Accomplishing a Goal:
Breaking the Long Trail Speed Record
By David Horton
Im a firm believer in goal setting; always have been; always will be (as Im sure most of you are as well). We are all driven (to various degrees) to pursue performing, achieving, accomplishing goals, activities, records in events that bring us a relative amount of satisfaction, joy, and/or pleasure. In my life, I have found that I can achieve a relative amount of success in ultra/multi-day events, i.e. Trans-America and Appalachian Trail.
I had toyed with the idea of trying to break the Long Trail (LT) speed record for several years. I seriously thought about an attempt in the spring of 1998, but cancelled due to the tremendous tree damage earlier in the spring of 1998. Late in the summer of 1998, I suggested to Courtney Campbell that he try to break the LT record. He was willing and I agreed to help he and his father crew him. So in late July of 1998, Courtney was successful in his attempt on the LT, completing it in a record-breaking time of 5 days, 14 hours and 53 minutes. It had physically destroyed him. The last two-three days, Courtney was going very slow. He showed unbelievable drive and courage to persevere through intense pain and suffering. Only those who have attempted such a feat, know exactly what Im talking about. Courtney was not totally satisfied with his time. He thought that it was possible to finish within 5 days so did I. Crewing him gave me much valuable insight.
The Long Trail is the oldest hiking trail in the U.S.; even older than the Appalachian Trail (AT) which was completed in 1937. The LT runs through the middle of Vermont from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts border. The southern 102 miles of the LT is also the AT. Shortly after Sherburne Pass (Route 4, outside Rutland), the LT and AT split with the LT going due north and the AT heading north and east.
What does it take to accomplish a goal?
|To avoid a 1,000 foot climb to the start at the Canadian/U.S. border, Fred and I hiked up to the trail terminus on Monday night and pitched a tent on the border. A very strong warm front had moved through the northeast on Monday and Tuesday bringing very high temperatures. The wind howled all night long with one heavy rainstrom occurring as well. Peter had stayed in a hotel in town we should have as well. I slept about one hour.||
Fred Pilon and David
|Rising at 4:00 a.m. the wind had slowed up a bit and the rain had
stopped. At exactly 4:30 a.m., my trek south began. Courtney had started at 5:30 a.m.
Why go north to south and not vice versa? Others had gone south to north. The LT from the Mass/VT border to Brandon Gap (122 miles) is much smoother and considered the easier section. The northern part from Brandon Gap to the Canadian border (149 miles) is much more difficult. Is it better to start with the easier section, when you can make good progress, or end with the easier section when you are more beat up? Personally, I prefer more difficult sections early in an event.
I ran the first 29 miles primarily by myself. Peter and Fred would go out a little ways from the road crossings and return. At that point (VT 118), I was joined by two great ultrarunners from Vermont, Dot Helling and Laura Ferrell. It was great running and talking with these ultra legends. They are truly classy ladies!
After 50 miles (VT15), I was joined in the last section by the top over 50 ultrarunner in VT, Ralph Swenson. I was very concerned about going through this section (Madonna Peak and Whiteface Mtn.). Courtney had gotten lost in a heavy rain and thick fog in this section in 98. As we started up the hill, it began to rain off and on. The rain soon became heavier and the fog began rolling in. We lost sight of the trail at the top. We looked several different directions no trail no markings. The visibility was about 10 feet. The wind was howling as well and I was becoming chilled. We found refuge in a ski hut and read the guidebook and studied the maps. They were not of much help. At this pint, I was considering spending the night there or just running down a ski slope and seeing where it came out.
Finally, Ralph found the trail and we began our descent. After the trail goes in the woods a while, it comes back out on another ski run and we lost the trail again. After what seemed an eternity, we made it off the mountain and covered the last two miles of the LT in Smugglers Notch to the finish at the base of Mt. Mansfield.
We finished the day at 2:37 a.m. (21 hours & 51 minutes) which was much longer than I had anticipated. Peter and Sue Johnston heated some food up at the VT State Ski and Dorm Hostel. I could eat only a little of it as I downed a couple of cans of Ensure Plus©, the drink that I consumed frequently throughout the day. Getting to bed around 3:00 a.m., had made for a really long day.
I was awakened by Fred at 5:37 a.m. on Wednesday morning. I really didnt feel too bad considering the length of the previous day and the lack of sleep. After a couple of cans of Ensure Plus © I was ready for DAY 2.
