Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Robert Frost Marathon

When life hands you lemons...you make lemonade, right?

Since Mountain Masochist, Brian and I have been training hard for our first 100k race - Hellgate.  I've had this race on my bucket list for years now, so I was excited that this was the year to finally do it.  The last week before the race, however, all signs started pointing towards staying home.  It nearly broke my heart as Brian and I made the decision to not race - but it was the right call.  We had to remember that we run for fun, and while we take it seriously, it is not our occupation and not racing one day won't define us either way.  We need to make the right decisions to be safe and put health above racing in this case.  It was an incredibly tough call to make.

With months of training focused on this race as the end of my season, I was a bit lost.  I decided to instead do a long point-to-point run near my house on the Robert Frost Trail to cap off the year.  I decided this on Thursday night, so I had a day to pull together the information on the route and road crossings,and on the segments so I could recruit folks to run with me and keep me company.  Luckily my friend Steph was willing and able to support my journey, so at least I would have some aid along the way.  If I wasn't going to be racing - I figured I would at least share miles with amazing people for hours in the woods and use my fitness for a grand adventure...that's a fitting way to end my season.

 (At 6:00am, Wendell State Forest, about to start my trek)

At 5:30am on Saturday morning, Brian drove me up to Wendell State Park to start my journey.  As we reached my starting point, it was still dark, the thermometer in Brian's car read 6 degrees, and the ground was covered in several inches of fresh snow.  A few minutes later I saw two headlamps bobbing through the woods as my friends Apryl and Patrick approached on foot (running up from Patrick's house) to join me for the first few miles.

As Apryl, Patrick and I started on the trail, there was a serene quiet in the air - could have been the super cold temperature, could have been that the earth was blanketed in snow, could have been that we were all just too cold to open our mouths to speak, but it was quiet and beautiful.  As I lead our small group in the unbroken snow in on one of my favorite sections of single track I just smiled and took in the moment.  One of the many reasons I run is to experience these beautiful sights and moments and share them with like-minded folks who also appreciate it. 

The sun began to come up as we reached the Pigpen Ledges, which were covered in ice and a bit dicey to descend.  We scaled down them, but marveled at the magnificent shapes formed as the ice froze over the rocks.  Before we knew it we were at the first road crossing and were making our way up and over Stoddard Hill. 

(One of the beautiful sites along the way)
We encountered a few hunters on the trail in this section.  At one point, our trail coincided with the trail that a hunter was using to drag out his kill.  I realized while I have seen hunters many times on the trails, this was the first time to see the evidence of a kill since hunting season and snow season don't often coincide.  The red drops of blood were bright against the snow on the trail and there were several sections of smeared blood pools where the hunter must have stopped for a moment before continuing.  Our pace quickened a bit in this section as we sped up to put this behind us.  Apryl, who is a vegan, was particularly upset by this. 

As I reached Cranberry Pond, I said bye to Apryl and Patrick, got a quick refuel from Steph, and then started up Mt. Toby with Albert.  I ended up handing my hydration bladder off to Steph because it was completely frozen and useless - it was a miscalculation on my part to even think that a hydration bladder would be usable in the cold. 

Albert and I hiked up Toby, and broke trail over Bull Hill.  The Inov8 Orocs that I was wearing were working perfectly for traction in the leaves and snow, unfortunately Albert fell a few times as the traction devices he was using didn't catch, so I was pleased with my shoe selection.  I had rarely been on this trail without leaves on the trees - we both enjoyed the views, especially as we crested Bull Hill.  The trail from Bull Hill to the road was fun as we cruised down and around, often following the snow mobile tracks through the woods. 

Steph met us at Bull Hill and offered us warm fluids as we passed.  I accidently banged my head hard against the sagging rear gate of her car - I guess it was cold enough that the pistons that typically hold it up weren't at 100%...although apparently my brain wasn't at 100% either. 

Albert and I made it past our friend Sarah's house (and waved) just before we entered the woods towards the Leverett Knobs and into Amherst.  This section was rolling, and a ton of fun in any season.  While it's typically difficult to follow the trail with the leaves down, we easily followed it with the snow cover.  It was also nice to run across the perpetually muddy sections before Pulpit Hill to find it frozen - this is the only time I haven't sunken a shoe in the mud across this field.  The trail around Puffers Pond and into the Amherst Conservation Areas had a bit more traffic on it, which was a welcome change to the solitude of the earlier trails.

(Screen shot of Steph's phone - at the warmest part of the day!)

Around the Atkins Reservoir area, I noticed that I was started to get chilled and wasn't sustaining my warmth.  Maybe I was tired and not fueling enough for what I was doing, maybe I wasn't moving fast enough to generate the heat needed to stay above freezing, or maybe the day was getting colder.  Either way, as I reached the backside of the Amethyst trails I wasn't in the greatest mood as my energy and core body temperature was starting to dip. 

I said goodbye to Albert but was pleasantly surprised to be joined by my teammate Kate for a mile or so as I started up the backside of Mt. Orient.  She turned back to her car towards the top of the climb, and I was alone for the first time of the day.  In my solitude, I started to evaluate my status.  I was horrified to find that my jacket was literally frozen on the inside (from my sweat) and I was starting to get cold in my fingers and toes.  The wind had picked up just enough to bring the temperature down a few critical degrees.  I called Brian to touch base with him, and he happened to just be finishing up his run.  He drove over to Amethyst and ran in to meet me. 

As I met him and explained how I was feeling, he just said 'I think your day is done', and I had to agree.  I was cold, the inner layers of my clothing were beginning to freeze, and the cough from my cold was getting increasingly worse the longer I was out there.  As I reached the Amethyst Brook parking area, I reluctantly told Steph that I was done for the day.  Being as intuitive as she is, she had anticipated that and greeted me with a cup of peppermint hot chocolate to warm me up.

(Running the last section of trail - with Brian behind me to pace me home)
While my day ended short of the ultimate goal, I was pleased to end my 2013 running season with a grand adventure.  I had seen so many amazing sights along the way, shared some quiet and thoughtful miles on the trail with friends, brought closure to a long and enjoyable year of racing, and frankly I had a lot of fun along the way.  I has also started the day knowing that it wasn't about how far I made it, I wasn't holding any expectation about it, I just wanted to have some fun and end my season on my own terms.
(At the end of my day, still as bundled as when I started)

I am hopeful for many more adventures in 2014!


  1. Amy! Just found your blog, and was glad to read this post. Patrick had mentioned thay he and Apryl had met you for the start but I didn't know how it went after that. Sorry to hear the day didn't end in a completion, but good to hear a smart call was made when the signs said better to wait for next time. Interesting too to hear that I'm not the only one to always find it sloppy going just north of the Pulpit Hill area. Anyway, well done on the first part. I would love to join in for part of any future attempt at this. cheers, -Ben

  2. Ben - there will certainly be more runs like this...and I will welcome the company! In the mean time, I hope you're having a great winter so far! -Amy

  3. I've seen your blog before but a google search for RFT just randomly turned this up. Very cool memories! Apryl still gives me a hard time about the run up from my house to meet you, which was partly on iced-over brooks.