Trail Monster Running

Visit the official TRAIL MONSTER RUNNING website for information on upcoming group runs, local trails, trail races and more, including the Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival and the Bradbury Mountain trail Running Series.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


This never happens to me since Saturday trail runs are one of the highlights of my week, but today I just wasn't into it. The feeling probably had something to do with the rain, which usually doesn't bother me but there's something about waking up before the sun and hearing the rain that made me want to stay in bed. I had already decided that I wasn't going to do a long run this weekend, saving something for the Fat Ass 50k in Topsfield next weekend, so I guess I was wondering what the point was.

I made it to Bradbury a few minutes before 8 and Blaine was already waiting. Just as we got out of our cars Blaine commented that at least it wasn't raining any more, precipitation had now turned to sleet. Erik arrived and I suggested we go out for breakfast instead of running today but unfortunately these guys wanted to run so we took off on the Northern Loop Trail towards the summit.

This was the first time in several weeks that I decided to run without snowshoes at Bradbury, instead I picked a muddy pair of Inov-8's that needed a good cleaning. The trail conditions weren't too bad going up the mountain, a little soft, fairly wet with a few places where the snow was completely washed out. It took about 19 minutes to get to the summit, and then 10 minutes to get back down again. We then headed across the road for a loop of the Knight Woods trail where conditions seemed to be even softer underfoot and I found myself postholing quite a bit. Despite the difficulty Blaine and I managed to churn out a few miles under a 9:30 pace.

After about 40 minutes I was losing interest so I decided to head back. Blaine kept going on the Snowmobile Trail to work on getting his annual mileage over 1,900. At least I got my shoes clean.

time: 43:24
distance: 4.4 miles
pace: 9:52
heart rate: 163/182

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

11 1/2 miles and a cold six pack

Erik and I met at Bradbury this morning and set off up the Tote
Road Trail to the summit of Bradbury Mountain. Although it was warmer than last week it still felt cold when we started, but after a few minutes of uphill running we both began to warm up and it wasn't long before I had to remove a layer. I snapped a few photos at the top and then we made our way back down along the Northern Loop Trail. We then crossed the road and ran a loop of the Knight Woods Trail which only took us up to 4 miles even though we'd been out for over 45 minutes. There had been some snowmobile traffic on the trails but things were still quite soft underfoot.

Erik decided to head home, saying that he would attempt another run later in the day. I continued on with another loop of Knight Woods and then on to the Snowmobile Trail leading northwest out of the park. I was determined to get in at least 2 hours of running this morning, I made it as far as Brown Road in Durham before turning around and heading back. This was when I noticed a strange phenomenon: there was a build-up of ice on my shirt over my stomach. I'd never experienced this before. For some reason the sweat coming off me was concentrating on that part of my shirt and freezing solid. Weird.

On the way back I crossed paths with a few groups of friendly snowmobilers who were doing a good job getting the trails groomed for my final few miles. I attempted to pick up the pace but with the hills I was still getting some splits that were slower than 10 minute miles. I did manage to pull off my fastest split of the day on the last full mile: 9:21!

When I got back to my car and changed my shirt I noticed my stomach was bright red from the ice pack I had been wearing.

time: 2:05:08
distance: 11.61 miles
pace: 10:46
heart rate: 155/184

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tuesday Night at TB

Monday night I was x-c skiing at Riverside Golf Course in Portland and after the rain/sleet crap that we got on Sunday evening the conditions were pretty lousy for classic skiing, but I still managed to get in 5 miles. Tuesday I brought my snowshoes to Twin Brook and planned to run a similar route as the previous week by heading over to Val Halla golf course. Chuck was there with his snowshoes, Andrew in trail shoes with Yak Trax, and Jim in his old pair of Flyrocs which I'm now convinced he wears just so he has something to complain about. There was a bit of debate about who had the advantage on the ups vs. the downs but by the end everyone seemed to agree that this snow running is tough business no matter what you've got on your feet. There wasn't much snowmobile traffic at Val Halla since the new fallen snow so our trail options were limited and we ended up turning back earlier than expected.
When we finished the run we noticed that Erik had showed up, apparently delayed in trafffic, and was still out there running. We also bumped into Floyd and Jeff who were meeting for a ski. It's amazing how many people show up to use these trails in the winter, too bad we all have to park outside the gate to avoid getting locked in.
I've been trying out some of the options for displaying GPS data from my runs. I haven't figured it all out yet but there is some cool stuff that you can do. The image above is taken from Google Earth, which is pretty cool in and of itself but when you overlay a run route you can view stats at each mile split, and if you were somewhere with real elevation you could do a fun fly-through. Below is a link to the Motion Based website where you can view stats from the run and watch the run in action on the Map Player. Well, you can watch a dot in action, you still have to use your imagination.

(From the Motion Based site click on the 'PLAYER' tab)

Check this out! You can view this activity online at MotionBased. The Map Player is especially cool because a 'Dot' simulates the movement on a map (You just need to download the Adobe SVG Viewer).