The initial climb up Mount Mansfield gained 2793 feet in 2.3 miles to the summit. This was a very difficult start for the beginning of day 2. The mountain top was covered in a hazy fog as Sue and I approached the summit. The only thing we saw on top were a couple of snowshoe rabbits. The rock hopping trail on top was neat and Im sure the views would have been great had it not been for the fog!
Our first road crossing did not occur until Bolton Notch Road (18.4 miles). Fred had hiked back into the Nebraska Notch to meet and re-supply us. This very difficult section took us over 7 hours to complete. The next 8 miles were much easier and completed in 2 hours.
Normally, I like to lead when Im doing an ultra, but after darkness set in, I began to fall on the mud-slickened, wet, rocky, rooty, and overgrown trail. In the next half mile, I fell three or four times. I asked Sue to lead and was able to follow her by watching her shoes. This also meant I ran into overhanging trees and limbs that she forgot to warn me about! If Sue had not been there, I have no doubt that I would have been much slower in this section.
Finishing at 11:32 p.m. was a welcome relief compared to the previous night. Getting to bed early was very important, so that I could get an early start on a very long day planned for DAY 3 59.1 miles.
I probably enjoyed the next section of trail more than any other. The LT climbed high and quickly to a ridgeline that crossed several ski areas. The trail was in good shape, the weather was great, and the views were spectacular. This was what it was supposed to be like to do an adventure run.
What usually follows a high point in an ultra or life? You guessed it, a low point. From the next gap, Lincoln to Middleburg (17.3 miles) I got into low spirits and just wasnt into it. Physically, I didnt feel too bad, I just was mentally depressed. When I saw Peter about halfway through this section he said, "I expected to see you about 30 minutes sooner!" I had to agree with him that I should have been there earlier!
Fred and I left Brandon Gap at 6:35 to complete the final 20.3 miles (no road crossings) segment to Sherburne Pass and VT 4. The LT was supposed to become easier in this section and it did. The trail for several miles was an old abandoned road. Thereafter, the trail was in fairly good shape. The only exception was that the trail had not been cleared of undergrowth in a very long time. There were also stinging nettles in this section that were extremely bothersome.
After the initial climb, I noticed what felt like a blister on the ball of my left foot. Because of the mud and rain of the first two days, my feet were extremely wrinkled. Sure enough, a blister was forming. By the end (2:03 a.m.) my feet were getting in very bad shape many blisters. In spite of all of this, we averaged 3.7 mph in this section much of it in the dark.
With 102.5 miles to go and the easier section of the LT coming up, it sounds like I had it made wrong again! Prior to starting, Fred did a masterful job of taping up my feet. Im not sure how many blisters I had at that point, but I know that my feet were very sore and beat up. The climb up Pico and Killington Peaks was enjoyable and after the first 15-20 minutes, the feet felt okay.
As the day wore on, I could tell my feet were getting worse. The downhills became more and more difficult and painful. Slowly and painfully the miles became longer and began to pass much slower. I remember back to how Courtney had suffered through this section. Was he suffering more or was I? Who was slower?
Arriving at Mad Tom Notch, I had 5.2 miles to go for the day to reach VT 11/30. I told Fred that he needed to re-tape my blisters and clean them up. The only thing he had to clean them with was alcohol !*$&#!@ I cant begin to tell you what a pleasure that was! Peter walked with me as I struggled through the last section in 1 hour and 50 minutes.
I hated to take the tape off at the hotel that night. My feet looked like they had been put through a meat grinder. They were worse than I had ever had in my life. Yet, I still had 54.4 miles to go! I told Fred the only way I could make it was if he did a masterful job of taping (once again) using Compeed, bandaids, moleskin and duct tape. I didnt know if I would even be able to walk, no matter how good a job he did. The blister on the ball of my left foot was extremely painful with every step.
With the longest sleep time of the four nights (4.5 hours) I began at 4:44 a.m. with a very, very slow walk. Each time the left foot hit the ground it was excruciating! My goal was to be able to walk at least 2.5 mph. I just wanted to finish before 4:30 a.m. on Sunday. Finishing before that time would be less than 5 days. At first, I would take 2 ibuprofen every 3 hours, then 2 ˝ hours, then down to 2 every hour. It never killed the pain, it never went away, it just hurt, and hurt, and hurt.
