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2021 Traprock 50K

New England trail running came back in a big way today with the Traprock 50K at Penwood State Park. COVID-19 rules were in place and the start list was mostly Connecticut residents with a few Massachusetts and Rhode Island folks mixed in for good measure. Maybe there was someone from New York too.

Most of the runners were on deferred entry from the cancelled 2020 edition. Also, the 17K is being run separately tomorrow. We had wave starts in small groups starting at 7:00 A.M. The race directors and volunteers did a fabulous job with this whole modified affair.

It was awesome to pin on a bib number and run hard. I’m not exactly sure how many starters there were, but as of this post, there were 108 finishers. The fastest time was set by race winner Dan Grip. He was followed by Justin Kousky and Byron Critchfield. The fastest female was Rachael Whitbeck. Notably, she was 7th overall. She was followed by Debbie and then Liz Allen.

After two days of heavy rain and wet snow, we were worried about the trail conditions. Thankfully, much of the course is on the spine of a traprock ridge (Metacomet Trail) so it drains well. There were a lot of soft spots and some mud and standing water in the hollows and other low lying areas. You could skirt it if you wanted to. Some of the stream crossings required rock and log hopping if you wanted to keep your feet somewhat dry.

The weather was good. It was in the high 30’s (Fahrenheit) when we started in the first wave, but warmed up to the high 40’s by late morning. It was overcast and grey most of the time. There were a few moments when the sun broke through the clouds, but they were rare. There was a light breeze and it was definitely cooler on the eastern side of the ridge.

Traprock is run in a narrow envelope. This year, they change the course so that there were no overlapping sections, no out and back, and for the first time ever it was a complete loop. There were points where you could see runners heading back towards the start/finish on the other side of the course because it was so narrow and in a few places, the trails nearly touched. It is worth noting that the course was very well marked. I had loaded the course .gpx file on my Garmin Fenix, but only had to refer to it a few times to reinforce that I had made the right turn. Along with the rocks and roots, there were many turns. Thankfully, I had ZERO falls. There were a few close calls, but I stayed on my feet!

I liked this year’s course. I much preferred the last mile compared with previous years when you finished on the rocky and steep descent of the Metacomet. As noted, the volunteers were awesome, even though I didn’t need much from them. There was one aid station that was at a point on the course where they could serve both outbound and inbound runners as both sides of the course went by this point. I stopped exactly once to fill a water bottle on the last lap. Other than that brief interlude, I used some food and hydration that I stashed at the start/finish and carried everything else.

Once again, I used my UltrAspire Momentum vest. I ate 2.5 Go Macro bars, ingested one Untapped maple syrup packet and used their Mapleaid powdered drink in a flask. I could have used some salt capsule but we were all out. On lap three, I was cramping badly in both calves.

After the race, I had to sit for 45 minutes and work the cramps out of my legs. Every time I tried to untie my laces, my legs (adductors and calves) were pulsating violently. Each runner was given a designated “stall” to set up their own mini aid station. Mine was next to Brian Vanderheiden. He only finished two minutes behind me, so we were hanging out after the race. He loaned me his Hypervolt percussive massage device with me and it worked wonders. after about 10 minutes I was able to get my shoes and socks off, but it wasn’t easy. He even helped me gather some stray items that had rolled away from me, saving me the agony of getting up. Brian gets the hero of the day award. I’m going to have to invest in one of those percussive devices. It really worked!

Liz Allen was sitting on the other side of me. After she and Debbie finished, we had some good laughs.

I didn’t have as strong a race as I wanted, but I’m still happy with the outcome. I just wish that my legs didn’t hurt so bad in the second half. I slowed considerably after going out a bit two hard on the first of three 10.5 mile loops. There were moments during the race, especially early on, where I didn’t see another runner for more than an hour. I was lonely, so it was nice when I started to lap the runners who had started in waves up to 90 minutes after us.

Our kids spent the day with my parents. Their help is appreciated. So, we had a little extra time after the race. We went to Flora in West Hartford for the first time in a very long time. It was fantastic.

The best part of the race was seeing the other runners. There were no spectators allowed, which was sad, but seeing real runners at a race was very cool. Every time I finish Traprock (this was my fourth finish in five tries and it was Debbie’s sixth finish), I swear I will never do it again. I’m swearing this time too, but I doubt I stick to my plan.

Race Results

2019 Traprock 50K+ (and 17K)

I returned to run the Traprock 50K for the first time in five years. I did the race in 2011, 2013, and 2014. Debbie has done the race many more times. Today, we both ran, and ran together. Shepard also completed his first ever 10+ mile trail race–he did the one lap 17K.

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This was my first ultra since breaking my leg in January 2018, so it was  a real test. My last ultra was in April 2017 at the Promiseland 50K++. This + and ++ thing is worth noting. At Promiseland, the distance was definitely more than 50K. At Traprock, the revised course (my first time doing this tougher loop) is longer than 17K. Also today, I made a wrong turn on the first lap that added some mileage to my day.

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At the time of my error, I was in front of Debbie, but I ended up behind her, and it took two hours to catch up with her. Once I did, we stuck together as we were fairly evenly matched. I was stronger on the climbs, and she was much stronger on the descents. That gave her the advantage because the finish of the loop is a wicked rocky and rooted descent. She scorched it and I was a half a minute back. We finished in just over 6 hours and 35 minutes. She was 2nd placed woman and she joked that she was the first “old woman.” This is her 20th year of ultramarathon trail running.

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My best time on the shorter/easier version of the Traprock course is under five hours, but that was years ago at the tail end of my 30’s. I’m definitely a master runner now and I lack the endurance (and flexibility) to run these distances as fast as I used to. It hurts (my legs) too much.

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We were really proud of Shepard. Both Debbie and I got to see him on his run. He finished in a little more than two hours for the one loop and was happy. He had a young running companion and they stuck together. Dahlia hung out at the aid station. She is an old pro at crewing and apparently she had a lot of “sweets” because when we finished, one of the other aid station captains took pleasure in “snitching” on her. It was all good fun.

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My GPS had more than 6,300 feet of elevation gain. The trail was a real mix. Some sections were dry. Other sections were absolute quagmires. The mud bogs were intense because we had heavy rain overnight. It was still drizzling when we arrived at Penwood State Park around 7:30 A.M., but by the start an hour later, it was just misting. It remained overcast for the first four hours or so, but then the sun came out and it really warmed up (for April). I actually got a little sun.

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The heat took its toll on the runners as there were quite a few DNF’s. I had my moments where I thought, “Uh oh,” and was worried about not finishing too, but I persevered and got it done. My fastest lap was the second lap because I was running hard to make up the 10-15 minutes that I lost with the wrong turn. It was my error. I totally missed an arrow. pointing right. The course has several overlapping sections and it is narrow so you are often on a parallel trail. I saw yellow flags and followed them, but after three-quarters of a mile I hadn’t seen anyone in front or behind. I ended up on the return direction of the trail. I turned back and collected three other runners about five minutes later. They had also missed the turn, but they insisted the were going the right way, and I couldn’t convince them otherwise. I heard they may not have turned around until they reached the next aid station. For laps two and three, there was a course marshal at that spot, but no one was there on lap one and it cost me!

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That’s not a knock. The volunteers were amazing and particularly that woman at that spot. I wish I knew her name, but we saw her twice a lap and she was so cheerful and encouraging, yelling and cheering for us as we passed by. I loved it. The aid stations were stocked, but I did the whole race with water, Tailwind, and Skratch. I brought the Tailwind with me, but when I ran out, I used the Skratch that they supplied. I didn’t eat any solid food. I took four salt capsules over the course of the race, and generally felt good about my fueling strategy.

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They had some good vegan pizza at the finish, so after my body calmed down and after I drank some Vega for recovery, I ate a LOT of pizza…and chips too. It was fun to see many of our trail running friends. The Shenipsit Striders were out in force. This was the first race in the 2019 Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series.

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I carried my iPhone, but only got a few photos because it was wet, slippery, and I couldn’t get the touch screen to work very well. I wish I got some photos of the mud. Just imagine shin deep muck for a 50 meters. There were many sections like this. It was shoe sucking mud and there was no avoiding it. By the end of the race, I was just trudging through. I was too tired to look for a rock or two to step on.

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I’m sure my legs will be wrecked for a few days, maybe more. I needed a long day in the woods. It was therapeutic. The suffering helps me reconnect and the mind games are always fun to play. I was thinking about one of my favorite recent books: Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. I loved the book and it helped me get through a tough Traprock 50K.

Race Results (50K)

Race Results (17K)

2018 Traprock 50K (and 17K)

We had glorious weather for yesterday’s Traprock 50K at Penwood State Park in Simsbury, Connecticut. After a spring with less than stellar weather, yesterday was a welcome respite. I’m wrapping this post up on Sunday morning, and I’ve already been out for a bike ride. The temperature is back in the low-30’s (Fahrenheit), the wind is whipping, and snow is in the forecast. So, was Saturday’s awesome weather an anomaly? The temperature was warm, the deep blue sky was cloudless, and brilliant sunshine shined through the still leafless trees. We want more of that.

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Our family hadn’t been to Traprock since 2014, a rare four year layoff from a race we love. Debbie first did this one back in 2010 when it was founded by friends Kevin Hutt and Steve Nelson. Kevin remains the Race Director, and he has a good team of volunteers to assist him.

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The Shenipsit Striders have always helped, whether it be directly or indirectly. Today, our club had a sizable turnout for both the three lap 50K (more like 33 miles) and one lap 17K (more like 11 miles).

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The hilly course got some modifications since we last ran it. Now, it has more singletrack, more hills, and it’s a bit longer. There is about 6,500 feet of elevation gain and 6,500 feet of loss. The changes mean that the course is quite a bit slower than it used to be, but it is still very runnable. This is the second year since the course was modified, and it was the first time running this version. for Debbie.

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We saw so many friends today. I think the sunshine drew them out. Some even came south from snowy New Hampshire. Great weather has a healing effect as evidenced by the shorts, short sleeves, and smiles.

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Traprock kicked off the 2018 Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series.

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It was a long day for the kids and me. Dahlia helped out at the finish line aid station, and had a lot of fun sharing stories with her fellow volunteers. Shepard brought his mountain bike and explored the park. I took a lot of pictures.

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Debbie didn’t need a whole lot of support, but we remained near the finish line to cheer her on during each of her laps. A few times, I walked up the Metacomet Trail to get a better vantage point.

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After a while, Charles Merlis joined me and we had a fun conversation about running, acting (another one of his passions), and life. Earlier in the day, Charlie had run a 5K race in Avon, and came out to Penwood to cheer on his son Josh, and Josh’s girlfriend Michelle Pratt. Charles always makes me smile. He is a member of the Run 169 Towns Society, joined Debbie for her 40th birthday run, and is a regular at Shenipsit Striders races. It’s hard to miss Charlie. He is usually shirtless, wearing a tutu, and wearing wings.

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It was nice to chat with friends new and old. Kevin’s Dad, Ernie Hutt, was the official starter. He got a nice ovation at the start, and revealed a surprise, that Kevin’s Mom was going to run the race. It was a joke, and he made everyone laugh.

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Brian Rusiecki took the win in 4:58:25. He was pretty toasted at the finish and took a few minutes to relax before he returned to chat about the race. He said that on his third and final lap, he was hot. I’m sure everyone was hot. The race claimed quite a few victims and the DNF rate was high. There were 68 finishers with the last person finishing in 9:54:43. That’s a long day on the trail! Brian was followed by Koby Nelson and Brandon Baker, but with a 16 minute difference between first and second, he was never seriously threatened.

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The women’s race was much tighter. Coming into the end of lap two, the aforementioned Michelle Pratt had a narrow lead over past winners  Kristina Folcik, and Stacey Clark. Kristina left the aid station first, but Michelle and Stacey were within a minute of her, but she extended her lead on the first major climb, and the gap grew from there.

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All three of them were running strongly, but things sorted themselves out over the last 11 miles, and Kristina took the win in 5:48:16. Michelle finished in 6:02:35. Stacey was only four minutes behind her, and looked strong despite the heat. Debbie had a decent race, finishing in 6:52:27. This was her second 2018 ultra, after last month’s Mt. Tammany 10 in Delaware Water Gap.

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Kevin and the Traprock crew have been strong supporters of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, with a history of generous contributions to CFPA and other conservation organizations. CFPA is the nonprofit that created and maintains Connecticut’s 825+ mile Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails system, including the New England Trail, of which the Metacomet Trail is a key piece.

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Traprock lowered their fees for 2018, with entry only $35, a relative bargain in the fast-growing ultra segment of the running world. It was no frills with three adequately stocked aid stations, post-race pizza (including the vegan variety), and no swag. Nearly 300 runners registered for the sold-out event.

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Next up in the Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series is the Soapstone Mountain Trail Race on Sunday 20 May. This will be Debbie’s 15th year as Soapstone’s Race Director. It is also a great value, so if any Traprockers want to experience a race that is another great value ($25 pre-registration for the 24 kilometer long course and $12 for the 6 kilometer short course Jerry Stage “Sampler”), join us in Somers. The post-race feast features food from Rein’s Deli, and “cooking” by my mother-in-law, Barbara. How can you beat that?

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Soapstone isn’t an ultra, but it is one of the legendary New England trail races. This is year number 34 for the event, a stalwart in the New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series. Only the NipMuck Trail Marathon (which turns 35 in October) is older, and still continuously running.

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The Shenipsit Striders also promote NipMuck, and this year, to honor the 35th, there will be a 35 mile version of this classic. Sadly, this year, NipMuck conflicts with the Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run, which is prone to happen every six years or so.

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I won’t lie. I’m partial to east coast trail running, and particularly biased to the northeast, and New England where we have the most challenging terrain in the country. Yes, I said I was a fan.

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We have a great community, great races, and awesome trails. The season just got started, and it’s already been memorable.

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Race Results

SmugMug Photo Gallery

2014 Traprock 50K

This year’s Traprock 50K had the inverse result from last year when Debbie finished strong and I was a DNF. Our entire family has suffered with illness during the past two weeks and Debbie was hit with the worst of it. She was hurting at the start of today’s 31 miler, and opted to end her race after only one lap. It was a smart decision with a long season of racing ahead, though it was disappointing for her to not get some “miles in the legs.”

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This morning, when we arrived at Penwood State Park in Bloomfield, I was unsure how I would feel running for five hours, but I decided to just give it a go. I had a tough recovery week after last weekend’s flurry of outdoor activity, so there was no real rest before this one. I’ve also been battling some niggling injuries to my feet and legs. It’s a bummer to be feeling pain so earlier in the season, but that’s how it goes. I haven’t been comfortable in any shoes. I broke out a pair of new sneakers last night, but took the cautious route instead, and donned a well-worn pair.

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My first lap was good, my second lap was worse, and my third lap was the worst, but I finished. The weather was perfect for running. It was still a tad chilly, especially when you were hit with the stiff breeze that blew through the leave-less trees. Still, the sun shone brightly and it was better than the snow we had earlier this week.

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Traprock is one of our favorite races on the calendar. It was the second race in the inaugural Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series. We have been at Traprock every year. In addition to this year and last year, we went to watch in 2012, both ran it in 2011, and Debbie ran the first one in 2010. The next series race is the 30th anniversary Soapstone Mountain Trail Race on the 18th of May.

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The mostly dry trails that were clear of snow drew a lot of northern New Englanders to drive south for today’s event. The Welts/Folcik Gang came in from New Hampshire and promptly put their stamp on Traprock with Ryan winning overall (4:28:23) and Kristina crushing the women’s course record (4:51:15) in a fine display of running form. I ran the first lap with her before she dropped the hammer on me during lap two. Ouch. She was gapping me on most of the descents. I would claw my way back on the climbs, but she was just toying with me. When it mattered halfway into the run, she was gone.

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The second man was Adam Wilcox in 4:33:42 and third was Michael Austin in 4:40:49.

Several Vermont friends came south too. Kelly Wilson joined us for a pre-race dinner last night. She was eager to run on something other than mud. Serena Wilcox and several other Burlington area friends also came to run. Even the New York trail community was represented this year by the Traprock perennial, Nikolas Rogers. The Shenipsit Striders are more local and it showed; our club had a strong contingent running with several other members lending support. Sean Greaney led all Striders with an excellent 7th place.

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I got a nice custom Traprock logo towel for being the first Master runner across the line.  Sometimes it pays to be 40+! My 5:13:23 was slower than my best on this course, but it was very good given my current condition and how I felt this week. The 6,000+ feet of elevation gain and loss is notable. This is a hard race.

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Race Directors Steve Nelson, Kevin Hutt, and Marty Duchow led a fantastic team of volunteers. There were a record number of helpers today. The aid stations were stocked. I forgot my race fuel at home, so I carried plain water and took Gatorade and food (bananas, Fig Newtons, oranges, watermelon, and pretzels) from the neutral support. Other than my usual painful toes, my only mishap was a near disaster fall on the most rocky section of the trail. Instead, I caught myself, but cut a finger in the process. It was a bloody mess, but thankfully looked much worse than it was. No stitches needed.

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Traprock is one of the more rugged courses around. Even the “road section” is brutal. To call the 40+ year-old asphalt a road is being generous. Years of neglect, frost heaves, potholes, cracks, weeds, and loose rock make it more treacherous than most of the trails. A few of those trails are veritable rock gardens with loose shale in abundance. Sections of this course really are a nightmare and for someone like me, they are best walked.

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I’ll be looking for Debbie to run this one again in the future. I think my Traprock urge has been met. I wanted to finish one after failing in 2013, but I think I’m good for a few years (at least)! For now, I think I’ll use my Traprock pint glass to serve up a beer.

