Monday, June 16, 2008

Race Report: Pittsfield Peaks Ultra-Challenge

Saturday, June 14, 2008
Pittsfield, VT
53 Miles and 14,000+ Feet of Elevation Gain
Toughest 50 in the East
"Patience is also a form of action." ~Auguste Rodin

"All your life you are told the things you cannot do. All your life they will say you're not good enough or strong enough or talented enough; they will say you're the wrong height or the wrong weight or the wrong type to play this or be this or achieve this. THEY WILL TELL YOU NO, a thousand times no, until all the no's become meaningless. All your life they will tell you no, quite firmly and very quickly.... AND YOU WILL TELL THEM YES." ~Nike Ad

The above two quotes I took with me into the task at hand during this weekends Pittsfield Peaks Ultra-Challenge. Too often I am subject to those who tell me I can't... or I won't. Which is funny to me now.. because over the last few years I have learned that there is only ONE person in my life who can tell me what it is that I can't or won't. That person is me. And as I took to the starting line in the humid morning air in the Green Mountain Meadows of Vermont, I looked squarely at my running companions for the day. A nervous Nate Sanel who is ready to test himself to a limit beyond which he has previously achieved. Jeff Waldron, who only days earlier suffered bruising of his chest, ribs and internal organs in an automobile accident where he totaled his car. I know for a fact that if I was in his shoes, there would be NO starting line in Pittsfield.. but Jeff had the guts to toe the line. And Adam Wilcox... Adam ran his first 50K just 3 weeks ago at Pineland Farms. The 50K there was his first ever run over 20 miles... and today he was to take on his first 50 miler and one of the toughest at that. The lessons I learned in this years edition of the peaks race go beyond what I typically learn of myself. I learned lessons of my fellow man. I was humbled, motivated and re-inspired to achieve to be what we are to become. And this is the story...

My goal for the race was to break 14 hours... taking 2 hours off of my 2007 time. My legs are VERY tired. So far this year I have all ready run TWO 100 Mile Endurance Runs. One in April, the other an equal 4 weeks apart in May. This race.. is an equal 4 weeks apart from the last. Not to mention that on the last 2 Saturdays leading into this race, I ran the 25 mile 10 Bears loop on the Vermont 100 Course and ran 31 Miles of THIS very course last Saturday as part of the course marking exercises, where we marked Blood Root... the longest and most remote section. Though I had my time goal, I had no intentions of breaking it. Nate and I did the math and knew we could pump out a comfy 13.5 hours... I had no clue if its possible, I sure hoped it was. What we accomplished instead was a thorough crushing of numbers and a lesson in patience. But its how I got there that is the real story.

Section 1: Miles 0-12 Contest Trail/Colton Camp
The race starts by running uphill and into the lush Green Mountain forest. The first 12 miles is a mix of dirt roads and single track trails around and on the Liberty Hill Rd. area and the Contest Mountain Biking Trail. As we wind our way up one of the first climbs on the contest trail, we are treated to a magnificent view behind us. The view reaches far out to the mountains of Killington an Pico, we can see many of the peaks we'll scale towards the end of today's journey and a small patch of undercast/fog nestled above the sleepy town of Pittsfield. The sun has yet to crest the horizon and the air is thick and humid. We aren't very far into the race and I'm all ready soaking wet. Some folks are bothered by the heat and humidity... I welcome it. I feed off of it, and it energizes me. This is living.. this is summer.

The first section of the race is highlighted by the first steep climb on the course. Just before we head to Upper Michigan we reach the Colton Camp aid station at Mile 7. We then head off into the woods for a brutally and completely unreasonable uphill climb. The climb is so steep you could actually crawl on your hands and knees if need be. Our group took its time climbing the hill as we joyfully watched the other runners coming down. Leigh Schmitt was all ready long gone but we caught the 2nd and 3rd place runners and all of those behind them. Nikki Kimball came bombing down the hill with the hugest smile and yes.. even she was soaking wet. She was having a blast and it was obvious. Brennen Wysong came crashing down as he exclaimed, "This climb... WOW... WOAH!" I laughed with joy knowing how much pride I took in the course's difficulty. Many of the first time runners here were terrified of what was to come thinking that if the entire course was like this, it would certainly be a long day. As we crested the top, we shook hands with the bear wearing a bikini sitting in the chair, turned around and gingerly made our way down hill. Our plan was to be patient on the down hills and save our quads for the many miles and climbs to come. But this hill is so steep, that upon trying to slow ourselves down and stop, we actually did some boot skiiing in the dirt. STEEP STEEP STEEP! We made it back to the Colton Station at Mile 8 and headed off for Upper Michigan

