Summits: Middle Carter, South Carter, Height, Carter Dome, Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison
Stats: 33.09 Miles, 13,400 Vertical, 12:01am Start
The Route: Barnes Field > Route 16 > Imp trail > North Carter trail > Carter-Moriah trail > Wildcat Ridge trail > Polecat trail > Crew-cut trail > Old Jackson Road > Tuckerman Ravine trail > Huntington Ravine trail > Nelson Crag trail > Gulfside trail > Clay Loop > Gulfside trail > Jefferson Loop > Gulfside trail > Lowe's Path > Star Lake trail > Osgood trail > Daniel Webster Scout trail > Barnes Field
My experience with the MMD 50k began last August. While camping out at Barnes Field with friends, I was amazed to see a group of runners take off out of the campground at midnight. After inquiring about the route, I was completely in awe. I promised myself that by the time the race rolled around in 2010, I would be strong enough to run it...
Rolling into Barnes Field at 8:00pm on Friday night, I started to have doubts. Although comfortable with the 50k distance, I was concerned about the elevation gain. I'd never broken the 10,000 vertical barrier on any day hike/run... and to be honest, I wasn't sure how (and if) I'd be able to handle that much climbing.
The countdown to 12:01am seemed to take forever. While attempting to "sleep" my nerves continued to work their magic on my brain. I questioned my gear, my still not 100% ankle, my experience... but as soon as the alarm clock went off those nervous thoughts quickly dissipated. Two cans of Red Bull, a snickers bar, and two rice crispie treats later, and I was rearing to go.
A little before midnight, we all gathered around site 11 for a brief on the course from the (amazingly awesome) RD Jon. My friends Rob and Steve were there, both of whom were aiming to break the 13 hour mark. In no time at all, we were off!
Route 16 was dotted with the bright headlamps of runners as we made our way towards the Imp trail. The night was beautiful, cloudless, and clear - perfect for running. Steve and I stuck together as we barrelled down the road, chatting about 100 milers, gear, and how much faster the pack leaders were starting the race this year. At the 1.5 mile mark we reached the pace van, driven by Jon and co-RD Rick. The guys were kind enough to take my sweater for me, as I'd been a little too ambitious with my layering at the start of the race. Cutting into the woods, I was glad to finally be running on trail. Let the fun begin...
Steve was on fire and quickly pulled ahead of me as we started to climb. I had been apprehensive about running alone at night, and was surprised to find the experience to be both exciting and strangely peaceful. I did, however, wish that I had a better headlamp, as my Black Diamond Icon just wasn't ideal for moving fast on rocky terrain. Fortunately, I did have a second smaller headlamp that I was able to carry in my hand as an additional light source. The combination of the two lamps, while not perfect, made the going a lot easier.
What a beautiful night it was - crisp, cloudless, and cool. I continued to climb at a steady pace, and in no time at all I found myself up on the Carter-Moriah Ridge. The mountain landscape was ablaze with moonlight, which made for an absolutely surreal experience. Across the notch, I could see the tiny twinkling lights of the MWO summit buildings atop Washington. To think that I'd be there in... 6+ hours.
Up and over Middle Carter I went. Starting the climb up South Carter, I noticed another headlamp ahead of me. As it turns out, it was Amy Lane! We briefly stuck together until Mt Hight, at which point (after scrambling around a bit to find the trail), she took off ahead of me, never to be seen again .
Once again alone, I continued on to Carter Dome, and the not-so-friendly hike down to Carter Notch. I'd forgotten just how rocky and irritating this stretch of the Carter-Moriah trail is. My pace slowed to a crawl, and in a rather bright moment I took a slip on a rock and once again tweaked my already testy ankle. Brilliant move there, Larisa...
