Race Report: The Pisgah Mountain Trail 50k

Sorry for the late turn-around here, this race was over a month ago, and well, you know- I’ve had a few things going on. Like getting a Jack Daniels’ VDOT O2 coaching certification (that test was hard!) and simultaneously trying to get my coaching business off the ground.

I also went back an re-read (as well as took pages of notes on) all my old training manuals, like “Running With Lydiard” by the late great Arthur Lydiard, “Run Faster” by Brad Hudson, “Advanced Marathoning” by Pete Pfitzinger, as well as reading the new book from Jason Koop, “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning”. My head is full of running knowledge, hopefully I can convert that over to running wisdom.

Okay, so I’m a New Englander now (or is it Yankee?). I think you’re officially moved to a new area when 1) all of your spices are unpacked, sorted and arranged (makes your meals awesome), 2) you know some sweet shortcuts to and from the closest Trader Joe’s and 3) you run a race in your new locale.

The Pisgah Mountain Trail Runs 50k would be my entrance into the New England ultra scene if there is one- spoiler: okay, I checked and there is one!

So we stayed at my wife’s parent’s house in Greenfield, MA on Saturday night which was only about 30 mins from the start in New Hampshire. I woke up a half hour earlier than intended due to my 11-month old waking up looking to party at 5:45 am, fun times. Had a big (read: calorically dense) liquid breakfast (twelve ounces of coffee with eight ounces of heavy whipping cream, two tablespoons of grass-fed butter and two tablespoons of coconut oil, blended to perfection). Drank a lot of water, too, maybe 40 ounces before start of race because it was going to be humid AF.

I left the house at 7:30, thinking I’ll get there around 8-8:15 (late start for an ultra, 8:45? And on a Sunday taboot!) but alas, I got ridiculously lost! Google Maps user error: since Pisgah State Park is located in both Winchester AND Chesterfield, I stupidly typed in “535 Old Chesterfield Rd. Winchester NH” and it of course, needed to be Chesterfield.

Yes, there’s two different Old Chesterfield Roads, one in each town, that are not connected. One is dirt and one is paved. I ended up on the dirt road, with the nagging suspicion that I am not where I’m supposed to be, driving deeper and deeper into the woods.

After getting righted around and speeding my ass off on beautiful and winding country roads (hey, a covered bridge!) I made it to the parking area at 8:41. Four minutes to get my shoes and socks on, get lubed up, go get my bib at check in and go.

I was coming out of the elementary school’s gym right as I heard “GO!” so I quickly ran towards the start line, my GPS watch finding the signal as I’m hitting “start” on my watch right as I cross the start line, way at the end of the pack (30 seconds behind the last runners). I mean, I’ve cut it really close by getting to Lake Chabot maybe 10 minutes before a race like the Skyline 50k but this was the first time I’ve ever actually missed the start of a race. Luck favors the prepared, so if I was short on luck today I had no one but myself to blame.

As I’m running to catch up I’m simultaneously biting the strap of my (empty) handheld water bottle to free up my hands, while one hand is trying to stuff gels into my shorts pockets (I ended up dropping the cucumber mint one, d’oh!), while holding four safety pins and my bib in the other hand. Fucking epic way to start a race. Also I should mention that huge storms came through during the night and it was gently misting on and off all morning, so the course (and my feet) were gonna be nice and wet.

Anyway, this first section is on a paved road so I kept it around 8-8:30 pace and managed to pass as many people as I could, I figured I wanted to be somewhere around 10th place by mile 5 if I wanted to hit my A goal, which was sub-5 hours and a top 10; the B goal was sub-5:30 and top 20 and of course that C goal is always just to finish (sans injury)!

I was treating this race as a warm-up to the second season of ’16, kind of a long fitness test to see what I needed to work on. This was basically a C race for me, so I knew I wasn’t in top shape from a six week long training layover after the Bighorn 100.

Anyway, back to the actual race- I had been holding in a pee all this time, too- so soon as I saw a huge tree about 10 minutes in I stopped, hid behind it and let ‘er rip. It was one of those long-ass pisses, took almost a minute.

I had to stop looking over my shoulder at all the people passing me here, I figured most of them were doing the 23k and that I had to run my own race, I wasn’t going to get sucked into that whole “this person can’t pass me “ ego-driven shit that I am wont to do in races. No, save that for the goal race in November.

I kept telling myself to take it easy, hit the halfway mark at fifteen miles then start to race, just fall into an easy rhythm somewhere around 9 to 10 min/mile pace and just churn it out. Power hike the ups really hard, run the downs well. It was intermittently raining hard/soft for the first maybe 2 hours so that made things interesting.

I settled into a pack with a woman named Kristen and a dude named Clark, we chatted about races we had planned on and the Northeast ultra scene (there is one, just gotta poke around!). I took a hilarious fall on one of the slick bridges over a creek and landed on my back on the softest bed of pine needles ever. Felt so nice I didn’t want to get up.

Pretty uneventful for the next ten miles, started to feel sort of shitty around miles 13-14 and that rough spot would continue for over an hour until mile 20. Those first two hours I had been fueling steadily, had about 250 calories of Tailwind, drank 1-2 little cups of Coke at every aid station and probably 2-3 gels so it wasn’t an energy issue, I think it was a “I didn’t taper for this so my legs are literally full of crud”.

I did do some hard runs the week of the race, so I expected my legs to be gassed, just figured it was going to come after mile 24 or so. I think the breakfast I ate (drank) should’ve been supplemented with something solid, like oatmeal or a pop tart. That “bulletproof coffee” was the same thing I had before Canyons 100k, but that race demanded a totally different effort than this one- I came through the first half in just under 7 hours and this race I was targeting somewhere around 5 hours. Different efforts demand different fuel sources- in hindsight I should’ve gotten in more carbs today before running. See- I’m still learning!

I got to the aid station at mile 20- this is what finally got me going: a cup of orange Gatorade (the worst flavor in my not so humble opinion), a cup of Coke and some weird blue Gatorade- looked like windshield wiper fluid and tasted like alcohol-free mouthwash, probably called like POLAR FREEZE or some shit like that, just really very yucky stuff.

But it got me going. Put some headphones on and churned out the five mile “Kilburn Loop” passing a few runners that were starting to succumb to the mileage. Then getting back to that same aid station and starting up the last big climb(s), a series of relentless rollers for the next 3 miles. Papercuts, baby. I passed a few more runners here, just grinding along.

Finally I crested the top and knew from studying the course map that I had a pretty decent downhill then flat road section to the finish. I was pretty deep in the pain cave right about now, not having done anything longer than an 8-hour day in the San Juans in July while Hardrock spectating.

So there’s a water only stop about two miles from the finish and as I’m filling up my empty bottle for a few sips to bring me in I look up the trail and see a yellow shirt coming down, maybe 200 meters behind me.

Dammit. I don’t want to race but I don’t want to get passed here. I really kind of hate being hunted but it sure lights a fire under my ass. So, of course, I raced to the finish. Me and that guy high five at the finish line, he was like “I just couldn’t close the gap” and I thanked him for forcing me to finish strong. I seriously would’ve dawdled to the finish if he didn’t nip at my heels.

All in all, it was a fantastic race- the course marking was excellent, the post-race burgers and soup were delicious, I stuck around for a couple hours just to introduce myself to local runners, watch people finish, find out about some fun races, all that.

Viva New England trail ultras!

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