My heart is very full after the past week or so. Some things just hit you in the feels hard, and this past week or so has had a lot of those moments.
On Wednesday of last week, a crew of us went up to the Ragged Mountain area to work on trail marking and clearing for SIX03’s Ragged 75 three-day stage race being held in August. There is also a standalone 50k being held the 3rd day of the stage race that is going to serve as the USATF New England 50k trail championship race. We had 14 miles to mark and clear, and they were some hilly and not very well-traveled sections of the last day of the race. My friends Tom, Alex, Andy, Charlie, and Charlie’s son and I all headed out carrying various tools and blazes to put up. With the overgrown trails and the line of trudging through single track holding saws, clippers, and hammers, I couldn’t help but feel like we were in the Lord of the Rings! We had a day of almost 3,000 feet of climbing, lots of upper body work from cutting and dragging trees, and almost 7 hours on our feet. Tom, Alex, and Charlie are all running Vermont 100 and Andy is pacing Charlie, so it was a fun crew to talk strategy and just general trail bullshit with.
Loon Mountain, my favorite race of the year, was on Sunday! I don’t know what it is about the ridiculousness of that race that does it to me, but I absolutely love it. The race has over 3000 feet of climbing in 6.6 miles and there is a 1km section that has an average grade of 40%. It’s a beast of a race. Last year when I first ran Loon I was in great road racing shape, but I was just starting to do more trail running and hadn’t really done any hill work at all. I had a blast, but I kept on getting passed on every hiking section of the race, and there are lots of sections that require hiking from mile 4 on. I did pretty well at the race last year (51st – it was the National Mountain Running Championship), but I had to work hard to get my time.
This year was such a difference. I had to take it easy because Vermont is less than two weeks away. I promised myself I would go out slowly and walk/hike any time I felt even the slightest burn in my quads. The goal was to finish the race, run down the mountain to get one more downhill pound-the-quads workout in, and not be sore the next day. This past week the area around Loon had been hit with crazy flash floods, and the first mile had a huge washout that took half the service road the course goes along with it. The course was wet, muddy, and in some places a bit treacherous.
The race starts at the base of the mountain in front of the lodge and switchbacks its way up the service road for the first mile or so. I positioned myself mid-pack at the start. This was a mistake. I had to do much more maneuvering than I had hoped in that first mile since people didn’t really seed themselves appropriately. A lot of people went out really fast for the first 400m or so and then started walking. My first mile ended up being over 10mins — almost 2 min slower than last year. In retrospect, it was probably a good thing to be forced to take it easier at the start so that I didn’t get too caught up in “racing” early on. After about a mile, the course takes a sharp left into a section of cross country ski trails that switch back up for about 2 miles. These were completely soaked and muddy! I had a blast splashing through the muck and water. I took it relatively easy since there were rocks and roots under the water and mud that were hard to see and I didn’t want to twist an ankle so close to VT100. I was noticing I was definitely strong on the uphill sections with little effort compared to the people around me, and took the downhills very relaxed. At about mile 3 you pop out of the woods and start up the exposed sections of the trail – some of it is gravel service road and other parts are grassy ski slopes. Here’s where the race really starts if you’re going to attack the hills. I purposefully backed off here and made sure I hiked everything at a very maintainable pace and effort. I’d run for 20seconds or so and then hike for another 30-40 seconds on the sections that were runnable (<12% grade). Once it hit the 20% grade stuff, I just hiked making sure I was still able to talk and that my quads were not being strained. After climbing a long 20% grade hill, you come up to the gondola station where the finish line is, but you have to climb up and over it and then head down a steep downhill and around a corner to Upper Walking Boss. UWB is a black diamond downhill ski trail during the winter and has an average 40% grade for approximately 1km with some sections as steep as 48%. You can’t help but laugh when seeing it – it seems impossible to continue to move forward because you can pretty much reach out your hand and touch the trail in front of you. UWB starts at about 5.8 miles into the race after you’ve already climbed over 2000 feet. It’s intense. This year the slope was kind of muddy and chewed up which made for some interesting footing. I slipped backwards a few times and had to use my hands to get myself going again. This year I was passing people a lot on UWB. My time was essentially the same as last year, but this year I was purposefully taking it easy and having fun with it. This year, the race then sends you straight down an 18% grade downhill back to the gondola before finishing on a slight uphill grade to the line. I took the last downhill incredibly slowly. You had a choice of running down on either a grassy slope (what I did) or a gravel path. I figured the grass was the better choice in case I fell. Unfortunately, this is where 3 women who I had passed on the uphills caught me. I was pretty OK with it since I had to keep my healthy, uninjured, not trashed legs as my goal for the race. I finished in 19th woman and 15th fastest UWB for women. I was pretty happy with that for an “easy” run with 3k of gain. Haha. We hung out at the top for a bit, then I ran down the mountain with Tom and Alex. They had the same idea of trying to get some last downhill miles under their legs without trashing their quads. This year, it was SO much easier to run downhill. I felt strong, controlled, and like my legs were way more prepared to deal with the pounding of losing 800ft per mile. SIX03 had a great showing at Loon. Our women took top team (handily) and our men came in 3rd team!
After the race, Tom and his girlfriend host a huge post-Loon party at their house on a lake. We all piled on to floaties and spent hours hanging out in the sun and water, eating great food, drinking some tasty beverages, and watching a pretty impressive fireworks display put on by Tom.
Today, for the 4th of July Tyler, the 13yr old son of one of my teammate’s who lives in town, put on a family fun run 5k. Tyler is a really fast runner and just an all around great kid. He loves the sport and is incredibly enthusiastic about everything he does. He made medals for everyone (including volunteers), marked the course himself, played the national anthem on a trombone, and put on a magic show after the race. I volunteered to do some directing of runners and to take the official race photos. What I loved about today was that 25 runners and probably another 10 or so volunteers came out to do the race and brought snacks and drinks to share for the post-race party. It was a true community event. It makes me really happy to see kids like Tyler falling in love with the sport and the community from such an early age. It also strikes me how lucky he is that he has parents who support his ideas. It’s also just so wonderful to see children seeing their parents have good friends and a community surrounding them. It makes me hopeful for the future.
All around, it’s been an amazing week, and I’m very thankful for the community I’ve found in SIX03. It’s really something special.
Mileage: 32.3 running; 10.8 walking
Time on feet: 12hr 12min