So I am back at it. Cocodona was truly epic on so may accords. My body and mind took a beating. It took me a whole month to let my feet heal and gain some training back again. I looked at Gunstock as a test of my recovery and overall fitness. Could I put together a strong race effort coming off of such a major race like Cocodona under maybe 2 weeks of solid mileage?
Gunstock Trail Festival is an awesome low-key but fun weekend- long event taking place at Gunstock Mountain Ski Resort in Gilford, NH. Gunstock is located in the “Lakes” region of New Hampshire which I like to call the “gateway to the White mountains” as anything north of the area are the Presidentials and White Mountain National Forest.
I arrived solo on Saturday afternoon for packet pick-up. Everything was held in the youth adventure lodge. It was cool seeing kids do the zipline overhead. It was going to be hot as the temperatures were forecasted to reach the 90’s with 70-80% humidity. Yuk.
As part of registration, you receive a cool hoodie and a steel bottle. After registration, I went into town to stop for some provisions at Wal-Mart and get my pre-race pizza and beer. I had a Fosters with a nice pepperoni pizza which really hit the spot. I car-camped in the parking lot which was actually a lot of fun. It was nice and peaceful though some of the mosquitoes did bite me early on in the night. I enjoyed sleeping in the car and with a sleeping mask, I slept really well even with all the results of Western States 100 coming in on my Twitter feed.
Race morning came and I rolled out from my car, got dressed and heading over the short .1 mile walk to the start. In terms of my gear–I wore:
My T8 apparel kit which included:
Ice Tee shirt in Black
Sherpa Shorts in Forest Green
T8 Hong Kong Boco Trucker.
Norda 001 Ray Zahab Edition
Nathan Vaporzach 2.5 L Pack with 2 soft straw bottles
Nathan Speedmax 22 ounce handheld
Ucan Energy powder in my Speedmax and water in my flasks
Ucan Edge X 6 –1 every hour in my T8 sherpa shorts
1 pair of Fits socks Run 1/4s
Trails Collective Buff.
I headed over to the start and everyone was just hanging around while we waited. I ran into Peter Ward, who I shared miles with at Cocodona in the first night. He grew-up near Providence so it was a fun surprise to see him here. We talked all about Cocodona and what we have been up to. He is getting ready for Tor Des Geants in the Alps so any opportunity to get some New England miles suited him.
The course would be 8 — 10k laps revolving around the ski area on Nordic and backwoods trails. In totality, the elevation gain and descent was about 5-6,000 feet which was a nice runnable blend.
It was already toasty at 6am. We took off myself and Peter and headed from the start banner along the gravel road onto black-top running through the campgrounds. We then took a steep left turn and the climbing began. It was here that I kept motoring along and separated myself a little from Peter. It was going to be a race between us Cocodonans. My body felt well and the early miles just went by quickly. I zipped through the first aid after the series of ups and downs, crossed the street and hit the main network of trails for the remainder of the loop.
So the course was not super technical by Beast Coast standards. Much of it had some rocks and roots but also was fairly nice soft soil you find in deep pine woods of New England which I love. The most-technical part for me was a descent on a woodchip section. The woodchips were mangled and made a mis-step easy if you did not pay attention. I almost twisted my ankle after zooming down at breakneck speed. So I realized I would have to tone it down on this section.
I had a bathroom break at one of the aids and kept going. I used the cool morning (relative) to push my pace. I was running in the high 6 to low 7 minute range that first loop. It felt controlled. I continued the series of loops round and round we went. The flow of the course was nice and with a nice series of flat, uphill after uphill and then downhill to flat that never made it boring. The back half of the course was the “Furnace” where the air just sat and baked you alive.
By lap 4–Halfway in this race, I split around 3:02 for 25 miles. But by this point at 9am, I was drenched. The 80% humidity and the temperature made this run feel like a jungle. This is New Hampshire where earlier in the week the lows were in the 50’s. Already the temps had reached the mid 80’s with the high at 93 with 70 % humidity. I knew that I had to change-up my plan.
My gameplan was to run by feel which the early miles allowed me to hover around the 7 minute range. But as things became more adverse, I decided I needed to do everything I could to sustain a solid effort knowing I would be giving up time the second half. You see, in years past, I would have pushed too hard and would have blown up. But a more-experienced Cole now understood that adjusting my effort would allow a decent finish vs a risk of DNF.
At the 50k mark, I was overheating a little. I had not at this point whipped out my Harry Potter-Hufflepuff cooling towel. I initially was dumping water on my head but that was not enough in this swamp of NH. So I then used my cooling towel and took it out of my pack. I placed it on my head under my hat and got it wet with cold water. I would stop at every aid with each lap doing the same method–usually spending 1-2 minutes. The cooling would only last a mile or two before I would need to do it again at the next aid.
I am not a jungle runner. Heat and Humidity usually would crush me. I avoid those conditions because they well, suck. But in some of the worst race conditions I have been in for heat/humidity combo, I thrived. I never really walked an uphill. I suffered well throughout laps 5,6,7. Utilizing my Ucan Edge gels : 1 every hour and then Ucan Energy powder 1 packet every 2 hours was perfect. I am telling you, this stuff is magic. I had no low energy, not once. I could sprint if I wanted to and always had a nice consistent baseline of energy. I equate this product to oatmeal. It warms your belly and is a slow burn. My body thrives on that type of fuel. And once I hit the last lap, it was a victory laps of sorts. I had an hour to run the last 10k to sneak under 7 hours which was my goal. I put the pedal to the metal and went for it. Up the hills, the sea of wood chips, then the small exposed Serengeti section, up another steep hill and into the last aid station. I was at 6:59 at this point with a half mile to go. I stopped at the aid to dump some more water on myself and then went. I almost tripped out of the aid. I hit the ski hill section and then into the finish shoot.
My finish of 7:04 was awesome as I sprinted into the big wooden archway. I was done. What a relief. I spent the whole 7 hours drenched in sweat and water–feeling like I was potatoes being boiled in a pot. It sucked, but I was mentally strong as steel. Nothing would break me on this day.
I finished with an hour positive split on the back-half of the race but by adjusting my effort based on the conditions, I was able to give an output that was needed for the conditions. If I had ice on me the whole time, I would have felt cooler and probably would have been able to push as cold ice is the only thing that works for me in super hot and humid. You have to apply it constantly to stand a chance. The cold water at the aid was refreshing but it was short-lived.
Peter Ward came in second in the low 8 hours and put together a great run. At times, I worried he would close on me in the last hours of the race as my pace slowed. I have not raced a 50 miler since 2019 and it felt short compared to what I have been doing as of late.
I hope that this type of performance gives me a shot at the USA mountain running 50 mile team. There are three spots open and with the championship being held in Thailand, a place known for heat and humidity, I think I proved I can perform in such tough conditions. I will put my best foot forward and see what they decide in September.
The remainder of the time spent at the event was eating the delicious food buffet where I had a nice veggie burger and fries and some Shipyard beer. I loved how everyone was trying to pawn-off their tickets which I eventually did the same.
Gunstock is a fantastic event: low-key but also really fun. A true trail festival. This result now bodes well for me as I look to gear-up for the rest of the summer. World Snowshoe Championships will be my next big “A” goal. The race will be held at 9,000 feet above sea level so I am going to try and get myself as fit as possible.