Monday, August 10, 2009

Grafton Loop Trail

...and the beat goes the Bear 100, that is!

On Sunday Deb and I (yes, and Tucker) ran the Grafton Loop Trail with a bunch of Maineacs and it was a mighty fine day on the trail. The Grafton Loop Trail, near Newry and Bethel, Maine is 38.6 miles long and has approx. 9200 feet of climb. We summit 8 small mountains and spend most of the time on Moose poop covered, muddy trails under the tree canopy. I have never seen so much Moose poop in my life! I think we were running through their official bathroom! I also now know what it tastes like....more on that later.

The adventure began with the 4 hour drive up from Jaffrey to the campground we stayed at, the Grafton Notch Campground. What a gem this place clean as you'd want and everything you feel you need while camping and only 25 bucks a night. We like to just sleep in the back of the truck, so there wasn't much prep, so we spent the afternoon relaxing, listening to John Denver and James Taylor on the MP3 player through the truck's stereo. Around dinner time, Tom Parent showed up and brought out his Banjo, Guitar and Mandolin and entertained us with his great string plucking. What better way to prepare for a day on a beautiful, but tough running trail. Soon we had some chili and dogs for supper and hit the sack after a couple of beers. The weekend certainly started on a high note!

Deb showing off our lunch for the next day....SPAM!

Awaking at 5am, I didn't sleep well because I forgot to bring my alarm clock and couldn't help thinking about what time it might be, all night long. If we were doing the trail on our own, I would have slept like a baby because there would be no pressure to get up when we did, but when you're meeting others, the pressure is there.

By 5:30 we were driving the 2 miles down the road to meet at the trailhead. Standing there were several runners, most of who we had never met and after the introductions and Tucker yelling at everyone "let's get going", we got going down the road (Rte 26) for a half mile to the trail head.

A smattering of Maineacs about to hit the trail

We were running the loop in the clockwise direction, and in doing so will complete the first 17.5 mile section, then reach Rte 26 further north for a lunch stop, then complete the final 21.1 mile section of the loop for a total of 38.6 miles. The climbs aren't as big or as long as the Pemi we did last week, but we certainly got what we were hoping for!

As everyone ran down the road, I just walked the half mile section with Craig Wilson. I don't like to rush these things and like to let the body slowly warm up, so it seemed like a perfect time to walk and talk. I hadn't seen much of Craig this year because neither of us made it out to Hardrock. As we reached the trailhead and began jogging, Deb and Tucker were standing there waiting for us and for the next 15 miles or so, we stayed with Craig who was having some knee troubles. Eventually upon reaching the climb to Speck, the high point on the loop at around 4170', we started to pick up the pace a bit to get this climb done and get down to have some lunch.

Speck, the high point of the loop looms in the distance

One unfortunate and what could had been more serious thing happened on the run down. The downhill from Speck was steep and rocky with wet rocks. At one point, while following Deb down, my foot started to slip on a large downward facing boulder, which then caught a dry patch. My foot turned, slightly spraining my ankle. I fell the several feet to the rocks below, poking a deep hole in my knee and scratching up the left side of my body. Lying there with Deb looking down at me, I thought my season was over. Also in her hand was the camera I damaged last week on the Pemi. This is one tough camera! (BTW: It's an Olympus FE-360).

I felt throbbing pain everywhere....but just said to Deb to let me get up and start walking to see if there is anything seriously damaged. First several steps were not good, but I then realized that I "was' up walking so nothing could be broken. So then I started jogging and within 5 minutes we were back to flying down the trail, but with the steps chosen a little more carefully.

Lunch was great....a Spam sandwich with cheesy nacho dip for a spread, washed down with a Coke. We usually don't eat like this, but on the trail any calories are good calories. In the famous running novel "Once A Runner" it is mentioned somewhere that "if the furnace is hot enough, it'll burn anything" we went with that thought when making our lunch.
Tucker had some Vienna sausages and Heather brought some delicious blueberry crisp that we all enjoyed. After 30 min's or so we wanted to get going, but Bob Najar (who was the only other runner continuing, several had opted to stop here) wanted to wait for Craig to come in to watch his dog, Bodie so he could continue with me and Deb. After waiting another 10-15 minutes, he decided to just go on with us, so off we go on the 2nd segment of this loop.

Aid table at the 17.5 mile point

Upon leaving the parking lot, you cross Rte 26 and climb up the Appalachian Trail to the top of West Baldpate (3680'), then run over to East Baldpate (3812'). Climbing up the long hot trail to West Baldpate I started to feel that familiar sweating and overheating that brings me to my knees in most hot ultras, but this being a prep training run for the Bear, I decided to back off, fall in behind Deb and just bring down the HR to start feeling better. It worked and by the time we reached the top I was starting to feel much better, never having that feeling again all day long.

East Baldpate, taken from West Baldpate

For fuel the first half I had pure maltodextrin in my 70 ounces of water in my Nathan HPL-020, along with a pack of Clif Shot Blocks, which kept me well fueled. Then after the feast at the parking lot for lunch, I started drinking only water and the First Endurance Liquid Shot. As I have said in a prior post, this stuff is rocket fuel for me. Deb also used it and felt great all day.