View Activity
If you are experiencing problems with links above, copy and paste the following URL directly into your browser:

Everest Marathon

Honorary Trail Monsters Mary and Peter, who came from Scotland to run the Pineland Farms 50k this year, recently completed the Everest Marathon. Read about their adventure and see some incredible photographs HERE.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Racing Santas

Emma has returned to Scotland to visit her family for the holidays, and like a good Trail Monster ran a trail race with a few hours of arriving in the country. We set a precedent last year by competing in the Manor Water Hill Race a few hours after I arrived in Scotland on vacation. The Falkland Trail Race had a unique component of handing out Santa costumes to the first 100 registered runners, unfortunately Emma was unable to make the cutoff.

Emma will write up her own report which will be posted here soon.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Winter Running Lessons

This week I signed up for the 2008 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run and I've been watching The Runner, the story of David Horton's 2,700 mile run of the PCT, so I had long running on the brain. I had hoped to do 4 hours at Bradbury but I knew that all the snow we got this week was going to make it challenging, I didn't think there was much chance of snowmobile traffic between the time the last storm ended Thursday night and our run this morning. To complicate matters even more the temperature wasn't expected to get above 20 degrees until the afternoon, it was 13 when I arrived at Bradbury. Erik and Blaine showed up and I made them wait in the cold while I fitted my snowshoes, they both decided to stick with just trail shoes.

Given the potential for freezing water, which has happened to me before, I wore a light jacket over my Source hydration pack. I also planned to try a trick I read about which is to blow a small amount of air back into the tube after taking a drink, thus clearing out any water that might freeze. I learned not to blow too much air otherwise you end up with half air and half water in your pack and it sloshes around, which isn't really a problem, just annoying. About half an hour into the run Blaine asked how my hose was doing, I was happy to report that my hydration pack was functioning well but my other hose was frosty. Luckily I was wearing glove liners and mittens so I tried a trick that Jim taught me, I removed a mitten and shoved it down my pants. This did a great job of warming up one area but left me with a cold hand, and for the rest of the run I kept switching the mitten from one hand to the other.

Apart from the addition of the Knight Woods trail at the beginning of our run we were following the same route that we ran last week. Six miles into the run, when we reached the power lines, Blaine decided to turn back, and Erik was a little ways behind me so I continued on my own towards a nice big hill. When I got closer I was disappointed to find a fork in the trail and the "groomed" path avoided the hill so I decided to stick to following the snowmobile tracks. "I'll get you on the way back" I said to the hill.

The time seemed right for a package of Shot Bloks, which after more than an hour in my pocket were actually flavored ice cubes. I discovered that slipping the package into my mitten (the Shot Blok package and the mitten on my hand, not the other one) did a good job of thawing the Shot Bloks without freezing my hand, and the same is true for packets of GU.

Things were going well until I came to a small river that wasn't frozen enough to cross and the snowmobile tracks turned back. I managed to break trail through 8" of powder into someone's back yard, then on to what I would later discover was Poland Range Road, across a bridge and then back onto the power line trail. Unfortunately from this point on I was breaking trail which is really hard work on hills in small running-style snowshoes. I made it out to Allen Road in North Pownal, did a lap of a huge electrical sub-station and turned back the way I came.

By the time I reached the back side of that hill I had seen earlier I had been running through powder for about 4 miles and I was starting to feel pretty tired, but I decided to attack the hill anyway. It turned out to be a very tough climb and I could see why no snowmobiles had attempted it, but I was glad to be the only one to make tracks up to the top. The view from the top was worth the effort but the 20 mph wind prevented me from lingering and I continued down the other side. By now I was feeling pretty much spent and even returning to the packed snowmobile trails didn't provide much relief.

As I counted the miles on my way back and looked at the time I knew that I was going to have to repeat the Knight Woods loop and maybe a little more if I was going to bring this run up to 4 hours. The problem was that in order to do that I was going to come within 0.3 of a mile from the parking lot where my car was, and the temptation to stop early was going to be there. I have discovered that one of the great challenges of long distance running is being faced with the opportunity to stop but being able to make yourself continue. Today I was weak, I took the opportunity to quit early.

If I'm going to get through this 100 miler I'm going to have to keep putting myself in these situations until I know that I'm strong enough not to give in.

time: 3:47:25
distance: 18.93 miles
pace: 12:00

Friday, December 14, 2007

VT100 Here I come!

I got a nice e-mail today:


CONGRATULATIONS! This is to confirm that you are entered in the 2008 Vermont 100 to be held July 19 and 20 in West Windsor VT.

On behalf of Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports (VASS) and the race committee we welcome you to the 20th annual Vermont 100 Endurance Run. July will be here soon and we look forward to seeing you. This year the VT 100 offers runners a choice of 100 miles or 100 K. See the website for more details.

This letter also serves as your campsite confirmation. Please remember that our campsites are open ONLY from Friday morning until Monday noon. Please do your part to keep Vermont green and leave your campsite as you found it.

