I am not an ultra-runner.
Nor am I a mountain runner.
I’m a tail runner.
But, I’ve found that I like to go BIG sometimes (or at least larger than the usual) to test my mettle and see if I can stick those two monikers to my identity for at least a weekend or two during the year.
I like to set goals that scare me a little.
Long distances in the mountains do just that.
They make me anxious and uneasy.
They make me Fear-Train. Meaning – the training I put in is to guarantee that I’ll get out alive.
Well that’s extreme – it’s more about not bonking on a mountain peak miles from the nearest bar stool.
The Pemi Loop does just that – scares me a little – drives me strengthen my lanky legs to survive at altitude.
You can’t fake it on this one.
It’s a meat grinder for a one day effort.
For the uninitiated, the Pemi Loop is a 30ish mile route in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. Pemi is short for Pemigewasset which is the wilderness area where this thing lives.
Above image from: Chase The Summit
The Pemi is a local toughness test. Many New England trail runners make a Summer pilgrimage to the Lincoln Woods suspension bridge where the loop starts and finishes.
They come here to see if they can gut out America’s 2nd Hardest Day Hike at speed.
Nothing is sanctioned.
There’s no race director.
No music at the start.
No goodie bag.
It’s just you and the 18,000 feet of elevation change over 30 undulating miles of rocks and dirt.
Read more details about the route HERE.
So…I’ve got you all amped up to take this thing on – RIGHT!
How the hell do you train for such an effort? – you may be thinking.
The work I put into my legs (and mind) for this year’s big run were different than usual, but no less effective.
Below are details for a novice taking this on for the first time. If you are an experienced mountain runner then all this is obvious.
WARNING – You’ll be above tree-line often and exposed to some volatile weather. Bring a pack with the essentials to sustain yourself above 5,000 feet. It can get cold in the Whites – even in Summer
Do some research on Alpine preparedness.
At the end of the article, I’ll give you the hard data on gear, calories, and water from my last effort (Aug. 2017).
Okay…Onward with turning you into a mountain goat.
Set a Date (with some flexibility).
Get this thing on the calendar. Shoot for July/August so you can enjoy some milder temps. Having a hard date sets your mind up to prioritize training –
“The Pemi is coming, I gotta be ready for it”.
Flexibility because the weather is a wildcard. You need a tolerance built into your plan: +/- a couple days for the start.
Listen up – you don’t want a rainy Pemi. The % grade of the downs on this thing are tough on a dry day. Too much wetness means:
- Slippery rocks
- Potential for hail
- Hypothermia anyone?
Go HERE for the White Mountain high summits forecast.
Keep checking this as your date approaches.
Sign Up for a Race
You want something on the trails, hilly, at least 10 miles to a half marathon, and about 2-1/2 months out from your Pemi date.
Go for your max effort & time. You want to push yourself and be competitive here.
This shorter distance event and the training leading up to is your base builder.
You’re setting those shaky legs of yours up to go BIG later in the year. So go a little big first with this event.
I did two races in my Pemi training. One at the end of April and one in July. Both were hilly, rocky and difficult.
The first was perfect – a 10 mile rolling course.
I set the goal of running under 1 hr 15 minutes.
Finished in an hour 11 minutes.
After, mind and body were set up to tackle the tougher training in earnest.
The other race was a killer 12K about a month out from my Pemi date. I needed it just to break up the long, slow, hilly training efforts. It was a micro version of the Pemi with rocky, hand over foot ascents and steep, difficult descents.
Go Up & Down A Lot
This is the most important takeaway of all.
The Pemi is all about grinding the ups and downs (have I said that enough?).
You’ll run a flat 5ish miles along the river to start and the last 5.5 miles or so are a technical free ride down the Osseo Trail.
But, all the rest of it – Particularly between the summits of Bondcliff and Liberty – you are fastpacking some super steep up and down grades.
Your legs (and mind) need be prepped for this in advance.
Train right and you’ll take this on with confidence. Skimp on hard training efforts and you’ll suffer and bonk.
You want to focus more on elevation change during your training than actually running mileage. By doing this you are super strengthening your legs to go all day.
In my case, the longest training run I did was 22 miles at a time of 4-1/2 hours. That’s 8 miles and over 6 hours shorter than what it took me to complete the Pemi.
Steve, that doesn’t add up…How did you train shorter and get stronger.
How it adds up is in the day in day out – week in week out – of ups and downs.
The sum total of all the training runs got me through a full day in the mountains.
You need to go hard in the hills.
It all compounds to make you good.
I got hilly long runs in on the weekends for a good 3 months leading up to my date in the mountains.
I started around 11 miles and just kept adding until I got to that 22 miler.
But, here’s some more training secret sauce – I did those long runs on used legs – tired legs.
What are you telling me?
I’d get up early on Saturday morning for those long runs.
But, after work on Friday late afternoon, I’d get a good 6-7 miler in on Great Blue Hill with at least 2,000 feet of climbs.
This way, I was bricking myself for the next day. Making myself start and finish a long run when I was a little fatigued.
This was really for my mind, but my legs also adapted to moving effectively when tired.
All this set up my endurance and gave me good input on recovery and in-run electrolyte and fluid maintenance.
That stuff is different for everyone so be sure to do some trial and error to see how to manage your food calories and hydration (more at the end).
There it is. The Pemi Loop in 3 easy steps.
You’ll feel like one bad dude/dudette having conquered this because when it’s done you can call yourself an Ultra Runner and a Mountain Runner.
At least for a couple weeks.
Metrics from my last run August 6, 2017:
Distance: 29.78 miles
Time: 11 hours 8 minutes
Water: 4-1/2 liters total…The day was cool and that’s still 1.2 gallons of water I put back. If it’s hot and humid plan for more. I brought a water filter also – just in case. The only tap to refill is at Galehead Hut (Mile 15).
Note 1: Drink heaps of water the night before. Practice this during the training runs. You want to pee clear all day. If you see yellow pee you’re doing it wrong.
Note 2: My hydration pack has a 3 liter reservoir.
Food: Mountain House Breakfast skillet (At camp before run). 350 calories
2 Pro Bars, 2 Clif Bars, 2 Stinger Waffles, 2 Gu (All during the run). Just over 2,000 calories total.
Note: Pro Bars are great for a slow burn day like this. 350+ calories in 5 bites. They taste good too.
Electrolytes: 2 SaltStick Caps. Again not humid so the food kept me in balance.
Clothes: Bring a wind/rain shell and light weight gloves. It’s windy in the Whites and the weather can turn on you quick. It was early August on my last run. I had my shell on 3x at some of the peaks because of the wind chill.
I forgot gloves and suffered this – Had to take my shoe off at Mt. Bond summit and almost couldn’t operate the laces because my fingers were losing dexterity it was so chilly.
Good Luck out there you little Readers. Shoot me a comment about how the run went.
Read the blow by blow from my 1st Pemi from back in 2015 HERE.