Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Pemigewasset Loop, FKT Attempt - 5/28/2012
One hundred percent effort - an elusive thing if there ever was one. Try as you might, true perfection is nearly impossible to achieve. I find that no matter how well I prepare, how hard I push, how dilligently I try to make tactical decisions, or how good I feel about my latest results, I finish every race knowing I could have done just a little bit better. Truly committed improvement is a continuous process that is never complete. In the case of Pemi Loop, I thought there were a lot of things I could do better. More rest, greater psychological commitment, an additional year of training, and a pattern of declining Pemi PRs led me to believe that there were still gains to be had.
Instead, I ran right into a wall of diminishing returns, but that part comes later...
It's strange being entirely alone yet still having an almost overwhelming feeling of pre race jitters. I was just pacing around nervously at Lincoln Woods by the the interpretive signs but my heart was jack-hammering away, stomach in my throat, all full of butterflies inside, arms and fingers numb with a flood of adrenaline that almost had me shaking. I tried to calm myself by going through my mental checks. Shoes tied tight? Socks not bunched anywhere? Gel and salt packed up? Hydration bladder full and not leaking anywhere? Are you forgetting anything?
The cable suspension bridge over the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River bounced as I ran across and took a right over the decaying railroad ties of the Lincoln Woods Trail, trying my best to stay in control and conserve energy for later. I feel like the extra effort go faster than 7 minutes/mile is largely wasted here and much more economical gains can be had on the climbs and technical sections. In 35:19, right around last year's split, I took a left onto the Bondcliff Trail and wound my up the Black Brook drainage. As always, the climb was fairly gentle but being sprinkled with sprinkled with loose bowling ball sized rocks makes it more energy intensive than the grade alone would suggest. At the first set of stone stairs I broke into my first real power hike of the day, trying to maintain a rhythm of efficient long powerful strides. Crossing over the summit of Bondcliff in 1:36:41, I noticed that I was less than a minute faster this time.
On the way up Mount Bond proper I encountered a hiker who, seeing me wobble precariously across the talus, asked with concern, "are you limping?"
"Ha! Far from it, thanks."
I smiled and and boogied onward to the Twinway junction with 2:10:55 elapsed, then over South Twin and down to Galehead Hut at 2:53:45. I must have been a bit more cautious on the descent off South Twin because I was over 3 minutes slower and it became increasingly clear that unless I could make up serious time from here on out, I'd have to fight pretty hard just for a personal best, never mind the FKT. Still, I made sure not to waste time standing still and spent less than 60 seconds refilling my bladder inside the hut. The water tap flows nice and fast here
On the way to Mount Garfield I started getting a little worried about the weather. The forecast was for a chance of showers in the afternoon with possible thunderstorms. As the weather cooled off a little and my view to the West was block by Garfield, I started getting a little nervous and started evaluating my bailout options. A couple years ago I made a foolish decision that put me in the middle of a thunderstorm on Franconia Ridge and I'd like to think I've learned my lesson. But, when I topped out on Garfield at 3:47:20, the wind was calm and the skies ahead showed no signs of rain or thunderheads, so I decided to continue on.
Running the Garfield Ridge Trail is always an exercise in focus and patience. If I concentrate on picking out my foot placements several steps in advance and stay in balance, I can move through at a reasonable speed without falling. It can be quite the workout for your core and hips and I was left wondering how this sort of terrain compares that of the Skyrunning circuit that's been making waves in online ultramarathon Hype Machine lately. Specifically, Mike Wolfe's comments here left me pondering if there's some secret technique or training method that the Euros use to cover technical ground. I wish I knew what is was.
Popping out of the trees on Lafayette, I was happy to see a small plane towing a glider. These aircraft are well known regulars, often buzzing quite close to the actual summits of Franconia Ridge, and I presume they're familiar enough with local weather patterns and forecasts that they wouldn't be flying if thunderstorms were threatening. Lafayette's summit was much less crowded than I anticipated, especially for a holiday weekend, and I passed over the top in 4:48:36 elapsed, again within a minute of last year. It was strange, I was feeling much stronger but still couldn't shake my old self in this imaginary race.
I wish the alpine zone in Franconia Ridge was longer, but all too soon I was back into the trees on narrow, slightly overgrown single track. Here I finally managed to make up a couple minutes, mostly because I wasn't out of water and dehydrated this time around, and I hit Mount Flume in 5:57:11. With 5.5 miles and 3,100 feet of descent left to go, I had 30 minutes remaining to beat Ben Nephew's FKT and 49 to beat my old record. The Osseo trail is fast, with a few long stretches that make a sub-7 minute mile feel effortless, so long as your tired quads can take the downhill pounding. I'm always tempted to throw my hands over my head and yell "bbbbBEEEAAAAARrrrrr!!!" as I fly past hikers in this section, but nobody was around this time.
Popping back out on the Lincoln Woods Trail at 6:33:50, I could see that I was much too late for the FKT, but I managed to sustain a good fast run down the old railroad grade. This section always feels like it will never end, whether you're running or hiking, and I've learned to be patient. First, the river gets close to the trail and I'm tempted to start looking for the bridge, but then it gets farther away, and it's only on the second time that you can let yourself believe that you're almost there (for real this time). A hard left onto bridge, a few more tired and ragged steps, and I could finally stop my watch on the far side.
Total time was 6:43:18. While I barely squeaked out a 2:50 improvement, I can't really complain about a good hard day in one of my favorite places. There's not a whole lot else I can think of to improve upon besides just getting fitter. Still, I'm certain that the right person under the right conditions could go well under six hours. It's just a matter of time, and so is my next attempt.