We are looking forward to our fifth year at the Silver Hill Meadow site. We have used this site through good and bad weather and it really has become home for us. Our very sincere thanks go to the property owners for their continued generous support. The consensus seems to be that the revised trail is slightly tougher than the original but retains the character of the old route. The VT 100 continues to uphold our tradition of having horses and runners compete on the same course at the same time. This combination brings great comments from both runners and riders every year.

All proceeds from the VT 100 go to support the programs of VASS. Your participation helps to provide year-round recreational sports opportunities to people with disabilities. The VT 100 is one of the largest fundraisers for VASS each year. To further this key fundraising effort we have changed our pledge program to offer prizes and incentives for raising additional money to further the mission of VASS. More details can be found on our website. Note that VASS is a 501 (c)3 non-profit and all contributions are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Our website ( has several pages of race information available. More pages may be added if needed and pages will be updated from time to time. Included is a list of this year's entrants. This list will be updated within a couple weeks as entries are received. Please be sure to check the website for updates as race day nears.

We look forward to seeing returning runners again and to meeting those of you who haven't run VT before. The race committee, the volunteers and the community as a whole regard this event as a high point of each year. We can make no promises about the New England weather but we will hope for the best.

As always, if you have any questions don't hesitate to contact us at (

Happy Trails

Jim Hutchinson, Race Director
Julia Hutchinson, Assistant Rd/Admin Assistant

PS You didn't specify a shirt size on your application. If you could let us know which size you need we can make sure you're well dressed as well as tired at the end of the VT 100.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Golf Course Running

When I arrived at Twin Brook this evening Jeff was already out doing laps of the field on his skate skis, I could see the light from his headlamp moving back and forth in the distance. Andrew and Jim arrived next and we got ready to head out. I could hear some clattering from Andrew's direction so I went over to see what was going on. He was strapping on some wicked gnarly crampons, which seemed a tad aggressive for Twin Brook but that's the kind of guy he is. Like last week I wore my snowshoes and Jim was in his Flyroc's.

In the interest of preserving the well groomed trails for skiers we decided to skip the more southern part of our usual route and stick to the northern loop which isn't as well maintained. Unfortunately for Jeff this meant the skiing wasn't so good, and for he rest of us the running was actually more difficult but we don't do this because it's easy. When we got to the most northern part of the Twin Brook property we decided to cross the railroad tracks and take the trail that leads to Val Halla golf course. Once on the golf course we found there had been a lot of snowmobile traffic that created a great network of trails and included some nice little hills.

We only covered a fraction of the trails at Val Halla so I'm looking forward to exploring them more in the coming weeks.

time: 49:37
distance: 5.09 miles
pace: 9:45
heart rate: 173/185

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Snow Run @ Bradbury

As I was throwing my snowshoes in the back of my car, just about to head over to Bradbury I heard someone call my name, it was Randy who had run over to my house to catch a ride. He didn’t know exactly where I live but just took a chance since he knew the street and he arrived just in time. When we got to Bradbury we met Erik, Josh and Blaine and we agreed to attempt 10 miles. Erik also brought snowshoes but the other guys didn’t so we decided to go in just our trail shoes with hopes that the snowmobiles would have been out during the week to pack down the snow on the trails. This seemed to be the case until we got 100 yards onto the trail and the snowmobile tracks veered off into the campground. We decided to stick to my planned route which meant blazing trail through soft snow along the Link Trail, but after less than half a mile we joined up with what is referred to as the Snowmobile Trail and that had seen some traffic so we were back to somewhat easier running.

As we headed northeast along this wide trail towards the park boundary and eventually beyond the snowmobile tracks disappeared and we had to break trail again, but I think we all agreed that despite the difficulty it was actually a lot of fun running through the snow. The deer also seemed to enjoy it as there were tracks everywhere. At one point I looked over my shoulder to make sure everyone was close behind and when I did I slipped on a snow covered rock and went down into the soft powder. Blaine was right behind me and seemed delighted in my little mishap, we’ve both seen a number of people fall while running at Bradbury but this was the first time I’ve done it with a group. I dusted off the snow and we continued in pretty much a straight line northeast, across Poland Range Road, then Brown Road and I think we were in the town of Durham.

After almost 40 minutes but still not even 4 miles into the run we came out to a big open corn field that had seen a lot of snowmobile traffic and we were able to pick the pace up for a bit. This lead to a sand pit and then back into the woods along a section of trail with a lot of water under ice where we had to tread lightly and weave around the obviously thin spots in an attempt to keep our feet dry. Finally we came out to the power line trail running east-west and my Garmin told me we were at exactly 5 miles so we turned around and made our way back the way we came. You can see from the elevation profile that most of the way back was uphill, not a major hill but in 6” of snow it was hard work.

