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.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mt A Decuple

How do you make a small mountain feel like a big one? Run it ten times. And spending more hours running it than you were sleeping the night before also helps.

This Saturday was supposed to be the 35th running of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run which Jamie had spent the past 7 months (at least) physically and mentally preparing for. As he was traveling out to CA Jamie found out that the race was going to be canceled this year due to the effects of forest fires in the area. You can read more about this situation and what Jamie got up to instead of running 100 miles this weekend on his blog.

Every year on the same weekend as the WS100 a group of guys in Southern Maine have been organizing a Western States Commemorative Run at Mt Agamenticus. This 6 hour, fat-ass style run also serves as a good opportunity for folks planning to run the Vermont 100 in July to get in a last long run on some very hilly terrain. The course is a 3 mile loop that people run as many times as they can, or want to, between 7 am and 1 pm.

Last year Emma and I went along with Erik and Jamie for only a few laps (we weren't training for any ultras then) and got to meet a few members of the Southern Maine and Massachusetts ultra running crowd. This year we planned to cram in as many laps as we could in 6 hours, as my last long run before I begin tapering for VT, and for Emma it was partly prep for the Escarpment Trail Run at the end of July and partly just for the fun of it (it's not really necessary to train for 6 hours for a race that will only take you 4 hours).

Emma and I drove down to York with Jim, and shortly after we arrived so did James. Everyone brings food and beverages to share and as we were setting out our contributions to the "aid station" we got to say hello to a few familiar faces and to meet a few new folks before setting off on the first lap. Members of GAC made up the biggest contingent of runners, but Trail Monsters in our matching shirts were awarded "Best Dressed".

The 3 mile loops starts off on an unpaved section of Mountain Road that descends about 180' over the course of a mile, then turns onto a flat double-track trail for about 1/4 mile, and then the climbing begins. Mt Agamenticus used to be a ski area many years ago and the trail we take up climbs what I'm sure was a fun hill to ski down. The Vultures View trail climbs about 480' over 3/4 mile and features a variety of terrain from lose gravel to stone steps to large expanses of smooth rock face. Once at the summit it's a short run across the grass in front of the old ski lodge and fire tower, through the parking lot and then down along the Horse Trail. This single-track has some fun switchbacks which force runners to keep the pace under control before opening up on the double-track Ring Trail that make a gradual descent back to the starting point of the loop.

After getting split up on the first loop Emma, James, Jim and I stuck together and found a good pace to run for the next 7 laps. The pace was interrupted a few times by fits of laughter where I had to stop because of stomach pains or fear of choking on my Lara Bars. Nothing worth repeating here though, I'm sure it wouldn't be funny out of the context of a 6 hour run. I think it was on our 5th or 6th lap when we eventually caught up to Erik who had arrived late. His tardiness was excused since he had run 50 miles on the Wednesday last week.

I forgot to restart my watch during the 7th lap which is why that one looks different.

Although it wasn't too hot on Saturday it was extremely humid and I was sweating like a pig (and smelled like one too!). This was made all the more noticeable by the fact that it wasn't hot enough for the sweat to evaporate so I stayed soaked the whole time. The good thing about sweating so much is that it gave me a good opportunity to put my nutrition/hydration strategy for the VT100 to the test. I was drinking Hammer Perpetuem, taking S!Caps every hour, Gu every 90 minutes or so, eating solid foods and drinking soda at the aid station. I was happy to find that I never felt dehydrated, hungry or low on energy.

I also tested out a new set-up I put together for night-time running. Inspired by the Go-Motion packs I saw at the Inov-8 open house in December, I recently bought a Petzl Myo XP headlamp and mounted it to my CamelBak chest strap with the battery pack on my back. Unfortunately I found that the plastic backing of the headlamp caused chafing on my chest after a few hours and I know that I'll be running in the dark for more than just a few hours during the VT100. So this needs a bit more work to get right but I'll work on it and post the results here.

