So, what is the Ragged Mountain Stage Race? It's billed as a 3-day, 75 mile stage race around the Lake Sunapee area. Runners follow the Sunapee Ragged Kearsarge Greenway (SRKG) which is an established trail through this region. It means that I would spend 3 days following the SRKG signs. The trail goes over three major climbs, Mount Sunapee, Ragged Mountain, and Mount Kearsarge, and passes through trails, dirt roads, and pavement to complete the circuit.
As soon as I signed up, I saw that Leslie O'Dell was also registered. She's a super strong runner who I greatly respect, and my heart sank just a bit. I was planning to do this race as a fun adventure, and wasn't looking forward to a 3-day slug-fest with Leslie (that's assuming I could even keep up with her!). I was secretly hoping that she was taking this as an adventure also and would be willing to share some miles with me...as many as I could get her to share.
(Sunapee Ragged Kearsarge Greenway trail marking)
Because my family vacations on Lake Sunapee every year, they were again there before the race. I got to spend the day before the race chasing my nephew around the New England Craft Fair at Mount Sunapee, having him show me the best 'rock climbing' hike up Mount Kearsarge, and giving my niece piggy back rides around the camp. It was great to see my family, but not what most would consider 'tapering' before a long 3-day experience.
Day 1 - Ragged Mountain to Kearsarge Middle School, 23ish miles
Day 1 started off cooler, with a heavy fog in the air. You could feel the nervous energy as everyone locked their car for the next 3 days and hauled their giant bags to the race truck for transport. As the minutes ticked down to the start, the RD stood on the starting line and everyone stood back and continued the nervous chatter. Finally, Leslie, Brian, myself, and a few other folks wandered towards the starting line...Leslie kidded around and dropped into a 3-point sprinter stance on the line. And before we knew it, we were off!
(Sad and lonely starting line, with Brian, Leslie and myself)
Immediately, Brian easily floated away ahead of the crowd. Leslie and I fell into stride together ahead of the rest of the runners, and started chatting as others dropped away. About half a mile in another runner, Sam, joined Leslie and I. The three of us cruised through the first few road miles together and started the climb up Ragged Mountain. We shared stories as we power hiked up the peak, enjoying the trail but bummed that it was so foggy that the views weren't visible. At some point in the climb, we passed a sign that said 'Day 3 & 50k left, Day 1 right' indicating that we would do this same climb on Day 3. I chuckled, thinking of the 'Mile 70 left, Mile 97 straight' sign at Massanutten and experienced the same thoughts of 'I can't wait to see this sign again!' that I do at MMT.
(Typical beautiful single track trails)
Between the stories and the trail gossip, Sam, Leslie and I reached the peak of Ragged Mountain quickly. The three of us were enjoying the company (and, let's face it, the trails) as we passed the miles. The fun downhill off Ragged Mountain turned into some easy rolling ATV trails in the middle section of the day. We had one section where we got a bit confused about the trail, but always agreed that the advantage of having 3 sets of eyes was keeping us on course - our goal for the day was 'no bonus miles'.
(The trio of Sam, Leslie and myself sharing miles)
(Fun trails and fog - the story of the first two days)
(The view from the top of Sunapee, had it not been foggy)
(Enjoying some carriage trails with Leslie and Sam)
We all had it in our heads that Day 1 was 25 miles long, so even as Sam started to fade a bit after 22 miles, Leslie and I did our best to adjust to our pace so we could continue on together. We were surprised when we found the school/finish line less than a mile later, and called Sam to catch up so we could cross the finish line together. We finished together (Sam, Leslie and I), 3rd overall (first female for Leslie and I), in 5:00.
Brian and I hung out for a bit, and then headed out to see my parents at the camp. We enjoyed an afternoon of relaxing on Lake Sunapee, with a bit of canoeing, and then dinner with my parents.
Day 2 - Kearsarge Middle School to Sunapee Middle School, 26ish miles
Sam, Leslie and I fell into stride with each other quickly on Day 2. We pushed the first few miles a bit, so that our pack was established, then enjoyed the company! The first half of Day 2 is a lot of dirt road and ATV trails, so we appreciated the quick miles knowing that we had a slow hike ahead of us. I was amazed that we still had things to talk about after 5 hours of gabbing the previous day, but we chatted along the dirt back roads of southern NH.
(Having some fun on the trails!)
(Brian at the top of Sunapee - we had a similarly foggy view)
(Sam and Tucker, myself, Leslie, and Abby - a super fun group to run with!)
Leslie and I cruised the downhill road miles, enjoying ticking off a few quick miles before turning off the road again and into Harding Hill. The Harding Hill trails were a crazy twisty turny mess of beautiful mountain bike trails - the type where you swear you are running around on the same trail after trail (hey kids, Big Ben!)...but they were super fun trails to hang out on!
My energy had run a bit low towards the end of the day, so I was pleased to be done for the day. Brian and I set up camp and relaxed at the Sunapee Middle School as other runners trickled in throughout the afternoon.
Day 3 - Sunapee Middle School to Ragged Mountain, 35ish miles
(Ok...maybe I'm was a bit punchy by Day 3)
As soon as the race started, a pack of runners surged ahead. Leslie, Sam and I all fell into step together and continued our banter from the previous days. On the slight uphills, we would slow to a power hike as we enviously watched the fresh-legged 50k runners easily bound up. Surprisingly, only a few females were ahead of us. Even more surprisingly, our little trio was content to share miles and just do our own thing even with the infusion of new folks to run with. Our only other company was Abby and Tucker, who seemed to appear around every corner in the trail and join us for a few minutes to whatever roadway crossing we were nearing.
(Beautiful scenery along the course)
(The Six03 crew that put the race on were AMAZING!)
At the bottom of the descent was a few miles of exposed dirt road and I started to bake. I could feel my stomach sloshing and bloating as fluid wasn't being processed, but did my best to hold it together for Leslie. After we crossed Rt. 4, I saw New Canada Road and knew we just had a few uphill miles on the dirt road before we turned up Ragged Mountain for the last climb. However, about a half mile into New Canada Road, my stomach was so unhappy that I was walking when Leslie wanted to be running - I told her to go ahead, I was officially slowing her down at this point. She also knew how close to the finish we were, and said that she simply wasn't finishing without me! I was incredibly touched by her loyalty in that moment, we had come so far and shared so much together but she was willing to finish a little slower than her ability just to cross the line with me - what a true trail sister!
(Leslie and I splitting up our winnings post-race)
And after all that running and all that time on the trails - my parting thought was of the amazing adventure I had out there. We got to run through some beautiful and quintessential New England trails, a mix of everything that trail running has to offer and what makes trail running so much fun. Through the stage racing atmosphere, all runners were hanging out every afternoon, eating meals together, brushing our teeth together, and you get to meet an incredible group of people along the way. However, my fondest memories will be of sharing every stride with Leslie, and almost every stride with Sam - and the friendships that are somehow formed through competition, but especially when you leave thoughts of competition behind and truly experience the journey along the way.
(Beer never tasted so good!)