Section 2: Miles 12-18 Hayes Brook

We made our way up the Upper Michigan Road, walking briskly and running when the grade warranted it. The sun was up now and it was all ready getting warm out. I had warned the boys about how easy it is to get caught up in the speed of running the first 12 miles of the course. We all patiently remembered to be patient and hold back and let the miles bring us in to the finish. 12 Miles in and we feel fresh as daisy's, not at all taxed and ready to run. As we hit the aid station, my expert crew chief Sarah had the stop all set up for us. Two Camp Chairs, Nate's Binto Bar on the left, mine on the right and ready to go. Getting in and out of the aid stations QUICKLY is essential in these races... I was a bit frustrated because my running partners were not as swift as I. The quick in and outs is something I have specifically worked on over the last year and I can only hope that as they move forward in their progressions, they work on it as well. Its all about that clock running continuously.. a minute here a minute there.. so important. Sarah made it easy for us to be in and out, we left Jeff behind as we left the station hoping he would catch up with ease.. and he did.

We entered the woods on the Hayes Brook loop and calmly took to the climb. Nate was having quite the time keeping up with us hikers. We took a moment to try and get Nate to follow us with out long stride and calm breathing. Climbing is a GREAT time in ultra's to rest and stretch our your calves. Nate seemed a bit frustrated but he followed suit. Not before long we reached the top of the climb, looped over the top of the loop and began the fast descent back down to the forest service road. On the way down the loop it was very easy to get caught up in running fast once again. Nate showed the most patience here by holding back and taking it easy down the hill while I chased Jeff immaturely towards the end. We collected our group on the road and ran back to Upper Michigan. As we came out and back onto the road, heading towards the aid station, we saw Paul Kearney up ahead. Paul looked back and saw our group, and quickly turned around and picked up his pace. We began talking about what was now inevitable.. Paul was trying to race and he wanted nothing to do with our group... he wanted to beat us. This did not surprise us and it was just a TAD bit disappointing as the same group of us ran last years VT 50 together.. regardless, we chased Paul to the aid station and got to work.

Section 3: Miles 18-37 Blood Root
Once we got back to Upper Michigan we took a little longer to prepare for what lay ahead. Blood Root is the longest and most remote section on the course. We go 19 miles without seeing our crew again. There ae two fully stocked aid stations on the loop and one unmanned water only. It doesn't sound like that big a deal... but the amount of effort you exert between these stations is unreal. We were prepared given the fact that we knew the course. Nate and I changed from our road shoes to our trail shoes. The trail ahead is muddy and wet... and our Brooks Cascadias "drain really well." We both loaded up our Camelbaks with water, gels, S-Caps and other food items before saying our good byes to the crew and heading down the hill.

The first section on Blood Root is a 3-4 mile end around of the Thousand Acre hill stream bed. We stay on snowmobile trails and wind our way up and around the massive hill in the middle of the valley dwarfed by the 3000 foot ridge which is home to Vermont's Long Trail. I had missed this section last year seeing as this is where most of us got lost. This year I was on uncharted territory and was starting to slip into a funk. I've learned over the years to recognize when things are starting to slip and how to make the transition from good to bad back to good as easy and painless as possible. While Adam, Nate and Jeff jogged slightly ahead of me, I slowed down and walked most of the way hoping to catch my breath and re-energize myself. Paul was long gone and Carl Asker had just passed us by. We emerged from the woods and onto another forest road which was starting to bake in the hot sun and humid air. We all stopped to eat gels and fuel up when a female runner came up behind us.. it was Robin Halloran. Robin saw us all standing around and she asked, "What is this, a pow wow?" We finished what we were doing and caught up to her. Nate tried striking up conversation with her and all she could say was, "When do the climbs get tough? What was everyone talking about?" Robin was soaking wet and looking for water... she is from Colorado and not used to New Englands storied humidity.. thanks to various elements, it is unlike anything most people expect.

