Maine Huts & Trails

Ever since Amina and I hiked the Grand Canyon, I’ve been wanting to do more trail running and explore running longer. My back put those goals on hold, but after successfully running 13 miles on trails in April, I let my friend Sam convince me to join a group of friends on a 30 mile trail run up in Maine.

I’d never run more than 13 miles at a time before. I’d never hiked more than 17 miles in a day. But I trust Sam, and knew she wouldn’t leave me, and I was curious about my abilities. So I made a reservation with our group at Maine Huts & Trails, and set about testing out backpacks and hiking poles. I also made sure to pack a headlamp, figuring that worst case I’d just slow down and finish really, really late.

Last Friday, we loaded our gear into two cars and headed north five hours to West Forks, Maine. Our journey included a lunch stop at Duck Fat for some carbo-loading, a couple of bathroom breaks, and a harrowing few miles on some poorly maintained logging roads. Once we parked, we had a mile hike to the Grand Falls Hut, the northernmost hut in the MH&T system.

13-13418892_10153840343339087_4391658206629460838_nPhoto credit: Sam

We had a lazy afternoon of board games, trail exploring, and hammock reading, and then a pasta dinner and a bonfire before turning in at a respectable 10 p.m.

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The alarm went of at 5:30 the next morning. After a bagel breakfast, we loaded our packs and hiked our stuff out to the car to be brought 30 miles south by our two selfless sherpas, Kelvin and Rebecca. The rest of us strapped on hydration packs and took off running.

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The first several miles flew by. The trail meandered along the Dead River, through tall grasses and birch groves.

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We saw lots of deer and moose sign, but no actual animals, probably because they could hear us coming from miles away.

The first 12.3 miles took just over three hours. We likely could have gone faster, but this was my first time doing this kind of thing and I didn’t want to push it too hard and get hurt or be miserable. So Sam and I kept a relaxed 15 minute pace, stopping to take photos, walking the inclines, and chatting.

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Toward the end of the leg my back and shoulders started tightening up, causing me to freak out a little bit. I knew there was a lake at the next hut, and promised myself that if I continued to push it, I could hop in for an ice bath as soon as we stopped. When we arrived at the Flagstaff Hut, that’s just what I did.

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Photo credit: Colleen

Water has never felt so good. I stood there for awhile trying to let as much of the cold soak into me as possible, but the water was frigid, and I didn’t last long. Still, it helped enormously.

The rest of the group took off pretty quickly as they were worried about tightening up, but Sam and I were already tight so we stayed back, stretched, and had a snack. I wasn’t in a big rush leave this view.

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Finally, we hit the trail again. We didn’t make it far before we had to stop to take in another gorgeous view.

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We made it another half-mile down the trail before spotting these beauties.

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Lady’s slippers are a species or orchid found across the Eastern United States. They take a long time to grow, and are a fairly unusual sight, so I was pretty excited to find them all along this stretch of the trail.

A mile or so later, we made radio contact with Kelvin. Since there’s no cell service in this area, each group carried a walkie talkie. We agreed to turn the walkie on at the top of each hour for 15 minutes so we could check in with each other. Sam and I had reached a trail junction just as we made contact with Kelvin, who was on a mountain bike. Kelvin advised us that the Hemlock Trail he was on was overgrown and boggy, so we decided to take the higher winter route and pass by the Halfway Yurt.

The going was pretty slow for the next few miles. The yurt was at the top of an almost 1.5-mile long hill. At one point, we worried that we’d lost the trail, as we seemed to be on more of a jeep road. Fortunately, because we were up high, I had cell service and was able to see that we were indeed still on the trail.

16-13423942_10153840345014087_2365236818565959756_nPhoto credit: Sam

Sam and I stopped for a few minutes in the yurt to have a snack and stretch again. But we knew we’d slowed down considerably, so got back on the trail pretty quickly.

We had a mile run downhill, and then crossed a road to find the last stretch of the trail that Kelvin had warned us about.

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Some parts were boardwalk, some was more boggy with logs for structure. Not much of it was runable. It took us more than 40 minutes to cover two miles.

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By this time, we were in sporadic contact with Kelvin via text. He advised that when we hit the dirt Carriage Road we should run down that instead of proceeding to Poplar Hut, as the trail was in similarly bad condition. Sam and I had enough water, so we didn’t need to stop at the hut, and we didn’t want to make our friends wait another two hours for us to arrive.

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So we took off down Carriage Road. And encountered some “only in Maine” signs.

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Kelvin met us halfway up Carriage Road. We’d cut three miles off of our run. But we’d run 24 miles, and had another steep, 3 mile hike to get to Stratton Brook Hut, where we spent the night. (Side note: the Maine Huts & Trails are pretty sweet, and I would totally go back in summer or winter.)

My legs were tired, and my back was sore, but overall I felt a lot better than I thought I would. I had no blisters or chaffing. Nothing was in major stabbing pain. My spirits were high.

Finishing this was a huge confidence boost for me, and made me eager to run more trails. Somehow, the miles go faster when I’m surrounded by trees, and while I doubt I’ll be running 25 miles every weekend, I’d definitely plan (and train for) another.

