There is no time to think about how much I hurt; there is only time to run.
-- Ben Logsdon
The description of the fifth stage of the ENDURrun is as follows: "This demanding and hilly 25.6km cross-country course is run through the Chicopee Ski Resort and boasts incredible alpine scenery. This multi-loop course includes many extended hill climbs." Ask anyone who's run this stage before, and they'll tell you that this is a HUGE UNDERSTATEMENT of what the course is about. It's about hills, big ones, the kind of hills people ski down in the winter. It's about doing these hills multiple times (five, to be exact). It's about very varied terrain, with dirt road, gravel, tight technical trail, slippery grass, and coarse asphalt. Lastly, it's about survival, since you're doing this stage after having already done 82km of running in 5 days. Next to Stage 3, it was the one I dreaded the most. My training this year was severely lacking in both hills and trails, so I knew I was going to pay the price.
One thing that did work in our favour this year was the weather. It was quite cool and overcast when we got to Chicopee Resort. I hoped that it would stay this nice throughout the run, instead of the hell-on-earth temperatures we'd enjoyed earlier in the week. We all gathered at the start line and nervously looked up the main face of Chicopee, trying to figure out where the flags were, so we'd know what the course looked like. Some changes were made this year, due to the removal of some switchbacks, and the addition of some new buildings where our trails had been. Btu the bulk of the run was the same. Up the mountain, down the mountain. Up the mountain again, then down the mountain. Repeat five times. Yeah.
Lloyd did his customary roll call before the race began, and we were off. The first bit of the run goes through some bike trails, and these were pretty flat and straight forward. Then it spits out onto a gravel road, which runs around the back of the main ski hill, then starts to climb it. This road is used as a service road to the hill, and while it is not that steep, it is long and winding, and affords no shelter. On my first run through, I managed to run about half-way up the hill before resorting to a walk. As in previous stages, my game plan was to be conservative. I knew this stage would be hard on me. The blisters I got in Stage 3 were also hurting me quite a bit. I did some maintenance on them the night before, but it didn't help much. It would be a long run for sure.
Once we got to the top of the first climb, we then went down into some trails that went up and down, and were fairly technical in nature. Lots of rocks, stumps, and fairly narrow turns. Most of these, I ran on the first go-around. My legs were surprisingly well rested; I managed to scamper through this part of the run fairly quickly, even sprinting along some of the up-hill portions. I was feeling pretty good, and happy with myself for being able to run this part.
The trail slanted back upwards, and we ran back towards the downhill slope. In previous years it was a long and winding switchback through high grass, but this year the slope had been cut, and you could barely even see the trail. It was also dangerously slippery, since we were running in the early morning, and the dew on the grass was still present. A woman two people in front of me lost her footing and went down hard in one of the turns. Fortunately she wasn't injured, and she continued on.
The switchback took us back down to the bottom, and past the starting area (but not through it), then straight up the front slope. This is, by far, the toughest part of the course. My legs felt good, but not good enough to be running up this slope, so I ran maybe 100 metres up, then walked the rest of the way. The top part is very slanted, and I ended up pushing my legs forward to make it up. Whew!
Next, another new section. Down a very short flight of cement block stairs, then into a short trail section, and down the back slope. Last year this was also a switchback, but this year it was a straight down the hill run, very tough on the quads. At the bottom we then went through a trail section called the "Goat Run" that took us halfway up the slope, then we crossed and did some very long switchbacks down to the bottom and to the start line. Loop 1 complete, only 4 more to go!
As I mentioned before, I was feeling pretty good energy and strength wise, but my blister was giving me a lot of problems. The first two laps were good, I felt good and strong, and was doing decent time. By the third lap, however, things started to change for the worse. The pain in my foot was relatively constant through the whole run, but I was now starting to tire. The sun started to peek out from the clouds, making things much hotter. Those trails I was sprinting through I was now shuffling through, and by the end, walking through. I resolved to walk most of the big up hill slopes, not even bother to try and run them. Flat and downhill, I was good with.
By the fourth lap, my stomach decided to become upset, just to add to my comfort. This affected my fueling; up to that point I'd been pretty consistent in taking both water and Gatorade, making sure not to drink too much of either. I was also eating gummi bears, my normal long run fueling aid. But it all wasn't sitting very well. I started walking for a minute after the water stations, in the hope of settling things down more. But it wasn't working.
The last lap was sheer willpower, to just get through it. All I kept thinking of in my head was: YOU CAN DO IT! ONE KM AT A TIME! I stopped and cheered my fellow ENDURrunners on, even standing aside while they blew by me. I could see that several of them were also having a very hard time on this stage. We were all suffering together.
Finally, that last switchback was done, and I could see the finish. The roar from the spectators and runners finished the stage was so loud! I felt a great surge of energy and ran through the finish, happy it was done. I finished the stage in a personal worst time of 3:25 (compare that with 2:59 in 2009), but I was happy to have survived Chicopee! I was also happy to see my friend Steve and his wife Rachel had driven out to cheer us on. Thanks for your support!
NEXT STAGE: A 10km time trial run, that is flat and a net downhill This, followed by the ENDURrun BBQ and festivities in the late afternoon, then prep to get ready for the marathon. Stay tuned!