I ran 4:04:30 unsupported today from Valley Way. Great conditions! Trip report:
I have been planning to run the Presidential Traverse (Presi) for about year with the goal of breaking 4 hours. After Loon Mountain in July, I started my preparation for this FKT. I built up my vertical running to 20k feet per week, completing individual runs and hikes with anywhere from 6 to 8k feet of vertical. I had never hiked the Presi before, although I ran to the top of Mt. Washington in June, so I decided to scout out some of the trails the day before my attempt around Mt. Washington and from the Valley Way trailhead to Madison hut. One thing that strikes me about this course is the number of trails branching from Valley Way and crossing each summit/ valley. It is very easy to take a wrong turn, which can quickly result in minutes of time lost. Additionally, I looked over Strava data, trail maps, and Google Maps of the trails to get a feel for the distance between each crossing and turn. Previous Presi FKT holders have started their run from either the Daniel Webster or Valley Way trailhead. Aesthetically, I like Daniel Webster for this traverse; however, I believe Valley Way improves the logistics for those who use the AMC shuttle.
I camped at a state park nearby, woke up to my alarm at 5:00 am, and arrived at the Appalachia/ Valley Way trailhead at around 6:15 am. The temperature was cool (probably low 50’s) and a dense layer of fog covered the valley. I waited about an hour before starting my run to let most of the fog lift. For this effort, I carried 2L of gatorade and two Clif Bloks packs in my Camelbak Ultra 4. My shoe of choice for fast mountain efforts remains the Nike Kiger 4. The climb to Madison Hut was not as smooth as I would have liked. The effort felt forced and ideally I wanted to be conservative until Adams. I passed the Madison Hut a few minutes ahead of the previous FKT, which bolstered my spirits, and began the out and back to the summit of Madison with renewed energy. The rock fields on Adams made it feel like I was running in a labyrinth and these rocks are rough, sharp, and unforgiving. Absolutely treacherous rocks to run over! I briefly veered the wrong way towards the eastern side of the mountain before orienting myself to the summit and finding the cairn markers.
The stretch of trail from Adams to Jefferson was the most challenging due to the rock fields and my limited knowledge of the trail. After Jefferson, the terrain over Clay to Washington becomes increasingly runnable. I made up a good portion of time on this section. I pushed hard down to Monroe and was still losing time to Ryan’s (the previous FKT holder’s) effort. He is exceptional at technical downhill running!
I passed the next hut and began the first 200 meters of the ascent up Monroe. At this point, a few things happened that almost derailed my effort. First, my feet felt like they were on fire and the thick callus, which I have spent an entire summer building up, were starting to blister. I felt the pads blister up and then start to slide within my shoes. A very unpleasant feeling. Next, I benefited from my early start and the cool temperature (50’s-60’s) but now it was climbing north of 70 degrees with direct sun. I had minimal fluids left and was beginning to feel dehydrated. Finally, I had probably the most significant cramping of my right hamstring and left TFL that I have ever experienced. Absolute muscle failure to the point where I almost fell down and thought my day was done. I had to completely stop and as a last ditch effort stretched my leg for 30 seconds. I thought my hamstring might completely tear from the bone! The cramping let up enough for me to continue to hobble towards the summit. It must have looked like I had gotten into a fight with a bear to the hikers I passed. I was in rough shape, probably the lowest point of this effort. However, I attempt FKT’s because I enjoy pushing my limits and this reminded me that I was accomplishing just that. By some stroke of luck, I got rid of the cramping at the summit- cycling my legs through a normal running motion and full stride on a runnable section of the trail. I was back in the game and focused!
Eisenhower and Pierce felt ages apart from each other. I was still a few minutes ahead of the previous FKT after Pierce and knew that I had to press hard to the finish to get it. I had one near fall face forward in the last half mile while passing a group of hikers, but saved it with some kind of move you would see parkour athletes complete. I ran down the stairs to route 302 and stopped my watch standing in the road, feeling completely spent and satisfied just like you should after an FKT.
I got to watch the Ragnar Reach the Beach relay while I ate lunch and waited for the shuttle back to the start at the AMC Highland center. Someone sarcastically asked me why I was eating/resting in a chair and not getting ready to run. I told them, “I’m finishing my warm up”. In my first Presi attempt, I got the FKT and just missed my goal of sub 4. There is a lot of time left out on this course to grab. I could reasonably see someone running 20 minutes faster with good conditions and knowledge of the trails. I feel privileged to have contributed to this FKT. Next up is the Pemi loop!