Race report: West River Trail Run

When I first moved to Vermont in the mid-90s, I encountered a book called "36 Miles of Trouble: The Story of the West River RR." Written by Victor Morse and published right here in Brattleboro in 1973, the slim volume collects the many trials and tales of the mythic railroad line that ran from Brattleboro to South Londonderry which is, you guessed it, 36 miles away.

I devoured the book in one sitting because in addition to being slim, it was also fascinating and sometimes hilarious. The railroad line opened in 1880 and was closed down for good in 1936. The train had a disturbing tendency to derail. It was notoriously slow and late. The route ran up such a steep hill near Newfane that the train had to be hauled up in two sections. The railroad was said to run "try-daily," meaning it would head to Brattleboro in the morning and try to get back to South Londonderry that night. There are tons of other stories--I just ordered myself the book so I can revisit them.

To this day, while the tracks of the West River Railroad are long gone, you can see where the railroad left its mark on this corner of Vermont. Bridge piers are still standing in a few places along the West River. And the railbed itself is, in sections, a fantastic trail for hiking, biking, skiing... or running. So when I heard about the West River Trail Run, nicknamed "11 miles of trouble," it went right onto my to-do list of races for this year. I love trails, I love running, I love the West River Railroad's twisted history: perfect!

The West River Trail Run is in its 4th year and nicely organized. Since it's a point to point event it's recommended to park at the finish, Jamaica State Park, and a bus transports runners to the start in South Londonderry.  (I'm talking about the longer 11-mile option, but there is also a 5k that starts and ends at JSP.)

South Londonderry depot has been completely restored in recent years. Race registration is in the depot, and the race starts a few feet down the road.

Nice multi-use sign.

Reproduction of the depot sign reminds us of the 36 miles of trouble.

I love that my bib number was 36. Besides a cotton tee and various other bits of swag, the goodie bag included an all-weather map of the trail's upper section, and a bumper sticker.

I had planned for this race to be training for the 50k I'm supposed to run in 2 weeks. I wanted to test out hydration and nutrition options, and just feel what it's like to actually race again. My last competitive event was back in November.

I loved it! The course is in 3 sections. First, about 4 miles of flattish railbed. Then about 4 miles of forest single-track, which includes the unusual opportunity to run up and over a dam. Finally, about 3 final miles of flattish railbed. 

The middle part of the race is the hardest, but it was also my favorite. I noticed an interesting "capillary action" with runners on the single-track. What had seemed like a well-spaced out group of people suddenly became a traffic jam when we all had to run single file. Fast runners I'd never seen before were suddenly jetting past me in any wider area. I started overtaking runners myself, and then working hard to put them behind me. There were also two women running at a similar pace, and we leapfrogged by each other multiple times as one or the other of us would put in a burst downhill (that was usually me) or uphill (NOT me). Even though I meant for this to be a training run, I got caught up in the single track game and enjoyed a fast, up and down, hiking and running experience.

By the last 3 miles though I was starting to feel beat and ready to stop. I ran out of anti-chafe balm recently, and that was starting to feel... evident. Thank goodness we were back on the rail trail at this point, and I could just go into slog mode. One of my pacer ladies passed me, but the other one never did. To keep going, I started to play a game with myself where I'd pick a tree or rock that I thought was .1 miles away, then run to it and pick the next one. I was way off, but at least it kept me running. 

And then... I was done! I ran 11 miles in 1:57. I honestly thought it would take me about 3 hours so I'm very happy with that! 

There was a race raffle. I won this Lemon Lulu cake.

Concluding thoughts:
  • I still love trail running. It's so varied and pretty.
  • 11 miles is a good distance for me. It was just long enough that it started to feel like work, but not, say, a 50k sufferfest. It felt just right. My legs are sore today, so I know I worked hard and will get stronger as a result.
  • That said... I don't really want to run 50k in only 2 weeks. I don't have enough miles under my belt this season. I could try to clench my teeth and grit it out, but that sounds SO not-fun. I love being in the woods! I want to have fun! I want to revel in what my body can do, and not feel sad or uncomfortable about forcing something I may not be ready for. 
  • So... I've decided to drop down to a 25k for my next race. Fortunately this is an option, and it feels right. It feels like a relief!

Roadside rose at the race start in South Londonderry

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