Monday, June 16, 2008

Pittsfield Peaks 53 mile trail race

This past Saturday Deb and I ran the above mentioned race...and with all the pre-race hype about it being the "toughest" 50 in the world had me somewhat concerned with it being in June in New England. I am not a good heat runner, everyone who knows me knows this and it's become somewhat of a joke among many of my friends...but I wasn't that worried because the forecast called for sun early, but with cloud cover, some rain and heavy thunderstorms, rain and cooler temps around mid afternoon. Great! We'll be kept warm in the morning by the early sun, then just as the race heats up, we'll get wet and then cooled off! Well, it didn't happen like that and below is the story of the same old, same old for me on a very warm and humid day in the New England Vermont Green Mountains.

For starters, we decided to stay in a local Inn for the weekend in order to not just travel to a race, but to also have a nice time....and that means not camping. So we booked a room in a small Inn about 15 minutes up the road in the Killington Ski area. For night #1 it was not good...the owner had several of his friends over and our room was directly above the closed lounge, but they were in there talking, drinking and laughing until 2am....and I heard all of the conversations. The alarm was set for 3:30, so basically no sleep. I did doze off after it quieted down and maybe got an hour at the most...but luckily I do get plenty of sleep so Thursday night I did get 8 hours, so I was plenty rested even though I felt groggy on race morning. This lack of sleep never affected my race. Night #2 was good because of the post race heavy rain.

We started the drive to the start around 4:20 after having some coffee and a small breakfast and soon as we got parked and settled in, I looked for and found teammate Brennen Wysong and his wife Debra. Taking the opportunity, I asked Debra to take a team photo opp... my camera was acting quirky and many of the early photos came out blurred, but here is that pic she took of the Wasatch Speedgoat Mountain Racing Team northeast division. That's Brennen in the gray shirt.

Soon we were off, 10 minutes late and the race began as it would go pretty much all day...uphill! The first half of the course was pretty much very good runnable dirt roads and we all moved pretty well, but all also knew that it was going to be a long day and the course gets harder as you go. Most of the time I was running near or around Paul Kearney, John Lacroix, Jeff Hammond and Nate Sanel. In the beginning we chatted, but in races I mostly like to keep to myself in order to concentrate on the task at hand. Run easy, drink and fuel. I do like to keep things simple and a couple of years ago I switched from using a backpack like hydration pack to wearing a 2 bottle waist pack and settled on the Nathan 2V Elite Plus model because it was designed by an ultrarunner and it seemed to fit much better than any other waist pack I have ever worn. I do like this pack very much and the reason for the bottles vs the back pack type is with bottles I can have two different solutions, one can be fuel while the other, water. Also in some races like Hardrock Hundred, you can and need to get your water from streams and the bottles just make this so much easier. For this race I was using pure maltodextrin in my bottles, which provides me with approx. 230 calories per hour if I drink a bottle an hour, which is what is suggested. Another trick I do is I will take an electrolyte tab like NUUN and drop that in for my electrolytes. Doing all of this helps keep me fueled, hydrated and on top of my electrolytes. Liquid fueling has always worked better for me and as soon as I get my first supply of team sponsored First Endurance, I will try that. This regimen kept my head clear and my stomach quiet and helped me to power up the hills, which worked for the most part....but once the heat comes nothing works but stopping to rest to cool down or dipping in streams.

I also believe in the theory that if you train using a low heart rate method for most of your training, that you teach your body to more easily use the fat supplied in your body. I first learned of this method in Stu Mittleman's book, Slow Burn. I like to sometimes imagine myself as a warrior on the hunt for food...slowly moving across the ground and as the prey tires you eventually wear the animal down. In the race, the animal is the runner ahead of me. If you've never seen it, rent the movie "The Naked Prey" and you will get the idea of what I'm talking about. This imagery helps me to keep the pace down and to stay relaxed all day long, ignoring all the other runners in the race. For most of the day using this method, Paul Kearney and I kept leapfrogging each other, hardly speaking but just acknowledging each other's presence. I found that Paul is a lot like I am, quietly moving through the forest, keeping track of his things to do, pace, fueling and hydration.

As the day went on, so did the sun....the clouds never really arrived, nor did the rain or cooler temps, so by the time I reached the late 30 miles, I was getting a little fuzzy in the head from the heat. Earlier in the day we had rivers that were right alongside to soak my shirt and sit in, but later in the day they seemed to be a long climb down off of the road. I just looked down wishing I could get into one to cool my core, then I'd be fine for a bit. At one point after John and crew had gone by me, I wanted so much to take a dip, but this was near the mile 45 aid station and there was a wedding going on. The river flowed in their front yard and it just didn't seem right to flop in the water, while up on the hill were women in gowns. I don't think they would have appreciated it.

I re-caught John, Jeff and Nate at the aid station just as Paul was leaving and started out with them, but because I was so overheated, I could not take anything from the station but water. Everywhere else I drank several cups of Coke and grabbed a small bite to eat, but no would certainly come back up if I did. We started up into the final section of the course, which John kept telling me was the worst of the race. "Wait until you see this hill" he would say and "after that is the Hell section". On the big climb up out of the aid station, they pulled away from me so easily, I knew I needed some fuel....somehow. So I sat down in a nice shady spot and tried to eat a gel and as soon as it touched my tongue, I emptied my stomach onto the trail, water and all. When Olga Varlamova ran the Jemez 50 Mile race in NM recently, she did the same thing and took a picture of herself just afterwards, so I said "why not?"

