Sep 192011

By Danielle Triffitt

Wow. Pisgah is one tough race. I didn’t go in with any delusions that it wouldn’t be, but man, was it hard. I gave so much out on the course that I spent the next two hours feeling nauseous and looking three shades of green. I couldn’t even stomach any ice cream! That’s when you know it’s really bad! All that being said, it was a really great race. Low key, but with some fast competition. Friendly volunteers manning simple but well-placed and well-stocked aid stations along the way. A well-marked but not over-marked course. Loaves of bread to each competitor, and a cookout at the finish line. A course any Trail Monster would love, with a mix of wide old roads, technical single-track, lots of hills that make you work for it, an equal amount of downhills to trash your quads, and enough rooty sections to keep you hopping. All set in a little-used corner of Chesterfield, NH in Pisgah State Forest. The woods were beautiful – wide open pine forests, lots of little ponds and swampy areas, edged by turning swamp maples and filled with lily pads and cat tails – and yet, it seemed the trails were not well traveled. There were vistas atop Pisgah Mountain and along a few of the old wood roads out into Monadnock Valley, with Mt. Monadnock towering above. It certainly helped that race day was a picture-perfect New England fall day. It was cool at the start, enough so that I was wearing gloves, and the sky was blue. The dappled sunlight filtered through the trees down onto the forest floor, highlighting the colorful mushrooms and hobblebush berries. Yes, seriously, I was thinking about how beautiful the woods were while I was out there! Well, in between thinking how hard the course was anyway 🙂


We had made our way down to Ryan’s parents on Saturday afternoon, as they would be watching Sam for us while we raced. We left their house at 5:30am Sunday morning, making our way in the dark across Massachusetts and into New Hampshire. Luckily it was a pretty quick trip, and we made it there around 7:45 after one pit stop along the way. The parking lot was already pretty full, and it was evident that the race was growing in popularity and attracting a good crowd this year. We got ourselves organized, mingled a bit, did the regular race morning preparations and made our way over to the start a few minutes before 8:45. We found Joe in the crowd, and said our hellos to a few others. After a few words from the race director, we were off.


The course started out down a dirt road towards the park entrance. I was determined to start off at a reasonable pace, and people flew by me left and right. Of course, a little after a mile into the race, we hit the first hill, and there I was, not even 10 minutes into things, walking! Ah well, I figured I was going to be doing my fair share of walking today, why not start early? 🙂 Once in the park, we got onto a nice wide old woods road, and at that point, Joe snuck by me. We commented to each other how nice the trail was so far, and he pulled slightly ahead. I rolled through mile 6 at exactly 1:00:00, and felt good. I managed to keep Joe in my sights until around mile 7, at which point there was a steep downhill, and being the cautious type, I slowed down and off he went. At the bottom of the hill was the first aid station, 8.1 miles in. Although I was carrying my Nathan pack filled to the gils with fuel and Nuun, my plan was to stop at all the aid stations, take a swig of water and maybe grab a handful of “real” food if anything looked good. I was hoping this would help my stomach behave. So, according to plan, I stopped, swigged a glass of water, took a few chips and took back off.


Right after the aid station, the course went up. Seriously up. About a 1/2 mile or so up a paved, switchbacked road. At the top, as we turned back to dirt, I caught up with a guy who I ended up running with until the next aid station. We chatted intermittently as we left the road for a bit of singletrack, which rolled and wandered through the woods, finally spitting us back out at yet another woods road and another aid station right around mile 12. My pace had slowed a bit, due to some walking in the last stretch, but things were still going well. And in fact, I think the stretch between mile 12 and mile 17 was some of my favorite. I was in a good groove, on trail that suited my abilities, and I began picking people off, one at a time. The trail gradually went up on, yup, you guessed it, another old wood road, and right around mile 13, I passed two older men, stopped, having a snack on the side of the trail. I said hello, and one of them said, “no hill for a climber.” That made me smile, and I realized, yup, this is perfect. It was all very runnable and I cruised on. I hit halfway somewhere around the 2:50 mark, which gave me hope that I might actually be able to finish around 5:30, or at least 5:45.


The mile 17 aid station was set up right at the edge of a beautiful pond, and marked the beginning of the stretch that Ryan had told me was going to be very hard. Between mile 17 and 20, the trail went up and over Pisgah Mountain, and Ryan had said it was PUD-tastic. Honestly, I thought the trail was pretty nice but it was tough. It was technical single-track, intended for hiking, not running. I passed a number of people along this stretch, one of them a woman, the first I’d seen all morning. I did my share of walking as we wound up and up, and I was very happy to hit the top. I didn’t stop, but I did slow down a bit so that I could enjoy the vista from the rocky summit, with views across the valley and over to Mt. Monadnock. From the summit, the trail dropped and dropped, twisting and turning, down to another woods road and the edge of the reservoir. Here I hit the 20 mile aid station, which was also the mile 25.5 aid station, as the course took us on a 5.5 mile loop at this point.


