Seven Sisters Race Recap 2017

Let me start by saying that for once, Matt adequately prepared me for a race for the first time ever. Most of the time we go for a run or a race and he tells me “oh it’s super easy” or “after the first half it’s all downhill” and inevitably it’s the hardest race I’ve ever run or the entire thing is uphill. Sometimes I wonder if he knows the difference between uphill and downhill… but for Seven Sisters, he gave me fair warning. He may have even slightly questioned it when I signed up. The man knows I hate running uphill, and knew I’d have to do a lot of it. I decided to sign up anyways, since I’ve got Wachusett coming up, and it was definitely a good decision.

Long story short, only one of us had been responsible and remembered to purchase a bib (ahem, it was me). We decided to go to the race together and hope that the bad weather had driven some folks away. Luckily, about 10 minutes before the race, we were able to snag a bib last minute – many, many thanks to the race director, Amy! You’re a lifesaver!

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Shortly after this photo “wait, you took your engagement ring off right?!” – I think he knows how clumsy I am!

It had been raining all night, and was super warm and muggy for the race. I was already worried I’d overheat and wish I had a handheld instead of my hydration pack, but I knew I needed both hands free for climbing up rocks and grabbing onto trees to keep myself from falling. It ended up being a good decision, but I was still slightly too hot the whole time. I’m a little worried about this for Wachusett in particular since it’ll be mid-June in Boston, and there’s only access to a drop bag at mile 13 and mile 37, so I really want a pack to carry my goods in, but don’t want to overheat.

We started, and immediate gained 500 feet of elevation in a half mile. Matt warned me of the first hill, so I was prepared and went nice and slow. It was a little frustrating to be passed by a lot of runners on that first hill, mostly because I felt in the way. I started in the third wave, and was shocked by the amount of runners that started in that wave that shot past me in the first mile. Now, how many of those runners continued to crush it and how many crashed after 4 miles, the world may never know. But nevertheless, I felt in the way and a little self conscious, but I knew I had bigger fish to fry. It’s easier for me to check myself before I wreck myself on trails than on the road. When I’m on the road, I want to pass everyone. When I’m on the trails, I somehow remember my body has limits, and that I can control my speed. Either way, I kept myself strong and steady through the first uphill, and ran as much as I could of the downhill, but I needed to be careful. Wachusett is just around the corner, and nothing would have broken my spirits more than taking a bad fall and having to call yet ANOTHER ultra marathon in 2017.

The rest of the race is a blur of hills, mud, and rocks. It was the single most intense 12(ish) miles of my running career. The race had over 4,000 feet of elevation gain over 12(ish) miles, which is INSANE considering Wachusett has just about double that elevation gain, but over 50 miles. During the whole first half, every time I’d start enjoying the downhill, my heart would sink as I realized that would be an uphill on the way back. By the time I got to the turnaround, I was so tired, and couldn’t believe I had to do it all over again but backwards. My right shoe was rubbing against the back of my heel on every uphill and was so irritating that I contemplated just taking it off. I settled by throwing on a scoop of vaseline on my heel at the turnaround and crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t have a giant blister by the end of the race. Definitely glad I wore them during this race, since I was planning on these being my race shoes for Wachusett. After how quickly they blistered my heels, they’re definitely not coming to Wachusett!

By maybe mile 8, I was surrounded by a lot of defeated human beings. Everyone around me was covered in mud, sweat, and some even had blood dripping down their faces (or other body parts). It was like a goddamn battle field. I was lucky (or just slow enough) to not fall during the race, though my hands were literally covered in mud afterwards. Before I started, I ran into a woman running with gloves and thought that was bizarre considering the weather, but I get it now. It was definitely a super technical course, and pretty dangerous if you went all out, and I’m glad I focused on just staying upright and finishing.

All in all, the race was incredibly fun, and I can’t wait to do it again. I like to think I could run it much faster if the weather was better, but it’s New England, and I don’t think it will ever not be rainy, wet, and muddy for this race. That certainly won’t keep me away – I’ll be back to get muddy again in 2018!

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Trying not to fall on my face in front of Matt, maybe a half mile from the finish!

 

Strava:

https://www.strava.com/activities/973920472

 

Gear:

Saucony Peregrine 6
Nike Pro HyperCool Shorts
Ciele GoCap
Nathan VaporAiress Hydration Pack
My personal OG race shirt: the 2009 Boilermaker Road Race Shirt

Race Schedule and Goal Setting

I know I already wrote a year in review and set some goals, but my friend over at yogawordnerd put together an awesome race schedule post that got me thinking about my schedule and what I am looking to get out of 2017. As I enter my third year of ultra running, my focus is quickly shifting from simply finishing certain distances and races to wanting to improve my performance. Frankly, it is pretty intimidating. Until the past 3 months or so, I’ve never felt like a “fast kid”. But as I cross more finishes lines and finish more training runs I guess I am just getting faster. It’s weird, because I never set out to improve any sub-ultra PRs, but now I can’t get the notion of beating my past self out of my head. With that, comes the fear of missing goals and putting myself in painful situations. But I think  setting these goals in stone will go a long way in helping me achieve them.