After 6 hours and 11 minutes Emma and I finished our 10th lap with Erik who (I think) finished his 7th. James and Jim both completed 9 laps. Thanks to the Trail Monsters for the great company on this run, to the fine folks of GAC, and to the local boys who put this fun event together every year. See you all in Vermont!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mt W Double

Several months ago I had the idea of hiking Mt Katahdin twice in the same day as training for the VT100, but as time passed and other things came up I never managed to work it into my schedule. As luck would have it though I managed to find an even bigger mountain to double up on. My friend Dora wasn't lucky enough to get into the Mt Washington Road Race lottery this year so Emma offered to volunteer at the race to allow Dora to get one of the 10 spots in the race that the MTC gets every year. The week before the race Emma found out that she was to be awarded a scholarship for her achievements in nursing school and was asked to attend a luncheon the same day as the race. I decided to step into Emma's place volunteering at the race and take the opportunity to get some good hill training in.

I've run up Mt Washington 3 times before, but had never taken any of the trails so I sought the advice of Jamie, Danielle and Ryan who helped me figure out a route. The plan was to start at Pinkham Notch, take the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to Lion Head to the summit, then descend on the Nelson Crag Trail which intersects the auto road and do the last two miles down on the road. This would bring me to where I needed to volunteer, and then I'd return the way I came later in the day.

I woke up at 4:30am, was on the road at 5:05 and hit the trail at 7:05. The hike started out well, I was actually able to run all of the first mile, and part of the second, but then it just got too steep and technical so I settled into a fast paced hike. The temperature was in the low 50's which was very comfortable for hiking, but it didn't take long to break a sweat. I stopped on the way up only long enough to take a few photos of the mountains all around me, I wasn't sure how long this was going to take and I needed to get down to the race start area by 11:00am.

As I neared the summit I could see Jamie up above me perched on a rock, he was driving Stephen and a few other folks down off the mountain after the race but had to get up there before the race even started. Once the trail intersected the road near the summit I had to weave though the tourists and spectators who had driven up. As we climbed a big wooden stair case I heard one lazy bastard say "man, I'm tired already!" This inspired me to push past and run up the rest of the stairs. I said a quick hello to Jamie and then went off to tag the actual summit.

4,250 ft up

After chatting with Jamie for a few minutes I headed off to find the Nelson Crag Trail. The way down proved to be much more difficult than I had expected. Once I got below the tree line the trail was soaked and the rocks were treacherously slippery. I was forced to move very slowly and came very close to taking some major falls on several occasions. I had hoped to be able to make it to the intersection with the Auto Road in time to see all the runners come past, but by the time I got there it was 10:42 and there were only 4 runners still coming up at this point. This left me just enough time to get down to the race start area a few minutes before 11:00.

4,725 ft down

After spending a few hours on my feet serving food to all the runners I wasn't exactly looking forward to hiking up and over the mountain a second time, but it needed to be done. I was still a few miles away from where I started and I wasn't about to take the easy way there, even though Danielle and Ryan informed me of a shortcut across the mountain. Besides, I had bumped into a lot of people that I knew and told them about my plans, so I had to follow through. At about 3:00pm I set off up the Auto Road to get back to the Nelson Crag Trail. This was the least enjoyable part of my day because there was a motorcycle rally going on and a steady stream of bikes was passing me going up and down the mountain. Too much chrome, leather, carbon dioxide and burning brakes for this trail runner. After about 30 minutes I made it to the trail head and was grateful to get off the road. I was also delighted to find that the trail had dried out quite a bit in the 4+ hours since I was last on it and the climb up went very well.

I bumped into two couples whom I had passed going up the mountain early in the day, they were just coming down and had a hard time comprehending why I was going back up again. I couldn't understand why the hell it took them so long come down. One woman was very concerned about me finishing before dark and tried to force a headlamp on me. Probably a good idea actually, but I planned to be off the mountain by 7:00pm and being the longest day of the year I really wasn't concerned about running out of daylight.

4,725 ft up

Once again I had soaked myself in sweat on the way up so I went into the summit building to change my shirt and refill the bladder in my pack. I didn't stick around too long this time because by now the summit was crawling with fat bikers and slutty chicks and it was making my stomach turn. I ran the first part of the descent just to distance myself from the appalling crowd. Lion Head and Tuckerman are great trails to descend on because they aren't too steep and you can keep a pretty consistently quick pace. I was surprised to find that my legs weren't very fatigued and I didn't find myself tripping over my own sloppy feet the way I sometimes do at the end of a long trail run. I did encounter a lot of hikers coming down the same trail, and most didn't seem appreciate me hurrying past but it was fun. As the trail flattened out I was able to run for the last 2+ miles. The trail is covered with sports ball sized rocks (baseball to slightly bigger than basketball size) which makes for some fun technical running.

