Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pisgah Mountain 50k

UPDATED: Sunday (9-26) with Video. The day after my fast 5k in Salem (which amazingly still some folks actually   refuse to believe it was 5k, despite me going back and measuring it multiple times, only to find that it was actually, technically a tad over 3.1 miles, which it should be to be each his own...I have faith in my ability at this point and have no doubt that I covered 5k in and around a time I should have been running a year ago), I found myself 2+ hours west in southwestern NH for the Pisgah Mountain 50k trail race.  This was my first attempt at a 50k and I had ZERO idea what to expect aside from knowing that I cramp up in road marathons and I bonk in longer trail races.  And by 'long', I mean 16, 18, 22 mile races. I've never done a 50k before, but the combination of the distance + the trail/mountain aspect of it was very concerning to me.  Those two major disasters would have to be avoided in order for me to finish this thing...and what it was going to take was fuel and hydration.  The two most important things in these types of events.  I took Greg Hammett's advice and ate a ton of food on Saturday afternoon and evening.  I then woke up early and grabbed a sausage, egg, and cheese on a bagel at Dunkin Donuts, as well as a muffin and a Powerbar.  I washed it down w/ a couple of jugs of water w/ NUUN tablets mixed in, and a small coffee.  I wasn't screwing around this time.  I know what it is like to completely bonk early in a longer trail race and do the death march for miles.  No thanks.  I was making damn sure I was fueled for this race.  The worst thing that was going to happen would be a bathroom stop or two. That, I could live with.  Bonking and walking for miles wasn't an option.  My stomach is usually never an issue during a race, so I was pretty sure I'd be ok with a relatively large breakfast. I made the nice, quiet drive out west to Chesterfield, NH and arrived at the starting area in time to spot gads of usual suspects and a lot of top trail runners who would make up one of the most loaded fields in the history of the event.  I saw Ben Nephew (CMS), Justin Fyffe (CMS), Greg Hammett (CMS) (and his brothers), Bryan Johnston (CMS), George Adams (CMS), David Herr, and Brian Rusiecki (Vasque).  All (except Fyffe and Greg's brothers) were running the 50k. That's a pretty sick field for a 50k trail race.  Looking at that field, I was immediately guessing that it would probably be Herr, Nephew, Rusiecki, Hammett, then maybe me, but I wasn't too confident.

After reluctantly registering and joking w/ some folks that I was paying 30 beans to essentially (potentially) kill myself, I went back to the car to strap on my new Camebak 2010 Delaney Plus hydration system that I had purchased the night before with my SalemFest winnings.  At first I thought this thing was way too big to run with and had never even tried it on before the race, but I knew that I had to sacrifice style and potentially even comfort, for sufficient food and water for the race.  I packed the front pouch full of Honey Stinger Cherry Blossom Chews , about 4 or 5 of NUUN tablets, and a half a pack of wild cherry Lifesavers (literally).  The Lifesaver trick is thanks to Danny Verrington.  I also filled the Camelbak Gel Flask full of about 5 Powerbar Energy Gels and stuffed a few more unopened gels in my back pouch.  Needless to say, I was prepared as best I could be, for what was ahead.  I hadn't seen the course (as opposed to all the other top guys there who've either won the race in the past or at least seen it a few times to know what lay ahead.

We all walked over to the starting area as the race was about to begin at 8:45am, and we got ready to go.  I was nervous as hell, as this was me jumping into a very unfamiliar territory racing-wise.  It was about to be my longest race ever and my longest run ever (mileage-wise).

The first bit of the race was up Old Chesterfield Rd. and then onto Horseshoe Rd. before it dips onto the trails.  This stretch was just a bunch of folks spread out and running very easy while looking up to see Justin Fyffe going for Josh Ferenc's record.  He was all alone up front (the first part of the course is the same for the 23k and the 50k).  Then, there were a couple other 23k folks, followed by Ben, Brian, and David.  Then there was a gap and then it was Greg, George, Bryan, and myself.  At the split, where the 50k folks went to the left, it remained Greg, George, Bryan, and myself for at least a few miles.  The pack of Ben, Brian, and David was soon out of sight but I wasn't particularly concerned.  I figured Greg and I (and maybe George and Bryan) would eventually work our way up.

