Monday, August 24, 2015

MMD (More and More Difficult) 50k - Wild Descents and Punishing Climbs

I was first introduced to the MMD run after reading some of the other trail runners in the area's blogs and I immediately became intrigued with the low-key annual get together up in the White Mountains. I ran my first attempt of the event in 2012 when it was in the Evans Notch area, and loved it. Mostly self sufficient except a couple aid stations at trail/road junctions and A LOT of climbing, with a course around 31 miles. I ended up sitting out the last two years and was itching to get back to seeing friends, and tackle this years course - which ended up being in the Franconia Notch area.

The course this year started at Lafayette Place and traveled up Little Haystack, then taking the Franconia Ridge Trail to Mts. Liberty then Flume. We traveled down the Flume Slide Trail, then right back up most of Liberty on Liberty Springs Trail to the ridge and continued over to Mt. Lafayette, the highpoint of the course at 5,249'. Then the plan was to go down to the Greenleaf Hut and down Greenleaf Trail to the base of the notch, then right back up Cannon Mtn. via the Kinsman Ridge Trail. From Cannon, we descended Lonesome Lake Trail to the Lonesome Lake Hut, then up F'ing Jimmy to North Kinsman. We would then make our final climb up most of Cannon Mtn. via the Cannonballs to the Hi-Cannon Trail then descend that to the finish (and after party). The statistics ended up being around 32.5 miles and 14,000' of climbing. The volunteers were awesome this year and helped everyone out with water and the food spread at the end was great. Thank you to everyone who helped out!

Strava activity here:

View down into the notch towards Cannon Mtn.

I decided to start the run at 5am to try to get some good photos from the ridge, for some reason I thought I could get there in 45-50 minutes to catch the sunrise, but I ended up taking just under an hour and missed it by a little bit. I headed out in front for the first climb and steadily made my push up to the first summit. I felt good on the first climb and the downhill/running was fun along the ridge trail, making my way to Mt. Liberty then Flume. Soon enough it was time to head down the Flume Slide, the part of the course I was unsure of my ability to get through unscathed. We ended up having pretty dry weather leading up to the day and the slide trail was not as slippery as it could have been. I didn't fall, but came close several times and before I knew it I was at the bottom and into some nice runnable trail for a stretch. Getting to the first aid station at the junction of Liberty Springs Trail first of the 5am starters felt good and I grabbed some water before making the long climb up Liberty Springs to the junction of the Franconia Ridge Trail. Getting back up to the ridge in 3 hours 30 minutes, I was moving along okay considering all the climbing we had already done.

Topping out on Little Haystack, with views of Liberty and Flume
Summit of Mt. Liberty
Early morning views looking at Franconia Ridge from Flume

Heading down the Slide

Great open ridge running
Last shot of the ridge before descending to the base of the notch, from Mt. Lafayette.
 After making it across the ridge in about an hour, I planned to grab whatever high calorie baked goods they had at the Greenleaf Hut before descending back into the notch. The snack of the day was a chocolate chip pumpkin cake, which hit the spot as I climbed down the wet, mossy Greenleaf Trail rocks. Making it down to the road in about 5:35, I still felt okay on the climbs but better on the descents - which has been a strong point of mine. Before starting the steep climb up Cannon I said hi to the aid station volunteers who were just setting up as I cruised through. After about an hour, I reached the top of Cannon and headed back towards the Lonesome Lake Trail, another exciting descent, to climb down to the Lonesome Lake Hut.

View looking at the summit of Cannon Mtn.'s fire tower
View from outlook along the Kinsman Ridge Trail on the way up Cannon Mtn.

Somewhere in this stretch, I smashed my right knee on a cut branch that I didn't see on the side of the trail. Normal bumps and bruises are to be expected in trail running, but this one was a bit more and limited my downhill ability and flexibility on the descents for the remainder of the run. This was unfortunate, for me, because I didn't have much left on the climbs at this point and normally rely on my downhill ability to carry me through the end of these long training runs. I even thought for a second that I should head back down to conserve my knee in case something bad actually happened to it. I used my (better?) judgement and continued the climb up to North Kinsman's summit.

