After the Hardrock 100, we made our way back to Boulder Colorado to meet up with a few friends before we took our flight back to New York. Phil Germakian guided us on an awesome run through the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from Rufus Frost asking me if I was interested in being involved in the filming of a FKT attempt on the Presidential Traverse. Rufus owns 360 Media Ventures, a film production and advertising company out of Portland, ME that has experience with a wide array of sports on locations all over the planet. They thought the idea of an FKT attempt on the 18.4 mile Presidential Traverse would be a good fit for a World of Adventure episode on Outside TV, as well as provide good footage for a Subaru ad. I’ve been a big Subaru fan for quite a while, and although I no longer own my 2003 WRX, Steph and I both still drive Subarus. Rufus and I starting discussing potential dates, and before long we had a preliminary schedule planned that included some necessary flexibility for the Presidential weather; trying to avoid the type that kills people. Twelve short days after the Cayuga 50 miler, the weather looked too good to pass up, so I pointed the Impreza north after work. Rufus and his crew (Caroline Curley, Kevin Sennett, and Calib Uhl) fully realized that filming during the FKT attempt was going to be difficult, so the plan was to get as much footage as possible on the day of the attempt, and then get some additional footage the following day.
On the day of the attempt, we drove up from North Conway and I basically went through my standard pre-run routine while they did a bit of filming. Well, I did have to park my car twice. We had discussed the trails I was going to take, and one of my major motivations for doing the project was to try a different approach to Mount Madison. After discussing various trails with Doug Mayer, Jan Wellford, and Ryan Welts, I decided to take Valley Way to Brookside to Watson path. My first two miles on the trail were pretty similar to my FKT run from 2013, other than Calib popping out of the trees to film me on the Brookside trail. This was great, as the trail runs right alongside a series of waterfalls, and I had thought they were only going to film right at the start. When we were discussing his plans, Rufus had mentioned that they were going to meet me at the summit of Washington, and then drive down to the finish on route 302. As I thought about it, I told him I didn’t think he would make it to the finish in time. I then Google mapped it, and sure enough, it takes about 90 minutes to get from the summit to the finish in a car (without North Conway traffic), and that is about how long it takes me to run that section of the traverse.
The second two miles up to Madison involved some rather serious climbing. This started while I was still on Brookside, but things got real vertical on the Watson Path. Looking at my GPS data, there is a mile with over 1600’ of climb, which is more than any other mile on any of my FKT attempts in NH, the Catskills, or the Adirondacks. The real stat is the 1.1 mile stretch leading to the summit of Madison, which covers 2085 feet. I was a little concerned about my pace during this section, but it now makes perfect sense! That is an average of 34% grade for over a mile with grades of up to 85% at points. While this was an entirely different route up to the summit, my time of 1:08:26 was almost identical to my FKT run up the DW Scout trail in 2013.
I carefully made my way down to the hut on the jagged spine of the Osgood trail, filled my bottles, and managed to get onto to Gulfside to take Airline to Adams. I was moving well on this section, and made it to the top about 3 minutes ahead of FKT pace. The trail off of Adams is always difficult to follow, and I was glad to have hikers above confirm I was still on the trail whenever I paused to look for cairns! I never feel like I am moving fast from Adams to Mount Jefferson, but I was still about 3 minutes ahead at the summit. At one point on this section, I wedged my left foot so hard between two rocks that it stopped me dead, and I had to use my hands to pull my foot out. That was a first. Around the same time, I also ripped a hole in my sock and took a half dollar sized chunk of flesh off that left ankle. The Northern Presidentials are brutal.
I didn’t want to run too hard to Washington, so I tried to keep the effort steady from Jefferson, over Clay, and up to the observatory. I had 2 minute lead on Clay, but was only about 30 seconds ahead by the time I summited Washington. On my way up, I had an entertaining race with an older fellow who started to hammer as he heard me approaching in my Inov-8 Orocs. For a while, I thought I would have a pacer for the entire last half mile or so to the summit! I filled up in the observatory, and then noticed Kevin, one of the film crew, running at me from another trailhead where they thought I would arrive. He made it to the start of the trail that leads to Crawford Path, but didn’t end up following for very long, which is a smart thing considering the rig he was carrying and the trail that is covered with two foot high mountain shards.
