Running with the Hayneses

Vermont 100 Endurance Race 2015

This is the third year in a row that my running buddy, Jaime, has run the Vermont 100 Endurance Race, and at this point it’s kind of a given that if she’s there running it, then I’m there crewing and pacing for her!

There are 8 aid stations throughout the course of the race where crews are allowed to meet their runners and help them with whatever needs they might have at that point. The first station is at mile 21, but we’ve always skipped this one because it’s early in the race, and Jaime doesn’t really need our help until later. We usually plan to see her for the first time at the next crew station at mile 30.

This year Peter had a prior commitment for the morning, which meant I would have to go to the first crew station by myself and then come back to pick him up before going to the next one. So I set out around 8:30 a.m. in my little car to start my first solo crewing adventure, stopping along the way to buy dinner for later, pick up her gear at her house, and check in at the race start to register my car and get my pacer bib. I also got a race booklet with the turn-by-turn directions for crew vehicles to follow from station to station. Here’s where things got hairy: I understand that the race organizers are trying to keep crew traffic off the roads that the runners are running on, but having to follow written directions makes it nearly impossible for one to crew alone. The estimated 35-minute drive ended up taking me almost an hour because I kept missing my turn or having to pull over to read the directions. And after driving all over the Vermont countryside like a crazy, stressed-out chicken with it’s head cut off only, I arrived at the crew station only to find out that Jaime had already come and gone. I missed her by 10 minutes. :(

This was a fairly huge disaster because the next crew station wasn’t until mile 47, so Jaime would basically have to run half her race with no crew support whatsoever. I drove back to pick up Peter feeling like I had wasted the entire morning and worrying about whether I had ruined Jaime’s chances of finishing the race. To make matters even worse, we got a fairly severe midday rainstorm, and I was sure that Jaime would be drenched, cold, chafed and just generally in terrible condition by the time we saw her again.

There wasn’t anything though to do but wait and see, so Peter and I had lunch together at a cafe and then headed to Camp 10 Bear (mile 47) to chew our fingernails in anxious anticipation. We had a couple of hours to spare since we weren’t expecting her until 1:30 or 2:00, so after we got set up Peter decided to go for a run. He came back after an hour or so and reported to me that he had seen Jaime, and that she was looking great! He didn’t stay to run along with her because that could get her disqualified, but she was encouraged to see him, and and he was able to run back quickly and give me a head’s up that she was coming.

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Jaime looking GREAT at mile 47!

I was very relieved to see Jaime still running strong and looking good at this point in the race, in spite of not having any aid. She said that she had worried about what happened to me, but other than that she hadn’t in need of anything in particular at that point and my absence hadn’t been the huge disaster I was afraid it had been. Thank goodness! The downpour had missed her, too, though she did run through a couple of light showers and had wet feet.

She sat down to rest for a few minutes while we quickly refilled her hydration pack, restocked the vest pockets with gels and electrolytes and helped her change her socks and apply a couple of bandaids to hot spots. Soon she was off and running again, and we headed to Margaritaville at mile 62!

At Margaritaville, Peter again headed out for a run, and I sat in the shade to read. This is my favorite aid station because it’s quieter than the others, there’s more space for crews to spread out, and it’s really scenic.

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The view from where we parked

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Jaime at mile 62, feeling hot and not eating as much, but still keeping up a good pace!

After an overcast and rainy morning, the sun finally popped out while we were at Margaritaville, and it started getting really hot. Jaime was definitely feeling the effects of the heat when she arrived here, and we quickly got her some ice to put in her hat and her pack to cool her off. She hadn’t eaten any of her gels or drank any of the Perpetuem mix in her pack since we last saw her, so I got on her case about eating and drinking more often. I didn’t worry much though because this is completely normal for Jaime at this stage in the race (in fact, it usually happens earlier), and she always does just fine in spite of it. She did eat some noodles and chicken before she left and promised to eat a gel as soon as she could.

Peter and I then headed back to Camp 10 Bear where Jaime would come through again at mile 70. This is where pacers are allowed to join their runners, so once we got there I ate dinner and got ready to run. Since Peter would have been left to crew alone through the night without me, we had recruited a guy from our running club, TARC, to join us after he finished his volunteer shift at the aid station. We met up with him here and gave him a crash course on crewing while we waited for Jaime.

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Jaime and I just before we set off together to tackle the last 30 miles of her race!

