Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shenipsit Trail - End to End

The Shenipsit trail, otherwise known as the blue trail, is a continuous route of trails with some connective roads that travel between Somers and East Hampton, CT. Saturday's plan was to complete the Shenipsit trail from one end to the other.

I met up with Art in East Hampton about 5:15 to drop my car at the southern end of the trail. I literally met Art for the first time at this point as he had recently learned of the day's excursion through a trail running club I just joined, The Shenipsit Striders. After a brief discussion of logistics, plans, and expectations Art was eager to join and we welcomed him in. We picked up Scott at the Bolton Notch area parking lot of the rail trail, grabbed Mark in Tolland, and headed to the northern end of the trail on County Rd.

With hydration packs loaded with fuel we started our journey shortly after sunrise. After a couple miles we found ourselves in familiar territory of Soapstone Mountain. Scott, Mark and I have done a fair amount of trail running at Soapstone Mountain, Shenipsit Lake area, Belding Wildlife area, the rail trail, and Case and Birch Mountains. We moved well early on and I was pleasantly surprised to learn of some of the pieces of the trail that connect these unique and special places.

Mark, Bruce, and Art

Heading Through Valley Falls

We could see and hear the impact of the high winds as trees, limbs, and branches were strewn thought the trail. However, we were fortunate to enjoy comfortable temperatures and sunshine on our journey.

The branch that missed Scott by a nanosecond

After heading through some steep and rocky terrain at Soapstone, flat and straight at Shenipsit Lake, comfortable pines at Belding, and the rail trail we arrived at Scott's car which doubled as our solo aid station. After a brief stop to refill hydration packs, enjoy some oranges courtesy of Scott, and some other goodies, we said our goodbyes to Scott and continued on our way.

Scott and Bruce

Art and Mark and Bolton Notch pond.

Our pace slowed as we continued on the ascent up to Birch and Case Mountains. Case Mountain was probably the area we experienced the most people enjoying the trail, which is no surprise as it's an absolutely beautiful track out and into the Meshomasic State Forest.

Throughout the day our only issues with navigation seemed to occur heading through the roads that connected the woods. Mark's internal compass proved trustworthy, but relied on his detailed maps when needed. We ended up off course a few times, but were able to get back on track without much of an issue.

Feeling the fatigue of the day, we were encouraged as we reached Rte 2, a landmark that we were looking forward to getting behind us. One of the busiest travel and traffic weekends of the year was kind to us as we had an opportunity to cross both lanes without much of a wait. Fortunately our crossing window was wide open as Art's leg cramped up as we made our way over the pavement.

Successful crossing of Rte 2

Falls in Easthampton

The sun made it's way lower as we made our way through the "Mesh". We dodged our way through and around the standing water on the jeep roads of the next few miles. We continued into East Hampton and saw the sunset, climbed our way up over a ridge and experienced another sunset. As it grew dark we neared the end and were treated with an impressive overlook of Great Hill Pond and the surrounding area.

Self photo at completion

Started just after sunrise, finished just after sunset, total of 46 miles. It was great to experience the Shenipsit trail from end to end.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

StoneCat 50 Miler

After reducing miles since the VT100 I decided to sign up for the StoneCat 50 mile trail race as a way of providing motivation to increase my training, maintain fitness, and get re-energized. After committing myself the end of September I started increasing my weekly miles and getting in a 20+ long run each week. Not the ideal training going into a 50 miler, but I was banking on the hopes that the 1,600 miles I've run this year, most in preparing for the VT100, would give me what I needed for StoneCat.

The StoneCat trail races are held at Willowdale State Forest in Ipswich, MA. The course is a 12.5 mile loop consisting of a mix of single and double track trails. Clint, Mark, and I woke about 4:20, arrived at the race a little after 5 a.m., and were ready to rock for the 6:15 start. After a quick pre-race briefing about 300 of us were off an running. Half the group would detour off of the main 12.5 mile loop to pick up 1.2 miles that would be added to their 2 loops for the marathon distance race. The 50 milers would run the 12.5 mile loop 4 times.