Reaching the notch, I downed a Honey Stinger and prepared for the climb up Wildcat A. Surprisingly, it went rather smoothly, as did the run across Wildcat Ridge. I hit the ski area around 5:15, at which point I had a very important decision to make. The MMD course gave runners the option to choose our descent route from any of the Wildcat ski trails. Although I knew it'd add 1+ extra miles to my course, I decided to stick with the Polecat trail as I was familiar with the terrain and knew that it had been mowed. As it turned out, this was the best decision I could have made! After the race, I heard all sorts of horror stories about nasty yellow spiders and angry moose from those who had chosen to run down some of the shorter trails...
About halfway down from Wildcat, I was greeted with a lovely sunrise (the loveliness of which has now been seriously compromised by the below grainy photograph):
In the ski area parking lot I was greeted by Jon and Rick, who were hard at work preparing breakfast for the runners. They topped me off with water, pointed out the Crew-cut trail entrance from route 16, and sent me on my way.
Oh, the Crew-cut trail. It SUCKS - terribly hard to follow as there is essentially no footbed/blazing. I was thrilled to finally reach the nice, mellow Tuckerman Ravine trail... and then onto Huntington. If there's any section of the race that would break me, this was it. I'd heard all sorts of scary stories about the steepness and quite honestly had no idea about how I'd react to that sort of exposure. To be honest, it wasn't half as bad as I'd expected it to be. I think the fact that I finally had a running buddy, Dima, made the climb considerably more bearable. Throw in the fact that the scenery is just to die for...
Dima and I reached the top Washington a little before 9:00am. The summit was a flurry with people from the Mt Washington Bike Race, so other than a quick food break we did not linger. Heading down the Gulfside trail, we had a great view of the next four gnarly peaks we'd need to tackle.
It was at this point that my ankle really decided to flare up. I'm already terrible at moving fast on the evil Northern Presi rocks, and the fact that both of my ankles were now tweaked did nothing to help my pace. Dima was wonderfully patient and stuck with me as we hiked up Clay and Jefferson. Even though we were doing next to no running, my energy levels were great and I was still in great spirits. Onto Adams we went...
The view towards Adams from Jefferson is remarkably deceptive. While looking towards the peak, the thought of reaching it seems like a mammoth task. However, the climb itself is in fact straightforward and not at all steep. Other than the irritating Presi rocks, it's actually quite pleasant. Summiting Adams, I realized that I still had a shot at breaking 15 hours. I asked Dima if he needed to stop at Madison Hut for any reason (as I did not). My plan now was to push it as hard as I could to the finish.
...could being the key word here. The course required us to descend the Star Lake trail which was just terrible! Dima flew down like a mountain goat and gained a good distance on me. By the time I reached Star Lake itself, he was completely out of eyesight.
Reaching the hut, it was exciting to know that I had only one more little climb to go. I instantly made my way to the Osgood trail and started my final ascent. Up until that point I'd felt pretty good, but this final climb zapped me. What a great feeling it was to reach that summit. 4.5 miles to go!
By this point, I was pretty much done with the evil Presi rocks and couldn't wait to hit treeline. I made a point to watch out for the blue blazes on the Daniel Webster Scout trail, as I'd heard that there was a very sharp left that I needed to keep an eye out for. Finally hitting treeline, I was thrilled to see three familiar faces - the RDs and another volunteer! The guys decided to run out with me, which was fantastic as it really encouraged me to push my pace. All of my little aches and pains suddenly diminished as I flew down the trail (which had become quite smooth and runnable).
Of course, my pace quickly slowed as soon as I hit the 1.2 miles of road back to Barnes Field. The road almost felt more painful than the Northern Presis. Nevertheless, it was a great feeling to know that I was going to finish the race well within my sub-15 goal.
14:33 (per my stopwatch) to be precise. I was muddy, bruised, bloody... and just thrilled.
A huge congratulations to Steve and Rob for meeting their time goals! Steve came in around 12 hours 18 minutes, I believe, and Rob finished around the 12:30 mark. Way to go, guys!
Lots of beer, food, great conversation, and celebrating made for a perfect end to one heck of a day .