This past Saturday morning I woke up bright and early at 4:45am to drive down to Bloomfield, CT for the Traprock 50k. This race has been on my radar for almost a year. I first heard about it last May at the Soapstone Trail Race, which is also run down in Connecticut. During that race, I met several runners who were gassed because their legs were “still fried from Traprock!!”
War stories about the difficulty of a race, particularly when those stories are about climbing and elevation gain, usually do not inspire me to register for said race. In fact, they’re pretty much a sure fire way to insure that I don’t register for that race the next year. Traprock was no different. As a matter of fact, up until about a month ago, I had absolutely no plans on running this race. I was already registered for the TARC Spring Classic 50k, which is two weeks after Traprock, so I wasn’t looking for anything else in April.
That changed though, when I decided to target the Vermont 50 as my “big” race for this year. The VT 50 claims 9,000 feet of elevation gain, which is WAY more than I’ve ever done in a race or in training. The TARC Spring Classic 50k is a fairly easy course without much elevation gain, so although it will be great for endurance training, it won’t give me much elevation gain training. Knowing that Traprock claims about 2,300 feet of climbing, I thought it would be a good starting point for the 6 month gear up for VT 50, so I went ahead and registered. If I had read the Traprock site a little more closely however, I would have realized that what it ACTUALLY claims is 2,300 feet of elevation gain for EACH of the 3 loops that make up the course!
So here’s what that math means….
VT 50 has 9,000 feet of gain over 50 miles which works out to 180 feet/mile of climbing. Traprock has 6,900 feet of gain over 31 miles which works out to 222 feet/mile of climbing.
I’m not going to lie. My initial reaction to finding this out was fear and concern. My money was already spent however, so I decided to just look at it as a gauge of my climbing ability to see just how much trouble I was in for Vermont which has a 12 hour cutoff time. My Traprock plan became to take it easy, and just get through it as best as possible. Looking at last years times, it seemed like I could expect the race to take me around an hour longer than a 50k typically does. So a finish time of 6 hours and 45 minutes seemed to be about right.
With about 4 weeks in between registering for, and racing at Traprock, I decided to try to focus on elevation gain on training runs. A couple of Blue Hills runs and several hill-focused runs at Vietnam (my home turf in Milford, MA), gave me a little more confidence going into race week.
As if my fears about the elevation gain weren’t enough, several other X Factors came into play for this race.
First and foremost, I have been working very hard at getting out of my custom carbon fibre orthotics. I have never completed an Ultra or even a long (more than 15 miles) without them. I won’t get too specific, (because I’ll do that in another post), but this would be my first Ultra without them.
Further breaking the cardinal rule of “Nothing new on race day!!”, I would also be running in fairly new shoes (Inov8 TrailRoc 255’s) as well as Injiji 5-Toe socks which I’d never worn on long runs and carrying a new Ultimate Direction handheld water bottle with a bite valve nozzle that I’m not used to.
So with all that on my mind, I met Brenda Morris in Auburn and we drove down to Connecticut together. The start time of the race was 8:30am, but the organizers claimed that there would be a 10-15 minute walk from the parking area to the starting area, so we decided to arrive by 7:30am so we would have time to get to the start and get settled. It actually turned out to be a 2 minute walk which, coupled with a quicker than expected drive, got us to the starting area around 7:30am. I found a good spot for my drop bag, and then promptly stepped in dog shit and was attacked by mosquitos. Fortunately, those would turn out to be two of the biggest problems I would have all day!
Hanging out at the starting area, Brenda introduced me to several TARC people who I had previously only “met” on Facebook. Padraig, Wendy, Jen, Brenda and I passed the hour before the race chatting and joking around. Before I knew it, we were off and running!
