Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fells Trail Ultra Race Report

Let me start by saying that this was the first time I have run at the Fells in Stoneham, and it will also be my last!!! I would like to find the person who made the skyline trail know what I mean. Relentless ups and downs leading to more ups and downs. Out of the 5 loops, each consisting of 8 miles on the skyline trail, I would say a total of 2 miles are actually runnable. No joke. Other than the Wapack 50, I've never had to power hike this much in an ultra. I do however, like these types of races better because it suits me better. With my extensive hiking background, I have an advantage on the runners who enjoy the flatter, faster courses.


The evening before went well. I was hoping my daughter would go down easy for me and allow me to get some much needed rest. Thank you Isla! I got up a few times during the night but mostly got a good nights rest. A hard boiled egg, a bagel with peanut butter and nutella filled the tank before I left. The drive out to stoneham was quiet and uneventful, which was a plus. I arrived at 7am and saw a runner already heading down the trail. I guess he had work (caught up to him latter in the day) and had asked the RD to head out early. I did the same, and was able to start at 7:10.

Lap 1 - 1:20 split

The RD said once we hit the half mile to the skyline trail we could go in either the clockwise direction (uphill) or the counter clockwise direction ( start). I chose the CCW direction to give me a longer warm-up before I hit the multiple relentless climbs. The trail was rooty and rocky and all mud present was frozen at this time in the morning. I did not see anyone else on the trail until I hit a parking lot area about an hour into my race. I felt good on this initial loop and had run many of the sections I would walk later in the race. My goal of under 7 hours was an ultimate challenge for me and was already in question after lap one. I knew sustaining the pace I held during that first lap would be tough.

Lap 2 - 1:24

I decided to go with the CW direction for the second loop. I had just come from this direction and felt I knew the trail. Wrong!!! Along with getting lost/dumbfounded/turned around I continually went off course many times. Now the RD said it is well marked, which it is, but there was so many intersecting trails that if one takes their head off the next white blaze, your a gonner. I never really went too far off course but I would say I lost 5 minutes in the whole scheme of things. I finally had some conversation on this loop. I met up with Scott, who started at 5:30 and was on his third loop. I had seen him a few times before at other ultras and kept his pace for a mile or two. We quickly parted ways and pushed ahead to reach my lofty goal. A cool view opens up to the boston skyline going in this direction which I used a marker latter in the race.

Lap 3 - 1:32

As you can see by my splits, I'm steadily getting slower. By lap three I pretty much new under 7 hours was a pipe dream. I just plugged along in the CCW direction, mostly by myself. This was probably the hardest loop for me. I had doubts of even going 40 at this point. My mind was wondering and I kept telling myself, 32 miles is ok. By now it was warming and the hard mud was now slippery mud. It never really played a factor but you had to watch out for it. The climbs seem to get steeper and the runnable sections seemed to disappear. Tough loop altogether for me. Met three women out on the trail, also racing in the ultra. They called me the orange shirt guy. I went down the wrong trail on lap 2 and they yelled out to me. During lap 3 we exchanged names and once again they helped me find the trail again.

Lap 4 - 1:42

Again, my lap time is growing! The legs were starting to tire during this lap. I would say on a whole that they held up well. I was never in pain or could not run when I needed to. Meet a runner during this CW loop named Dave (i think) on this lap. He had just done Rocky Raccoon 100 down in texas in feb. We went back and forth with our war stories. It was nice to talk to someone finally. It gets lonely out there sometime! I peeled away after awhile and finished up the lap. At the start/finish I checked the clock and it was 1pm. I had plenty of time to get a fifth in and still be at a dinner engagement at 5 that I couldn't be late for.

Lap 5 - 1:39

I knew this was my last lap and I just had to push it. Whatever I had left, might as well use it. I decided to go in the CCW direction again. I knew the terrain, tough at first, then runnable at the end. If I could just pound out the hills I would be fine. I used the boston skyline (2 miles, i think) and the water stop (4 miles) as my markers. I was at the point of really pushing it up smaller hills and really moving on the flats and downs. I ran into two guys on their fifth loop as well. They started around 6am and were really glad to be done. The three of us traded stories and met another two guys just before the water stop. I knew at this point I just wanted to push to the finish. I took off and ran considerably hard till the finish.

Total time - 7:37

Happy with performance. Although I did not get under seven hours (maybe bit off more than i can chew here) I am still pleased. The skyline trail is rugged and never lets you take a break. I would say it rivals trails in the whites of NH and somewhat like the wapack trail in parts. My nutrition consisted of 10 gu's, 3 hand fulls of chocolate covered pretzels, 10 S-caps and water. Post race included some cookies and brownies. My average loop time was 1:31:54. Its tough to say if would have backed off in the first two laps my others would be faster, but on this kind of trail it just wears you down. Mentally and physically. All in all pleased with my performance. Not sure what place I came in, but I know that two guys beat my time before I left.

Got to thank Steve Latour, the RD, and the volunteers as well. Thanks for being out in the cold for us all day!

UPDATE: Third place it is! Just checked the site and Steve the RD posted the results. Five finished the 40 miler out of 25 starters.


  1. Nice work Contois. Few days off and time to get back into it.

    I think you and me could really benefit from the 50k next month but for opposite directions. Seems like I go out too easy and sometimes you go out too hard. It'd be a good environment to work on at least.

  2. Sounds about right Ben! Are you in or what?

  3. Absolutely. 50k is a training run nowadays right??? lets go

  4. Nice work justin

    You beat a bunch of people who didn't even do all the loops!

  5. Thanks Shane! It was a mental and physical battle all day. Glad I got through it in one piece.