So the Escarpment Trail race. Alex told me about this, and it sounded like fun. They've run it for 43 years, making it one of the oldest trail races around, and it is billed as being very hard. Here are some excerpts from the website about its difficulty:The trail is viewed by many as an exaggeration of the term. It is extremely rocky and a runner must expect to navigate over boulders, downed trees, gullies and hidden roots the entire distance. There are numerous places where runners must climb hand over fist to scale a rise, conversely, extremely steep downhill sections add not only challenge to the course, but also a high degree of unwelcome danger. There are sections of the course that travel along cliffs. If you're not careful, you could fall to your death. Very few runners go the distance without taking at least one painful spill. Most runners take many. Believe me, you're going to take a flop or two, or more.
Wow, that sounds hard! The elevation profile doesn't have a ton of climb, but I've been on a lot of trails that look easy on a map and are then rocky and messy and slow. The winning times aren't that slow—in the 2:45 range—but the description, and the various articles they link to
, all make it sounds scary.
But I run in the Whites. (Okay, maybe not run.) How bad can it be?
Not that bad at all, actually.
I think when the race started, there were basically no trail races, and it was the middle of the 1970s running boom, and everyone was running roads. Yes, compared to a road, this is hard. But compared to a real trail in the Whites, it was a cakewalk.
Oh, except that it was 90˚.
Anyway, I lined up in the third wave in a parking lot and ran off, with Alex 5 minutes behind. I wound up in a pack of 5 (out of 15) with a guy out in front, and the trail was pretty mellow: 500 feet per mile for three miles. But I had no idea if that was the case. After a few minutes I burned a couple matches to catch up to the guy in front of me, still at an easy jog up this mountain. Was this really the hardest trail ever? I made a joke "it's like this the whole way" and someone laughed, but I actually wasn't that far off. I did have one little spill along here, into mud and pine needles.
Got to the top a bit tired and winded, with the heat already playing tricks on me. The aid stations were excellent, frequent and well-stocked, despite volunteers having to hike everything in, often to the tops of mountains. That's pretty impressive. Drank water and gatorade and ran on. (I had my nerd vest on, because I thought I might need my hands a lot.)
Then down and some rolling. My downhill feet weren't that happy. The next climb was steep. Not really hand-over-hand, but hand-on-knees. 1000 feet over the course of a mile. By all accounts, this is "straight up." We really should get these people on the Ammy. Or pretty much any trail in the Whites. I've packed trails that go up 1000 feet in a mile, three miles in a row. So, yeah, you don't run the whole trail, but the other parts there's some really nice trail running. Probably 85% is quite runnable. I was passed by the lead woman who had a Run the Whites singlet on. I asked her if she knew where the hard parts were. Nope. The Whites this was not.
A steep section down, followed by some pretty mellow flat bits. Along here, though, I stepped funny and my back went pop, and all of the sudden pushing hard hurt. The temperature didn't help, so I figured I should drink a lot at the next aid station. Which I did, filling my nerd vest, too. Still, the last climb, which was pretty stepped and had some running, was struggly.
I wasn't the only one in struggles, having dropped some folks through here (but also getting dropped; I finished 35th, right about where my bib would predict). One guy was running with me and I asked him about the rest of the trail, thinking there was still something hard to come. Nope, he said, it was pretty mellow. Rolling mostly downhill, mostly runnable, a few ledges, nothing bad. I used this knowledge to open up, to drop him and pass a few more people. Almost caught someone at the finish, but my legs and back were still not feeling perfect, so I didn't.
Then I put ice down my back and waited for Alex.