The 2015 7 Sisters Trail Race was another epic addition to one of the New England’s most iconic trail races and 80 degree temps added another level of difficulty to a course that was hard enough to begin with.
The 7 Sisters Trail Race is not easy. The course is an out and back single track trail that relentlessly ascends and descends for 12 miles with over 3,700 feet of climbing. Roots, rocks, leaves and downed trees are also generously scattered throughout the course. This race is difficult enough that Runner’s World has named it the hardest up/ down race in the country and Competitor.com has called it one of the hardest running races in North America. It is also part of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup. All of this attention has drawn more and more people to see if they are up for the challenge. Only 98 people ran the first 7 Sisters Trail Race in 1990 and it had less then 200 runners until just a few years ago. Since then registration has increased to almost 500 runners. I think this is great because it gives more people the opportunity to enjoy a race that I love. The 7 Sisters Trail Race has donated over $75,000 to the Friends of the Mount Holyoke Range and more runners mean more donations, which is great. The 2015 7 Sisters Trail Race was run on the first 80 degree day of the year at a time when the trees had no leaves to provide shade. This added another brutal and very dangerous element to the course. It is definitely part of the reason why my time this year was almost 20 minutes slower than last year. The course technically has 5 water stops (4 are jugs on the side of the trail and 1 is a well stocked aid station) but I still suspect that heat was a major contributor to the 37 DNFs. Also one runner needed to be rescued from the course and another called for help but finished the race before rescuers got to them according to Masslive. All of this suggests that the 2015 race was particularly challenging. I started running the 7 Sisters Trail Race in 2000 when I got halfway, knew I didn’t have what it took to go back and dropped out. Since then I have finished it 10 times with another DNF in 2011 where I dropped out because of heat and dehydration at a point on the course where I could easily walk out. Below is how I prepare to safely take on the 7 Sisters Trail Race based on experience with the course. Train for the terrain
Trail racing is a lot of fun but it can be physically demanding which is why runners should train for the course they will be facing; especially if it is as difficult as the 7 Sisters Trail Race. I didn’t do this the first time I tried this course, which is why I dropped out at the halfway point. Since then I have made it a point to get in plenty of hill and trail training before race day; I am still finishing in the middle of the pack but I know that the course is within my limits. Prepare for the weather conditions
I knew heat was going to be an issue at the 7 Sisters this year so I carried 2 25-ounce bottles, which I refilled at the turn around. I also used salt pills every 30 minutes that seemed to help me. You have to do whatever will work for you but in trail races you need to be more self-sufficient then road races. Yes the course has water stops but it is still safer to carry hydration with you. Listen to emergency personnel According to Masslive, one runner called for help, which was dispatched immediately, but that runner chose to keep moving along the course and away from the people who were on their way to help. This risked everyone’s safety and it distracted critical emergency personnel who were not available to help other people. If race officials or emergency personnel tell you to do something then you should do it. I am sure that the 7 Sisters Trail Race organizers will make improvements to ensure that the course is even safer next year but runners have a responsibility as well. There is nothing wrong with seeking a challenge and it is not my place to judge other runners but I do think that anyone who takes on the 7 Sisters Trail Race course should be responsible for knowing what they are in for and being prepared for it. This includes putting in the training, researching the course, having a strategy to deal with weather conditions on race day and knowing when to drop out before putting anyone’s safety at risk. This creates the safest possible event for runners, volunteers and emergency personnel.