The course starts off with a steep climb that nearly everyone except the lead guys walked. More rolling climbs and descents made up the first couple of miles until reaching “The Stairway” at around the 2 mile mark. The Stairway is what looked to be about 200 feet of ascent in the span of about 50 feet. Definitely a walking situation, but I really enjoyed it! The course then continued with lots of rocky, rooty and otherwise technical single and doubletrack, following the ridgeline. Continuing the theme of lots of technical and steep climbs and descents, the course continued out to a “Lollipop” section, and then back along the ridgeline on a different trail. The only real downside of the course is a 1.5 mile section of old paved rail trail which is broken up in several places. I know how tough it can be to plan a long trail race without including pavement to get from trail to trail, but this course would REALLY benefit if it were possible to cut out as much of this paved section as possible. Another 1.5 miles of nice technical terrain takes you from the end of the paved section, back down the original climb, and to the start/finish area.
Because of the format of the course, you get to see lots of other runners throughout the day on the out and back sections. It was nice to be able to see how Brenda and the rest of my new friends were doing as the day went on.
The Aid Stations were abundant and well stocked with super-helpful and uplifting volunteers. I don’t think there was a span of more than 2.5 miles between aid stations on the course.
The course was also extremely well marked with orange ribbon. The RD joked that “if you get lost on this course, you should stick to road running!”
In my recent long distance races, my nutrition/hydration plan has been pretty simple, but not all that precise. Basically I take 3 endurolyte tabs when stopping at my drop bag, (all of my Ultras thus far have been multi-loop courses). I also usually take a gel when at my bag. Depending on the length of the loop, I also take gels when out on the course when needed. I only drink water, and drink to thirst. Obviously my water intake per hour gets larger and larger as the race goes on. If the aid stations have food that appeals to me, I’ll pick on that too. I don’t tend to like the junk foods that aid stations often have like M&M’s, Oreos or Potato Chips. I do find myself craving and eating things like fruit (particularly grapes and bananas) and small pieces of peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
This strategy worked well for me at Traprock. In fact, for whatever reason, this was the first Ultra I’ve done where I never dealt with any of the mental “Demons” that typically effect long distance runners.
The only real problem I faced during the race was that the Injiji socks were causing me some discomfort. I don’t know if the steep descending was the culprit, but it felt like the socks were really pulling between my toes. I decided to change them out for my normal Smartwool socks between laps 2 and 3.
I was also a little irritated with the Ultimate Direction handheld bottle. I just couldn’t get the water to come out smoothly. I have since gotten the hang of it though and have been enjoying it. Padraig pointed out a crucial flaw in the bite valve design though, which is that you can’t easily squeeze water onto your head when it’s hot! So far, not a problem, but I think I will likely be going back to the Nathan handheld when the weather heats up again.
The last lap turned out to be quite good. I felt progressively stronger as the lap went on, and except for some minor arch pain in my left foot (which I expected in my new shoes and no custom orthotics), continued to feel great right through the finish!
My finishing time was 6:06:55. At about 40 mins faster than my projected time, I was VERY happy with this result. At the end of the day, I didn’t find the elevation gain to be much of an issue at all. I never dreaded any upcoming climbs. Vermont’s climbing will be different, with lots of more gradual sustained climbs as compared to Traprock’s steep, technical ups and downs. Still, I can’t help but feel optimistic about my chances for a good day at the VT 50.
The post race scene was great with burgers, dogs, veggie burgers and stuff to drink. The race organizers even gave out pint glasses and stickers with the race logo for anyone who wanted them! I hung around the finish area with some new friends while I waited for Brenda to finish. Another TARC’er that I’d met and chatted with out on the course, Chris Libbey, even let me try out his new Scott Jurek Ultimate Direction Pack which I’ve been eyeing lately. (VT 50 is a one loop course and will require carrying more stuff!) The pack fits very nicely, but the front-held water bottles will take some getting used to!
The organizers of Traprock did a great job and put on an awesome race! I can definitely see myself coming back for more of this one.
Lastly, I must say that Connecticut is quickly becoming one of my favorite areas for trail races. 3 of my favorite races so far (Soapstone, Nipmuck Trail Marathon, and now Traprock) take place there. I will definitely be heading south for more races in the future!!