A few weeks go by, and I'm thinking about my race plans again. My goal race for the fall is the Mohawk-Hudson marathon; I should be focusing on marathon training in late August. I scrap the Presi Traverse in favor of the 5k that takes place near Meg's family's house that weekend.
Fast forward to the beginning of August. My quad is hurt and I'm not psyched about starting serious marathon training. I want to be in the mountains! I sign up for Vermont 50, mostly to give myself an excuse to train on trails and in the peaks. I'll still do the marathon, but it's shifted from goal race to fun run. I've forgotten about the Presi Traverse, but I do a few hikes and a steady pace Great Range Traverse and feel like my mountain legs are coming back.
August 22nd: It's Thursday morning and we leave for NH on Friday. I haven't been doing any speed workouts, and don't feel psyched for a 5k with nothing but marathon-pace tempo runs under my belt. But I've been hiking and running mountains… I should do the Presi Traverse! I call the AMC to make a shuttle reservation and pack my gear a couple days early. I'm not tapered, but I change my Thursday run from 13mi Hill Repeats to 8mi Easy, take Friday off, and I'm ready to go.
After a long drive to New Hampshire and a midnight arrival I set the alarm for 6am and get to sleep. I wake up before the alarm and head upstairs, trying not to wake my son or any of his four cousins asleep in the house. I fuel up with an almond butter wrap and some instant coffee, then mix my drinks (Vitargo and whey protein for my front bottles, weak Gatorade for my hydration bladder) and hit the road.
It's an hour and a half drive to Crawford Notch, where I'll catch the AMC shuttle. I hit the McDonald's drive through for a sausage Egg McMuffin and another coffee on the way, knowing I'll have plenty of time to digest with the drive plus the long shuttle ride. Arriving at the Highland Center, I rush to the bathrooms and then drive over to the public parking lot, with just enough time to get my gear sorted and write my splits on my arm before I have to jog back and get on the shuttle. I bring a Honey Stinger waffle and a Gu for more pre-run fuel and a bottle of water to sip on during the ride, but otherwise I have just my tiny Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest. It's funny to be on the shuttle with virtually nothing, while everyone else has full packs for multi-day traverses.
Almost everyone gets off at Appalachia, and I recognize the one remaining passenger, Jeff, from one of his visits to the Adirondacks and The Mountaineer. We chat about running and hiking for a while, then I get off at the Dolly Copp entrance road--he continues on for the Osgood trail and the start of his own Presi Traverse. I walk and jog the road until I get to the Daniel Webster trailhead, then do some light dynamic stretching, let the watch get its signal, go to the bathroom one final time, and get my pack adjusted and comfortable. I have my trekking poles out--I plan to use them for the first big climb up Madison, then stow them for most of the rest of the day.
At just before 11am I start the watch and take off up the trail. I'm wearing a heart-rate monitor during an FKT for the first time and I'm watching it closely to keep my pace in check right off the bat. About a half-mile in I encounter the first hikers of the day: two women with four dogs on their way down. We exchange greetings, I pet the German Shepherd, and I continue on my way. One of the dogs, a small terrier, comes with me, running in front. "Looks like you've lost one," I say, and the dog keeps going despite the calls of its owners. By now I know its name is Max, and I'm calling him too as I run along. The women ask me to stop for a minute and I yell back "NO!"--I'm pissed that they can't control their dog and it's going to end up costing me time. A few seconds later I realize the dog isn't stopping unless I do, so I stop and call to it again. By now one of its owners is hiking up the trail behind me, screaming hysterically for Max. He stops, looks back at me and his owner, and keeps right on going.
It seems like Max isn't coming back as long as I'm there, so I decide to hike back down to the trailhead and start again. This will hopefully give the owners time to get control of Max without me around to scare him. I stop and reset my watch and hike back down at a leisurely pace--I'll need some time to relax and get ready to start again, and Max might take a while to calm down, too. I spend about 5 minutes at the trailhead, lying on the ground and trying to calm myself before the restart, then get up and go again, 22 minutes after I first started. Immediately my heart rate is way higher than it was on the first go, and I'm hoping that's not a bad sign. I still have no idea if Max is under control, and realize I might have to give up my FKT attempt entirely if he's still running ahead when I get back to him.