The run back took us 3 minutes longer than the way out, which wasn’t too bad considering the hills and the snow. I was glad to have my OR Flex-Tex Gaiters during the run which did a great job keeping the snow out of my shoes and allowed my feet to stay nice and warm and dry. Although the temperature was still below freezing we were all working up a good sweat which of course lead to a major chill a few minutes after finishing.

time: 1:39:46

distance: 9.97 miles

pace: 10:00

Friday, December 7, 2007

Inov-8 and GoMotion

Friday I decided to leave work early and head down to Southborough, MA with Emma for the Inov-8 open house. Hanging out with other runners and checking out some cool trail running shoes was much more appealing than work, as it would be any day, but this was my birthday so I thought I deserved to skip out early. We were among the first to arrive and I didn’t hesitate to get right into the beer, there were 3 kegs on ice and plenty of snacks.

Even though I didn’t need any new shoes - I already bought 3 pairs of Inov-8’s this year - I was curious to see what they had in the warehouse and maybe pick up something for next year’s VT100. It’s not that the shoes didn’t last long enough that I ended up buying 3 pair, I just really like them and I wear them all. The models I currently wear, Roclite 315, F-lite 300 and Mudroc 290, are all light-weight and relatively minimalist shoes but each is suited to a different type of terrain. What I was looking for was something with a little more cushioning, desirable during a 100 mile race, and a not-too-aggressive outsole. The F-lite 335 seemed to fit the bill but wasn’t quite right on my feet, and I don’t want to take any chances going into this race. I asked the advice of Thomas, an experienced ultra-runner who works for Inov-8 and ran the VT100 a few years ago in 18.5 hours (for anyone who doesn’t know: that’s freakin’ awesome). Thomas is better at giving advice than selling shoes, and he recommended that I wear my road shoes at VT rather than any of the Inov-8 trail shoes. I respect his opinion and appreciated his honesty so I think I may be in the market for a new pair of Asics, not sure which model but I’ll visit Maine Running Company this week and see what I can find. Historically I bounced back and fourth between the 2000 series and the Kayano, but for the past 2 years I’ve been running almost exclusively in Inov-8’s and I’m not sure if I really need all the structure of those shoes any more. We’ll see.

Emma was determined to pick up two new pairs of shoes on this trip, not that she really needed them but she had two gift certificates from winning the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge 25k and the Stone Cat Trail Marathon. After much deliberation and sending Lisa up and down the aisles of the warehouse numerous times to fetch different shoes Emma settled on the F-Lite 301 PK because they look cool, and the Terroc 330 because she’s worn them before and they’re awesome. The last pair of Terroc’s Emma got were purchased 3 years ago from a store in Scotland and it was great to see that the shoe hasn’t changed a bit. It seems that every other shoe company changes their product every single year but they don’t realize that most runners like consistency in their footwear. It’s refreshing to see a company get it right the first time and just keep it that way. I bought a pair of Mudroc’s in 2003 and another in 2007 and the differences are so subtle they would only be noticed by someone with a shoe obsession like me.

Also at the open house were the founders of a new company called Go Motion who brought in a bunch of product prototypes they’ve been developing over the past year. Basically what they’ve done is taken a powerful headlamp with external battery pack and integrated it into a small backpack with the lamp positioned on your chest and the batteries on your back. They have several models, the one I like best holds a 1-liter hydration bladder and has several pockets for stowing small bits of gear and energy gels, perfect for long runs in the dark. They even have a women’s specific design that fit’s Emma perfectly, a rarity in the hydration pack market. Their products won’t be available for a few more months but they are definitely worth looking for, hopefully at a local retailer.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Winter Makes You Strong

Tonight Ian, Jim and Erik showed up at Twin Brook for an attempt at the regular winter loop. Not sure what to expect with all the recent fallen snow I wore my Atlas Run snowshoes, Erik had his snowshoes and Jim was in his Inov-8 Flyroc's.

It turned out that most of the trails had been groomed, the town is very good about getting out as soon as the snow falls to look after their trails, and conditions were great for skiing as was evident by all the headlamps we saw gliding along in the distance. We had to break trail on a few short sections of the northern part of the route and we debated whether or not the snowshoes made it any easier, when the snow isn't very deep there isn't much benefit to snowshoes. But snowshoe running does give you one hell of a workout.

Lately I have been thinking about Gore-tex footwear for winter running. Generally I have always thought that it isn't possible to prevent water from getting into your shoes (at least not the way I run) so I want to be sure that whatever does get in can get out just as easily. The one place Gore-tex does seem to make sense to me is when running in the snow. My feet never got cold tonight but after I finished I noticed that my socks were wet from the melted snow. If anyone had experience with Gore-tex or other "waterproof" footwear I'd be interested to hear what you think.

time: 1:00:26
distance: 5.7 miles
pace: 10:35

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pineland Moonlight Run

It was Ian, Randy, Shauna and Jim for the full moon run at Pineland on Saturday night. Although the moon was up there was a thin cloud cover that dulled the glow, nevertheless we had a good run. The route we took was the same as the course for the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge minus the field loops. The result was 12.5 miles in 1:57:39, average pace 9:25.