Race Results

2013 Traprock 50K

We raced the Traprock 50K after missing in 2012. We were at the race last year, but just to watch. This year, both Debbie and I ran. I did two and a half laps and then decided to end my day. It was the right decision to stop after 24+ miles and log it as a workout. I’ve had a crazy work schedule and it didn’t make sense to go farther when my big races are later in the year. My legs were cooked and I was hurting. I needed the miles and got some.

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Debbie was the first woman. Her time wasn’t the best, but she has had a relatively slow start to the season after taking a longer than normal winter break from training. No excuses. She was also happy to finish her first ultra of the year and earn her third “rock” award from the Traprock gang.We had a blast hanging out with our friends from the Shenipsit Striders and we saw a lot of other friends from around New England who drove to Bloomfield for this great event at Penwood State Park. I even saw some of my friends from the Hartford Extended Area Triathletes come out of hibernation to frolic on the trails.

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Founding Race Director, Steve Nelson, and his dedicated volunteers did a great job again. They were loud and cheered constantly as we entered aid stations. They even played bongos! Special thanks to the volunteer who drove me back from the far side of the course. I waited for Debbie to come through the aid station where I stopped, before hitching my ride back to the start/finish. I was able to photography her at the last aid station with three miles to go and then again at the finish, where I was joined by my parents and our kids to cheer for her.

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It was colder than I would have liked, but that is how this New England spring has gone. I may have been a little underdressed, but live and learn. Two weeks ago at the Old School race, I was overdressed. It was great to run on the New England  National Scenic Trail (NET), which in Penwood is the Metacomet Trail. I invited Eric Hammerling, Executive Director of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA), to set up an informational table at the start/finish. I’m glad he came. Thank you to State Representative David Baram of Bloomfield for adopting Penwood State Park during the 100th anniversary year of Connecticut State Parks. He was our honorary starter.

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It was also nice to see Christine Woodside, the editor of CFPA’s Connecticut Woodlands and AMC’s Appalachia, two of my favorite periodicals. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) is the maintainer of the NET in Massachusetts and CFPA is the maintainer in Connecticut. Congratulations to Christine, who after completing the one lap event, drove to NH to get her White Mountain 4000 Footer Club award at the annual dinner.

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The Traprock crew have been kind enough to make significant contributions to the CFPA from past race proceeds. This year’s record turnout should permit philanthropy again. We will see. As a trail user, it is important to show appreciation for the CFPA staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to maintain the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails, including the NET. I’ll only make two pitches and then leave it at that: if you are a trail runner who enjoys Connecticut’s trails, then you really should be a member of the CFPA. If you run all over New England, you should be a member of AMC. Please join! Disclaimer: I’m a member of CFPA’s Board of Directors, a member of AMC’s Board of Advisors (with Debbie) and have a passion for land conservation and trail access.

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A shout out to David Merkt of the Shenipsit Striders. This guy is so modest. He was appropriately cautious at the start, and again after lap one, when I was still with him! Then, he just kept going and smoked the course with a 4:31, good for second overall. Great job Dave! You did us proud.

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It would be great to see many of the Traprock runners come to the Soapstone Mountain Trail Races in Somers, Connecticut on 19 May. Debbie is the Race Director. It’s one of the ways that she pays back the trail community for all that it has given her.

Race Results

2012 Traprock 50K

Our family spent all day at an ultra marathon trail race, and neither Debbie or I ran. However, a lot of our friends did. Today’s third Traprock 50K in Bloomfield, Connecticut, was a lot of fun. We crewed for my cousin, Danny Roy, who finished his first ultra. We cheered for all of our club-mates in the Shenipsit Striders. We helped out where we could.

Ben Nephew won the men’s race and Kristina Folcik won the women’s race. Ben didn’t get the course record, and likely due to the warmer than normal temperature. He was followed by the ageless Jack Pilla and Ryan Welts. The trails in Penwood State Forest were dry and dusty. The weather was warmer than usual, which was very different from past editions of Traprock. Debbie ran the inaugural Traprock in 2010, and both of us ran the race in 2011, but we opted to sit this one out.

There were nearly 100 finishers in the three lap race. Approximately 125 started. There was also a one-lap 17K race. Like the Nipmuck Trail that the Northern Nipmuck Trail Race was held on last week, the Metacomet Trail is another key part of the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. The Metacomet is also part of the New England Scenic Trail. Race Directors Kevin Hutt and Steve Nelson said that proceeds from the sold-out event would benefit the Connecticut Forest & Park Association.

The Traprock team got support from several local sponsors. In addition to support from the Shenipsit Striders, support also came from the Bimbler’s Sound Running Club. Bimbler’s Jerry Turk and Kerry Arsenault handled the race timing.

The Traprock 50K in April and the Bimbler’s Bluff 50K in October, have become Connecticut’s two best ultras. It’s great to see how these races have grown.

Race Photos

Race Results

2011 Traprock 50K

Ouch! Today was the second Traprock 50K in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Debbie and I both ran the three-loop 50 kilometer (31 mile) race at Penwood State Park. I’m a baby when it comes to the ultra distance. Meaning that I complain a lot and I don’t even run beyond 30 or 40 miles. The third lap was very painful. I took one hard fall on lap two that left me a little scraped up, but the worst injury was to my troublesome big right toe. I just can’t figure this thing out. Any time I race longer than 12 miles or so, I pound it. Today, it looks and feels like someone smashed it with a hammer. Imagine that.

I’ll refrain from posting a photo, but it isn’t pretty and I won’t need to get toenail polish for a while. I keep losing the nail, and I’m going to lose it again after today’s run. With my throbbing toe on my mind, I struggled to the finish after fading badly on the third lap. I kept stubbing it on the traprock, after which this race is name. With six miles to go, I jammed my toe on a root and saw stars for a few moments. The course is on rugged trails on this amazing traprock ridge. Debbie did the first Traprock 50K in 2010 and came back for more punishment.

She has been training heavily and has raced three weekends in a row (Bimbler’s Bash, Northern Nipmuck, and Traprock), so her third lap was nothing special, but she built a good lead on laps one and two and held off an impressive Sheryl Wheeler, for the win in 5:09, a nice improvement over last year’s time. I ran most of the race in sixth spot, but the “powerfade” put me back in tenth at the finish. I ran 4:51. My GPS data shows 4,307 feet of elevation gain and loss. That is a lot considering that the low point on the course is 410 feet above sea level and the high point is 757. That is a lot of up and down!

When I finished, I found a chair and sat down immediately. My legs were shattered. My face was encrusted with salt. I was satisfied, but beat up. My last epic was the Ironman Hawaii last October, but this was harder on the legs. After all, Ironman runs are only 26.2 miles. I can swim, bike and run, but running ultra-distance always hurts more. After the race, I told Debbie that I have no desire to go longer than 50K. I’ll leave the true ultrarunning to her.

The men’s race was exciting to watch. I got to see the top three runners several times. Dane Mitchell, Ben Nephew, and Brian Rusiecki waged a tense battle for several laps before Mitchell and Nephew pulled away. Mitchell eventually prevailed in 3:55, a stellar time on this course.

Race Directors Steve Nelson and Kevin Hutt led a fine group of volunteers. The course was marked very well and the aid stations were stocked. I survived on pretzels, bananas, and water. I carried Clif Shot gels and Clif Shot drink. The weather was nasty. Fortunately, it was dry. If it had rained like last year, it would have been a nightmare. It was unseasonably cold with the temperature hovering in the low-40’s (Fahrenheit) with a stiff wind that was particularly harsh on the open ridges. The race started at 8:30 A.M., but by mid-day, the temperature actually dropped just in time for the third lap. I was a bit uncomfortable in my sleeveless shirt and shorts.

The race drew a fantastic crowd of nearly 150 runners. There was a one lap 17K option and several runners did just one lap. I was proud that my youngest Roy Family first cousin, Danny Roy, came down from the University of Maine to run his first trail race. He took a few tumbles in the 17K, but had a blast. The hard-core 50Kers were also out in force and I saw a lot of smiles despite the cold. The trails were in good shape. It was fun to run on the Metacomet trail, which is part of the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails system that we love. Nelson and Hutt got strong support from our club, the Shenipsit Striders and also from the Bimblers Sound running club.

The Striders were out in force and we had our fancy new tent erected at the finish line. All of the runners got a nice t-shirt, the finishers got beer glasses, and the traditional traprock plaque went to the winners. I’ll be nursing my sore legs for a few days. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I’m building some endurance and I’ve got the 2011 adrenaline pumping and endorphins popping.

Race Results

2010 Traprock 50K

Today, Debbie won the inaugural Traprock 50K at Penwood State Park in Bloomfield, Connecticut. It was a good day for running, but kind of rough for hanging out and being a spectator. The temperature was in the 40’s (Fahrenheit) and it rained on and off. It was damp the whole time and felt more like early March than mid-April. Nevertheless, this new ultramarathon trail race made a successful debut.

Race Directors Steve Nelson and Kevin Hutt did a fine job at launching a spring ultra to compliment Jerry Turk’s Bimbler’s Bluff 50K, which is in October. Connecticut only had one trail ultra (the Bluff) before today.  I’m sure that Steve and Kevin will iron out the kinks and grow the event for 2011. I heard many of the runners share positive feedback.

The aid stations were well stocked, the volunteers were very helpful, and the course markings seemed to be adequate. When you start a new race, you do the best you can with the markings, but until you get a group of runners on it, you don’t know where the trouble spots are. Several runners went off trail, but many found the markings to be good. Debbie didn’t have any major problems, and she liked the rugged and rocky course. The wet trails made the ups and downs even more interesting.

Debbie was the first woman and fifth overall behind winner, Peter Schouw.  Matt Estes, Scott Turco, and Nikolas Rogers were two, three, and four. Peter finished in 4:18:50. After one lap of the three loop course, he had about a four-minute lead on Matt. After two, he extended it, but by the finish, he only had a 1:04 gap. Matt finished a strong second in 4:19:54 and just ran out of trail. Given more time, he probably could have won, but it was only 50K. Scott finished in 5:09:31, Nikolas finished in 5:16:55, and Debbie was hot on his heels in 5:17:01. She was happy with the result considering that she hadn’t run this far since November 2008. This will be good training for the Nipmuck Trail Marathon in early June.

Runners had the option of doing one lap, two lap, or the full three laps. The idea was to introduce folks to trail running and entice them to return next year for the full 50K. 52 runners started the event. When full results are available, I will post them. I had my hands full with our two kids, crewing duties, and my photography. We made our way between the finish line aid station 3 and aid station 2, which wasn’t far from the parking lot. Thankfully, we brought our Chariot, so they were able to stay dry and our little one was able to sleep a bit. It was a fun day to watch Debbie do her thing and squeeze off a few shots.

Each runner received a t-shirt and a commemorative beer glass with a colorful Traprock 50K logo. For winning, Debbie got a really nice plaque with a piece of traprock from the Metacomet Trail. She has some mud to clean off of her gear, but a little dirt is well worth it when you get to play on the trails for the good part of a day.

Race Results

More Traprock Thoughts

Yesterday’s inaugural Traprock 50K has a bright future. The event planning was executed well. Race Directors Steve Nelson and Kevin Hutt created a nice race. They have a template that they can build on for the future. The course is very good, so the race deserves a bigger following now. Both of the RD’s are active with the Ragged Mountain Foundation. The race proceeds will benefit RMF.

The Traprock slogan says it all: “Ridges, Rocks, Roots, and Running.”

When a trail race kicks off with a Bach cello suite, then you know that you are getting your money’s worth!

A funny moment occurred mid race. A runner who came out to run one lap as training, came across the line. He was informed that if he opted to run two loops, he would likely win that event. He was in the lead at that point and was loving the trails. He said that his wife wouldn’t approve. Everyone at the finish line applied the appropriate peer pressure and he caved in. He made a call home and got the expected disapproval. It wasn’t an over “no,” but he was going to have to repent. He ripped off his long sleeve shirt and headed out on the trails for another 10+ mile loop. That is the trail spirit! Fortunately, he stayed in the lead and took home his “rock.”

Traprock 50K Photos at Printroom.com

Metacomet – Timberlin Loop

Today, Debbie and I did our final Traprock 50K tune-up by running the Metacomet – Timberlin Loop. Traprock is next Saturday and we both feel ready. Metacomet – Timberlin is a cool route that includes some of the most gnarly sections of the Metacomet Trail. The loop ends up being 15.3 miles with about 2,400 feet of elevation gain.

We were last on this section in June 2020 for our New England Trail End-to-End Adventure. Today’s conditions were warm and dry, but not as dry as last summer. There were a few muddy spots, but we were able to navigate them without soaking our feet. When we covered this section of trail last year, we were three days into the trip and exhausted.

I remember how awful I felt going up Castle Craig in Hubbard Park. Last year we recovered a bit, eating some dinner near the top of East Peak. After dinner, we called our kids to catch up. Then, things got worse as we descended to the Merimere Reservoir. It wasn’t long before I had successive meltdowns. Anyway, this story is about today’s run. You can refer back to the NET link above if you want to read about all of last year’s drama.

Today, we were running on fresh legs, and it made a world of difference. This is a route first laid out by Stefan Rodriguez, who came out to see us on our NET Adventure. This is one of his “neighborhood” trails. We decided to start the loop on Edgewood Road in Berlin.

That way, we started with the bulk of the climbing. That also allowed us to get the section of the Metacomet with the worst footing (traprock) behind us in the first half of the loop. The second half of the route was much faster. Once we got to Orchard Road in Meriden, we were able to pick up the pace.

Most of the Metacomet Loop Trail (Red/Blue) was winding but fast with good footing. We blasted the last 1.5 miles when we got back to Edgewood Road. This route was a lot of fun and we accomplished our goal of getting in a fast trail run without destroying our legs.

I stayed on my feet the entire time, but Debbie had one hard fall just before getting to the reservoir. She said she caught her foot on a rock and she smashed both knees into the ground. Other than some close calls, that was the only mishap.

We made a few wrong turns, but that’s normal. We noticed one section of the Metacomet around the 7th mile had been rerouted since we were on it last year. Instead of doubletrack, that section was now all single track. It had fresh markings and was easier to follow, so I liked it better.

We stuck together today, but given that this route is a good distance for me, I would like to try it again and see how much faster I could go solo. The challenge with redo’s is that I always prefer to try a new trail that I’ve never done before. That’s the beauty of trail running in Connecticut. We have so many options. After the run, we went back to Debbie’s parents house for a wonderful early supper. Thumbs up for this run.

Full Report: New England Trail End-to-End Adventure

“Have a great vacation!”

Those were the words of several of my HORST Engineering colleagues as I prepared for a week away from work. When I heard, them I graciously thanked them but thought to myself, “you have no idea…”

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Now, looking back on an adventure that just ended early Tuesday morning, I’m gaining the perspective that I need. This was a trip like no other before it. This blog dates back to 2006 and from “day one” it has been called “Life Adventures.” That spirit predates the Internet era as I have been adventuring for a lifetime, but only documenting it in this format for the last 15 years. I’m fortunate to have spent 21 years sharing these journeys with Debbie. She is a powerful woman with a similar desire to spend a maximum amount of time in nature while testing her own limits. We have a long history of adventuring together and this most recent trip feels like a high water mark, but we have said that about past trips and somehow we continue to raise the level.

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A Prologue post shared two days ago provides some basics on the trip, but much of it will be repeated here. Feel free to refer back to the shorter version for some additional photos and information including the background behind the New England Trail. It would be helpful to glance at it before digesting this longer post. This full report will cover each day of the adventure, discuss our preparation, gear choices, and get into so much more. I mainly write these for myself so that I have the history, but my children, the rest of my family, and so many friends and strangers have benefitted from following along. As always, thanks for reading.

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Why?

In 2009, the New England Trail officially became a National Scenic Trail. That was four years after we completed our Long Trail End-to-End hike and not long after I joined the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA). Debbie and I had both been on the Board of Advisors of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) dating back to the early 2000’s. She is still on the AMC BOA and I am currently on the Board of Directors. Regardless of these titles and roles, we have been AMC and CFPA volunteers and supporters for a long time. Since CFPA and AMC are the National Park Service’s partners in managing the NET, we were exposed to the process from consideration to designation. In 2014, we attended the Gateway Dedication in Guilford. At the 11 year mark, the NET finally got a revamped website and mapping system…this week. It literally launched two days after we got back. I knew it was coming, but we weren’t going to delay our trip for a new website. We have been working with the old site for a few months and used it (on our iPhones) extensively during the trip, but it is nice to see the overhauled site now.

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Though the NET officially starts at the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border and goes south through MA and Connecticut until it reaches Long Island Sound, we opted to add to the route. We hiked to the summit of Mount Monadnock at Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey, and then started our run to Chittenden Park on Long Island Sound in Guilford, Connecticut. So, the route included the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in New Hampshire and the NET in MA and CT. We covered more than 242 miles with more than 41,000 feet of elevation gain in just under 5.5 days.

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Ever since the 2005 LT hike, we have yearned for another thru-hike adventure. Over that period, we had two children, got them to join us in our adventures, competed in hundreds of endurance events, and biked, hiked, and run all over the world. We also completed hiking all 67 New England 4,000 Footers and then started the list over again with the kids; that quest continues.

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This year was supposed to be a big year of trail running and ultrarunning. I had a few years following a broken leg suffered racing cyclocross, where I didn’t run as much. In 2019, I regained some of that running fitness and Debbie and I decided to aim for some big goals. Even though the Hardrock Endurance Run was cancelled in 2019 (too much snow on the course), she needed a new qualifier to go into the lottery for the 2021 race. The logistics around qualifying are a bit messed up as the COVID-19 Coronavirus crisis has resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 race as well. That means when she does requalify, it will likely be for the 2022 edition at the earliest. She is fortunate to have finished the race in 2017 and based on the current rules, has a better chance of getting in compared with someone who has never run it before.