4,250 ft down

How's that for hill repeats?

For shoes I decided to wear my Brooks Cascadia which are the shoes I plan to wear for the VT100. I've done a few runs in them but nothing too long or technical so I really wanted to put these shoes to the test, and they held up very well. I was particularly thankful for the roomy toebox that kept my feet from getting too smashed up on all the rocks. I complemented the shoes with my Inov-8 Debrisoc, which is a sock with a built-in gaiter. A genius invention that works perfectly. My feet were comfortable all day despite being wet for hours.

I carried with me a Bigelow Day Pack that I picked up from LL Bean. This was probably a bigger pack than I needed for the day, but given Mt Washington's reputation for bad weather I didn't want to take any chances and this pack allowed me to carry enough gear and food for a whole weekend in the wilderness. I have never done any real backpacking, but I have to say that this was the most comfortable pack I've ever worn. The fit and weight distribution made it perfect for fast hiking and for the short amount of time I was running I hardly noticed it was there.

For the first time I can say that I really feel good about doing the VT 100 four weeks from now. One last long run at Mt. Agamenticus next Saturday and then it's time to taper!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

30 Miles, Scuffle Prep, Ticks and Turtles

Today I had a great run at Bradbury. I planned to meet Chuck and Stephen there at 6am, hopefully they didn't mind that I was running a few minutes late. We headed off on a loop that I ran a few months ago while there was still snow on the ground HERE. The only problem was that there was snow on the ground the last time I ran this loop, in fact I had never seen it any other way and without the snowmobile tracks I wasn't sure how easy it would be to follow.

As I feared the trail looked completely different and was quite overgrown in places. We made a few wrong turns but were generally headed in the right direction (with the exception of a half mile out and back along Lawrence Rd). Just before reaching the power line trail, about 4.5 miles into the run, we crested a hill in a field and could see the Pineland equestrian center and the Gray weather station further off to the west. Once on the power lines the trail seemed to disappear completely under long grass, but we pressed on. Not long after entering this "trail" we spotted a large, low flying hawk that was moving in our direction and we even got to hear it let out a sharp cry. That was a nice distraction from grass.

Soon after, we crested a hill and came to a spot where the grass was cut short and we discovered just how well the Maine tick population is thriving. Between the three of us I think we removed close to 30 ticks from our legs and socks. Kinda creepy. Back into the long grass and swampy trail we trudged for another few miles until we eventually came to Poland Range Road. Just beyond this spot is (I think) Chandler Brook which we ran across all winter, but with the exception of Stephen we didn't want to attempt to get across now. The road actually crosses the river and we took the opportunity, now that we were finally out of the grass for good, to do another tick removal session. Just as we crossed the bridge we discovered a large turtle on the side of the road, close enough that we almost stepped on it before realizing what it was. We stopped for a minute and debated whether or not we should try to move the turtle to a safer place where it wasn't at risk of getting hit by a car. Not wanting to lose any fingers Stephen and Chuck attempted to encourage the turtle to move by lifting it's back side with some carefully placed sticks. This is when we discovered that she was laying eggs in a hole she had just dug! We moved her carefully back into place and decided to leave her just where we found her, even though this was a highly dangerous place to be laying eggs, literally inches from the pavement.

From here we stuck to the roads for a little over 3 miles to get back to the park where we were supposed to meet Emma at 8:00. We were a few minutes late (at least) but luckily Emma waited for us. We had covered nearly 12 miles by this point so needed to refill water bottles and get a quick snack before heading out for more. With Emma we ran the complete Scuffle race course to assess how much more course marking needed to be done. Emma and I had met up with Blaine and his wife Erin to make a start marking the course on Friday night but we didn't get it all done. The trails in the park were so much nicer to run on than the ones under the power line trail, I can't wait for the race tomorrow to run them with a big group.

Since Emma had to work this afternoon/evening she left after we completed the race course, while Stephen, Chuck and I headed back out with a handful of arrow signs and surveyor flags each to run the course again and finish the marking. By now it was getting pretty warm but the densely wooded trails provided enough shade to keep us from getting too hot. Unfortunately the part of the course that needed marking was the furthest section from where we started so we had to carry all our supplies for several miles before we could begin to unload them. Oh well, it's all good training.