During the run we jumped two deer who were settled down next to the trail, spooked a wild turkey who was sleeping in a tree, and although we didn't see them we could certainly smell the cows.

Jim decided to do the whole run in shorts and a t-shirt, and he even managed to break a sweat resulting in the need for a beer immediately upon finishing... or did he?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Inov-8 Open House

INOV-8 Open House

Check out the best trail running shoes on the planet at the Inov-8 open house in their new offices and warehouse in Southborough, MA. They have tons of new stuff and you can even demo a pair of shoes for a run or a walk at nearby Hopkinton trails.

I wouldn't want to run 50 miles, or any other distance on the trails, in anything else.

When: Friday, December 7th 3:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, December 8th 9:00 – 2:00 p.m.

Where: INOV-8 office and warehouse

10 Southville Road

Southborough, MA 01772


· Treats and beverages will be served.

· Take advantage of discounts on merchandise.

· Network with local runners, retailers and hikers.

· Meet and hear INOV-8 world-class athletes.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Presumpscot River Run

Today Emma and I decided to sleep in a bit and skip the run at Bradbury. Instead we went to the Presumpscot River Trail in Portland, starting from the Oat Nuts Park Trail on Summit Street in Portland. It didn't take long to realize that I still had some recovery to do from last week's big race so we went at a pretty easy pace.

Fall is probably the best time of year to run this trail which can get overgrown in places during the summer. It had been a while since we'd run this trail and we had almost forgotten that we have some great trails right here in Portland. I wish we had brought our camera with us to capture the sight of the rapids which were flowing full strength from the recent rain.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bradbury Mountain Run

Today Emma and I met Erik, Stephen, Chuck and Ben for a run on the West Side, aka "The Mountain Side," trails of Bradbury.

Bradbury Mountain isn't really a mountain, but if you run it the right way it feels like a mountain, especially if this is your first run since completing a 50 miler the week before. The beginning of our run was the same route I ran a few weeks ago when I went out looking for a course for another race, but this was the first time I showed it to anyone else so I was curious to see what others would think of it. As an added challenge to the course this morning there was a lot of water on the trail and in some places ice over rock. The run was pretty easy going until we got 2.25 miles into it, and then went from the lowest point in the park right up to the highest in about 1/4 mile (check out the elevation profile 2.25-2.50 miles). We paused to catch our breath at the summit and take in the view. The climb brought flashbacks of the Mt. Cranmore Hill Climb to both Stephen and Emma, not that this course is nearly as difficult, but it's going to have some of the toughest hills you'll find at a race in Maine, and pretty technical too.

After the main summit we had a gradual descent of about a mile on the Tote Road and then back up to the Northern Bluff which is another nice spot for a view. From there we headed down the Terrace Trail which is great trail to run down fast, but we took it easy today. We finished the 4.5 mile "loop" back on the Northern Loop Trail where we started. At this point Erik, Stephen and Chuck headed home and Emma, Ben and I continued for another loop of the mountain taking in some different trails this time. After reaching the summit for a second time I decided to take a different way down along the appropriately named Switchback Trail which was a lot of fun.

Looking forward to more running at Bradbury tomorrow!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Stone Cat 50 Mile Trail Race Report

by gIANt Parlin

Running 50 miles is easy. It’s like my friend Jamie told me a few weeks before the race “Running 50 miles is easy. You run slow, and you walk.” For the most part Jamie was right. You don’t have to be a unique physical specimen with exceptional endurance abilities to be able to run a 50 mile ultramarathon. You don’t have to run 100 miles per week and do 8-hour long runs on the weekends. I’ve learned that the most important aspect of preparing to run a 50 mile race for the first time is convincing yourself that you want to do it, that you can do it, and you will do it. If you honestly believe this then covering the distance is easy.

One thing that could make a 50 mile race difficult is approaching it like other races of much shorter distances. I had to stop worrying about what other people were doing and focus only on my race. Your first 50 miler shouldn’t be about racing other participants, it should be about proving to yourself that you can do it. Perhaps the most dangerous thing an inexperienced ultrarunner can do is to get carried away with what others around you are doing. It’s great to be able to feed off of other runners, to let others pick you up when you’re feeling down, but to run at someone else’s pace or to try too hard to outrun someone else can be disastrous. If you burn out 35 miles into the race, you still have a long way to go before you’re finished. It’s important to set realistic goals, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet them.

In the weeks leading up to the Stone Cat 50 Mile Trail Race I kept reminding myself of what Jamie had told me. Whenever I questioned my training or mental preparedness I told myself “Running 50 miles is easy. You run slow, and you walk.” I also sought the advice of other friends who had successfully completed the 50 mile distance, they all gave different advice and made different suggestions, but agreed that I could in fact run 50 miles myself. We all did such a good job of convincing me that I could do it, and I became so relaxed about the race that the night before I began to question whether or not I was taking this seriously enough. I thought to myself “I’m going to attempt to run 50 miles tomorrow, shouldn’t I be crapping myself right now?” The fact that I didn’t have any of the usual jitters before a big race suggested that finally I had gotten to a place where I didn’t care about the competition and I knew I would be happy with whatever I did on race day.

