Thursday, April 14, 2016

My First Ultra-Run! - TARC DRB (Don't Run Boston) 50km route


I've been an off-and-on runner for the past four years. Last time I really got into running was in 2013 when I tried to train to unofficially run the Boston Marathon. I ended up giving up running in February after having a pretty slow and slightly painful experience on a 200km Brevet bike ride, somehow convincing myself that the running was the problem. I also kind of found running boring and didn't have any friends who did it. Granted, I was sidewalk running at the time here in Boston which seemed like glorified putzing around. I find it sad that no other runners even acknowledge you when you cross paths...

Over the past three years, I've spent most of my free time on long distance bike rides and have accomplished pretty much all my goals I have set for that. I still love riding and spending time with my friends on our bikes but currently have no drive to go further/faster/longer. Since thru hiking the AT, traveling by foot has emerged in me as one of my new favorite things.

I've never really wanted to run a marathon. I knew I could run one, but I hadn't, and that seemed good enough. I only really wanted to check the box to say I had done it. Also paying lots of money to run in a herd of sweaty people on a street for half a day doesn't really appeal to me. I think that's why I never really tried it before..

If I have any heroes in sports, it's ultra runners and long distance hikers. Scott Jurek, Jennifer Pharr Davis, Matt Kirk, and Heather Anderson have all done incredible things that inspire me. I think like them, I enjoy seeing how far I can take myself. I've hiked many 20-30 mile days and felt good at the end. Running an ultra marathon seemed like a fun challenge. I have no idea how far I can travel by foot. I haven't experimented with it...

I ran my first "ultra-marathon" yesterday and it was a lot of fun. I found the TARC DRB (Don't Run Boston) 50km Route online on Tuesday and decided to drive out the next morning to the Blue Hills Reservation and see if I could do it. I've hiked 31 miles before, but it took 18 hours and I walked the whole time. How fast could I cover this distance if I ran most of the way? Would I even be able to? I actually got one of the worst nights sleep in a long time the night before because for the first time in a long time, I really wasn't sure if I could do what I was about to attempt...

Eastern Section Map

Western Section Map


The route is broken into five segments: pink - > blue - > yellow - > green - > orange. The run starts off at Houghton's Pond and follows a meandering course through many popular and not-so-popular trails in the Blue Hills. Pretty much none of the trails in the Blue Hills are blazed or signed. The only markings for the most part are little numbered trail intersection signs that appear at many crossings.

The pink segment was about ten miles long with me holding my map in one hand and my water bottle in the other. I got off course pretty quickly at what must have been at least a five way intersection and it was my first (and thankfully only) bonus mile. This section takes a little used single-track trail up Buck Hill, my favorite summit in the Blue Hills. It was nice being up there at 8am, alone except for all the spring-time birds. I didn't stay long though. The next segment goes over Hawk Hill... never heard of this before and now I know why. The trail over it it pretty narrow, unsigned, and basically disappears into a pile of rocks and fallen trees. My map indicated I should go "up", so I did and luckily I didn't lose much time here and regained a well beaten trail near the top. So Hawk Hill is really cool with secret views and apparently bushwhacking required.  Next I came to Great Cedar Swamp which had an unsuccessful attempt at a bridge made by long sticks. They sank and I got washed to the ankles.. shouldn't have left my spare socks in the car...

Buck Hill
Trail through Great Cedar Swamp

I was relieved to reach the blue segment. This section stays on the skyline trail from just east of Chickatawbut Hill to Eliot Tower and then back to my car at Houghton's pond at mile 16. It was nice to be able to put my map away, take out my trekking poles, and speed hike this technical but familiar section. The skyline trail came and went fast. This really is an amazing trail for being so close to Boston, great views and challenging terrain. I passed a bunch of older folks who were impressed by my speed. I was more impressed by their retiree status.

View of Boston from Elliot Tower

Turkeys on Trail
Back at my car, I was able to change out my shirt, socks, drink two nutrition drinks, and sit for about ten minutes before heading back out for the remaining three sections. It felt good to be halfway done, and I was glad it only took about four hours. I didn't have any real time goal for this run, I just wanted to finish... but I thought doing it in around 8 hours would feel good. I was on pace for that.

Rando bombing the car.
The next two segments, the yellow and the green, were back to being winding with constant map checking. It seemed like there was a turn every few minutes, sometimes every minute. On the yellow section, I still felt pretty strong and managed to run most of the way, only walking on some of the uphills. At the end of the yellow, the route passes through the Mass Audubon Trailside Museum. I've been wanting to visit this place for sometime. I'll have to come back for a lengthy stay but I saw Turkey Vultures, a Bald Eagle, a Red Tailed Hawk, and looked in vain for an Otter while crossing through.... their bird feeders were overflowing with birds too.


The green segment is where I started to get pretty tired. I had to walk up most of the climbs here. I could run most of the flats, and all of the downhills, but occasionally I'd find that my body "just wouldn't run". I could walk fine but if I tried to run I just couldn't.. it was a little weird. This section too had tons of turns so I'm not sure how much time I really lost walking. The highlight here was running down the Blue Hills Ski Slope. Actually the running kind of sucked, but the view was awesome! I had to take a break around mile 23 to eat and rest. This was the first time where I felt like I really needed to stop for a bit...

Blue Hills Ski Slope

"The Puddle"

By the time I got to the end of the green segment, I was 29 miles in, had run almost twice as far as I ever had before, and had done my first "marathon". That felt good but what was even better was seeing I was only a few miles out and it was all on the Red Dot trail. I sat down for five or ten minutes to air out my feet, take out my trekking poles, and eat all the remaining food in my pack. I skipped, shuffled, ran, and walked along the Red Dot trail over a couple of nice single tracked hills and gentler wider paths. Pretty soon Houghton's pond was back in view and all I could do was start running as fast as I could (which wasn't really that fast but it was okay) around the pond to the finish. Woohoo! Then I saw a family with a bunch of kids nearly lose their unleashed dog, recover him, lose him again, recover him, dunno what happened next... hopefully put him on a leash, then I went home.

Coming around the pond. Buffleheads were playing here.

Happy to have finished my first ultra run!



The route was really fun and I hope to do more exploring in the Blue Hills on foot and by bike. This run really opened me up to the maze of trails that exist there... there is so much more than just the popular Skyline Trail. I was really happy with how this run went. I wasn't sure if I could do it, but it worked out and was "Type 1" fun the whole way. I compared my time with historical results online and I'm pretty happy with where I ended up... about the middle of the pack. Since this only took
8 hours it by no means felt like a long adventure but was definitely an exciting, adventurous day. It felt similar to doing a 200km bike ride over the course of a day. I look forward to attempting more runs of this length and trying out some longer runs to see how far I can go..

I recorded this run on Strava and the results are below:









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