We passed Robin and scurried ahead making it to the water only aid in the clear. The water jug was almost empty so I refilled it with the jug of water sitting beside it. Jeff was out of water and the rest of us were getting low. We re-applied bug dope, fueled up again and took off walking up the trail. The climb was about the start.. and we were ready to take it on. Robin left us at the aid and headed uphill on the monster climb.. we'd lose sight of her in a hurry. We again, patiently, took our time climbing as our group strung out a bit. Nate in the lead followed by Jeff, Adam and myself. There was little talking.. just working. Working to scale this climb to the highest point of the course at 3,440' above sea level. As we neared the top, we ran into a blonde woman really struggling to make it. She stopped to let us pass and enjoyed a breather of her own. As we continued on, each corner we went around revealed yet another climb.. Adam asked, "Does it end?" It did, and at the top was a fully stocked aid station thanks to Dot and the Bordens.

We took a few minutes to collect ourselves and eat some more before slowly and patiently heading down the other side of the mountain. From here it is nearly straight down a mile or two the the valley on the other side, before we turn and traverse the mountain side. As we head down hill, we run a little, stop, rest, walk a little then run... repeat. We take our time. Up ahead we see Joe Desena and his young son jack on his back. Joe picked up an Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker on his way over. The young man had hiked here from Georgia and he was now magically a race volunteer having the time of his life. God I love this sport. As we reach the bottom of the hill, we pass a young runner who obviously looks like a seasoned tri-athlete. We wish him well and head on our way.

At the first mud pit I came to, I stopped and took a huge handful of mud and smeared it all over my legs from the knees down. My plan was to use this mud as protection from the stinging nettle which really bothers me. It also kept the bugs from biting me. I was amazed at how well this plan worked, no matter how ridiculous I looked. Some of the boys followed suit later down the trail. Our loud and whopping group grew quitter on this side of the mountain, well aware the it was now time to run. Not too fast, and just easy enough to cover some ground... patiently... and work our way around the loop. Temps now rose into the mid to upper 80's. Humidity was into the 90's and it was uncomfortable. We were all pretty soaked with sweat. Sticky and smelly. We stopped at a few streams to douse our hats in the cold mountain water to help maintain our body temps at cool. This race is a thinking mans race, where you must use the earth and it elements to your advantage. Mud to ward off nettle and bugs. Streams to cool you down and lush forest to offer shade. Everything was coming together and it showed.

As we wound our way around some old logged areas, we fell into a groove and began to chomp up more runners. We passed Ri Fahnestock, Carl Asker.. we caught one other runner once we hit the dirt road and we continued to methodically log miles. As we reached the Chittenden Aid Station, we saw a few more runners in the aid, with one sitting in a chair catching a rest. We drank water, refueled, smiled for pictures and got ready to push on back up and over the long trail. The loop is far from over at this point but you can feel the end reeling you in. We thanked the volunteers and continued on.

We continued to feed off of each others energy. Like a flock of geese, the stronger runner lead the way.. kind of as a pacer.. and the rest of us followed. When one got tired of leading, he'd drop back and someone else would take over. We stopped very seldom and only walked if we needed to. On the first climb back up and over we once again ran into Robin. She was bent over, seemingly having some kind of foot trouble. She was soaking wet and mentioned the over bearing humidity. We began the long slow climb back up to the Long Trail, we took the ridge, over the top and began the first part of a long decent. We ran down and around on more rugged snowmobile trails. The running here is quick and we tried once more to conserve our quads for the many climbs yet to come. After some long downhills, we climbed over a secondary ridge and then began the very long ear popping decent back to the Tweed River Valley and Pittsfield. Near the bottom of the long never ending descent, we caught up with Paul (finally). He looked to be in rough shape with a glazed over look in his eyes. He was carrying a walkie talkie he found on the course. I asked if he was ok and he told me he was bonking. I asked if I could help and all he asked for was calories. Paul was indeed racing us today, and it was pretty obvious. Most times I would think twice about offering such help to a runner so obviously trying to stay ahead of me.. but Paul is such a good friend and has help me in many invaluable ways over the last few months. I reached into my pack and gave him my last gel and granola bar. We took off ahead of him.

At the bottom of the valley, Jeff and Nate went ahead while Adam and I stopped in the river to was the mud from our legs. The water is freezing yet refreshing. As we crouched down to the water Adam confessed that, "I'm going to be very slow finishing this thing.. leave me if you want." I quickly stood up and told him it was time to get to the aid station.. Adam was starting to bonk. Back at Upper Michigan, We all sat down and cared for our feet. Adam popped his blisters and taped his feet before putting on dry shoes. Nate and I changed socks and put our road shoes back on. Paul came in and immediately left... and Jeff... I have no idea what Jeff did. I took off my camelbak and put my Nathan waist pack on for ease. I knew some of the climbs yet to come might need use of hands, so I opted to have them free to use. We gathered the gang back up and by now we had been nick named by some of our fellow runners, "The Train." The train was leaving the station.. and we all were once again all aboard.

