Sunday September 2nd, 2012
(Before the Start)
It had been X years since the last time i'd stepped food on this mountain. My company had done a traffic study/report on the expansion of the resort but i had no idea what i was in for when we drove up to the once tiny base. After being up half of the night playing Settlers and drinking beers with Ramon and his lovely bride i tossed on my running gear and half prepared for what i knew was going to be a long long day of walking and hurt.
I'm not sure how i came across this festival. Facebook maybe? Pinelands? All i knew is i had been in touch with the RD via facebook for a few month and he promised while it wasn't the Jay X-Country Challenge of the past, he wanted to "make it memorable." Friend, you certainly did the job...
There was a small field in front of me gathered at the starting line while Chris barked out the last minute updates and with a 'ready...go'...we were on our way. I still love how small ultras are very low key and the starts are as informal as a race between two kids in a playground.
The pack spread out quickly. I tried to find a balance of running and hiking at the start. Not really knowing who was running the 50k and who was doing the 25k i didn't want to get sucked into running fast with one of the one-loopers. As we climbed the first batch of single track I got stuck in a group of runners who were comparing injuries. Heather described her's as "worse than any black toe imaginable" and then listed off her internal ailment. Mind you, this isn't a whoa is me discussion, just something you hear/talk about on the trail. I laugh aloud as the guy in front of me turns around and says, "man, am i still dreaming?" and "this is why trail running is awesome."
The faster runners have long disappeared and have dashed down the mountain as i get to the first aid station. the boy scouts are doing their best, but seem oblivious at best. After the steep climb and decent i hear. "WAIT!!!" "STOP!" "HOLD ON" from a now frantic race director running up the slope in bare feet, with at least 50 runners in tow. Apparently the leaders had gotten spun around and had headed back to the start LONG before ever intended. 13 miles before actually. He runs past us and back up the hill. 4 miles into the race i had gone from almost dead last, to first, to middle of the pack in a matter of minutes. I laugh to myself. then out loud while i hear the leaders grumble. "He's gotta restart" and "this is ridiculous." They stare at me with icey cold looks while i laugh hysterically in their faces at their complete frustration at their difficulty.
(Sad leaders on the climb)
As the steep climb levels out (briefly mind you) we leave the ski slope and head onto the Long Trail. I wasn't aware it was as first. With the trail being as narrow and as steep it was I thought for sure it had to be. And after a quarter of a mile or so i saw the first blaze. I brushed against it with my hand between huffing and puffing. I hear people in front of me cursing. I hear people behind me saying, "is this what all trail races are like." To which me being who i am said, "only the good ones."
(Runners even sadder on the Long Trail section)
The pack finally starts to break up as we free ourselves from the LT and get back onto the slopes. There are a few hikers just starting their journey south on the LT. I wish them well and find myself instantly jealous of the journey they are about to take on. I ask a woman if she wants me to take a photo of her while she snaps a photo of the skyline with her Iphone. She gladly accepts and i find out she was either from or has friends that live in Goffstown, NH and today they're running in Bear Brook. Which then another guy running near us hears and says, "wait, you're from hillsboro!? I live down the road from you" Small world this New England trail running community is. I feel at home
After filling up my pack with h2o i'm off down the "easiest way down"(more on this later) trail with the big group of runners. I see some faint dots in the distance on the other peak moving. I hope at first that they are other Long Trail Hikers. Oh how wrong i was...
(Wait...we've got to run down this?)
After the out and back on the southern peak of the mountain I say to another guy " don't look up." He responds with a, "huh?" and then calls me a bastard for pointing out the climb ahead. After the southern peak out and back we climb back up yet again into a "yurt" like aid station. For those who have never done the Pineland Farms Trail Race they have a yurt set up that is center of a clover like segment of trails with the station itself being at the heart of the clover.
(Back up again)
After the 'yurt' section and another long decent with a few more out/backs i see Leah for the first time at an aid station. While i'm happy to see her, i'm really bent about how crappy i feel so early in a race. She tells me she'll see me again in a mile or so after this loop and i gimp down the hill away. At the bottom we cross over a cool open planked bridge and then turn back to the top. I think about how neat this section would/will look in the winter. And how you could ski back to your condo/home from the slope from this winding wide trail. At the bottom we do a 180* and head back up what i dubbed "lombard street"
(Runners version of lumbard street in San Francisco)
I've spent the last several miles off and on with a runner from Westford, VT (Justin i think). He's a hash house harrier and we've laughed about our silly events. This is his first long trail race, but he tells me that he's done races hours after building stone walls and working overnights. Never mind the drinking. I gladly tell him that he's in the right mindset and crowd for the craziness he's got himself into. The discussion of making our own cider, wine, beer, and other events happenings have certainly made the miles pass. I wish him the best and say goodbye as his race is over. Mine however....is about to take a turn...
Leah brings me a banana and walks with me up to the wedding set up that Jay has by the snow pond. The views are pretty amazing, i'm not gonna lie, even with the water in the pond being what seems like 4' lower than what it should be.
I take off up the trail. Legs still on the verge of full blown cramping i try to suck down more and more water. After one lap i'm up to almost 4-5liters of water and have only peed once. Graphic i know, but nothing out of the ordinary for trail runners. At the first climb a few quicker runners pass me. they're still running. I'm doing nothing more than a hobble by now. I see a stick and it comes to me. I need some trekking poles. I pick it up and figure out how to use it in my best interest. On the next decent i come back to the (what looks like a LT shelter) on the backside of the mountain, except with a door a window. I want to poke around, but there is no time to lose. I had finished lap one in 3:30 and i thought for sure this one would be 5 hours with all of the walking i was planning on doing (putting me close to the 9hr cutoff)
(Long Trail-ish shelter? But closed with a window?)
