Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pittsfield Peaks

-Running a marathon...
-Running a marathon, in the rain and temperatures in the mid 30's -40's.
-Running a marathon, in the rain, with decent elevation gain and loss.
-Running a marathon, in the rain, with decent elevation gain and loss on snowshoes.
-Running a marathon, in the rain, with decent elevation gain and loss on snowshoes on largely ungroomed single track trails.
*How else would I want to spend my Saturday?

Peak races in Pittsfield, VT is notorious for putting on challenging races during all seasons.  For a change of scenery and pace I opted to do the full snowshoe marathon as a training run.  I had run the race once before and suffered so severely that I vowed to never enter the race again.  I guess that time helps memories and pain fade.

Once checking in at the Pittsfield General Store and pinning my bib on Amy Lane and Brian Rusiecki arrived.   I was happy to see them both.  Out of all of us Amy was by far the most excited for the race despite the wintry mix that started outside.  I would have gladly stayed in the store for hours sipping coffee and shopping around.  Eventually it was time to leave the warmth and shelter of the store and head over to the Amee Farm where the race starts and finishes.  I set up my bag in the lap area, tightened up my Salomon XA Pro 5's, which I choose because of their all around stability (they also provide a bit more stiffness which I like while snowshoe running) and tuned into the pre-race meeting.  I told myself just four laps of the course and I would be done and knew I needed to take it one lap at a time.  With a mass start of all participants doing anywhere from 6 miles to the marathon, it was a bit chaotic.  I tucked myself behind Amy Lane and let her set the pace for the two of us.  Within a quarter of a mile we were off the nicely packed snowmobile trail and climbing up the first portion of the single track.  The climbing would continue for about 40 minutes and Amy set a nice pace where we could converse the entire time.   We hadn't seen each other since the Vermont 50 in September so we had a lot to catch up on.  Once we reached the summit the pecking order of racers seemed to be sorted out so it was nice to fall into our own rhythm.  Now for the downhill.  The snow was loose and deep in some sections.  If I veered six inches to one side or the other the toe of my snowshoe would catch crusty snow and I would stumble.  I managed to stay upright and in control.   We finished the first lap in just under 1:09, I took off my jacket and opted for my softshell vest instead.

My drop bag supervisor!
Amy and I ran side by side till the single track began once again and then I took the lead as the pace car.  We continued along at the same pace and got several looks as we climbed and chatted up a storm.  From several racers it was a look of disbelief and/or annoyance.  The lap went as planned and we once again came into the lap area together.  I grabbed a new water bottle, tightened my snowshoes and we were off and running again.

The third lap proved to be more of the same.  We were now passing some people for the first or second time and had lots of cheers and words of encouragement for "girl power".  It was actually really motivating and inspiring, because despite not red lining it we were rocking it stride for stride.  As we got closer and closer to the summit the wind began to pick up and the storm clouds were imminent.  After reaching the summit and descending for about a mile we stopped for a quick bathroom break and then quickly got back to pace.  On this downhill some areas were beginning to get muddy and wet while other areas were just getting so packed and firm that by just leaning back I would slide down it on the tails of my snowshoes.  Again as we came into the lap area were right on schedule and I was amazed at how even our laps were shaking out to be.

As we continued to overtake other racers we joked that we were simply trying to outrun the weather.  We were joking, yet we were serious.  Every step we took, and every climb we finished, Amy reminded me that it was our last of the day.  About a two miles from the top Amy commented that we could finish at 4:45 and that would be a nice even finishing time.  I looked at my watch and picked up the pace a little.  Just before reaching the summit she re-evaluated and said well 4:50 would be round and nice as well.  I knew in my head I could make 4:45 happen.  We would have to push a few sections a little bit harder, but could do so while still playing it safe on the direct downhills.  As we descended off the last piece of single track, across what I deemed the sketchy bridge and onto the snowmobile track Amy looked at her watch and said, "We can do it!"  We came to the last corner and I joked about standing there for two minutes so we could finish at a nice even time.  We crossed the line with the rain coming down on us and looked around for the timers.  We were both saying "We finished" and then the timers popped out of a car and asked for our numbers for an approxiamte finish time of 4:43.  Here is a peek at what my Garmin recorded.  The satellite did not track all of the tight switchbacks so some mileage and elevation was not recorded.  Either way it is interesting to see the elevation profile and pacing (click on "view details").

All the runners and hikers were truly amazing but what kept me captivated and curious was the Winter Death Race that was going on.  Men and women chopping wood, hauling the wood they chopped up the mountain, retrieving buckets of rocks from a cold stream which they had to wade in, building bird house, etc.  Certainly not a race for me, but crazy to see the level of suffering and determination.

I did find a competitor to chat with as he constructed his bird house.  His sense of humor was still intact and strong so I explained to him that I would gladly have him over to my house to complete manual labor and I would even be willing to do so without a race entry fee.


  1. Congrats Aliza! That is amazing! I'd love to do one of those races next year. Scott grew up in Pittsfield. Love that area and it's a great excuse to go down and visit!

  2. Hey Joyce, I love the country store in Pittsfield as well as the feel of the town. Country stores are very captivating for me and I hope to one day live near one so I can sip coffee while catching up with neighbors and friends. Maybe the "Corner Quick" at the four way stop will turn into a General Store?