At about the same place I had turned around earlier I run into one of the women on her way down with two of the dogs. They still haven't caught Max (she tells me he's a foster dog and must have gotten nervous), and she's going for help. Her friend is still hiking up with the German Shepherd. I tell her I'll stop and try to catch Max when I catch up to him. At this point I'm pretty sure my attempt is over, but I keep moving quickly in order to catch up to Max as soon as possible. I don't catch the other owner for a while, and when I do I ask her if I should keep running ahead to catch Max. She says yes and is sure he'll still be following the trail, so I keep going, folding up my trekking poles in case that's what scared Max off. I continue up for a long time, with no sign of Max on the trail, until finally I run into two hikers on their way down. They haven't seen Max, and I ask them to relay that info to his owner. The next couple of groups I see haven't seen him either--he's definitely off of the trail, probably way down the mountain. I ask them to pass that info on as well, and decide that's all I can do. FKT aside I still need to get to my car in Crawford Notch and back to Gilford before Meg's family starts to worry, so hiking down and joining the search party is out of the question. I feel guilty for chasing Max off in the first place and wish I could do more to help, but at the same time I'm relieved that I'll get to go for the FKT after I had all but written it off in my mind.
By now I'm most of the way up Madison, about to enter the scree field that the trail follows at it approaches treeline. I'm catching hikers more often now, powering my way over the large boulders with the trekking poles. I'm still paying attention to my heart rate but I've allowed it to get steadily into the 170s, which is higher than I thought I would try to maintain. It feels good though, and now I'm just hiking by feel and using the monitor to make sure I don't ever spike my heart rate in a moment of exuberance. I get to the Osgood junction and don't remember my split from before, but feel like I can match my old time to the summit of Madison, which is the first split I have on my arm. It's pretty crowded by now, and I'm using the other hikers to motivate me to hike quickly and smoothly. I top out in just under 1:13, beating my old split by about 45 seconds. So far so good.
A brief aside on my target splits: When I set the FKT for this route in 2010 I ran a 4:59, which included losing about 10 minutes on a wrong turn between Adams and Jefferson and cramping up on the climb up Eisenhower and losing about 4 minutes there. My target for today's run is to hit all my splits from 2010 with the exception of those two sections, where I'm using Ryan Welts' splits from his record run of 4:56. This would give me a finish time of 4:46, tying Mike Gallagher and Ned Gilette's time from 1968 (which we didn't find out about until late 2011, making the times from 2010 and early 2011 seem a lot less impressive). The consolation prize if I can't go that fast is 4:50, which is Ben Nephew's "modern FKT." I find this split info very useful, as it gives me a way to monitor my progress on the run and know if I need to push the pace.
Descending Madison, I stop to stow my trekking poles (Black Diamonds that fold up nice and small) on the back of my pack, and take out my hat for sun protection and sweat absorption. I make good time down Madison--running down is definitely better without the trekking poles--and take a minute to ask for directions at the junction near the Madison hut. It's a good thing I do: the proper trail is more grown-in than the wrong trail, and I might not have remembered it from 2010. I don't want to take any wrong turns this time! I take my time on the climb to Adams, resisting the temptation to bound up the rocks, and keeping the heart rate in check. I top out after passing a few more parties and check my split: faster again! I'll definitely keep the trekking poles stowed away for the time being.
On the Adams descent I pass a junction on the left that appears to be a minor shortcut, but I don't know it so I pass it by. As I approach Edmands Col I start asking hikers which way to Jefferson: this is where I made the wrong turn last time. I take the correct left and keep moving toward Jefferson, and see another person moving quickly along the shortcut trail, heading up to Adams. It looks like Andy Tuthill, a very accomplished New Hampshire climber I remember from college. I yell over to him and confirm that it's Andy. We're both doing the traverse, albeit in different directions. Seeing him running well pumps me up and I cruise over to Jefferson, beating Ryan's split by over a minute. I'm already nearly 3 minutes ahead overall, and am getting confident that I can break 4:46 and set a new FKT. But it's still early, and I remember how quickly cramping slowed me down in 2010. I keep moving as efficiently as possible, never getting to the point where it feels hard.
