Editors Intro: Today’s guest post comes from Top Gun Brian Klein. I met Brian a few years ago through November Project in Boston, as I tried to keep up with him on the hills, steps, and track! He’s a badass runner, triathlete, and rower, and is always wearing Red, White, & Blue. After learning that Brian was racing the 7 Sisters Trail Race in Amherst, Massachusetts, I begged him for a race report, so I could gain some reconnaissance about the difficult single-track race. Seeing the relentless climbing in course elevation profile makes me salivate.
Take it away Brian:
What’s billed as a 12 mile race, and may actually be less given that most GPS watches clock it at 10.5 miles, lasts about as long as a marathon. Having previously hiked the race course several times I knew what terrain we would be seeing for the most part. However, hiking a trail, at least in this case, was nothing like attempting to run it. Single-track the whole way with plenty of rocks, roots, leaves, and branches greeted us runners this year. Luckily, no mud decided to join the party of obstacles in our way. But with temps of 60°F at the start that soared to 80°F by the finish, heat was not on our side.
The pre-race mentality was very relaxed, which shocked me a bit given that it’s part of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup Series and tends to draw several professional runners each year. There were only 2 tents up near registration; La Sportiva’s and the registration/food/recovery one. With about 5 minutes to go the race director asked for us to get into our corrals (5 total), a system that started last year to cut down on congestion throughout the beginning of the race. Lots of joking took place in the first corral, which is always nice while waiting to run what is known as one of the most grueling races in the country.
The horn went off and the first wave, which I was in, charged up a 0.7 mile hill. This hill is very steep (~15% grade I’d guess) and completely covered in basalt and shale rocks. No dirt to be found for traction, you literally need to run of a broken-rock strewn hill. Once you reach the first peak after the mainly single-file trudge to the top things start to spread out between miles 1-3. There are no flats longer than 400m on the whole course. What I quickly noticed was that seasoned trail runners could destroy me on the downhill, which is usually my road-running prowess, but I could keep up or pass them on uphill and flat. This downhill destruction was even while I was cruising slightly out of control; only stopping if ledges larger than 6 feet were coming up on us. They seemed to know which rocks were good to step on and how to use the few small trees to redirect off of.
I just keep pushing as hard as I could to get to the turn around. The field had really spread out by 45min in, and for the most part I couldn’t seen more than one person off in the distance (and only heard one person behind me, which turned out to be the 3rd place female who was following me the whole time on the way out). A long half-mile decent into the half way point was welcomed, and I hit the half at 1:08. I then lingered at the turn around for ~3min to eat a bar and drink. During this time the 3rd place female (Kerri Lyons) caught up and I ran behind her the rest of the way. Her foot placement was far better than mine and I was happy to have a pacer/guide! Turns out, that girl has wheels and sports a sub-5 mile time (track) and several trail race victories. We ran slower on the way back, clocking 1:22 for the return, but the hills and heat probably played a role in that.
The course had 5 aid stations, two on the way out and back as well as the half way point. Volunteers throughout the course were great, especially given that they had to hike to get to many of the places where they were stationed.
Post-race fare was a good spread. The mentality of all finishers seemed to be that they were happy to have finished/be alive. I’m happy that I used my Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin3 5 Set Pack for this race. The holster 500ml waters, ability to carry several gels and bars, and the way it hugs your body like a koala kept me decently hydrated and fed.
As it was my first real trail race, second non-road race ever (1st leg of the North Face Endurance Challenge DC marathon-relay winning team…yeah!), I’m quite happy with having finished 39th out of 471 AND not having injured myself given my upcoming triathlons. Next year I will definitely be factoring in more trail/mountain racing.
North Face ECS – DC 2015 – 1st Place Relay Team