With a lot of prayers (by me and others) I made the first stretch (17.6 miles) averaging 2.87 mph. This also included a good tough climb to the top of Stratton Mtn. (3936) and a very painful 1700 descent to the next road crossing. Two more miles brought us to the last road crossing before a very long section. The temperature had become a little hot and the deer flies and black flies were swarming. Fred and I covered ourselves with a concoction that a friend of mine (Bob Ellinwood from Lynchburg) had made. It seemed to work as they didnt land as much.
From USFS 71 to VT 9 (20.6 miles) there are no road crossings. I remember vividly pacing Courtney through here last year. It took him over 12 hours. It was the most difficult section I had ever crewed a runner. It is very remote and there is not much water. Peter was going to try to find a way into Glastenbury Mtn. Which is about halfway through. Fred went a little ways with me and turned back.
My spirits were sinking lower as the temperature went up. Downhills were becoming unbearable and everything else (flats and uphills) were becoming just as painful.
I passed one water source which looked pretty bad. I heard something and looked up and running down the trail was Bob Dion. Bob had crewed me on the AT in 1991. Bob is one of the top ultra-runners in all of the northeast. He had surmised from our reports on the web page that I would be in this area and thought I might need help. Boy was that an understatement! Once again, the Lord provided my needs!
It was a pleasant diversion to see him as we had not seen each other sine 1991. We had much to talk about and the time passed by a little quicker. Bob even talked me into climbing the Glastenbury Fire Tower. What a view!!! You could see Mt. Mansfield and Camels Hump in the distance and also where I was going to finish. The 360° view was spectacular.
In the last 1.5 miles to VT 9, you descend 1,000 feet. You can guess how that felt. My emotional state was starting to wear very thin. My goal had been to get to VT 9 before dark. We arrived there at 8:00 p.m. and after eating a little and re-supplying, Peter and I left for the last 14.3 miles at 8:13 p.m. I told them that I felt that it would take me approximately 7 hours to do the last 14.3 miles. It ended up taking 7 hours and 9 minutes. There were two more road crossings, one 2.6 miles from the end and the other 3.1 miles from the end.
Peter kept talking and tried to take my mind off the pain I continued to experience with my blisters. It helped a lot, but the pain was always there. I was getting slower and slower.
Fred drove me back to his place for a bath. Peter drove just a few minutes and pulled over and slept for a few hours. After sleeping two hours, I woke up starving. We drove into Great Barrington, MA for a hearty breakfast. Boy did some greasy bacon, waffles and several glasses of cold milk taste great!
It was a l-o-n-g miserable drive home! Arriving in Lynchburg, I picked up my wife and she drove me straight to Dr. Wortleys home. It was after midnight, but he was waiting to help me out. He had just finished supervising a 24 hour Odyssey Adventure Race that evening ... and I knew he was exhausted ... but he spent about an hour doctoring me up. Medical attention on his part will attribute to a quicker healing than if I had just left them alone.
Monday, I could not walk. My feet were still extremely swollen and very sore. I had to crawl around the house on my hands and knees. And much to my wifes dislike...she had to lend me a helping hand on more than one occasion (she was really good about it ... I dont know what I would have done without her!) On Tuesday and Wednesday, I could walk a little, but with great difficulty and movement was very slow. There are two large open sores (from the blisters) on my left foot, which are causing me the most serious problems. The worst blister was on the ball of my left foot about the size of a silver dollar. The other is about the size of a quarter on the inside of my left heel. Hopefully, I will be moving around easier by this weekend. When will I run again? I dont know right now. But you know me ... Ill be out there as soon as I possibly can!
Was it worth it? Yes. I am very pleased with the effort and the results. Did I "suck" it up? Never have I suffered more than I did last Saturday. It was the hardest day of my entire life.
As I write this, I hold the speed record on the AT and LT. This is a great accomplishment! However, by the end of this month, Pete Palmer will probably break my record on the AT. On June 20, Jerry De Zutler will be starting at the Canadian border trying to break my newly acquired record on the LT. Oh well ... I attempted and attained. I cannot complain.
Will I go back out and try to regain these records should one or both of these guys or even someone else breaks one of my records? If the AT record falls, I "probably" will not go after than record again. As for the LT ... I dont know. It is always easier to do one of these major challenges the first time. The second time is much more difficult.
The LT was a real challenge. I want to thank all of those who helped me, in particular Fred Pilon and Peter Gagarin. Support ... great support ... is needed to accomplish any great challenge.
Whats next? White River 50 in Washington State in July. What about major challenges? I still havent finished the 5 loops at Barkley!!!!
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