As I made my way down to the Lake of the Clouds hut, the spikes on my Orocs were getting a little old. On the following climb up Monroe, I started to feel the sun bearing down on me as I passed Rufus, who had made his way down from the summit. I certainly wasn’t overheating, but I was warm, and the sweat was rolling off of me. I was a minute behind FKT pace at the summit. It felt good to start the next downhill, but my left hamstring started to tighten a bit. I could not really afford to back off, but I tried to relax and hoped that it would loosen up. I struggled trying to maintain my speed for sustained periods of time, and had a few close calls that would have resulted in extremely painful falls if I had not caught myself in time.
On Eisenhower, I had stopped the bleeding of time, but I was still behind by a minute. I knew I needed to make something happen heading over to Pierce and really hammered the downhills. By the time I got to the flat and uphill sections, both my hamstrings were just about done, and I had to back off to preserve them for the 3 mile downhill that drops about 3k. I knew my run down in 2013 had been full-blast as I was behind FKT pace, so I was concerned when I was still a minute behind at the summit of Pierce. Despite this, I was actually confident I would lower the FKT based on the fact that I had my Orocs on, which allow me to run downhills much faster than non-dobbed shoes, like the Terraflys I wore in 2013. Caution was abandoned on that downhill, and there were near-falls every two minutes or so. It was my version of riding the rev limiter in 6th gear on the Isle of Man TT course. Another first on this run was cramping in my left arm from all the flailing on the downhill. That was interesting. I could only dare to look at my watch towards the very end, and was surprised to see 4:35, I had missed the FKT. My final time was 4:36:01, 90 seconds slower. At this point, there have been at least three runs between 4:34:31 and 4:36:01, with Jan Wellford’s former FKT only 53 seconds slower than my 2013 run.
Despite still having the FKT, I was disappointed to have missed lowering it after 4 hours of intense effort. I think the reason I missed it was a combination of the run being only 12 days after the Cayuga Trails 50 mile, the warmth over the final 9-10 miles, the wet trail conditions over the last three miles, and possibly the Orocs. As I think back to the 2013 run, I don’t think it was as wet as it was this year, and so while the Orocs were hard on my legs at times up on the ridge, they most likely saved significant time on the final descent. I was only 20 seconds slower over that section this year, and I’m not sure I could have expected much more than 9 minute mile pace for 2 miles that descend about 1k each, and then 7:32 pace for the final 0.4 that drops at a similar rate. It was a solid attempt, but it is hard missing a FKT by such a small margin. Apparently my 2013 run was a decent effort.
We then had to wait a little while until Rufus made his way down the Crawford path behind me. I thought it was great that he ran and hiked all the way from Washington to 302, which I think was his first time on the traverse. It clearly gave him a solid appreciation for the trail, including how wet the last descent was, which seemed more like a brook at times. The next day, it was almost completely dry. Later in the afternoon, we headed to the Mount Washington Hotel to film an interview and have a relaxing dinner. The views of the Presidentials from the back porch were postcard perfect. I had planned on finishing up a grant application that night, but fatigue hit me like a truck back at the hotel, and I barely managed to set my alarm for 4am, again. From 4-6am, I got the grant finished and submitted, and then met the crew for breakfast and a long day of filming.
Steph described the trip as a vacation, but there sure was quite a bit of work being done on this vacation. Yes, I enjoy running and driving. I also enjoy doing research, but long days of either feel like work. The filming on day 2 started with a few shots back at the start, included quite a bit of quality time filming my car driving up and down the auto road (where I served as my own stunt driver), running footage of the trail from Washington down to the Lakes hut, more running footage of the end of the traverse, and finally some high speed drifting through covered bridges. I had a good time talking Subarus and some of the other 360 MV projects with Kevin and Calib during our lengthy mountain commutes between trailheads. It is a good thing I didn’t have my old 2003 WRX; I probably would have slid it off the auto road up Washington. While the two days of filming obviously implies some movie magic for the running footage, I can tell you right now that I was not running any faster the day after the FKT attempt. Faster wasn’t exactly an option. As we were hanging out on the summit of Washington, I realized how rare it was for me to be up there on a perfectly clear day and be able to see virtually all of the ridges and peaks I have run across; like an ephemeral photo album of trail runs.