Jefferson to Washington is the longest section of the traverse (aside from the initial climb) and it includes another short climb over Clay, but the footing is decent and a lot of it is runnable before I'll need to switch to hiking on the big ascent to Washington's summit. I get some encouragement from other hikers, which always pumps me up, and arrive at the bottom of the big climb in good spirits. I decide to use my trekking poles one final time, as I'll ascend over 1200 feet to the summit of NH. I take them out and immediately start running up the peak like a madman, spiking my heart rate to 179 before reeling it in and setting a more steady pace for the rest of the ascent. I top out and check the split: over 3 minutes faster just for this section! I now have a huge 6 minute lead over my goal pace and can hardly believe it.
In 2010 I really flew down Washington, and my reckless pace might have had something to do with the cramping I experienced a bit later in the day. I keep myself in check, although I still feel like I'm moving well on the descents without my trekking poles (I'm holding them in my hands but they're folded up--I'll stow them when I refill water at the bottom). I haven't finished the 1.5 liters of Gatorade I started with, so I chug it as I descend, hoping I'm not too dehydrated. I'm using Vitargo sports drink for fuel, so I'm getting liquid when I eat as well, which might explain how little I'm drinking. I reach Lakes of the Clouds hut and walk inside to refill, stowing the poles after I get the pack buttoned up again. I start up Monroe and check my watch, and for a minute I'm under the impression that I've lost the 6 minute lead I had on Washington and then some. I'm disappointed, but at least I'm still on track for close to a 4:46 finish if I don't continue to slow. I think about this new development for a bit, then recheck my arm: I'd read the split wrong! When I top out on Monroe actually I have a 7 minute lead, and I still have the section where I cramped last year ahead of me. I should be able to gain even more time if I can keep the cramps at bay.
The most runnable terrain is between Monroe and Pierce and I take advantage of it, running most of the time with brief hiking breaks when it gets rough or steep. I feel a very slight cramp as I start up Eisenhower and back off the pace to be sure I'm not forced to stop and stretch it. An easy pace to the summit brings another 3 minutes gained, as expected. By now I know I'm going to shatter my goal of 4:46. It's basically just a matter of making sure I don't fall and get hurt. Pierce comes quicker than expected too, and it's just the final descent between me and a great FKT. I turn around and head back to the Crawford Path junction then start bombing down toward Crawford Notch, figuring I may as well give it all I have so I can put up the best time possible.
Immediately I cramp up--this is way too fast! I stop and let the hamstring cramps subside then continue on at a more manageable pace. I'm being careful, but even so I stub my toe hard on the rocky trail, bringing pain for the first time today. I'm really working now, and have adopted the mantra "focus, focus, focus." I repeat it to myself as a run down, knowing that one misstep could spell the end of the FKT or worse, serious injury. At some point my trekking poles start to dangle from the back of my pack, which has gotten smaller as the bladder empties. I have to stop and refold them, tightening the shock cord so it won't happen again.
I reach the bridge 0.2mi from the end and try to read the sign at the intersection to remember which way to go, but all I can make out is "Mizpah cutoff." There are two women swimming in the stream and they direct me across the bridge, saying the parking lot is that way. I cross and run hard on flatter terrain, popping out on Mt Clinton Rd just beyond the public parking lot and stopping the clock once I hit pavement. A dog is waiting on the road and barks its head off at me, but I can stop and make friends this time. I check my watch and see 4:35:29, and raise my hands in silent celebration, then make my way to the car to ditch my gear before walking back up the trail to the bridge for a swim. It's cold enough that I can only stay in for a minute at a time, but it definitely helps my legs.
I get back to the car and stretch for a while, then leave messages with Ryan and Cory. I'm excited and want to share the news with someone who cares. Cory calls me back while I'm driving out of the notch and we chat for a few minutes before I lose service. I get back to Meg's family 30 minutes late for dinner, but there's hot dogs and hamburgers waiting for me. They ask me "how was your walk," which puts it into perspective a bit. Still, I couldn't be happier about the day and my performance.