Registered Races:

I’ve made it pretty clear to just about everybody, but my goal for Hyannis is to run a Boston Qualifier. It is going to hurt like hell. Honestly, I never thought it would be something I could do until I ran the Cambridge Half this November, but with my finish being just under 1:24 at that race, I think it is within reach. I wish my training had been going a bit more consistently up until now, but training in the middle of winter is tough. Let’s hope I can put the pieces together before the end of February because I really don’t want to have to try again.

At Seven Sisters, I just want to run sub 2:30. Last year it was pretty damn slick, so I think if it is dry this year it is definitely happening. This race is really like nothing else I have run in the northeast and cannot recommend it enough!

At the Endurance Challenge, I really want to just give a solid 50-mile performance. They haven’t released detailed course information yet, so I don’t know what exactly I will be shooting for. Really, I just want it to go better than Bear Mountain did. I thought that race was going to be my personal breakout performance where I put all the pieces of the ultra puzzle together, but it just didn’t happen. Let’s hope I can represent NP (and maybe some of the tribe will wander out on the course to give some much needed support).

Millinocket is happening because who doesn’t want to run a free race in Northern Maine?

The Big Question

As for races that I haven’t registered for that I plan on running, I still need to drop a 100 miler on my schedule. It is really coming down to Run Rabbit Run or The Bear. Both races are pretty similar in terms of terrain to Grindstone, so I would really like to take what I learned there and put together a sub-24 hour performance on a gnarly course. My main reason for holding out on registering for one or the other is I am hoping The North Face announces that their ECS Utah race will be on the same weekend as The Bear. It would be much easier to get a crew out to Utah if I had a race they could run to bribe them with. Last year, the races fell on the same weekend so fingers-crossed.

 

2016 Year in Review – The Year of 💯

2016 was my year when it comes to racing. Sure, it was a pretty wacky year otherwise. But for my running, it couldn’t have gone any better. With a few days left, I wanted to take a step back, reflect on my accomplishments, and set my sights on 2017. Taking a quick look back at my races:

  • TARC Hale and Back 6 Hour – 31.5 Miles
  • TARC Spring Classic Half – 1:43:47
  • Bear Mountain 50 Miler – 9:58:52
  • 7 Sisters – 2:38:48
  • Pineland Farms 50 – 7:48:30 PR
  • Catamount 50k – 4:37:00 PR
  • Vermont 100 – 21:26:00 PR
  • Pisgah 50k – 5:50:50
  • Oktoberfest 5K – 18:40
  • Grindstone 100 – 27:15:00
  • Cambridge Half – 1:23:44 PR
  • Yulefest 5k – 18:13 PR
Grindstone 100 Finish
Post-Grindstone. By far the toughest race of the year. – Photo Credit – Samantha Alyn Goresh

That’s a lot of races, a lot of PRs, and a whole lot of miles run in between all of that. Looking back, I think it is pretty incredible to crush my PRs in so many distances. When I started 2016, the main goal was just to finish my first 100 miler. At the end of it, I feel stronger than I ever have. I’ve got 2 hundred finishes under my belt, more ultra experience, and confidence to tackle 2017.

Bear Mountain 50 Mile Mid-Race
Bear Mountain – Matt Elam Crusher

Even though things went well, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t pay my dues. My first goal race for the year was Bear Mountain. I was stuck training in California, traveling every week, but still confident I was going to crush the race. On race day, by mile 15 it had crushed me. After having to dig deep just to finish and barely beating my previous 50 miler PR I thought 2016 was going to be miserable. Fast forward to Pineland and a few more weeks of solid training I obliterated my PR and felt unstoppable going into Vermont. Another PR at Catamount in the 50K and then time to take a crack at the 100.

My first 100 miler was quite the experience. It really is the roller coaster that everybody describes it as. I was so thankful to have such an amazing crew out there and experience the rolling hills of Vermont. I beat my time goal of sub-24 hours and came out excited for my next 100. Pretty much immediately after I Vermont I started training for Grindstone. Not taking more time off was probably a mistake. Training for a hundred is extremely draining physically and mentally. Still, I got it done.

Grindstone was hell. Simple as that. I was definitely fit, ready for the hills, and had another amazing crew. But add some constant rain, sloppy trails, and humidity and you can completely derail me. I set out to finish Grindstone to get my Hardrock qualifier. I didn’t drive to Virginia to run 50 miles, or 65 miles, or 80 miles. I was there to do a hundred. So I dug deep and got it done.

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Woahman 2 weeks after the Grindstone 100. Nothing like a killer workout to kick your ass.

After Grindstone, the last 3 months were such a whirlwind. Woahman crushed me (although I definitely was not recovered to run it). At the Cambridge Half, I wanted to run a 1:25 to prove to myself a BQ in 2017 was achievable. I beat that goal by about a minute and fifteen seconds. I ran a PR at Yulefest which was completely unexpected. I hadn’t planned on it, but the consistency of training for the hundred milers plus the mental fortitude really has helped at the shorter distances.

