Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pisgah Mountain 50K

Sunday: Workout - 50 x 1000 meters (with no rest) - Location: Pisgah State Park - Chesterfield, Hinsdale, Winchester, NH....ok, it was a 50k, but I thought that would look meaner if I wrote this up as a workout :)

On Sunday I had my second race of the weekend out at the Pisgah Mountain Trail Races. It was the Pisgah 50K and the field was (and usually is) pretty deep at this race.

I got off to a rocky start in the morning, after about 3 hours of sleep, I started out late to the race and was going to cut it close (according to my GPS).  I ended up taking a ton of time off the ride and got out to the race in probably just under 2 hours.  On the way, figuring I may get to the start really close to race time, I packed my gear, gels, chews, salts, etc.  I got all my race stuff ready as I drove, but by the time I got to registration, I had about an hour to get ready.  When that hour doesn't include a warmup (because I learned that in a 50k like this, you use the first couple of miles as your warmup to conserve every ounce of energy you can), it makes it a lot easier to get all your things in order.  I had to bum 10 bucks off of Justin Fyffe (who was there to run the 23K) because I 'thought' I had enough cash on me to register, but realized it was $50 beans and I had exactly $47 on me.  After that slight hiccup, I went back over to my car and shot the breeze with Kevin Tilton, Ben Nephew, and a few others who had started to show up.  I got my new Inov-8 test pair on (a new trail racer in design stages) and got ready to rock.

The morning was pretty cool and some folks had gloves and long sleeve shirts on at the start.  I headed over to the start with my waistpack full of chews, gels (probably 6 gels including a couple in my shorts pocket), a pack of NUUN tabs, and a roll of Lifesavers (Dan Verrington's secret fuel for ultras and long races).  My water bottle was a mixture of Gatorade, water, and NUUN.  As I got to the start, I jogged down to a wooded area to try to do a last second bathroom stop, but realized to my horror that ONCE AGAIN I FORGOT TO PIN MY NUMBER ON!.  Instead of using the bathroom, I hauled ass back to my car  (which fortunately wasn't too far away) and grabbed my number and got back over to the start literally pinning it on as they said 'GO'.

Above, brave souls start to line up for the 50K. Photo credit: Linda ODonnell

As the race started out and heads down Old Chesterfield Road (which is a mixture of paved/crushed stone/gravel, and dirt) we had a great group of what seemed to be a dozen or so runners including my CMS teammate Greg Hammett, who lives right there near the start/finish and runs in Pisgah all the time.  Greg took off and we joked that he looked like he was running the 23K (which starts at the same time).  Even Justin Fyffe (who WAS actually running just the 23K) was way behind him at first.  Eventually Justin moved up to run with Greg but I stayed way back, in the mix that included David Herr (last year's winner and course record holder) Kevin Tilton, Chris Hayhurst, Dane Mitchell, Danny Ferreira (who was running 23K) and a few others.  A couple of guys, who I know were there but were never once up with or in front of me were Brian Rusiecki and Ben Nephew...both of whom are ultra/trail specialists and Brian is one of those guys who usually gets the better of me in these races.  Brian beat me by 1 minute here last year and Ben had a good race out in the Netherlands, finishing as the top American in that 50K, so I knew there was some talent here.

The beginning mile is a social affair, as we joke and sandbag and discuss the course, etc.  Greg wanted no part of that and was out for blood.  He continued to push up what was a pretty decent first climb on the road and we all just sat back.  The key to this race (and other long trail/mountain slogs) is patience.  It is a LONG way.  Even at the 2 hour mark, you still have a LONG way to go.  So at 10 minutes in, I wasn't too worried about positioning.

Photo above by Jess Tilton.  The start down Old Chesterfield Rd.  Hammett and Fyffe way out front.  Chase pack behind.  David Herr in the white hat all the way to the left.  Kevin and I are hidden in the front of the chase pack.  Dale in red, Nephew with no shirt, Rusiecki in the white top in the middle.

As the trail portion begins, the race splits in two, as the 23K goes straight on and the 50k takes a sharp left into the woods. As I hit that left hand turn, I was in 3rd place behind David Herr, who was chasing Greg Hammett who was still leading.  Immediately behind me was Dane, Kevin, Chris, Brian, Ben, and a few others.   The trail in here, as with the rest of the race, is deep in the woods.  The race never really dumps out onto 'summits' or clear areas really. There are a few, yes, but for the most part, it is deep in the forest with many wet, soft trails, TONS of roots and rocks, a lot of swamps and ponds, and a good mix of single track, double track, and jeep roads.  The footing goes from OK to horrendous, fast.  There are many small mossy/greasy bridges, old log bridges, and portions of the trail you have to come to almost a complete stop at to navigate the rocks.  It definitely makes for an interesting run, early on.