It was single track for quite some time and we stayed pretty close together. I was trying very hard to conserve all possible energy.  I didn't want to do anything extra.  I wasn't pushing it on the ups and I wasn't killing myself to hop over rocks/roots, etc.  I was trying to stay relaxed and proactively keep hydrated and keep up w/ the gel intake (even this early in the race).  Eventually, I found myself up in front of our chase pack and had put a little bit of distance on the other 3.  I started to catch up to the lead pack of Brian, David, and Ben, who seemed to slow up just a bit (though it may have been a combination of me picking it up just a bit and getting anxious).  I pulled up behind the top 3 and stayed there for maybe close to 90 minutes or so. The typical racer in me wanted to go go go, but I stayed relaxed and kept telling myself that this was a game of survival in the early stages of the race, and the last thing I should do is think this is a 10 miler or shorter trail race.

Through every aid/water station, I would fill my water bottle with mostly water and maybe a cup of whatever Gatorade/sports drink they had.  Then I would pop in a salt tablet and be on my way.  There was an aid station at 4.8 miles, 8.1 miles, 12 miles, 13.5 miles, and 17 miles.  I 'think' I was with the lead pack through most of these.  Somewhere along the way, there was a sick climb up a semi-paved auto road that looked to have been last traveled many moons ago.  It was STEEP.  I'm talking worse than Mt. Washington's worst parts, steep.  David started to pull away during this part and by the top, we were spread out a bit.  Then we'd pull back together and then spread out a bit again.  Each time, I was in 4th position, but could still see everyone.

There was A LOT of climbing in this race, and I was still trying to conserve as much energy as I could and continue to drink and take in fuel.  I figured if I could hang for at least 3 hours, I could get through it, but I've bonked and started the deathmarch in far too many races like this before, so I didn't have too much confidence. As we approached 2 + hours, It became apparent that David was making a move.  Brian was going with him.  Soon I found myself just with Ben and letting him do the leading.  I started to notice his powerhiking in front of me (which is still pretty fast).  I didn't have to powerhike just yet on some of the steeper ups, meaning that I was still feeling relatively good.  I felt like I could go a little harder, but had no idea of what lay ahead, how much time was left, etc. so I stayed put.  During a 2-3 mile stretch of single track ups and downs, David and Brian pulled away.   I asked Ben around 2:25 or so in, how much we've run.  He said close to 20 or so and that the aid station was near.  Not too soon after that, we hit the aid station at 20 miles and we were met with some fanfare as Fyffe and some of the Keenyans were there cheering us on.  They said we were about 3 minutes back of the leaders at that point. Ben went straight for the Coke they had at the aid station and I quickly filled my bottle with the water and sports drink combo, thew in a couple of NUUN tablets,  and started on down the wide trail that makes up the first part of the Kilburn Loop. I turned a few times to see where Ben was and it was apparent that he wasn't coming with me.  It was the first time I was dictating pace and he was hanging back a bit as we rolled on down a nice downhill section that soon turned into twisty single track again.

In the Kilburn Loop, I really started to take more and more water and fuel.  Gel and chews were saving me at this point.  Coming back up the loop, there is a lot of single track ascent and now it was ticking over to 3 hours.  This was the danger zone for me.  At right about 3 hours I started to hit the wall and was close to bonking.  I came to a crawl up the single track climbs and almost clicked over into a powerhike for the first time.  I immediately took a ton of gels and chews and kept pounding the water and felt better after a few minutes.  During this entire time, I kept looking back and couldn't see anyone.  I also kept my eyes open up front, thinking I could maybe run down Brian or David if they ran into trouble.

As the Kilburn Loop comes up and connects back to the Pisgah Mt. Trail, I noticed that I was back on a section that I had already run before.  I got very nervous here and for a few minutes was convinced I had gotten lost. I didn't know the course and really wasn't sure if I should be back on the same section I was already on.  When I came back to the aid station that we had past at 20 miles, it was now 25.4 miles in, but this time the volunteers pointed me to go up in the other direction, up Kilburn Road, which connects to the Davis Hill Trail. I asked frantically if I was going the right way and was assured I was.  I started the climb up the fireroad which connects back to some single track.  I had about 6 miles to go, but had no clue.  I continued to push up and it seemed to climb most of the time on the way out.

