I am so excited to share my experience running the Jay Peak 33 mile / 53.1 km mountain ultra! This race has been on my bucket list of races for a few years now and I am happy the timing worked out this year so I could complete it.
This race consists of three 11-mile loops up, around, and down Jay Peak and over 10,000 ft. of climbing (my watch clocked 11,293 ft – so climb A LOT in preparation for this race if you’re thinking about it!). My main goals for this race were to cross the finish line, to not stop moving, and to stay consistent with fueling. Pretty simple when you read them – a lot more challenging when you’re actually in the race!
I had a very choppy night’s sleep thinking about the race so was up for the day around 3:20am – way before my 4:45am alarm! I completed my pre-race routine of drinking coffee and hydrating, eating a bagel with PB and honey, and getting my gear on and ready to go.
We left the condo at 6:00am to head to the tram base. There was the most beautiful sunrise and I knew it was a sign that it was going to be an awesome day!
Some runners were congregating at the start/finish line, warming up, and stretching. It was fun to see other people who had trained for this race and who I’d be sharing many miles with that day.
We lined up just before 6:30am, took a group picture, and off we went.
Having attended the course debrief meeting the night before, I knew the first 3 miles were going to be mainly climbing. I also knew that the dropout rate for this race is over 50% – meaning over half the people who start it do not complete it. I felt a little nervous when I heard that stat, but it was a good reminder to start extremely slowly and to push when the going got tough.
I started off with an easy jog passing the Metro and Flyer chairlifts and into the woods. We passed the pond and entered a snowshoe trail in the woods when the trail started to have an incline. Because my goal the first lap was to stay as conservative as possible, I started hiking here, as did many other participants.
My coach told me, “If you think you can run an uphill section during the third loop, HIKE it during the first”. As I hiked, we crossed some bridges, hit some flatter sections where I ran, and then began climbing again.
Eventually, we turned onto a single track, which is a trail that’s about the width of a bike. If you are with a group of people like I was, you are hiking in a single file line because of how narrow it is. The course became a little steeper in this section and more remote. We crossed streams, dodged tree roots, and winded our way through the woods up the side of Jay Peak. I thought there was a strong possibility of seeing a bear or moose so stayed as alert as possible.
About 1.75 miles later, I saw a break in the trees. We emerged from the woods and hit the first aid station which was stocked with water and Gatorade. It was exciting to reach this point because I felt like, “Alright, we’ve really started this thing. First aid station hit!”.
We took a sharp right and began hiking up Ullr’s Dream, a popular ski trail. The path widened so you could hike next to another person. The terrain was matted down grass and small rocks and was much steeper than what we were hiking on previously in the woods. I took my first gel and drank some fluid from my pack. I made sure to take a small sip of fluid (I carried Nuun Endurance) every few minutes to make sure I was staying hydrated.
I remember thinking here to stay moving but to also stay conservative with my effort and pace so I chatted with another participant named Nicole. Being able to hold a conversation told me that I was staying easy with my efforts.
About 20 minutes later, we reached a turn in the trail and saw the summit tram house. “Wow, we’re getting close to the summit!” I thought. At this point, we left Ullr’s Dream and reentered the woods on the Long Trail hiking path right near the entrance of Beaver Pond Trail.
Now this part was really steep! I was scrambling a lot (which means I was using both hands to climb) and holding onto trees and tree branches to help me climb up onto rocks. We were back in the thick, dense woods and the trail was narrow and single track. It was also very rocky and had some mud so if you left this section looking pretty clean I’m not sure you did it right 😉
I reminded myself of all of my training this summer because the thought of having to hike this section of Long Trail two more times was a little daunting.
Just under the 3-mile mark we emerged from the woods and onto Northway, a ski trail just below the summit. A race worker was standing at this point greeting us and pointing us in the right direction – up!
I maintained a really brisk hike here. The views are absolutely gorgeous and the trail isn’t as steep so you can go at a faster pace. We took a sharp left turn and hit the final incline to the summit.
My family was planning on meeting me here for support but I actually got here much faster than I had anticipated. I thought I would get here around 8:00am but it was closer to 7:30. I stopped briefly at the aid station for fuel and continued on. At this aid station I took Coca Cola, water, and a banana.
Our first downhill began! As we left the summit, we headed down towards the top of the Flyer chairlift and eventually across the top of the mountain. The first part of this downhill section was really steep, so while it was nice to be running, it was actually a pretty slow run because of the incline.
The trail leveled out as we passed the Flyer and continued on Northway. I blew seven kisses to the summit for Robert and picked up my pace a bit. My family past above me in the tram at this point. They said they were banging on the windows and cheering for me but I didn’t hear them.
Just after mile 4, we took a sharp right turn up a small hill (Catwalk trail). Then we took another right turn, carefully ducked under a metal pipe, and reentered the woods but this time on the other side of the mountain.
This is where things got interesting. On the course map, it looks like a very short out-and-back section. Well, the out is about 0.9 miles long meaning this section is about 2 miles! So, I was hiking down though the woods on rocks, crouching under fallen trees, stepping over tree roots and eventually saw the lead runners coming back towards me. “Hmm….”, I thought, “This section must be long because if the lead people are just passing me now that means I still have a long way to go until the turnaround…”.
