On February 16, Jen and I headed up I-91 to the mountain in late afternoon, and I signed up in time to allow myself a good mile-long warmup jog on a loop road at the base of the ski area. I also took a second warmup once I'd put my spikes on. It was pretty cold out, so the warmups were essential for getting me warm enough to consider removing my jacket. Which was totally the right call as you definitely don't want to be wearing too much once you start running up a ski slope.
Snow conditions were highly variable, with everything underfoot from bare ice to a few inches of powder to glazy crust over half a foot of super-soft fluffy stuff. Most of us opted to wear microspikes, though some wore nanospikes, Yaktrax, or snowshoes, and a few brave souls even didn't wear any traction at all (I have no idea how that could have worked). Normally you can choose to use all sorts of gear at the Winter Wilds, but no one was allowed to use skis here at this one since it was a night race and only the lowest portion of the slope was lit up. Headlamps were required the whole way.
headlamps in the twilight
that's me in all black near the right edge of the photo
and they're off!
(photos by Jen Garrett)
In retrospect I wish I'd spent a little extra energy to get further ahead here. I didn't have much more in me, but soon we hit a switchbacky section on narrow singletrack and the pace slowed significantly as many of us got stuck behind people who'd gone out too fast. I didn't want to go a lot faster, but I did want to go a little faster. A consolation, however, was that the sight of dozens of headlamps winding up the slope through the trees ahead, lighting up the snow as they went, was an absolutely gorgeous sight. Magical even.
Eventually we reached a long, steady, curving climb up ski slopes, and the line stretched out slightly. I passed a few people but then got passed by a few others, including a couple of awesome young kids (maybe 10 years old?) who were running up with their parents. My watch told me it took just over 20 minutes to climb the first mile. The traction was generally pretty good, though sometimes our feet slipped backwards and the occasional patches of glare ice were a bit disconcerting.
The climb continued, and the grade steepened slightly near the top. It felt like we'd slowed to a crawl. The top of the climb was about 2/3 of the way up the mountain; we began descending from it very quickly once we reached it. The descent was definitely faster, but it took some effort to ensure safe purchase even with the spikes. I could have run with wilder abandon, but I kept thinking about how I've been on blood thinners since November (full story behind that here), and I'm not looking forward to my first bloody injury on them. My second mile actually took 22 minutes.
The final mile was far and away the most fun. Most of it was on swoopy, switchbacking singletrack trail, and again it was a delight to see the lights ahead (fewer this time) bobbing through the woods below. It was a little hard to find the right way when we came back out onto ski trails (and viewing the Strava flyby video reveals a few wrong turns in this area), but I was keeping pace with a young woman named Paige and between the two of us we managed to stay on course with no time lost.
descending under the moon; that's actually me during a warm-up jog
I finished in just under an hour, and had a blast. Jen was at the line, shivering almost uncontrollably as it took me a bit longer than I'd estimated and she'd been standing out there in the cold night air for quite a while. She got some great (if a bit understandably grainy) shots of the start on her phone, though, and I'm really grateful that she was there to support me.
start and finish were at the base of the ski trails (upper left on the map)
There seemed to be a fairly boisterous social scene in the lodge at the end, but we left before the awards. I came in about mid-pack and had no chance of winning anything, but mostly we left because we were chilled and hungry and wanted to head to a restaurant on our way home (we ended up stopping at a place in Bellows Falls). Overall it was a very well run event and I have no complaints at all. If it's on again next year, I'd definitely consider going back for more!