Section 4: Miles 37-45 Hedgehog
Leaving Upper Michigan for the final time, we ran down the dirt roads to the Lower Michigan Road. We caught up to a runner from Connecticut along the way and he asked if he could join us for as long as he could. We welcomed his company if he could put up with our flair as we made our way to the back yard of course designer Jason Hayden. We stopped to douse our heads with some of the warm water left out in cups on his picnic table. The sun was really blazing in the valley. A far cry from the "cooler" mountain air we had most of the day thus far. And then we went to the woods and looked... UP. A few quick switchbacks and one even joke of a hill. We went straight up behind Jason's house on the side of Hedgehog Mountain. As we made our way up, we watched as the skies darkened, the leaves rustled a bit and numerous rumbles of thunder surrounded the area. Getting soaked would have felt great at this point, but I knew it would be bad news if it did. The course would have turned into an instant mud pit. After a long arduous energy sucking climb (we lost our friend from CT), the trail turned and we ran right back down hill. It almost seemed pointless..

Once we hit the road we looked ahead and saw Steve Pero walking a bit. Steve is NOT a heat and humidity fan and the weather was taking its toll on him. He was a bit grumpy and in need of a cold soaking in the river, but it was too far off course for him to wander over. We left Steve behind as he told us Paul was just ahead. As we ran down the road and got a glance at Joe's and Fusters, we watched with jaws wide open as lightning bolts jutted down onto the top of where we were to run next. Just before the end of the road, we took a right and headed back up and over Hedgehog though the climb was much gentler. We came out in someones yard and ran down the driveway, crossed route 100 and there... was Paul. Paul was walking briskly up-hill and he once again turned and saw us. He turned around, put his head down and started running. I mentioned to Jeff how we were walking as quickly uphill as Paul was running.. and knowing he wanted to beat us, I hoped he'd have some energy left.

A car came down the road and it was Jenn Held. Jenn is a race volunteer. She had her window rolled down and she said, "Only 6 miles left." I hate hearing this in a race... so did Nate.. so did Jeff.. but I know she was only trying to encourage us. Either way, we began to argue and debate if it was 6 or 9 miles left in the course. While we drank in the aid station run by Long Trail Brewmaster Matt Quinlin, Paul had once again taken off out of sight and Steve Pero caught back up. I tried to hurry us out as we were taking too much time in the station. I know we weren't "racing" and simply using this as a training run.. but we NEED to train to be quick. I was getting frustrated, and maybe a little tired... and finally we pushed on. Adam looked like life had been sucked out of him. As we started the climb up Joe's... Jeff took off, Nate followed closely. I hiked with Steve Pero for a bit and Adam... Adam fell out of sight. Steve stopped to sit on the trail and take a breather.. where I guess he puked under the skeleton hanging in a tree. I caught up to Nate as we decided to leave Adam behind. We tried to catch Jeff and finally did so on the summit of Joes. While there we took a little water and enjoyed the view of everything we just ran. I pointed out the Contest trail, some of the meadows we ran through. Upper Michigan, Blood Root and the Long Trail. Hedgehog, we were on Joes.. and Fusters HELL is to our right. We decide to move on without much fan-fare... and get this damn thing over with.

Section 5: Miles 45-53 Hell
Last years race was different. Riverside Farm was an aid station with 2 out and backs. One was out and back to Sable mountain with a bushwhack, followed by an up and down of Joe's. Due to new landowners, we had to change the course and we added Fuster's.. aka.. The NEW HELL SECTION. I haven't seen it yet but I heard it was steep. We made our way down Joe's and ran across the bottom towards Fusters. As we reached the trail we began to climb a mellow and peaceful trail. Nate, Jeff and I agreed that it wasn't too bad.. and then it happened...