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While we were running the NET, we learned that the Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run was also cancelled, which is a real bummer as it is our favorite race and this is the first time in its history that it will not happen. We have only missed one since 1999 when Debbie ran ULTRA-TRAIL Mt. FUJI.

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The race we chose was the Bighorn Trail Run, a 100-miler in Wyoming. We have never been to WY. The race was supposed to be last week, but of course, was cancelled. I kept the time off and instead, we did the NET. We wanted to use the fitness that we have been building. All of the lead up races were also cancelled. They included Tammany 10, Traprock 50K, and Run Ragged. Once it was clear that this year would be very different with few or none events, we shifted our focus to the surging  popularity of Fastest Known Time (FKT) adventures. We have dabbled with the FKT concept for more than 15 years, but we never participated in the original Internet discussion boards. We were doing big day and multi-day adventures in the mountains (primarily of New England) before people used GPS and other technology to record, document, and share their times. Examples include many of our 4,000 footers which we did as trail runs or fastpacking adventures. We were covering the distances in a fraction of “book time.” Regardless, we kept some spreadsheets but without the GPS technology or our monitoring of the FKT boards, we weren’t really tied into the community.

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That changed a few years ago as we noticed a shift towards these do it yourself adventures. Without a big number, course markings, aid stations, or the other support that comes with a race/event, it felt more like our training runs of the past. With the logistics and navigation, these efforts were like the adventure races we did in the early 2000’s. Adventure racing peaked years ago, but when we did them, we loved them. Debbie did some of the multi-day stuff with other teammates, but my preference was to stick to one-day “sprint” events with her or one other teammate. This year, we pursued FKT’s on many of our favorite local trails. We weren’t traveling far from home, so it was fun to push ourselves on routes we already ran on a frequent basis. Those include the Nipmuck Trail, Natchaug Trail, Quinnipiac Trail, and Shenipsit Trail.

Speaking of inspiration, the NET has never been about a speed record. The new website demonstrates all the wonderful virtues of this trail, including the connection between art and nature. Ben Cosgrove is one of our favorite musicians. We met him because he was an NET Artist-In-Residence (AiR). The AiR is a program that started in 2012. Ben’s video offers a great summary of the NET.

I mentioned adventure racing and our other do it yourself (DIY) adventures. I recently finished The Last of His Kind, David Robert’s biography of Bradford Washburn. Washburn is one of my all-time favorite explorers and photographers. His feats in the mountains are a legendary source of inspiration. A Washburn aerial image of the Franconia Ridge hangs in our foyer. I also recently listened to a great podcast about Ernest Shackleton. I’ll listen to or read anything about Shackleton as I learn something every time. There has been a lot of controversy about Colin O’Brady, the Antarctic explorer, but whether you like him or not,  I’ve enjoyed his conversations with Rich Roll. I constantly take in a lot of exploration and adventure related content and it has fueled my outdoor passion. Debbie even remarked after we finished that this made her “feel” like a National Geographic Explorer, which is saying something about the significance of the adventure. There aren’t too many feats yet to be accomplished but an explorer is always pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

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The timing of this trip also presented the opportunity to disconnect from the stress of the pandemic, and economic crisis. During the trip, we had very little connection with the outside world. We had to preserve battery life and our cellular connection was intermittent. I left my iPhone in Airplane Mode for 99% of the day. We would reconnect to update our position on an app like All Trails, or to check the NET website, search Google Maps, or research a question. I didn’t use Facebook at all and only posted on Instagram one time. Each day, I uploaded activity to Garmin Connect and that automatically populated my Strava feed which I edited and added photos to. Aside from that, there was little communication with the outside world. We had a tracking link for the Garmin Explore website that a handful of family and friends monitored. Long days were an opportunity to relax the mind and set aside worries. We were confident that our kids were safe with their grandparents Paul and Barbara, and having a blast.

So, it turned out to be quite a vacation!

In addition to the help we got from friends at AMC and CFPA, we did substantial research. Through the FKT site, we learned about Lee-Stuart Evans’ 2019 E2E. He did the official NET from MA border to the Sound. Lee-Stuart has been a guest on the CULTRA Trail Running Podcast a few times. Episode 38 covers his NET trip in depth. We subsequently read Lee-Stuart’s blog post, and then spoke with him. He was helpful in the latter stages of our preparation and stayed in touch during the trip, periodically texting us with tips and advice. His time of 5 days, 19 hours, 50 minutes is stellar. Though Lee-Stuart has a playful manner and his self-deprecating humor makes him sound “slow,” my assessment is that he is also a fierce competitor. His NET FKT preparation was thorough and his past experience is substantial. His website is a great resource for anyone planning a fastpacking adventure. It also has in-depth information about Connecticut’s trails, and particularly the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. He hails from England and has explored all over the world. We knew that besting his time wouldn’t be easy. Keep in mind that he is still the record holder for the solo supported E2E, but for the moment, our time is now fastest overall.

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We did a bunch of other research regarding fastpacking gear. Good resources include Greenbelly, Adventure Alan, and iRunFar. We also did substantial research on technology. In the end, Debbie’s older Suunto Ambit failed and didn’t make it to the finish. The memory was full and the battery died and it made no sense to waste our precious little backup battery chargers on it, so it ended up being dead weight. My newer Garmin Fenix 6s was fantastic and prior to the trip, I learned it’s functions from two great resources, the DC Rainmaker Fenix review and HikingGuy Fenix review. We also acquired a Garmin inReach Mini and to learn the functions, we went back to the DC Rainmaker for his in depth Mini review, and also the HikingGuy for his in depth review.

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I could do an entire post just on the Mini. In the end, my assessment is that it is a quality device in a small package, but with limitations for a trip like ours. I tested it over the course of a few weeks and was comfortable that we had it working well. However, there was no way to simulate the all-day conditions of our trip. Even though we had data logging set for every 1 second (uploading set for every 30 minutes), the GPS track we got was far less detailed. A post-trip phone call with Garmin customer service confirmed these previously unknown limitations and though they were apologetic, didn’t have any solutions for us. We spent a lot of time and energy keeping the Mini charged and running. We had one mid-trip failure where it shutdown during an attempted recharge, but after a restart, we got a new track started almost immediately. We figured we had the GPS detail we needed but that wasn’t the case. It worked well as a live tracker at the 10, 20, or 30 minute intervals, but we were not able to synch (with a cable) after the trip and export the 1 second data. It just didn’t exist. Thankfully, I used the Fenix 6s to capture each day’s (six of them) activity and we have detailed GPX files. The plan was to use the Fenix daily and turn it off during sleep, while letting the Mini run continuously.  Between the two devices, we got what we needed, but for the cost of the Mini and the Iridium subscription, we are not satisfied.

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We were aware that the NET isn’t a great trail for thru-hiking. The new website stresses that “stealth camping” is discouraged and Leave No Trace (LNT) is encouraged. The good news is that we always strive for LNT and have taught these principles to our children and other Scouts. As for the camping issue, though we were on the trail overnight, we didn’t really “camp.” We merely rested. We used a small tarp, ultralight sleeping bags, and ultralight sleeping pads. We had no more than 10 pounds of gear each, including these items, and didn’t have a stove. We spent 3-5 hours a night resting before we got moving again. I realize that you wouldn’t want hundreds of people doing this along a trail that goes through public and private lands, but alas, there were two of us and I don’t see a surge of NET thru-hike activity coming. I hope that the NET can develop more overnight accommodations, but it is highly unlikely that there will be a shelter every three to five miles like there is on Vermont’s Long Trail.

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Over the years, parts of the NET have featured races that we know and love. They include, the Lake Wyola Road Race, Northfield Mountain Trail Race, 7 Sisters Trail RaceTraprock 50K, West Hartford Quadrathlon, and the Bimbler’s Bluff  50K. Additionally, we have done numerous shorter adventures on various sections of the trail. In 2019, we scouted the Shutesbury section. In 2016, Debbie did two big days running the trail from Guilford to Rt. 66 in Middlefield, and then the next day going from Middlefield to Castle Craig in Meriden. I joined her for a portion of the trail each day. Our most recent trip to Monadnock was in 2018 with her Cub Scout Den. Over the last few months, we made a few trips to Massachusetts to scout the Connecticut River crossing and the Westfield River crossing. We didn’t know the entire NET route, but we were confident that we had enough knowledge to succeed.

Warmup (Monadnock Hike to Start)
17-June 2020, 10:52 A.M.
Jaffrey
1.97 miles, +1,778/-30 feet
1h, 10m, 29s

Debbie spent the two days before our start making final preparations. She took the kids mountain biking at Cowles Park in Granby and then spotted our food cache in a Bear Vault in nearby Suffield. She then transported the kids to her parents’ house in Prospect. I wrapped things up at work and finished packing on the Tuesday night before our start. I had been experimenting with gear for a few weeks and had done several runs with my pack to test it out, so we were ready to go. Laura Becker and her friend Bill Dougherty, drove with us  to Monadnock. On the way we stopped in Hadley to spot the kayak, paddles, pfd’s, a jug of water, and a bag of food. We made it to Monadnock State park by late morning and were on the summit around noon. The short two-mile hike was a nice warmup. After some lunch and photos, we were off. Laura and Bill hiked down and returned to CT with our car.

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Day 1, 17-June 2020, 12:33 P.M.
Jaffrey – Warwick (Start)
30.02 miles, +4,767/-6,785 feet
10h, 28m, 18s

We started the official effort by descending the White Arrow Trail. It was a beautiful day with amazing 360 degree views from the summit. Sadly, we missed the Royce Trail intersection and that became our first wrong turn. We got the situation sorted and were back on track after getting directions from a local hiker. The Royce led us to the M-M Trail. We found the NH section of the M-M too be maddeningly difficult to follow. The white blazes were small, faded, and inconsistent. Turns were not marked clearly. Instead of offsetting the blazes to indicate left or right, they were stacked one on top of the other, making it a guessing game as to which way the trail turned. We pulled the maps up frequently. Navigating the village of Troy was a challenge, but we finally figured out how to get out of the town center and headed in the right direction. Our worst wrong turn was on a long jeep road that crossed a power line. We didn’t realize the M-M paralleled this dirt road. We were only a hundred or so feet from the trail, but the mistake cost us a mile or so, as we diligently backtracked in order to correct the mistake and complete the route. We went over several smaller peaks, including Little Monadnock. Whenever we looked back to the north, we had great views of Grand Monadnock, where we started.

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We reached the Massachusetts border near Royalston Falls shortly before 8:00 P.M. The mosquitoes were bad, but we filtered water from a stream, took some photos, noted our time, and then continued south. We stopped around 11:00 P.M. and rested on a logging road turnout. We planned to get five hours of sleep, but despite using our tent poles to support our fly, we were hounded by mosquitoes. This made rest impossible, so we agreed to just get up earlier and start moving again. The decision to bring the fly instead of the actual tent was our biggest mistake. Insects dogged us the entire trip and posed a huge risk because they kept us from getting adequate rest. We had to accept them bothering us when we were moving, but the real frustration came when we were stopped or resting and we couldn’t keep them away. We wore headnets but they were inadequate.

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Day 2, 18-June 2020, 2:49 A.M.
Warwick – Pelham
43.69 miles, +6,873/-6,677 feet
17h, 04, 39s

The early start was good. We were tired from the prior day descending and lack of sleep, but our legs were still relatively fresh. We still covered a good distance for the day. We ascended Mount Grace and traversed Northfield State Forest. The mosquitoes were terrible. We had a long road run on Gulf Road and then made the big climb up above Farley. We rested at a gorgeous overlook that took in Rt. 2 and the Millers River. Navigating through Farley was fun and the markings were decent. It was a neat town. Debbie faded a bit as we traveled through Wendell State Forest and we made a plan to rest when we got to Lake Wyola.

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There was a lot of fast running and we made good time. Lake Wyola was busy with lots of families enjoying the water. We staked out a picnic table and spread out some of our gear to dry in the sun. We took a quick swim and then laid out our ground cloth (footprint). We took a 20 minute nap, but were awakened by the local police who were investigating a 911 call. It was originating from a location right near our spot. It wasn’t us but they suspected that someone had mistakenly called or crank called. We rested a bit more and packed up for the steady Jennison Road climb from Wyola towards Cooleyville.   The next section of trail had many old wells and foundations.

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The entire trail is steeped in history. This is something I need to learn more about, but some sections were established by Native Americans and predate the English settlers of New England. The geology is another area to explore. In any case, these old ruins reminded us of Gay City in CT, which is an old abandoned village in the middle of the forest. After the early start, this turned into a long day.

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The climb up Cooleyville Road was nasty. The mosquitoes were biting us through our shorts and calf socks, decimating the backs of our legs. Debbie struggled on the hill and we agreed that we would get back into the woods and start looking for a place to rest. I was out front and stopped for a few minutes. I noticed that the bugs weren’t bad. When she arrived I recommended that we stop. We opted to skip the tent poles (we never used them again on the trip) and just rest under the stars. The erected rain fly would have only trapped the mosquitoes inside and made us overheat. It worked out and we got solid rest between 9:30 P.M. and 3:00 A.M.

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Day 3, Part 1, 19-June 2020, 3:24 A.M.
Pelham – Hadley
24.91 miles, +5,161/-6,112 feet
7h, 51m, 52s

We knew in advance that today would be a big day. We had to contend with the Holyoke Range, the Connecticut River crossing, and Mt. Tom. We knew it was going to be hot. We started strongly, taking the trail to Shutesbury Road in Pelham. The NET went on some trail and then back on to roads. The cumulative road running was several miles long and slightly downhill. The downhill grade was helpful because we carried a lot of water. Each of us had two 550ML bottles and a 3L HydraPak.

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This was our maximum load as we knew that there would be no water on the Holyoke Range. We were hoping to refill at the Skinner State Park Notch Visitor Center but we suspected that it could be closed due to the pandemic. Despite carrying all of that weight, we hammered that section. After Gulf Road and Federal Street, we were back on dirt and headed towards the successive peaks of the range. Long Mountain was tough, but Mount Norwottock was even tougher. It got hot and we were nursing our water. The rock scrambling was intense. Surprisingly, the trail markings were lacking and we struggled to route find over the top of Norwottock and on the descent to the notch.

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It was disappointing, but expected, to find the visitor center closed. There were no bathrooms, no outside water, and no way to charge our devices. We had just enough water to make it over the 7 Sisters, but it was going to be tight. We rested on a park bench behind the building. I recall being soaked with sweat in the midday heat. The six miles of trail between Rt. 116 and Rt. 147 is legendary. Debbie ran “Sisters” for 16 years in a row, but we haven’t done the race since 2014. It’s gotten too popular, with nearly 500 runners competing on the narrow course. The wear and tear on this section of trail has been substantial. Some of her best running has been on this section. The race goes out and back. The traditional finish was right where the NET intersects 116 across the street from the visitors center. So, we know this section well. It is rugged and hilly.

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The first obstacle is Bare Mountain. Loose traprock litters the trail. After Bare, you tackle Mount Hitchcock. Somewhere up there, we ran into Janice, one of Debbie’s yoga students. The crazy thing is that we also ran into Janice when we were climbing Katahdin in 2017. She insisted that she and her hiking friends were just discussing weird trail occurrences and the fact that she ran into us randomly in Maine.

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We had a fun chat on a steep slope. From there you go up and down traversing the ridge before descending to Taylor Notch. The final push is to the summit house on the top of Mount Holyoke. The views from the top were spectacular. Last year we took the kids on a hike to the summit. It’s a great spot. Normally you can access bathrooms, but everything was closed, which was what we expected. On the descent, I was slow, but Debbie was strong as usual. She knows that section of trail like the back of her hand. By the time we got to the bottom of Skinner State Park, I was hurting. We had a mile or so of road running to get to Mitch’s Marina where our kayak was stashed. We rallied and pushed to the end of stage one for this day.

