Back to the races. It is a great feeling getting back to running Ultramarathons with actually people yet again.
The last time I ran an in-person race was at the Caumsett 50k the very end of February 2020. What transpired afterwards was the crazy year that was 2020. Now in May 2021, things were looking up for my first race, the Manchester to Monadnock 55 miler. As a new resident of New England, it only seemed fitting to open-up with a race in the region.
The Manchester 2 Monadnock 55 miler is a challenging and diverse ultra. It has a unique blend of road running, dirt roads, and trails, with two steep rocky uphill ascents of two local mountains. Looking on paper, the race I felt might be similar to an effort of Tussey Mountainback with a little more technical terrain. What I found was a course that was steeper, had more consistent climbs, and a finishing mountain ascent and descent that is a very rugged but epic way to finish an ultra. Let’s dive in.
The Manchester 2 Monadnock ultra starts in the City of Manchester, the most-populated city in all of New Hampshire. Usually, the race starts at the ball park but instead this year, started at the ice arena. I had been told the race is more of a “fat-ass” style and really it was well put together. Course markings were well-done across the run with yellow arrows and ping flags all along the course. It is an ultra, so you do have to have your wits about where to go, especially since cell phone service is spotty throughout the run. We arrived the evening before the run and grabbed a bite to eat down-town. Manchester is often referred to as “Manch-Vegas” because of the tall buildings and the bustling night-life in New Hampshire. Our hotel was at a Residence Inn Downtown which was a good but also bad move. The race start was at 4am, much earlier than other races of similar distance so we had a hotel close to the start so that we could maximize sleep. Lucky for me, the two beers at dinner helped me sleep like a log while my wife stayed up because of the loud music coming from the night club across the street as well as finding the hotel was like a “party hotel”.
The Race Start:
As we headed to the start, I was excited to head off and enjoy the day which had perfect weather in early May: 74 degrees and sunny. We checked in and got situated. It was a small race field: 50 or so runners. I had been dealing with a bad ankle ligament sprain so this would be a test to see if I was healthy enough to compete. I ran with a slight brace which worked wonders. The race begins out on a bike path trail that is a mix of asphalt and dirt. At 4am, we were off.
I immediately went to the front not knowing if anyone would be with me. I was running around 6:50 mile pace which felt nice and strong in the cool morning. That pace was not something I was planning on averaging for the whole run- rather my goal was to run 50 miles in around 6 hours and 20 minutes and then push the last 5 miles in to finish around 7 hours. I was surprised as a runner came up right beside me and was keeping pace. I have had this happen to me at events before and it was a great thing having some company. Little did I know it was Brandon Newbold, a very strong New England runner and mountain runner known for some strong finishes across the New England Mountain running circuit. We linked up and then shared the miles and had great conversation about New England, and the trail scene. Brandon knows his stuff. Brandon then had to use the bathroom quickly so I kept on going easy.
We hit the first check point in downtown Goffstown by a church. I felt good so I kept going. Brandon eventually caught up as we started the climb up towards North Ucannoc. This was the first mountain ascent and even though it was at 1,300ft tall, I wanted to make sure I did not get lost here as the sun was just starting to come up. We hit the trail and immediately, this was going to be a powerhike. With the steep and rocky terrain, trying to navigate this terrain on road shoes: my 361 degree Fierce, would be a tough task. We then grinded up the mountain. I had a hard time following the flags as some flags were leading the wrong way. Luckily, there was a race volunteer that was hiking up that told us to keep going up. Once at the summit, it was awesome to catch the views. Brandon starting to fly on the downhill and I wanted to take it easy with my ankle so off he went. The next section would have us go onto a snowmobile trail then onto the road on the other-side.