On Friday evening, the night before the race, Emma and I checked into the hotel, met up with Erik and headed down to the pre-race pasta dinner. We had a relaxing meal with entertaining stories from local ultrarunning legend Phil Pierce. No one really likes being beaten in a race by someone more than twice their age, but these are the kinds of things that can happen in ultramarathons when young inexperienced runners go up against veterans of the sport and I decided I wasn’t going to worry if I found myself trailing him the next morning. It was also good to see our favorite shoe reps at the pasta dinner, Lisa and Thomas from Inov-8. It was hard to resist picking up a pair of new shoes, but since I had brought 4 pairs of shoes with me (2x Roclite 315, the F-Lite 300 and a pair of Asics Kayano in case things got really bad) I didn’t think there would be room in my luggage for any more. After dinner we checked the weather forecast, thankfully no longer calling for rain and snow, laid out our running clothes, packed our drop bags and attempted to get to bed early. No such luck. I felt kind of like a kid waiting for Christmas, but a scary Christmas where you weren’t quite sure if the toys were real or if they were filled with explosives that would really hurt when you played with them.

The morning of the race we had a fairly quiet breakfast with all the other runners who were up earlier than they wanted to be but, like me, were probably glad that the waiting was nearly over. I was surprised to see the waffle iron getting so much attention, I know you’re not supposed to try new things on race day and I doubt that many people have waffle irons at home so I hoped they knew what they were getting into. After breakfast we called the rest of the Trail Monsters, who were absent from the meal, to make sure they were awake and ready to go. Not surprisingly Erik was gone and almost to the start line when we called, and the ladies had just woken up. We followed the steady flow of traffic out of the hotel and to the start of the race, I did remind myself that just like on the trail you can’t always expect the person in front to know where they’re going.

After parking the car and positioning our gear at the drop bag site, near the beginning/end of each loop of the 4 lap course, we headed into the gym to warm up and see if we could find the other Trail Monsters. It didn’t take us long to find Erik and James who were both planning to run the 50 miler, and Jamie who had come down to support us. There was a brief pre-race meeting, we stripped off our warm layers and headed outside to the start line just as the sun was coming up. It was there that we finally caught up with Shauna, Rachel and Theresa who were all planning to do the marathon. We were in the middle of exchanging greetings when the crowd starting moving forward. Apparently the race had begun!

LAP 1: 0-12.5 miles, 2:15:33

The start of an ultramarathon is somewhat of a funny sight, hundreds of runners loaded with all kinds of gear just shuffling along in no hurry to get anywhere. Everyone knew it was going to be a long day. I kissed Emma goodbye and she took off with the other marathoners to run a 1.2 mile loop before rejoining the rest of us on the 12.5 mile course. I knew I’d see her again soon. James and I didn’t plan to run together, in fact I had been warned against running with him, but we took off together at a very comfortable pace. I didn’t know what to expect from James, he has more experience than me in ultramarathons, having finished Stone Cat in under 8.5 hours a few years ago and recently running very well at the VT100. His lack of training recently seemed to reduce him to my level of athleticism and I was glad to be running with him, but neither of us knew how long it would last.

The course started out on double-track trail, which was good to allow people to find their pace. There was a lot of chatter in this early part of the race, and everyone in the ultrarunning community is very friendly, but there are some people you know you don’t want to spend a long time running with. So occasionally James and I would exchange a glance or a few hushed words that meant “Pick up the pace, we gotta drop this freak!” It wasn’t long before Leigh Schmitt, leader and sure winner in the marathon, came cruising past us. A few minutes later, and now on single-track, the rest of the top marathoners started picking us off. That’s right, we were 2.5 miles into the race and Leigh already had a lead of several minutes on the rest of the pack. A few more minutes passed, I looked over my shoulder and saw Emma, first woman in the marathon, working her way through the 50 milers. “Outta the way, my wife’s coming through!” I shouted. Emma ran by my side for a minute but I knew she couldn’t wait to drop me like the rest of pack, so with her unique style of polite aggression she pulled away weaving through the long line of runners ahead, dodging trees, jumping rocks, quietly intent on maintaining her position in the race. That’s a Trail Monster.

After making a few disclaimers to James about the potential for me to get cranky later on in the race we relaxed in to casual conversation and had a very enjoyable first lap of the course. Thankfully the weather forecast from early in the week, including Sherpa John’s reports, turned out to be wrong. The sun burned off the clouds and it turned out to be a gorgeous day, I couldn’t have asked for better conditions for running 50 miles. One race day prediction that was correct was the atmosphere at the aid stations. The GAC is a great group of runners who really know how to put on a top notch ultramarathon. The down side of this is that you end up wanting to hang out at the aid stations and socialize, you forget that this is supposed to be a race. Thankfully James was there to remind of the task at hand and he kept me moving.

