It’s a nice relaxing rainy Sunday morning, My body is surprisingly not as sore as anticipated, I have lots of coffee, the perfect set up for telling you about my experience yesterday running the seven sisters trail race which is easily considered one of the hardest races in New England.
So how do you train for a for a race in May, in New England, that is 12 mi (6 mi out & 6 mi back, 3,000 ft of elevation gain, and your thigh’s worst nightmare? Well since it will probably be winter when you train you’ll suffer on runs in slush preferably with a friend (thanks Rob) and you do that over and over again. I guess you could go to a gym and use a treadmill and other gym like methods but where’s the fun in that? Sometimes there is nothing more satisfying than enduring natures elements, even if that includes swallowing many, many black flies.
The gear I chose for this race is:
My trusty Chronic Trips tech wick T-Shirt.
A camelback marathoner backpack.
A handkerchief (booger catcher).
Osprey 3L water bladder (fill w/ 1.5L of water).
Orange pinstripe running tights.
Blue running shorts.
Orange compressions socks.
Stinger honey gu (x2), Stinger energy gummies (1pack), and a chocolate stroopwaffle, Nuun for water.
Last but not least some sweet 361° kicks.
Let’s get into the story shall we? Days before the race we all received an email from the race director emphasizing carpooling to the event because 600 of us signed up and if we all showed up with our cars that would be nuts. I thought about it and discovered it was about 5 miles from my house to the start of the race so if I rode my bike there is would be a great warm up as there were only 3 hills on the way and because A) it’s all downhill on the way back and B) it will help with the car situation. So the day before the event I made sure I had all my gear together and ready to go, tuned my bike up and made sure that it was good for the season, and prepped my body and mind for the pain and fun it was about to endure by utilizing a great hybrid strain in my vape called pineapple express (I carried that vape with me for after the race). I enjoy hybrid strains the most as I find them to be the best of both worlds and amplifies my connection to nature, mind, and body and compliments my parasympathetic nervous system (rest & restore/rest & digest system) which is about to get a shock tomorrow. I told myself I would obey the Olympic rules and not consume the day of the event.
Prepping the day before seemed to pay off as I got an “ok” night’s sleep and for anyone that competes that’s great! I got up and immediately took a Stinger honey gel packet and followed that up with a cup of coffee (breakfast of champions) have I ever mentioned how much I love coffee? I then hit up the bathroom one more time because a #2 during a race is never fun to deal with. A half hour later than anticipated (7:30 a.m.) I hopped on my bike and started towards the event.
I wanted to have a nice leisurely ride because the morning was stunning! It was in the 50°’s, sun was shining, dew was evaporating from the grass, the nice crisp spring morning air, and lot’s and lot’s of songbirds but before I new it I arrived really fast (8:00 a.m.). When I got there I had about 40 min till start, locked my bike to a tree, and then began to mingle. I got to chat quickly with my good friends Rob and Kayla both started in earlier waves to get all hyped up. There were a lot of people running this for the first time and I was in that group so felt right at home. There were also some noticeable veterans and well known volunteers of the race. Once the waves started my adrenaline kicked in and the first thought was “I need to pee one more time” so I found a tree real quick, got it done, and about 10 min after I was off!
One of the tools I have for success on this course is the knowledge of having had done this (hiking) seven sisters trail many, many times and know it like the back of my hand. So I felt good in knowing when to run and when to walk because you will walk on this. We all ran the first little flat part and then bang! straight up the notch. It wasn’t a record summiting the notch this day as I was playing it a little conservative at first but once I got to the top is was off and frolicking down the trail. I enjoyed every minute of this race even though there were some seriously challenging parts. I consider Mt. Hitchcock a major landmark on this trail as it’s the tallest mountain on the range between Skinner and the Notch (bear mountain) so when thinking about strategy I was worried about this one on the way back but the view here is spectacular and usually has some good wind hitting it making it ideal for a quick breather. I was feeling so good I didn’t stop here though. Shortly after around mile 3 the elites started passing us on their way back. That’s just absolutely astounding to me to think that they were 6 miles ahead of me and on their way back. The fastest guy finished in 1:49. That's nuts to me.
