge
For the entire 7+ mile stretch along the power lines we were constantly faced with puddles, slush, postholing, stream crossings and booby-trapped collapsing ice. All hopes of keeping our feet dry were soon lost and we pushed ahead at as quick a pace as we could maintain, we needed a little speed just to keep out wet selves warm. Of course, with all the obstacles we faced our pace wasn't actually quick at all, but the effort was certainly there. The first deviation from our normal course came at about 5.5 miles when we discovered the trail was completely submerged for at least 100 yards. The detour was along a less-well-traveled snowmobile trail through a swamp.

The usual route was severely flooded
Next up was the big river crossing at 7.5 miles which I knew was going to be a problem. Luckily we were able to bushwhack a route along the rivers edge until we came to a road that crossed the river not too far from the power line trail. This only required about 1/4 mile of breaking trail through 6" of crusty snow.

The past two weeks we were able to run across this river, but obviously not today
The hilly parts of the route were in pretty good shape, but every low spot was wet with frigid water lurking below a deceptively thin layer of ice, or free flowing water. At about 9 miles we deviated from the normal route in order to avoid what I thought was going to be another swamp, and this seemed like a good choice until we came to a stream at least 6' across. The banks were overgrown and supported a thin ice shelf that collapsed as you tried to leap across making it impossible to avoid water up to at least mid calf.

Water crossings became frequent and it was impossible to maintain warm feet
By about 10 miles into the loop 6-Pack decided he had enough messing around and needed to get back to the park, this run was taking too long, not to mention the unpleasantness, so he headed back along the roads. A mile and a half later Fezzik realized the wisdom of 6-Pack's decision and took another road back to the park. Squirrel and Scout were a ways behind so the four of us that remained together kept a tight group until we reached the School at the base of Lunchbreak Hill. We all agreed that runs like these would be no fun if undertaken alone, but as a group we're able to both push each other and find the fun in what could be seen as difficult circumstances.

Thermometer read 30 but it felt warmer, by the time we finished the run it was definitely in the high 30's

As if the first 14 miles of our run weren't enough of a challenge we paused at the bottom of the hill before undertaking what we all knew was going to be a brutal finish to this long run. Four times up and down this 3/4 mile hill, that climbs over 300 feet, would give us the mileage we needed to get over 20 for the day. We agreed to take the hills each at our own pace and regroup at the end, and not surprisingly Crux took off in the lead while J-Rock, Tenacious-Z and I stayed pretty close together.

The first time up we were breaking trail but most of the climb was runnable with only a few fairly short sections requiring walking due to the combination of a steep grade and crappy footing. Much to our dismay the trail had many wet spots and keeping warm feet continued to be an issue. At least working hard up hill generated enough heat to stay warm, the trouble for me was keeping my feet warm on the way back down. I ran as quick as I could on tired legs on the way back down, which actually became harder as the temperature rose and the snow became more slushy and slick. I think it was on our second time down that we bumped into Scout and Squirrel on their way up for the first time. I was impressed that they had toughed it out for the complete BL and had begun to tackle the hill repeats with smiles.

SportTracks calls the total elevation gain 1,900', RunningAHEAD calls it 3,100'
Despite the fatigue we managed to keep our uphill splits fairly consistent: 12:00, 12:30, 13:00 and 12:00
I wasn't hitting the lap button on my watch so this is an estimate based on the GPS data. That sounds about right based on the way it felt, a bit tougher for each consecutive climb from 1-3 and then we pushed it hard, or Tenacious-Z pushed us hard, on the last one. By the time we made it down to the parking lot I was totally done in. Absolutely nothing left. But it actually felt good in a way to push myself to the limit without ever crashing during the run. Crashing afterwards is OK. That's what Edna & Lucy's is for. The hot capicola sandwich, french fires, giant homemade doughnut and coffee, helped bring me back to life, although I was walking pretty funny for a while afterwards.

A few modifications to the regular route were required due to flooded areas and unfrozen rivers
Unfortunately the boys and I left E&L's before the girls showed up so we couldn't swap tales of our struggles, I'll just have to read about them later.

time: 3:43:55
distance: 20.85 miles
pace: 10:44

conditions: atrocious! some decent snomo trails, lots of postholing, water crossings, swampiness and slush

weather: lower-upper 30's, sunny

gear: Inov-8 Oroc 280 with screws, sock liners, wool socks, tights, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, 2x gloves, hat, Nathan HPL #020


Jamie said...

Had a blast and it's one to remember, for sure. We should hire bards to write songs about it, it was that epic.

mindy said...

Great pictures, epic run. I should have given you guys the flip camera to film along the time!

Jeremy Bonnett said...

Really great run! So excited there's this much tenacity in the group!

Sparkplug said...

Very impressive! And I mean that for all of you!

unstrung said...

insaaaaanneee. i love it.