2012 Seven Sisters Trail Race Review

The Seven Sisters Trail Race is a 12 mile single track roller coaster that climbs 3,700 feet along a course that is generously lined with mud, sharp rocks and slippery roots. In other words it is my idea of a perfect day. The 2012 Seven Sisters Trail Race embodied everything that is great about this event and I can’t wait to do it again next year.
The Seven Sisters Trail Race has always been a special event for me. It was my first trail race and I have run it almost every year since 2001. Along the way this race taught me invaluable lessons about hydration, endurance and staying humble. I plan to run it as long as my body allows me to. Not only that but the race proceeds help the Friends of the Mount Holyoke Range!
Running with friends, photo from http://www.locallyrun.com

I pulled into the Notch Visitor Center parking lot 2 hours before the start time. I like to get there early to get sweet parking, warm up and to talk to other runners. The parking lot was filling up fast and almost everyone I talked to was running the race for their first time. 310 runners would eventually show up for the 2012 Seven Sisters Trail Race. It made me smile to know that so many people wanted to run this race; especially with Tough Mudder happening on the same day.
A crowd began to mass near the start line and I knew that the 2012 Seven Sisters Trail Race was imminent. All of a sudden my watch made some peculiar sound as the screen went blank; I would have to run this race purely by feel with no idea what my time was. But there was no time to cry over dead watches as Scott Hunter, the race director, gave his usual pre-race speech and then the race was on!
A bottleneck start, photo from http://www.locallyrun.com
The Seven Sisters Race begins with one of the course’s steepest ascents to the ridge of the Mount Holyoke Range. The elite runners seemed to effortlessly sprint up the incline. Hundreds of other runners competed for choice footing which created an epic bottleneck. I was cool with that because it allowed me to properly warm up and not burn myself out. I used this time to collect my thoughts and make sure that my body was prepared for what lay ahead. 
Tricky footing, image by
11 minutes later we had cleared the first ascent and the crowd began to thin out. The first 2 miles of the course feature several short but extremely steep ascents. I ran at a comfortable but semi fast pace and slowed to a fast walk for the climbs. Despite the clear skies, I noticed plenty of slippery mud that seemed to be strategically placed on the most treacherous parts of the trail. I fell more times than I care to admit!
After 2 miles, the course descends sharply into the race’s only flat section which is known as the Low Place. The descent was so steep and muddy that many runners slid on their butts or used trees to stabilize themselves. The gentle grade of the Low Place gave my quads a much needed reprieve from climbing and I was able to catch my breath.
On the Seven Sisters course what goes down must go back up and we were soon paying for the short flat spot with a punishing ascent back onto the ridge. This section is so steep that it is more like rock climbing than running. Next we took on a jumble of rolling hills that brought us closer and closer to the halfway point. 
Coming off Mount Holyoke, image from http://www.locallyrun.com
My girlfriend and a few friends were waiting on top of Mount Holyoke to give me some much needed encouragement. From there it was just 1.6 easy miles to the turn around which was full of oranges, cookies and other goodies. 
6 miles down and 6 to go
At the halfway point runners must turn around and go back over the same treacherous 6 miles. This is where the race becomes more mentally challenging. I remained in good spirits as I pushed my body up one ascent at a time until the finish line was just a few miles away. 
Only halfway done and still smiling
At this point, many runners had been sidelined by cramps or they were just plain exhausted. The desire to finish kept me going and I crossed the finish line with a smile and without any serious injuries; which makes the race a success in my book! The post-race food spread was amazing with pizza, bagels and some sort of rice/ beans/ chicken dish.
The 2012 Seven Sisters race had everything that made this event special. I can’t wait to face it again.
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