Friday, August 1, 2014

Full Circle

In July of 2009 I attempted what was, up until that point, the biggest physical and mental challenge of my life – The Pemi Loop. A 31.5 mile run/hike through the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Up and over eight 4000+ mountains with more than 9000 feet of elevation gain. It was my first ever ultra-marathon and I wrote all about it HERE.

5 years later (to the day, surprisingly!), with many miles and a few ultra-marathons under my belt, I decided it was time to give it another shot. So, I headed back to the Pemi, the headwaters of my ultra-running river, to see what I could do    …and the results were rather stunning!

But first, a little history …

When I ran the Pemi back in 2009, I was in the shape of my life. I was less than 6 months removed from road PR’s in the 5k, 5m, Half Marathon and Marathon. PR’s which were so solid at the time that they still stand for me today. Meaning, I was at the absolute peak of my road running career. Only, I didn’t know it yet! And, I wouldn’t actually realize that fact until a few years (and injuries) later.

I ran the Loop with my good friend SteveWolfe (who was in equal, or better, shape) as part of the Pemi Wild Ultra – an unofficial race in which 5 teams of two tried to complete the 31.5 mile trek in as little time as possible and without breaking our necks! We started at 4:00am and headed in a counterclockwise direction around the loop. Steve and I had a great time and, not surprisingly, ended up coming in first!

Fast forward to 2014 and I’m now 5 years older - and slower than ever! Except, that for the past year I’ve been racing and training for ultra-marathons. So, the big question was: Would that fact alone be enough to turn back the clock? I hoped so, but at 6:15am as I headed out alone across the bridge to start the loop (clockwise this time) I still had my doubts. Doubts that only grew stronger less than a half hour later when I was off the side of the trail. Puking.

I decided to run in the opposite direction as the previous time because I wanted to get the biggest climbs out of the way early - while I was still fresh. Unfortunately, the big climbs also came while I still had a full stomach. So, once I got that all “straightened out” the rest of the way up Osseo went rather smoothly. I hit the top of Mount Flume and headed down the opposite side towards Lafayette under a full head of steam.

The weather was near perfect. Mostly cloudy, very little wind and no rain. And with temps maxing out at around 80, I was a very lucky boy indeed! The trip over to the high point on the course went quickly and before long I had 10.5 miles under my belt and was starting down the Garfield Ridge Trail – my own personal White Mountain nemesis. I hammered it as hard as I could, but it still seemed to last FOREVER. Eventually I hit Galehead Hut and enjoyed a well-deserved bowl of soup.

The “Hut Rally” did me good and I was able to find the legs I’d lost along the GRT. I scrambled up South Twin and started pushing the pace over the very runnable Twinway. At this point a sub-10 hour loop seemed possible and I wanted very badly to make that happen. After popping out of the trees at Guyot I could feel that the day had warmed up considerably. Many of the early clouds had given way and in their place were stunning views across the Pemi – and beyond!

The climbs of Mount Bond and Bondcliff seemed easier than I’d remembered previously and after I crested the last summit I really started putting the hammer down. Flying along the twisty-turny Bondcliff Trail I actually let out a HOWL of sheer and utter joy! Unfortunately, all the jostling on the steep downs was too much for my already queasy tummy and a few moments later I had to stop and puke. Again.

Eventually, I righted the ship, started running once more and felt considerably better as the trail bottomed out on the valley floor. Running along the Wilderness Trail and the Pemigewasset River was truly an amazing experience for me. I had been going for 9+ hours by that point and still felt as strong as when I started. It’s quite something, really! I crossed the bridge and hit my watch. A few ticks over 10 hours and a couple HOURS under my previous best time!

I jumped into the river to cool off and drove home a very happy man. Content in the fact that, while I may not be able to turn back time, I’m certainly going to try and give it a run for its money!

Below are my split times and miles per hour for each segment of the Pemi (not including the 20 odd minutes I spent at the hut) for both the 2009 and 2014 trips.

Pemi Loop Splits:        2009             2014
Start to Osseo                    :13                 :13
1.4m                                    (6.46)            (6.46)

Osseo to Flume                 1:15                1:24
4.1m                                    (3.28)             (2.93)

Flume to Lafayette           2:16                1:45
5.0m                                    (2.20)            (2.86)

Lafayette to Garfield        1:50                1:20
3.5m                                    (1.91)              (2.63)

Garfield to Galehead        1:32                 1:12
3.1m                                    (2.02)             (2.58)

Galehead  to Twinway     1:16                 1:06 
2.8m                                    (2.21)              (2.65)

Twinway  to Bond             :32                   :26
1.3m                                    (2.43)              (3.00)

Bond to Wilderness           1:57                 1:34
5.6m                                    (2.87)              (3:57)

Wilderness  to Finish         :58                   :48
4.7m                                     (4.86)             (5.88)

Total:                                 11:49             9:48
31.5m                                   (2.66)             (3.21)

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