Every now and again i'd hear the runners chatting and talking behind me, but as i'd stop and take a photo on this awesome snowshoe trail i'd never see anyone catch up.
(Beware the cha....wooden bench?)
A woman is cheering on runners coming off the LT and i joke with her for a minute. "at least you're in good spirits" she tells me as i'm walking up the slope. I laugh back and say, "of course, you have to be. I PAID FOR THIS!" Leah is at the top with a few 25k-ers who are wearing their finishers medals. I say to her, "so you're one of the smart ones that stopped after lap one huh?" She responded with, "i may be smarter, but you're stronger!" "Stronger you say? I dunno if that's the word i'd use." I respond in jest. And then proclaim that, "anyone that thinks this is the easiest way down, is full of crap."
(Wait...this is really the easiest way down?!?!)
At the summit there is another ultra runner who's decided his day is over. He'd paced at the VT100 but he was in no way ready for this kind of abuse. I tell him that the terrain here is no where near the same and toss him some stats about elevation and distance. Looking back on it a mile down the trail i wished i had convinced him to walk along with me. I trade off the camera with Leah and I head off down the trail. Almost in tears about how much pain i'm in, in fact, in tears about how much my legs were hurting due to the now extended time they'd been on the verge of cramping.
(Hi Ho Hi Ho...a cramping away i go)
On the southern out and back this time i see Heather coming my way. Once loud, perky and chipper, now alone and sort of in her own world. "Remember a few hours ago when we were laughing and smiles!?" I say joking going the opposite direction. She looks at me, obviously in an ultra haze and after a few seconds says, "i think i'm going to stop after the next climb." I wish her well and tell her to hang in there and hobble along myself. After getting back up to the 'yurt' they tell me it's a unique place for my number and they like it. I tell them it's the only place i don't seem to lose it and laugh while trying to eat a GU and tell them i shall return in 30 minutes or so. As i'm coming back i see Heather pushing along and i tell her how i'm happy that she's continuing. On the next out and back i see Joy from Williston come screaming past me. I tell her how good she's doing and she tells me how hard it is for her almost fighting back tears.
(Sky view of the "yurt" aid station)
A few miles later on the next out and back she proclaims "i don't remember this climb" to me. I tell her it was just her brain protecting her from herself. And tell her if she's hurting so bad, she's at least not showing it. Meanwhile I've still not peed for what seems like hours. I'm still fighting cramps and i know i'm in trouble. I start to cry again. I want to quit so bad. I laugh about how Luis and i had joked about hours ago. Luis is another carry over from the Jay Marathon of old. Who I reminisced with on lap one, and told me, "as much as i'd like to quit, i came here for a 50, and i'm doing 50!" I see him heading into yurt 1 and i'm heading down the slope and he proclaims "there you are!" We talk quickly about how we're both feeling and say we'll see one another again.
On the next out and back I see Heather again. She tells me she's "got a pacer!" which is her daughter wearing pink. I laugh and say to her husband and other daughter. "you guys came at just the right time and brought her out of the dumps." He doesn't say much, i assume he's a quiet fella, but i overhear their daughter say, "bring back a medal, or something cool!" I laugh hysterically shuffling ahead. On the next out/back Heather and I cross paths again, this time in a frustrated tone she says, "are you walking this whole thing? You're the fastest walker i know!" For the most part with both of my walking sticks i'd been walking, and then shuffling much of this second lap. Every stride i actually took of running my legs would protest and instantly lock up making me either stand still or move like the tin man without oil. I catch up to Heather's family again in the next field and the daughter proclaims "I'M SPECIAL!" in a only little kid non-ironic way that cracks me up again. Heather, if you read this, you've got great kids!
I push on ahead, alone for the most part. Seeing Heather behind me and a few runners WAY ahead of me. My water level is finally starting to come back. I'm not feeling like a raisin and i've been able to pee a few times. Now the race is on. I don't say anything. But on the inside, my goal to myself is to stay ahead of Heather. Her stride, and pace is well ahead of mine, but i can climb. And there are climbs ahead.
(Here comes 'sticks')
With a smooch and some much needed (self packed) fruit cups i am off for the last 5k in good spirits. I power up the climb and see a pizza box at the last aid station. I'm excited. PIZZA! SCORE! No ones manning the station, but perhaps they've left a slice. *opens box* * disappointingly closes box* "just bones" i say to myself (pizza bones are the crust for those who haven't hear the term) and push on. As i come back to the start/end of the last loop i meet up with Luis again. He seems like he's in good spirits. Sore, tired, but happy to be finishing. I warn him about the pizza box and tell him that i'll see him at the finish and we both go our own ways.
I lumber across the finish line "first 8 hour runner" announced on the speakers. And "home made hiking sticks" as i cross the finish line in 8 hours and change. I laugh and say "these are Jay Peak Authentic hiking sticks" which makes the volunteers laugh even more.
(can i have a beer now?)
The race was a blast. I spoke to Chris (the RD) afterwards and told him i'd never cramped or cried this much at a 50k race since the last Jay Marathon (Ultimate XC, etc) was around. For a trail race/ultra in it's first year, at such a venue. You couldn't have asked for more. The only suggestion i'd say to anyone running it in the future, or the RD is that bring your own food as the aid station food was sparse at best. Had i not had my own fruit, salt, Advil, and other ultra tricks of the trade, i'd have had a hard time finishing. With that being said, i think next year i'll try my hand at the triple down 5ks on Saturday and the short but brutal 25k Sunday for a more relaxing "ultra weekend."