Current Training Status: not blogging... running.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

M+M athon Trail Report

In 2006 with a camera in my pocket, I set out to hunt the aftermath of a forest fire in hills behind Ashley Reservoir. Expecting to get some exciting pictures and video, I also discovered trailrunning. I'd return again and again to document re-growth after the fire and map my way along longer and longer trail runs. I soon discovered the white blazed M+M trail. Learning that it followed the Ridgelines from Connecticut to Grand Monadnock Mountain in NH, I was fascinated. Not only did it pass within a few miles of my home and work, but it began in Southwick just a mile from the house I grew up in. My running and mapping activities gradually covered the distance between my childhood home and present address in Easthampton. As my mileage goals increased I began to do the math to map longer runs and made the fateful discovery. The distance between that trailhead near my childhood home and the natural barrier of the Connecticut river was just over 26 miles. 
I had found a marathon. This run would not be possible though, without support to drive end to end. This year I began casting about for people to join me. Fielding the idea around the post-race crowd at the Elks, I found others who had hiked it or ran it for various reasons of their own. My training load seemed to be able to support it this summer, and about mid-August I was ready and able to do it. Ed Buckley was interested and had run this length of trail before with another group of runners. He was familiar with the various challenges of the course, the river crossing, certain challenging and hard to access sections. He would be the only one to answer the call this time around with a definite date. The morning of August 22nd would be the day. With this established, other's interest peaked for a possible repeat later this season. It was exciting to finally have a marathon on my calendar, I almost even tapered for it.
Both Ed and I cross this course on our commutes to work and dropped water at a couple points. We met at the finish end around 9:15 and drove to the start, dropping water off at a couple more points. In hindsight we missed on opportunity to drive water in, down Cherry St. in the WMA, and it would have avoided some dehydration. With the other 4 points covered, we arrived and started shortly after 10 AM. This was a little late, and beginning earlier on this scorcher of a day would again have avoided some dehydration. The course is mostly deep in the woods, but tends to pop out on rocky escarpments after its most difficult terrain and bake you in the sun. Dehydration would figure heavily into the last stage of the run.
The first leg went smoothly. The trails were pretty simple to follow with rolling climbs up to Provin Mtn. I was treated to some recaps of past runs of the trail by Ed. Both of us managed to stay upright while crossing the Westfield river. My split coming into the parking lot at Route 20 was 1:08, which is just under 11:00 pace. Ed remarked after the River that it was just what he needed, after the stinging nettles. I didn't notice the nettles until they were burning a half mile past the river. We were soon climbing steadily on the trail again, headed toward some of the slower terrain of the M+M.
I call the bogs below Bear Hole Reservoir, 'Dagobah', they are a test of character. Luckily the water from our stormy summer has long since run off, this would have been an entirely different run 2 weeks earlier. There was a sort of jungle atmosphere, with bird calls in the stillness and moss covered forest ruin choking the ravines. Across the swamp is a daycamp, and voices of children at play would occasionally drift over. This is one of those sections of the M+M where the terrain and trail condition is very tough, and is criss-crossed by much nicer ATV trails. The whole section around Bear Hole is very overgrown and interrupted by brief briar patches. These absurd demands end abruptly at the Mass Turnpike, and the trail follows right beside the major highway traffic for a quarter mile. We came to Old Holyoke Road at Bush Notch, the next water stop, at 2:02 where we took about 10 mintues to refuel and fill up our bottles. Accounting for time refilling water, etc. we'd kept our pace below 11:00 for the first 11 miles of rolling terrain, now the hills would begin.