Jaime came in around 7:30, still doing great! She quickly changed her socks again and ate some more noodles, and then we set out with high spirits! Shortly after we got going, the skies opened, and we found ourselves in the midst of a torrential downpour! We literally laughed out loud as the water just ran down our faces, arms and legs. We were drenched in seconds and spent the rest of the night running with wet, gritty socks and shoes (yes, there were blisters). Also, if I could have taken a picture of the trails after that rainstorm, I would have, but it required all my concentration to remain upright as we stumbled our way up and down muddy slip n’ slides. I was having flashbacks to other horrendously muddy courses that we’ve done (ie: the TARC 50 and the Run with Scissors Double Marathon). Thankfully most of the VT100 course is on dirt roads because the bits that were trail were completely unrunable.

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Our good spirits managed to outlast the heavy rain, and we enjoyed had a brief period of clearing before the fog rolled in.

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As darkness fell the fog got so thick that at times we couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead. It became very difficult to follow the course markers, and at one point we certainly would have missed our turn if it weren’t for a very helpful volunteer hanging out to point the way.

The weather certainly did it’s best to try to slow us down, but Jaime stayed strong and steady all night. We kept up a consistent pace of about 4 miles an hour–walking the uphills and running most of the flats and downs. She didn’t have any major complaints other than feeling really sleepy and, towards the end, struggling with an upset stomach. Coffee and Tums were her best friends. :)

When we got to the aid station at mile 91.5, we were informed that if we were aiming to buckle (finish under 24 hrs.), we had two hours left to do it. Jaime just laughed as if it was an impossibility. :) All day she’d been telling me that she wasn’t in any hurry, and that she just wanted to run at a comfortable pace and not worry about her time. It was a good strategy–not having the pressure of maintaining a certain pace and constantly watching the time made the race much more enjoyable.

At the next aid station, mile 95, the volunteers announced that we had just over an hour left. Jaime didn’t bother stopping at that station since we were so close, but I was out of water, so I told her to go ahead and I’d catch up. After she left, someone there speculated that she “had a chance” of buckling, then checked his watch again, and remarked “though it’s cutting it close”. I felt the need to proclaim loudly that she didn’t care about the buckle anyway, so it didn’t matter.

It had just taken us an hour to do the 3.4 miles between those two stations, so to say that it would be “cutting it close” to do the remaining 5 miles in less than an hour was definitely an understatement. I really didn’t even give it a second thought as I left the aid station, breaking into a near-sprint to catch Jaime as quickly as possible. I was surprised when I didn’t see her anywhere on the road ahead, and as I passed a couple of intersections without seeing her, I started to worry that she had taken a wrong turn. Finally, I came to a steep hill and spotted her about halfway up, walking. “You gave me a run for my money that time, Jaime,” I called out. She laughed and kept power-walking. I guess the finish line was calling her name. :)

Soon we caught up to a woman who was looking pretty bad, but was very obviously giving it all she had left to come in under 24 hours. Suddenly Jaime turned on the turbo jets, and we passed the woman easily. Jaime ran every step of those last couple of miles, up the hills and everything, as fast as she could. When we cruised across the finish line, I risked a glance out of the corner of my eye at the clock, afraid of what I might see, and was relieved and ecstatic to see that it read 23:58. What a way to finish! I could not have been more proud!

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The next day: Jaime posing with her finisher’s hat and belt buckle!

It wasn’t her fastest time (that was last year–23:33), but it was by far her best race. She stayed strong the whole time and never had a point where the wheels came off. I’m pretty sure this means she will be back again next year, though she is reluctant to make a commitment one way or the other at this point. Yes, I asked, before, during and after the race. :) It’s as if I was waiting for the day when she’d suddenly realize that running 100 miles is ridiculous and unnecessary, but you know, even though it IS ridiculous and unnecessary and a host of other things, I know that sometimes running yourself nearly to death is what makes you feel really alive. And that is exactly what makes it worth doing. 

Running with the Iron Cowboy

I think the Iron Cowboy is becoming much more of a household name as his journey progresses, but when he came to New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago most people that I talked to hadn’t heard of him. “Iron Cowboy? Is that a movie?” No, but it’s going to be a documentary at some point! :) The Iron Cowboy is a triathlete named James Lawrence, and he is currently on a quest to complete 50 Ironman-distance triathlons (140.6 miles) in 50 states in 50 days to raise awareness about childhood obesity. I started hearing about him as he was making his way up the east coast, which was when he was nearing the halfway point of his journey. I liked him on facebook so that I could follow along, but really didn’t pay much attention to his updates. At the time I was much more interested in tracking ultra runner Scott Jurek’s progress on the Appalachian Trail than in following a triathlete I had never heard of before.

