Trail Running Challenge Blog (Ethan Banks)

PB On Cannon Makes Me Think...I Should Lose The Poles

Earlier this week, Cannon Mountain was one of my training assignments. Blast up the steep, wet, ledgy, muddy hill, tag the platform, and then head back down, all via Kinsman Ridge Trail.

When I got out of the car and started putting on gear, I realized I'd forgotten my water bladder. I decided to go up anyway. The route is ~4 miles, and I'd cameled up in the car. Plus, it's SO WET in the Whites this season. I wasn't going to have trouble finding water cascading down Cannon if I really needed it.

The other thing I wanted to try was going without trekking poles. I use superlight, foldable Black Diamond Z-poles, but I have been feeling like they are getting in the way as I try to move faster through the mountains. Cannon proved the point to me.

The Cannon approach from the KRT is arduously steep, as well as technical in many places with boulders, loose rocks, and water running down or across the trail. Without poles, I was able to climb up all of it using my hands to help propel me forward when needed. Grab a tree root, grab a rock outcropping, and pull. The result was similar to the upper body assistance I'd get using poles, but with better flow.

On the shoulder before the final ascent, I thought I might miss the poles, as there are a couple of tenths of standing water and mud to dance around. I didn't miss the poles at all. I've done enough core strength work over the last several months that I had plenty of balance and control, even on poor off-camber footing.

On the descent below the shoulder where it becomes especially steep, again, I didn't miss poles. The flow was so much better without them. Rather than thinking about where I was going to plant poles and then working around the plant (not unlike skiing), instead I looked at safe foot placement, and dropped back to on my hands to negotiate a large boulder or multi-foot drop. As the descent got off of the ledges and went back into the woods with the sand, dirt, and roots, I was able to actually run in places. Without poles to think about, my mind was free to focus on foot placement, balance, and control.

The result of this experiment was a PB, and a time I'd had on my radar for years: sub 2 hours. FKT is about an hour. I'm no threat to the young folks or the elites, but to get myself up and down the hill, taking time on the summit platform for pictures, drinking from a cascade a couple of times, and fighting slowly through the muddy bits on the shoulder, that's a time I'm very happy with indeed. I maybe left 6-7 minutes on the table, meaning if I have a perfect run at my current level of fitness, I could do Cannon in 1:50.

But the big takeaway was to lose the poles. Tomorrow, I have a 21+ mile route in the Sandwich range planned with 6,700' vert estimated. Going to do it no poles. We'll see how it goes.