A race against cramps.
This year’s Ragged 50k was a last minute decision, thanks to the RD Tom Hooper for nudging me, but it seemed to make sense to get in a hard effort before heading over to Europe. I love this course but I still haven’t had the result I know I’m capable of. In 2017 is was incredibly hot and 2018 it was raining and I left my legs in Vermont. This year the weather gods blessed us with fall-like conditions and my legs weren’t too beat up. It was also USATF-NE 50k Trail Championships so a few elite runners jumped in the mix.
After registering I reviewed the my old race data, and it looks something like this:
0 - 6.5 Roads, net 300’ first aid station
6.5 - 10.5 Dirt + class 6 roads / 2nd aid station
10.5 - 14.5 First trail climb / up on the ridge / royal arch - flowy!
14.5 - 19 mile long slow climb then long 900’ descent to 3rd aid station
19 - 22 600’ climb (steep) with a couple small hills to 4A (refill water at stream)
22 - 24 climb up bog mtn (0.9 mile 525’) - follow slab to summit with bench and find right trail out!
24- 26 short steep descent then sidehill and half mile of dirt road to 4th aid
26 - 28 - blah - trail to grassy trail
28 - 29 Mile of flat - aim for 7:30 pace.
29 - 30 1300’ last climb starts NOW, grind New Canada to last aid (water only).
30 - 32 Up ragged to junction (mix of running and hiking)
32 - 33+ Finish!
Coming with me from Whites were Peter Howe and Tristan Wiliams. They both were on board to spot bikes at the finish and bike back to the truck in Sunapee after the race. We stayed in Sunapee that night making for a low-key morning with just a 5 minute drive to the start. The goal for the race was a sub 5:30. I know my leg speed isn’t where it was a couple years ago but the weather was favorable. The plan was to push the first 10 miles and get the HR up in the mid 150s then settle into the race once it hits the trails. The other goal was to try and get top 5 which was going to be interesting knowing that there were three untouchable runners in the race (Sinclair, Robinson, and Flahrety) but Peter Howe was a wildcard who I could see having a very good day plus all the other dark horses like MIchael Pulli, Mike Veilleux, and a few runners I hadn’t raced. On one hand it doesn’t matter, race your own race but it makes a huge difference having someone to work with and push you on this course. It’s easy to fall into a lull and hike when you could be running.
The start of the race went smooth, no issues and we clicked off miles along on the roads. I never felt smooth or completely at ease. My pace was on par with 2017 but I could already feel a little fatigue in my hip flexors. Not a great sign early in the race. From the gun Sinclair and Robinson shot off, Flahrety not far behind. Peter was running with Brian Amaral. and I found myself with Pulli trying to catch back up to Peter. Tristan was taking it easy and caught up to us a few miles in. He settled in with me which was great to have someone to run with.
We cruised through the first aid station and enjoyed the easy terrain before hitting the trails. We caught back up with Peter and Brian at the 10.5 aid and all went into the woods together. It was here that Peter and Brian took off. We would catch a few glimpses of them over the next mile but that was it. Tristan and I flowed through soft trails and newly logged clearcuts. Again, nothing felt great but at the same time, I seemed on pace with 2017. I ended up passing Mike Veilleux on the descent into the 19 mile aid and Tristan seemed to hang back. I was quick out of the aid station, only needing to fill up a bottle and began the grind up the next 600’ climb. I kept waiting for someone to catch me but there wasn’t anyone around me. The body started to heat up and I found myself finishing my bottle pretty quick. I knew there was a stream at the 4A road crossing so planned on a refill there. On the run down to the road I could feel a twinge in my right knee, more on that later. My legs were getting tired but I was already 3+ hours into the race. While filling up my bottle at the stream, Tristan had caught back up. He was doing well but his soft flask lid had cracked at the first aid station. The next section up Bog Mountain we finally got a few short hiking sections which was much to our relief. It’s a great climb though, mostly runnable and finally some nice views on the ledge section near the top. We passed a few hikers along the way but were still waiting for at least one runner to fall back - I’ve always caught someone in this section. We summited Bog after hitting a dead-end lookout and began the steep and technical descent. Here we caught and passed Brian, well I passed him but Tristan hung back and that was the last I saw of him. My legs were still feeling “good” and it was a short section to the next aid station at mile 26. This is where I’ve cramped up in the past but nothing yet. At the aid station I grabbed some fruit and refilled my water plus a gel. Everything was going well and I didn’t have any issues until the cramps showed up coming off the rail trail to New Canada Rd. The change from running flat road for over a mile then getting up to the main road really shocks the muscles. The leg cramps stopped me in my tracks for a few sections but I was able to walk it off and start the climb. I made it to the last aid station and filled my bottle for the last time. I was excited for the last climb because there would be plenty of hiking sections, my runners were toast. When the climb up ragged got steep I started doing some run / hike intervals, playing any game possible to take my mind off the fatigue I was feeling. Eventually I gained the ridge but there are a few really bad false summits before you hit the ski area. I kept checking the rearview but there wasn’t anyone ahead of or behind me. Eventually I hit the summit and began the final descent down the ski trail. The calves immediately seized up and it was the exact same thing that happened last year where I could barely make it a few steps without my calves turning into knots. Again, I looked back and didn’t see anyone so didn’t force it. Eventually you can start to hear the finish and then you can see it with a long run across the bottom of the mountain that even has a little uphill to it. I shuffled across the finish in 5th place in a time of 5:23, hitting both my goals. Ahead of me there was a battle for 1st that came down to the finish with 3 seconds separating David Sinclair from Ben Robinson. A stout 3rd place from Peter Howe in what I’d consider a break-thru race for him - his potential is BIG. Matt Flahrety was 13 minutes ahead of me and from there it was spread out.
Tom Hooper / Six03 does a great job hosting this event since they took it over. We enjoyed our included beer and lunch before heading off on our bikes back to Sunapee. We completely underestimated how long it would take us to get back, or at least the effort climbing all those hills on shot legs. It was fun though and put a nice bow on the day.
Overall the race went well. I hadn’t been running consistently this year which has been something I’m looking to change moving forward. I was realistic about my race goals and for hopping in last minute, I couldn’t ask for much more. There weren’t really any major takeaways - you need to be fast on the roads and trails to do well in this race which is fun combo and if you’re lacking on trails, you’ll probably get some nasty cramping / fatigue. I’m hoping to do the stage race one of these years!
**epilogue - around mile 23 or so I noticed a pain in my left knee, it was a new pain on the side that I' had never felt before. It wasn’t a show stopper but I’m always hyper aware of these things. It never escalated and honestly I forgot about it for the rest of the race and the bike home. The next morning I felt it just walking around the yard and almost bailed on a morning hike. The next day, a half mile into the local weekly fun run it was still there - a sharp acute pain on the outside of the knee. Sure enough when I did some research it was classic IT band syndrome. That freaked me out and I shut things down knowing that I didn’t have long before heading to Chamonix and putting in two monster weeks. I did some rolling, and several exercises to try and nip it at the bud. More on this to come…