The Seven Sisters Trail Race is the hardest physical challenge that I have ever faced but there is nothing quite like it so it is one of my favorite events. Completing it creates a feeling of happiness that rivals Christmas, winning the lottery or any other joyous day. Last year the course won and I dropped out just after the midpoint. This year I am determined to take on the race and see the finish line.

The Seven Sisters Trail race is a 12 mile out and back trail race that follows the ridge of the Mount Holyoke Range in Amherst, MA. It gets its name from the 7 hills along the ridge, that runners must climb twice, which provide over 3,700 feet of climbing. Still not convinced that this is an extremely hard race? Let’s put it this way, if you can do better than 8:30 miles you will set a course record; the average runner does 15 minute miles and completes the race in 3 hours. It takes some pretty gnarly terrain to slow runners down that much.

I have taken on the course around 6 times with 4 finishes and 2 dropouts. My first dropout happened during my first attempt when I was 17 and had not trained. My second incomplete happened last year when temperatures rose over 80 degrees and I made some bad decisions that caused me to hit the wall at around mile 7.

After giving it some thought I think I can pinpoint the bad choices that led to my race defeat. First, I carried a heavy hydration pack which had enough water for the whole race. It makes more sense to carry a lumbar pack with two small bottles since the race has several aid stations with plenty of water. Therefore the hydration pack really served as dead weight. Second, I wore Gore Tex light hiking shoes which are great for fast hiking on a cold day. But on the 80+ degree race day they proved to be heavy and not nearly breathable enough. Finally I relied heavily on Cliff Shot energy gel with caffeine for an added boost. Caffeine can be very beneficial but the amount that I used just led to dehydration. These three mistakes combined to reduce my endurance enough to force me to drop out of the race.

I have made a few training changes this year to build up the endurance needed to get to the finish line. First, I stood as active as possible this winter with hiking, snowshoeing and p90X. This helped maintain a good fitness base without doing a lot of running. As soon as the roads were ice free I started to gradually build up my road miles with a variety of runs including slow distance, sprint intervals, and plenty of hill climbs. Now that the trails are clear I have started doing increasingly long trail runs. I have also made sure to rest and train at an intensity level where I feel like I could have done more which has allowed proper recovery.

Last year’s mistakes will be lessons for what I will carry this year. I will wear light trail shoes without Gore Tex. I will rely on non caffeinated gels and drinks to stay as hydrated as possible. I will wear a lumbar pack with just two bottles to minimize weight and still have plenty of water. Lastly, I will do a full test run with all of this gear to make sure it performs under race conditions. Hopefully these changes will be enough to help me complete the course.

I look forward to the 2011 Seven Sisters Trail Race on May 1, 2011. Sign up here If you would like to join me; hopefully I will see you there!