15-13418642_10153840344914087_2679253614674407249_oPhoto credit: Sam

Overview:
24 miles
7 hours, 26 minutes (moving)
18:35/mile average pace

Gear:
Nathan running vest (Amina’s)
2 liter water bladder
headlamp
chapstick
inhaler
Salomon trail runners
Smartwool socks
NB fitted tights
tank
long sleeve shirt
trucker cap
hiking sticks

Nutrition:
1 pb&j
5 energy balls (made by Sam)
3 energy gels
1 Gu chomps
1 Nuun tablet
1 package tropical pork jerky
~4 liters water

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Capeing

The best thing about a sprint tri: you’re finished by the time most people wake up!

After the Wellfleet Sprint Triathlon, we had some much needed breakfast and a nap. IMG_9462The house we were staying in was conveniently located next to a Wellfleet classic: The Beachcomber.

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We spent the afternoon sitting in the sun, sipping rum drinks and slurping oysters. (I highly recommend the tequila oyster shot!)

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We finished the day on the beach below, watching seals and doing our best to pretend like it was summer.

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Race recap: Wellfleet Sprint Triathlon

Back in December, my fitness plans for 2016 were ambitious: steadily increase my mileage, train for a 20-miler, run some trail races, get fit for tri season. But I returned from the Grand Canyon, with a painful tightness in my right glute and hamstring. Weeks of rest, foam rolling and stretching didn’t help. In fact, the pain was worst when I was sitting and driving. Finally after several weeks of PT, three doctors visits, and an MRI, I got some answers: a nerve had ruptured from the disc between my L1-S-5, which was also bulging slightly.

I spent most of the winter in pain, working on core and glute strength. I got a standing desk. I did a lot of PT. I foam rolled. Five months later, I’m finally starting to feel like myself again. When my friend Michael called to invite me to Wellfleet for a triathlon, I initially opted in as a spectator only. But I was feeling pretty good last week, so on Thursday, I pulled the trigger and signed up for the race.

Michael is a devotee of the Wellfleet Sprint Triathlon, which attracts a small, local crowd. He’d invited me to do it last year, but I had to decline as it was the day before the Hero Triathlon. Sadly, that race got rained out. (This happened to me with two tris last spring, Hero and Cohasset. Sigh.)

I drove down to Wellfleet after work Friday. The forecast for the weekend was cool and cloudy, so traffic was no problem. I arrived just after 9 p.m., drank a beer, and installed quick laces on Michael’s sneakers. We were tucked into bed by 11, though we talked in the dark like middle schoolers at a slumber party until long after that.

As a result, the 6 a.m.alarm the next morning was tough. Gulped down some swiss muesli and coffee, and was out the door at 7 with Michael and Matt for a 1.5 mile ride to the race.

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Check-in was no problem, and it took me about 10 minutes to set up my spot in transition,  so I was in my wetsuit and ready to go by 7:30. Matt and I took advantage of the lull to warm up on Long Pond, which was a balmy 70 degrees.

Soon enough we were lining up on shore… and then we were off.

Swim: 1/4 mile
The swim was an anti-clockwise square in Long Pond. The water was pretty clean and there were no weeds. I hadn’t swam in my wetsuit since last fall (my training was almost nil for this race), and I was surprised at how buoyant I felt. But I also felt my lack of training. While I focused on keeping my stroke long and loose, I felt like I was lacking power. It was more of an “I can do this”feeling than a “I am dominating this.” Still I caught someone at the end, and emerged fifth from the water.
Swim time: 6:15

T1
I ran into transition feeling woozier than usual from the swim. I remember running up the path and telling myself that I needed to unzip my wetsuit and get the top down while I ran, but it seemed hugely impossible. Once in transition, I wasn’t sure where to hang my wetsuit, and ended up putting it over my sneakers. Oops. I stepped into bike shoes, grabbed my stuff and was off.
T1 time: 1:39

Bike: 10 miles
The bike course was two five mile loops. This was where I really felt my lack of training. I’ve been on my bike exactly twice this year, and it felt that way. While the flats were ok, I wasn’t exactly powering up the rolling hills. Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 4.06.36 PM
I got passed by a couple women and several men during the bike. I’d meant to eat a Gu towards the end, but forgot. It was over before I knew it.
Bike time: 38:13 (average 15.7 mph)

T2: 
I’m not sure why this transition was so slow, but it was. I had grass all over my feet and decided to put on socks. Need to work on this.
T2 time: 1:36

Run: 3 miles
Interestingly, my legs felt great when I started the run. Usually they feel weird and heavy, but perhaps because of my poor bike performance, my legs felt good to go. The course was an out and back, and the first mile was mostly uphill. Hence, that was my slowest mile (9:16) and my last mile was the fastest (8:17), so that was nice. I passed a woman I thought was in my age group just after the first mile, and knowing she was just behind me for the rest of the race definitely motivated me to push it.
Run time: 27:17 (9:05 pace)

Overall time: 1:14:59 (overall:31/82; 2/8 age group; 8th woman)

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Overall, this was a great race: well organized with a fun course and a good crowd (of less than 100 people).

I can’t be disappointed with my performance. I had a tough winter and a cold spring. But, I know that I need to work on my swimming and biking. The goal, then, is to get a regular training routine that doesn’t push things too hard. Next step: sign up for some more races.