Then, out of the blue, a friend of mine sent me a facebook invite to an event called “NH Iron Cowboy 50-50-50 (Claremont)”. I immediately responded, “WHAT?! The Iron Cowboy is coming to Claremont???!!!” I grew up in Claremont and still live nearby, and let me tell you, Claremont is your typical small New England town where nothing EVER happens. We occasionally get a big time politician just because we are in NH, but no one cool ever comes to little old Claremont! The fact that the Iron Cowboy was coming to MY hometown suddenly made him a BIG DEAL, and I found myself excitedly following his every move from that point on.

After confirming that James allows (and highly encourages) people to join in with him during his event each day, my husband and I excitedly made plans to bike and run with him. Since we are not in Ironman shape, we planned to skip the swim leg and the first part of the bike leg, then join in for the last 40 miles or so on the bike and the first 15 miles of the run. Unfortunately, we grossly overestimated how long it would take him to complete the bike leg, so he only had about 20 miles left to do by the time we met up with him. At that point he was just doing out-and-backs on a short stretch of road maybe 5 miles long because he wanted to save his legs by avoiding any big hills. He said, “I feel like New Hampshire is trying to kill me! Not a single flat stretch of road in the whole state!” We biked with him and several other riders, most of whom had been with him all day, as they flew up and down that road at what was nearly top speed for me. It’s probably a good thing we were late because I doubt I could have sustained that pace for 40 miles and still had energy to run. :)

After he finished the ride, we waited for about an hour or so while James ate and rested and prepared for his run. Every day at 7:00 p.m. James hosts a 5K, which is free and designed to be a family event. He runs the 5K, ticking off 3.1 miles, and then continues on late into the night to complete the marathon. On the day we were with him he had a couple of hours to spare before the 5K would start, so he headed out to get in as many miles as he could in the meantime.

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Running with James (yellow shorts) and a few other runners before the 5K. I am obscured by James, but Peter is behind him in the red shirt. Photo by: Altra Iron Cowboy Feed

We got in about 7 miles or so before the 5K and had a great time talking to James and getting to know him a little bit. He had been all business during the bike ride and said very little other than quickly greeting us during a brief pit stop, so it was nice to have this time with him. Unfortunately, he did not enjoy our hilly country roads or the fact that the roadsides were blanketed with poison ivy (making an emergency pit stop nearly impossible), but he joked about these things and was in good humor despite being very tired.

When we got back to the home base, we found that a small crowd had gathered to participate in the 5K. James gave a short speech about the mission behind the 50-50-50: “This is the first generation where parents will outlive their children. I have 5 children. I don’t want to bury any of them.” He’s hoping to raise one million dollars for the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation by the time he completes his journey.

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The group of 5K runners. Photo by: Cameron Paquette of the Eagle Times

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 Iron Cowboy Selfie! Photo by: James Lawrence

After the 5K, James wanted to run to the track and finish off his marathon there because the softer surface would be easier on his body. Peter and I didn’t have time to stay much longer, but we accompanied James to the track where we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and before heading back to our car with a total of 17 miles. We had so much fun running with him, and he is such a cool guy!11237572_10100182650185774_8441084070794369094_n

New Hampshire was #33 for James, and as of today he is working on #46 in North Dakota! The big finale will be in Utah, his home state, on July 25th! Follow along online–it’s going to be a wild ride!

If you want to learn more or donate to his cause you can check out the Iron Cowboy website. More importantly, James wants to inspire people to challenge themselves and be more active, so get out there and “fight the fight“, as James would say!

Spring Presidential Traverse

The Presidential Traverse is one continuous hike over all 9 mountains in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains (Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay, Washington, Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower and Pierce). It’s about 20 miles long with over 9,000 feet of elevation gain. We hiked the traverse last fall, and it was definitely one of the most incredible and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. In October, with the colorful foliage in the valley and the blanket of rime ice on the peaks, the scenery could not have been more spectacularly beautiful. I think that fall is probably the prettiest time of year to hike the Whites, but the mountains are breathtaking in any season, and ever since our last trip I’ve wanted to go back and do the traverse again in the spring to see them in a different light.

We were particularly interested in seeing the spring wildflowers in the Alpine Garden on the slopes of Mount Washington. I read that the best time to see the most blooms is generally mid-June, so we planned our trip for June 20th, weather-permitting. As it turned out, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to hike in the Whites–brilliantly sunny, not a cloud in the sky and 100-mile visibility. It was the kind of rare day that only happens about 20 times a year on Mount Washington.