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Day 3, Part 2, 19-June 2020, 2:36 P.M.
Hadley – Easthampton (Connecticut River Paddle)
1.79 miles
41m, 16s

The Connecticut River crossing gets a lot of attention for good reason. Sadly, the NET simply ends on Mountain Road in Hockanum. It restarts on North Street in Easthampton. AMC strongly discourages swimming the river. We gave it some thought. On at least two scouting missions, we explored the more narrow section of river off of Titan’s Pier Road. We considered ways to float across with the help of inflated dry bags. I made a list of criteria to deal with the river crossing and that helped us determine the best method.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 60 of 133

  • Safest – though I’m a strong and experienced open water swimmer, Debbie is less so. Swimming with gear would add to the challenge. As it turns out, we reached the river on a Friday afternoon and it was jammed with boats and personal watercraft. Swimming, even with float buoys for identification would have been very dangerous. If we got there in darkness it would have been ridiculously challenging. The narrow point at Titan’s Pier Road is down a steep embankment. The climb out on the west side of the river would be near the power plant and train tracks. There was no clear exit. There is a strong current, so chances are you would have to start much farther north if you planned to get across without floating down river and forcing a backtrack.
  • Quickest – we didn’t want to waste a lot of time and energy. Lee-Stuart Evans did his own analysis in 2019 and opted to call his wife Shona for a ride. He made a wise choice. The NET site recommends a ride sharing service unless you can hitch a boat ride across the river. That is a definite option, but timing is critical.
  • Human Powered –  we didn’t want to take a car or a boat. We wanted to get across with human power which was part of our own self-supported approach.
  • Least Energy – swimming would take a lot more energy than paddling. Paddling probably took more energy than driving or hitching a ride, but it was manageable.
  • H2O Quality – in hindsight, now that we have seen the river up close, swimming it would have been disgusting. There appears to have been a massive “die off” of river fish. We saw dozens and dozens of dead fish floating and this was just in a 1.8 mile stretch. There were probably hundreds. The river reeked and these bloated fish were belly up. It was not a pleasant site or smell for a couple of vegan adventurers. Debbie, who was in the front of the kayak, was appalled. I dealt with it OK and just told her “not to look.”
  • Keep Gear Dry – with the kayak, we were able to secure our gear and the risk of getting it soaked was much lower. We ended up going another 10 miles on our feet and it would have been miserable if we were soaked.
  • Don’t Trespass – all of the property bordering the river on the east side is private property, including Mitch’s Marina. The properties on Titan’s Pier Road were all marked with No Trespassing signs. We didn’t want to trespass and didn’t want to establish a route or method that was risky or unrepeatable. In the end, we politely asked permission from the gracious folks at Mitch’s Marina to leave our kayak there, and they obliged.
  • Repeatable – our assumption is that our respectful approach with Mitch’s Marina will pave the way for future attempts.
  • Fun – a human powered crossing that minimized risk was bound to add a fun twist to our already amazing adventure.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 63 of 133

The folks at Mitch’s Marina allowed us to use their hose to refill our bottles and bladders. We arranged our gear, unlocked the kayak and launched it from their boat ramp. We stopped at Mitch’s Island as we paddled south. We cooled off in the river and rinsed off the sweat and grime. As noted, the river was teaming with activity. Day campers were all over the island. Music was blaring from boats and flotillas formed with hundreds of people partying on the late spring Friday afternoon. We continued south to the Manhan River Boat Launch. We secured the kayak, paddles, and pfd’s there where it was picked up by my parents Lynn and Stan. We could have locked it to a another tree, but since it was a busy public launch, it made more sense for them to rendez vous and collect it.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 66 of 133

Day 3, Part 3, 19-June 2020, 3:47 P.M.
Easthampton – Holyoke
10.17 miles, +2,802/-2,260 feet
5h, 02, 39s

We swapped outfits and with fully loaded packs, headed up Mount Nonotuck on our way to Goat Peak, Whiting Peak, and Mount Tom. The late afternoon heat was hard on us and the extra weight made for slow going. The trail repeatedly makes its way to the western cliff edge and grew tiresome as it wound its way south on the ridge. The footing was poor as the soil was rocky and dry. At one point, we bumped into fellow ultrarunner Brian Rusiecki who was out for a late-Friday afternoon training run.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 69 of 133

He remarked how hot it was and we chatted for a while. It’s funny that we saw Brian because we have bumped into him in random spots before. One time, we were hiking in the White Mountains with the kids and heading over the Garfield Ridge early one morning. He came around a corner as he was running a Pemi Loop. He is part of another strong running couple. He and his wife, Amy, who is the Race Director of both 7 Sisters and the Vermont 100, are longtime friends from the New England trail running community. In 2018, Debbie joined the two of them for a Quebec trip to Ultra-Trail Harricana.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 71 of 133

We said goodbye to Brian and continued for several more miles before eventually deciding to break for the night. Around 9:00 P.M. we found a breezy spot at a nice overlook. We had a great sunset and the location wasn’t too buggy. Our sleep wasn’t great and we decided again to get an early start. Even though we set our alarm for 2:00 A.M., we didn’t need it to get up.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 75 of 133

Day 4, 20-June 2020, 2:30 A.M.
Holyoke – Bloomfield
36.93 miles, +6,575/-6,345 feet
17h, 52m, 57s

At the beginning of the day, we wound our way off of the ridge and down to the valley again. Off to the west was the Westfield-Barnes Airport. We were soon able to hear traffic as we knew that we were approaching Interstate 90, the Mass Pike. It was a long way off and seemed like we would never get there, but we eventually emerged from a wooded section on the south side of East Mountain. We crossed some train tracks and then climbed some concrete barriers.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 77 of 133

On the other side was a tunnel under the highway. There was rubble, graffiti, and trash. It was an odd scene as traffic buzzed by on the road above us. It wasn’t very pretty, so we moved through quickly. This was the second Interstate we crossed on the trip after passing under Interstate 91 in Easthampton on the prior day. In addition to these interstate highways, on the trip we crossed I-91 a second time, went under Interstate 84, came close to Interstate 691, and passed over Interstate 95. We passed under or over many other major state roads including Route 2, Route 20, Route 5, and Route 15. These are some of the busiest roads in the northeast, which makes the New England Trail a really interesting track. You are never far from the hustle and bustle of civilization.

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The woods after the I-90 crossing were ugly and damp. We pushed on as day broke and eventually made it to Route 20 in Westfield. We were starving and in need of some food to augment what we were carrying. We knew there was a gas station nearby but were thrilled to see that Little Georges restaurant, which is literally on the trail, was open for breakfast. This diner was a classic. They only had outdoor seating, but they had a tent and it was filled with socially distanced locals. They were all men, and they were having a lively Saturday morning conversation. They had fun with the two sweaty trail runners who emerged from the woods to take a seat under the tent with them, but everyone was courteous. The menu didn’t have too many vegan options, but Debbie spoke with the server and she indicated that the cook would whip something up using home fries and “every” vegetable they had in the kitchen. I noticed that the menu advertised “real” maple syrup. I inquired if I could order “only” syrup and the server assured I could. She said they came in small individual bottles, which was awesome. I ordered two with the intention of saving them for a state-line toast.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 81 of 133

The meal was excellent. In addition too the veggie and potato platter, I had some toast. We filled our bottles and bladders in the bathroom, washed up, and felt satisfied and refreshed. We attempted to charge one of our battery packs in an available 110V outlet, but it didn’t do much in the 30 minutes that we were there. Several of the other patrons inquired how we were going to cross the Westfield River and we said we were going to wade it. We had scouted it three weeks earlier, so we knew what we were up against. One of the guys insisted on driving us around, but we told him we were doing this all on human power. We thanked everyone present before crossing the road to the corner of a church parking lot where the NET ducked down to the river. On the other side of this steep embankment was the gently flowing body of water. We knew from our scouting mission that it wasn’t a pretty spot.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 83 of 133

The rocks were coated in a slime with a crusty texture that seemed like chemicals from years of pollution. We spotted some small fish swimming in pools so we knew the water couldn’t be that bad. Our original plan was to keep our shoes on as we didn’t want to risk a foot cut or injury that could end our trip in an instant. However, we reconsidered and the goal became to keep our feet dry so that we could run easier after crossing. We removed our shoes and socks, packed them away, and hoisted our packs on our heads. I went first, searching for the most shallow point that was also a short distance. I picked my spot and slowly made my way to the other side. It was up to my waist and the rocks were slippery. It hurt my feet but as soon as I got to a set of dry rocks, I sat down and put my shoes back on. Debbie followed me and it was a bit deeper for her. She steadied her pack on her head until she got close enough to hand it to me. She too put her shoes back on and we followed the trail as it paralleled the river heading west for a ways before finally turning left and going south again.

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We picked up the pace despite carrying a full load of water. Our packs were a bit lighter because our food was getting low. We were about 10 miles from our cache. We made it to Rising Corner near the Southwick, MA/Suffield, CT border around 9:30 A.M. We had already been on the trail for seven hours. We rested at the parking area which was an open field with a NET kiosk and some nice signage.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 88 of 133

We did our maple syrup toast, not realizing that the actual state-line was still about 1/2 mile south in the middle of the woods. That didn’t bother us. We got moving again and when we got to the actual border, we took photos, noted our time, and marked a waypoint. We had already covered about 130 miles since Monadnock and we knew that there were 112 to go. We had never done the Connecticut Ultra Traverse (CUT) 112, but we knew it was a special event. Though not an official race, the run has attracted a reputation as being extraordinarily difficult. As we crossed the border, the CUT 112 course was ahead.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 90 of 133

The first part of the trail in Connecticut wound through an archery camp. Then the trail ascended Suffield Mountain. Our cache was stashed in a Bear Vault a short distance up the trail after the Phelps Road intersection. We sat on a log and swapped out wrappers for fresh food. We topped off our water. I changed my shirt and socks. We tried not to linger too long, as this was our third major stop in less than 10 miles after Little Georges and the state-line. Once we got going, we made our way to higher ground again, traversing West Suffield Mountain and Peak Mountain. Somewhere on that ridge, we slowed in the mid-day heat and decided that despite our progress, a nap was in order. We had been moving since 2:30 A.M. and after three days, we were tired. We found a nice view point, pulled out our ground cloth, and laid it flat in a shady spot. We pulled off our shoes, set the alarm for 20 minutes, and dozed off. After the break, we each took an energy bar with caffeine. Last year we attended a sleep seminar and learned from a noted sleep doctor that there was a study with endurance athletes that proved a short nap of 20 minutes followed by consuming caffeine would give you “power boost.” A longer nap could leave you groggy. The caffeine was an option, but it helped. Debbie and I rarely consume caffeine as we are not coffee or soda drinkers. Our only caffeine comes from dark chocolate and green tea, so when we do take it in, it makes a difference.

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We both felt better and descended to Route 20. From there we climbed Hatchett Hill. through Cowles Park, a noted mountain biking spot. We bumped into Michael Amisano, another friend. He and a buddy were out for a ride. He knew that he might come across us because he had seen my Strava posts. We chatted for a while and then continued. All of our stops were thwarting our forward progress. I had sent an email including the tracking link to our friends Ken and Aubrey Schulz, who live in Granby. As we descended to the Farmington River in Tariffville, we bumped into the entire Schulz Family. Ken, Aubrey, and their lovely kids came out to cheer us on. It was a great moment. In a normal year, we spend most summer Tuesday nights with them at the Winding Trails Tri Series. After every race, we have a “Grand Feast.” With the 2020 series cancelled, we will miss them, so it was great to connect by the Farmington. We intended to stop in Tariffville for our fifth stop of the day, so they met us at the town green where we paused again. We used the bathrooms at the Cracker Barrel Pub and ordered cauliflower “buffalo wings” from their menu. I used a couple of outlets in the bar to charge some devices and we hung out at the gazebo on the green.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 94 of 133

We chatted for a while and it was late afternoon when we got moving again. Once more we had full packs, and the hiking up through Wilcox Park and Penwood State Park was slow and tedious. The Traprock 50K course goes in the opposite direction, but it hurts regardless of which way you are headed. The hills are steep going up and down, and the loose stones make for unstable footing. Debbie struggled through Penwood and the bugs bothered us incessantly. We crossed Route 185 and started up Talcott Mountain around 7:00 P.M. At that point we had been moving for nearly 15 hours. It didn’t take long for her to melt down. She swore she couldn’t go as far as we had planned and we had several strategy discussions as she wallowed in her misery. We were afraid that with all the stop and go on this day that we were coming up short on our mileage goal and that it would impact our overall goal of getting to Guilford by Monday afternoon. It made no sense to push past our limits, so we agreed to stop when we reached Heublein Tower. This also proved to be the best option for an bug free night.

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There were a lot of people watching the sunset as it is a great spot. We only planned to rest for a handful of hours, so we found as breezy a spot as possible a little ways off the trail, and set up our ground cloth. We laid down and there was a mosquito bothering Debbie, so she moved to a different spot with her sleeping pad and bag. I stayed put and proceeded to hear some wild wildlife sounds over the next few hours. On a few occasions I grabbed my bear bell and rang it vigorously.

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That is big time bear country and I had not idea what I was hearing, but it was disconcerting. Each night, when we stopped, we put all our food into one of our dry bags and hoisted it up a tree at least 10 feet in the air with a length of paracord. Every morning, we had been hearing a different pack of coyotes conduct a “kill” but that was always when we were moving. The late night sounds while resting in a prone position were scary and I didn’t sleep much. Debbie eventually returned, and she claimed that this had been one of her better nights of sleep.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 98 of 133

Day 5, 21-June 2020, 3:15 A.M.
Bloomfield – Berlin
41.20 miles, +6,096/-6,841 feet
18h, 42m, 12s

We departed shortly after 3:00 A.M. and Debbie immediately indicated that she was feeling much better than the night before. We moved quickly on the descent to Route 44 in Avon. After we crossed the road, there was a lovely stream and we purified water, loading up for the day. This was the first water we had crossed since the Westfield area. As we made our way through the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) Reservoir area (West Hartford Res), we were able to push the pace. The trail eventually turned to a wide gravel road and it was runable.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 102 of 133

We eventually got to the Farmington side of the MDC land and I was showing signs of being tired. It was slow going over Killkenny Rock. When we got to Route 6 in Bristol, I was complaining of hunger and was seeking a restaurant or store to augment the food we were carrying. There was nothing at Route 6, so we pushed past Will Warren’s Den headed towards New Britain. This section of trail has huge rocks and caves. It’s got a lot of history and is the section of trail that our friend Rich Fargo used to run twice a day when he commuted to OTIS Elevator in Farmington from his home in Plainville. Many years ago, we joined Rich for a celebration of his 1,000 commute. I think he worked at OTIS for another 10 or 15 years after that celebration. He is retired now, but is still one of the best runners we have ever known. Rich dominated the New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series for a long time, and is a multiple time winner of the NipMuck Trail Race and Soapstone Mountain Trail Race. He is retired and lives in New Hampshire now, but it was great to think about his exploits as we passed through his “home” trail.

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Thankfully, in that section, we met up with a young hiker by the name of Brandon. He caught up with us and enjoyed keeping pace behind us. He was walking in jeans, but every time we broke into a trot or run, he followed. He and I chatted for nearly six miles. I think I did 90% of the talking, but it was exactly what I needed to get through that section. I was hungry and tired, but turned my energy towards quizzing Brandon about his interests and then teaching him all about the NET, CFPA, AMC, Shenipsit Striders, CT TrailMixers, and just about everything else I knew about trail running and extreme hiking. He insisted he was grateful for the conversation and vowed to buy a copy of the Walk Book as he wanted to finish his section hike of the Metacomet Trail and try out some of the other Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. I told Debbie that he bumped into the right guy (me).

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When we reached Route 72, Brandon turned back and we turned our attention to finding some food. We had a road run and I had a hard time getting up to speed, so as I shuffled along, Debbie ran ahead. At one point, I saw her pause and turn into a parking lot. When I reached her, she was gesturing towards a large building. The sign said Big Sky, which is the gym chain that Debbie works at in Vernon. This was the New Britain location and at that moment I knew that I had seen the building before. It is clearly visible from I-84 when you are headed east towards Hartford. I had never seen it from this perspective, and there it was in all its glory. Debbie exclaimed that we should stop and if it was anything like Vernon, we would have access to a smoothie bar, multiple energy food options, and bathrooms.

We went inside and it was like an oasis. The gym had just opened a few days prior, having been closed for more than three months during the COVID-19 shutdown. The two staff members at the front desk were awesome. After Debbie introduced herself as a colleague, they took care of us. They made one of the best smoothies I’ve tasted. Debbie had her own. We plugged in some devices to charge and washed up in the bathrooms. Sadly, the showers were closed because of the pandemic, but we had access to the sinks. We lingered for a while, stocking up on energy bars and cookies. I had the most amazing smoothie induced head freeze and loved every second. It was hard to go back out into the heat, but we left with full stomachs. We finished the road section and were back on singlerack headed for Crescent Lake Park.

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This was an ugly section, but we trudged onward with full packs. When we got to Long Bottom Road, we came across Rogers Orchards Shuttle Meadow Farm Store in Southington. It was right at the beginning of a road section, so we stopped running, went inside with our masks and grabbed a lemonade and a single red pepper. Debbie needed some veggies and this would suffice. Back on the road, we ran all the way to start of the challenging Ragged Mountain Preserve. It was a long hot slog up to Ragged Mountain, but we eventually got some nice views looking back over Wassel Reservoir. Somewhere up on the ridge, we stopped for another nap. We laid out on some rocks, removing our wet clothes and shoes to dry in the sun. After 20 minutes, we got moving again as we needed to make it as far as possible if we expected to finish the run on Monday.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 110 of 133

Once we made it over Short Mountain and through Timberlin Park, we had a long road section. Somewhere in there we passed a house where two parents were playing in a kiddie pool with their young children. Their hose was in the yard and we asked if we could use it. They obliged and we topped off our bottles and bladders. This was the hottest day so far and we were going through our water quicker. After a long road section on fresh pavement, we refilled again at a nice stream before starting the big climb up the backside of Hubbard Park, headed towards Castle Craig. This was a long grinder. We reached West Peak and then were dismayed when the trail descended. That section of the NET may be some of the roughest and most challenging terrain anywhere on the trail. We slid out multiple times on the loose rocks and were vocally frustrated. The trail plunged downward before eventually making a hairpin left and then shooting straight up towards East Peak. I was beside myself, complaining about the trail builders. Debbie referred to this section of trail as “demonic.”

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It was early evening by the time we made it to the summit. The stone tower is beautiful, but we avoided it as there were a bunch of other hikers hanging around. We staked out a spot on a rock and ate the last of our “dinner” food. Afterwards, we called our children and that boosted our spirits. We learned that they were having a great time with their grandparents. We were tired, but we had to push on. The trail went up and down before eventually plunging towards Merimere Reservoir. While we stopped to refill our water, we heard someone yell at us. He said, “What are you crazy kids doing?” It turned out to be Stefan Rodriguez, a friend from the trail running community. He is a Shenipsit Strider and is well-known for his Ragged Cuts enterprise. He is clever with 3D printing and makes some of the coolest trail running trophies around. It was great to see him. Apparently, we were on his “backyard trail” and he heard about our trek from Art Byram and others. He must have gotten his hands on the tracking link because he was able to figure out where we would be and came out to say hello. That was great. We walked a bit and then said goodbye. The next section of trail ended up being my least favorite on the entire trip. Between 7:30 P.M. an 9:30 P.M, or so, we were hounded by insects (mosquitoes, gnats, and deer flies) as we walked on loose rock on a hard to follow section of trail. We made a few wrong turns and I grew increasingly tired and frustrated.

