Yesterday, I met the mountain. The mountain had some friends – the trails. Together, they kicked my ass and used it as a hackey-sack for approximately 10 hours and 50 minutes.
I may have enjoyed it. Only time will tell.
Start to 1777 Aid Station:
The total distance on this portion is 5.3 miles. This section is likely the most difficult section of the course. After a 2 mile warm up, this leg quickly turns vertical. There is an aggressive climb up the Yellow Trail, then a descent before climbing up The Timp Trail. Once you reach the top of the Timp Trail, it’s an easy run to the first Aid Station, 1777.
I got to the start around 6:15 am. It was nice not to have to schlep to a race for once, or look at directions! I pulled into the lot, next to Scott and Garth - with whom I’d attempted to scout the race course a few weeks earlier. After dropping our gear bags and hitting the rest room, we lined up for the pre-race speech. I kept an eye out for Emmy, who was going to be starting out with me before meeting up with Anthony to pace him for the final 11 miles of the 50 mile race. The weather was clear and getting warmer every minute. I debated the wisdom of wearing my windbreaker, but chose to keep it on for a bit. As we gathered around for the official start, Emmy was nowhere to be seen. At 7 am, we were off.
2 mile warm up my ass. It was 2 miles that gave runners a false sense of security. Sure, it was mostly uphill, but the pathway was wide and fairly easy to run, save for the massive amounts of mud left from the early morning storms. You think, “OK – I can do this”. But I knew better. From my earlier scouting trip of the trails, I had an inkling of what lay before me. So I took my time and kept an easy pace, settling into my position at the back of the pack. By the time we came to the two climbs in this section, I was the back of the pack. I didn’t find the climbs particularly difficult, compared to what I experienced a few weeks back when we tried to run the trail. They were definitely time consuming, and slick, but altogether I thought they were fun. I had by this point met up with the rest of the runners that made up the back of the pack. We were a motley crew, made up of a few very experienced ultra runners and some newer to the sport. One gentleman, who was a frequent contributor to UltraRunning magazine, said that of the hundreds of ultra marathons he’s participated in, this was by far the most difficult. We finally breezed into the first aid station at close to 9 am, 30 minutes past the first cut off.
1777 to Lake Welch Dr. Aid Station:
The total distance of this portion is 5.2 miles. Runners will set out on the Blue Trail and descend the South side of The Timp Trail. Runners will need to use caution as the last part of the descent is a rock staircase (extreme caution if it is wet). The Red Cross Trail follows this section with a climb over The Pines. Circumnavigate Pingyp Mountain as the descent on the South side is too dangerous. You’ll be following Pines Rd, then a newly marked route along Stillwater Brook which will lead you to the shoulder of the Palisades Parkway. Remain on the shoulder down to the police-assisted crossing and wait for the police to signal you across. Once across Palisades Parkway, runners will hit the Lake Welch Dr. Aid Station.
I think this is where I took my dirtiest spill. In the previous section I had slipped and caught myself with my right hand. Naked as it was, I managed to give myself a lovely cut that bled profusely until I hid it with my gloves. As we made our way down the steep rocks, yours truly slipped and went splat! into the mud. I had a very purdy tush for a while. At some point, I also had a run in with a tree branch that left a lovely scratch and bruise all over my right thigh. During this section, I also pulled away from the back of the pack fairly early on. I made some nice gains while power-hiking some of the rockier portions, and soon I was all alone. It was here where I also found my “trail legs” for a while. I realized that if I just let go, I could navigate the rocky sections of trail, hopping this way and that. It was exhilarating, and I can honestly say that I was enjoying myself. I bounded through the woods, completely alone, and headed towards the Palisades Interstate Parkway. Where I promptly stopped short. Oh, look. A stream crossing. Hmmm, how to best get across? I wandered to the left and to the right, searching for an easy (dry) place to cross. I may as well have saved myself the trouble. The only way to cross and still manage to climb up to the shoulder of the road involved stepping across onto a submerged rock. So, I bit the bullet, dunked my foot, and made it to the other side.