I kept on hiking down and took more fuel and sips of fluids as another half hour passed. This entire race was technical but especially these stretches in the woods. It was really easy to trip and fall so I took my time. I started to hear cars from Rt. 242 and finally hit the turnaround at the aid station. “RUNNER!” I heard one of the aid station workers yell. I gave them a big smile, checked in with them, and told them I’d see them again in a few hours for loop 2. I knew that this section was going to be a mental challenge on loops 2 and 3 because of the length and how you were mostly by yourself in the woods.
I grabbed a PB & J sandwich and some electrolytes, turned around, and began the 0.9 mile climb back up to the trail. Thankfully, this part wasn’t as steep as earlier in the race but you still had to go slowly because of how technical the terrain was.
Somewhere around this time, I started to feel some hotspots on my feet. “That’s okay”, I calmly thought to myself. I had prepped my feet with moleskin, was carrying dry socks, and gave my family a pack with extra socks and blister treatment items so planned to briefly stop at the base after completing the first loop to treat them.
I saw a break in the trees and knew I was coming to the end of this section. I reemerged from the woods onto the ski trail and hit mile 6 as well as another steep downhill. The terrain was small, loose rocks so you had to be really careful with your footing so you wouldn’t slip and Superman it.
Down we went and eventually the trail flattened out so a nice steady run was pretty comfortable (Angel’s Wiggle, Taxi, and Queen’s Highway are the ski trails at this point). I passed a lot of glades that Robert and my Dad loved skiing together, like Showoff Glade.
Over the course of this loop and for the remainder of the race, I would send my family a very short text letting them know where I was on the mountain. This way, they could find the best spot to see me next.
Just before mile 7 we took another sharp right turning pointing us in the direction of the Stateside Base. I continued on with an easy run here because the trail wasn’t too steep down and the path was really open since it was a ski trail. I felt the hotspots on the bottom of my left heel and under the arch of my right foot and realized they didn’t spend much time being hotspots but were already blisters by this point.
After another short climb, I ran down to the next aid station where they were grilling bacon! My strategy for fueling at the aid stations was just to reach for whatever I was craving. This time it was a pickle, Coca Cola, and some pretzels. I quickly checked in with the workers (they marked off everyone’s bib number at each station so they had an idea of where you on the mountain at all times) and kept moving while fueling and stuffed the paper cups into my pack so I wasn’t littering.
This next portion of the race took you back towards the Tram Base. It involved a fair amount of hiking with some downhill running. We took a sharp left turn around mile 8.75 to head *back* up towards the direction of the summit. This was about a 20-25 minute hike.
Finally, we were back at the first aid station, took a right turn, and hit a gentle downhill. I broke into an easy run for over a mile all the way down to the base of the Flyer chairlift (about mile 10.5). With a quick hike under the Metro Quad and a downhill curve to the base, I spotted my family and closed in on the first lap. Woohoo! One down, two to go!
I ran straight to the start/finish aid station, sat down, and pulled off my shoes and socks. My family helped me cut moleskin to apply to hotspots turned blisters and I could see that the blister on my left heel was pretty large – at least 3-4 inches in diameter. I couldn’t spend too much time thinking about them because I had to start my second lap so I restocked the fuel I was carrying and took off.
My family cheered as I broke back into an easy jog to start my second loop. I disappeared into the woods and the terrain became steeper. I felt confident in myself because of my training this summer – I have done so much climbing, running, and trail running and knew my legs were ready to tackle loop 2.
Up and up and up I climbed. The miles ticked by and I was diligent about continuing to fuel every 30 minutes. I carried a bunch of gels and stroopwafels in my pack so when I wasn’t near aid stations I had things to eat.
I remember on the steep climbing on the backside of the mountain I thought, “Wow – I feel REALLY strong. My legs feel great, my breathing is steady and controlled, and my mind is in this”. I’m actually doing this! I’m completing my first mountain ultra!
By this time my legs were covered in mud and I was looking like a real mountain girl. I emerged from the woods just below the summit, saw the race helper pointing me in the direction of the summit and continued to climb. I saw my mom off in the distance and Kyle and my dad at the summit aid station. I reached for pickle juice (yes, straight pickle juice and it hit the spot!), Coca Cola, water, and potato chips – gotta get that salt!
My family said they’d see me down at the Stateside base and I continued on. My blisters were growing and while I felt them on the climbs I REALLY felt them on the downhills. Burning with every step (because they were on both feet) but I told myself you know what – it’s not an injury. You’re fine. Keep going. Keep moving.
I got a beautiful view of the tram house, blew my seven kisses to Robert, and made my way to the other side of the mountain where we head back into the woods for the out-and-back.
This out-and-back section really tested your mental strength. You were deep in the woods and because this race was so small you were alone for a lot of it. Down, down, down I carefully hiked making sure not to trip and break an ankle. Eventually, I saw the bright yellow shirts of the aid station workers and grabbed a pickle, pretzels, Coca Cola, water and turned around to make the hike back up.