Uncharacteristic of me, I didn't head into the race with much of a game plan for pace and nutrition. As usual the high energy levels drove a quick pace early on. After a few miles Mark and I settled into a pace with a half dozen other guys. The single file train helped carry us and kept our pace honest. The trails were comfortable and enjoyable with slight rolling hills and changing scenery throughout. The trails were absent of rocks but plenty of roots and stumps existed among the fallen leaves.
The train continued to roll along pushing the high end of my pace tolerance. I decided to stay aboard and hang on for the ride.

A decent pace and bypassing the 2 aid stations on the course allowed us to finish lap 1 in about 1:48. We didn't spend much time at our drop bags either. After trading out empty water bottles with prepared ones it was time to head back out for lap 2. Wish I could have stayed longer as Keith was on site. He came by the race for a brief stop to lend some encouragement which was much appreciated.

Heading out into lap 2, the train was now gone, and Mark and I continued to cruise along without another runner in sight for a while. We came across, ran and chatted with Ian, of the Trail Monsters Running Club, and race director for the Pineland Farms 50 I ran on Memorial Day weekend. Over half way through lap 2, around 20 miles, it was time for me to ease off the pace and I ran solo for a while. It was clear that I was starting to fatigue as an invisible stump caught my foot threw me to the ground so fast I couldn't get my arms out, as I fortunately hit with my shoulder and rolled onto my back for a comfortable landing. Lap 2 took about 2 hours.

A couple miles into lap #3 my legs muscles started to tighten, and I experienced some cramping in my quads. Then it began, time and time again I'd catch my foot square into a root or stump hidden in the leaves, sending a surge of energy through my body causing muscles to tighten even more. As they tightened my steps were lower, and the cycle continued.

I stopped at my first aid station of the race and was greeted by a volunteer offering me all sorts of food and drinks. The look on his face was of great concern; did I look as cruddy as I was starting to feel?
There seemed to be absolutely nobody on the course with the exception of an occasional runner I'd pass that was clearly on their 2nd lap. I struggled with nausea and intense muscle tightness the remaining 10 miles of lap 3. I battled through mentally and physically, staying focused, reminding myself that ultras bring peaks and valleys, and was hopeful my situation would improve. Lap #3 took a little over 2.5 hours.

I was greeted by Clint at the end of the lap. As in the few other ultras I've run in, I was reminded that anything can happen. Clint ran into a fairly severe health issue and made the right, but tough decision, of backing off the 50 miler, and still gutting out the marathon distance. I won't go into details about Clint's issue as it would probably leave your stomach feeling like mine did during lap #3.

Magically, my stomach issues disappeared and my legs had loosened a bit. As I rolled into a celebratory atmosphere at the first aid station on lap #4 I was amazed how helpful, encouraging, and friendly the aid volunteers were....their level of service seemed to increase as the day went on. The race's main sponsor is the Mercury Brewing Company and I think being an aid station volunteer came with the perks of sampling some of the sponsor's fine products. Seems like a win-win for everyone.
I rambled along the course and came into the final aid station with the fatigue that 46 miles can bring. The first thing I saw on the table was a platter of recently grilled hot dogs. Hot dogs never looked so good in my life. As I cautiously considered demolishing one the volunteer says "I've got Manwich's also". Are you kidding, Manwiches during a race...that could tear you apart. I had not had a Manwich in 20+ years..., once I saw them it was like love at first sight. I grabbed one and started walking as I ate, I was in heaven. Even better, all of a sudden I had more energy and felt better than I had in about 25 miles. For future runs I gotta figure out how to get Manwich meat into gel packets. I cruised the last 4 miles and finished the last lap in about 2.5 hours for a total time of 8 hours and 57 minutes. At the finish I was rewarded with some applause and a really nice finisher's jacket.

Mark stayed solid all day and turned up the pace the last few miles to break 8 hours with a time of 7:57. He's a stud.

My hats off to Gil's Athletic Club for putting on a well organized and supported race.