Let me just start this by saying that I think this may have been one of the hardest races I’ve ever had the pleasure of participating in. I use the word pleasure not in an ironic/sarcastic manner but in a truthful way. I don’t seek out races advertised as “flat and fast.” To me that is synonymous with “easy and boring.” I like a little adventure and I like to work hard. Not yet ready to sign up for a race with 7000 feet of vertical gain but maybe one day…..
That being said; holy wow was that tough! I have never run on any portion of this particular trail so I can’t quite comment on what it would be like in other conditions, but the course could be described with a few words: mud, slush, and freezing water. It was sloppy and un runnable in many places.
Parking and packet pick up was a breeze; I was parked and had my bib in less than 5 minutes. I arrived about 30 minutes prior to start time and stood around the cabin/aid station catching up with friends, discussing course conditions with the 100k’ers who were just finishing their first loop, and trying to stay warm near the fire. Race Director Roy gave us his usual pre race directives consisting of these key points: don’t pee in the woods, never ever under any circumstance litter, and don’t follow the runner in front of you. With about one minute to go, we walked outside and waited for Roy to say “go.” Side note-I love how little fanfare there is to trail races. You just start running and that’s kind of the end of it.
Within about 100 feet, we headed into the woods. It was a nice long downhill but I immediately knew it was going to be a long day-the trail was covered in snow turned to slush which in turn made for a very muddy mess. There were a few occasion where the mixture of a steep downhill coupled with mud made for some scary slippery descents. When mile 1 clocked in at 14 and change, I mentally knew we were in for a long day and adjusted my plan. I paired up immediately with my friend Candice and we ended up staying together for the entire race. We navigated the terrain together which made for a really fun experience and helped cope with the slow miles. We occasionally bumped into other runners including a few young women who were running on this incredibly challenging terrain for their first ever trail run-not race, actual first trail run!
Check out this mud
The course wound its way through the 90 acre Hinkley Reservation. 90% of the course was on trail with just a few short road sections. There were a few challenging grassy sections, made even tougher with the incredible amount of melted snow that had accumulated. I believe there were 4 or 5 total stream crossings and again because of the snow melt, they were running pretty high which meant some knee deep water crossings. At the first water crossing, I didn’t even attempt to circumnavigate the deep spots-I accepted that I was going to eventually be wet, might as well get it over with and go straight through.
At about mile 7, we entered into the Hinkley Lake area and ran a loop around the lake which was just gorgeous with the fog and mist that dominated the weather of the day. I wish I had taken some more pictures!
Shortly after leaving the lake, we entered into Whipps Ledges which was just a breathtaking section that led us through some really tough trail with the million year old ledges as the backdrop. This terrain was really unforgiving but I felt comfortable slowly running and walking through it given all of the time I’ve spent in the CVNP Ledges. What I wasn’t prepared for was the climb up we had to make. Fortunately we safely made our way through and headed out of the ledges and back to the muddy singletrack.
We hit the last Aid Station with about 2.5 miles to go. I grabbed one last snack of a chocolate muffin and grilled cheese and headed out for the last little bit. At this point, I was ready to be done. Wet feet for so many hours can get a bit old and I was more than ready for some dry socks! Candice and I made are way slowly back to the finish line and kept our minds occupied with conversation, jokes and (false) promises that we would never do this again. Slowly the finish line came in to view, and it was over. Waiting at the finish line were friends who had already completed the race and some who had wisely chosen to run at home that day! 4 hours of soaking wet feet and shoe sucking mud! I finished over an hour slower than anticipated but that seemed to be the norm for the day.
Delicious aid station trail mix. Not pictured is the cup of coke, muffin, peanut butter and jelly and grilled cheese I consumed along the way.
I’m happy with the outcome given the conditions. I absolutely feel as if I ran a marathon-my glutes still ache two days later! The effort required was considerable. I initially planned to run 7 or 8 miles beforehand to increase my total mileage for the day, however I changed my mind at the last minute which worked out for the best; I’m not sure how I would have fared had I started with already tired legs.
So will I run this race again? After 24 hours of saying no never, I back in the yes, definitely category. I loved this trail and the organizers as usual did such an amazing job. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the volunteers-world class aid stations, delicious grilled cheese, homemade muffins, organized packet pickup, consistent course markings. The volunteers are truly selfless individuals and this day could not have happened without them!