With the course all marked and 24 miles under their belts Chuck and Stephen decided to take off, both of them were in a hurry to get to the post office to send off their volunteer service requirement forms for the Vermont 100 in July, the deadline is tomorrow! I decided to keep going for another lap of the Scuffle course since I wanted to get in at least 5 hours of running today and there were a couple spots on the course that needed a little more attention to ensure that no runners would have trouble finding their way during the race. Without anyone else to push me along this third lap was pretty slow, but I was still enjoying myself and there were plenty of friendly mountain bikers out there to keep me company.

I'm not sure how fresh Stephen, Chuck and I will feel for the race tomorrow, but at least we have the advantage of knowing the course very well.

time: 5:15:15
distance: 30.17 miles
pace: 10:27

After the run I went to Classic Custard in Freeport and gorged myself on vanilla custard with peanut butter cups. Delicious.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Run on the Bruiser Course

Sunday morning I met Randy and Ben at Bradbury to run the 12 mile Bruiser course. It was already very hot and humid at 9am but luckily the course is entirely in the shade of dense forest so it wasn't too bad.

It had been about 7 months since I last ran this course but I didn't have any trouble finding my way around. Of course when I got to the O-Trail in the last 2.5 miles of the course I had to work hard to find the trail through all the hairpin turns on rock and root infested ground.

One of the reasons I wanted to run this course today was to get an elevation profile to add to the Bradbury races website, which I was able to do.

I also brought my video camera along for the run to add to the little collection I have on the race website. Bradbury Mountain Trail Running Series The video, although very shaky, seems to capture the density of the forest and narrowness of the single track trail.

time: 2:06:22
distance: 12.0 miles
pace: 10:35

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Pineland Night Run

10 of us started at 8pm, but only 3 made it all the way until midnight. Not that it was everyone's intention to go until midnight, that's just the way it happened.

We started by running from the YMCA along the River Loop trail to the Yurt, then through the Valley Farm Trail, and back along the River Loop. From that point on it was really dark and we stuck to doing multiple laps of the Campus Loop.

At the end it was just myself, Emma and Erik. Just like the Fat Ass at Bradbury a few months ago.

time: 3:46:55
distance: 22.6 miles
pace: 10:03

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Farewell to a Friend

Yesterday I heard terrible news about the loss of a friend and fellow Trail Monster who was killed in a car accident in Colorado. Chris Douglass was just about to embark on a 2,500 mile walk from Colorado to Maine which was to be the latest in a life full of fun and adventure.

Sun Journal story

I first met Chris in the summer of 2006 on the summit of Bradbury Mountain. He had heard about our running group, and although he arrived late headed out on the trails to track us down. That summer we enjoyed many runs and I was grateful for the sense of joy and adventure that Chris brought to the group. I'll never forget the way Chris would run full steam through puddles and ankle-deep mud when others would skirt around the edges looking for an easier route. To me that seemed to represent the way Chris lived his life, throwing caution to the wind and charging head on into an adventure, from the Vermont 50 to the Dublin Marathon, driving his motorcycle from Maine to Arizona and his latest plan to walk from Colorado to Maine.

Although his life ended tragically early I try to take some comfort in the fact that Chris lived life to the fullest and brought joy to the lives of many.

As a tribute to Chris I have decided to dedicate the Bradbury Scuffle trail race to his memory. Following the race I would like to invite any of his friends and family to join me on the climb to the summit of Bradbury Mountain to say goodbye.

Emma and I have also decided to run the Vermont 50 Mile Ultra Run in his memory. This was Chris' first ultramarathon and I know that he was planning to run it again this year.

"The only things you live to regret are the risks you didn't take"

Wrapping up a good week of training

I ended up doing a little less than my planned mileage for the day, but still got in more than 70 miles for the week so I'm not going to beat myself up about it. Emma and I slept in today, had a good breakfast of pancakes and then ran over to Mackworth Island for a few laps. On the way back we were really feeling the mid-day heat and decided to take a short break and cool our legs in the chilly waters of Casco Bay. Feeling somewhat refreshed, but still a little tired from the previous day's run we made our way home and were glad to stop running for the week. I'm looking forward to a day off tomorrow.

time: 1:54:06
distance: 12.9 miles
pace: 8:50

weekly total: 70.7 miles