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We emerged from the Blue Hills Conservation Area at dusk and made our way towards Orchard Road. We were close to a major road crossing at Route 5/15, but I was done. I told Debbie I had to stop and sleep. I was starving and tired. She was frustrated with me as I stumbled through the dark. She eventually said, “Fine,” but insisted we weren’t going to sleep on the edge of the road. We retreated 50 feet back onto the trail and in a childlike fit, I lay down in the middle of the trail. I insisted we were staying put, but after about three minutes and 10 mosquito bites, I changed my mind and said we would keep moving.

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It didn’t get any better. She was capable of running, but I could only walk. As we made our way down the road towards Route 5/15, we both started to look for bail out spots to spend the night. It was residential, but a few miles down the road I spotted a dirt lot that looked like a truck or bus turnout. It appeared to be a great spot to spend a few hours. It was safe and didn’t intrude on anyone’s privacy. We could hear vehicles on I-691 in the distance and it almost sounded like the ocean.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 120 of 133

It turned out to be the best spot we slept on the trip. Despite it being in the lowlands, the bugs were manageable and after setting up the ground cloth, we dozed off quickly. We set the alarm for 1:00 A.M, knowing that it was going to be a short night with less than three hours of rest. We hadn’t made it as far as we planned and by our math, had about 45 miles to go to the finish. The goal was still to do this in one big push even though we had not covered 45 miles in a day since the trip started.

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Day 6, 22-June 2020, 1:41 A.M.
Berlin – Guilford (Finish)
51.51 miles, +7,815/-7,789 feet
22h, 38m, 16s

This was to be our final day and we knew it would be a big one. We were slow to get moving and it was 20 minutes before 2:00 A.M. before we really got going. We were able to immediately start running and it wasn’t long before we reached the main road. There was a Mobil station with a large convenience store right on the trail. We stocked up, buying more energy bars, a bag of chips, pickles, water, and some other drinks. Once moving again, we made good time. The Metacomet Trail ended and the Mattabessett Trail started. We made our way up Lamentation Mountain in Giuffrida Park. This is great section of the trail and it was interesting to climb it at night. There is a massive gravel lot/mine on the east side of the mountain. This is easily visible from I-91. We were moving well.

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The next obstacle was Chauncey Peak, which was a real challenge. There was a lot of rock scrambling and Debbie’s light died. At one point early in the morning, she was having a hard time following, and was feeling low, so we agreed to nap again and wait 25 minutes for the sun to come up. We figure it would be easier to navigate. We laid out the ground cloth, set the alarm, and took the break. After the short rest, it was easier to navigate, but the markings were still a bit hard to follow and we made some wrong turns. I was feeling 10 times better than the night before and was pushing the pace. Once we exited the park, we made it to a flat section where there was a mix of road and trail but both were runable. There was a beautiful marsh and we saw several turtles. We eventually made it to Country Club Road and crossed I-91. We know that area well and had been on Mount Higby before. The climb was long and steady and the mosquitoes were bad.

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We stopped at the first high point to have our pickles and chips, a “breakfast of champions” as Debbie called it. The view back to Lamentation Mountain was spectacular. It was crazy to see where we had come from over the last 12 hours. You could also see Chauncey Peak and Castle Craig. We steadily made our way across Higby. We descended to Rt. 66 where Guida’s restaurant sits. Just as we approached the trailhead, I took a hard fall. I came inches from smashing my face into a rock. We both agreed that we had to proceed with caution as we had made it this far and couldn’t risk a trip ending injury.  It was Monday morning and the restaurant was closed. I didn’t want food, but would have welcomed the opportunity to fill up with water. We checked around the restaurant for a faucet but it required a special wrench. We have similar tap at HORST Engineering, but I didn’t have the wrench handy. The adjacent abandoned house had a spigot but the water main was off. The only other building was a tattoo parlor and it was closed.

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We crossed 66 and kept going. This was a section of trail we were both familiar with. We climbed Beseck Mountain. When we made it to Powder Ridge Mountain Park ski area, a familiar runner approached us headed in our direction. It was Art Byram, and he was thrilled to see us. In addition to being the Run Director of the CUT 112 and the principal host of the CULTRA Trail Running Podcast, he is a longtime friend. Art and Jordan Grande have the supported FKT for the CT section of the NET. In addition to being a Shenipsit Strider, Art is also a longtime member of the Silk City Striders. We are members of both local clubs. Years ago, Art and I finished off the southern section of the annual Shenipsit Trail E2E in a nighttime snow squall. We were the only ones to do the southern portion and completed the route. We got to know each other during that long run.

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So, when he showed up to encourage us, that was cool. He followed us for several miles as we made our way to Rt. 157. This turned out to be our hottest day on the trail, which would be a factor as the day wore on. After Reed Gap, we added some water too our bottles and bladders. Just past the location of the Cattail Shelter, we laid down the ground cloth and took one of our naps. I wasn’t as refreshed as I was following prior siestas. The next section through Trimountain State Park turned out to be very difficult with some of the worst footing on the trail. It was as rough as the Holyoke Range and Penwood. The trail twisted and wound its way through woods that had been subject to heavy ATV use. If it wasn’t going straight up, it was going straight down. We got a little break when we reached Rt. 17. The Quick Stop Convenience Store was 500 feet off the trail. We spent some time there, acquiring more water, coconut water, Fritos, a two liter bottle of Coca-Cola, and some other snacks. This would be our final sustenance on the trip. Our packs felt like a ton of bricks after this stop and after a ways, we stopped again to draw down some of the water in an effort to lighten the load.

When we got through Northwoods and on to Bluff Head, Laura Becker showed up to cheer us on. She was hoping to come to the finish, but had an evening commitment and instead, came earlier. This worked out for the best as we were running way behind schedule, at least according to our original plan. Laura was a huge help driving with us to Monadnock and returning with the car. She has been a tireless cheerleader for us. She was Debbie’s partner last month when they set the Shenipsit Trail FKT. Laura’s enthusiasm will motivate you and after she left us, we pushed hard over the Bluff. Unfortunately, we got confused by some markings and a made a wrong turn. Normally, we would brush this off, but I was not feeling good and let the mistake eat at me.

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We were anxious for the Mattabessett Trail to intersect with the Menunkatuck so that we could start the final part of our journey south to the Sound, but the Mattabessett kept winding left and right. It was exhausting and frustrating. We were hoping that the Menunkatuck was 15 miles and that most of it would be runable with the final four miles  on Guilford roads. It turns out that the section was more than 17 miles long and less runable than thought. What we thought was to be a 45 mile day ended up being 51 miles.  The first part of the Menunkatuck was OK and we made good time for a few miles, but eventually, we were back to rock scrambling. At one point, we saw a fisher cat. This was one of the coolest animals we saw on the trip. He made a wild sound and glued himself to the side of a tree after I alerted him to our presence. The cat lifted my spirits for a moment, but my feet were really hurting and I developed a funk.

The darkness made matters worse as we only had one functioning light between us. My light was strong as I had switched to my second battery, but both of her batteries were dead, as was my first battery. Our iPhone batteries were less than 10% and she was using hers to navigate the maze while periodically using the light. Things got tougher from there. I had been diligent about caring for my feet throughout the trip. I had one small blister on my right pinkie toe, but I had taped it and it hadn’t gotten worse. That all changed on the last day. Whether it was the sheer accumulation of miles, or it was the warmer temperatures, or it was the longer day, I don’t know. The end result was that I ended up with two blisters on that toe, two blisters on the other pinkie toe, and a huge blister on the side of my right heel. In addition to the blisters, my feet were burning up from inflammation and bruising. My Lone Peak’s had lost their integrity and no longer offered support, cushioning, or traction. On the few times I logged into Strava, I got repeated warnings: “Time for Some New Shoes.” I was thinking, duh, I know that! I wish I had left a second pair of fresh shoes where we picked up our food cache because it could have made a difference. The trail conditions would have trashed any shoes.

Debbie also struggled with some blisters, but mine were worse. At one point, we were running in an attempt to make up some ground and I felt one of the blisters on my left foot burst. I screamed in agony as I felt the wetness soak into my sock. I was limping and in a very bad mood. Guilford is a huge geographic area and the trail felt like it would never end. We messaged my father, who was scheduled to pick us up. At first we thought we would finish by 8:30 P.M. Earlier in the trip, the goal was 6:00 P.M. and the stretch goal was noon. Now it was past 8:00 P.M. and we had a long way to go. We revised our pick up to 10:30 P.M. and he said he would be there. When you look at the map, you can see the the trail makes a lot of turns, but it was far worse than that. I know we were exhausted and out of light, but we were moving at a snail’s pace. Debbie wasn’t happy with me as I was an emotional wreck, complaining about my feet, my tiredness, and my hunger.

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Unlike me, she showed true grit as a veteran runner with more than 100 ultras under her belt. She has been through the hallucinations and craziness in the wee hours of the night. I have less experience, but we were at an unprecedented point in our travels. Neither of us had been at the 235+ mile mark of an adventure like this. My tears flowed freely and I was mad. It was pitch black in the woods and we resorted to holding hands so that she could follow the trail. We passed through several fields and it seemed like we were going in circles. It turns out that they just looked similar, but our minds were playing games.

Finally we made it to Clapboard Hill Road. I swore I couldn’t run, but I wanted the trip to be over with, so I forced myself to shuffle. Eventually I was able to trot and then run a bit. I went from an 18 minute mile to a 15 and was able to run a 14 minute mile or so. Unfortunately, we made an egregious error missing a fork in the road. We ended up under I-95 when we should have been passing over it. This was at the bottom of a long hill. I threw a fit. We had to walk back up the hill and find the correct turn. After that episode, I was really done, and the next four miles felt like the longest of my life. It was very challenging to navigate through the streets, but we eventually found our way to Guilford Station. It was a surreal moment.

We had the option to climb the stairs and cross the train tracks, or we could take the elevator. I had heard about this anomaly from CUT 112 finishers. We opted for the elevator. Once on the second floor, we took the footbridge across the tracks and then took another elevator down on the other side. After that we were very close to the finish. There were a few more streets to go down before entering Chittenden Park. My vision of what our finish would be like was nothing like reality. I dreamt of finishing with a handful of friends and family (possibly including our kids) cheering. I planned to swim in the ocean and soak my feet in the salt water. I figured we would wash up, change into fresh clothes (which we had packed in my father’s truck in advance), refuel, and celebrate the accomplishment. If it had been six in the evening, all of that may have been possible, but instead, it was midnight and we were on our own.

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When we got to the park, we spotted my Dad’s truck. I had been there before and thought I knew how to cross the ball fields and find the boardwalk that juts out into Long Island Sound. We found the boardwalk and then I had second thoughts. For some reason, I thought there was a different one. We returned to the park and walked along its edge, looking for another opening that went out onto the water. We hadn’t stopped either of the Garmin’s. We returned to my Dad’s truck and since both of our iPhones had died in the minutes following our exit from Guilford Station, we borrowed his. We looked up our position on Google Maps and confirmed with satellite view that we had indeed been on the correct boardwalk. We carried the phone down to the end of the boardwalk, stopped the Garmin devices, dipped our toes into the water, and snapped two blurry photos. One is of Debbie. The other was a selfie with the two of us. It felt like a total buzz kill at the time, but after a few days, I recognize that those few moments won’t define the journey.

We returned to the truck, warned my Dad about the smell, and loaded the most vile gear and our shoes in the back. We gingerly put on sandals and climbed into the cab. My mother sent a few bottles of seltzer for me and some watermelon for Debbie, which were our requests. That was awesome. Within minutes, Debbie was out like a light. I tried to stay awake and chat with my Dad, but it was nearly impossible. Every few minutes I would wake up and say something and then doze off again. We got home around 2:00 A.M. and headed straight for the shower. The layers of grime didn’t come off in one session, but it felt good to clean our feet and apply some bandages. We went to bed and awoke around 9:00 A.M. feeling fulfilled.

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We spent part of the day cleaning up our gear, reading email, and documenting the adventure. I did some work in the afternoon and we had dinner outside at Flatbread. We got two large pizzas and ate one at the restaurant. When we got home, we ate half of the second pizza.

This truly was a team effort. Debbie and I were the core team and we have a long history of leaning on each other. It was unfortunate that so many of our highs and lows were opposite each other. I can’t recall a moment when we were both firing on all cylinders, but that is one of the challenges with a team effort. You may not both be feeling good at the same time and have to be there to support the other. You can only go as fast as the slowest member of the team. We have opposite strengths (she is a super descender and I’m a strong climber), but we are compatible. Beyond our duo, I’ve mentioned how much support we have gotten from others. Though they couldn’t support us directly during the run, they helped with many of the logistics and offered encouragement. Our parents and kids were awesome. My colleagues at HORST Engineering covered me while I was away.

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Laura was there at the beginning and end. Lee-Stuart was a key helper. Bryce Thatcher at UltrAspire helped us decide on the perfect packs. We got cheers on the trail from the Schulz Family, Stefan, and Art.

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Gear List

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My pack weighed 9.5 pounds with all gear, but no food or water. Debbie’s was about 8 pounds. My full pack weight (4L of water and food) was about 21 lbs. Debbie’s was a few pounds less.

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One funny gear story is that Debbie started the trip with two hair ties, but lost them both by the second day. She thinks they fell off her wrist at night. She went the better part of a day without one. She improvised with her Buff, but it wasn’t ideal. At one point, I came across a hair tie on the trail. It was miles and miles south of where she last saw hers, so it had obviously come from someone else’s head. I packed it away and then washed it up. Eventually I presented it to her as a “gift.” She accepted it as it was a good find and she made it to the end of the trip with it.

Hydration & Food

As noted, we are vegan. Debbie did a great job at preparing these items. We had the smaller cache at the kayak in Hadley and the main cache in Suffield. A third would have been prudent. We augmented with the various stops at stores and restaurants. I’m estimating that I burned 6,000 to 8,000 calories a day. I weighed 146.6 pounds at the start of the trip and afterwards, was 140.8. When I rehydrated I gained a few pounds, so I definitely burned some of the little fat I have.  There was no way I could carry enough food to replenish what I was burning.

  • Picky Bars
  • Go Macro Bars
  • Clif Bars
  • Vega Bars
  • Verv Energy Bars
  • Lenny & Larry’s Complete Cookies
  • BRAMI Lupini Beans
  • Baruka Nuts
  • Various Mixed Nuts
  • Pretzels
  • Vegan Jerky
  • Bananas
  • Fritos
  • Picky Oatmeal
  • Whole Foods Rice & Lentils
  • YumEarth Organic Sour Beans
  • Hammer Fizz
  • Tailwind Recovery
  • Coca-Cola
  • MapleAid
  • Iced Tea
  • Lemonade
  • Smoothie
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Injuries

There were no serious injuries. After my fall coming down to Guida’s, I had a second fall coming down from Powder Ridge. That was scary, but I survived that one too. Debbie had a few falls and smashed her knee once, but she was OK. Sleep deprivation took its toll and caused “brain fog” while dulling our senses. The blisters were bad, but not really until the last day. My right ankle was very stiff and it took a while to warm up after stopping. In addition to the blisters, our feet were swollen and very sore. I had chafe on my inner arms, inner thighs, and undercarriage, but nothing that was debilitating. It was just uncomfortable and likely caused by a profuse amount of sweating, a little rubbing, and a little grit. We got many scratches from the brush, tall grass, and branches. I consider all of this to be normal and manageable.

Flora and Fauna

I’ve mentioned some of the animals we encountered. There were so many more. We didn’t see moose, but we saw moose poop. I think I saw a bear climb a tree, but it could have been a raccoon. I saw a different raccoon. The fisher cat may have been the highlight, but there were some awesome birds too, including several kestrels. Debbie recorded one bird when it woke us up at 1:00 A.M. with its beautiful sounds. The largest snake we saw was about four feet long and it was black. We saw many other smaller snakes and heard even more slithering off the trail into the brush as we approached. We saw one rattlesnake, but it was dead.2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 113 of 133

  • Bear
  • Racoon
  • Fisher cat
  • Deer
  • Frogs
  • Toads
  • Snakes
  • Birds, so many including kestrels, hawks, heron, etc.
  • Worms
  • Salamanders
  • Squirrels
  • Chipmunks
  • Fish
  • Insects

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In addition to the fauna, we were living in the flora. Some of the trees were immense. We had to climb over many that had blown down. The flowers and particularly the Mountain-laurel, were gorgeous. I think I’ve managed to avoid Poison Ivy. I know I was in it and I’m highly allergic. I either have it and don’t know it, or the other rashes I got are simply worse.

Astronomy

We saw the sun rise and set every day of the trip. That was amazing. In MA, we had some great views of the sky, but as we made our way further south, it was harder to see the stars because of the increased light pollution.