On Saturday morning we met our friend Joel at the southern terminus of our route, leaving a car there for later, and drove north to start at the Appalachia trailhead. The parking lot there was already full, so we had to park on the side of the highway. It was a busy day in the Whites!DSC00888

8:15 start at Appalachia

From there we took Valley Way to the summit of Madison. This is the longest climb of the day, as we ascend over 4,000 feet in 3.8 miles. We were able to run a good portion of the first couple of miles, but as the trail got steeper and rockier, we were reduced to a fast hike.

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We broke out above the tree line at the Madison Hut, .5 miles from the summit, and from there took the Osgood Trail to the top.

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Madison Hut

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Looking towards the summit

The trail turned into a rock scramble after we passed through the belt of trees you see in the picture above.

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This isn’t a very good picture because we were hiking directly into the sun, but it gives you an idea of what we had to pick our way through to get to the top. Also, speaking of the sun, it was quite a warm day on the mountains, even bordering on hot when we were out of the wind, but I didn’t dare take my long sleeve shirt off because I knew I’d get roasted by the sun!

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At the summit we paused to enjoy the view and get our picture taken on the tippy top. This is my favorite picture of the day. :) Then, we headed back down and began our climb up the next peak, Adams.

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From the Madison summit, looking towards Adams in the foreground and Washington in the distance.

We made a quick stop at the Madison Hut to top off our water supplies, then took the Gulfside Trail up Adams.

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Looking back on Madison as we climb Adams

Even though it’s not far from Madison to Adams (about a mile), the trail is nothing but jagged rocks and boulders the entire way, so it’s SLOOOOOOOW going.

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At the summit, looking down on Madison. We climbed over rocks like these all the way up.

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Selfie on the summit

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Looking towards Jefferson (up next) and Washington. There’s still snow on the slopes of both peaks!

We had a longer distance (about 2.5 miles) to cover as we made our way to Jefferson, crossing the long, flat plain of Edmunds Col. The trail through this section is still completely strewn with rocks, but we did make faster time since we didn’t have to deal with a steep pitch as well.

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Playing in the snow on the slopes of Jefferson! 

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We perched on the summit for a picture with Washington in the background.

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View of Washington and beyond!

From there we headed towards Clay, which is really only a “shoulder” of Mount Washington and not technically an independent peak.

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Looking back on the three monsters we just climbed!

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Wildflowers on the way to Clay

It’s a little over a mile to Clay and then another mile to Washington after that.

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The Great Gulf

Clay is an easy climb and before we know it we were climbing the summit cone of Mount Washington!

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Our trail crossed the Cog Railroad tracks. In the background you can see Clay, Jefferson, Adams and Madison!

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The Cog went by right after we crossed the tracks!

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The Mount Washington summit

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View to the north from the summit

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We stopped at the summit to eat lunch in the cafeteria (pizza and chili!) and refill our hydration packs. We were tempted to eat outside at the picnic tables, but the temperature was only in the 40’s up there, and we were a little cold, so we stayed inside. We spent about half an hour there before heading back out again to tackle the second half of our traverse! Counting all our stops, we’d been on the trail for almost 6 hours already!

We left the summit via the Nelson Crag Trail, which would bring us to the Alpine Gardens where I hoped to see fields of wildflowers!

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Only in the White Mountains does THIS qualify as a TRAIL!

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Once we descended Nelson Crag, we got on the Alpine Garden Trail which cut straight across the slope of Mount Washington. It was much easier going, and the trail was beautiful, BUT there were very few wildflowers. :( We did enjoy the lushness of this area compared to the barrenness that is typical of the higher summits, but I was disappointed to not see more flowers.

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We did see lots of these yellow flowers.

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And some white ones as well, but that was about it.

Next we got on the Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail to take us back to the top of the ridge. The Alpine Garden detour added about two miles to our trip, but we really enjoyed taking a different route and seeing parts of Washington that we hadn’t seen before, especially Tuckerman’s.

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Tuckerman’s Ravine

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There was still a good amount of snow in Tuckerman’s, and we could see recent snowboard tracks down the longest strip (which is longer than it looks in the picture :) ).

We linked up with the Crawford Path near the Lake of the Clouds Hut on the other side of Mount Washington, which as you can see below, is a barren tundra compared to the Alpine Garden area.

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Looking back at Washington

At the Lake of the Clouds Hut we made a quick stop to top off our water again, and then we were off to tackle Monroe! I was really starting to feel the effects of the sun by this point in spite of applying sunscreen multiple times and keeping my arms covered. I felt like my skin was being roasted, and I could not wait to get back below the treeline! Unfortunately, we still had three mountains to go. :/

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Lake of the Clouds

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Wildflowers on the way up Monroe

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On the Monroe summit!

