LI Greenbelt Trail 50k - race report

Yesterday, to celebrate my 33rd birthday I chose to run a 50k trail race. 31 miles to commemorate 33 years (minus the two I don't look, of course). Seemed like such a good idea months ago when I planned it. Of course, life has a knack for getting in the way. Coming into the race I had all of 3 (yes, THREE) miles of running under my belt since April 24th.

But I had set my mind to running this race, and damned if I was going to back out simply because I was ill prepared! So, my alarm went off at 4 am and I headed out to Anthony's house to drive in with him and Wayne. Always nice to arrive in style (thanks Wayne!).

We arrived at the start with plenty of time to spare, picked up our bibs and tech T's and milled around catching up with the people we knew. As I'm still new to the sport, I had fewer people to catch up with than did Anthony and Wayne. Frank and Emmy were there running the 50k, as was Ed - a local runner from home who I'd convinced to give ultra running a shot.

After a short pre-race speech, we were off! The first two-ish miles were on pavement, and I quickly fell behind Anthony, Emmy and Frank. I ran most of the first 5 miles or so with Kim, a runner I'd met while scouting out the Bear Mountain/Harriman trails this winter. She quickly pushed ahead (she's much more talented a trail runner than I am), and I continued on with the rest of the pack surrounding me. Slowly but surely I wound up traversing much of the course alone.

Trail running is still very new to me. My first ultra was on a trail down in Delaware - a 3 mile loop that was relatively flat. The next time I laced up my trail runners was to scout out the trails at Bear Mountain (my third 50k), and that terrain can only be described as beautiful and sadistic. On Saturday, the Long Island Greenbelt Trail 50k marked my 4th ultra distance run, and the third on trails.

The Greenbelt trail was quite different than Bear Mountain. My first impression was that it was a piece of cake. The first 7 miles were pretty runnable - flat and descending portions interspersed with some manageable climbs. The last mile before the turn around however, was merciless. The climbs were steep hills stepped with stairs - with my itty bitty legs, it was quite a feat climbing up them. It seemed cruel that you conquered them only to turn around and face them again in the opposite direction. It was at this point that I realized that this course was, in some ways, more difficult that Bear Mountain.

There was little, if any, of Bear Mountain that I found to be runnable. The Greenbelt trail, however, was chock full of easier sections. Therein lay the difficulty - because so much of it was runnable, I felt compelled to run. But those climbs left me so exhausted that my running was slowed to a fraction of my normal speed. Wanting to run faster and being unable to is frustrating, to say the least. In addition, the sheer idiocy of the Bear Mountain course was a great distraction from the difficult task at hand. While the climbs were tough at Greenbelt, there was little to divert my attention from the miles still ahead.

As I began to cross paths with the 25k racers, I lamented my decision to register for the longer distance. Especially when they passed me again on their way to the finish (nothing like someone starting an hour after you and still managing to beat you to the punch). Then I remembered why I had gotten out of my nice, warm bed. 31 miles for 33 years.

The second loop was far more comfortable. The nagging pain I'd felt in my left knee (steep uphills = steep downhills) had subsided, and I relaxed into an easy rhythm. I attacked the flats and descents with as much aggression as I could muster, hoping to make up for the time I knew I'd lose on those nasty climbs. I enjoyed seeing everyone on the trails (of course, they were all on their way to the finish as I was heading to the turnaround), and refueling at Scott and Lisa's aid station (so great to have such friendly faces volunteering). I picked up a stick and reveled in the beauty of my surroundings.

And made a wrong turn.

Got back on track. Frolicked in the woods. Communed with nature. Felt the wind caress my face and the ground fly beneath my feet.

And made another wrong turn.

4 miles from the finish and I had just lost close to 20 minutes going in the wrong direction and then backtracking to pick up the trail again (not to mention allowing two runners to slip in front of me in the process). As I hit the correct trail once again, I met up with the back of the pack and went into overdrive. I spent the remaining 3 miles putting as much space between us as I could (all the while paranoid that I was going in the wrong direction). As I exited the woods the volunteer directed me to make a left on the road and then a left at the light and I'd be at the finish. This would have to be the worst marked portion of the course. I had NO idea where I was going (it was about 6:30 am when we drove in, and I didn't pay any attention at the start of the race when we ran from the LIRRC clubhouse). I was convinced that I was going to have to call Anthony and tell him that I was lost trying to find the finish :) Luckily, I was in the right place, and crossed the finish line in 7:52:12. Emmy, Frank, Anthony and Wayne had finished long before, as had Ed (who will probably never forgive me for suggesting he run this).

Apparently there was beer there, but somehow I missed it :( Ah well, next time.

All in all, it turned out to be a great day. Aside from my typical sausage fingers, I managed to avoid feeling ill, and didn't bloat up like Bear Mountain. While my legs were beat up from close to 8 hours of running, they never stopped moving and did me proud. I steered clear of the negative mental self-talk that had plagued me at Bear Mountain as well, maintaining good spirits throughout the race - always having a ready smile and a pleasant greeting for the multitudes of faster runners blowing by me.

The highlight of my day was at the finish - I was mulling around, and a gentleman pulled me aside. He told me (and please forgive my awful paraphrasing here) that of everyone he'd passed along the course, I'd had the easiest running form. He went on to tell me that every time he saw me I looked balanced, upright and at ease, and that seeing me made him feel better.

31 miles for 33 years.

Happy Birthday to me.


  1. awesome job staci!

    while greenbelt ain't bear mountain, it's still a tough patch of trail squeezed onto long island!

    i got lost lost 4 separate times (that i'll admit to ;)) the first time i ran. i still managed to get lost again this year - less than 3 miles from the finish!!

    pineland farms should be smooth sailing :D

  2. Good job at your birthday race!!! there is no better way to spend it. Except for the getting lost part, ugh. I hate getting lost! You are becoming a super ultrarunner.

  3. nice job, especially with the lack of training. less than 2 weeks to pineland farms - have you run that before? it will be my first time up there.

  4. Jim, Pineland will be a first for me. But it sounds like a great run. Look forward to seeing you there!

  5. Staci --great report! I am proud of you for getting up and getting to LI. I hear you about the petit frame trying to stretch out, as I am on the short side --my hip flexors bother me also. I had to cringe when I read about you getting lost on the last mile of the course -last year, when i finished, no volunteers were around to direct me and I had no clue where to go. I stood in the middle of sunnyside blvd wondering where to go! ha. finally a particpant in a car going home directed me!!! The Northern part of that course, while not Bear Mtn. is still really did an awesome job. see you in a couple weeks!

  6. Great Job Diva!! :)

    I'm so darn proud of you! My running hero!!

    Happy Birthday!


  7. Nice Job and happy birthday!


  8. Great job Staci, way to celebrate your b-day in style!!!

  9. NICE write up and awesome experience! Good for you, treating yourself to some birthday madness. Hey, you should be blessed to celebrate all your birthdays in fitness:)

    Looking forward to meeting you and learning to run from you real soon! keep me posted!


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