As my watch ticked past 3:10, 3:15, 3:20, I kept asking folks as I came across hikers and other spectators, how much distance was left, but nobody could give me an idea.  At one section, we come out to a parking lot (paved area) for a small section before the trail cuts back into the woods and climbs a pretty sick ascent which seems to be a mile + long, on all old wide trail and fire road.  When I refer to 'fireroad' in this report, it shouldn't be confused with actual 'driveable' road.  It is pretty rocky, rooty, grassy, muddy, and otherwise slow going.  I had a false sense of being 'almost done' with the race when I hit that parking lot, but there was still a few miles to go.  As I made the continuous climb up the last major ascent (which I'd say may have been either Davis Hill or Hubbard Hill by looking at the course map, but I'm not sure), I knew I was doing quite well as I maintained a running stride the entire time. I hadn't bonked and I was 3:20-3:30 in.  I was still racing and now actually running probably as fast if not faster than I had the entire day.  The fact that I was still moving fast up the climbs was a true testament to my nutrition and hydration during the race.  I kept looking back and could see (in some spots) back quite a ways...maybe 200-300 meters, and didn't see anyone.  I was half expecting to at least see Ben or Greg or George pulling up on me, but there was no one.  I knew I was running pretty fast at this point and that I may be able to hang onto 3rd or even pick up a spot over the last couple miles.  One thing that was sticking with me however, was when Ben had said that we were running kind of slow and that he wasn't sure if we'd be under 4 hours, when I asked him before the 20 mile aid station how we were actually doing.  That made me think that maybe I wouldn't even be under 4 hours even with my current pace.  That meant that I had much more race left.  It would have helped if I knew the course.   As I made my way down the backside of the hill, I started to become aware of my hamstrings, feet, quads, etc.  I was so concerned with bonking for 3+ hours, that I really hadn't given too much thought to how my muscles were going to hold up over the later parts of the race.  Now, as I made some steep descents, I started to feel my muscles getting a little tight.  No cramping yet, but I got really nervous that once that started happening, my position and even race could be in jeopardy.

Suddenly, as I was on my way down a well needed descent, I could see a gravel/semi paved road through the trees and it looked like the trail was coming out that way and there was a big visible clearing through the woods.  It almost brought tears to my eyes and I was praying that that was the last stretch of road to the finish and that the trail didn't just cut across it or turn away from it. I was thrilled when I came down to the gate and saw that in fact we did go down that road, and I knew in the back of my mind now that I was almost done.  As I got down onto Winchester Rd. I got a rather unfamiliar feeling of being able to look up and not worry about where I was actually stepping.  It was nice being back on the road and at this point I was still peering behind me on the long stretches to see if I could see Ben or anyone else, but knew for the first time that I was going to at least hold 3rd.  This last stretch was LONG.  The map says about 1.3, but it's a long 1.3 miles and there are a couple of STEEP climbs.  I knew I wouldn't be bonking on this stretch (something about being out of the woods made me confident that potentially bonking was no longer a possibility) but I did pay very close attention to my hamstrings, which were going to be the only thing that would sink me before the finish line.  One one of the straight sections, I looked up to finally see Brian Rusiecki way off in the distance and knew I wasn't going to have any chance of catching him.

I came up past a group of folks having a BBQ in their front yard and they were cheering for me and one guy told me I had about a half mile to go.  It was a great feeling to hear.  Just as I passed the group, I dropped my water bottle and it rolled over into the bushes.  I had to turn and go back a couple steps to run it down before I made my way up the last fairly steep climb up the road.  As I came up and crested the hill, there was a straight stretch before I passed by Glenn Hammett's house and saw all the CMS/Keenyan folks standing there cheering for me.  I raised the roof as I passed and turned the corner to see I was about 100 yards from the finish line.  I crossed over in 3:47:29 for 3rd place and about the 7th fastest time (since 2000) and the 4th fastest individual.  I was about 1:25 behind Brian and 5:03 behind David, who broke Ben's course record from 2004.  Considering David beat me by over 5 minutes at Wapack last month (that was only 18 miles), I considered this a pretty good performance.  Ben came in 5 minutes later, with George Adams right behind him (33 seconds behind).  Greg Hammett rounded out the top 6 with a 4:04:07 and was the 4th CMS guy in the top 6.  Not too bad a day for the striders (Fyffe was just off of Josh's record in the 23K).

I also got to 'townbag' 3 new NH towns I've never run in before:
  • Chesterfield
  • Hinsdale
  • Winchester
After the race, I milled around a bit (or maybe an hour or so) trying to replenish some fluids, eat some food, and converse w/ the other folks who braved the Pisgah State Forest.  There was a get together literally 50 yards away at Glenn Hammett's house and I eventually joined Glenn, Greg, Bryan, Fyffe (and Mrs. Fyffe), George, Jeff Goupil, Josh Ferenc, Jen Fice, and a few others for some drinks and laughs on the side of the last stretch of road before the finish line.  Glenn's house is literally on the last corner of the course... It was a really good time, hanging out, throwing the frisbee around, wrestling w/ Glenn's dogs, and trying not to cramp up too badly before my ride home.  Below, J.Fyffe showing off the new CMS sponsor for 2011....

