Writings on running, primarily in the mountains

Baseline Presidential Traverse

In my 12 years of exploring the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I’ve had a rocky (pun intended) and constantly evolving relationship with the Presidential Range. Known for its boulder-strewn peaks, sweeping vistas, and changeable weather, I’ve always been drawn to the rough, wild nature of the terrain. However, technical trail running has never been my strength. More akin to a “giraffe on stilts” than a nimble mountain goat, I spent the majority of my early mountain running days on easier routes. Though I hiked in the Presidentials often, I never gave much thought to attempting to “run” (the word being very much relative in my case) the range’s rugged peaks.

Oh, how our perspectives shift with time. As I’ve grown as a person and an athlete, I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to things that challenge me. Now that our never-ending 2018-2019 winter has finally given way, I’m intensely motivated to work on my weaknesses while the trails are beautifully dry. Enter the Presidential Traverse: a 20ish mile, 7-peak route with ~8,500 feet of climbing on some of the most rugged terrain the White Mountains have to offer.

After hike/jogging a 6:39:19 traverse with friends the weekend prior, I was excited when a stellar weather window opened up on Saturday. Having taken most of the winter off from consistent running, I decided it’d be a good time to set a baseline on the route. Since I’d be solo, I could focus on maintaining a steady, sustainable effort to 1) gauge my current level of fitness, and 2) establish a time to improve upon as the summer progresses.

What’s steady and sustainable for me?

  • Pacing via heart rate (HR), especially on the climbs. I set a hard HR cap of 160, encouraging myself to stay closer to 154 (my aerobic max) unless feeling very good

  • Keeping stops to a minimum. I’ve never been one to take long breaks when solo, but when conditions are prime I do love to take lots of pictures

  • Fueling and hydrating consistently. Since this would be my first steady effort of 2019, I wanted to test out my fueling strategy and validate what’s worked in the past is still working now

Though the day started later than expected due to high morning winds, the run itself went surprisingly smoothly. Aside from a time check at Lakes of the Clouds Hut when I stopped to refill my water, I kept my focus on HR and didn’t track splits. I completed the traverse in 5:57:33 at a HR of 150 BPM, right around where I was hoping to be.

A few takeaways:

  • Pacing was on-point for the most part. My energy was consistent throughout and HR continues to be an effective metric for me to monitor to ensure I don’t overdo it. However, I should have been a hair more conservative through the Northern Peaks, in particular on the first climb up to Madison. I think this would have enabled me to be a little faster/smoother through the more runnable Southern Peaks

  • Though my endurance is still there, I’m not yet able to run many of the climbs I could in the past. That said, I’m excited to continue to build upon my fitness

  • I felt smoother on the rocks than I ever have in the past, but still have a lot of room for improvement (in particular, on extended downhills). My descent into Crawford Notch felt a little sloppy

  • Tailwind + real food (Swedish Fish, chocolate covered cashews, and chocolate peanut butter bites) worked well for fueling. Interestingly, I required far fewer “real food” calories than expected. In terms of real food, I ate many more Swedish Fish than chocolate bites as I didn’t find the chocolate too palatable. I’m going to experiment with using even more Tailwind in the future

All in all, I’m very happy with the effort! One of my goals this year is to write more consistently about my running and training so I have a repository of thoughts to look back on. A few photos from the day:

Larisa DannisComment