I finished the first lap feeling great, as would be expected only ¼ of the way through the race. The weather was perfect, I felt good physically and mentally, I was running in good company and Jamie was there at the turnaround to cheer me on and help me to get ready for the next lap. He reported that Emma had come through about 20 minutes before me which meant she was on target for a solid sub 4-hour marathon, pretty damn good for this course.

LAP 2: 12.5-25 miles, 2:19:01

A few days before the race Erik had warned me of the dangers of running in cold weather with a handheld bottle (cold hand) so I opted to carry a small Source hydration pack filled with Hammer Sustained Energy and a few gels in the pockets. After a quick refill James and I headed out for the second lap and on the way out we passed Erik who was just finishing his first lap, we exchanged encouraging words and a high five and got down to some serious running. By now runners had spread out and James and I didn’t encounter too many other people on the course, this was fine by me because it seemed to make it easier to run at my own pace.

My nutrition strategy for the race was drink regularly from my hydration pack, take a gel every hour on the hour, take an electrolyte tablet every hour on the half hour and at the aid stations drink water and take as much solid food as I could manage. I remember being told that the typical runner burns 100 calories per mile which meant I had to try to take in 5000 calories during the race if I was going to keep my energy levels up. This is one of the really fun parts about ultrarunning, trying to eat as much as you can without making yourself sick. Many ultrarunners, especially first-timers have to deal with stomach problems during a race, but I was lucky enough to be able to eat everything I tried without any trouble. During the second lap I ate cheese and crackers, salted potatoes, Pringles, chocolate covered pretzels, M&M’s, grilled ham and cheese, all in addition to the gels and calorie laden energy drink. Oh what fun.

After reaching Fast Fred’s aid station at around mile 20.5 I really felt like I was getting into a good groove. There was a nice downhill stretch and I took the opportunity to open up my stride, stretch my legs and inject a little speed into my running. Bear in mind I’m talking about stepping up the pace from an 11 minute mile to maybe a 10 minute pace, nothing to really get excited about. When James caught up to me he warned me that I was probably going too fast so I did my best to try to run more sensibly.

As we neared the end of the second lap I couldn’t stop wondering how Emma’s marathon had turned out. As we got closer and the anticipation built I think I began to pick the pace up again, I was pulling away from James and even passed one or two other runners. When I arrived at the edge of the field to complete the last stretch of the lap Jamie and Emma were waiting there and I could tell right away that Emma had a good race. She finished first female in the marathon in 3:51.

LAP 3: 25-37.5 miles, 2:41:19

Seeing Emma and hearing about her victory gave me a huge boost. I quickly refilled my pack, changed my shirt, hat and gloves and was ready to go. James needed a little more time and I could tell that I shouldn’t push him so said goodbye and started the third lap by myself, hoping that James would catch up to me before too long. Although I felt really excited my legs were beginning to tire and I knew that I would have to run this lap smart. I had been warned that the third lap is the toughest mentally, because this is when you start to feel the effects of the distance and for many people the option of dropping out at 37.5 miles when they finish this lap is too tempting. I knew that I was going to slow down, by this point I had covered as much distance as my longest training run and I was only half way through the race.

Al Cat’s aid station at mile 29 (4 miles into each lap) was the first opportunity to get a check on my pace, 4 minutes slower than on the previous loop. If I had been a bit more alert I would have realized that I had slowed by 1 minute per mile already on this loop, but at the time all I could think about was eating. A big plate of kielbasa, fresh off the grill, was laying on the table and an enthusiastic volunteer was convincing me that I needed it. He had been right about the grilled ham and cheese sandwich on the previous lap so I took his word and a big piece of kielbasa. My legs were starting to tighten up so I stretched a little and grabbed some more food. If James had been there he would have made sure were had left the aid station by now but I felt that I needed the time, and maybe I was hoping he would catch up.

At this stage of the race, running alone and without any pleasantly distracting conversation, I really focused on my running. I couldn’t stop thinking about how tired my legs were getting, and how annoying all that crap in my shoes was! I should have worn gaiters. Although I didn’t notice it on the first two laps it seemed that all of a sudden my shoes were filled with woodland debris and it was starting to piss me off. To keep myself going I set a series of goals that hopefully I would be able to check off, one after another. The first goal was to get to the next aid station, and the prize would be taking my shoes off.

I had been warned about sitting down during an ultramarathon, some people never get up, but I needed to empty my shoes. When I arrived at Fast Fred’s the volunteers could tell I needed something, as I was about to sit on the ground to remove my shoes someone shoved a chair underneath me and I collapsed into its comfortable embrace. I was relieved to find that despite the distance and all the junk in my shoes my feet were in great shape, no soreness or blisters, but I meticulously removed every leaf fragment, twig and pebble that was stuck to my wool socks. I got my shoes back on and thought I was ready to go but found that I couldn’t move. Stephen was right, the chair was covered with glue, I couldn’t get up! There I was, 33 miles into the race sitting down. I had run farther than Jim Dunn ever has and I couldn’t get up to continue running. I couldn’t finish the race with a chair stuck to my ass so maybe I should just stay here and eat. The chili did smell awfully good.