Over the years when I run I don’t really like headphones in my ears because I like to hear whats around me but I do like a little background music so I tend to just have my phone as a little boom box. You know what genre I’ve never been told to “turn that shit off!”? Electro swing. Bands like Caravan Palace and Parov Stelar, even Artie Shaw is a big hit. So I had that on which probably contributed to my more frolicking and less running style on the first 6 miles out and again not one person said anything negative about the music and actually loved it. Just a hot tip folks.
About every two miles was an aid station and I actually carried to much water and didn’t need it nor did I feel the need to anticipate anything that needed a gel or energy gummy packet. I thanked everyone at the aid stations for taking time out of their lives to help a few crazy people get through a race. As I pass the aid station just before going up Mt. Skinner I got that tummy feeling. You know that tingle? Accompanied by saliva? Ya that tummy feeling. I now know I’m going to vomit, didn’t quite see it coming but didn’t want to display the process in front of everyone so forgive me if this is too much information but I tried a technique where you fill your cheeks and try to pretend your spitting. Failure ensued and I it went everywhere but this was the magical part, I realized everyone around me was a way better person than I because I may have asked the individual (me) if they were ok but not after laughing first. Everyone around patted me on the back and simply said “good work, keep it up”. It’s a simple lesson but I will carry that for the rest of my life.
After that little scenario I felt like a million bucks! I was able to see Rob and Kayla on their way back up Mt. Skinner (yes you have to reach the bottom before turning around) and they looked real strong. This was also the same time I had another realization “runner are amazing at high 5’s”. The half way point was quite the moral booster for everyone and when I put my hand out the absolutely nailed those high 5’s. So many high 5 compliments during this race. I happily reached the half way point, quicker than anticipated (just under 2 hourse), and then the real challenge for me started which is going back. For me when I do endurance type of activities the muscle in my quad called the vastus medialis will start to let me know when you’ve got another few miles left. I anticipated this muscle to start affecting me on Mt. Hitchcock on my way back as like aforementioned it would be in theory the tallest/hardest part of the trip back but I got the tingle from this muscle on my way back up Mt. Skinner. As I traveled on my way up over Mt. Skinner and past the aid stations my muscle progressively got worse and actually both my legs started getting affected by the same muscle and I’ve never felt that on both legs before so that was fun. This condition even got to the point of me probably looking like a penguin waddling down the trail. I eventually got to a great vista that I just took a few minutes to sit and grab some water, this photo is from that spot.
After that my legs felt fine and I was back blazing trail! At this point there were some long faces on some of the runners, I was way ahead of schedule still so I decided to be the moral booster and have a little dance party to take our minds of things. Another good reason to have this Electro Swing genre around. Next you know we are standing on Mt. Hitchcock and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten up that mountain coming back on the Seven Sisters trail that fast in my life. From there for me it’s smooth sailing all the way to the finish line which is exactly what happened and I felt a little bad because I was so in the zone that I accidentally left the folks I was with and finished in just under 4 hours. Don’t get me wrong I talk lightly about the race but it was grueling at the times especially when my legs weren’t cooperating.
In the end I absolutely loved every challenging mile of this course. Some people didn’t finish, some got done all bloody, some finished with sprained ankles, but we all gave it 100% and from what I saw with plenty of smiles too. The only thing left was to bike home which was probably the hardest 5 mile bike ride ever at that point. Total mileage = 22 miles, # of unhappy miles = 0. Big thank you and many blessings to the Seven Sisters Trail Race team for putting together another amazing year, the DCR for taking care of a magical space in the Valley, and of course the many volunteers for without you things wouldn’t got as smooth. Again if you have read this far I love you and apologize for the lengthy blog. Next up is the Burlington, VT marathon! Yes the last photo is my post race pre shower #2 (a moment to reflect) You're welcome 😀.