This Spartan Trail Race was one of the most difficult races we have done to date. From the multiple mountains to climb, to the lack of support throughout, it tested us much more than physically.
The main reason I was looking for a race that was a little farther than marathon distance, was because Matt and I were in the middle of a training plan for Anchor Down Ultra – a 24 hour race, with our goal distance being 100 miles. I was searching all over the internet for easy 50k to 40 mile races, and was not finding any that were on the east coast. Eventually I looked into trail races, although I wasn’t so interested in this because we wanted our first ultra to be fairly low key.
The only race around that time period that also fit our much needed mileage, was The Peak Blood Root Ultra. After reading the sort of intimidating description on The Peak Races Website, I decided to sign us both up. What made it most nerve wracking to me is that it is a Spartan Trail Race, meaning it is like a typical Spartan Race with very challenging terrain, but without the obstacles. This race had offered five different distances, and surprisingly, ours was one of the shorter ones. They give you the option to run 10 miles, 50k, 50 miles, 100 miles or 200 miles. Every other year, they host a FIVE HUNDERED MILE RACE. So, if you are looking for a wild challenge, that would be what you should go for. All of these distances have fairly intense cutoffs as well – click here for more info on that.
Despite our lack of running on trails (we hadn’t done this since last fall, and now it was May!), I went for the 50k and hoped that in a few weeks, we would be trained enough to just complete the course in the allotted timeframe. Little did I know that this would be one of the most unique and challenging races I have run thus far.
RACE DAY – Peak Blood Root Ultra
We only live a few hours away from Pittsfield, Vermont, and we did not need to obtain a COVID test or quarantine before crossing the border. We woke up at 4am, got dressed, threw a few energy gels in our packs with our 2 liter bladders, and off we went! Because I was honestly not prepared to leave in the morning at all, we didn’t make breakfast. Typically my pre – long run meal consists of oatmeal, almond milk, berries and maple syrup, similar to the recipe here. But, this time we stopped at Starbucks and got drinks (Matt literally got a milkshake an hour before our race), and Dunkin’ Donuts for some bagels. We snacked on our Dunkin’ while driving a very beautifully scenic route to the race address.
When we arrived, we saw two large flags waving, that say FINISHER. Mental note – that’s the finish line. But also the start line, which was convenient because parking was right near here. There was a beautiful home and a white barn nestled into the side of a mountain, like something you would see out of a movie. The morning was still a bit foggy and chilly, and the fog was rolling through the valley that we were about to begin our journey through. We parked my little blue Subaru Crosstrek and went to the check in for our first ultra marathon. There was a snack table where with various foods, drinks and energy gels. I assume that this must be for the longer distance runners, since they run a 32 mile loop and a 10 mile loop to get to the distances they need. The man that checked us in was wicked nice, and he gave us a packet with our bibs. We didn’t get any shirts or anything, since it is a Spartan race and they do not give out shirts or “swag” until the end. After getting our bibs, we went back to our car and hung out in front of it, waiting to see if any finishers come out of the woods and cross the line. Lucky for us, Sofi Cantilo, the one 200 mile runner, finished right when we got there. Watching her still run strong and confidently was just the sign I needed that if she can run 200 miles, I can do 32. Around 7:50am, we were told to get on the start/finish line, so we can begin our race. We were briefed about the race course, and reminded about how limited outside support would be in this race.
Me being me, I figured one two liter bladder and a few gels would be enough to get me through most of the 32 miles. PSA – I was wrong.
They shot off the gun to allow us to begin our race. We made our way for the first few miles down dirt roads, past small country homes and through a few tiny local crowds of cheering people.
Then, the route got difficult real quick. We ended up climbing up the first mountain, and it was a continuous uphill for at least 2 miles. It was so steep, not one person was running. We walked and walked, and even had to stop and take a few breaks. Then, we finally got our first view. We saw a mountain range in front of us, a beautiful stream running downhill by our sides and a wonderful downhill for the next 3 miles! This was one of my favorite parts of the race.