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View to the south from Monroe

After Monroe the trail gets a lot more runable and the climbs get a lot shorter, so we were able to run more and more from this point on. The mountains are a little further apart, about 1.5 miles between each summit, but we are also able to cover the ground a lot faster. On our way to Eisenhower, we hit Franklin, which is also not an independent peak, so it’s a very short climb.

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A nice section of trail on the way to Eisenhower (looking back at Monroe).

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Descending Monroe and heading towards our second-to-last peak, Eisenhower

DSC00957On the summit of Eisenhower

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Panoramic to the west

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Panoramic to the east

Clouds were starting to move in by the time we summited Eisenhower, so we were getting some relief from the scorching sun. Also, at this point we were quickly approaching our final peak, Pierce, where we would finally descend back into the trees.

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Pierce on the left and Eisenhower on the right

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Alpine Azaleas

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A final look back from Pierce before heading down below the treeline.

The descent from the Pierce summit to Mizpah Hut is really steep and technical, to the point where you have to hold on to the trees on the sides of the trail to help lower yourself down from rock to rock. Thankfully it’s only about half a mile. We decided not to stop at the Mizpah Hut, since we only had 2.5 miles to go, and from that point on we ran hard in spite of tired legs and sore feet.

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Gibbs Falls on the way down Pierce

We popped out of the woods into the parking lot at the base of Pierce at 7:45, after covering 22 miles in 11.5 hours. We were tired, sunburned, starved, thirsty, and happy. We couldn’t have asked for a better day!

Yeti Run for Nepal

This past weekend we took part in the Yeti Run for Nepal, a fundraiser put on by Greg Watson of TARC (Trail Animals Running Club) to benefit our fellow trail runners in Nepal who lost their homes during the recent earthquakes.

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The 6 hour run took place at the Blue Hills Reservation, just south of Boston. I had never run there before and was surprised to find an expansive network of over 100 miles of trails so close to the city. The plan for the day was for a group run to depart on a different loop of 5-6 miles every hour, allowing for runners of all abilities to easily join in or drop out whenever they liked.

Peter, Jaime and I had a long, early-morning drive to the Blue Hills, so we chose to skip the first hour and joined in at 7:00 a.m. When we got there the group was still out completing their first loop, so we sampled the aid station fare and chatted with Greg’s mom, who would be manning our base camp for the day. We were joined by a few other late starters, and soon the early group returned and we all set out again together.

From there the day consisted of running lots of amazing trails, meeting a bunch of new people, seeing some great views and eating way too many of Greg’s mom’s AMAZING cookies. :)

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 Our first loop was a mostly double-track loop around the reservoir.

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 Our second loop was the more challenging single-track of the yellow loop.

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 For our third loop we tackled one of the bigger hills and got a glimpse of the Boston skyline.

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 Greg and Jaime enjoying the view

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 We stopped for a bit on the summit to take a group picture.

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 We probably had twice this many earlier in the day–several had left by this point.

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 We finished off the run with one last big climb on our 5th loop and got another great hilltop view.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures, and I don’t know the names of any of the trails we ran on or the hills we climbed because I was too busy enjoying the chance to run with so many new people.  Up here in rural NH, we don’t have big groups of people getting together to do long trail runs, so this was a rare treat for us. We’re grateful to all you Bostonians for showing us around your beautiful trails! I wish we lived closer so that we could join in on group training runs like this more often!

The Stats:

In all I ran 23.5 miles in 5.5 hrs., and in the process I consumed 6 delicious cookies: 2 ginger molasses, 2 oatmeal raisin, 2 peanut butter. The fact that I am still obsessed with these cookies almost a week later tells you how good they were. :) More important even than that though is the fact that our small group of maybe 25 runners raised over $1,000 for the runners in Nepal! It was a great day all around, and I’m so glad we went!

 

 

 

Mount Ascutney Quadruple Bypass

A little over a month ago we attempted the Mount Ascutney Quadruple Bypass (up and down all four base-to-summit trails) for the first time, but due to thigh-deep snow, we only managed a Double Bypass. Because that attempt failed, it was therefore absolutely imperative that we try again as soon as possible. :) After discovering that May 30th was the annual Ascutney Day Picnic and that there would be free food at the summit for all hikers, we decided that would be the day!

In planning out our day, we estimated that we maintain an average pace of about 2.75 miles an hour all day (including all stops), which would mean it’d take us about 10 hours total. Daunting, but doable.