After that it was smooth sailing as I ran down the grassy shoulder of the PIP (the weirdest sensation, as it’s the highway I drive most often) and headed southbound to the waiting State Trooper for my “police-assisted crossing”. In reality, the assistance amounted to him saying “If you can cross before that car gets here, you can go now”. Thanks, officer. From there I jogged into the aid station, refilled my hydration pack, had a snack and was on my way. By this point it was close to 11 am, and I was now at least an hour behind their suggested cut-off times
Lake Welch Dr. to Camp Lanowa:
The total distance of this section is 5.2 miles. This leg includes several moderate to hard climbs as you ascend Pound Swamp Mountain, Irish Mountain, Jackie Jones Mountain, then up to Big Hill. This section is mostly single track running. Use caution on the final descent into the Camp Lanowa Aid Station as the trail is extremely steep. This is, also, the separation point for the 50 Mile and Accelerade 50K course.
It was during this leg of the race that I had my first bleak moments. Around mile 13 or so, I decided that I didn’t like running long distances, and perhaps I should return to my days of 3 miles on the treadmill in the gym. Screw that, maybe I just shouldn’t run at all. Period. I passed another runner who seemed to be even less enthused than I, who lamented that it just wasn’t fun anymore. He was the first person I had seen in hours. As I made my way to the next aid station, the time was coming up upon 1 pm. It had taken me 6 hours to go 15.7 miles. The idea that I was just now halfway through the course was daunting, and it was difficult to envision another 6 hours navigating the lonesome course. I found myself hoping that they’d pull me at the next aid station – that way I could go home, shower, have a bite to eat and head back into work. Anything would be better than this sorry excuse of a race performance.
Camp Lanowa to Tiorati Book Rd. Aid Station:
The total distance of this portion is 4.9 miles. This section is fairly easy with the first 3.0 miles running mostly downhill on single track. Runners will then face a 1.9 mile climb on old rocky roads before reaching Torati Brook. The 50 Mile course rejoins the Accelerade 50K during this leg.
OK, so they weren’t pulling us slugs off the course – I had no choice but to continue on.
Which is good, because if I dropped out I’d certainly have hell to pay for taking the day off from work 3 days before the end of tax season! I took it slowly coming out of the aid station – it was a paved road and somewhat uphill. I ate my sandwich, drank my water and merrily went on my way. Once I was back on the trails, I took off at an easy jog and found my trail legs once again! They hadn’t deserted me! The bleakness of the previous section left me, and my spirits were once gain buoyed by the sights surrounding me as I made my way through the mud and water to the next aid station. I arrived at approximately 2:30 pm, almost a full aid station behind the original cut-offs. As I was refilling my water and refueling my belly, who should drive up but Emmy! She had (quite smartly) opted against starting the 50k with me earlier that morning, and chose instead to run the half marathon option. I spent far too much time lollygagging at the aid station (Meri would have been so disappointed in me), but it was the first human contact I’d had in over two hours!
Tiorati Brook to Anthony Wayne Aid Station:
The total distance of this portion is 6.1 miles. This section is perhaps the nicest section of the race. This is a long stretch of trail that is wide, with several stream crossings and passing multiple waterfalls. There is a short climb up the 1779 Trail before descending to the Anthony Wayne Aid Station.
I made my way from the aid station with Emmy, chomping on an apple and feeling as though I were out for an afternoon stroll. Brennan, running the 50 milers, quickly zoomed past us, effortlessly bounding through the stream that Emmy and I had tentatively crossed. That’s why he’s a rock star and I’m just a groupie J About 10 minutes in, Emmy headed back to the aid station to wait for Anthony, and I moved onward in my quest. But what started out as a great leg quickly descended into my very first truly unpleasant race experience. The bloating that had started to plague me a few hours earlier had escalated to the point where my hands resembled those of a fat man (I kept thinking of Artie Lange, “hmm, this must be what Artie’s hands look like”) – my fingers were as thick as sausages, and flushed with pink. I could feel my flesh stretching as I continually flexed my fingers into a fist. Looking down, I could see that my stomach was distended – it looked like I had just gotten up from the Thanksgiving table (or that I had eaten a small child, along with one of those big bouncy balls they keep in a huge cage at Toys-R-Us).