We had to slow down a little bit after East Baldpate because Bob was having a low moment, also complaining of a headache. I've had so many good runner friends have strokes recently, that we decided to stay with Bob until we knew he was doing ok, so we continued on running down the hills and waiting up for Bob until the Long Mt (3021') summit, which is the 2nd to last climb of the day. After we enjoyed watching Bob kick our butts on the climbs, we knew it was ok to continue at the pace we felt good on the way down the other side of Long, we ran and ran down the soft, rooty trail. Somewhere along here I got my toe caught on a root and did a perfect 10 rank faceplant. Luckily it was just soft dirt, leaves and Moose poop because I barely got a scratch, but bent my glasses pretty badly when my face rammed into the earth. I have scratches on the cheekbone to prove it! ;-)

Puzzle Mountain summit beyond Long Mt Summit, our next 2 and final climbs

As we ran down Long, we could see Puzzle Mt (3142) across the valley and it sure looked large and discouraging. "Oh, that ones going to hurt", I said to Deb. Deb ever upbeat said let's just keep putting one foot in front of the other and we'll get there! On, on we went and it was a long haul from Long to Puzzle (6 miles), but soon we began to climb. Deb had run out of water so we were sharing mine, with about 5 miles to go. Deb sweats a lot more than I do, so I rationed my small sips to let her take several every 15 minutes or so. I never ran into trouble with that and she was happy to have the extra water. Just to mention we both started with 70 ounces, but because she sweats so much, probably drinks twice as much as I do...we learned another lesson in that she has to carry more than I do for sure. 70 ounces would normally be enough for 21 miles, but with the time on feet being 7+ hours, we should have had more...or at least a filter, as is what bob was doing...He only needed to carry one bottle!

The climb up Puzzle went on and on. It was a frustrating climb in that it would climb up to a certain height, then parallel the top for a bit staying at that altitude, then take a right - climb straight up for a bit, then go left again. I thought we'd never get to the top! When we finally did we then could not get to the real summit! It was a fairly bare summit and was beginning to rain with a cold wind. We'd reach what we thought would be the top, then it would traverse over to another top! Then when we reached the final tippity (is that a word?) top, we couldn't find the trail back down, which was about 3.5 miles long. We split up, Deb went one way and I went the other and after about 10 cold and wet minutes, we finally found the trail down. Now we have to deal with wet rocks again!

Puzzled (and tired) on the Puzzle Mountain summit

Jogging slowly down, all I could think about was the Cokes in my truck. My stomach was growling and I was getting antsy, wanting to get it done. Tucker took off ahead and that always means someone's up ahead on the trail and sure enough there's Bob Dunphy walking down. I caught up to Bob and he said "I knew if I backed off that you, Deb and tucker would catch up eventually". I had a short discussion with him, then said there was a Coke with my name on it and shot down the trail....Deb stayed with Bob for a few minutes more, but then remembered who had the water. As she started to fly down the trail chasing me down, she whacked her hand on a boulder, which immediately swelled up and turned purple. She is today getting it x-rayed as the doctor who saw it this morning thinks it's broken. More on that when we get more news.
(As of Tuesday, we haven't heard back from the doc, so no news is good news)

The trail was growing dark as it neared 8PM under the thick forest cover, but we didn't drag out our lights, just slowed down a bit. Soon we saw the trail entrance and were done.

Upon arriving at the truck, we sat talking with Craig for a bit, then about 15 minutes later Bob Dunphy came down and we decided to leave because we had a 4 hour drive and it was now 8:30. As we were pulling out of the parking lot Bob Najar came down the trail....everyone was home!

It was a long day....we didn't get home until 1AM and I had work the next day. I had to take a shower because I was covered in caked mud and blood streaming down my knee.

It was a great day, lots of good climbing, learning to deal with things that can go wrong and no one died. We'll now lick our wounds for the week and be at the starting line of the MMD 50K on Friday at Midnight at Dolly Copp in the White Mountains. One little "stupid' thing I'm doing on Thursday is running a 5K at the Cigna race in Manchester, NH for my work team. That is going to hurt and I see a personal worst in my future ;-)

To view all the photos I took, go here.

See whoever's going to be there at the MMD 50K on Friday...
Steve and Deb (and tucker, who's been sleeping now since we got home)

PS: This just so happened to be a new personal best distance for Tuck. Prior to this, his longest distance was the few Pemi loops (31.5) he's done. Coming down off of Puzzle, he looked better than we did!


Trail Pixie said...

Steve, this post is EPIC. I hope your ankle is feeling better and that Deb's hand is on the mend, too. I love the photo album pix, especially the one of the metal rungs and your sneaks. Which flavor of H20 filter does Bob have and would he recommend it?
ALSO, great times to be had at your crazy Friday midnight-start run, MMMDDDKKK. If it get's REALLY hot at the Bear 100 you could rename it the "BARE 100."

RunSueRun said...

Steve & Deb,

Great report! The Grafton Loop was on my list of trails to run before I moved out West (have done the AT part but not the rest). Aren't the Mahoosucs awesome?!

Yer bud,

ultrastevep said...

Hi Emily....

It was fun and great training, but I'm still achey, have swollen feet and lower legs and have to run that 5K tomorrow night! Not sure what all of this is going to do to my MMD run.

I think the filter he had was an X-Treme bottle top filter, which I have also, but didn't use on Sunday. It's a great compact filter. For a bladder, you'd have ot get a filter pump of some sort.

So are we going to see you at MMD? I think Kevin's going to be there, isn't he?


ultrastevep said...

Hi Sue....

Yes, Grafton was tough, but a great trail. Remember our very first MMD? Wasn't that over in that area?

Before we go out for the Bear we'd like to do some hiking in the Adirondacks, maybe the Great Traverse.

I'm your beer??? ;-)