2013 Seven Sisters Trail Race Report

Yesterday I took part in the Seven Sisters Trail Race, over the Holyoke Range in Amherst, Mass.  And, well…..hooooolllllly…… that one was a doozy!  As the heading on the race website so astutely puts it… “Twelve very hilly, rocky miles”.  I might as well just stop with the race report there….that sums it up quite nicely.

 

Striders at the start (Photo courtesy of Scott Livingston)

Lucky for all of us out there, it was an absolutely beautiful, picture-perfect spring day to be running through the woods.  We got up bright and early and drove up to the race…. despite the fact that I had no idea what I was getting myself into (or, more likely, because I had no idea what I was getting myself into) there were no pre-race nerves or jitters.  I had heard from my fellow trail running friends that this was quite a beast of a race… the “short” distance (yes, 12 miles is now officially short for me) is definitely deceiving.  This course is no joke!

The race starts straight uphill.  We gathered in a stretched out bunch along a short stretch of singletrack that led into the “official” start line.  It’s a tough start, straight up into some pretty rocky, technical trail.  It also gets very bottlenecked (is that a word?), so if you don’t start right up front, you’re going to get stuck and end up walking most of this section (which feels like it goes on forever, but is really only the first 1/2-3/4 of a mile).


Rockin’ my hot pink CEP calf sleeves up the conga-line start 🙂

 

 Video of the leaders heading up the hill at the start

The mass of people all trying to make it up this hill at the same time certainly made things very interesting!  The pack quickly turned to single file, with some areas to pass (or be passed).  From there, it was really just one hill after another!

The course was a constant up and down, with very technical footing the entire way.  This is not a trail race for the faint of heart (or for someone who  has never set foot in the woods.).  I had no idea what to expect, so I tried to stay somewhat conservative for the first half.  There was a LOT of walking up the hills… I expected some, but this was much more than I imagined.  There were lots of steep, rocky, rooty uphills, followed by a matching downhill.  I felt like I was picking my way down the technical descents like a little ballerina… where was my tutu when I needed it!  I was pretty slow down those, and there were lots of people who went bombing by me as I tiptoed from root to rock, trying to make it to the bottom in one piece.  There were a few people that I would pass on the uphills, then they would take me on the descents, and we kept flip-flopping like that for a good portion of the course. Guess I have a clue what I need to work on.  There were also a couple of short sections that were actually hand-over-foot climbing up some rocks/ledge.  Crazy!!  Between these were a few sections of glorious, fantastic, much welcomed runnable singletrack.  Nice break from the quad and butt-busting hill work!  There were some volunteers along the way who had carried water out to a few stops so we could refill.  Major thanks to them for that!

Powering up one of the many hills on the way to finishing!

I made it to the turnaround at around 1:25 or so.  Not too bad, considering I was feeling pretty tired and felt pretty slow.  The halfway point is down a nice, long downhill (almost a mile and a half long!)…… that you immediately turn around and run (ok, walk) back up.  Ouch.  Once I knew I was halfway there, I actually started to feel stronger (though I suspect much of this was mental!).  I found myself running much more of the second half, powering myself up the hills and pushing myself to run rather than do the easy thing and stop to walk, like everyone else.  Surprisingly enough, I found that I was able to run a lot more than I had thought I would.   It got pretty warm out there, and fatigue set in, but I kept pushing!  At around mile 7-8 I found myself in a pretty big pack, with 4 or 5 other women.  I decided to give myself one last shove to see if I could break away from this pack and run myself in.  I ran up a couple of the hills and carried the momentum up and over, and luckily ran into some of the runnable singletrack.  I just kept on going, and broke away from them!  Woo Hoo, mini-mid-pack-victory! 🙂  I pushed myself along and finally made it to the finish.  Not as fast as I would have liked, but without any sort of gague as to what to expect (both of the course and of myself),  I was happy with the result.

I definitely learned a lot along the way in this race.  I am not a particularly strong technical runner…. I’m ok on the uphills, ok on the flats/rolling, and pitiful with the downhills right now.  Have to keep up the strength work and do some technical running practice to get better.  I lose a lot of time and distance on people in the descents right now, and I’m definitely going to have to improve that if I want to improve my times.

What goes up?  Must come down.  And go back up.  And come back down again.  Over.  and Over.

Overall, this was a great race, and I will most definitely be back.  There were a huge number of people (398 starters) crammed onto that course, but besides the start, it never really felt crowded.  You definitely have to get yourself to the front of the starting group if you want to have a prayer of running the beginning.  It was interesting to have the lead runners coming back at me as I headed toward the turnaround, but I felt that I could easily get out  of their way…. I sure hope everybody else did too, they were speedy!  There were plenty of spectators and volunteers along the way, and the trail was easy to follow.  There was also a nice spread of fruit, yogurts, drinks, and pizza after the race.  Yum!  If anyone wants a great trail challenge and a fabulous sense of comraderie within the trail community, head on out to Seven Sisters next year.  I’ll see you there!! 🙂

And if anyone is interested in the results… http://www.7sisterstrailrace.com/results/7sisters2013results.pdf

And here is my garmin file…. take a look at those mile times… uhm ya.  This course? is one tough mutha!  (or 7 of them, I guess :))  The mileage on the garmin file is short.  No idea what is more accurate.  Couldn’t care less.

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/308715876

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