Sunday, March 21, 2021

Warner Trail out-and-back "First" Known Time

I am not likely to blog often, but since fastestknowntime.com guidelines suggest having a post of some sort with the details, here it is.

Bel Monte 50 miler was supposed to be my first race of 2021 (and a build-up run on the way to Bryce 100), but since COVID-19 is still not under control, and I am not eligible for a vaccine yet, I did not feel it would have been prudent to travel to VA for that race.  So I pulled out and looked around for some interesting other ideas.  Warner Trail appeared on my radar last year as a lesser-known yet still challenging and scenic New England route.  I also noticed that an "out and back" FKT has not yet been established, so I decided to give that a try. 

I am a back-of-the-pack runner and my typical goal is to finish in one piece first and foremost and to enjoy the journey.  Of course, what it means to enjoy an ultra-distance run or a race is a very individual thing and varies from runner to runner, and I won't get any deeper into it here.  With that in mind, I somehow came up with an "A" time goal of finishing in about 14 hours, thinking the whole out-and-back course is just over 6,000 feet of climbing over about 100K.  Rough math translated that to ~13-minute miles.  My "B" time goal was 16 hours (~15-minute miles) and anything beyond that was just going to be a grind to the finish but hopefully without injury.

Weather-wise, I've been hoping to get to the point where most of the snow and ice on the trails would be gone, but temps would still be "reasonable", and of course, no rain.  I've been going back and forth between March 13th and March 20th, and with a warm spell predicted for a couple of days before the 13th and possible rain on the horizon for the 20th, I decided to go for it on the 13th.  There were some strong winds blowing starting the night before, but I figured they won't be too much of a problem.  

I had my "aid" stops planned in North Foxborough, then Wampum Corner in Wrentham, and then at the Southern Terminus of Warner.  The two mid-stops had some gas stations and coffee shops that I was hoping to use for resupply.  I was fortunate to have a GPX of the entire trail from fastestknowntime.com, which I had assumed was created by the one-way FKT holder Steve Levandosky (thank you!).  That definitely saved me from most blunders, but I still managed to miss quite a few turns, both in the woods and off occasional roads/streets back into the woods.

I aimed to start at 4am to give myself a chance to finish during daylight with my "A" goal.  I banked a bit of sleep in the preceding days and predictably could not sleep much the night before.  Was only late by about 15 min and was off by around 4:16 am.

The wind was howling but that wasn't too bad once in the woods.  The first section went pretty well, and that was the only one where I had previously explored a couple of miles.  I think the pace was just right, though a couple of navigational mishaps made it longer by at least half a mile.  Did not help that I dropped a glove and had to backtrack to find it; the day was cold enough and I definitely needed it!  I was happy to see the daylight by the time I got to the first "aid".  Bought some additional snacks and ginger ale, but was unhappy to find the restrooms unavailable at both the Dunkin' and the gas station in North Foxborough.  Oh well. 

The second segment went just fine, with the pace drifting slower more or less as expected.  The wind subsided a bit, but the temps were still somewhere between 36-40F, so I wasn't getting rid of my top layer just yet.  I crossed quite a few streams and there were even officially marked "water holes" though I have no idea if those were for horses or humans.  None of these options looked safe enough to filter with just a regular filter flask, but perhaps with a higher-end filter, this can make the out-and-back a feasible unsupported possibility.  Carrying both food and water for the whole thing is also possible, I suppose, but that would make for a fairly heavy pack. 

Snow and ice were mostly gone with the exception of a few patches here and there, nothing bad enough to slow me down or cause me to slip, thank goodness.  Navigation continued to be a bit of a challenge in places, especially where trees came down, and also around some backyards where having lost sight of the blazes I was hoping I would not be spooking the residents too much.

Grabbed some instant ramen at Cumberland Farms and that was heaven.  I repeated that two more times on the way back -- an awesome way to get some calories, water and salt, as well as to keep myself warm.

The third segment went ok, though I've noted that the total climb being accumulated seemed significantly more than what I was expecting.  The last section around Diamond Hill had a few ups and downs, including some steep ones.  I did not regret leaving my poles at home since at the end of the day the climb was not as much compared to the extra weight, as well as the time it would have taken to switch between using the poles vs. fastening them to the pack when not in use.  The sun was shining and I had taken off my top layer, leaving just the Smartwool long sleeve, which was plenty. 

I reached the Southern Terminus in about 8.5 hours which wasn't too bad, but that's when I knew that I would be way over any of my goals.  No worries, I was careful not to allow too many negative thoughts in, and maintained a "neutral" observation mode, which seemed to work, except for the occasional loud swears when missing a turn yet again.  There is an ice cream shop just outside the Diamond Hill park, where I thought I would grab something before heading back, but I decided it wasn't worth the time and I still had enough water and food for at least a segment, so I headed back.  

No sooner than a mile on the way back, I realized I dropped my phone by accident when I slid on some old leaves.  Had to track back to find it, luckily it was just sitting in the middle of the trail.  More bonus distance and climb (facepalm).

The rest of the way was a grind and a blur though I tried to take a couple of photos.  Last 6 hours was back in the dark, and the headlight lasted just long enough that I didn't have to stop and fumble for the replacement batteries.

Overall time: 21:32:47, nothing special or anything but hey, I went the distance with some bonus. Total climb per my Coros APEX which seems fairly accurate in that department: 8,714ft. Total distance: 68.74 miles, well over the official 65, guessing it's my self-inflicted bonus distance plus maybe a little of the usual GPX drift especially on trails.

The route was fairly scenic and I came away tired but enriched by the experience and thankful we have this hidden gem of a trail, and glad that it's being maintained in a fairly good condition overall.  Bodies of water are always nice to see and there were plenty of streams, little ponds, and reservoirs, including a dam crossing.  It was interesting to go over an old ski hill that still had some lift equipment standing.  There were also a few old chimneys and foundations, and of course some views from hilltops here and there.

A week later, the legs are feeling fine.  The biggest issue is the left achilles tendon, but it's not a new issue for me, I definitely need to give it more strengthening and conditioning attention.  Fingers crossed that I can travel for Bryce 100, as this run and a fairly quick recovery definitely added some confidence that I am on track to be ready.

As always, thankful to finish in one piece, grateful for my health, moral support from my wife, guidance from my coach Greg from At Your Pace Coaching.

More photos:

The start
Tree eats sign

Mustang Farm

Eponymous

Blowdown carnage


Bluff Hill

One of a few chimneys along the way

old ski hill

One of many brooks crossed
The finish


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