We started at 7:15 on Saturday morning at the base of the Weathersfield Trail (2.9 miles). This trail is unique because of it’s proximity to Cascade Falls, an impressive 84-foot waterfall. The trail does not provide access to the base of the waterfall, but does pass by the top where we got our first look out over the countryside. Unfortunately, Saturday was hot and humid right from the start, so our views were pretty hazy all day.

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Weathersfield Trail is probably the most technical of Ascutney’s four trails, with lots of rocks and roots from bottom to top.

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We made it to the summit in just over an hour, after taking a couple of quick detours to enjoy the views from Gus’s Lookout and the West Peak Vista. Right on schedule!

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 Selfie at Gus’s

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 West Peak Vista

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Beautiful section of trail just before the summit

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Photo Op because we still felt like we had all the time in the world! :)

From the summit we immediately headed down the Brownsville Trail (3.2 miles) and soon ran into this big guy who was out for a morning stroll. :)

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He was not the least bit concerned about our presence, and we followed along patiently behind him until he relinquished the trail and headed off into the woods. :)

The Brownsville Trail is easily the trail with the most to see. There are four lookouts, as well as the remains of a granite quarry from the early 1900’s. We stopped at all the lookouts, but I didn’t take pictures at most of them because the view was so limited.

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 Norcross Quarry

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I like how this area of the forest is so open.

From the quarry to the base, about a mile or so, the trail is relatively smooth double-track, so we were able to run this whole section and make good time. We started to meet a lot of hikers heading up the mountain at this point, and many of them expressed their concern that we were going to miss the picnic! We assured them, “Don’t worry, we’re going back up!” :)

We hit the bottom with an elapsed time of 2:15 total and turned right around to begin our second ascent. Again, we were able to run a good section of the lower portion of the trail before we got to the steeper, more technical stuff.

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The point where all running ceased. :)

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Approaching the summit for the second time.

We made our second ascent in an hour, for a total of 3 hours and 15 minutes, and were greeted at the summit with a gourmet picnic lunch! We had expected nothing more than PB&J and maybe some chips, so we were pleasantly surprised to find about ten different kinds of sandwiches on all different kinds of bread, along with cookies, granola bars, apples and lemonade! I had a hummus sandwich and Peter had peanut butter and honey, plus cookies for us both. :) We sat down to rest and eat, spending roughly 15 minutes at the summit before heading down our third trail. I regret that I didn’t get a picture of the picnic set-up, but I was focused on eating quickly and getting on our way without losing too much time.

We started down the Windsor Trail (2.7 miles), which we chose at this time because it is the shortest, and we wanted to get down and back up as quickly as possible with the hope that we’d catch the tail end of the picnic on our third summit. Unfortunately, near the top, the Windsor Trail intersects with the Futures Trail (4.6 miles), and we made the fatal mistake of not paying close enough attention to the signs and ended up on the Futures Trail. By the time we realized our mistake, we decided it wasn’t worth back-tracking–we’d just have to pick up the pace on Futures.

Futures Trail is the longest trail, but because it goes out of it’s way to avoid technical terrain and steep grades, it is far more runable than the other trails. In my opinion it’s also the most beautiful trail, and I especially enjoyed the wildflowers and grassy woodland savannas.

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Violets lining both sides of the trail.

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Running through the woodland savanna–my favorite spot on the whole mountain!

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We saw lots of Jack-in-the-Pulpits!

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Panoramic of the woodland savanna

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Pretty yellow wildflowers

We made it to the base of the trail, located at the Ascutney State Park Campground, and quickly refilled our hydration packs at the camp water spicket before heading back up. We pushed hard on our way back because we were dreaming of ham and pickle sandwiches!

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Stone steps on one of the connector trails near the summit.

We didn’t make any stops and skipped the detour to see the Steam Donkey (a machine used for logging on the mountain during the early 1900’s), but unfortunately, even though we made the ascent in an hour and a half, the picnic crew had packed up and left by the time we got there. :( This was so disheartening that I was tempted to give up on our fourth summit, but Peter didn’t want to quit.

So we summoned what little motivation we had left and started off down the Windsor Trail. In my opinion, the Windsor Trail is the least interesting trail on the mountain. There’s an old log shelter near the top, and I believe there’s a lookout on the Blood Rock Trail Spur, but we didn’t take the time to venture out there.

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We did see these beautiful painted trilliums near the top of the Windsor Trail.

During this descent, I started feeling the effects of the 21+ miles we’d already traveled. My quads were getting sore, and I felt like we were slowing down a lot, especially as we picked our way through the rocks near the top. This trail is very similar to the Brownsville Trail in terms of terrain–steep, rocky and technical on the top half and more gradual and smooth on towards the bottom. We managed a hobbling run on the bottom section and made the descent in an hour flat. I couldn’t believe we were still sticking to our goal pace!

