Trail Running Challenge Blog (Ethan Banks)

Waumbek 1:59:58 (PB) Grid 290/576

I headed up Waumbek today, with a vague idea I might be able to hammer it out fast. My SO and frequent trail running partner was with me, and she was up for it. So we spiked up at the car, then headed down Starr King Trail to see what was what.

What we had were perfect trail conditions for a fast day. Packed snow over ice, and almost no boniness in the trail at all. A grippy sidewalk. So we laid into it, power hiking immediately.

Mile 1 split. 22:20.

Not bad, as the climb gets real almost from the parking lot. My hamstrings were fatigued, though. The previous 2 days I'd hiked the winter Twins and an ~8.5 mile road run, so my legs had done some work. I was fighting to maintain pace, doing my best to ignore the tired feeling. That felt safe to do as nothing was hurting. We powered on.

Mile 2 split. 24:11.

Some steeper bits in that second mile, although also some shallower sections, too, once you transition into the spruce tunnel. We also starting picking up some wind in there. The high summits were to be around 30mph winds out of the WNW, and we felt it just a little. Mostly sheltered, but enough to notice.

Mile 3 split. 20:25.

This included a stop to throw on another layer. We'd wet out, and dropped some temp during the climb, so we were feeling a little cold and thought we might catch some more wind up higher. But this mile also included the drop into the col between Starr King and Waumbek, where we picked up some speed.

Mile 4 split. 16:38.

This mile started at roughly the bottom of the col, and then climbed ~300 feet up to Waumbek summit, with only one severe pitch right at the end. We hit the turnaround at the summit with a quick tag, then headed back down into the col, where the mile ended close to where it began.

Mile 5 split. 14:51.

The mile climbed out of the col back to Starr King summit, and then we dropped in hard. We lost some time in here. If my hamstrings had been less fatigued, I could have picked up maybe 2-3 minutes running more of the uphill to Starr King. I just couldn't muster the force of will to make my legs do it.

I remember checking our time at Starr King, and seeing 1h30m. I thought, "No way I can make it down the hill in a half hour. Can't do it. My quads will explode."

Once we dropped in though, it was go go go. I was still doubting we could hit sub 2 hours, but I sensed there was a hero run in us. The trail was just so fast. We blasted down the one short steep pitch just off of Starr King summit, and then went hard into the spruce tunnel, looking out for the ice bulges near the spring.

Mile 6 split. 12:02.

This was perhaps the most focused mile I've ever run. I tried to drop my running partner in the spruce tunnel as I'm often the faster downhiller, but she wasn't having it. I got a little ahead of her, but she reeled me back in.

My brain was 100% focused on skipping over ice bumps, computing how to navigate a right-to-left juke around a small tree, deciding whether to leap over the top of that rock just barely showing or foot plant next to it, and zooming up little rises without losing too much momentum. Are my knees good? Am I too hot? Should I take my hat and gloves off?? (Yes, I should, and I did.) Don't slip on the ice. Don't posthole off the edge. Push push push!

The mile wore on and I'd steal a glance at my watch now and then. I had a course loaded, so I knew how much distance was left. I'd do math. "Can we get it under 2 hours? It's just too far. Your quads aren't happy with you. It's going to be 2:0-something." My previous PB was 2:08. I figured I could beat that, but not get sub 2.

Then my SO called out the last mile split her watch announced. I don't remember what she said exactly. 12:something. I did the math one more time. Wait. Hang on. It would be close, but maybe we could do this.

Mile 6.91 split. 10:30.

We picked up the pace a little bit more. The trail surface was getting sticky, but never quite got to the balling stage--too icy for that. We pushed across the little stream cuts above the cistern. Had to plant feet just right to cross the narrow gullies of open water and not break off an ice chunk.

Then the cistern was just...there. So suddenly, it felt like. Okay then...0.25 to go. A hiker was there taking pictures. I called from above, "Two coming through!" and he made way for us. I kept glancing at my watch. So close. We were so, so close to that elusive sub 2 hour time.

We hoofed it down below the cistern, hit the final corner, and lit the last match. Hard to the car. Almost a dead sprint. Touched the back of the car (because that's our rule), hit stop on the watch...and...there it was. 1:59:58.

We did it. Sub 2 hour. PB for both of us.

My thanks to Coach K. She's only been working with me for about six weeks, but I'm seeing so many improvements.