I knew that if I could navigate this section correctly, I would be able to follow the directions on my phone for the remainder of the race. As I lost sight of Brandon, I hit the downhill harder as I went down a riverbed ravine. I saw a pink flag and pushed down the mountain. It was then about a mile down that I hit a road right in someone’s driveway. I had some hunters ask if I had seen any Turkeys, and I was a little wonked out and was like “Nope”. I had been drinking a new energy drink: Liquid IV. What I found was that it would be a little of my un-doing. I ran down the road not seeing a pink flag for about a half mile and then stopped and pulled up my phone. I typed in the road address I needed to be and I was 2.8 miles away. I then realized I was way-off course. I then turned around and sprinted back up the mountain. This was the one spot I tried to avoid getting lost and here I was–lost and now back-tracking. I ran about 2 miles extra but with stopping, lost about 20 or so minutes in total. I finally got back on track and once on the correct road, began to pick things up to 6:40 mile pace.
I started to feel woozy here are my Liquid IV drink was just too much sugar and was playing around with my electrolytes and insulin. I really went into a mental funk knowing I really was going to make my goal tough to reach now. I did my best to compose myself and know, that after 15 miles, I still had a long way to go. After some more miles down the way, I finally came into the town of New Boston. It was here I met with Ashlee and saw Brandon who had to drop because of his own ankle issue. I re-fueled and then kept pushing on.
A New Perspective:
What I loved most about this race, was how the course reminded me of a European-style mountain ultra. Between each check-point, you run up the hills in the area and each major aid station is often in a major town, allowing for you to get that nice boost and change of scenery. So now back in 1st place, I knew I just had to grind. I did not feel great, but know that in ultras, things can change in your favor if you are patient and persistent. I kept taking in calories and pushed up the dirt and paved roads up in the rolling hills of Southern New Hampshire. This is my type of terrain, but for some reason, I did not have the power I usually have and so my pace suffered. I was stalling out at 7:20-7:30 miles when I was hoping to be closer to 7-7:15. I kept plugging away though. The course winds through the woods, with big lakes beside of you and truly it was peaceful and nice. I then hit the next aid station at mile 29 and really re-fueled with lots of solid foods such as hummus which was a big time game-changer. And with all things considered split a 4:06 50k. I was still within reach of my goal as long as I could stay efficient. Off I continued onward down the road.
The Sails :
I did not realize it while I was running this but much of this 29-37 mile section was some form of uphill. It was a grind. I had moments in this stretch where I stopped and looked at my phone to make sure I was following the course directions properly. I wanted to make sure which is in part why my pace started to really slow. I started to lose more of my mental sharpness. The next town would be Peterborough and I knew I had to make it here before a 7 mile run up to the start of the Pumpelly trail. There was a bridge out here and a slight re-route. Ashlee texted me that the flags were hard to follow. I came into the town and as I was running on the road, the flags then disappeared. I started to worry as I had no cell service and was only going off of turn directions of the course saved on the notepad of my phone. I kept down to the highway and made a right turn to eventually find the flags again. It was here that I was hemorrhaging time on a course record assault. We then fueled-up some more and off I went up the dirt road.
Death by Hill:
This next section was death. It was sharp uphills on dirt roads where I just did not have the best traction. Man I just wanted to make it to the Mount Monadnock section. My miles felt slow but I kept plugging away. It was at mile 41 I met with Ashlee again for a quick re-fuel and some sun-tan spray and up I went. I will say this section was cool because to your left through the trees, you could see Mount Monadnock in the distance. As you progressed through here, it kept creeping closer into view. At this point, I was holding on. By the time I made it to the Pumpelly trailhead, it was 6 hours and 46 minutes elapsed in my run. I was almost done, or so I thought. I was felling pretty gassed and knew I was in the home stretch. It is that part in an ultra where you grit your teeth and just get it done.