Then it was time for our last ascent. This was BRUUUUUUUUTAL. We had nothing left in the tank for this climb and were unable to run at all, even on the easier sections. We did get a little boost though when we happened upon a bag of Twizzlers that someone had dropped alongside the trail!

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Yes, we ate them. :) Also, notice my dirty legs–it was a hot, dusty day on the mountain!

We stopped shortly after that at Gerry’s Falls to refill our packs again and wash our faces and arms in the refreshingly cold water. Thankfully, even though it was a scorching, 90-degree day, we had a breeze and lots of shade to keep us from overheating. At the summit it was probably 10+ degrees cooler and didn’t feel hot at all.

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Utterly exhausted.

We reached the summit for our 4th and final time in an hour and a half, total elapsed time of 9.5 hours. We had fallen off pace for the first time all day, but at this point it hardly mattered.

Before heading back down for our last time, we climbed the observation tower to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

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Then we picked our way down the treacherous Weathersfield Trail, shredding every remaining muscle fiber in our quads in the process. We finished in 10.5 hours total with approximately 27 miles and 24,000+/- accumulated elevation change. This was definitely one of the crazier things we’ve done, and I don’t think I’ll feel the need to do it again. :)

* * * * *

If reading this has inspired you to do something similar, we ran into another hiker on Saturday who told us about an upcoming event that she has planned called the Ascutney Triple. It’s the same concept as what we did, only with three summits instead of four, and a wider variety of trails including the auto road and the Bicentennial Trail (spurs off from the Weathersfield Trail) so that no trail is repeated. It’s on Saturday, June 27th at 7:00 a.m. Peter and I haven’t decided yet if we’re going to do it or not, but it’s a distinct possibility. :)

Six Hours in Paradise Course Preview

A friend of ours, Ben Pangie, is putting together a new ultra race for this August called Six Hours in Paradise. The race will be held in Paradise Park, located in Windsor, VT, and it will be a 6-hour race on a short loop (or series of loops) course. Ben’s still working on the exact course layout, so he invited a bunch of local runners to come do a course preview this past weekend and give feedback on the trails. There’s nothing I love more than exploring new trails, so I was all over this chance to get in a long run in a new place with other runners.

There ended up only being five of us, including Ben, but I had a great time meeting a couple of new people, and the trails were spectacular!  Ben started us off by leading us through three different loops, totalling four miles. The park is fairly small and has about 5 miles of trails, so this was just enough of a tour to give us a sense of how everything is laid out. Ben had to leave at that point, and the other runners stayed for varying amounts of mileage, until finally I was the last runner standing. My goal was to get in 20 miles for the day, so I continued looping through the park and exploring all the new trails I came across. I entertained myself by taking pictures and experimenting with different trail combinations until I found my favorite sequence. :) I found that there’s enough variety and so much to see that I never got bored!

Here are some pictures of the beautiful trails, scenery and wildlife you’ll see if you come to Six Hours in Paradise:

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 View of the water tower from the Water Tower Loop

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Wild flowers in the picnic area

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Spring greenery everywhere as I head towards the Lake Trail

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The Lake Trail: possibly my favorite part of the whole park!

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Check out the turtles on the log!

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Crossing the Main Dike to run the Meadow Loop

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There were LOTS of turtles sunning themselves all around the sides of the lake!

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I couldn’t get enough of these guys! :)

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The meadow loop with a beautiful view of Ascutney in the background!

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My favorite part of the meadow was that it was lined with bird houses, most of which were actively in use!

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More pristine single-track on the Hubbard Brook Trail!

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The brook is beautiful and refreshing (I stopped to wash my face and arms once it got hot)!

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The most challenging trail in the park is the Ridge Loop with it’s STEEP hills.

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It’s also probably the most fun trail though, once you’re on top of the ridge. :)

Just in case the pictures didn’t already say this loud and clear, I’ll spell it out: you should definitely run this race. :)

Unfortunately, for Peter and I, the timing is bad–it’s less than a week after our 6-day stage race in Colorado. I’m not expecting to be terribly mobile that soon after the TransRockies Run, so I don’t think I’ll be competing in the race. I do hope to come volunteer and cheer on the runners though, and I’d love to see you there!

Mount Ascutney Double Bypass

Every now and then I dream up some sort of adventure on a whim, and then, no matter how crazy my idea is, I can’t get it out of my head until I make a plan to act on it. This is exactly what happened in early April when Peter and I were discussing plans to hike nearby Mount Ascutney in Windsor, VT with a friend. As we were talking about the various trails, the thought popped into my head that it would be really awesome to hike ALL FOUR of Ascutney’s base to summit trails. In ONE DAY. (Why do I do this to myself?)