By mile 10, the ground began to flatten out again and we were running on another trail/back country road. Slowly, the footing started to get more and more damp, until we were almost sinking into a marshy grass trail. At this point, our feet were soaked and our legs pretty covered in mud. Since I have sensitive feet and get blisters pretty easily, this was tough for me.
Mile 15 approached, and we began the climb up yet another massive hill. This was definitely not just a hill – it was a mountain. This climb was again at least three miles long, and it was even steeper than the first. The footing was great, it was a grass slope that looked like it was almost an old narrow ski trail. My knees were happy this was all grass and not a ton of rocks, but my quads were burning!
As we approached the summit of this mountain, we did not see a view, but we did see a woman who was really struggling. We would find out later that she was trying to do the 50 mile course instead of the 50k, but she got pulled from the course far earlier than that.
The next downhill we experienced from around miles 17-20 were beautiful. We ran alongside a rushing river, with birds chirping and shaded from the sun. That was one of my favorite parts of the course, since it was so relaxing and there was absolutely no one else in front or behind us. We were told there would be another water stop at mile 17, and I was beginning to run low of liquid. I was completely out of my Gatorade and was almost out of water. By mile 19, there was still no rest stop and I was starting to feel dehydrated. But, just when I was beginning to feel helpless, we rounded a corner and were greeted by a cheering man with water and snacks.
We ate some bananas and Sweedish Fish, and filled our bladders as full as they would go.
Miles 20-25 were tough, since we were running down old dirt roads, while also knowing we would have to back track and run on this road again. We began to run by the elite runners of the race – who were already at least five miles ahead of us. Some looked like they were fresh out of the shower, while others looked like they were dying.
Once we reached a marathon distance (26.2 miles), we reached another aid station. At this one, they had some basic food and water. There were no electrolyte drinks, which was disappointing for me because I felt like I really needed some. We grabbed some fuel and then made our way around an approximate 3 mile “bushwhack” type trail, which would come out as a loop, right near this aid station again.
We begin our trek on the first mile of this loop, and the entire part of it was straight up. As we began to crest the mountain that we had seemingly just climbed, we also began to enter a section of the trail that would be the most difficult of the race. On the second and third miles of this loop, the ribbons that mark the trail lead us into the woods – not even really on a foot path anymore. Since my legs were so tired already, I started to get really nervous going down, since some of the drops were on loose dirt footing, with leaves covering the ground.
Eventually we made it to a flatter portion of this three mile loop – and it was stunning. We ran the last half mile alongside a river, which dropped down off of a cliff next to us. The birds were singing and with perfect weather, my spirits felt lifted.
We reach the trailhead and are back at the aid station – almost 30 miles into our first 50k race. With only a few miles left to go, the volunteer points us down the road and says “it’s pretty much a straight shot from here! Just follow the few signs we have out”. We began the final leg of the race down the Vermont dirt roads, and then up a huge hill back into the trails.
While doing a walk/run combo, we finally could see through the trees enough to spot the farm, where our finish was. When I say we finished strong, we really did. We ran all the way under the covered bridge, across the grass and over the finish line. Once we got our Finisher Spartan Forge, we were headed back to the car when someone ran up to me and said “Hey, I think you got third female overall!”. They brought me back to the awards table and gave me a plaque for being third female.
After running a race I didn’t even think was possible, Matt and I sat on the ground and watched some more finishers roll in. After hanging out here for a bit, we took the long drive home and debriefed about our day’s adventures.
- Bring more snacks than you think – I would have really liked a PB&J about 25 miles in.
- Bring more Gatorade/Electrolytes – we ran out pretty fast, and most of the aid stations did not have any.
- Get rid of your time expectation – this race has a TON of challenging elevation changes, which will definitely slow your pace.
- Chat with some new people – we met a lot of interesting people here, which made the experience even better.
I hope you sign up for The Blood Root Ultra Marathon, even if it is only a short distance race. You can still challenge and push yourself, even if it isn’t a true ultra. Doing the 50k was perfect for us, and was an amazing transition.