Greg continued to push with David in tow, and I could see them the entire time, but I was hanging back and not working any of the small climbs that come fast and frequently.  I took it easy, conserving energy on the climbs and even some of the steep downs.  I drank water frequently and took a hit every once in a while from my gel flask.  I continued to replenish my Lifesavers as they ran out and made sure to keep one in my mouth the entire race.  I knew that even at 20 minutes in, you HAVE to keep up with hydration and nutrition if you are going to last in these races.  If you don't, you WILL bonk.  I know this from experience now.  It is NOT a 10 mile race on the Merrimack River Trail.  I continued to make sure I was constantly fueling even that early in the race.  There are a fair share of aid stations so I was confident I could replenish what I needed as far as liquids, so I tried to pace out my hydration equally between stations.  Before I caught David and Greg, Dale Mitchell caught me, talked with me for a bit as we ran side by side, and then he pulled ahead on one of the harder early climbs.  Some time later, I caught back up and passed Dane on my way to finally catching up to the two leaders.

As I pulled up along behind David and Greg, we went up and down steep climbs that would almost cause me to walk a few steps before reaching the top and darting down again.  There was just enough time for me to recover and catch the top 2 before the next climbs would start.  I ran like that for a long while, falling off David and Greg as they pulled away for a bit before reeling them in again.  Like a yo-yo I ran until about 60 minutes in, when we came to the big climb up what I think is the Chestnut Hill trail (I may be wrong about that). It is a 'Mount Washington-esque' type of climb up an old road that is so steep, I have no clue how anyone was able to drive up it.  It is mostly falling apart, grown in, and full of pot holes. I found myself, somehow in the lead up this beast, after the 3 of us cruised into an aid station right at the bottom of it (about 8.1 miles in).  I took almost no time at all at the station and made sure my bottle was topped and headed up the climb.  Herr was right behind me and Greg was following not too far back.  As we neared the top, we were joined not too long after by Kevin Tilton, who was catching us up the climb that was right in his wheelhouse.  That started what would be the top 4 lead pack that would be together for a lot of the race.  After Kevin caught up to us, Kevin and I ran side by side, as David and Greg did the same, 3 feet in front of us...for miles.

I led for a while, which I did not like (especially this early in the race).  David and Greg and Kevin continued to run right behind, as we hit another major uphill grind, this one being single track.  I had no place to move off to, to let them go past me, so I had to push the pace up the hill and by the time we got to the top, we had spread out a bit, but once the trail widened, I moved over and ran on the side, hoping Herr and the rest would go past.  They didn't pass me until I took 2 quick wrong turns, the second one I wasn't able to catch in time to stay in the lead, and they passed me.  I gladly hopped in behind them and we pushed on up another uphill grind, this time with David and Greg in the lead, with Kevin right in front of me.  Again, I would fall off the back a bit and then catch back up to Kevin, as Greg continued to run really well up front and pull us along.  David was matching him stride for stride and I continued to work on hydration, nutrition, and suddenly became VERY aware of my calves and hamstrings.  It wasn't even 90 minutes in and I already had major signs of cramping.  It was incredibly disheartening.  I told Kevin  I was starting to almost cramp, as my muscles twinged and fired up most of the climbs and when I had to bound over rocks on some of the downhill sections.  I fell back off the pace quite a bit for a while, as those 3 really looked to be working well together.   I caught back up to Kevin at one point and just as we were going over a greasy snowmobile bridge, I caught the lip of it and fell hard onto the top of the bridge, rolling over a couple times before picking myself up and continuing on. Kevin slowed a bit and asked if I was OK.  Later I would learn that even Greg and David heard me go down, from their position about 50 meters up the hill.

Not too soon after I went down, I completely lost the pack.  I started running in 'no mans land' and couldn't even see the top 3 any more.  It was a little disheartening, but at the same time I knew I was conserving energy and that we had a LONG way to go still.  I started to glance back to see if Brian or Ben or Chris would be coming up to join me, but never saw anyone.  I continued to push on, never once having any sensation of bonking, never having to really walk anything other than a couple of steps here and there, and never having anything else bother me except my twinging hammies and calves.

Eventually, as 2 hours came and went, I started to every once in a while, see Kevin's white singlet through the woods and thought to myself  'wow, I'm still kind of in this thing'.  I felt really strong but was very cautious of my legs.  I pushed on and seemed to be catching them but never tried to put an all out push to catch up.  By the aid station at Kilburn Road (19.9 miles), I had basically caught the top 3 to my amazement.   I pulled into that aid station (that you actually come to twice) and quickly topped off my bottle, dumped a NUUN tab in, and headed out down the trail.  I was now staring at Greg Hammett's red jersey in front of me, with Kevin and David not too far up ahead.  At this point last year, this is where I had passed and finally broken away from Ben.  David Herr and Brian Rusiecki (last year) had already come through here at that point, a couple minutes before.  This year, I was right behind David, and Brian was out of the picture behind me.  I had a really good feeling at this point, that for the first time in the race, I thought I had the potential of top 3 if nothing disastrous happened on the way out of this loop (called the Kilburn loop) and on the upcoming Davis Hill trail, which is a tremendously frightening hill to have deep in a race like this.