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After a half marathon PR, it was good to celebrate with friends.

With 2017 just about here, I think it’s worth setting some goals. Number 1 goal is to BQ. I think the fitness is there. I’d like it to happen at Hyannis, but my training has not been the most consistent. I also need to re-qualify for Western States. My current plan is to run either Run Rabbit Run or the Bear. I really love the hundred mile distance, but running more than one a year is more than I can really enjoy. Beyond those two specific goals, I honestly just plan on racing a little bit less. Although I was successful at most of my races, the ones that I wasn’t (Bear Mountain, Pisgah) were extremely defeating. Besides that, it is really exhausting racing like once per month. Finally, just have to stay consistent. 2016 was definitely my breakout running year, so I can’t wait to see what 2017 has to offer.

Slip & Slide – 7 Sisters Race Report (5/8/2016)

After being a runner in Boston for about 5 years, I finally took on the classic New England trail race: 7 Sisters. The reputation of this race is pretty notable: an unrelenting out-and-back filled with steep climbs, jagged rocks, and plenty of roots. As a rule of thumb, I heard that to estimate your time for this race, take your half marathon time and add an hour…or double it. Without a doubt, I came into the race with a bit of hesitation with all the notoriety and claims of difficulty. Obviously, I want to make it through the year injury-free, and tumbling head first down a shale covered descent was the last thing I wanted. But this was absolutely a bucket list race, and after finishing it I cannot wait to go back.

To add to the risk of injury, it decided to rain all week in Massachusetts leading up to the race and was forecasted to rain right as the race was starting. Nothing better than some mud to break up the slick, lichen covered sections of rock. The forecast absolutely made me hesitant and nervous about my goal of breaking 3 hours. I was coming into the race completely blind, and several friends said sub-3 was a reasonable goal. But with the rain and thoughts in the back of my head saying “this is stupid” I wasn’t sure whether I should stick to my goals or just go for it.

A car full of November Project folks made our way to Amherst early Sunday morning and got slightly optimistic when we saw blue skies. After parking at the race and picking up our bibs, it became pretty clear that we were not going to be spared as a thick fog made it abundantly clear that it was going to be wet and we would have limited visibility.  Our crew got our bibs, got our gear ready and waited for the gun to go off.

7 Sisters has a wave start to help decrease congestion on the trail which is entirely single track. Somehow I got slotted in Wave 1, so I lined up after the elites took off and waited anxiously. The rain hadn’t started yet, but I knew it would be starting soon. In no time, we were off and working our way up the way to the ridgeline. Essentially the race was a big climb up to the ridge, a run across the ridge, and then a descent on the other side of the range. After that, you turn around and do the entire thing in reverse. The major climb out from the start was somewhat technical, with portions of loose shale. Not knowing what I was in for, I quickly got into power-hike mode and marched up the mountain.

At the top, there was a steep descent. And then a steep climb. And then a steep descent. Then a little bit of runnable stuff. Honestly, the way out was such a blur that I don’t remember much more detail than that. There were a few moments of scrambling up hyper-steep sections of the trail that I knew would be interesting coming down, but it was such technical trail it was hard to make note of anything specific. About 2 miles in the rain started coming down, soaking the runners and the trail even more. Roughly 5 miles into the run, there is a beautiful overlook (I imagine, fog made it impossible to see anything) and a building with a patio that the runners must walk over. After that, we began the biggest descent down to the turn around point. At this point the trail was nothing more than mud and rocks. To be honest, I’m not sure what was worse, the rocks that you might slip on or the mud that you couldn’t stop in. Serious “style points” were earned sliding several feet down the trail at a time.

I got to the turn around in 1:14, refilled my bottle half way and took back off the trail. The mud made climbs into a game of finding hand holds to support forward movement. As runners came pouring down the trail making their way to the halfway mark, it was a tough  mix of staying out of the way and making progress. The climb from the turn around is the biggest of the entire race, so I did my best to run and hike quickly to make quick work of it. After reaching the patio again, I tried to push it as much as possible, but the mud and slippery rocks frequently had me on all fours. I lost confidence in my shoe grip and relied on tree limbs for braking. At about the 10 mile mark, Bear Mountain started to catch up with me and I felt my quads weaken. Downhills became even more treacherous but I was able to climb strong. After a few other big ups and downs, we were back at the first summit. I remember thinking on the way up that I would be able to fly down the initial section of trail, but at that point I had little faith in my legs so I took it easy. I made it to the short stretch of pavement and bolted to the finish for a time of 2:39.

I am pretty happy with my time and I think on a dry year I could probably break 2:30. As for strategy, I tried to be conservative on the out and push on the back, but given the congestion early on in the race I think a hard push up the first up hill can save a lot of time. Without a doubt I will be back to run 7 Sisters. I cannot think of a single race that I have run that has such challenging trails and climbing crammed into such a short distance.

Strava:

7 Sisters

Gear

  1. Saucony Peregrine 4
  2. Salomon Hydro Handset
  3. Garmin Fenix 3
  4. Gu, Tailwind
  5. Ciele Fast Cap