View of Cannon/Cannonballs and Franconia Ridge, all the peaks of the day.
This stretch lasted a long time as I reached the summit in just over 8 hours and Phil Kreycik passed me at this point (he was the first person running in the 6am start group). I caught up to him on the downhill and we ended up running together for the remainder of the race. He kept up a great pace on the uphills with me dragging behind as I caught him on the downs. It was good to have someone to talk to as I had been alone for the previous 8 hours of exertion, and it helped to make the time and trail pass by. Before we knew it, we had climbed up the cannonballs and almost to the summit of Cannon before making our final descent down the Hi-Cannon Trail, another wild descent down a steep trail.
Viewpoint along the Hi-Cannon Trail looking at Lonesome Lake
All downhill from here! Coming down the Hi-Cannon Trail.
I ended up sticking with him for the downhill to try to conserve my knee and not do any further damage by falling on it or smashing it on a rock/tree again. We finished the race together, even though he had started an hour later, and promptly sat down in some chairs after a long day on the trails. Cheering on the other runners as they completed the course, I found out that I ended up in 6th place - the same place I finished in when I ran it in 2012. I am happy with the effort and it was a fun day exploring Franconia Notch.

Map of the course

Elevation profile with peaks identified
Route Statistics:
Mileage: 32.5
Climb: 14,202'
Start: 5:00AM
Summit of Little Haystack (in hrs. elapsed): 1:03, 3.3 miles
Summit of Mt. Liberty: 1:33
Summit of Mt. Flume: 1:49
Back up most of Liberty to the Franconia Ridge Trail: 3:30, 12.2 miles
Summit of Mt. Lincoln: 4:16
Summit of Mt. Lafayette: 4:34, 15.7 miles
Base of Franconia Notch (mile 20): 5:35, 19.5 miles
Summit of Cannon Mtn.: 6:34, 21.8 miles
Summit of North Kinsman: 8:13, 26.5 miles
Finish: 10:05

Shoes: inov8 Roclite 295 (old style)
Socks: DarnTough VT Herringbone
Pack: Ultimate Direction SJ (old style)
Hat & Shorts: The North Face Better than Naked series
Gels: Honey Stinger Gold and Acai/Pomegranate

Upcoming Plans:
The next thing coming up on my schedule is to attempt a sub-7 hour Pemi Loop sometime in September. I have a few friends that are interested in joining me, we just have to work out the date that works, and hope the weather is decent for the run. I have done two Pemi Loops in the past couple years at a moderate/reasonable photo taking pace and I think I am ready to leave the camera at home and put in a hard effort on the course.

After the Pemi attempt, I have the TARC 100k trail race in Hale Reservation that I am preparing for. I will start to increase the miles and intensity over the following month or so, and hope that I can cover the distance. I have not run 62 miles since I ran the Ghost Train 100 miler in 2012, so I don't know what to expect for how it will turn out. Following up that race, I hope to maybe make another attempt at the Midstate Trail Through-run (95 miles), as well as getting some redemption at the TARC Fells Ultra 40 miler in early December.

Following up these efforts, I plan to work on my career as an architect - and begin studying for and taking the Architectural Registration Exams. These consist of a series of seven exams that normally take about a month each to study for, so I figured I would make an attempt to complete a few over this winter and a few over the following winter in hopes I can complete them in a couple years.

My wife has been very instrumental in my running, and I owe a lot to her patience, support and understanding of my time-consuming passion of running in the mountains. It has come time to work on my focus on the family and I plan to do that through bettering my career and getting registered as an architect.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Mahoosuc Traverse

Looking up towards the clouds and the climb of Old Speck Mtn.

My plans for attempting a Hut Traverse again this year are most likely put on the back burner until next year. Between trying to balance family, work and adventures in the mountains and only having a few weekends to choose from to run the route, I ended up deciding to wait until a more favorable time to try to complete the run. That's when another opportunity came my way.

Adam Wilcox, fresh off running Western States 100 and the Hardrock 100 a couple weeks apart, mentioned that he might be interested in putting in an FKT attempt on the Mahoosuc Traverse the same day I had open for the Hut Traverse. The route is mostly along the Appalachian Trail North to South (except the last 3 miles where the Mahoosuc Trail splits to the right), 30 miles, about 10,750' of climbing, and some of the worst footing I've ever seen. This was going to be Adam's third time running the route and since he just lowered the Pemi Loop FKT from 6:27:48 to 6:14:34, I figured the pace was going to be very fast right off the bat. I decided to join him and my plan became to see how long I could keep up with him, meeting up at the finish to gather the cars. He has a great report on the history of the route here. The time that he would have to beat was one that Ryan Welts and Ben Nephew had run last year in 7:45:17.

