So there I was at 5:45AM looking around at the people who had gathered by the Groom’s Cabin at Riverside Farm in Pittsfield, VT. There weren’t a tremendous amount of people, but instead a nice little crowd. Some were there to take on the Peak Races 100 mile ultramarathon, others the 30, and then my group, the 50 milers. Most had hydration bags of some sort on, while others just carried water bottles. We were all about to take off on an adventure that would last many hours and in some grueling conditions.
At 6:00 the 100 and 50 milers set off in opposite directions. The 100 milers were off to do 10 loops of a hilly 10 mile course. For us 50 milers, we were off on the Green Mountain Trails headed toward Amee Farm. Before crossing Route 100 to Amee Farm we had to forge the White River. Some people took their shoes off while others just ran head on into the water. Once behind Amee Farm we did our first loop which was a combination of dirt, back country roads and trails. There were some beautiful views along the way, but there was little time to enjoy them since we were less than 10 miles into our day. Somewhere around 3 hours in the trail turned into white stones. It was only 9:00AM but those stones made it feel as hot as an oven. I was very happy they were short lived and we were back on a shaded trail.
After the Liberty Hill Rd. loop we cut down to Upper Michigan Rd. This was a beautiful sight to see. Somewhere along this road was our bag drop and water stop. Little did I know that it was almost 2 miles up the road to get to the bag drop. As I was making my way a runner came up from behind to join me. Chris had gotten off course back by the White River and had already done extra miles. Not soon after Chantel joined us. She had passed me earlier but also went off course. The three of us made our way to bag drop and were greeted by the fabulous volunteers. They offered to fill water bottles and hydration bladders. They had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies. More importantly they had a lot of spunk and spirit to cheer us on.
At this point my watch was telling me I had gone 15miles but the rest stop was suppose to only be at mile 12. Did I somehow go 3 extra miles off course or was the mileage wrong? Either way, after a nice break, Chris and I headed into the Green Mountain National Forest to take on the 6 mile Hayes Brook Loop. This is where we first encountered the many miles of mud. The back side of the loop was like a mud bog. I was very happy to have my Salomon X Ultra GTX Mid Shoes on. The mud made the goings a bit slower, but my feet stayed mud free and dry. Well, dry from mud, not sweat. There was a tremendous amount of sweating going on as the temperatures approached 90 degrees.
I was once again very happy to see the ladies at Upper Michigan bag drop. This time I changed into dry socks and noticed that there were pairs of muddy sneakers left behind. Turns out some people brought extra shoes anticipating the mud. There were also a noticeable amount of bags missing as people started dropping out of the race. The next section, Bloodroot (aka Jurassic Park), was billed to be hot, lonely, and somewhat nasty. You don’t want to be caught out there unprepared, out of water, or by yourself in the dark. As I was about to head out Andy, the head honcho, stopped me to make sure I was prepared to head out into Jurassic Park on my own. I turned and showed him my Marmot Kompressor Summit pack and said I had 3L of liquids, food, and a headlamp. He couldn’t believe I was using such a big bag, I responded, “I’m a hiker.” While the 28L pack was the largest anyone was using it weighs less than 2 lbs so it was equal in weight to many other runner’s bags.
Jurassic Park was a pretty lonely place. There was no one else around me, just me and my thoughts. All was well until around mile 25 when I heard a boom. I looked up and noticed some nasty looking clouds not too far off. My first thought, ahhh rain would feel nice. Second thought, crap I’m carrying metal hiking poles. My mind started to think about the Backpacker Magazine scenarios about what to do if you’re caught out in a thunderstorm. So I started to run. I’m not so sure why. I was in the middle of nowhere and had a long way to go to get to civilization. Once I realized this wasn’t going to help I stored my poles in my bag and continued on. Not wanting to stop my walk I told myself I would just ditch the poles if I had to and continue on. The storm never came close enough for that to happen. Good for my poles, bad for my really wanting a rain shower.
As I started heading up Bloodroot Mountain I noticed that I was catching up to a guy I had seen a few times before. The long, slow, trudge up the mountain rewarded us with swarms of bugs. My Ben’s 100 really didn’t help much, one of the few times I can ever say that. I think I was sweating so much it just couldn’t stay on. After resting Robin and I headed down and toward rest stop 31 where his wife was the volunteer. We encountered sludge and mud and joked how people were paying a lot more money to do a Tough Mudder on the same day. What we were doing was a lot tougher and muddier. It seemed like forever to reach rest stop 31 (my watch said 35.5 miles). We were so happy. I saw they had a massage Stick. All I could say was Stick while pointing to it but Robin’s wife knew what I meant. She made me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while I massaged my hamstrings. We were told that we couldn’t continue on unless we went together and at least one of us had a headlamp. Luckily, Robin agreed to keep going even though his wife, kids, and car were all there tempting him to stop.
Unfortunately, my watch battery gave out as we were passing the Chittenden Reservoir heading up another muddy hill. The sun was setting and we were both tired. We were at mile 38 and no where near Upper Michigan Rd. Throughout the day we had to follow pink ribbons on trees to know where to go. Sometimes there was pink spray paint on the ground to help. Now the pink ribbons became especially important. My eyes were trained to look for pink. It’s surprising I didn’t get a neck sprain from constantly turning side to side with my headlamp looking for the next pink ribbon.
Together Robin and I kept going. It seemed to take forever, but we kept our spirits up in hopes of hearing the Tweed River. We knew that once we crossed that we would be just a short distance from bag drop. As we hit the short, steep hill after the Tweed River I jokingly started shouting out that we were coming. Near the top of the hill I saw a headlamp walking toward us and a voice say, “I hope it’s all three of you.” It was my dad! He had been waiting at the bag drop with the ladies for the last three hours when I had texted him at the 31 stop. Since there were only two of us there was some frantic calling around to figure out the last unaccounted for person. Turns out she dropped out and didn’t properly tell anyone. Everyone that was waiting at the bag drop was so happy to see us. They filled up our hydration bladders, offered us food, and radioed to the start/finish line that we were continuing on. I couldn’t resist taking some pictures with some of the random items that were at the rest stop.
We set out down Upper Michigan Rd. with dad following in the car behind us. The adrenaline of being out in the woods in the pitch dark was wearing off now that we were on a dirt road with a car behind us. My feet were throbbing and exhaustion was setting in. Our walk back to Riverside Farm took ages in my mind. The 3 mile walk was once again actually more. I hobbled to the check point at the Groom’s Cabin and pretty much tapped out. Robin didn’t let me officially say it. He wanted me to get some real food and rest a little. I found a random piece of pizza which was cold but tasted like heaven at that point. I sat down and knew that my body couldn’t do another 10 miles.
Only 6 women and 25 men finished the 50 miler that day. We were not in that group. Not long after I left Robin decided to drop also. We came a long way, somewhere around 45 miles in fact. The motto of Peaks Races is to “Go Beyond Your Limits.” I pushed beyond my comfort level and ran/hiked further in one day then I have ever done before. I met some great people along the way and am seriously considering signing up for next years. I don’t like to lose and Andy and his 50+ mile course beat me. As my muscles ease their soreness, thoughts of redemption filter into my brain.
A breakdown of what I wore and took along with me can be found here.