It certainly didn’t help that this section, while touted as one of the nicest sections of the race, was boring. It was flat and I could see the trail stretching out in front of me. Add that to the beginnings of some low level nausea and I just didn’t want to run anymore. I had tried so hard to be responsible, drinking water and supplementing with S Caps. Either I didn’t do it well enough, or the unexpected heat had taken its toll. I managed to jog for a while, but when after I stopped to reapply some anti-chafing crème, I found that I just didn’t have it in me to bounce anymore. The sloshing noise of my hydration pack (I hadn’t done the cool anti-slosh thing that Meri taught me at the last aid station) was not helping the nausea. As a fresh looking 50 miler jetted past me and asked if I was ok, I realized that I must look as lousy as I felt. It was a tough mental blow – I usually manage to stay strong and positive, even in the most miserable of conditions. How could I be so weak? I continued to walk the remainder of this leg, mentally berating myself for giving in to physical weakness, lack of motivation and staying power. I was questioning my desire to run ultra distances, and decided that if this was how the 50 and 100 milers felt, then they could keep those races for themselves! I wanted no part of it.
The solitude that I had been so proud of myself for embracing soon become burdensome, I had been running/hiking/climbing for close to 4:30, and save for a few brief moments I had been completely on my own. I soldiered on - alternating brisk power-hiking with some admittedly relaxed strolling. I was feeling altogether “off” and having some trouble with my balance. I had some pretty impressive burps, too, but kept the nausea at bay. About a mile from the next aid station, two of the runners I had started the race with over took me. Once again, as we made our way to the final aid station before the finish, I was at the back of the pack.
Anthony Wayne to Finish:
The total distance of this portion is 3.9 miles. Following a short climb right out of the Aid Station, runners will clear the first ridge and begin the last stretch which is mostly downhill and double wide rocky trail the rest of the way home.
Breezing through the final aid station, I sipped a bit of flat soda, used the porta-john, and ducked back into the woods for my final 4 mile stretch. The end was in sight. I had never had any doubts about my ability to complete the distance, just the style and manner in which I would. The short climbs were taking a disproportionate toll on me, but I was excited to be so close to the finish. About 2 miles to the finish, I heard a runner approaching. Thinking it was yet another fresh-looking 50 milers, I moved aside to let him pass. To my surprise it was another one of the runners I had started out with. He’d suffered a bad leg cramp at mile 7, rested a bit, and was now back on track to finish. When I offered to let him pass, he said he’d been planning on stopping behind me and walking – he had no motivation to run at the moment. He and I stayed together until the end, where he sprinted to the finish. Amazingly, he wasn’t a runner at all. Just a hiker. He said that every so often he did something to test his endurance. Prior to this, it was 175 mile bike ride. All in preparation to climb Mt. Everest in 4 years, his ultimate goal. His company pulled me through those last miles, and I began to think that maybe this wasn’t such an awful day after all.
By my watch, I completed the race in 10 hours and 50 minutes.
Total distance = 30.6 miles
- I like hiking and climbing, even though the steep ascents petrify me (the descents are even worse). This is something I’d like to become more proficient at.
- I don’t like cut-offs. Neither the daisy duke kind, nor the race kind. Feeling as though I were always behind, racing this imaginary time constraint was the number one mind fuck that I had to deal with throughout the race. Had the cut-off not been an issue, I would have been able to find more enjoyment in my surroundings – savor the vistas, take some pictures.
- My trail shoes suck.
- Don’t bother trying to go around the mud or over the streams. Dive right in and keep on going. It’s faster, easier, and infinitely more fun.
- I am perfectly capable of running for 11 hours with neither live company nor audio distractions.
- It is entirely too easy to give in to physical and mental pain when you’re alone – I understand now why pacers are such a boon to ultra runners.
- If you think you’ll need to catch yourself, wear gloves, even when it’s not cold out. More importantly, don’t leave said gloves at an aid station halfway through the race.
- Don’t bother looking for toilet paper in the porta-potty.
- Singing “The Hills Are Alive” has more impact on top of a mountain than in the midst of one.
Embrace the suck, but don’t lose sight of the joy. There is something about this sport, as masochistic as it can be at times, that calls to us. Explore that and revel in it. It makes us special.