Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pisgah 50K

I love this race. The Pisgah Mountain Trail 50K was my first ultra back in 2007 and I've run it twice since. It's a quiet little race up in Chesterfield, NH, just across the Connecticut River from Brattleboro, VT. The course is soft and pine-needly through a primordial enchanted forest, mostly runnable, and the hills (at least as I remembered them) are friendly -- just long and steep enough to keep you heartbeat jumping along.


Wrong wrong wrong.

My darling husband Brian decided to race the Pisgah 23K this year, so I had good company for the drive. We left the kids with Grandma and drove up early. It was nice to spend a couple of hours chatting with Brian in the car. It's rare.

He and I were standing in the little crowd at the starting line toward the end of the inaudible Pre-race Meeting ("Bees?! Did he say something about BEES??!"), when Brian decided he wanted to run with his headphones. He was sprinting back across the parking lot from the car as the starting gun went off. I of course was left standing there like a dope in the dust holding his water bottle and his Yummy Chews as all the runners took off up the first big hill.

Brian loves video. He took this little video of us hoofing it up the hill, threading our way through the back of the back. He's all excited to be racing. I'm a little concerned about our DFL situation. We probably shouldn't be running so fast up this hill.

At the top of the hill, about a mile and a half into the race, our paths diverged: 23K went right, 50K went left. Kiss kiss and goodbye.

My plan was to settle into this race slowly, run my own pace and enjoy the solitude. But that near sprint up the first hill kind of set the tone for the first half of the race. (You see where this is going.) I quickly found myself in a little pack of four, two guys and two girls, all very chatty and kind. So I pushed the pace to stay with this group, hoping they would carry me through at least until the Kilbourne Loop at mile 19.

The four of us talked about races, about training, and ultimately about parenting (it always comes back to that). The other woman, Sarah, is mother to a 2 1/2 year old boy and an 8 month old daughter. Woo boy, I told her, it does get easier. I sometimes miss my babies (what happened to those doughy, amiable little creatures?), but I am much better suited to parenting older kids. Chatting with Sarah brought it all back.

So the four of us more or less hung together through the first two aid stations. I could tell it wasn't going to be my day. I didn't feel terrible, just kind of weak. My legs didn't have the pep they usually do and I couldn't seem to catch my breath on the uphills. I have been struggling to keeping my iron up lately, and on this particular day it felt low. Also, I had spent the week before the race moving and stacking three cords of wood. I think that heroic effort may have taken the oomph out of my hamstrings and quads.

Somewhere in this section Sarah was running a little ahead of the rest of us. All of a sudden we saw her jump up in the air and take off like a shot. "BEES!!" That was the last I heard or saw of Sarah for the rest of the day. The bees must have fueled her to the finish, because I see from the results she finished twenty minutes ahead of me.

After the second (third?) aid station, roughly half way through the race, the course starts to climb. This is the part I had forgotten in the two years since I last ran this race. The course climbs Mt. Pisgah. Up and Up and UP. The trail is all beautiful single track. The weather was picture perfect sunny and 60 degrees. The course was dry for the first time in recent memory (every other time I've run this race it has been raining). I should have been flying. But I wasn't. I was slugging up the side of the mountain, barely holding my head up, barely keeping my Honey Stingers down.

It was going to be a long day.

The second half of the race turned out to be a survival fest. I would feel okay for a while, think to myself, Phew! I'm out of the woods (so to speak), only to turn a bend or hit a hill and have my whole body come crashing in on me again.

It never got bad enough to stop. Just when I thought I'd have to lie down and the trail and wait for the helicopter, something would happen (a soft downhill, a sugar rush, even a little sunbeam shining through the trees), and I'd pull it together enough to keep going.

The Killbourne Loop came and went in a haze. The first two miles were on a fire road heading ever so gradually downhill. So gradually, in fact, that I was shocked and dismayed by the continuous uphill around the other side. Three miles of singletrack: up, plateau, up, plateau, repeat in infinitum.

The last six miles went a bit better. I trotted, I slogged, I walked, trotted again, heaved and ho'd and la dee dah'd my way back to the finish line. With a couple of miles to go I (literally) ran into my friend Will bent over by the side of the trail massaging his calf. He was cramping. I was tired. I was happy to bend over with him for a few moments of blissful stasis.

Will and I leapfrogged each other through the last trail section, then once we got to the road home, Will took off. I could see him way ahead of me, but gave up any notion of catching him.

Brian and Will were waiting at the finish line. It's always nice to have people waiting at the finish line. (Though, to my shame, I ran right past Brian. I didn't recognize him in his weird black sweatpants/black tee-shirt/black hat get-up. I thought he was a random ninja.)

Brian snapped my photo, we collected a lovely bag of apples, and drove home.

For most of the way home we talked about money. Brian is a high school physics teacher/unpaid robotics coach. I am a sometimes-employed (though not at the moment) freelance writer/unpaid assistant swim coach/unpaid home schooling parent.

How are we going to pay for college?

They'll all get full scholarships, Brian confidently informs me.

For what?

For wonderfulness.

Oh, right. Of course....


  1. Too bad you were so disappointed with your run, but rejoice in the fact that you got to enjoy the woods and your husband (for a bit). Fall is coming and it should make for some great runs in the woods. I might be able to join you in 6 weeks or so.

  2. Exactly, Bob. It was a lovely day in the woods, and really that's all that matters. We'll have to get back on the blue trail this winter.

  3. I would love to be the one in charge of awarding the wonderfulness scholarships! (As long as I had an unlimited supply to give out!)

    I love that finishing picture. Makes it look like is was a perfect day! :) Good for you though for pushing through some rough spots. All a part of racing.

  4. Gretchen, I know! Everybody should get a full wonderfulness scholarship for something at some point in life. Best if totally unexpected! Let's start a fund....

  5. That's one race I've always wanted to run but never been able to get there for one reason or another. Maybe next year?

  6. You'd like it I think, Dan. Fairly mellow, beautiful trail, varied terrain, almost all single track. It's a nice little race.

  7. Ah, I miss those trails :-(

    Nice run, Pam!

  8. Steve, as I saw Mt. Monadnock rising off in the distance I sent a little shout out to you and Deb. The mtn misses you, too....

  9. Nice work, Pam. This has been a race I have been hoping to get to for years now. Also, it was awesome meeting you this past weekend at TARC Fall, and sharing a few miles. I didn't know we actually had a blogger mob going on out there with you, me, Dan, and Emily. 24 days to Stone Cat! Yikes!

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