Weather

I’ve mentioned the weather several times. The day time temperatures rose into the high 80’s. Most days it was hot and dry. A few of the mornings were more humid. Overnight, the temperature ranged from the high 50’s to the mid-60’s. It was quite warm, even at night. The skies were generally cloudless with a bright sun. There was zero precipitation, which is remarkable

Lowlights

  • Debbie and I were discussing the highlights and lowlights. The main lowlight was the bugs. We wish we had prepared better by carrying the full tent.
  • Another lowlight was the failure of my Lifeproof case on my iPhone. By the end of the trip, the lens cover had deteriorated which made my photos washed out and blurry. I’ll be getting a new case. I’ve had repeated problems with their products. The challenge is there really isn’t anything on the market that protects a valuable phone the way I need it too. With all the running, cycling, paddling, and other outdoor pursuits, their products remain the standard.
  • We never go to convenience stores. Buying stuff there and then having to throw out the packaging with no option to recycle it was painful. There has to be a better way. We felt guilty chucking the bottles and other packaging into the waste bins.
  • Struggling to keep all the devices charged and running was a real energy drain. I hike and trail run to get away from some (but not all) of the technology. The Anker chargers worked well, but we really had no time or ability to recharge them, and when the died, we were stuck. I had ordered a third one that I intended to put in our cache, but it arrived the day after our trip started.
  • The failure of the Garmin inReach Mini to capture the 1 second data intervals was a problem. We paid good money for that device and the subscription, and I was hoping for more. Finding out after the fact that it couldn’t do what we needed it to do was a disappointment.
  • The deterioration of my feet was a problem. They held up fine for most of the journey, but on the last day, I was really hurting. I have some ideas to share in lessons learned.

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Highlights

  • I would have to say that I never doubted Debbie’s ability to get through this. On the other hand, a lot could have gone wrong for me. A real bright spot was my ability to actually run after miles and miles and hours and hours. I was pleased with my fitness.
  • Little Georges diner was awesome. Not much more to say about that experience other than to say we came across that place at just the right time. The server’s t-shirt summed it up, “I pigged out at Little Georges.”
  • Seeing six days of sunrises and sunsets was excellent.

Lessons Learned

  • You can never have enough shoes and socks.
  • Bring a tent that is completely enclosed if you want to avoid the mosquitoes.
  • Keep that water weight a few pounds lighter and you will move a lot quicker. A total of 2.5 to 3 liters is about the tipping point. When we carried 4 liters, we were bogged down.
  • My gaiters gave me problems the entire trip. I bought them new after trashing a previous pair at last summer’s Never Summer 100K. They were overly complicated with a hook, zipper, and drawstring. Debbie has handmade gaiters that have lasted years and we simply should have gone to her source. Instead, I bought these new ones on clearance and “paid the price.” I was constantly fiddling with them as the zipper would come undone. By day four, one failed completely and on day five and six I couldn’t wear them at all. This let a little more grit into my socks and could have contributed to my foot problems. I won’t make that mistake again.
  • It’s nearly impossible to communicate with the outside world by social media or other means when you have to put out such effort just to get the mileage in.
  • The mind is always stronger than you give it credit for. If you allow it, your head will give in before your body does.
  • Most people have no idea that you do this crazy stuff and in the end, it doesn’t matter. Do it to fulfill yourself and not to impress others. I think about the people we encountered at the convenience stores. They had no idea what we were up to and so what.

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Summary

There is no question that Debbie and I have done some impressive endurance events over the last 30 years. Some have been with a number and others have been the DIY variety. For me the hardest races include the events in my Toughest Ten. I’ve got to make a separate list for the DIY stuff, but it includes our two White Mountain Hut Traverses, a few of our Long Trail run/bike adventures, and many of our 4,000 footer run/hikes. It’s hard to rank this effort relative to them because it was different in many ways. The multi-day format made for a lot of suffering. I’ve never been interested in events with sleep deprivation as a factor. I prefer to compete on speed, strength, and the mental fortitude that goes with them. That being said, this effort required all of that and the challenge of doing it for the better part of a week. It was a complete effort. Of course, on Day 6, I would have told you, “never again.” Now, only three days later, I’m dreaming about our next adventure.

For now, we will focus on rest and recovery. We live by the adage Stress + Rest = Growth.

Other than some gear, the food, and a tank of gas, this was very cost effective “vacation.” Wyoming would have cost more, but with the cancellation, most of that investment was refunded. Five nights of sleeping on the ground will pay dividends. I said to Debbie, “With the money we saved on this trip, we already have a deposit towards a stay at the Mohonk Mountain House. Let’s go!”

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Coda: following the publication of this post, we were guests on Episode 83 of the CULTRA Trail Running Podcast. We had a fantastic conversation with host Art Byram. You can find past and future episodes here.

Fastest Known Time (FKT)

This morning, I went for a little ruck on our neighborhood trail, the Clark Trail, and listened to the latest Fastest Known Podcast episode (#86) featuring Connecticut native Sarah Connor. It was fantastic to hear a Connecticut runner interviewed on a podcast that is produced in Boulder, CO. I think there is a west coast bias when it comes to trail running and outdoor adventure, and I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder regarding the west vs. east debate, but this is sport, and it’s all in good fun. CO may not be on the coast, but it’s part of the mountain west that gets much attention relative to our part of the country here in New England.

State Trail Overview Map

Sarah made FKT news for her surge of activity in April. In recent years, she discovered the FKT concept and community. At the moment, the FKT leaderboard lists her with 17.  All of them were at least partially in Connecticut. Her interview with podcast host Buzz Burrell focused on Connecticut as a hotbed for FKT’s. He was quite surprised that our little state had so much activity.

She explained her background and perspective on why there has been more interest. With the pandemic and race cancellations, many runners, like Sarah, have come into the season raring to go but with nowhere to run. The FKT phenomenon has taken off here in Southern New England, but is not foreign to many of us in the region. Many of us have been adventuring for years, but without formally documenting the efforts or capturing the details as the guidelines set forth. There has to be many folks who don’t even care to document their adventures, but for those of us interested in a little competition, FKT’s serve a purpose. The FKT leaderboard is currently topped by Ben Nephew, from nearby Massachusetts, who has traveled a similar trajectory as Debbie. He started running short and mid-distance races (including many in the New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series), continued with mountain running, delved into ultras, and is now focusing on FKT’s. Even Ben has done quite a bit of running in Connecticut over the years.

I figured a blog post would be a good companion to Sarah’s podcast interview and would shed more light on why Connecticut is a perfect place for FKT activity to thrive. Debbie and I have been running the trails of Connecticut for more than 20 years. One important reason why FKT’s are growing in our state is simply because the trails exist. Another is because the recent attention and social media are spurring others to discover the FKT format.

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Many of Sarah’s FKT’s were on Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails that were established and are maintained by the dedicated volunteers of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association. I have been on CFPA’s Board of Directors since 2008. This is my 12th and final year, as I have served the maximum three full terms. I’m recruiting others to take my place so that they can help move our wonderful organization forward even more. CFPA describes itself this way:

The Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting people to the land in order to protect forests, parks, walking trails, and open spaces in Connecticut for future generations.

With a Staff of experienced conservation professionals and a Board of Directors who strongly support CFPA’s mission and values, CFPA delivers programs on Blue-Blazed Hiking TrailsEnvironmental EducationLand Conservation, and Public Policy.

CFPA is on the cusp of launching our next three to five year strategic plan. What is remarkable is the organization was founded in 1895 and was the first private, nonprofit, conservation organization to be established in Connecticut. CFPA is one of the oldest and most respected conservation organizations in the country and has inspired the land trust movement in Connecticut and beyond. It is important to note that CFPA is a creation of the descendants of Connecticut’s settlers 17th century settlers, but the Native Americans were exploring the landscape long before Europeans arrived. It is fitting that many of our trails are named after Native American tribe names and other words.

In October 1929, CFPA established a Trails Committee and then in December of that year, established the first four sections of the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. The 19.2 mile Quinnipiac Trail extending from Prospect to Hamden was the first official trail. There are more than 40 main trails and many subsidiary and spur trails that make up the full 825 mile system. Debbie grew up in Prospect and her first true introduction to trail running was on the Quinnipiac. She would frequently run it to Sleeping Giant State Park, and sometimes run it there and back.

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One thing I’m proud of during my time on the board is that CFPA has embraced the trail running community, and the trail running community has embraced CFPA. The BBHT’s are one of the best and most extensive systems of “close-to-home” trails anywhere in the country. It’s no surprise that Connecticut leads the nation in National Trails Day events. Every year, I write about Trails Day and the impact it has had on our state. Last year, Connecticut had more than 200 official events. That’s a lot for a small state, but many of the same reasons for this high level of activity are what also drive the growth of FKT’s.

I could delve deeper into the history of CFPA and the BBHT’s, but two references do a fantastic job of this. Check out George McLean Milne’s Connecticut Woodlands: A Century’s Story of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and the Connecticut Walk Book: The Complete Guide to Connecticut’s Blue-Blazed Hiking TrailsI’ve consulted these books many times over the last 20 years. Milne’s book is from 1995, and out of print, but you can find copies online. The “Walk Book” was first published in 1937 and the 20th edition was published in 2017.

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The 825 miles of trails in the system, and all of the spur trails, park trails, town trails, land trust, and other trails make Connecticut a state with more trails per-capita than any other state in the nation. I don’t have the specific facts to back this assertion, but I have heard this stated several times, and it is likely true. There are 3.5 million residents and 5,567 square miles. We are the third smallest state (land area) behind Rhode Island and Delaware. There are a lot of trails, and they are literally right out our front doors. Furthermore, these are not federal trails, but rather state and local trails. They are on rugged, rooted, and rocky terrain, and all at low elevations. They were designed for walking and hiking, but these factors make them perfect for running too.

As members of the New England and Connecticut trail running community, Debbie and I have witnessed the amazing growth of trail running, ultra running, and now FKT’s. Admittedly, we hadn’t paid much attention to the formal FKT process. We knew that there was an active message board community that emerged during the early Internet era, but we didn’t officially pay attention until Debbie uploaded one to the modern website after her 2018 Mohawk/AT Loop adventure. We’ve been doing FKT style runs since the early 2000’s. Others were doing them long before us. Many of ours came during the years that we were focused on climbing the 67 New England 4,000 footers.

Most were before GPS technology and we don’t have good records of our times, but we frequently pushed it on these routes. In 2008, along with our friend Matt Schomburg, we were the first to do the entire Grafton Notch Loop in Maine. When my blog post of the trip inspired Ryan Welts and Adam Wilcox to run it in 2014, they mentioned us as inspiration, which is pretty cool. That was likely the first time I heard the abbreviation FKT. We have subsequently done other epic routes in White Mountains of New Hampshire/Maine, and Green Mountains of Vermont. Our White Mountain Hut Traverses in 2011 and 2013 were notable adventures. This route dates back long before the Internet and was established by Hut Croos from the Appalachian Mountain Club. Speed hiking was a thing decades ago as these Croos developed massive strength during their time spent in the Huts. They very well may have been early pioneers of the trail running, mountain running, and FKT movements.

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In the podcast, Sarah mentioned the CT Trail Mixers running club. By historical standards, they are a relatively new group. The longest standing trail running club in Connecticut is the Shenipsit Striders, founded in 1975. There is a lot of history on my blog about the Striders. Debbie joined the club in 1999, was the president for many years, and after 15 years, in 2019 she retired as the Race Director of the Soapstone Mountain Trail Races. Our club promotes the two oldest trail races in New England, the NipMuck Trail Marathon (36 years), and the aforementioned Soapstone (35 years).

Both are part of the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series, which has 12 events in any given year. These stats demonstrate the growth and popularity of this series. In 2019, a cumulative ~20,000 miles were run during the series, with 780 individual men runners and 511 individual women runners. The most finishers by race were the HMF Events (Hartford Marathon Foundation) Summer Solstice 5 Miler with 195, the Shenipsit Striders Events Nipmuck South with 153, the Shenipsit Striders Events Soapstone Mountain Trail Race 14 Miler with 123, and the Connecticut Traprock 17K & 50K Ultramarathon Traprock 17k with 120. Overall, the Solstice 5K/5M combo had 295 finishers, the Soapstone 6K/14M combo had 226, and the Traprok 17K/50K combo had 200. These are big numbers for a small state. 

So, with all of 2020’s races canceled for now, there is a huge void. Many people are filling that void with FKT’s. Over the last 90 years, many people have hiked all or many of the BBHT’s, but now folks are running them too, and in droves. Now, this may sound like the trails are crowded, but that’s not the case. Sarah pointed out how she can run for hours without seeing anyone. Some popular trails are busy but many of these trails are little known and quiet. That factor has also contributed to the surge in FKT activity as runners seek new places to go. Connecticut is a tiny state, but there are trails everywhere.

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We have the dedicated trail maintainers led by CFPA’s Trails Committee to thank for making sure we have access to these trails and assuring that these trails are open to all residents. CFPA itself is an under-recognized nonprofit organization that deserves more respect and increased membership. Though the Connecticut DEEP has a long history, we can no longer count on the government to maintain our parks and trails. With a staff of about 10 that is augmented by hundreds of volunteers, the nonprofit CFPA is based in Rockfall, and works tirelessly to protect the landscape of Connecticut. That landscape includes our own 825 miles of trails (crossing private and public lands) and many state parks.

I’m biased, but Connecticut has the best trails in the world. Debbie and I have hiked and run all over the world and our trail network and trail community are the best. I’m torn because I want to shout this from the hilltops while also keeping this secret to ourselves. From time to time, a journalist or trail advocate will pick up on the fact that Connecticut’s trails are extraordinary, but then people soon forget. The glossy running magazines spend little time featuring New England trails. Whenever you see a “best of” or “top 10” list, there is frequently a token New England trail or trail town thrown in for good measure. It isn’t new for me to point this out. In 2013, Meghan Hicks wrote a story for Trailer Runner magazine. Somehow she reached Debbie and me and we nominated Manchester, Connecticut as a top trail town. It was great to be chosen and we touted many of the great facts described throughout this blog post. Typically when east coast or northeast trails are cited for excellence, they are in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Other accolades are given to trails in Maine or Vermont, where you can get above treeline. However, some of the best trails are those closest to home. So, during a pandemic, when you have to stay home or at least close to home, the local trails are the best trails.

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In addition to CFPA, the Appalachian Mountain Club has a strong presence in Connecticut. I am also on AMC’s Board of Directors. I’m at the start of my third two-year term so my love of AMC is strong. AMC is much larger than CFPA, has a regional mission, and is also a pioneering nonprofit. We were founded in 1876. AMC’s website describes our mission well:

Founded in 1876, the Appalachian Mountain Club promotes the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of America’s Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. We believe these resources have intrinsic worth and also provide recreational opportunities, spiritual renewal, and ecological and economic health for the region. Because successful conservation depends on active engagement with the outdoors, we encourage people to experience, learn about, and appreciate the natural world.

Like CFPA, it’s younger sibling, AMC does substantial work advocating for and maintaining trails throughout New England. In addition to managing the White Mountain Huts, AMC was instrumental in the creation of the  Appalachian Trail Conservancy, another key nonprofit in the trails movement. The ATC oversees the entire Appalachian Trail. The AT goes through 14 states including 51 miles in Connecticut.  That’s important to note. The AT is iconic, and even though it is a short stretch, it highlights Connecticut’s status as a state with awesome trail resources and an even better trail culture.

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So, all of this info and history supports what Sarah described during her interview. She may not have known all of this background, but she can read it here and will likely be even more proud of her heritage as a Connecticut trail runner. Debbie and I have been inspired by so many legendary New England trail runners over the last 20+ years. Each of us have done hundreds of races.  We had a full slate of ultras planned for this spring and summer including Tammany 10, Traprock 50K, Run Ragged, and the Bighorn Trail Run. We were going to use many shorter races in our training. With all of our events cancelled, we have also turned to FKT’s for fun and adventure. We have uploaded a few past routes where we were able to scrape together the necessary documentation, and we have done a few new ones. One example is our Nipmuck Trail End-to-End Run.

With all of the event cancellations, I haven’t had as many stories to write about on this blog. I’ve been flat out at work trying to keep things going there and not writing as much, but sharing this post makes we quite happy. Chances are we will try another FKT tomorrow.

Nipmuck Trail End-to-End Run

I missed blogging, so I did an adventure to have something cool to write about. Today Debbie and I ran the entire Nipmuck Trail from the southern terminus of the East Branch to the northern terminus. The run was just over 35 miles with a little under 5,000 feet of elevation gain and our total time was 7 hours 25 minutes and 29 seconds. Our Connecticut Walk Book says the distance is 36.3 miles but my Garmin GPS track measured it shorter. Since much of the trail is on private land, it changes from time to time and the distances can vary year to year.

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The southern terminus of the East Branch starts in Mansfield Hollow State Park. The West Branch starts on Puddin’ Lane in Mansfield, but there is no way to combine a run of the full trail including both branches, without backtracking.

Screen Shot 2020-04-25 at 10.33.20 PMWe desired one continuous point to point run, so we chose to use the slightly longer East Branch since we recently hiked (with the kids) on the West Branch and wanted to see something new. The northern terminus is at the top of Bigelow Hollow State Park next to Breakneck Pond and on the Massachusetts state line.

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The Nipmuck is part of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s 825 miles of Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. The CFPA BBHT network is one of the finest in the entire country and are marked with blue rectangular blazes. This trail system offers a great way to explore the woods of Connecticut. I am a longtime CFPA board member and proud of the organizations amazing conservation history.

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The CFPA’s official description of the trail is worth sharing:

The Nipmuck Trail extends from Mansfield north to the Massachusetts border. It is shaped roughly like an upside-down fork and has two southern branches: the West Branch starts on Puddin’ Lane in Mansfield; the East Branch starts in Mansfield Hollow State Park in North Windham. The northern terminus of the Nipmuck Trail is in the beautiful Bigelow Hollow State Park.