We turned a corner and holy s! The damn trail went straight up. As we climbed arduously to the crest... we realized there was no crest.. it went straight up again. Every-time the trail DID crest, we'd have to turn and climb some more. About half way through this hellacious section, an arrow finally led us downhill. We picked up speed with excitement only to have our hearts ripped out and stomped on... the next arrow pointed back up and the trail was steeper still. It was so steep that we could see the marks of an ATV that slid down backwards after being unable to make it up. We climbed and climbed some more before FINALLY we got a break. The trail swung left and we headed down to the river. We crossed the snow-mo bridge and saw Drew sitting on his ATV. We said hello and headed up through the field. I was beat. My legs screamed and Jeff and Nate picked up the pace. I instantly grew frustrated and wanted to walk.. but I said "screw it!" and kicked in. We ran through the freshly mowed grass and around the bend and there it was... the Barn!

Our crew gleefully yelled as the three of us ran through the grass... still ever so patiently, racing no body, not even ourselves to the finish. We never did catch Paul again though "The Train" did manage to pass 9 runners in the last 20 miles of the race. We ran up onto Route 100...

..and into the barn where we received our hammers. High fives all around. Jeff, Nate and I.. as well as RD Andy Weinberg. Nate gave me a hug as we congratulated each other on a mission accomplished. We got in a great training run for the VT100 with time on our feet. We broke 14 Hours.. and finished in 20th, 21st and 22nd place with a time of 12:20. I shattered my previous course time by 3 Hours and 42 Minutes. I was even more proud of Jeff Waldron who came out and ran one hell of a race after having been injured in a car accident earlier in the week. Nate sucked up his nerves and ran one hell of a run on terrain he is not accustomed to (mountains) and finally... just 30 minutes later.. Adam came through to finish his first 50 miler in a showing of more guts and determination than I had seen in quite some time. Through the perseverance and inspiration of my running companions in "The Train," my love of running and for the good natured-ness of Ultra-Running was reaffirmed in my soul. What a hell of a race!

My photos can be seen HERE

Steve Pero has photos HERE

A great article in the Rutland Herald
We argue if the course was indeed easier this year causing an increase in number of finishers and quicker finishing times. We attribute the above due to no one getting lost on the course and better weather. It was 10 degrees hotter last year. Though the course of different it is equally as tough as last years course. We will still be adding a mile or more to the HELL Section with more climbing for next years edition.

Next year we will also be adding a 50K option for those looking to still enjoy the same awesome wild course in Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest.

Special thanks to all of our volunteers who made this race happen. We truly appreciate your help!

Peaks Ultra
June 14, 2008

1. Leigh Schmitt 8:29
2. Tom Page 9:11
3. Brian Rusiecki 9:18
4. Nikki Kimball 9:37
5. Bob Mathes 10:06
6. Courtenay Geurtin 10:07
7. Brennen Wysong 10:18
8. Deb Livingston 10:38
9. Dana Royer 10:53
10. Hieu Nguyen 10:55
11. Joe Holland 11:00
12. Murray Resinski 11:08
13. Albert Laporte 11:11
14. Brenda Phillips 11:33
15. Jeff List 11:55
16. Todd Archambault 11:57
17. Carsten Quell 12:01
18. Paul Kearney 12:05
19. Sherpa John 12:20
19. Jeff Waldron 12:20
19. Nate Sanel 12:20
22. Doug Newton 12:24
23. Adam Wilcox 12:50
24. Steve Pero 12:54
25. Tim Peek 13:03
26. John Izzo 13:11
27. Steve Generaeux 13:13
28. Robin Halloran 13:15
29. Deb Pero 13:18
30. Scott Deslongchamps 13:19
31. Cory Delavalle 13:21
32. Pat Singh 13:25
33. Maya Ginns 13:34
34. Carl Asker 13:42
35. Tim Reif 13:49
36. Reeder Fahnestock 13:54
37. Ray Zirblis 13:58
38. Kristen Evan 14:02
39. Diedre Hopkins 14:09
39. Pete Preston 14:09
41. Eric Skocaj 14:15
42. Elaine Ramano 14:25
42. Don Ramano 14:25
42. Devin Krevetski 14:25
45. Julie Caswell 14:31
46. Dan Myers 14:40
47. Josh Robert 15:08
47. Rik Robert 15:08
49. David Solomon 15:24
50. Sam Whitaker 15:42
51. Dot Helling 16:19
51. Deb Tirrito 16:19
51. Victor Tirrito 16:19
54. Ali Ashtari 17:07
55. Ciprian Nedelcu 17:07
56. Randy Witlicki 17:09
57. Eric Mandela 17:12

1. Team Held 10:04
2. Team Genereaux A 10:38
3. Team Genereaux B 11:26
4. Team Romeo 13:05