I continued making my way around the mountain reminding myself to keep up the pace – the only time I stopped moving throughout this entire race was when I was picking up food at the aid stations, which is something I’m incredibly proud of. I didn’t stop on any of the climbs to catch my breath or to take a break – just one foot in front of the other.
Another thing I am very proud of is my mentality. I did not hit one low patch this entire race and I was out there for 10 hours and 46 minutes. My mind was positive and happy the entire time and I believe that’s because A) I was so excited for this race; it’s truly something I wanted to do, B) I felt at home being at Jay Peak because of my family’s history with this mountain, and C) my training. I was so confident in myself because of my training this summer.
I approached the Stateside aid station and saw my family. They had such a great time cheering for all the runners in this race.
After passing through the aid station, I began winding my way back towards the tram side. I was feeling good (well, with the exception of my feet!) and couldn’t believe that I was close to starting my third and final loop.
I passed by the start/finish area and gave all my empty wrappers to my family while I restocked my pack with fuel.
My mom and dad refilled my hydrapak bladder with Gatorade and I started running as soon as I could. The course time limit was 11 hours and I knew that this third loop might be a bit slower not because I was exhausted but because my blisters made the downhill sections pretty hard to run on. I was running when I could but it was pretty painful.
I was alone for pretty much the entire third loop because a majority of the runners were doing the 22-miler so they were done after 2 laps. Also, there were a number of ultra runners who dropped out either after the second loop or because of injury so there weren’t many of us out there.
Now I was back in the woods climbing up to the summit for the third time. It was really quiet but I told myself not to think about being alone, just think about how strong you feel. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and eventually hit the first aid station to turn up onto Ullr’s Dream. I saw one person up on the trail ahead of me. Twenty minutes later, I reentered the woods for the final push to the summit.
Things were really quiet now. I grabbed tree branches and trunks to lift myself up onto rocks, twisted and turned through the woods, and slowly gained more and more elevation. All along the course there were orange flags marking off the course but not in the portions in the woods.
All of a sudden, I felt like I had taken a wrong turn. “No way”, I told myself. “There are not many hiking trails back here – this might even be the only one.” There was also never a point where you hit a fork so I told myself it was impossible that I had somehow ended up on a different trail. So, I kept climbing.
I hit patches of mud like I had in the first two loops and told myself, “See, you’ve seen this mud before. You’re fine!” but still I felt like I was off course.
After maybe 10 minutes of second guessing myself and I called out, “HELLO?!?!?” …no answer. I kept climbing. “HELLOOOOOOOO?!??!” …still no answer. I told myself if you don’t emerge from the woods just beneath the summit in 15 more minutes, turn around. And right as I thought that, I saw a smushed red mushroom in the dirt. I had seen that smushed red mushroom before! I was on the path and on course! Lo and behold, 3 minutes later, I came to the ski trail and told the race person directing me, “Oh my gosh, I thought I was lost!” I told him.
I hit the summit for the last time, took any and all fuel that I could carry, and continued. I slowly made my way across the mountain, blew seven kisses to Robert again, and to the out-and-back for the last time. Mentally, I started checking off parts of the course at this point. I was done climbing to the summit. Done crossing over to the side of the mountain. Done with the out and back. And now, I was heading to Stateside to see my family for the last time until the finish line.
I saw my mom, dad, and Kyle off in the distance as my watch buzzed for mile 29! They were so supportive of both my training and running of this race. Again, I was out there for 10 hours and 46 minutes and they bent over backwards to cheer me on, as well as the other participants.
My mom was so happy she ran a stretch with me. My dad was taking videos. Kyle was carrying my pack with extra supplies. I gave them a big wave and went off into the woods for the last stretch.
I loved being on Jay Peak, and even though I was alone at this point (most participants were during this last loop), I felt like I was home because of how much time I’ve spent on this mountain and how I feel like I know it like the back of my hand.
I really noticed the sun was starting to go down during another stretch in the woods. It was covered with trees so it was dark but I knew I’d only be in there for about 20 minutes. And finally – I hit the last aid station (only had water and Gatorade) and turned for the gentle decline down to the base. “I did it” I said out loud to myself. I think I said that about twenty times. I was pep talking myself all day. “I actually did this!”
I saw my dad, then I saw my mom from afar, and then I saw Kyle, who joined me in running towards the finish line. I had the biggest smile on my face and crossed at 5:16pm – 11,293 ft of climbing and 10 hours 46 minutes and 44 seconds after crossing the starting line. Covered in mud. Feet covered in blisters. And so, so happy and proud.
This race was so challenging both physically and mentally and I am happy to have hit all three goals I had set for myself – to finish, keep moving, and fuel consistently. Everything about this race went well (with the exception of my blisters). The weather, my training, my fueling, mindset, pace. Everything.
Almost one week later and I’m still sore in my quads though can move around much more quickly. If you are interested in the Jay Peak Ultra (or any of their trail race distances), I suggest going for it. They’re well organized and so much fun! The mountain is tough as nails but if you train well and consistently, you can do it.
Until next time Jay Peak!