Bradley's View

Bradley's View

Friday, March 2, 2012

88 Miles, The North-South Trail, And An Adventure Across Rhode Island

     3:45 AM was the time the alarm resounded through the Plainfield, Connecticut hotel room.  It also marked the first time our feet touched the ground on February 27th. Unbeknownst to us, they wouldn't do much leaving of the ground for the remainder of the day.
       The night before Melissa and I had driven a piece of the route that would be taken by the Aid-Stationwagon the following day, and, after meeting up with Rob, we continued mulling over the maps, finalizing aid/drop locations, and accepting our lack of familiarity with the route as folly.  Then we slept.

              Our drive to the trailhead got interesting quickly once we realized that our maps still lay in the hotel room.  We, fortunately, found a trailhead without losing much time.  It wasn't until 5 miles and nearly an hour later that we reached the MA/RI border- the start of the North-South Trail.  About a mile from the border we had passed an NST log, where people paused to jot down info about their hike and the likes.  Our entries went something like this: "Started at 5:17 AM, as a fundraising project we are running to the Atlantic Ocean, learn more at -Rob and Jon".  On the way back south our entry read, "Oops... we were heading North apparently... Left MA border at 6:13 -Rob and Jon"

Go time

        We ran back to the road crossing where we started as the sun rose over the lake to our east.  This section was incredibly technical, littered with boulders and roots.  I think through these first ten miles each of us ate it at least once.  Once the sun illuminated the trail and the blazes, we wouldn't lose them again... until night's arrival.

       Rob pulled for most of the early miles and we maintained a quick pace and rested little.  For some reason though, we both fell several times, something uncharacteristic for the both of us.  Rob drew blood once or twice, I did a full barrel-roll over rocks on the trail, but the most remarkable of all spills went a little something like this: the dirt road on which we were running had been flooded for a while it seemed, and had then frozen over- so instead of a stretch of road/trail, there was, essentially, an ice-skating rink.  Anyways, we're running up about two feet above that on a little embankment, swinging our legs and hips in time to avoid the outcropping branches hoping to poke us over the edge when suddenly, Rob's leg swings up into my field of vision, his torso has rotated such that its now facing me, I contemplated grabbing the leg but deduced that it may worsen the situation, and then the other leg swung around twisting his body, which at this point was parallel with the ground/ice skating rink, another 180 degrees, and then Rob landed.  On the ice.  In a flawless wide-legged push-up position.
This is what the aforementioned fall looks like when I act it out...

     We reached our first aid drop at the George Washington Campground, which at this point fell at mile 17, in pretty good time and in pretty good heath, refilled our waterbottles grabbed a couple more gels and continued on our way.  The next 9 miles went pretty smoothly, I became confused as to why my body was feeling soreness/tightness so soon in the run, but chose not to be concerned with it.  It was delightful to see Melissa and the rest of the crew (my MIL, FIL, and SIL) as we reached a road crossing at the marathon mark for the day.

The crew- ready for anything

       The next section we laid out for ourselves was 12.5 miles and there aren't a lot of good things to say about it.  My IT-Band began acting up leaving me incapable of running for more than a couple of minutes at a time.  Though I didn't voice it specifically, at this point I realized that it was improbable that I would be able to finish the adventure; it would just take so long creeping at a snail's pace, walking the downhills, stopping to stretch and massage my leg every couple of minutes.  Rob wasn't feeling a whole lot better at the time and neither of us carried a very positive outlook on the 50+ miles that lay ahead.  After miles and miles of pavement, we arrived at the aid station feeling quite defeated.  We enjoyed a cup of Mama Rose's famous chili and a variety of other snacks and knew we had to keep on moving.

Practically flying!

The Aid-Stationwagon at its finest!

      I'm not sure if it was the food we received, the caffeine, the encouragement of the crew or what, but we took off strong through the next section of about 9 miles.  As I mentioned in a blog post a while back, running fast was the best way to stave off the IT-Band pain and thats just what we did, we clicked off four or five miles at a 7:00-7:30 pace and came in to the following aid station feeling on top of the world, at about mile 47.

     The next 7.5 mile stretch brought forth some of the most beautiful scenery and trail that we would witness throughout the entire run.  It was a pleasure to have Melissa, head aid-station attendant and fantastic wife, join us on the run.  We ran strong and enjoyed the scenery, witnessing the bittersweet beauty of the sunset as we pulled into the aid station with a "marathon" to go.

Melissa finishing strong and smiling!
      After scarfing food and enjoying drink we pulled out of the meeting-point moving pretty well.  Unfortunately, we only had one headlamp at this point as one of the batteries had fallen from the other and replacements weren't around.  This made looking for blazes and roots and rocks and trail quite difficult through the next section.  We almost immediately went nearly a mile in a wrong direction.  Talk about demoralizing- we're thinking "Horrah, only a marathon, lets keep truckin' and knock this out"  Then next thing you know you're trudging in the dark back to a trail you hope you somehow missed.  Upon situating ourselves on the right trail, we found it not to be much of a trail at all.  It was more of a boulder field  with blazes on trees every 20 yards.  This was quite the undertaking with one headlamp.  Rob led with the light and I tried to follow his footsteps as we scrambled over rocks and across streams while shining the light around hoping there were blazes nearby.  This section was particularly slow and exhausting.