The trail crosses through a number of recreation and conservation areas including Mansfield Hollow State Park, the Natchaug and Nipmuck State Forests, Schoolhouse Brook Park, the Yale Forest, Bigelow Hollow State Park, and other lands owned by towns and land conservation trusts, most notably Joshua’s Trust. Highlights on the trail include Wolf Rock (an enormous glacial erratic), lookout over Mansfield Hollow Lake, 50’ Cliff, Pixie Falls, Ladies Room Rock, Coye Hill (highest point on the Nipmuck Trail), and the Fenton and Mount Hope rivers. The Nipmuck Trail crosses open field, follows along ridges and woods roads, and provides a continuous spine to which numerous other trail systems connect.

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We are quite familiar with the trail. Four of our all time favorite races, and all of them classics, use the Nipmuck for some or all of their courses: Nipmuck South, NipMuck Trail Marathon, Northern Nipmuck, and Breakneck. Only the first two remain active. Nipmuck South is a relative newcomer, but NipMuck is the oldest and most famous trail race in New England. In 2020, it will celebrate 37 years of continuous running, assuming the Shenipsit Striders are able to host it in October as planned.

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I’ve never run the 14 mile Nipmuck South, but Debbie has. I’ve crewed, watched, and photographed, and I’ve been on that section of trail a few times. I’ve run the 26.4 mile NipMuck Trail Marathon seven times. I first did it in 2004, and I last did it (on a relay with Debbie), in 2019. The 16 mile Northern Nipmuck is one of our all-time favorite races, but it is not held anymore. I did it eight times, between 2002 and 2010, though that first time was a 12 mile DNF that motivated me to train a little more (running) than I previously did in that era. I recall that day vividly. I had done very little trail running after a decade of competitive cycling. I figured I would give it a go at the April race, but halfway through the return leg, I couldn’t move my legs anymore. They were absolutely hammered. I got a ride back from the aid station on Barlow Hill Road.

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I ran the 13 mile Breakneck six times between 2002 and 2009, but it is no longer held. The first time I ran it was also a DNF, but that was because I smashed and gashed my knee in a hard fall at the four mile mark. The wound required many stitches to close. Things were better the last time I ran it. It was one of my best and fastest trail races of all time. If Brian Rusiecki hadn’t shown up, I would have notched my only ever win in a long course New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series event.

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With no races during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, we figured we would test ourselves on familiar trails that were at low elevations and close to home. Our intent was to push it. I still took a bunch of photos, but we kept moving. The Nipmuck Trail is about 95% rugged singletrack. The trail is amazingly beautiful and challenging. As noted, it winds through some lovely northeastern Connecticut towns including: Mansfield, Ashford, Willington, Eastford, and Union. There are about 17 road crossings, a few short road sections in the first half, and then a one mile off-trail section (dirt and asphalt) on Oakes Road at about the 20 mile mark.

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Debbie and I had plans to run several ultras this spring including the Tammany 10 and the Traprock 50K, both of which were cancelled. I haven’t run an ultra since last July’s Never Summer 100K. I’m fit right now as I kept up my exercise regimen after the fall cyclocross season, and I’ve taken advantage of the mild winter weather in New England. I’m mostly cycling, but I’ve done a couple of 15+ mile training runs and have been averaging 20 miles of total running each week. Most of my riding has been accomplished by commuting to and from work. The lockdown has made that easier since I have no meetings after work. I’ve been feeling pretty good, but a pulled left “butt muscle” slowed me down over the last two weeks. It improved enough this week, so I was ready to do something big this weekend. Plus, I needed that adventure to write about.

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It was awesome to be out in nature for the better part of the day and we had the warmest temperature of the week. We are fortunate that our kids are self-sufficient and it benefits the whole family when Debbie and I can get away for can short trip. Speaking of nature, the day started off with four deer sprinting across the field that is just beyond the trailhead at the southern terminus There was low fog, and the deer were a good omen for the day. We also saw a beautiful Great Blue Heron in the Fenton River. We saw many squirrels and other critters too. We didn’t see any beavers, but we saw their handiwork.

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I had another hectic work week, but the weather forecast for Saturday was better than Sunday, and I wanted a recovery day before returning to work on Monday. So, after a short night of sleep, we drove to Mansfield and started just before 6:00 A.M. Debbie and I both wore our UltrAspire packs (vests) with 70 ounces of water. We each carried a bottle in our vests that had a concentrated mixture of Un Tapped Lemon Tea Mapleaid. I brought three Go Macro Bars, a Clif Z Bar, a fruit rope, and a Clif Shot gel. By the end of the run, I was hungry and thirsty, but I was still effectively hydrated and fueled. We both wore Altra Lone Peak shoes. I think hers are the 4.5 model and mine are the older 3.5 model. I opted for shorts and a short sleeve shirt with a base layer, while she used knickers and a long sleeve shirt. We both started the day with our Air Shed pullovers and after it warmed up, we switched ear warmers/bonnets for trucker caps.

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We only had a few problems finding our way. The delays and turnarounds didn’t cost us too much time; maybe only a few minutes each. The blazes and signs were very good. Much of the trail work was done by NipMuck Dave Raczkowski, the legendary former Race Director of the NipMuck Trail Marathon. He and other CFPA trail maintainers have done an awesome job with the trail. This trail has been his passion for much of his lifetime. I think I’ve heard him joke that he was “married to the trail.” It was easy to recognize his handwriting on the signs. Thank you NipMuck Dave for all you have done! Note the upper case M is a touch he added to the name of the race (and his name), many years ago. That’s not how the trail name is spelled on maps, but any time I refer to the race or Dave, I follow his preference.

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In addition to the great signs and markings, there were awesome stone and bridge work for much of the way. There were muddy sections and a fair amount of standing water. The Nipmuck is quite challenging with lots of rocks and roots that are typical of Connecticut trails. I think it is more rugged and hiller than our other favorite, the Shenipsit Trail. The full distance of the Shenipsit is just under 50 miles, so it is longer, but the terrain is a bit easier with more dirt roads, roads, and less pure singletrack. It isn’t as hilly as the Nipmuck, but it is still a tough trail. I like them both, but I think the Nipmuck is prettier.

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The hills really start to hit you after Perry Hill where the second part of the NipMuck Trail Marathon course begins. Those hills get more and more severe until they reach the high point on the trail at Coye Hill. The Northern Nipmuck section has the toughest inclines and declines. By the time we got there, around 26 miles, I was really starting to fade. I was stronger in the first half and led Debbie, but her endurance and running skills shown at the end. She led the final six miles because I had cracked. I revived a bit in the last mile as we neared the finish, but credit goes to her because she could have easily dropped me. The good news is that we were aiming to make this adventure a Fastest Known Time (FKT) in the Unsupported Mixed Gender Team. Debbie has one official FKT from her 2018 Appalachian Trail/Mohawk Trail Loop. The Mohawk is another great Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail. As for this FKT, I’m sure others have done this route before, but I don’t know who. The official record is void of an official FKT, so we will submit ours. Given the East vs. West branch issue and the clear difference in running this south to north vs. north to south, I hope they permit some variations of this iconic trail route.

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With our early start, we didn’t see many people in the first five hours. We saw one trail runner at Mansfield Hollow, and several fisherman along the Fenton River and the New Hope River. We didn’t see any hikers until we got to the section of the trail that goes from Boston Hollow Road to Bigelow Hollow. Once we got to Bigelow Hollow, the trails were more congested with lots of hikers and walkers. That part of the trail is narrow, so we did our best to social distance from the other folks. The distancing is a challenge with so many people spending time on the trails. The last three miles of trail are some of the most difficult. There isn’t much elevation gain, but the trail hugs Breakneck Pond and is very challenging with repeated short and steep ups and downs.

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Unfortunately, the northern terminus is 2.5 miles from the nearest parking lot at Bigelow Hollow. That meant that after running 35+ miles, we had to hike a few more. A big thank you to our friend Laura Becker who hiked out to meet us and then helped us get from Bigelow Hollow back to our car in Mansfield. We were home by 3:00 P.M. and then spent the rest of Saturday hanging out with the kids. Their dinner request was pizza, so we safely picked up two larges at Mulberry Street in Manchester. We ate one and saved one for tomorrow when I’m sure I’ll be hungry again. After that, I’m sure to be hungry for our next running or cycling adventure.

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2019 Never Summer 100K

This time when I got one mile down the trail and my Garmin Forerunner GPS buzzed, I knew exactly what the alert was for, and I ignored it. I decided in advance that I wouldn’t look. I knew that I had a long day (and night) of running and hiking ahead of me and the last thing I was going to do was glance at my watch and take the risk of seeing a “negative” Performance Condition. Last month at Manitou’s Revenge Ultra, I took the chance, saw “+5” and my morale was boosted. I came into this past weekend’s race a little nicked up, and dragging. The altitude was also going to take a toll, so I never looked.

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It’s barely been a month since I updated my Toughest Ten and I’m at it again. It had been five years since the prior update, and five years before that, which signals that I did a lot of short (but hard) races, dealt with several injuries, was consumed with work and family; and simply focused on different types of athletic events. I went from version 2.0, to 3.0, so I’ll call this latest update 3.1. I’ll be 47 soon and the fact that I could update it twice in a month is pretty good. I might have to establish a Toughest 20, which means I’m staying fit and still capable of finishing hard races, even as I approach 50.

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I feel pretty good about the two 2019 races that made the list. Neither suited my strengths, but I did them to spend time with Debbie, to explore new trails, and to push my limits. The Never Summer 100K which Debbie and I did this this past weekend, is the latest addition.

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I don’t have as extensive an ultrarunning career as Debbie, but I’ve done enough of them to know that this one was super hard. For me, last month’s Manitou’s Revenge is still the toughest mile for mile trail race I’ve done, but Never Summer is also up there too. Both races are on part with our two White Mountain Hut Traverses (not races) for hardest mountain adventures on two feet. I’ve never done a 100-mile distance race, and this may be the closest I get (never say never), as my body just isn’t very good after 50 kilometers. I have the mental fortitude to go forever, and I could walk the whole way, but running is totally different, and it isn’t as much fun when your legs hurt that bad.

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Just like Manitou’s Revenge, my legs (particularly my quadriceps) were shot after the 30-mile mark. My heart rate declined because I just couldn’t push. The second half of the race became a long frustrating slog because I wanted to run, but couldn’t. I probably could have pushed even harder (it’s all mental, right?) but my legs wouldn’t move any quicker than a 17 minutes per mile shuffle.

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The stats on this race are impressive:

  • Distance: 64.2 Miles with 13,000ft of vertical gain and 13,000ft of descent.
  • Max Elevation: 11,852′
  • Min Elevation: 8,450′
  • Average Elevation: 10,220′
  • Starters: 318
  • Finishers: 219
  • My Time: 22h 17m 01s
  • Debbie’s Time: 20h 58m 25s

Let’s go back for a minute. How did I end up in Gould, Colorado running 64 miles? It’s a long story, but the brief version is that Debbie needed a Western States Endurance Run 2019 lottery qualifier. The race cutoff time was 24 hours, but the WS100 qualifying time was sub-23 hours. An even longer story is why she hasn’t done the WS100 in her 20-year career. Regardless, it’s a bucket list event for her and she wants to keep her name in the lottery. So every year she needs a qualifier. Over the last 10 years, she lost her accumulated “tickets” twice. Once when our daughter Dahlia was born. Once when the qualifying cutoff date was more than a year after finishing qualfiers ULTRA-TRAIL Mt. FUJI, and just days before finishing Hellgate. The more tickets you have, the better chance you have of being picked in the lottery.

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Mercifully, the rules have changed so that 1) you can get a pregnancy deferral and 2) you get a once in a lifetime chance to miss a qualifier and keep all your tickets. Unfortunately, these rules were put in place after she lost her tickets. I am proud to say that for rule number one, we played a small role in the change by advocating with the WS100 Race Director and members of the Board of Directors.

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She wants in, so for now, she has to keep ticking off races on the qualifier list. Last year, she did Ultra-Trail Harricana, which I wrote about despite not being on the trip, a rare miss for me. She made a mad-dash to Quebec with Amy and Brian Rusiecki, and got the job done. She wasn’t chosen in the December lottery, so the entire process started over for 2019. Speaking of ultra lotteries, she also wants to return to the Hardrock Endurance Run, and ideally in a clockwise year (beggars can’t be choosers). She finished the run in 2017, but missed out on the 2018 lottery (for the 2019 race that was recently cancelled due to the extreme snow in southwest Colorado) so it is likely she has to run a Hardrock qualifier in 2020 if her third year of eligibility isn’t extended. The goal would be to get into the 2021 race.

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This ultrarunning game is getting more challenging and I’m not talking about the actual running. None of this explains why I would run this far. I’m usually just the crew guy, doing the driving, hauling gear, filling hydration bladders, mixing energy drinks, changing flat tires, and dealing with all the other race logistics. When our kids are with us, I’m also playing the role of Dad.

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This past weekend, our kids and our rabbits were with Debbie’s parents, which is a treat for everyone involved, but also a lot of work. That meant we could make the trip to Gould without them, and be more flexible with our itinerary. Debbie researched Never Summer (named for one of the two mountain ranges that the race passes over), which was in its 5th year, and realized it was one of the only races that fit our tight schedule and wasn’t sold out. The race has grown rapidly. Ultrarunners are yearning for tougher and tougher adventures. Running 50, 64, 100, or 200 miles just isn’t enough anymore. People want rugged terrain, lots of climbing, and elevation change. 318 runners signed up for the challenge. I was one of them.

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I wanted to do more trail running in 2019 after not running at all in 2018 following my broken leg. I had been yearning for more mountain adventures. I love the intensity of cyclocross, cross-country mountain biking, and sprint triathlon; three disciplines that suit my abilities. However, I’m most happy when deep in the mountains and pushing hard. When Debbie said she was returning to Manitou’s Revenge, I figured, “what the heck,” and registered too. I saw sections of the course when I crewed for her in 2017 and knew that it was a beast. I used another race that I’ve done several times, Traprock 50K, as part of my build-up.

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After I registered for Manitou’s Revenge, I thought, OK, if the kids aren’t coming on the CO trip, then maybe I should run Never Summer with her too. It would be farther than I’ve ever gone on two feet in one shot. I knew that I would have a blast crewing and taking photos, but sometimes it’s nice to see all of the course and get the shots that you can’t get from the aid stations.

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The race was sold out, but I put my name on the wait list figuring I would get in. A few months later I got an alert on my iPhone that said my American Express card had been charged for the cost of the entry fee. That was that. I was on the start list for what would be my longest ever run. Again, things are all relative. When you live with a woman who has done more than 100 ultras you have a different perspective on what is tough and what is really tough.

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So, how did it play out? Everyone wants to know who won. Well, Debbie did. We were even on 2019 ultras at 1-1. She beat me at Traprock after I got lost and ran some extra miles before reuniting with her and then losing on the fast final descent. Our finish times were only 39 seconds apart, which is not much after 6.5 hours. I got her back at Manitou’s, where she had foot and calf injuries that hobbled her.  Same thing, after nearly 16 hours, we were only separated by 21 minutes. We are opposites (I’m strong on the up and she is strong on the down), but evenly matched which is kind of crazy, but good, after 20 years together.

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The entire race was inside State Forest State Park which is a cool name that I enjoyed repeating. We packed our new Big Agnes tent, which is very compact. It fit right in our luggage. Each of us brought a lightweight sleeping bag and a sleeping pad. We spent Friday night and part of Saturday night (after the race) in our tent at the North Michigan Campground which was only three miles from the start/finish line at the Gould Community Center.

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Gould is way off the grid at about 8,900 feet. There was no AT&T phone service so for a few days, we were totally off the grid. The weather on race-day was a real mix, but it would be described as terrible. It dawned cool with partial sunshine, but there were pockets of dark clouds that were foreboding. The first 30 miles are the hardest because they had the most climbing including the vicious ascent of Diamond Peak at 11,852 feet. As we were headed up Diamond Peak the clouds got darker and the thunder started to rumble. By the time I made it to the summit, the wind was whipping and bolts of lightning were flashing in the distance. The descent was very hard for me. I was already knackered from the climb, which took me much longer than expected. Debbie had long since gone ahead of me and I was struggling.

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At the top, I managed to smile for a photo and then donned my jacket for the downhill. The rain started to come and the thunder and lightning were a motivating force to keep moving. There was absolutely no tree cover. The ridge was very exposed and went for several miles. The trail, which is normally not marked, wasn’t hard to follow because it was marked with pink flags. It rained on and off for the next few hours as the storms kept rolling in.

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I was really hurting between miles five and 25, but then from 25 to 40, I felt better. From 25 to 30, there was a break in the t-storm action and the sun came out (at least where I was on the course) for a while. I stripped off my jacket and arm warmers and was feeling better. Then, from 30 to 40, the weather got bad again. For a short period, the sun would come out and warmed up the air, but then another t-storm would roll through. Many of the storms brought hard hitting hail that was cold and irritating. This pattern continued for several hours and I took off my jacket and put it back on several times during this stretch. It was also a period where my stomach was really off. I had massive air bubbles in it which I attribute to the altitude. It wasn’t right from the start and no amount of burping relieved the pressure. It was uncomfortable and I didn’t eat much out of fear that it would come back up in a manner that wouldn’t be enjoyable.

