Peter and I ran the Traprock 50K this past Saturday at Penwood State Park in Simsbury, CT. Since the race was nearby-ish (2 hrs. away) and didn’t start until 8:30, we were able to drive down there that morning and come back the same day, which is a huge plus. It doesn’t often work out this way for us because most ultras start super early, and unfortunately, there aren’t many races in our area, so this was a nice treat!
We got to the park at about 7:30, so we had plenty of time to check-in, get all our race gear ready and eat a second breakfast. We also randomly discovered that one of Peter’s roommates from college was racing as well, so we had a good time chatting with him before the race started. It was a bit of a chilly morning (maybe 35-40 at the start), and I didn’t envy the runners in shorts and short-sleeves at all!
We all lined up to listen to the pre-race announcements, and then after an informal “ready, set, GO!”, we all charged onto the trail and directly up a steep hill.
It was crowded, so I had a good excuse to walk up most of it. Thankfully this was a relatively small race with about 150 people in the 50K, so it didn’t take too long for everyone to spread out a little bit and pick up speed.
The course was a 10-mile loop that we repeated 3 times. The loop also had a couple of little out-and-back sections on it, which was nice because it gave me a chance to size up my competition. As far as the trails conditions went, the course was amazing. I was worried about mud because it hasn’t been long since the snow melted, and we’ve had a lot of wet weather, but the entire course was as dry as a bone! Also, we had some beautiful lookouts at various points along the way as we were running along the top of the mountain ridge. The scenery was gorgeous!
The terrain for the first few miles of the loop was pretty treacherous–a lot of steep up and down hills with rocks and roots everywhere to make the footing unstable.
The hill right at the beginning was bad, but the worst one was the aptly named “staircase to heaven” (no picture, unfortunately). It was literally a long set of stone steps ascending straight up a cliff–so steep that my watch would auto-pause while I was climbing it because it didn’t think I was moving forward! After that there were a lot of steep descents, and then we entered the first out-and-back section, which was pretty runnable. It was slightly uphill on the way out and then down on the way back. I saw Peter on this section, and he told me that I was in third place. Then I watched to see which girls were in front of me and how far ahead they were. They were quite a ways ahead and looking strong, and I knew I’d have my work cut out for me to catch them. At the turnaround point was an awesome lookout, but I only had time for a quick glimpse before I charged right back down. On the way back, I watched for girls on my tail, and there were only a couple that I was worried about. At the end of the out-and-back section, we came to our first aid station, which I ran right past because I had plenty of water in my pack and wasn’t hungry yet.
The next section of the loop was a little easier. It started out with another long uphill, but not as steep as the ones near the start, then it leveled out some and was just gradually uphill for the next couple miles. These gradual hills don’t tire me out, and I ran steady and fast through most of this section. We ran along the edge of a cliff for awhile in there and could see for miles! It was amazing, but I was slightly afraid of tripping and falling over the edge! When I got to the second aid station, I found my parents waiting! I stopped quickly here to grab a gel, and immediately got passed by the fourth place girl.
The final section of the loop was mostly on an old park road. It had been pavement at one time, but now is mostly covered with dirt and leaves.
This section was also mostly a gradual uphill, but it was nice because I was able to make good time on the even surface of the road. At the end of the road, we re-joined the trail that we came out on from the start, so this was the second out-and-back section. It starts with a steep uphill, then lots of steep downhills. I saw Peter again on this section, as he was heading back out for his second loop, and the three girls that were ahead of me.
I saw my parents again at the start/finish aid station briefly before I headed right back up the hill for my second loop. I was still feeling really good, and my goal was to keep my second loop as close as possible in time to the first loop, though I was a little slower getting up those steep hills!
I didn’t see Peter or the first place girl on the out-and-back section–they had gotten too far ahead of me. The second and third place girls had also extended their lead. I started to despair of breaking the top 3. Nevertheless, I ran hard on the back stretch and was pleasantly surprised when I came into the second aid station to learn that the 2nd and 3rd place girls were right ahead of me. I quickly downed a gel and a banana and took off after them. I passed them both while we were on the tar road section, and they both looked like they were dying. I ran hard from there to the start/finish to open up a decent sized lead on them. I saw Peter going back out here, and he looked pretty beat.
He said that was the point where the wheels fell off, and he had a tough third loop.
When I got to the aid station at the start/finish, I found that I had completed the second lap only 5 minutes slower than my first. I was glad that I was keeping a consistent pace! I had a longer stop here because I needed to refill my hydration pack and change my shoes. I had started the race wearing my new Hokas, but I haven’t had a lot of time yet to get used to wearing these for long runs, and they were hurting a tendon on the top of my foot. I was afraid that if I tried to run the last loop in them that I’d end up in agony and possibly lose a lot of time, so I made a quick switch to my regular trail shoes. It was funny because I felt like I was running in slippers for all the support and cushion these shoes had compared to my Hokas! That tendon never bothered me again, and the soles of my feet didn’t hurt either, even without the extra cushioning, so I’m glad I took the time to change. I still made it out of that aid station before the girls behind me caught up, so I wasn’t too worried about losing my place.
“The Staircase to Heaven” nearly killed me on the third time up it. I was definitely falling off pace through the whole first section, even though I still felt good, and I was still pushing hard. My legs just weren’t as fresh and couldn’t get up those hills as quickly. I did see the leader on the out-and-back though and was encouraged that I had narrowed the gap between us by quite a bit. I was running as hard as I could now, knowing that I only had 6 miles left.
When I got to the next aid station, just before the final 3-mile stretch, I found out that I had gained 5 minutes on the girl in front of me. My mom told me she wasn’t far ahead, so I quickly ate a couple slices of watermelon and headed out to chase her down. Though I gave it my all, I never saw her. She had too big of a lead on me. I came down that last hill as fast as I could and sprinted for the finish line!
I finished strong and proud as the second overall female, with my second-fastest 50K time ever (5:38), and on a much harder course than my fastest time (5:27). I felt great!
Peter had finished just ahead of me in 5:22 and in 22nd place overall, after battling cramps for the whole last lap.
It wasn’t his best race, but considering that he had oral surgery just a few days before the race, we were all relieved that he felt well enough to run the whole race. For me, this was probably my best ultra race so far. I felt strong the whole time, had hardly any pain during or after, and really enjoyed the entire experience!