I was thrilled to be feeling pretty good as I ran into the aid station the first time. I stopped, got a drink and a few chips, checked my pack, realizing I hadn’t been drinking much, and took off on the Kilburn Loop, which wound through the woods around the reservoir. My Garmin beeped 20 miles somewhere a little into the loop, and my watch read 3:50 or so. The longest I’d been out distance and timewise since March, but I felt good. I passed a couple right near the entrance, and was in a very happy place, feeling strong. The first half of the loop was nice, as it was mostly downhill, but once I hit the back of the loop and took the sharp left to head back towards the aid station, I was definitely feeling the effort and time I had put in. The second half of the loop seemed to go on and on and on. The footing was bad. It was mostly uphill. I was tired. It felt endless. Finally, finally, finally, I was back off the loop and knew I only had a short ways to the aid station. Hurray! I was tired all right, but knew I would finish. It was only a matter of how long it would take me 🙂


From the aid station, with less than 5 miles to go to the end, the trail went up, yet again, to a parking lot, and then a quick right onto a trail that climbed and wandered and dropped and repeated itself all over again. I passed a number of people along this stretch, and I kept getting glimpses of a woman ahead. I wasn’t sure I had the speed to catch up, but on a long downhill, I passed her, sitting by the edge of the trail with cramps. Not the way anyone wants to be passed for sure! I kept looking for the unmanned water stop that was supposedly at 28.5 miles. I was really wishing for the finish now. Finally, a gate and a pile of water jugs came into sight. Almost there! And then, whoosh! A woman flew by me, as if I was standing still. We were on a road now, and while I managed to pick up the pace, I didn’t have enough in the tank to catch her. My quads were cramping as I pounded downhill on the pavement. I knew I didn’t have a lot of course left so I pushed as much as I could, and was surprised to find out after the fact that I managed to run 8:30s along this stretch. Still, I couldn’t catch her. As the road turned up, I saw a stop sign ahead. I knew from reading other’s reports that this signified that the finish was very close. And indeed, I turned the corner, ran the next short stretch of road as hard as I could, crossing the finish line in 5:34:28, good enough for 5th woman and something like 33rd overall (no official results yet). I practically collapsed to the ground, feeling ill, my legs cramping, exhausted. I had nothing left to give.


But I suppose, in the end, isn’t that what I wanted? To leave it all out there? I was really nervous last week before the race. I knew it was going to be a really hard course and honestly, I wasn’t sure how I was going to do. Yes, I had run the 50k in March, but that course was as flat as a pancake. I had been on track for an early November marathon, not a mid-September 50k. 40 miles on the nose was the highest mileage I had run leading up to the race, with most weeks falling in the low to mid 30s. I had only done a 16, 16.5 and a 20 mile run as my long runs. I tried to steel myself for what was to come. I knew it was going to be hard. I knew it was going to be hilly. I knew I was going to be out there for a long time, the longest I had ever been running. But, I figured if I ran within myself, I might be able to run around 5:30. I decided that the way to run well was to just embrace it all. To revel in what the course was giving. And every time I hit a hill, I tried to remember what one of our AT friends had said long, long ago when he gave me my trailname – “You just power up those hills! You’re like a little sparkplug!” 🙂 Gotta work those strengths! Yes, I struggled along the way, but all told, I am really happy with how I ran the race and with my finishing time. Now if I had just managed to hold off that 4th place woman… Next time.


It is worth noting that in looking at the Garmin data for the race, the course had 4026 feet of elevation gain and 4024 feet of elevation loss. And my mile splits ranged from 8:31 (last mile) to 14:53 (going over Pisgah Mountain). Talk about a big spread! The Garmin read the course as 29.6 mile, but who knows. They’re calling it a 50k, I’m saying it’s a 50k 🙂


Many thanks to the race director and all the volunteers for putting on a great event! And congrats to Kevin for an excellent run, to Ryan for taking 35 minutes off his time at Pisgah last year (wow!) and for finishing in a mighty quick 4:50:19 after coming off a lot of injuries this season, and to Joe too. Always fun to run a race with friends!


I’m happy to report that now that the nausea is behind me, my celebratory ice cream has been eaten, and I even managed to get in a 3 mile run this afternoon. My legs didn’t feel quite as badly as I had feared they would, but I am sticking with my plan to take the rest of the week off. I don’t want the hiatus to go on for too long though – this is the best time of the year for running after all! 🙂

  2 Responses to “Pisgah 50K – Danielle Triffitt”

  1. Thanks for the report! I really enjoyed reading it. I’m doing Pisgah this fall; it’ll be my first 50k.

  2. Great race report and congrats on the nice performance (I realize that it’s a couple years old) but I was wondering about the climb up to Mt. Pisgah. I hate heights and precipices and was wondering how this bit was. Any use of hands during climbing?

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>