      On the other side of these woods we reached the Aid-Stationwagon where we were able to grab another flashlight and we took off at a good clip and maintained it a couple of miles through the woods, but this was stunted when we came to a 4 mile road section... cars whizzing by, blazes sporadically placed on telephone poles that appeared to be attempting to camouflage them, pavement...

Tougher to see in the dark...

     In all of this roadside hullaballoo we missed a double blaze somewhere along the way and arrived in a little town where our crew was eating dinner... A mile or more away from our intended turn...  This was a serious shot to the heart as we had been walking down the road almost the entire time, running with the heavy traffic and lack of roadlights was just too taxing to maintain.  The crew gave us a ride back to the turn we missed and we carried on with 17 miles to go!

This is what we looked like.
This is what we felt like.

     This next section was going to be a breeze, a little bit of pavement through a neighborhood and then dirt road and singletrack up to a giant field and we were done, right?  Wrong!  Upon reaching this giant field, neither of us could recall the directions specifically and blazes are scarce when there aren't really any trees around...  Our cornfield was about a mile long and half a mile wide and we ran to about the midpoint from our far corner, expected a trail, were disappointed, walked to the other corner, nothing, back to the midpoint, down a trail, split up to look for blazes, a couple of miles and an hour or more later Melissa was making her way up to the field to shine a light to guide us out when we discovered a trail going across the field.  After making it to the other side and before running the three-quarters mile to the far corner I had put my hands on my knees at somepoint and practically fallen asleep.  Everything seemed to be shutting down, having been up for about 20 hours and moving forward for 18.  The frustration of being lost in an open space was mentally exhausting, on top on the roads in the darkness, and the boulderfeild.  I knew it was going to be a long last 11 miles, and that it would certainly take a lot of stubbornness to continue running.

     On we pushed pounding pavement before ultimately coming to the last 8 miles, 6 of which we on trails.  We ran for about 5 minutes and walked for about 5 minutes forming a loose rhythm.  When we ran, we ran, probably dipping under an 8 minute pace for the running stretches uphill or down, we were ready to finish.

     We came across the logbook for the southern terminus of the trail about a mile or so from the finish and inscribed our names, Runs For Relief info, and the fact that we started the trail 19 hours and 20 minutes prior.  The final quarter mile to the beach was not much short of a sprint we were greeted by the Aid-Stationwagon and the loving friends and families that had endured nearly as much as we had throughout the last day.  It was beautiful to breathe in the salty air and taste what we had been longing for all day.

     So on the day we figured we covered about 88 miles in 20 hours and 33 minutes.  Our official North-South Trail time from the MA border, and current FKT (Fastest Known Time) stands as 19:38.

     My apologies if this post seems a bit trite, but 21 hours of hardwork is tough to write about without getting unreasonably lengthy.  We had innumerable ups and downs, we worked hard, we laughed, we cried, we shivered, we stripped.  In the end I can say that I could not have had a better companion for the day than I found in Rob, and the crew of Melissa, Brit, Cindy, and David were every bit as essential to our success as our legs were.

     Recovery seems to be going quite well for me.  My sleep cycle seems back in order, I ran 7 miles yesterday in about an hour without any extra pains or strains worth noting.  Though many circumstances could have led to a far faster and smoother run for the two of us, I think I speak for the both of us in saying that it proved an invaluable experience that neither of us will soon forget.

     A million and one thanks go out to everyone who followed us on facebook and twitter, and the people who chose to make donations to Runs For Relief, our benefit project for the National Psoriasis Foundation, the good folks Deborah and Jeremy at the National Psoriasis Foundation for their help in getting the project off the ground, and Spira Footwear for the shoes to keep us springing forward!


  1. Great description of your experience and oddly similar to what Rob told me on the phone. For people who have never run ultras, it is fascinating to have someone explain some of the highs and brutal lows of something this challenging. Bravo to you both.

  2. What an adventure! This is something you will always treasure.

    It was great meeting you on the MST this weekend. The video segment with you and Adam came out really good. Will be posting soon.

    Bart & Eve

  3. Steven- Thanks for your ongoing support throughout the project, your encouragement and enthusiasm has proven invaluable!

    Bart & Eve- A real pleasure to meet you guys, as well. Looking forward to seeing the video and running with you guys at the Seven Sister's!

  4. Hi Jon, Great work. I'm planning a solo, unsupported thru run of the NST. I'm aiming for late May or early June. Would appreciate getting some info from you. Maybe we could chat sometime.

    1. Hey Michael,
      Sounds like a great adventure! Would be glad to chat, let me know how I can help out.

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  6. Hey Jon! Great to read such a detailed entry about your thru-run. My friend and I completed a similar (75-80 mile) thru-run of the RI North South trail last Friday-Saturday. It was our first attempt at anything that long, and we'd love to swap stories with a pro

    Jack and Ben

  7. Good stuff, Jack! How did it go?? Let me know, congrats on getting out there and going for it!

  8. Hi I'm doing this run tomorrow actually (with months of training and planning) and I was just wondering where your aid stops were located. I'd like to compare them with mine. Thanks so much!