Running the Long Trail (Take 2)
Over a month ago I set out to try and run a section of the Long Trail as a training run. I didn’t know what to expect, and I wasn’t sure exactly how difficult the terrain would be. My attempt to run substantial mileage ended rather abruptly when I found that my water bladder had a major leak. I did not want to risk getting dehydrated on a trail that I did not know so I cut the run short. Bummer.
This past week I was finally able to get back to the trail with a new bladder and a beautiful day to boot. The section of the trail I ran was from Vt. 15 (at the Lamoille River Bridge) south to the Bear Hollow Shelter then to the summit of Whiteface Mountain. Now, there seems to be some discrepancy in the distance from Vt. 15 to the summit. Mapped on mapmyrun.com and on dailymile.com the distance is about 12ish miles round trip. But the Long Trail map guides (and the sign posted at Vt. 15) say that it is 7 miles to the summit (which makes it 14 miles round trip). Not that big a difference for some, but after having climbed to the summit of the mountain you selfishly want to know how far you ran.
The Trail—Vt. 15 to Whiteface Mountain summit
You can park at a small lot on Vt. 15 and then head southeast across the road looking for the trail entrance next to the cemetery. Take this until you reach the old Lamoille Valley R.R. bed (which consists of large gravel chucks—not fun to run on). At the end of that section (maybe .3 mile) you take a right and ascent up West Settlement Rd., a first gravel then dirt logging road. The ascent is gradual, though it gets feel like a much steeper climb given that you run for almost 2 miles (1.7 mile) before you hit the woods. After entering into the woods the trail drops to single track, going through thick sections of forest and sometimes waist high bushes and fern-like vegetation. (The vegetation grows that high, you don’t actually have to tromp through it—the trail is well groomed.) You go for 1.6 miles until you hit the Bear Hollow Shelter, an open-faced frame shelter atop a rocky knoll above the Trail.
Here is where the trail got a bit iffy. Anyone who has hiked the Long Trail knows that the trail is marked with white blazes. Sometimes they are painted on trees; sometimes they are what look like colored swatches nailed to trees. When you arrive at the Bear Hollow Shelter from the south there are blazes before you cross a small brook (to the right of the shelter). After that there are no blazes (that I could see) for close to a quarter mile. (ok, not sure if it’s actually a quarter mile, but it sure felt like one). I ascended, then descended, walked around the shelter, went down a spur trail, then reascended the trail until I finally found blazes after two more small brook crossings. It is confusing, but I have come to realize that this sort of thing is going to happen a lot when you run or hike trails for the first time. As one trail runner put it: it is the right time to do two crucial things, curse a lot and remain calm (both of which I did).
After this little fiasco I headed along the trail, which follows along Waterman Brook. The trail and the brook cross and hug each other for a while, which makes for some amazing running. Up until just after the Bear Hollow Shelter the running is all uphill. There isn’t much flat open running—that changes as in this section around Waterman Brook. The trail tends to be somewhat flatter, with more soft rolling hills, which really let me open my legs up and get my fast-twitch muscles firing. Both on the ascent and on the descent after the major climbing was done (and my legs were aching) this section of the trail was one of my favorite.
Quickly, though, the elevation starts to increase. From Vt. 15 to Bear Hollow you climb close to 1000 ft. in 4 miles. From Bear Hollow to the summit of Whiteface you climb a little over 2000 ft. in 3 miles. As you get closer to the base of the mountain the running shrinks to hiking, which shrinks to scrambling, which shrinks to climbing. The ascent was very, very slow, and very, very tiring. My legs were aching, and I was constantly stoping to catch my breath and taking in some water. (I have no idea how mountain runners like Tony Krupicka and Killian Jornet can maintain a steady pace when the terrain is as crazy as that. Obviously there is no running, but they are still moving really quickly.) Eventually you arrive along the ridge of the mountain, only to look up and see that the summit is yet to come. Grrrr. A bit more run/hiking through terrain like that pictured below and you get to the summit sign and a pretty great view.
I sat and took in the view while eating a hummus wrap and listening to the wind howl. It was a calming moment, one that all trail runners need to take in after a hard stretch of trail. Then it was back on my feet. While I thought that the climb was bad it was nothing to the descent. My legs were aching and doing that little shake-shake thing they do after a really hard workout. Well, I had 3000 ft. of descent to tackle, so it took a lot of mental effort to maintain my footing on the way down. I got to slide down some rocks and drop from a few tree branches as I went down. It was exhausting but still pretty fun. Eventually I got back to Waterman Brook and stopped to take a GU and enjoy the sounds of nature.
I ran in my Altra Lone Peaks and I have to say they held up wonderfully. The lugs gave me good support on the muddier sections, the zero-drop allowed me to maintain good form, and there was enough cushioning to keep my keep happy (though I think I will put the insert back into the shoes and see how they feel, especially on the gnarly, rocky sections of trail). I have been very impressed with these shoes, and I am very excited to see how the Altra Superiors (coming 2013) build on the awesomeness of the Lone Peaks.
It was a tiring run, but one that I am happy with. I ran 12-14 miles (depending on who’s counting) in about 3 hours 49 minutes. That’s including the getting-off-track time (GOTT); without that it would be more like 3:30. The ascent took me about 2 hours and 14 minutes; the descent took 1 hour and 35 minutes (including GOTT). I climbed from an elevation of 500 ft. at Vt. 15 to 3714 ft. at the summit of Whiteface. I figure a few more runs like this and the 50k should be in the bag. I hope that I can post a few more recaps of Long Trail runs: that should not only allow me to get more time on my feet before the 50k, but it will also allow me to offer some commentary on what it is like to run the Long Trail.
(The pictures marked with a * are from this site.)