OK – how is that for a random name for a running blog entry? What on earth could a love of meatloaf have to do with a fun trail run? Read on, and you will see the origins of this seemingly non sequitor blog entry title! A few days ago, John, the “Chief Moose” announced an opportunity for a guided run on the last 7-10 miles of the Moosalamoo Ultra, a local 36 mile race in its sixth year. Last year, due to conversations with the Forest Service, John, who is also the race organizer (and an accomplished “slightly above” middle-aged ultra runner himself) was required to reroute the original ultra course, which I ran a few years ago, to some new trails. I was looking for a good weekend run as I slowly ramp up my mileage post-surgery, and this sounded like it would be a fun group run. Most of my group runs are with mere 10K-marathon runners, and in my current condition the running pace of my cadre of relative sprinters can be daunting. I suspected that a group of ultra runners – runners who understand what it takes to run 8-10 hours or more – would be a good match for my current limitations over more casual distances.
The group met up at the Blueberry Hill Inn for this saturday run. The previous 24 hours had been characterized by incessant downpours, but the high humidity had broken an hour or two before the run, giving us a cool sunny afternoon for the run. We also suspected that the trails would be very muddy, and we would not be disappointed. Looking up from the parking lot, we saw the day’s goal – Romance Mt, touted as the highest point with groomed cross country skiing trails in the east. In fact, several years ago, I described a route very close to what we were doing today as a cross country ski tour, and I remembered that we were facing a challenging climb.
We started off on the trail behind the Inn for a short distance before angling up the side of the hill, before reaching the best view of the day, or almost any day for that matter, the view of the Green Mountains from the side of Hogback Mt. In previous years, this has been the prime blueberry picking spot that gave the Blueberry Hill Inn its name, but apparently a controlled burn was carried out a few years ago, so I suspect there will be slim pickings for a few more years until the berries grow back.
After a short descent from Hogback, we joined the dirt road, and followed it uphill to the crux of the day’s run, the steep mile ascent up the taller Romance Mt. This is a very steep trail, climbing close to 1000 vertical feet over the ascent. It was also frightening to realize that most of my fellow runners today would be facing this steep climb at Mile 31 of the Ultra in early August. Good Luck folks! At this point, the trail went from kind of wet to very muddy. Not a few puddles here or there- not a “get the soles of your sneakers dirty” muddy. This standing water and mud was incessantly over the ankles for almost the rest of the day’s run, and frequently threatened to rip my shoes off my feet. But hey – it’s trail running, so what’s a little extra adventure, right?
After the steepest part of the descent, which should be much more passable in August, we came up to the big decision point. To the left, was a sign saying “7” and to the right one said “10”. I have become more accustomed to taking the shorter route, or shorter race more and more frequently as I mature, but still, it rankles me to take the shorter distance. Here is where the meatloaf analogy comes in: I like meatloaf, but when there is a longer route available, especially on a nice running day, taking the shorter route is kind of like going to a really classy restaurant, and ordering meatloaf. Sure, it tastes really good, but shouldn’t I be ordering the New York Strip? A few of the group started to mention some interest in the longer route, the New York Strip option, and I was tempted… but I was just warned yesterday by my physical therapist to not push too hard, too soon, so I chose the shorter route. So it was a good day for meatloaf!
The rest of the group also decided to go for the shorter route as well today, so we enjoyed the long gradual descent down the Sucker Brook Trail before taking one last short climb up Stewart. The trail leveled off for most of the last mile before one final descent to the back of the Inn. After a round of high fives, we got together for one final group photo, showing off our muddy feet. The foot at 6 o’clock is mine, and those brown socks were white at the start of the run!
At the end of the run, this was about 7.5 miles – my longest run since my injury, and it felt great. I also got to meet a fun bunch of runners with a great sense of comaraderie who are in training to accomplish some really amazing things this summer. I am going to stick to shorter races for now.