Sunday, June 2, 2013

Peak Races

On Saturday I arrived at Riverside Farm in Pittsfield, VT just in time to catch the start of the Peak Ultra 50 and 100 mile races. I'd left Amherst around 3:30 to make the 6AM start time; with no traffic and clear weather, I gotta say it was an extremely pleasant drive all the way up I-91, VT 103, and Route 100.

These races are truly insane. In the best way, I mean. The course is extremely difficult. It crosses rivers, follows muddy snowmobile trails, and relentlessly ascends and descends various peaks of the Green Mountains. The winner of the 50-mile race said she measured something like 12,000 feet of climbing. Imagine hiking a 4,000 footer, then do it three times, running, and make your total mileage for the day = 50. Two other events were occurring at the same time as the 50 and the 30: a 200-mile race that had started two days earlier (I was later told that everyone had dropped from that one) and a 500-mile event that had started a week ago (one man was in the mid-400's and one woman was somewhere in the 300's). 

After shooting the start I talked for a while with Brian, the videographer from New York, who kindly shared with me the location of the river crossing. It was only a few miles north, so we had to hurry. I ended up getting many of my favorite shots of the day there, and am so thankful for the tip. Once the last runners had come up from the river and crossed Route 100 to Amee Farm Lodge (I think; there was some mention of several who had overshot the river crossing and started climbing the 10-mile loop of the 100-mile course), around 7AM, it was off to the general store for coffee and a quick breakfast sandwich. 

crossing the mighty Tweed

The 30-mile race (it says something that the 30-mile race is regarded as the "fun run" of this day) started at the end of the passable part (for regular cars) of Upper Michigan Road. I'd meant to shoot that as well but decided to stay at a sunny spot a few miles farther down to catch the majority of 50-milers again as they came out from their first major mountain section. From then on it was all a bit chaotic as I tried to ascertain course routes and logistics. 

I ended up hiking a few miles up the Bloodroot loop until I got to the height of land west of Thousand Acre Hill that also happened to be the end of the road even for high-clearance vehicles. I'd only seen a couple of runners that whole stretch, all from the 50-mile race (my apologies to the woman who sounded notably unthrilled to see the photographer yet again). Anyway, it was there that I met a guy who was there to cheer on his wife in the 30-mile race, along with two of their friends who were up from Baltimore. These were good peeps, and I laughed at just about everything that came out of the Baltimore guy's mouth. Anyway, I finally figured out that I had missed the 30-milers completely due to some erroneous intel I'd received about which loop they took and when. And it turned out that these guys had missed them too, and would have to race down to the mile 31 aid station (they had to drive all the way south to Killington and then back up towards Chittenden) to catch her. On their way back out this group kindly gave me a lift back to the Upper Michigan Aid Station (thanks again, guys!), which was mile 37 for the 50-milers and mile 17 for the 30-milers.

runner near the height of land west of Thousand Acre Hill on the Bloodroot loop

Heading back out on the Bloodroot loop, I hiked in the OTHER direction, hoping to catch the lead runners of each race as they made their way back to the Upper Michigan Aid Station. This seemed like a good idea in theory, but in practice I ended up not seeing a soul for another hour, at which point I'd crossed the river and hiked up over a thousand feet to where the trail passed over a ridge of an unnamed peak. And by that point everyone was so spread out that I'd only see an average of one runner every 20 minutes or so. If that. So I turned back, catching a few photos here and there, and just getting back as the nasty sounding thunderstorms (that never really did much of anything) loomed threatening in the afternoon sky. 

After this I went down to the finish and took a few more shots along the 10-mile loop, finally calling it a day at 6PM. On the drive home I stopped to jump in a pond and wash the day's sweat, grime, and bug bite blood off. Of course I'd stop to jump in a pond anyday anytime anywhere anyway, but it surely felt good nonetheless. 

6/4: The full photo gallery is now up at Northeast Race Photo; and there's a preview album posted on the Facebook page

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