As I regained awareness of my surroundings I realized that several runners had come and gone while I was trapped in the chair, this was just enough motivation for me to release myself from the chair’s grip. I quickly downed some Coke, took a cup of chili to-go and was finally off running again. On to the next goal: finish this lap. The prize: run one more.

LAP 4: 37.5-50 miles, 2:54:10

Once again Emma and Jamie were there to help me make the transition into the next lap, I warned them that I was likely to continue to slow down and that it may take me as long as 3 hours to finish the last lap. I was also pleasantly surprised to see Shauna, Rachel and Theresa who had finished the marathon and stuck around long enough to cheer me on as I began the last leg of this journey. After 7 hours and 15 minutes of running I was really feeling the distance but it was a huge emotional boost to have my wife and friends there to encourage me.

It didn’t take long for me to notice how lonely it was on the trail now, although I didn’t know my exact place I figured I was somewhere in the middle of the pack and runners were now spread out all over the 12.5 mile loop. I must have blacked out or something, because all of a sudden it felt like someone went Tonya Harding on my right knee. I don’t remember anyone jumping out from behind a bush and pummeling my knee with a crow bar, but based on the way it felt I’m sure that’s what happened. I’ve heard about people hallucinating during ultras, but is it possible to have a reverse hallucination? To think that everything is normal while you’re being lambasted with a crow bar? Where was James when I needed him? How could I distinguish reality from fantasy all by myself?

Without much else to think of besides my aching knee I looked for any opportunity to take a walking break. One of the challenging aspects of the Stone Cat course is it’s relative flatness. Without any significant ups or down you end up using the same muscles in the same stride for mile after mile with little variation. Walking allows you to change your gait, take big long steps and give your running muscles a rest. I found myself inventing hills out of ordinarily flat ground just to give myself an excuse to walk.

My next set of goals was to make it to each of the aid stations, take what I needed as quickly as possible, thank the volunteers and be on my way. By now I knew the course very well. I knew when the aid stations were coming up and I knew what I wanted. There was no excuse for lingering too long, especially since by now I had done the important part of the hydration and nutrition strategy. I figured I could pretty much cruise in on what was left in my tank without having to stop for a major refueling.

Cruising is a relative term. After leaving Al Cat’s aid station for the last time at mile 41.5 I felt really pumped up that I was getting so close to completing this race, but the pain in my knee was so bad that I could only run for about ½ mile before I had to take a walking break. The next 4 miles were probably the toughest of the race for me. I began to get frustrated in the fact that my mind and my muscles wanted to run but my joints were letting me down. The more I thought about it the worse the pain got. It probably took me close to an hour to cover the 4 miles between Al Cat’s and Fast Fred’s aid stations. I heard Fast Fred’s before I saw it. I may have been hallucinating but I seem to remember some freakish hillbilly band playing home-made instruments. I don’t know what they were playing but at 45.5 miles it was very entertaining. After a quick stop to drink some Coke I took off for the final stretch of the race with a big smile on my face, party because of the band but mostly because I knew that soon I’d find Emma and Jamie on the trail to run me in.

Again I couldn’t stop myself from thinking how much my knee hurt, but I began to realize that I could walk almost as fast as I was running. The sun was starting to get low in the sky and I was reminded of my goal to finish before sunset. I began looking for, and finding, reasons to push myself on as fast as I could go. I knew the course well by now so I was able to plan a strategy of running and walking to get me to the finish. When I came to a flat stretch that opened into a field I knew there was less than 2 miles to go, as much as my knee was begging me to walk I finally found the strength not to give in. Just as I made the turn onto the last stretch of single-track trail I found Emma and Jamie walking towards me.

This was all I needed. All pain was immediately forgotten and I picked up the pace with Emma and Jamie following right behind. Running big long strides was actually easier than the short shuffling I had been doing for so long. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? To re-use a popular ultrarunning quote “I was passing rocks and trees like they were standing still!” I was flying, I must have been doing at least a 9 minute pace, which compared to the 14’s I had been doing felt like a sprint. I felt better than I had all day, the energy and excitement of finishing was almost overwhelming. I actually felt embarrassed to be running so fast, like I hadn’t worked hard enough throughout the day if I had this much left at the end. But I was glad that I ran a conservative race and had a strong finish. The joy of crossing the finish line was unlike any experience I’ve had at a race. For a first 50 miler I couldn’t have asked for anything better. The prefect combination of course, conditions and support made this the highlight of my life as a runner.

FINISH: 10:10:03, 40th place out of 81 finishers/125 starters

thanks to Emily Trespas for "letting" me use some of her photos