I've been dying to run the Seven Sisters Trail Run in Amherst, MA since I heard stories after my friend H ran it 4 years ago, back in 2010. He said it was brutal, and that pretty much everybody did a lot of walking. The 7 sisters are mountain peaks. Not giant mountains, but steep ones. And high enough. The race is an out-and-back over the 7 peaks so completing the race means summitting 14 times. Before experiencing the course I was skeptical that we would really cross 14 peaks, but now after completing it I'm a believer. Every year the race has fallen on an inopportune date so despite being high up on the list for things I *wanted* to do other events came up that meant I had to put it off another year. This year I had a pretty good excuse not to do it. Boston was 2 weeks ago, and technically I should be in recovery mode. But I *really* wanted to run the race, so I put sensibility aside for a few hours and signed up. As did B and H.
The course has been historically notorious for being a hard run to do your best in because it's steep, tight single-track the entire way making passing difficult. This has lead to long trains of people all stuck moving at someone else's pace. This year runners were released in waves to alleviate the problem. I lied my way into the first wave (they requested runners' previous finishing times and I have no history).
I was wearing my New Balance Minimus MT00 shoes. They were in pretty rough shape to begin with. A tear across the top of both shoes a few inches behind my toes allows the front of the shoe to flop down when it catches on a rock leaving the front half of my foot completely exposed, with the bottom of the shoe flopping around underfoot. The solution has been to bend down and fix it when it happens. This method didn't work so well for this race, which I'll get into more later.
Everyone waited calmly until the race started. When the start was announced, we funneled into the narrow trail. The only flat part of the course occurs during the first few hundred yards where one runner tripped on a root and hit the ground hard. Everyone leaped over and around her and started the long first ascent. At this point most people around me were running as best they could (as opposed to walking, which would soon become the norm for a lot of the uphills). For the first few miles, we were all huffing and puffing and pushing hard. Too hard. I was passing people, foolishly working my way closer to the front.
The trail is absolutely beautiful. I can't imagine a more wonderful place for a *hike*. For a run on the other hand, the word wonderful doesn't quite fit. The trail is made of giant jagged rocks. Basalt so they claim. Most of the footfalls dance from sharp rock to sharp rock. On the gravelly sections in between, big gnarly rocks are everywhere, pointing ominously at your teeth. Tripping anywhere could be disastrous. And yet we're all running as fast as we can, scrambling up little cliff faces and bombing down hills.
As I'm galloping down one hill, the front of my sneaker touches a rock and my toes flop out. I bend down and flop it back on. It happens again. And again. I start to worry that this is going to ruin the race. The bottom of the shoe flopping around might catch on something and cause a major face plant. But I'm getting sick of fixing it every couple of minutes. So for a while I leave it hanging, but that plan doesn't last long. RIP! RIP! RIP! The problem gets worse and worse, it turns out that without my toe in the shoe holding it all together, the shoe tears away more and more from the sole until there is next to nothing holding the sole to my foot. Now I'm committed to bending over every time it comes loose. And it's coming loose more often because the shoes are both in tatters. Here is what I ran in for most of the race:
I'm on a slick descent and a shoe comes loose. I bend over and fix it quickly, but two steps later I lose my footing and take a scary sliding header down the cliffy trail, but recover quickly with nothing more than some desperate cries outloud. Luckily nobody is close enough to take much notice, saving me from an embarrasing "I'm ok just took a little spill that's all!".
The run continues like this. Steep long up, steep long down, repeat 14 times. Food and drinks await at the turnaround at the halfway point. I grab a quick Gatorade and head back up the hill. Within 2 minutes of leaving the food behind I think to myself, "boy am I hungry. I could sure use some food right now". Doh! Maybe I shouldn't have been quite so hasty at the turnaround point. Before long my stomach starts actively growling in hunger, while my legs exhaust the last of their dwindling energy on the uphills. here's nothing I can do about it now. The quickest cure for all of my problems is to keep running.
The runner who finished directly ahead of me said at one point the runner in front of him slipped and went flying off a cliff. He stopped to find the runner hanging from a sapling, so he held out a hand and pulled the guy up. Everyone was fine and kept on running.
Another runner was limping along using a stick as a crutch after having broken or sprained his ankle. This could have been any one of us at any second of the race. Yet that's what makes it so exhilarating to run. Intense focus is needed with every footstep, nothing comes easy.
Peak after peak after peak I think to myself, "is this the last one and it's all downhill from here?". Eventually the final peak comes. I'm feeling quite content to mosey down to the finish. But someone comes up from behind and hauls ass down the steep hill. I watch in awe. "Wow he's going fast. Why... Don't... I?" Screw it, I speed up significantly, enough to maintain the distance that separates us. It's incredibly energizing to amputate the blerch in my head and just go.
We dash along the last few hundred yards of flat to the finish. We made it! As soon as I stop, a shivering chill hits the air. I desperately need food (first) and some warm clothes. I grab a nutella-covered bagel, some peanut butter-covered pretzels, warm clothes and return to the finish to cheer on my friends.