As we headed towards the bottom of the Kilburn loop (which is a 5.5 mile loop that goes down and then back up), I caught up to and passed Greg, who was still running really strong and was in good spirits. He seemed to be still probably running near the same pace he was before, but David and Kevin had broken away.  Greg told me that Kevin had made a move and he thought it was too early.  He seemed content in staying where he was, because he knew how he was feeling and what it was going to take to get this race done.  He was running a PB and didn't want to jeopardize it with a drastic move with 11 miles to go.  I agreed, but I was moving at my own pace and was pushing onward, feeling great and again keeping up with my fluids and gels.

As I hit the bottom and started the climb back up, Kevin was up ahead and now had been dropped by David, who was out of sight.  David was no doubt pushing the pace on the ups here and made a decisive move.  Kevin was unable to match his move, but still pushed up the climb back out of Kilburn at a decent pace.  Greg wasn't too far behind me, but was losing a bit of ground on me as I pushed up ahead, trying to catch Kevin.  As the loop flattened a bit, I caught up to Kevin who was now running pretty easy.  As I passed by him on a downhill section, I asked him if he needed anything and he said he was good with gels, but he was in 'full bonk mode'. It was interesting to me because this is EXACTLY where I had my small bonk episode last year.  I recovered though and told him to hang in there and that 'there was a lot more climbing left'.  I figured that would ease his worries because he was the best climber out there....but if you are bonking, the climbs could be a lot worse.

As I moved up past the Kilburn aid station again, I hit the next uphill section out to the parking lot area before Davis Hill.  This section was tough last year, but I was killing it this year.  I had dropped Kevin and Greg out of sight completely and was now feeling fantastic.  I wasn't even close to feeling 'bonkish' and my only concern still was my hamstrings and calves, which were playing somewhat nicely since I was pounding water and NUUN tabs.  They were still twinging, but now at the 3 hour mark, I figured I could maybe hang on...  I hit the parking lot right before a sharp right into the Davis Hill trail climb and Josh Ferenc was standing there.  He was yelling at me that I looked great and that David Herr wasn't looking all that good.  He told me I was 1:10 back of David.  I thought that that wasn't too bad, especially with 5 or so miles to go (most of which seemed to be uphill though).

I pushed up Davis Hill, which is a LONG LONG grind up a jeep trail that seems to just relentlessly climb, though not too too steep.  Some sections I almost felt like I was close to a walk, but I continued to run and got all the way up without any issue.  I felt like I had slowed a bit in my pace, but couldn't imagine that anyone else (ahead of me or behind) was running any faster.  Once at the top, there is still a few miles of trails up and down up and down.  It seemed like it was taking forever, but the more I glanced at my watch and saw 3:10, 3:15, 3:20, 3:25, I knew I was getting closer and closer.  I kept telling myself '20 more minutes max' etc.  I really didn't know if we were running faster than the previous year, but I couldn't imagine it being too much slower, if I was sitting alone in 2nd place, only a minute back of David.   There was one more set of climbs up the Hubbard Hill trail and my hamstrings started to really twinge during the downs.

Finally, as I was on the cusp of cramping up, I could see the road through the trees and knew I was close.  For the first time, I was confident I could at least get 2nd place (in a race I thought I'd be lucky to get top 10 in).  I hit the junction of the road and trail to find Josh Ferenc once again standing there. He told me that David Herr was just going out of sight down the road, about :45 up. The last road is a mile + of up and down paved road that is usually a near death march. Last year, I was cramping every which way, but was able to hang on for 3rd place.  This year, I came out onto the road and was looking for first.  I headed down the first downhill section and saw David Herr right in front, just about within striking distance. I started to pull towards him and a tractor pulled out in between us on the road.  A perfect opportunity to sneak up on him, as he couldn't see behind it.  The sun was shining bright and it was a beautiful day and a beautiful end to the race as I continued to reel him in.  The course climbs up a bit and then we passed Greg Hammett's house.  There were a bunch of people standing there screaming for me as soon as David went by, and I saw that he now knew I was back there.  He looked to adjust a little and try to pick up the pace.  We were both hurting and as I tried to push up hill a little, my right hamstring completely went.  It felt like I had a baseball sized knot under my right buttcheek and I had all I could do to continue without fully having to stop.  My pace had to drop back down again and I was still catching David, but not fast enough.  We came up eventually past Glen Hammett's house right before the last right hand turn onto Rt. 63 to the finish, and David was just too far up on me to catch him. I think if the race was maybe a quarter mile to half mile longer, I could have caught him, but in the end, we both took the turn and he came in 18 seconds up on me to the tune of 3:41:52. I came through the line in 3:42:10.  18 seconds back in a 31 mile mountain/trail race.

