As in any sport, running has a variety of disciplines that each require specific skills to master beyond simple fitness. I really enjoy taking on the challenge of a new skill.
With racing on hold during this COVID-19 crisis, I turned to take on local Fastest Known Times (FKT) on iconic trails in New England. Having a specific time to beat fires up the competitive juices to push a super hard effort. In addition to replicating competition, the routes I have selected are helping me learn how to become a strong runner of mountains. As in any sport, running has a variety of disciplines that each require specific skills to master beyond simple fitness. I really enjoy taking on the challenge of a new skill.
I took on the Mt. Moosilauke Double Traverse route on April 4th with intentions of going on a reconnaissance run as I had never run the route let alone the mountain previously.
Mt. Moosilauke Double Traverse FKT Details:
Distance: 14 miles
Elevation gain: 6,400'
Steepest grade: 49%
Terrain: Technical, rocky, single track
Previous FKT: 3h 16m 33s
Our 9:00 am arrival at the Glenn Cliff trailhead seemed to be perfect timing for the sun to warm up the early April cool air. It was a partly cloudy day with temperatures expected to reach the mid 50's and the peak of Moosilauke engulfed in a mist. Much of the snow had melted below 2500' but the conditions above that (Moosilaukes peak is 4800') were unknown.
After a quick warm-up, I kissed my fiance and took off onto the 3.7mile and 3,330' gain straight shot up Glenn Cliff to the peak of Moosilauke. I had created a list of checkpoints with specific times to stay on pace to beat the FKT. The conditions quickly went from muddy to packed snow a mile into the climb. I always "try" to go out slow on long adventures but the competitive juices got the better of me. I found myself pushing too hard with my heart rate in the 170's basically from the start of the trail.
The entire first climb was soft with snow but even with the VJ Shoe Xero studded shoes I found myself working harder than I'd liked to climb. This became more evident when I hit the first checkpoint at mile 3.1 where I was 5 minutes behind pace. The trail then hits the ridgeline for a gradual ascent to the peak at mile 3.7. I pushed hard on the ridgeline to try and make up if not maintain time but by the time I hit the peak I was now 6minutes behind pace.
At this point, I decided I would do my best to run quick but not reckless down the Beaver Brook trail descent to the turn around point. Beating the FKT seemed out of reach but at the least, I would put in a good hard and long effort.
In coming off the icey ridgeline and starting down the Beaver Brook descent I really began to second guess whether I should even keep running. The trail was barely traveled with 2 feet of snow with an ice crust. I continuous post holed and tore up my shins.
After 2 miles of wrecking my shins in snow, I came to final descent that hugs the edge of the Beaver Brook itself. This descent is an average of -35% with parts at -46%. Simply put... it is steep as shit! I take pride in descending fast but that was out the door. I was just trying to stay on my feet and not faceplant into a tree.
The descent took longer than I would have liked. The trail leveled out for the last 1/2 mile before the turn around point.
I took a quick bathroom stop then continued to the turn around point at rte 112. To this point on the descent, I had not looked at my watch as I didn't want to discourage myself with the long trek back.
To my surprise, at the turn around point, I looked at my watch and found myself 4 minutes ahead of pace! I guess I descended a heck of a lot fast than I expected. That shot a little bit of life back into me until I started back up the Beaver Brook steep section. Again.... it is roughly 1.2miles with 2000' of gain up technically and in this day's case, icey terrain.
I put my head down and power hiked my butt off. Climbing in terms of running up a mountain is not a strength of mine but when the gradient gets steep enough, I find I can power hike with the best of them.
The saving grace for me on the climb back up is that my quads were not fried from the descent. Although the slippery conditions were tough, I was more or less sliding down and avoiding the typical pounding the legs get on a descent.
With my head down staring at my feet, the climb really felt endless. I kept checking my watch to see if I was on pace and it seemed I was slowly falling behind. Once the steep climb was behind me, the post-holing began again. I had about 20 minutes to cover the 2 miles to the peak before the final descent. In normal conditions that would be a breeze but when your post-holing every 10th step, that was going to be no easy task.
As I did with the descent, I elected to not look at the watch until I reached the peak for the second time.
When I came to the peak of Moosilauke for the second time that day I was right on pace with the FKT with having no idea how the final 3.7 mile descent was going to turn out. The packed snow could be perfect conditions for bombing or as the day had warmed up I could be on the edge of post-holing and having my momentum snape my leg. I hoped for the best and went for it.
I was very fortunate the packed snow provided a straight runway of a trail and probably better downhill conditions without the obstacles of jagged rocks and roots.
3.7 miles later I stopped my watch at 3hours 5minutes 11 seconds.. Cracking the FKT by 11 minutes.
This was not the most competitive FKT but it was a good test for me and the purpose was really just to get a hard race like effort. As far as time goes, I see my 3:05:11 easily being cracked in good conditions from a strong climber. Maybe I'll go after it again.
In all this was a cool experience to try a new type of competing and learn a little more about what my body is capable of. I hope to take this experience and apply the new knowledge to attempting a couple bigger FKT's in New England this spring/summer or until racing starts up again.