So my stomach has gone south and I can't take anything in, but the stomach is empty and I still have many miles to go still. I never really knew how many because at the last aid station the volunteers were telling me 6, but Nate said 9, so I settled on "many hours".

I knew I had to do something, so decided to sit a bit and let my body cool down by not working anymore and it pretty much worked. I was no longer nauseous, it was getting cloudy and I heard rumbling in the distance. I could move OK, but not as fast as I'd like....and there was absolutely no way I was going to be able to take in any gels, so it was water from here on in. I sipped, sipped and sipped some more of the electrolyte laden water and was able to climb the thousand hills that were left, only quite slowly. But before I began climbing and after getting up off the trail, I tuned and saw a skeleton hanging from a tree! Whoa! That skeleton was sitting right over my shoulder the whole time I was there and I didn't know it! My fate?

After what seemed like an eternity and a thousand curses to John, I finally came to the bridge that signaled the final stretch to the finish. My initial reaction was to actually plunge into the river and swim across, but thought that cramps might take over and I'd never get there, so took the fine looking bridge across to the far side. Soon I reached the grass carpet to the finish, but they made us run around the far side of the field and along the trees...and it was here that I heard the runner before me finishing and the announcement that he was 24th place in 12:50. I thought....Hmmmm, if i move a bit, I might be able to get in under 13 hours! (My original goal was somewhere between 13 and 14 hours)...but not before looking back at the hills that I had just left. These hills were killer hills and I didn't want to forget them.

I finally turn to the finish and run in as quickly as my legs would carry me to get under 13 hours...and did finishing in 12:57 in 24th place officially, just found this out and 2nd over 50. One goal that was met is I try to not have anyone older than me ahead of me and that did happen. The incredible 55 year old Bob Mathes, finished in 5th overall!

Man did I feel lousy...After John handed me my finish hammer award, Brennen came over and offered me a beer, but I was not ready for that just yet. I went over and got out of my shoes, grabbed a cup of Coke and sat down waiting for Deb, who I figured would come in somewhere around 15 hours. She was hoping for between 15 and 16...but I could no sooner sit down and get comfortable, and I hear clapping. I look down the field and hear she comes all smiles whoopin' and hollerin'. She had a great race coming in just 20 minutes after me in 13:18 in 5th place in this strong women's field and 29th overall. Deb is 53 year's young and you never would know it based on this performance and the way she came running in.

At this time we are pretty sure that she was the first woman over 50, but have not yet seen the official results.

So it's done....the massacre at Pittsfield, Vermont. This race is tough, but without the heat and humidity and if you are trained properly (which I was) it can be a fast race. On a cooler day I might have been closer to Paul, running around 12 hours, but the heat will always get me and I know that. If we are still living in New England next year, I'll run it again because it is the two things that you look for in a trail race. Beautiful scenery and a challenging course. This gave me I'll add sharing the day with many friends from the start to and after the finish, I could not have asked for a better day.

Certainly this race could not be done without the help of all the aid station workers and the RD and his assistants...yes you, too John ;-) Thanks a bunch I had a blast!
If you would like to view some more pictures I took during the race you can view them here.
There is also a good newspaper article posted here...

As a finale I would like to say that this has put the final cap on Deb and my training for Hardrock coming up 3 weeks from Saturday. We both feel ready and we're on our way. Thanks from the two of us. Here is our final shot standing at the finish line, Deb with her Hammer Award, and both of us with a big smile from the day's events.



"Sherpa" John Lacroix said...

You'll be back....

we have to make it harder though. There is talk of an extra mile on the hell section. :)


Brennen said...

Fine running there, goat, and nice report. I'm sure John's already concocting oodles of new fun for us out there next year. Let's just make sure we get together before then. Perhaps a TWOT or two.

ultrastevep said...

Yes, John if We're still living in New England, I'll be back. I really liked the course and yes, it is harder than Zane Gray...

Brennen....awesome finally meeting you. I'm not making any decisions about later in the year until I get through Hardrock. Hot TWOT is sounding good, as is possibly the Ring (have you ever done that?). One race I will enter is Hellgate, I got to do that before moving back West.


Monica Ochs said...

Sounds like a tough race. Great job Steve and Deb!

Ryan said...

Nice job dealing with the stomach issues and moving on, all-in-all sounds like some good ol' training for Hardrock, I enjoyed the wonderful pictures of the Pittsfield Peaks action. Best wishes for Hardrock.

I am a runner. "We are what we repeatedly do" said...

Nice work Steve! and glad to see the sub 20- 5k speed is still there! I'm looking forward to spending some time with you in the San Juans in 3 weeks.! Anne and I bought plane tickets and will be flying late (wed) but staying around after to tour colorado for a week. I am now 4th on the wait list. getting optimistic now and I started running the stairs here in flat Chicago. Take care,

Cunniff said...

Nice job. How does it rank for difficulty compared to the other hard 50s you've run? How about compared to Wapack?


Anonymous said...

Steve - Good luck to you and Deb this weekend! Chris Shanley