 Photo above of myself and David Herr after the race. Photo credit: Linda ODonnell

I had mixed emotions, but predominantly happy that I ran 5:19 faster this year than last year! I would have never guessed I would have run faster this year, after the way the end of my summer went. I also would have never guessed I would have beaten many of the guys who ran today. It was a very competitive and talented field. I was very excited about being able to almost hang with David...heck I almost was able to pass him.  That would have been something, if I could have caught him on that last road section.  It would have been an epic finish for sure.  We both actually went under his Course Record from last year (3:42:26).  I beat it by 16 seconds but it doesn't really count when I beat the course record but someone also beats it by a little more :).

Ben Nephew apparently had a great last half of the race and ran a very fast time to come in third place ahead of Greg, who hung in there and came in 1 second faster than I ran last year, for a huge new PB for him on the course.  Brian ran a few minutes slower than he ran last year and came in for 5th place.  Dane was 6th and Chris Hayhurst (who just became a Dad again the day before and was working off of zero sleep) came in 7th.  Kevin manned up and finished strong in 8th place, even though he was bonking hard for nearly 11 miles.  Lesson learned there as you can read his report here.

 Photo above: Nephew, Herr, Johnson, with the race director. Photo credit: Linda ODonnell

Top 10 overall:

1 - David Herr - 3:41:52 ** New CR
2 - Jim Johnson - 3:42:10
3 - Ben Nephew - 3:45:18
4 - Greg Hammett - 3:47:28
5 - Brian Rusiecki - 3:49:33
6 - Dane Mitchell - 3:50:35
7 - Chris Hayhurst - 3:56:30
8 - Kevin Tilton - 4:00:25
9 - Amy Lane - 4:31:11
10 - Jason Dunklee - 4:34:51

Surprisingly, after just a few moments, I was able to walk around OK.  I wasn't cramping any longer and my feet were a bit sore, but for the most part, OK.  The new Inov-8 test pairs I wore came through with flying colors and felt GREAT, even though they were a 1-arrow.  I got through the race unscathed and had a great time afterwards, talking w/ all the guys and then heading over to Greg's place for a brew and a laugh w/ the Keene CMS and BAA contingent.  Oh yeah, I found out later that Fyffe took a wrong turn somewhere during the 23K and it turned into a 2+ hour jaunt to try to just get back to the finish.  I still owe him $10 bucks.


Top 11 times since 2000 *:

2011: 3:41:52 - David Herr
2011: 3:42:10 - Jim Johnson
2010: 3:42:26 - David Herr
2004: 3:44:33 - Ben Nephew
2011: 3:45:18 - 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
2011: 3:47:28 - Greg Hammett
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. time..got info from Ben. Can't find results.)
2002 - 3:52:00 Dave Mackey (approx. time..got 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
2011 - 3:41:52  David Herr

** cannot find data from before this.


  1. I saw your divot before/at that snowmobile bridge, and thought to myself, "That must have sucked." Sounds like it did. Seems like you've really got your nutrition/hydration dialed, which no doubt played a big role in the faster time this year. Nice work.

  2. haha..yeah...wow that was not a very graceful bridge crossing to say the least!

    good seeing you out there! big PR for you! 35 minutes is a huge improvement. Think you can shave off another 35 next year? ;)

  3. Guess where I found some old results?!

    10 Years ago
    I only raced twice in September of 2001, I was trying to recover from my Ultrarunning exploits (heck, I’m still trying to recover!). The first race was the Pisgah Mountain 50km trail race in Chesterfield NH. I remember Ben Nephew gave me so much grief for all the gels and water I was carrying (he was shirtless and carried nothing), but I was worried about a DNF after the World 100km. I took no chances, basically running the race alone in third place. I caught Leigh Schmidt at 26 but I couldn’t reel in Ben who was way out in front (3:46:20 CR). I took second place in 3:56:11. Two weeks later I went to the always fast Eliot Maine 5k (certified) and finished in 10th place with a 15:33 (4:55/9:58).

  4. I can probably find about 19 seconds.

  5. Hi Jim - I found your site through the main pisgah race site. Thanks for posting that picture of the results, I was wondering where I came in and now I know it was 18th (same as last year).

  6. Little typo in your report where you list your time with a 2 hour number versus 3 hours. Had me freaked until I saw the actual results.

    Well done, well run.

  7. Thanks GZ! I am not used to running races where the hour is a 3 instead of a 2 :)... fixed.