May 31, 2014
Those who follow my blog know that the Peak Ultramarathon is one of my favorite races in the Northeast. The relentless climbs, the mud, the steep descents, the mud, the backcountry feel, the nettles – and did I mention, the mud – all add up to make for one heck of a rugged, adventurous time. By nature (and I suppose intention, thanks to the mischievous mind of race director Andy Weinberg), the course is inherently not “fast.” Nonetheless, being a mountain gal at heart, I relish the challenge of remote and wild courses. There’s nothing better for toughening the mind than learning how to smartly navigate tricky terrain.
For the past three years, I’ve always tackled the 50 mile distance at Peak. Sadly, with Western States on the horizon, the 50 miler was simply too much to take on so close to the big race. Naturally, the thought of not partaking at all had me down. Having never run the 30 mile course, I figured I might as well give it a go. In 2013 the 30 miler was re-routed to include the best and the toughest parts of the 50 mile race. Moreover, knowing that I’d be running the infamous “Bloodroot Loop” on fresh legs provided quite the incentive to sign up.
…”fresh” meant in the loosest of terms, of course. I approached Peak this year entirely as a training run, which meant zero taper and 46 miles of running going into the race.
Unlike last year – where temperatures climbed into the 90s and soul-sucking-humidity had me crawling by mile 40 – the weather on May 31 was just about as perfect as it gets. The leisurely 9:00am start time was a bonus, too. After quickly stashing a few supplies at Upper Michigan aid (which also happened to be the start of the 30 mile race), I lined up with the other runners and prepared for a fun day of running ahead.
The start was as low-key and wonderful as always. Andy yelled “go,” and we were off.
First up, Bloodroot. Man, do I love Bloodroot. Sprinting down the first steep jeep road descent, we were instantly greeted by a long stretch of calf-deep mud.
Sweet. This is going to be one heck of an awesome year.
As always seems to be the case (thanks to my unusual pace, I can only assume), I found myself running alone pretty much from the get go. Approaching Bloodroot Mountain on blissfully “fresh” legs compared to years prior, the early miles ticked by effortlessly. Tackling the mountain proper, I was surprised at just how much of the climb I was able to run. Oh, how nice it is to race in ideal weather for once!
The descent down Bloodroot was rocky and muddy as ever. I made sure to take things easy for fear of turning an ankle so close to Western States. Reaching the base of the mountain, another 30 mile runner soon caught up with me. We stayed together for a short while, wading our way through the deepest mud pits of the day. Eventually, however, I let him pass. Though a twinge of competitiveness bubbled up, I reminded myself that I was running this strictly as a training race for Western States. Thus, my priority was to remain steady and to keep my heart rate in a very sustainable range. I let the angst pass, and shifted my focus to enjoying the day and the course I love so deeply.
Turning onto dirt road, my legs welcomed the change in terrain. The cool temperatures had me drinking less than anticipated, and I was able to breeze by mile 13 aid without needing to fill my hydration pack. The final few miles of the Bloodroot Loop involved a pair of very steep ascents coupled with a few extended downhill sections. Since the footing wasn’t too technical, I was able to push hard on the descents and ended up making excellent time back to Upper Michigan. Once again, I found myself leading the 30 mile race.
Reaching the aid station, Andy inquired as to what my GPS had clocked for distance.
Only a few miles off from the 19 we’d estimated, he chuckled.
…and that, my friends, is why I love Peak Races. Nothing beats a few bonus miles!
The two or so miles down to Riverside Farm were mostly downhill. My roadie legs kicked in, I opened my stride, and flew. Boy, did it feel nice to run fast for a stretch.
The 30 mile course culminates with a 10 mile lap on twisty singletrack up and around Joe’s mountain. The loop boasts ~1,200 feet of gain and is somewhat soul-crushing at the end of a long day. Racers of the 100, 200, and 500 mile distances run this same loop 10, 20, and 50 times respectively – a feat I’m not sure I’m capable of, but one that I have absolute respect for!
In past years, I’ve always hit a major low point heading into the infamous loop. However, with only 23 miles on the legs I was able to maintain a steady pace throughout. The stretch down from the summit was especially wonderful, as the buttery mountain bike trails made for a very speedy descent. That said, the true highlight of those final miles was running past the many friendly racers toughing out those longer Peak events. I was especially thrilled to see my pals John and Michelle, both of whom have inspired me throughout my ultrarunning journey.
The icing on the cake? Crossing that finish line in 5:42:22 with an unexpected overall win for the second year in a row! In 2013, I had the honor of winning the 50 mile event. I suppose this means I’ll need to return to the gnarly trails of Pittsfield again in 2015 to see if I can continue my streak with the 15 mile distance…
Huge thanks to Andy and the many race volunteers for 1) putting on such a top-notch event, and 2) kindly dishing out some free bonus miles to the 30 mile participants. My GPS clocked the course at 33.4 miles in length.
I’m also forever indebted to Scott for taking so many lovely photographs on course – and for kindly granting me permission to use them on my blog.
Peak is truly a gem of a race. I’m thrilled that I was able to fit it into my training cycle this year as I ramp up for Western States in just two and a half short weeks.
Check back soon for a detailed post on my preparations for the “big dance”…
Some fun facts…
I used Peak as an opportunity to practice my fueling in advance of Western States. I have been struggling to get in enough calories during longer races, so I prioritized consistent fuel intake as best as possible. The combination of Tailwind and VFuel worked well, and my energy levels were steady throughout. I envision they would have been even better had I taken VESPA as well, though since it’s a very expensive supplement I decided to forego it this time around. All in all, I consumed ~800 calories during the run, which is a step up from the ~954 calories I took in at Ice Age!
- Pre-race – 1 serving of Generation UCAN
- Gels consumed – 5 VFuel (1 vanilla, 4 fudge brownie)
- Liquid consumed – ~60oz (mixed with 3 servings of Tailwind)
- Protein consumed post-race – SFH Recovery (chocolate)
- Calories burned – 4,196
- Average HR – 150
- Max HR – 166
- UltrAspire Alpha race vest
- Polar RCX5 heart rate monitor
- INKnBURN Lust tank top
- Pearl Izumi Infinity Run skirt
- Altra Olympus
- Drymax socks
- Dirty girl gaiters (skulls)
- Sparkly Soul headband
- Julbo Trek sunglasses