The trail climbs to the ridgeline from Bush Notch immediately, dips and climbs again. After two little powerhike, we were running along the rolling ridgeline. The fighters at from Barnes were in the air at a distance from us. This leg of the trail would be the most runnable terrain remaining, and we kept up a steady pace past the half-way mark towards 202. My 47:09 split for this 4 mile section includes the 5-10 minutes at the water stop, so just over 3 hours into the run we were moving at a good clip. The next section is about 5 miles and took well over an hour. Here the trail winds through the broken ridgeline across a slope of boulders, down a ravine choked with blow-downs, and up an exposed escarpment with incredible views. The rocks here reminded Ed of Massanutten. One of the blazed trees had blown down, which was enough to get me disoriented. We searched for an alternate route when I felt lost. Ed wound up heading off where I had turned back, which actually was the 'trail' after all. "The one thing Escarpment is lacking is a section like this", he says. All of that accounts for half the distance to route 141, and brings us to the Holyoke Revolver Club in the Cherry St. Wildlife Management Area (WMA). 
For future reference, a jug of water where Cherry St. dead ends at the gun club would avoid dehydration crossing that tough terrain. After all the pace changes that the terrain had forced upon us, we cambe back to a decent pace through the WMA and over the last hills of the East Mountain range. With a bone-dry bottle in hand, I hauled out the Water Jug I'd stashed behind the stone gates opposite the Whiting Reservoir entrance. We'd reached Route 141 in 1:07, about 13:30 pace. Ed took a seat and caught his breath for a while which gave me too much time to catch up on my hydration. Here I actually ran out of endurolytes, the electrolyte capsules I use. After about 20 minutes I went to top off my bottle before leaving and it was almost empty again. I'd drank about 20 oz. of water. Ed, just 20 minutes ago admitting he was getting his butt kicked, proceeded to leave me behind as we ran up 141 and kept up a very brisk pace toward Mt. Tom. I could not keep up with him at all, but gave it my best effort. About 20 feet into the more serious slope of Mt. Tom, I was brought up short by my stomach. It was evidently time to water the trail, as I puked everything I'd just drank.
The weather was really hot and it was very tough to see all that fluid just drain into the dirt. I felt better than I had, but any attempt to exert myself beyond a brisk walk left me nauseous and dizzy for the next 45 minutes or so. I was determined to get moving again though and try to finish. At the top of Mt. Tom, another call of nature left me glad I carried some TP. Ed really tried to talk me down the road. He was patient as I stubbornly refused to take that route and shuffled along. Before the water stop I had felt a bit dehydrated, and my right ear was popping when I tried to breath through my nose. This are my warning signs of trouble. At our last opportunity on the run to rest and refuel I had done more harm than good.
Sipping and Hiking across the escarpment of Mt. Tom, I felt very wiped out. The problem with my ear and nasal passage was completely obnoxious. Breathing was quite a chore and it was awhile before I could do anything resembling a 'powerhike'. At this pace we were just roasting out on the open rock of Mt. Tom's escarpment. It wasn't until we passed the cell towers on the Deadtop peak that I could run at all. I could drink again, but we faced another problem. We were taking a long time with a short water supply. I remembered the water fountain at the Notch, and this became something to focus on. I was running again, but slowly and with rests atop each major climb. About 23 miles into a tough trail run on a hot day, I had my legs under me again. There wasn't such a need to rest atop Goat Peak and Dry Knoll, but I was obviously holding Ed back. He stayed close by the entire way, until the last downhill. All told, this disastrous last 7.5 mile leg took 2:37, that's almost a 21:00 pace. Reaching Underwood Ave, I was glad it was done. I ran the sunlit areas and walked in the shade to the car.
After re-mapping this, I've logged 27 miles in 7:09. That is my longest run yet by an hour, and first Marathon distance. We climbed at least 4250' and kept up a great pace until Mt. Tom and my stomach problems. I am completely satisfied having finished the course, keeping to the M+M the whole way. A few others expressed an interest in doing this sometime in the future, and despite the tough break I'm looking forward to the next opportunity to run this course. Ed assured me that the Pisgah 50k would be a piece of cake after this run. He's done a bunch of 100's over the years, the toughest, so this comment says a lot about the difficulty of the M+M. The terrain was actually easier to cover than ever any time I've run it, and despite all the walking on Mt. Tom, I am confident in the training benefit. This run cannot be done solo, and Ed gets my sincere thanks for taking it on and having patience with me. A couple days later I'm confident that more water and drinking slowly but steadily would have completely avoided my problems. The whole thing could be done in 6 hours with no stomach issues and quicker water stops. This weekend I'll return to the Wapack Trail and expect to be able to crank up the pace a notch from my effort in May, over the 17.5 mile course, last tempo run before Pisgah on the 14th of September.

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