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The Anatomy of a Pemi Loop

Jesse Kropelnicki, founder of QT2 Systems LLC and it’s multiple brands, has always sung the praises of hiking.  He even wrote a blog about it once HERE, where he talks about hiking for a faster Ironman finish specifically.  I submit to you the idea that hiking won’t just improve your Ironman time, but also better prepare you for an ultramarathon (talk about specificity here!), a marathon, an endurance cycling event and even, when all is said and done, life in general.  In other words, if you haven’t already, take a hike!  

Jesse and I did just that, at the end of June.  Our hike of choice, was the Pemigewasset Loop (commonly referred to as the Pemi Loop), which is a 29-31 mile hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  There is no official definition of the loop as there exists some add-ons and side routes, but the basic loop has over 9000 feet of elevation gain and traverses over a number of 4000 foot peaks, the highest of which is Mt. Layfayette at 5,249 feet.  The terrain is gnarly, and either up or down, on rocks and roots and you even climb up (or down, depending on which way you do the loop) a waterfall.  You can traverse the loop in either direction.  We chose the counter clockwise route.

Some data:

I’ve used the data from Jesse’s Garmin Fenix for the mile splits and elevation (and for his heart rate data, of course) and my heart rate data from my Garmin 235.  At the end of the day, my file showed slightly more climbing and about 0.5 miles longer than his.  

The day we did Pemi, it was very humid and warming up to be a high 80/low 90 degree day in New Hampshire.  You can run the first 4 miles or so of Pemi, as it’s on an old railroad bed, wide and relatively flat, so we did.  We ran easily yet still, when we started, my heart rate was high.  Somewhat alarmingly so.  Jesse commented that his was as well.  For reference, my Z1 HR range is 147-157 and Jesse’s is 132-142.  He was at least in Z1, while I was pushing (rather highly) into Z2!  We blamed it on the humidity.  I hoped I wasn’t making a mistake at the start of a 10 hour day.  In the end, Jesse averaged 128 and I averaged 144, both 3-4 beats under the bottom of our Z1 range, so we eventually evened out.  I suppose I should blame my high HR at the start on the strong coffee I drank that morning, while Jesse abstained from caffeine until mid-hike.  It should be noted that we were both able to raise our heart rates significantly (me very much so, as I was working pretty hard, while Jesse was waiting for me!) in the last mile (running a 7:11 to finish!) which speaks to both our durability and to fueling well.  

Speaking of caffeine and nutrition in general, we fueled this effort much like you might fuel an Ironman or an ultra marathon – primarily relying on simple sugars (sports drink, gels, chews) with just a touch of fat and protein (bagel with peanut butter) for added lasting power.  Both Jesse and I started with roughly 80-85 oz of fluid.  There is only once chance to refill – at the Galehead Hut, which for us, was 4 hours into the hike.  At the hut, we each refilled with another 80-85 oz of fluid, however, this would have to last us for the rest of the day (which would ideally be another 6 hours, but could be any number of hours depending on how the day went).  Jesse and I have similarly low sweat rates, which was good, because we both ran out of fluid anyway.  Luckily, I made it until about 45 minutes to go before I ran out, which wasn’t incredibly long to wait.  I was VERY thirsty though upon finishing.  Definitely something to consider.

Speaking of length of day, Jesse’s PR on Pemi is 10:01.  We aimed, for something under 10 hours.  Being a Pemi first timer and relatively new to hiking in general, I wasn’t sure if that was realistic or not.  It should be noted that the fastest known time on Pemi is 6:06.  It should also be noted that on just about every website or book you look in, Pemi is listed as a MULTI-day hike.  We fell somewhere in between, certainly aiming to finish in a somewhat fast time, in a single day, but also not a shockingly fast time like those that go under 7 hours.  

Overall the day went well and we finished in 10:12:57.  Jesse most certainly could have gone under 10 hours, if not under 9 hours, had it not been for my lack of descending skills.  I can climb well, but descending over the rocky terrain and steep sections is definitely something I need to improve upon to go faster.  With time and practice it should improve.  Jesse is already a mountain goat and I have some catching up to do!  All in all a great day with only 3 falls (2 mine, 1 his, only one (mine) that was a bit nasty), lots of laughs and breathtaking views.  

If you are looking for a way to make a long training day fun while adding to your durability and practicing your fueling, consider a hike!  A perfect time to add it would be as you finish your base phase and are starting into a build phase – you have the strength to successfully complete the hike but are far enough away from your A race, to recover well.  If you are in the New England area, I suggest Pemi as your hike of choice!  The beauty of the Whites is second to none!

~Beth Shutt - Run Formula Operations Director and Run Coach

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