Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mid State Trail Mayhem: 70 Miles Nonstop

Looking rather chipper and excited at mile 0,
about to start my newest (70-mile) endeavor...

Well...I've done it again.  And this time, it was nearly 70 miles.  I have taken another page out of my magnificent tome known as, "John's crazy and ridiculous self-imposed training and ass-whooping".  Yesterday morning, I woke up sometime around 8 am or so, got some gear and supplies together and got a ride down to the bustling metropolis of Loysburg, PA to set forth on my latest challenge.  For those of you without an intimate knowledge of Pennsylvania (or access to Google Maps), Loysburg is about 30 miles south of Altoona (About 70 from State College).  It also happens to be a town with a trailhead for PA's border-to-border, Mid-State Trail (MST).

In my last post on here, I alluded to my current lack of experience dealing with unfamiliar terrain while partially sleep deprived.  Yes, you really did just read that correctly.  As ridiculous as that last sentence may sound to the vast majority of you, I do have a distinct need to be be able to navigate and function (at a high athletic level) with little, or no sleep.  With the weather forecast looking good this weekend, and my training so far for the week being light...I figured what better time than now to test myself a bit.

First a quick background note.  Up until now, the longest I've functioned with regards to an athletic endeavor, without sleep, was my 2009 Leadville performance.  I finished that race in just over 29 hrs.  This means I was awake, and working, for about 32 hours.  Not long after the race I was falling asleep with my eyes open.  The longest I've ever spent in a single hiking outing was about 15 hours and consisted of about 41miles.

In an effort to fulfill my 2nd training "to-do", I decided to plan out a roughly 70-mile hike on the Mid-State Trail (a trail that I have nearly zero familiarity with or knowledge of), and try to tackle it all at once.  Obviously I can run 70 miles in under 24 hours, so I chose to tackle this challenge as more of a speed-hike.  It's important to note here, that my primary objective was not miles, but rather time.  I wanted to push myself into the 24-30 hour range again and see if I could keep a better handle on myself.  A secondary goal of doing something like this is to work on just what sort of food and water I would need to carry to be self-sufficient during a long event.  Certainly my thru-hiking experience helps out a lot here.

Like I said, I decided that it would just be easier to attack this challenge as a hike, not a run.  I was quite eager to focus on my true passion of motion again for a change - hiking.  As much as I love running, nothing truly compares to a good thru-hike.   But here, I decided to attack this hike as though I was also going for speed...kind of like a Mid-State Trail speed record (if that makes sense).  In other words, not a relaxed hike, but a high-energy, mini-thru/speed-record hike.

My goal: hike from Loysburg, back to State College, through the night straight, and hopefully spend at least 24 hours at it.  This way, combined with the hours in the morning and afterword, I would be able to see how I hold up after 30+ hours of activity.  Add to that the fact that I didn't know the trail, would have to navigate in the dark, and knew nothing of the elevation profile.

A Quick Synopsis
The short answer is that it was a huge success!  Not only did I make it all the way back to State College, but I managed the 70 miles still feeling strong and was at it for just over 24 hours.  Navigation was a bit challenging and the notorious PA rocks were brutal, but all was a success.   I now officially have my longest hiking day on record: 68.5 Miles! (Previously ~41 in Northern Oregon on the PCT)

I starting hiking just about 1:30pm Saturday from the trailhead along highway 36.  I packed a very minimal backpack with some warm clothes and what I anticipated would be my caloric needs.

The Mid-State Trail in sections 4-8 either rides along Tussey Ridge, or along side it on some variation of gamelands or service roads.  At one point, the trail makes a complete detour into the small town of Williamsburg.  In general, the elevation profile wasn't too bad.  I had several relatively moderate, continuous sections of trail.  The only real ass-kickers were the rocks up on the ridgelines and the fact that the trail hasn't been maintained much this year.  I got off course several times during the night.  It was a bit weird to walk through the town of Williamsburg at about 11:30 at night.  Definitely got some weird looks from people driving by.

The Course:
Point-to-Point ~70 miles (GPS clocked 68.5)

I followed the course as best I could.  A couple times when the rocks were beating me up too badly, I created my own reroutes along a service rd or some such.  Like I said, I wasn't out for miles...simply time.

Video Trace of course:

Elevation Profile:
As you can see, the elevation profile is not extremely daunting.  There were some decent climbs, but in general 8000'+ of gain over 70 miles is relatively not that tough...especially when a lot of that total is concentrated in one climb.

The FINISH (4-Mar, about 1:45 PM)
I decided what better place to officially end that at the Tom Thwaites memorial itself.  Originally I had planned on stopping at the Little Flat Fire-tower, but I walked the extra 1/2 mile up to the Mid State Trail official dedication plaque.   The picture below was taken at almost 2:00 pm today (24 hrs 30 mins after starting) with a final distance clocked of about 68.5 miles.  Don't let the forced smile fool you, I was definitely tired.

Forcing a smile after 68.5 Miles and 24 hrs

Final time when leaving to go to car: 24 hrs 28 mins

Final GPS Mileage and Time
(note the moving avg of 3.2 mph)

Final Ascent: ~8200'

Some Thoughts on the Challenge:
Believe it or not, I functioned well throughout the entire 24 hour period.  I never started getting tired and never had to break more than a few minutes.  I easily could have continued on.  The cold weather and wind was a bit of a challenge.  I had some difficulties regulating my temps and got downright cold at about 5 AM.  Thankfully, I did bring my down parka and mittens.  Foodwise, I think that I managed well.  I went with two sandwiches (PB and Nutella), several clif bars, powerbar gummies, hammer gels, and hammer perpetuem solids.  I never felt like I was out of energy, so apparently I fueled well.  Then again, I wasn't running.  I went with my smaller back-packing pack and not my running vest, only because I needed room for extra clothes and some emergency supplies.  For shoes...well I went with one of my new pair.  One of the ones I'm testing.  Verdict:  They did ok, but not super-impressed.  I will talk more on the shoes in a later post once I feel that I've given each pair a fair test.  I'm sure if you're sleuthy enough, you can figure it out by looking at the pictures above.  As far as navigation went, I did have a map and pages from the guide book, but any time I got lost, I tried to focus on my compass training.  I found it hard to pull myself away from the usual "just follow the blazes" mentality, but for what it's worth, I managed to do well with the compass.

What's Next?
Well, first thing I will rest a day or two.  Then it's back to hill focus.  Over the next two weeks, I'm removing all focus from total miles, and shifting to total ascent.  I will still document miles, but I will be going out for runs with clear Ascent goals for the day, and not mileage.  I need to start having 10,000' ascent single workouts.

At any rate.  What a weekend.  It was actually quite fun and I learned a lot about my calorie needs as well.  I am sitting here now at 8 PM  and really struggling to still stay awake.  I think after almost nearly 36 hours, I am going to call it...and close the ol' eyeballs.

hike on!



Eliza Ralph-Murphy said...

3.2 mpg noted;-)
Gallons of what?

Jocelyn said...

Just 70?? Kind of weak.

That is insane!!! Congratulations!

Steve McAninch said...

Fantastic! I'd love to hear more. I've got a big run coming up and am looking for a unique approach. I'd love an email if you don't mind.