I feel like I've been making some improvements this year in my climbing ability, and I'm getting more comfortable on steep, downhill running. Driving up the night before and staying with my friend Chris and his brothers in Franconia made the morning's drive to Gorham, NH/Bethel, ME more tolerable. Heading over to Bethel to drop my car we made pretty good time and were ready to start our run at around 6:30am. A total guess at my projected time to finish was around 9 hours, then we would have to go back to Maine to grab my car and go our separate ways.

The run started out well with the 3.4 mile climb up to the route's highpoint, Old Speck Mtn. at 4,170' and then drops a bit before making the descent to Mahoosuc Notch. Mahoosuc Notch was a jumble of boulders the size of houses and cars that the trail climbs over, under and through before starting the steep climb up the other side of the notch. Among the whole route, this section was most intriguing to me as I haven't experienced anything like it in the past - and it definitely did not disappoint. We moved through pretty quickly and said hi to the many AT thru-hikers.

Old Speck Pond, all socked in

Somewhere around mile 11 or 12 I backed off a bit as Adam pulled ahead, then I began to run at a slightly slower pace still keeping my mind in the game for a sub 9 hour finish. I was pretty surprised that I got to where Adam said it would be about halfway and it was about 4 hours 15 minutes into the run, that gave me a little motivation to keep pushing the effort. One thing that I've found with these longer mountain runs, is that I definitely go through a lot of different emotions. If I'm really trying to push it, like I was on this run, I find that it's a lot like a race and there are clear low and high points that I need to just accept and overcome. This one was no exception as the footing was decent in some spots and there were some areas that really slowed me down, not to mention the fact that there are not a lot of bailout points along the route. In the direction we traveled, once you leave the car and you're past mile 13 or so, you are better off just finishing it out since the toughest part is in the beginning.

Things were starting to clear in the valley below

In the clouds along the open ridges

The rolling open ridges of Mt. Carlo and Goose Eye went by smoothly and I just worked my way across the miles of bog bridges that are present along the route. The blackest mud I have ever seen can be experienced up on the ridges on the way through, as well as varying levels of disrepair of the bog bridges. Some consisted of just one plank and nail heads sticking up while the other side was buried in the mud. It definitely made for a change of pace and rhythm along the way. Before I knew it, I was arriving at the last two peaks which are more wooded and quiet. I was especially excited to get to Mt. Hayes and only have 3 miles to go to complete the run. I took a few minutes to sit at the last peak and get ready for the final downhill of the day and the short run out the car, reflecting on a great section of trail along some mountains that I would like to get more familiar with in the future. Even though the footing was tough in spots, I felt like the last 20 miles went by smoothly and I would definitely recommend the traverse to anyone interested.

Skies started to clear at the end of the route

Some nice slabby running through here

Page Pond

Looking at Mt. Hayes, the final peak of the day, from Cascade Peak

Map of route with splits of the first 13 miles
Elevation profile with pace line

Splits for the run:
Summit of Old Speck (mile 3.4ish): 57 minutes
Speck Pond: 1:14
Goose Eye Summit: 3:07
NH-Maine State Line: 4:14
Page Pond (mile 22ish): 6:53
Cascade Peak Summit: 7:30
Mt. Hayes Summit (mile 27ish): 8:07
Finish: 8:49

Equipment used:
Bunch of honey stinger gels and a few bars
Filtered and unfiltered water
Inov8 Roclite 295s - did really well on the wet rocks, as always
DarnTough Herringbone socks - not a single blister despite the feet being wet from mile 1

Next thing I'm planning on is a group run up in the Whites, maybe around 30 miles. After that, I'll be attempting my first 100km race in October at the TARC 100 which is my main focus for the fall. I might attempt a Pemi Loop again, this time as a fast run, and maybe another mountain run if I can manage to find the time. It's really up in the air, as I haven't committed to anything - just looking to work on gaining strength from the mountains as much as I can.