Pumpelly to Monadnock:
The Pumpelly trail has no markers. It is just one main trail. If you follow it up, you eventually make it to the summit of Mount Monadnock, a 3,000ft plus juggernaut. The first half mile of the trail was nice and relaxed, standard New England trails. I looked at my watch and knew that if I could maintain under 15 minute mile pace, the record would be mine. I pushed along until then the rock-wall came. The trail became something out of Catskill running where I scaled the rock-wall in the woods up. I was now slogging at near 20 minute mile pace. Let me just say this mountain is incredible, but again doing this in road shoes was not the best idea. I pushed as hard as I could often hitting these cool rock gardens, exposed to the sun and sky, where you could look out and see how far you climbed. The thing I did not realize was that the Pumpelly trail is like 8 miles long- and its all rock baby. I got a little lost in the pines as I took the long way around the mountain. There was a decent amount of hikers out on the trail and I kept asking them where the summit was and they kept pointing to a summit that felt like a lifetime away. I kept plugging away.
By the time I finally saw a sign: 1.4 miles to summit, I was so ready to be done. I did not think I was going to get the record at this point. I crawled up to the summit. By the time I finally made it. I took a moment to refuel and video the sights. It was such a grind the last 12 miles to get here and man was it a sweet feeling to have no more big climbs left.
About 5 minutes go by and then another runner came up. I learned his name was Roy. An awesome dude and we chatted before being shown the White arrow trail. To finish the race, we would need to descend the mountain on the White Arrow trail and then run a little gravel road to the final trail section to the reservoir.
Roy and myself descended the mountain together as Roy would take it easy for me with my ankle on the descent. It was amazing to share in this finish. We chatted a bunch and I learned about his running exploits and how he was hovering 15-20 minutes from me all day. Kudos Roy! This section was rocky but more open than the Pumpelly trail. Once we finally hit the road after a 2 mile descent it was like 2 more miles to the finish. As we got closer on the Parker trail to the finish, I asked Roy if he wanted to finish together and he agreed. I was fine with him taking the win but I also think he knew how hard I worked that day and was being a real gentleman about giving that place to me. We could not agree so I think sharing in this victory together was only fitting as we both pushed one another the last few miles.
We crossed the line together with our arms together in 8:46:03. Just about 10 minutes off of the record. We were so close. And I know that if I did not get off-course, even with the slog of a day that I had, I would had just gone under the time.
As an intro to New England Ultra running, the point-to-point ultra of the Manchester 2 Monadnock was the perfect choice. It gave me comfort, it gave me challenge, it gave me comradery, and it gave me hope. As we get the chance to attend organized race events again, I am so grateful to be a part of the New England community. From the race directors, volunteers, to the athletes, I felt so welcome and in a way this was a baptism by fire to the world of New England Ultras. Some times you do not have your best day- that was my day, but know that great stories are not always so sugar-coated. The raw experiences make this race special for me. And to get to share the experience with two special athletes was something I will never forget. I have learned that results are not everything and only tell a fraction of the story behind the result. My hope is that as ultra running becomes more commercialized, athletes can still compete not for the results, the glory, the $$$, but for the comradery and journey that we go on when we push ourselves along side others. Each athlete has a story and that shared experience, is what I missed in the time of Covid. When we run together, incredible things can happen as we look to get the most out of ourselves and our fellow racers.
Race Recommendation: Absolutely. Go out there and do it! It makes me want to run across the whole state of New Hampshire. It is a beauty state!
What did I use for this run:
Running Shoes: 361 degrees Fierce road shoes
Buff: Dion Snowshoes Orange Buff
Gels: Boom Gels (Vanilla Orange)
Hat: Nathan Boco Tweener Hat
Socks: Fits socks- the best socks
Ankle brace: some light brace from Amazon–Powerlix
Strobe light: Nathan Green Strobe
Headlamp: BlackDiamond Headlamp
Windbreaker: Nathan Stealth Jacket (Love this–so lightweight and fit is amazing)
Hydration Pack: Nathan Vaporkrar 2.0 4L
Hydration: 4 Nathan Handhelds: Quicksqueeze Lite 18 ounce and Insulated 12 ounce
Watch: Coros Apex (best watch around)
Compression Sleeves: Compressport
361 degree singlet
Shorts: Janji 3 inch AFO Split short