Well it’s Wednesday morning and I can go down stairs quickly again. The Catamount Ultra 25K (part of the Salomon Running Festival) was unlike anything I have ever done and proved to be just as difficult as I suspected. All in all I’m really glad I did it. Thinking back, the race exists in my brain as a series of four segments in which my running style got progressively wilder and slower.
The weather was near perfect last Saturday (June 22) at the start and I stood shivering next to my Skirack colleague Sara Falconer, feeling excited and ready to go. My legs felt surprisingly fresh and it seemed like my bizarre combination of post Vermont City Marathon rest, low-milage and hill training had done the trick. This actually proved true; at no point in the race did I feel under trained in a general fitness sense, although I did feel vastly under trained when it came to this type of race. Basically, I felt fit but slow if that makes any sense.
When the race began, we all scrambled up a slope that leads to what I think of as the Trapp Family Lodge ski trails. I stuck close to Sara and for around 1.5 miles I did a type of running that I never achieved again during the remainder of the race - short, quick and relaxed strides. I was probably in the top fifteen or twenty for women at that point. After the first mile, I quickly lost Sara who went on to finish thirteenth; and I was thirty sixth.
During mile two, I settled into a slower gait and started walking all the steep parts. A fair amount of people were passing me during this section. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing but I knew that I needed to slow down. Fifteen miles was starting to sound like a hilarious joke as mile two stretched longer and longer. The first five miles went along in this fashion, with a lot of people zooming by me. The hill walking that I did here was definitely faster than what I was able to do later on but time seemed to be moving slow. Sam Von Trapp passed me during the fourth mile and called to a pack of us that the aid station was just ahead. I felt like I’d been running for hours.
Aid stations are very different in trail races than they are for road. During my marathons I would not pause to drink water, but rather fold my paper cup in half and take a few sips without breaking my stride. I was obsessed with not losing time. I would have my gel torn open and ready to go as I approached the water station and the whole operation would take seconds before I was off again. The first aid station was another business entirely. I slowed to a walk as I approached and stopped entirely to catch my breath and refill my water flask. I propped up my foot on a stump and tightened my shoe laces. I kept thinking about the fact that I wasn’t even a third of the way to the finish, while more and more runners blew by me. When I finally got going again, probably only a minute later in reality, I was happy to discover that the terrain was easier now that we were past the cabin.
This began what I now remember as the third section of the race: with the first being my sub-nine minute first mile and the second being the pre-cabin unpleasantness. This section was better because I was able to gain ground on the downhill and then when it transitioned to flat I felt strong and energized. I was able to run like this while power-walking most of the uphills for the next several miles and through the second aid station.
Time was moving more quickly now and before I knew it we had passed mile ten. The race lagged again as we ran through grassy fields on the other side of the road. The fields were hot and my hill walking was getting slower. It also became harder to control my legs and I felt like I was constantly almost rolling my ankles. I had fallen at mile nine because I wasn’t picking up my feet and tripped; my classic late-race shuffle that works pretty well on roads was coming back to bite me.
I told myself I just had to make it to mile thirteen and then I would be able to mentally push through the last two miles. Miles ten through thirteen were definitely the most difficult to get through - not in an extreme way, but more in a dull, "my back hurts, and I’m ready to take my socks off" kind of way.
The problem was when I got to mile thirteen, the end didn’t seem too close either. I tried tricking myself by saying “It’s just a Chloe P cool down” (Chloe P is my training partner who practices proper warm ups and cool downs in a way that I sadly do not). This sort of worked in my head but I was still going really slow. At one point I gave myself a good scare when I looked at my watch displaying my current pace and it said 20:22. As in 20:22 per mile. I thought “Good lord!” but I kept walking real slow up the hill. I was also doing a strategy at this point where I was walking completely doubled over because it felt better on my lower back.
I wanted to speed things up as we grew closer to the “one mile to go” mark, but the vain side of me also wanted to keep my questionable walking form hidden in the woods and save my energy to run again when people could see me.
The race ended with a gradual gravel uphill where I was able to run at a decent pace again although it did not resemble any type of finishing kick. I felt a sharp pain in my foot and was certain there was a bee in my sock but when I bent down to investigate it turned out to be a large black ant. I think I got it out or at least it stopped biting me as the gravel turned to grass and I accelerated through the finish.
As I crossed the finish line, I was greeted by my parents and a post-race party already in full swing. I immediately took my shoes and socks off. The cool grass on my feet felt insanely good and I couldn’t stop grinning. I found my Skirack teammates and collapsed in the sun with a Von Trapp pilsner.
Now three days later, I’ve had some time to sift through my thoughts. I am immensely glad that I ran the Catamount Ultra 25K and was able to experience the community that is Vermont trail racing. In the end, I think I’m still too motivated by chasing PRs in shorter races to transition entirely to trail, but it doesn’t have to be “either or” situation. I’d love to return to Trapps next year with a better mileage base under my belt and try to crack the top twenty-five.
Since Saturday, I keep thinking back to the race and how it felt. Although I’ve highlighted many of the tough parts, the race was undeniably exhilarating. Even walking a flat at mile 13, I felt powerful. It’s funny, but since the race I’ve noticed a change in my legs as I run uphill. They feel so much stronger. I’ve always been afraid of hills to the point where I’ll rearrange my training runs around Burlington to avoid anything too steep. Since running the Catamount Ultra 25K at Trapps, I’m ready to turn over a new leaf - I might even voluntarily run up Depot Street now!
I’d like to thank Ironwood Adventure Works, Salomon, and the Trapp Family Lodge for putting on incredible event and Skirack for supporting me through this endeavor! I hope to see everyone out on the course again next year!
- Chloe Egan,
Skirack Run Specialist
Click here to learn more about Chloe.