Monday, June 23, 2014

Mountain Interval

Last year at this time, I was just beginning my biggest challenge to date – The Summer of 48. And, although my primary goal for this year has shifted to 100 Miles for Sam, I can still hear the mountains calling me.  So, in this interval between the conclusion of the TARC 50 and the beginning of the build-up for the Ghost Train 100m I’ve chosen to heed their call…

Mount Chocoura – June 15I’ve hiked Mount Chocoura (3490 ft) on two previous occasions. Once in summer and once in late fall, and both completely different. The summer trip was with my family when we were tenting at White Ledge Campground, on the eastern slope of the mountain. We hiked together to Carter Ledge (about halfway up) where I left them to pick wild blueberries, while I continued on to the summit. The fall trip was with some friends (including Steve Wolfe) and I was poorly equipped for the steep icy slopes we encountered in our late November Assault from the west side.

This time around would be different for a number of reasons. First, I was going to do it solo. Second, I was going to run it. And third, I was going to do it twice!

My requested gift for Father’s Day, was a simple one. I wanted “the morning”. So, I rose bright and early (5:15am) and left my family sleeping peacefully in our camper at Danforth Bay in Freedom, NH for the 20 minute drive over to Chocoura. My planned route started just off Route 16 at the Hammond Trailhead. From there, I would run/hike directly to the summit, then descend via the Brook Trail to Paugus Road, back up the Liberty Trail and finish via Hammond once more. 13.8 miles total and about 4400 feet of elevation gain.

Having never done this route, I wasn’t sure how long it would take. But, based on the distance and terrain, I hoped I could finish in just under 4 hours – or at a pace of about 3.5 miles per hour. I struggled to find my stride early on. Partially due to a lack of sleep – the joy of camping. Partially due to a lack of fitness - first hike of the season. And partially due to a lack of recovery – just 7 days after TARC! Eventually I made the 4.1 mile push to the wind-swept summit, in an hour and a half – or roughly 2.7 mph.

The start of the descent was no easier, as the steep rock face, combined with some run-off from a recent rain made the early going treacherous. But, as the trail eased back below tree line, so did the difficulty of the terrain. And within a mile from the summit, I was nearly sprinting down the trail. That is, until I turned my right ankle. Badly. After about a minute (or two) of hopping around and cursing, I started running again. Slowly at first, then back up to nearly the pace I sustained before the roll. I hit Paugus Road in 1 hours time – or about 4 mph.

After a couple minutes to check the map and have a quick snack, I headed back up Liberty for the next 2.7 mile leg. I found this trail to be surprisingly runnable, given the 1600 feet of elevation gain. Then again, perhaps it was because after 2 ½ hours of running (and one turned ankle) I was finally awake!  Anyway, I reached the trail intersection (just below the Jim Liberty Cabin) in 45 minutes (3.5 mph) and turned to head back down Hammond.

About halfway down I began to bonk. Not severely, but just enough that I couldn’t really get my legs turning over and take advantage of the very favorable running conditions. In the end it took me about 48 minutes to complete the 3 mile downhill segment – or about 3 ¾ mph. My total time for the 13.8 mile journey was 4 hours and 3 minutes. Just a bit slower (3.4 mph) than I wanted, but given the fact that I hadn’t really fully recovered from the 50 yet, it wasn’t a bad first effort on the hills!

Mount Monadnock – June 21

The slopes of Grand Monadnock (3166 ft), along with the Wapack Trail, are my “go to” home town training grounds for mountain running. Both venues are easily accessible (within an hour) from my home and both present terrain (and above tree line running) similar to mountains with much higher elevations. I’ve hiked Monadnock twice previously and Run It 4 times. Of course, each of those four was a “double”. So technically, I’ve summited a total of 10 times. This trip (on the first official day of summer) would make it a dirty dozen, and I secretly hoped for a PR!

This time out, I was joined by a couple of younger runners – Justin Soucy & Nick Poles. Both of whom had me questioning my fitness, and my sanity, early on the 4.4 mile climb up Pumpelly Trail. At first I tried to stay with them. But my lungs, and my stomach, quickly talked me out of that! Eventually, I settled into my usual “plod along pace” and let them ease away. I lost a couple minutes to them on the first ascent, but still finished with a 1 minute PR of 1:03 – or 4.1 mph.

Like Chocoura, the descent down the Dublin Trail can be a bit tricky. The 1600 feet of elevation is roughy equivalent to that of Pumpelly but, with 2 miles less distance travelled, it’s a whole lot steeper! I took the early lead on the trail, but Nick and Justin powered by me as the running became less technical. We reached the trailhead at Old Troy Road in 32:30 – or 4.4 mph. And, we stopped for a quick snack break before heading back up again.

Passing bewildered hikers (in this case twice - once down, once up) is one of my favorite parts of mountain running. Mostly they ask me: “Why?” and mostly I answer: “Because I can!” This trip we passed two such groups. As always, I pass with a kind “hello”, or “good morning” but always while still moving forward. Despite feeling less than well at this point, we still crushed the steep climb and finished it in 41:30 – or 3.4 mph. We did, however, incur one small casualty as Justin turned his ankle just before the summit.

We eased back down Pumpelly for the last leg of the day. This section is one of my favorite for running down. Not terribly technical. Lots of open rock face. And a bunch of great views! It gets steep/rocky just below tree line, but after a bit it flattens out once again for a nice, quick return trip. In no time at all we found ourselves touching back down at Lake Road - 56:30 (4.7 mph) for the leg and 3:13:30 (4.2 mph) overall, for a new 13.6 mile (32oo feet of gain) Double Monadnock PR of just under 9 minutes!

We cooled ourselves off with a quick dip in Dublin Lake and enjoyed a high-spirited (albeit somewhat cramp-filled) ride back to Nashua for an afternoon with the family. Mountains, running, summer and sun. Does it get any better than that?!

Next Up:
White Mountain Hut Traverse
– Sunday, July 6th.
Because recovery is overrated!


  1. Nice mountain runs, Michael! I love the Pumpelly and Dublin trails, they're my go to runs on that mountain. Most hikers I pass twice are friendly, but a few have accused me of being a show off. Man does that bother me! Keep enjoying the fun in the mountains.

  2. Thanks Greg! Will do. Just sent in my app for Pisgah. 50k this time around. No bees though, ok? :)