First, an update. Last year I raced as a professional triathlete. Then I "retired". Then I did the Philly Marathon. Then I entered into my first year (in a very, very, very, VERY long time) where I didn't have a "race schedule". It was weird. Good at first! I could sleep in on Saturdays! But then I felt a bit lost. And who am I kidding, I can't sleep in, even if my life depended on it.
So I looked towards some of goals I had set last fall. I wanted and needed a challenge. I trained hard over the winter to try and break 20:00 in the 1650. I swam a 20:04 at a meet at Harvard in March. Close, but I'll have to try that one again next winter. Then it was nice outside and I could ride my bike! So I set about trying to improve on my mountain bike. I did a smaller mountain bike race in May and didn't kill myself. I considered that a victory. Most of all it was FUN. I suppose you can take the girl out of racing but you can't take the racing out of the girl!
In early June I did the Wilmington Whiteface 100K mountain bike race. This is in Lake Placid area and, in case you hadn't already guessed, is a bit on the hilly side. As in you literally just go up up up, then down, then up and then down and then at the end they make you climb back up the ski mountain before finishing and I SWEAR that's the only point that I wanted to cry. :) Again, a great time and it felt good to challenge myself in a new way.
And then, then it was time for Pemi. Pemi refers to the Pemigewasset Loop, which is a 29-30 mile hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. With over 9000 feet of climbing and some pretty rugged terrain, it's considered one of the harder hikes around. Which means I've really wanted to do it since I learned about it. Luckily, my boss Jesse Kropelnicki, has hiked Pemi multiple times and was doing it again yesterday. When I got the invite, I was 100% in. And SUPER pumped to have my next challenge underway.
When you google "Pemi Loop", most everything that comes up describes it as a "multi-day hike". Of course if you know anything about Jesse, you know that means he's not only going to do it in a day, but he's also going to do it AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. No stopping and taking pictures folks, we are trying to set PRs here!
I "trained" for Pemi by doing the Skyline Trail in Blue Hills a few times, which has similar terrain, but isn't nearly as far (13 miles and about 3500 feet of elevation gain). It would have to be good enough. I was definitely going to be in some uncharted territory, never having gone farther than 26.2 miles and never having attempted that much climbing.
|Pemi takes you up and over nine 4000 foot peaks. I loved the going up part. The coming down the other side is what will wreck you. The views atop each were simply stunning. Lafayette was my favorite.|
And so it started. Driving to the trailhead, I was pretty pumped. Or it could have been the crazy strong coffee that the Kropelnicki's coffee contraption makes. Either way, I WAS READY TO ROLL!
You can easily run (at a somewhat fast pace) the first 4-5 miles of Pemi, because it's on an old railroad bed. So we ran. Then we started climbing. Then descending, then climbing, then descending, then climbing again, until we made the final descent. And that pretty much sums up Pemi. Outside of the aforementioned first 4-5 miles and the last 3 miles the terrain is pretty gnarly. By gnarly, I mean rocky, root-y but sometimes somewhat "runnable" (that, of course, depends on your definition of "runnable"). At times, Jesse's and my definition of runnable wasn't the same. I'd see him running up ahead of me and I'd cringe. GAH!!! The rocks! He was definitely a better descender than me and often had to wait. We climbed well pretty well together. We really only stopped once, at the hut to refill fluids, and otherwise kept on moving. We had a goal of breaking 10 hours, but settled for a 10:12 instead (and happily so!).
Some random thoughts about Pemi:
1) It's tough. I wouldn't say I did a ton of specific training for Pemi but I've also been training for Pemi my whole life in a sense (10 hour events aren't new to me). Some call it harder than Ironman. I'd say it's different. It's tougher on the body in many senses - IM is 9-10 hours also, but 6-7 of those hours are not spent ON YOUR FEET. Pemi is obviously all on your feet. Within 2 hours, I knew my feet were going to be my limiter. They and my ankles, were beat up the most. There are also many opportunities in IM where you can zone out and just tune into your own self. You can't do that on the mountain. You HAVE to focus on what you are doing, where you are putting your feet. The mental strain is real.
2) Falling. I fell twice. Okay, we'll call it 2.5 times. Jesse fell once. As he told me "it's not if you are going to fall, it's when". One of my falls was not bad - I slipped on a wet rock and fell in mud. Popped right back up. The other fall hurt. We were on top of the ridge after climbing Lafayette and it was super rocky. I don't even know what happened other than, I landed in a pile of rocks. Got back up. Jesse asked what hurt. I immediately said my wrist (which did really hurt) but then saw my right shin and changed my mind. Nice little gash and it IMMEDIATELY swelled up. It was fine, in the end, but it left me shaky and the 1/2 fall came shortly after. Clearly I was starting to fatigue. Time to up the mental focus and LIFT UP MY FEET. Which sounds easy, but at that point, felt pretty hard.
3) After the rocky fall, I had my lowest 60-90 minutes of the day. We were only 6.5 hours in. I knew we had a lot of technical terrain left to cover. Being on the ridge and hitting the high peaks were AWESOME and the views spectacular, but they also made me a bit shaky and although I'm not afraid of heights, in that particular time frame, I FELT like I was afraid of heights. I didn't need more calories or caffeine or really aything. I just needed to bear down. And focus. Like the last hour of the IM marathon, except we had 3.5+ more hours to go.
4) Once we got about 8 hours in, I felt back in the game. My spirit came back around. My body felt a bit better. I felt more sure of making it. Even though we still had some serious technical stuff left, I knew we were getting closer to the easier train that was 100% runnable. I was starting to smell the finish line. It's amazing how your mind and body can adapt. Or not. The mental piece of long "events" is fascinating.
5) I was so happy to do this with Jesse. Doing it by yourself would be tough - mentally and of course dangerous if you hurt yourself. We'd go LONG stretches without seeing anyone. Plus, I just think having someone to talk to made the time go fast. It didn't feel like a 10+ hour day (other than my low 60-90 minutes, which felt like an eternity and we only covered about 2-3 miles in that time). Two or three people seems optimal. A big group would be tough to keep together.
6) We lucked out with a nice day. It was actually warm and humid, even on the high peaks. And wind was minimal. I actually WANTED it to be colder, which is usually not the case, apparently. Knowing the weather, we didn't have to carry a lot of extra gear which made our packs lighter. For the last 2 hours or so, we heard thunder and the sky looked ominous. We were coming down and were below the tree line so Jesse didn't seem too concerned. But it does go to show how fast the weather can change up in the mountains and how careful you have to be. Mother Nature is not to be messed with up there.
7) Nutrition. I essentially fueled like I would an IM - gels, chews and sports drink. But I also added in a bagel with peanut butter, just because (mostly because Jesse told me to :). There is only one opportunity to fill up with water and it was about 4 hours in for us. I started with 82 ounces. Filled up with another 82 and definitely ran out of fluids with about 45 minutes to go. And I was THIRSTY. Carrying more, or carrying tablets to be able to drink the stream water is an option, of course.
8) Speaking of fluid, the experience was a lot more wet than I thought it would be. There were several stream crossings. The trails were wet and pretty muddy in some spots. There was one spot where we literally climbed up a waterfall. So cool (literally and figuratively) Needless to say, I had wet feet for most of the day. Luckily my feet didn't blister. My shoes though - I'm thinking it best just to throw them away and start over. :)
|There's just a whole lot of this. "Oh wait, the trail goes up that way..."|
And now onto the next adventure! Learning how to descend faster so I can go faster on trails. :) The NYC Marathon also awaits! More mountain bike races. But first, the soreness from this adventure needs to fade some. :)
|Okay, we did stop for one picture. :)|