Pisgah Blog (with links to other writeups).

Unfortunately I don't have any actual photos of me running...hopefully the site will link some soon.

Pisgah Mountain Trail Race Stats for the 50K:

Top 7 times since 2000 *:

2010: 3:42:26 - David Herr
2004: 3:44:33 - Ben Nephew
2003: 3:45:26 - David Herr
2010: 3:46:04 - Brian Rusiecki
2005: 3:46:28 - Ben Nephew
2005: 3:46:54 - David Herr
2010: 3:47:29 - Jim Johnson

* cannot find data from before this.

Race winners since 2000 **

2000 - 3:56:11 Leigh Schmitt
2001 - 3:49:00 Ben Nephew (approx. info from Ben. Can't find results.)
2002 - 3:52:00 Dave Mackey (approx. info from Ben. Can't find results).
2003 - 3:45:26  David Herr
2004 - 3:44:33  Ben Nephew
2005 - 3:46:28  Ben Nephew
2006 - 3:55:00  David Herr
2007 - 3:56:15  David Herr
2008 - 4:05:22  Greg Hammett
2009 - 3:54:40  Brian Rusiecki
2010 - 3:42:26  David Herr

** cannot find data from before this.

Video Courtesy of Jess and Justin Fyffe... I almost get lured up the hill on the wrong lap!


  1. Hey nice run out there Jim! Also after racing a 5k yesterday on a tougher course in much tougher conditions and running 16:29, I can assure people that Salem was accurate no matter what they say!

  2. Thanks man. I saw the time. That course is definitely tougher w/ that hill at the end. The weather was also borderline oppressive (at least down at my race)....I can't imagine it was much better up there. You were just 30 seconds slower and I was 45 seconds slower yesterday (in that weather) than I was last year at Codfish (and I'm in better shape this year!)...Nate Huppe also ran about 20 seconds slower yesterday than he ran in Atkinson..lastly, the guy who won yesterday is a former Zap Fitness guy (and sub 15 5k guy) and he didn't break 15.... pretty simple (or at least it should be). Until someone goes back and measures it (yet again) and comes back w/ a different result, it makes no sense to me why there would be a question, considering I measured it 3 different ways (and so did they), including using a brand new bike computer that I had the bike store setup for me and taking even more of a tangent than I even ran (I also biked it around the Methuen track earlier in the summer and know it is accurate).... It's just ingrained in some to always pull out the 'course had to have been short' card... for me...the beat goes on...I'll stick to worrying about my next race and you just focus on your amazing comeback! ;)

  3. That was an absolutely killer 5K / 50K double. Crazy good. You're going to rip it up at Bay State. Sub 2:30!!

  4. Jim, Great report. You ran a fantastic time. I bet it's the fastest debut ever on that course. I'm surprised Ben told you that you guys weren't going to break 4 hrs. I knew the record was going down with that field in those perfect race conditions. Until I cramped, I thought I was easily under 4 hrs. Also, I don't want to hear another word about that 5k, It's legit!!
    I can't wait to represent redman next year. All I ask is that I get a singlet that fits! Do we get free chew?

  5. Thanks KG...not sure about Baystate, but I'll try to be competitive for sure... Just looking forward to getting it done and moving onto the winter season ;)...

    Greg, thanks. Ditto. Did you Fyffe's video? I couldn't believe you were like 10 seconds back at 20 miles....Had I milled around at the aid station for any longer, you'd have blown right past me! ;)... What's your delta like this week? ;).... Redman is where it's at. That would be a cool singlet and logo! We'll all go for sub 3:40 next year!!!

  6. Nice run and write-up, Jim! I'll have to use some of those tips at JFK.

  7. Hi Jim,

    I found my old log. Apparently I was faster than I thought. I ran 3:46:21 in 2001 when I moved up to the 50k, and Mackey ran about 3:49 in 2002. I was second in 3:50:49. I guess this was my slowest year at Pisgah, actually. I can't believe George ran without carrying anything!

  8. Jason, good luck man!!!

    Ben, dang..that's fast...screws up my stats too ;)....having this be your slowest year isn't that bad! George amazingly had nothing....He must have water stored in those biceps like a camel...