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There were nine aid stations. Clear Lake was used twice because of the out and back. The Gnar Runners published a helpful table on their race page:

Aid Station
Mile
Split
Total
Distance
Aid
Drop Bags
Crew Access
Michigan Ditch
11.4
11.4
Full
No
No
Diamond
5.8
17.2
Full
Yes
Yes
Montgomery
6.0
23.2
Full
No
No
Ruby Jewel
6.2
29.4
Full
Yes
Hike In Only
Clear Lake 1
10.0
39.4
Full
Yes
No
Clear Lake 2
4.5
43.9
Full
Yes
No
Canadian
6.2
50.1
Full
Yes
Hike In Only
Bockman Road
5.7
55.8
Full
Yes
Yes
Ranger Lakes
6.2
62.0
Full
No
Yes
Finish
2.2
64.2
      Yes
Total
64.2

One of the worst storms of the day hit when I was nearing the Ruby Jewel Aid Station. That was the first time I saw that I wasn’t alone in the suffering. The station was full of runners who were cold, many too cold to continue. This was an experienced bunch, but many still appeared to be undressed, lacking the gear for a sudden change in weather. Others were prepared, but the combination of tiredness and being soaked to the bone was too much to handle. I didn’t stay long and pushed on. A huge climb followed the aid station and once again, I was hurting. That 10 mile stretch to Clear Lake 1 was awful. I had lost a lot of ground on the Diamond Peak section and didn’t make much time up at all. The last few miles before Clear Lake seemed like they would never end. It was getting later in the day and the temperature remained low. I kept me jacket on the entire time.

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The out and back to the actual Clear Lake was a 4.5 mile round trip. That’s where I saw Debbie for the first time since she passed me more than 12 hours earlier. I was happy to see her and got a hug and kiss. She was on her way back to the aid station following a 1,300 foot ascent to the lake. I was moving slowly but steadily. It was pretty dark in the woods, but I had left my light in my hydration pack back at the aid station. I had clipped it to my only drop bag. I didn’t take much from my drop bag as I kept my most important gear including arm warmers, gloves, bonnet, and light in my pack all day. I had my hydration belt in my drop bag, so I took that for the 2.5 hour round trip to Clear Lake and back. It was nice to give my back a break. I kept my poles with me, which was smart.

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On the way back, I saw Sophie Speidel, a longtime friend from Virginia. It was also her first time running Never Summer. She was lured west by a former running mate, Marlin Yoder, who had relocated to nearby Loveland. It was great to meet Marlin and his family who came to cheer for them. His daughter, son-in-law, and two grandkids were our neighbors at the campground.

My key gear included: 

  • Altra Lone Peak 3.5 trail running shoes
  • Pearl Izumi gaiters
  • Black Diamond poles
  • Patagonia Capilene shirt
  • 2XU compression shorts
  • Patagonia running shorts
  • CEP compression sleeves
  • Darn Tough socks
  • Outdoor Research Helium jacket
  • Rudy Project sunglasses
  • Patagonia Hat and Gloves
  • Shenipsit Striders Boco trucker hat,
  • one drop bag (dry bag) with spare shoes, socks, gloves, hat, Patagonia Air Shed
  • UltrAspire Zygos hydration vest
  • UltrAspire Synaptic hydration belt
  • UltrAspire Lumen waist light
  • Verge arm warmers
  • Bandana

Seeing Sophie gave me some motivation, but it didn’t last. By the time I made it back to the aid station, it was pouring again. I stopped for about 10 minutes to eat a little, repack my hydration vest, and get situation for the night time portion of the race. The aid station was only three small canopy tents and there wasn’t a square inch of space as they were packed with runners trying to keep dry. I got very wet as I feverishly worked to situate my pack with everything I needed. It was past 8:00 P.M., the sun was down, and I was figuring at least another eight hours on course.

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I finally got moving and it was downhill for a long ways, so I wore everything I had including my shirt, my Airshed, and my OR jacket. I wore my trucker hat on top of beanie and had my hood pulled tight over that. My gloves were soaked through, but I wore them and it helped. I had no idea that I was headed into some of the worst mud that I’ve ever seen. Throughout the day, we had encountered mud and there were many stream crossings, but the section from mile 43.9 to mile 55.8 was absolutely ridiculous. We went through field after field and the soft dirt had turned into a “smoothie.” The trail got very wide because the 175+ runners who had gone through before me had trampled all the vegetation at the edges in an attempt to get some traction. If you didn’t have poles, you were probably miserable. The front runners may have gotten through before the heaviest rain and less traffic meant firmer dirt. But by the time I got there, it was like a slip and slide.

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Other friends at the race included runner Stacey Clark, also a Connecticut resident; and Bogie Dumitrescu, a former New Englander who we have known for many years. He was volunteering this time. It was nice to cross the streams as it provided a moment to rinse off your shoes and poles, as some of the mud was sticking in clumps. However, nearly every stream crossing was followed by a total mud pit on the other side. You were clean for an instant and then up to your shins in mud a moment later.

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It was completely dark during a long wooded section. I hooked up with another runner by the name of Yaroslav Nesenchuk who was a Colorado resident. We didn’t exchange many words during the night, but we shadowed each other and helped motivate each other all the way to the finish. There were times where we were apart for up to 30 minutes at a time, but one of us would slow or an aid station would come, and we would reconnect. At one point, we were separated coming into the Bockman Road aid station and I heard a loud animal noise in front of me. I had my light beam on low to conserve the battery, so when I heard the noise again, I turned it to bright. I was worried about a moose, but I was in the middle of an open field. I couldn’t believe it when my light illuminated this large cow (not a moose but a regular old “milk” cow) only 15 feet in front of me. She wasn’t happy with me, so I gave her some space to pass and she “mooed” again. I scurried by her and never looked back. Other than this fair lady, the only other fauna that I saw all day long were birds, bugs, and chipmunks. I did see a lot of beautiful flora, as the mountain wildflowers were in full bloom.

It was hard to take photos with my iPhone, but I managed some. There were times where I was just too tired to pull it out and fuss with it. My hands were often wet and cold, making it impossible to get my fingerprint reader or passcode to work. Next time, I need to do better because the scenery was spectacular. My food and hydration was pretty simple I went with the same approach as Manitou’s but I wasn’t as comfortable eating because of the gas in my stomach.

I stuck with:

  • Bananas
  • Potatoes and Salt,
  • Pickles
  • Vegan broth
  • Go Macro bars
  • Watermelon
  • Tailwind
  • Water

Our preparation for this race wasn’t as good as Manitou’s. We had a busy month of work and family obligations in between the races. I had a freak calf injury that hurt me for the three weeks prior to the race. Debbie was nursing the foot and calf injury that she aggravated at Manitou’s. We were both going at no better than 80%. We hadn’t planned for this to be an A race because of the altitude, which helped. It allowed us to remain relaxed and focus just on finishing within the WS100 lottery qualifying time. Unlike Hardrock, we didn’t use our Hypoxico altitude tent. We had too many nights where we were gone that would have negated the effects of sleeping in the chamber. It would have just tired us out.

Debbie had one hard fall during the race, on a dirt road descent. She banged up her knees and cut one of them pretty good. I stayed on my feet the whole time. I was cautious and had some close calls, but never hit the deck.

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After the cow episode, I made it to the second to last aid station. Soon after, we hit a long dirt road that seemed to go on forever. That turned to a rugged double track path that pushed this climbing section up another 2,000 feet until we crested before the final descent. On the long road section I was alone for a while until I got passed by some other runners. I was nearly asleep on my feet, winding my way from edge to edge. I had been on course a long time. I would have loved to finish this race in 16 hours and maybe with better preparation and altitude acclimation, I could have, but the reality was I was headed for the 20 hour mark with nine miles to go.

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I trudged on and eventually reconnected with Yaroslav. We reached the last aid station together. Another runner, Stefan Schuster, was with us, and the three of us cover the final few miles together, shuffling on the flat trail to the finish. I wanted to get there ASAP, so I pushed a bit harder, shuffling as fast as I could. I got to the finish and it was the most anti-climactic of my career. One volunteer congratulated me and collected my bib tag. Debbie saw me come in and met me at the line for a congratulatory something. Did she kiss me? Did she hug me? I can’t recall if we embraced or not. We immediately walked to the car, which was parked 100 feet away. We drove straight the campground. She was changed, having finished more than an hour and 20 minutes earlier. I didn’t change at all and just got behind the steering wheel.

Within an hour, we were rough showered and in our sleeping bags. It was about 4:00 A.M. and we ended up sleeping fitfully for about four hours. We awoke and the rain had stopped. We took our time to pack up before making our way back to the community center for the 10:00 A.M. breakfast and awards ceremony. It was great to see all of the runners, including those who finished and those who didn’t. There were many family members and volunteers hanging around too. The Gnar Runners did a fantastic job with the event. They were great volunteers and had wonderful enthusiasm.

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It took some perseverance to get to the finish line but I’m proud of my finisher’s award. I also accumulated enough steps for my team at work to “win the week” in our walking/activity steps competition. They said I can take time off to run an ultra any time I want as long as I accumulate more steps than the competition. For one day, I was a success! Plus, that’s even factoring that my Garmin Forerunner GPS died with more than six miles to go. I’m always amused when I see a Strava post with a description about a GPS malfunction, a battery dying prematurely, or some other malady that prevented an athlete from capturing a full race or workout in all its glory. For once, I was that guy.

Race Results

2019 Manitou’s Revenge Ultra

One mile down the road, my Garmin Forerunner GPS buzzed and I knew exactly what the alert was for. The question was, do I glance at my watch or ignore the alert? In a split second the decision was made. I looked–and thankfully it said, “+5” indicating my Performance Condition was good. At the start of a 54-mile ultramarathon, that is so much better than seeing a “-5.” “Minus-anything” would have been a soul crushing blow.

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It was only 5:20 A.M.and my  spirits were immediately lifted as I had 53 miles to go in the Manitou’s Revenge Ultra and I hadn’t even hit the first section of trail yet. Manitou’s is seductively beautiful. The ruggedness of the Catskills is only rivaled by the other Northeastern mountains of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, but in a weird way, these New York peaks seem rougher. You only top out around 3,900 feet and rarely get above the treeline (there are a few overlooks), but the combination of hills, rocks, roots, and mud make for a challenging landscape. You might suffer vertigo just looking at the course profile.

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Manitou’s is no ordinary 50-miler. Running that distance is no joke, but on this point-to-point course, with 14,000 feet of elevation gain and 15,000 feet of elevation loss, the level of difficulty is so much greater than the average race of this distance. The terrain is as harsh as it gets, with undulating hills averaging a 15% gradient and peaking out at 60%. The trails are littered with rocks and roots that make even the “flat” sections difficult to run. There are parts of the course that if you average two miles per hour, then you are doing well. I haven’t updated my Toughest Ten in several years but this race is an instant qualifier.

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Yesterday’s weather was spectacular. The temperature in the valleys was in the high-70’s and it was cooler on the summits with a constant breeze. That wind kept the bugs away and offered a lovely cooling effect as the sun was strong given the proximity of this race to the Solstice. The sunset was amazing. I finished just before dark, so I experience all of the “golden hour.”  The race started at 5:00 A.M. and went off in waves at five-minute intervals. The 24-hour cutoff indicates how tough this race is. Double that and you have a similar cutoff ratio as the toughest 100-milers in the world.

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This was a return to Manitou’s for Debbie. She first ran the race in 2017 in preparation for that year’s Hardrock Endurance Run and subsequently the Cascade Crest Endurance Run. It was perfect training for those tough events. The big difference is that the extreme elevation change of Manitou’s is an accumulation of short and steep ups and downs. “Relentless”is the word that comes to mind when you think about the course profile and trail conditions. The wet spring made the usually muddy trails even muddier. Some sections were so awful that you had nowhere to go other than straight through the muck.

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I destroyed my new Altra Lone Peak 4.0’s. I don’t think this generation of Altra’s are built with the same quality as prior, but they still shouldn’t have fallen apart in their first race. I struggled to dial in their fit throughout the race. I tied and retied them no less than 10 times. They just don’t fit like the 3.0’s that I had come to love. I got the same size, but something isn’t right about these shoes. I had a pain on the top of my right foot that wouldn’t go away. Thankfully, the bottom of my feet, despite being soaked all day long, were in great shape.

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Another solid gear choice was my Black Diamond trekking poles. They were as helpful on the steep downhills as they were on the steep uphills. Periodically, I put them away, strapping them to the bottom of my UltrAspire Zygos pack. I did this on some of the steepest and longest downhills that required two hands to grab rocks and scramble safely. Some of the granite strewn ascents and descents were so sheer, that they reminded me of The Knife Edge on Katahdin, but with trees and a bit less exposure. With a slip, you wouldn’t fall 500 feet like in Maine, but you could fall 40, and the consequences would likely be the same.

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My fueling and hydration went well. I drank water from my hydration pack’s bladder, and Tailwind from an additional bottle that I carried in the front of the pack. I ate GoMacro Bars, Clif Bloks, potatoes with salt, pickles, vegan quesadillas, potato chips, vegan chocolate/coconut “bombs,” and veggie broth. I took S Caps to augment my electrolyte intake, and I ingested two Tylenols’ (at mile 30 and mile 40) to take the edge off of my leg pain, which was severe.

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The “+5” on my Garmin wasn’t the only indication that I’m in good shape. I’ve been feeling good all spring. I had a slow build in 2018 following a lot of rest in the first half of the year after my broken leg. Then last fall, I had a strong comeback cyclocross season. I maintained my fitness throughout the winter, started to run again by the end of the year, and have subsequently built some great form in 2019. I’ve had a lot going on at work which has been a mental and physical strain, so I started 2019 by intentionally improving my diet and sleep. This effort to counteract the stress, has kept me on an even keel and has been a benefit for my athletic performance. I’m feeling strong.

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I prepared for Manitou’s using a similar approach to past ultras. I got in my overall exercise, which is mostly riding with a little running. I try to average 10 hours a week with 80%  of that on a bicycle and 20% on my feet. Much of my riding comes from commuting to work. I did core work to stretch and strengthen my muscles. I did some trail racing including Traprock 50K and Soapstone Mountain 24K. I did a couple of long days in the woods with Debbie. We had one such adventure in Massachusetts in May, and another earlier this month in Vermont. Both trips included long days and lots of vertical ascent. When she put Manitou’s on her 2019 calendar, she suggested I prepare and join her. I’m glad I did.

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Debbie and I started in Wave 3, 10 minutes after Wave 1. Sheryl Wheeler was in our wave. She is a legend in northeast trail running, and did the 2000 Escarpment Trail Run with Debbie. Yesterday, Sheryl and I spent some time together on the first climb of the day and she was reminiscing about her trail running past. She said that the 2000 Escarpment was one of her first trail races and that after that, she was hooked. She said she finished third behind Debbie (Schieffer back then), and Nikki Kimball. Nikki got her start at racing trails in 1999 the same year that Debbie did. They did their first ultra together at the Vermont 50. Sheryl won her first Escarpment in 2003 and has gone on to win the race four more times. In the 2000 race, Ben Nephew won for the first time. He has gone on to win Escarpment 12 more times.

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Both Sheryl and Ben are multiple-time winners of Manitou’s Revenge. Ben won yesterday’s race in 11 hours and 25 minutes. Sheryl was fourth woman. Success at the Escarpment Trail Race can be translated to success at Manitou’s because the Escarpment Trail features prominently, with much of the first 18 miles of Manitou’s on it. The Escarpment Trail Race finishes at North/South Lake, which is Aid Station 3 at Manitou’s. The other trail that contributes to Manitou’s toughness factor is the Devil’s Path. The name says it all. The steepest ups and downs are on this section of the course. AMC’s Best Day Hikes Catskills & Hudson Valley is a good resource. The updated maps show the many trails in Catskills Park.

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Debbie and I didn’t run together, but we saw each other several times. I would get ahead on the climbs and she would close the gap on the descents. She caught up to me several times. We reconnected at some of the aid stations. After the 40-mile mark, I was having serious problems going downhill. I couldn’t sustain a pace and was forced to walk a lot. This cost me 20 spots as I was helplessly passed by a steady stream of runners, including six in the final three miles of trail, which was all downhill on loose rock. I felt really good, but my legs, particularly my quadriceps, were shot. I knew it and accepted it, but it was still demoralizing given my form. This result was predictable as I have suffered the same fate every time I’ve run longer than 50K. My leg muscles just can’t handle the longer distances and the accumulated pounding eventually does me in.

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While I was slowing down, Debbie was suffering a similar fate. She started the race with a sore right heel and Manitou’s rocks took their toll. She ended up favoring her left leg, which resulted in her own quadricep soreness. She too struggled on the descents, which is uncharacteristic for her because running downhill is her strength. I finished 44th in 15 hours and 45 minutes. She was 20 minutes and four spots behind me in 16 hours and 6 minutes. That’s a long time for a 50-miler and only our White Mountain Hut Traverses in 2011 and 2013 took longer for a similar distance. I was hoping she would catch me one the final descent so that we could finish together, but if I stopped, I might never have gotten moving again, so I kept shuffling to the finish in Phoenicia.

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Over the last six years since the founding, Manitou’s Revenge has become a community. Finishers are members of a fraternity. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. Getting to the finish line gives you serious ultra credentials. That stats prove this out. My Garmin Connect data says I took 115,000+ steps, ascended 936 floors, and burned more than 7,000 calories.

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The competitors make the race, but the volunteers make the race happen. Race Director Charlie Gadol is fortunate to have a cadre of dedicated helpers who put a lot of time into the event. Some of them hiked and hauled food, beverages, and supplies to difficult-to-reach aid stations. It was greatly appreciated.

After similar poundings at the Lookout Mountain 50 and Wapack and Back 50, I swore I would never run a mountainous 50 again. I won’t make any more perditions because I actually enjoy the challenge, but I’m pretty sure that one Manitou’s Revenge is enough. Congratulations to all of my fellow finishers. You earned it!

Race Results

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