Mt. Mansfield is the highest peak in Vermont and the home of the Stowe ski area. There is a dirt road that leads to a sub-peak of Mt. Mansfield at about 3850', about 400' shy of the real summit of the peak. In the summer, the dirt road is used to rip off tourists, who pay some ridiculous amount of money to drive up to a small parking lot near the summit. From there, some highpointers even hike the mile or so to the real summit and claim they've summited VT's highest peak.
The road is 4.3 miles long, according to my Forerunner. It climbs about half a vertical mile in those 4.3 miles. My plan yesterday was to run 3 repeats of the road. I had another Vermonter who is entered in Western States along for company.
Two years ago, I had done two repeats in 4:10 as part of my WS training. I knew that in 2001, a very good ultrarunner from Vermont had done this road three times as part of his prep for WS. He ran sub-24 at WS this year and claimed that this was his key workout in getting ready for the race. I won't run sub-24, but I figured this run would simulate the up-down-up-down nature of the canyons pretty well.
We met at 6:30 a.m. and it was cloudy and raining lightly. The forecast called for a nice day, but the weathermen were way wrong.
The road is also an easy ski trail that gets snowmaking during the winter. In the past, when I've gone up this road in May, there was practically no snow left. But, we had a snowy winter this year and we found a lot more snow than I expected. We could even see two small patches of snow from the parking lot.
The plan was simple - hike up, run down, repeat. So, about 6:45, we headed up into the rain and fog. I train alone most of the time and it was nice to have company. I talked so much to Jeff while we were out there that he may never agree to run with me again. I was expecting each ascent to take about 75 minutes, but the amount of snow really surprised me. Jeff was more prepared, carrying Yaktrax with him, but he never used them. Our first ascent took 79 minutes. The rain was coming down reasonably hard higher on the mountain, and we were soaked. Our round-tip time was about 2:04, slower than the 2:00 I hoped to average.
I changed shirts, grabbed a warmer hat and a second pair of gloves, and some food and water at the bottom. Jeff got some food and water and we headed back up. Jeff commented that he was a bit cold, and it was still raining. This time, the ascent took 84 minutes. The summit was still completely fogged in. We headed down and hit the bottom at 4:11. We were soaked again.
Luckily, I had a third dry long-sleeve shirt in the car and I changed quickly. Jeff's gloves were soaked, he was cold, and he decided to call it a day. Given how the third repeat went, I think he made a good call.
Just as I headed up for the last repeat, I thought I heard thunder, but assumed I was imagining it. But, I kept hearing what sounded like distant thunder. By the time I was halfway up, it was clear that I wasn't imagining it at all. The thunder seemed to be in the clouds rather than being associated with lightning strikes, so I kept going up. About 3/4 of the way up, there were a couple closer rumbles. I thought about turning around, but I wanted to finish the entire three repeats if possible. It did briefly cross my mind that if I got hit by lightning that I certainly wouldn't finish Western States. I also knew that no one else would "happen by" to find me if anything went wrong. But, it seemed pretty safe overall, so I went up. The thunder let up for a while.
Just before the summit, I had to cross an open parking lot. As I got there, I was thinking that right now is when I'll hear thunder again. Seconds later, it happened, but it still seemed to be in the clouds. I tagged the summit 85 minutes after heading up. I noticed rime ice forming on the grass at the top. I headed down quickly.
This time, on the way down, going solo, I definitely backed off a bit. I didn't want to fall on the ice or snow, and my quads were feeling the descents. The thunder abated and I hit the bottom for a total time of 6:27, slower than I'd hoped for, but I was happy, considering the conditions.
As I was changing clothes in the parking lot, it started to thunder again - pretty frequently at times. I'm glad we started earlier than my suggested starting time of 8:00.
I'm a bit sore today, but not too bad. I hit 60 miles for the week, with two lifting sessions, two speed sessions and a tough long run. It was a good week. It's still raining today, so I'll probably take a rest day. The coming week will be 65-70 miles, so a rest day will help me be ready for that.