Of course, I was instantly obsessed with the idea, and therefore it had to be done as soon as possible. :) Peter and I had one free weekend between our two April 50K races, and we needed to get in a long training run, so to me that seemed to be the perfect opportunity to tackle our Ascutney adventure. The whim quickly solidified itself into a plan, and thereafter became known as the Mount Ascutney Quadruple Bypass.

We decided that we would start at the Weathersfield Trail, work our way up and down the other three trails (Futures, Windsor and Brownsville), then come back down Weathersfield to finish. The trails are all about 3-4 miles long, and going up and down each one would give us a total of 27-28 miles for the day. Being mid-April, we also had to plan for various snow conditions, so we carried our microspikes with us and had snowshoes in our car just in case.

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 Starting at the base of the Weathersfield Trail

There was a dusting of snow on the ground when we started, and we encountered a fair amount of ice pretty early on, but our microspikes allowed us to easily navigate even the nastiest sections.

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Lower section of Cascade Falls

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Our first lookout, just above Cascade Falls

Once we got above Cascade Falls (maybe about halfway up), we started seeing more snow. The trail had been fairly well packed by hikers throughout the winter, so we didn’t have any trouble with breaking trail or post-holing. Though near the top the snow got MUCH deeper, and the trail wasn’t as nicely packed, so we slowed to pick our way more carefully.

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Nearing the summit for the first time

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Once we hit the summit, we immediately started heading towards the Futures Trail to make our first descent. Unfortunately, there are a lot of connector trails at the top that are not super well-marked, so we did quite a bit of wandering through waist deep snow trying to find the right trail.

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With no packed trail, we were post-holing with nearly every step!

We finally found the Futures Trail after wasting about half an hour, and to our dismay, the trail hadn’t been used at all and was nearly impossible to traverse without sinking to our waists with every step. We were already frustrated with the time it took just getting to the trail, so we decided that it wasn’t worth fighting with the snow any longer. We retraced our steps and headed down the Windsor Trail instead.

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Junction sign at the top of the Futures Trail–still about 4 feet of snow up there!

The Windsor Trail was a DREAM compared to the other trails! It had obviously been snowshoed frequently, and the wide, packed trail felt like a highway!

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The Windsor Trail Highway :)

We made really good time coming down this trail, and didn’t encounter any obstacles until we hit sheets of ice near the bottom. Again, our microspikes saved the day, and we were able to run easily and safely on the ice.

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The snow ends…

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…and the ice begins!

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At the bottom we posed for a quick picture at the trailhead before heading right back up. On our second time up the mountain we were definitely feeling our climbing muscles–my butt and lower back were on fire! I was suddenly glad that we had been forced to cut our hike down to a Triple Bypass. :)

This time when we got to the summit, we took the short side trail out to the Brownsville Rock overlook. The view was spectacular!

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From there we headed down the Brownsville Trail, and again, the trail conditions left A LOT to be desired. Especially after being spoiled by the Windsor Trail! 11121307_10100147295716414_6187686832113987238_o

The trail was absolutely destroyed by deep post-holes, and at this point in the day, we just didn’t have the energy to deal with this mess. We toughed it our for a short ways before deciding it was only going to be a Double Bypass after all. :/

So we headed back up to the summit, and this time climbed the observation tower to enjoy the 360-degree view before making our final descent.

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The Weathersfield Trail seemed more technical on the way down than it had on the way up, and the rocks and roots made the descent almost as difficult as the ascent! We stopped for a bit of a rest about halfway down to admire a gigantic ice flow just below Cascade Falls.

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Back at our car, we contemplated driving to the base of the Futures Trail to make the hike with our snowshoes. We decided to drive over and check it out, but then once we got there we were distracted by a new mountain biking trail across the road. Flat, smooth single-track looked pretty inviting after the way we’d spent our morning, so we opted to explore this 4-mile loop instead.

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By the time we finished that, we’d amassed 16 miles for the day, most of them grueling, back-breaking miles, so we called it a day and headed for home.

We do plan to attempt our Quadruple Bypass again on May 30th. This happens to be the date of the 49th annual Ascutney Day Picnic, and there will be free food and drinks for hikers at the Stone Shelter. I figure if someone’s going to set up an aid station, we are certainly going to take advantage of it! :) We’d like to get together a group of runners this time to tackle the challenge with us, so if you’d like to join us for an epic adventure, let me know!