While I haven’t seen a single frame of video from this project, the 360 MV team clearly know what they are doing, and it didn’t hurt that the weather was virtually perfect. They were awesome to work with, and I hope this project stimulates similar trail running projects in the future. I am certain that there will be some great shots of the trail that clearly illustrate what is involved in northeastern FKT attempts. You may not see me smiling during the attempt, but trying to run fast up there is seriously fun, just more of an exhausting, scary fun. Smiling is difficult because you need to have your lips fully covering your teeth for protection during face plants. While I don’t see a substantial need for increasing the promotional visibility of FKTs, it is my hope that other runners and hikers will find the finished project entertaining, and possibly encourage them to pursue their own challenges and spend more time outside. In the few days since my attempt, two athletes that I coach, Brian Ibbs and Karl Loops, completed a Pemi loop (32 miles with 10k of climb) in under 10 hours, Jeff List ran a double Presidential Traverse in 16 hours at 57 years old, and Bob Najar hiked 60 miles with 18k of climb at 60 years old. When I grow up, I want to be like Jeff and Bob.
The Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance run is one of the toughest trail runs on the planet. It is an ultramarathon 100.5 miles in length with 33,050 feet of climbing and 33,050 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 66,100 feet. It has an average elevation of over 11,000 feet. Participants must travel above 12,000 feet of elevation a total of 13 times, with the highest point on the course being the 14,048’ summit of Handies Peak.
I could tell by the looks on people’s faces when I told them that I was from New Jersey and I arrived at Silverton two days before race day, never seeing the course before… I sensed concern from my good friend Garry Harrington too that maybe I should have come out a week or two earlier to acclimate although no one came out and said it. I never had any issues with altitude before, but I knew that this race was different because the gains and losses of altitude were extreme. I also knew that even the locals get snake bitten from the altitude sometimes. It could strike at any moment.
In preparation for this race I was trained exclusively by Elizabeth Azze of Mountain Peak Fitness in New York. This was my first race that in my running career that I actually followed and completed every single workout. If for some reason I didn’t finish this race I didn’t want it to be for lack of proper training. Although at times I thought that I was under training at the start of the program and overtraining at the end, by the time that race day approached and I was in taper mode my legs felt really good and all of my aches and pains diminished.
During the race I never thought at any time that my body was going to give in and that is saying a lot for someone who arrived from New Jersey at 125 feet elevation two days before the race. I was completely confident that my fitness level was well good enough to finish. I just had to execute the race plan and survive the elements.
I’ve been stubborn over the years in my training and haven’t always followed my coach’s advice. I’d do what I thought was relevant and leave out other things. This time was different. I followed Coach Elizabeth’s direction comprehensively. One of most important aspects to Elizabeth’s training program was the addition of strength training, mobility and soft tissue manipulation, I feel many runners do not incorporate this into their routine. I had nagging knee and hip issues leading into the training process and by the discipline of following her routine, I stood at the starting line pain free and ready. A couple of days after finishing the race I realized that everything worked completely.
My crew for the race was Elizabeth Azze, Super Joe Azze, Garry Harrington, Steve Collins, Karl Loops and Barry Lass. All of us were from New York and New Jersey except for Garry and Steve. The East Coast group arrived in Silverton on Wednesday before race day.
At the start I did not feel nervous. I thought that I was relaxed, but looking at pictures it appeared that I was not calm. I arrived at the Silverton Gym early by 5:15 AM. I did not want to get stuck in any lines checking in. The crew came to the Gym to wish me luck and send me off. I mostly sat in the stands in the gym reviewing my race plan in my mind. I remembered what countless runners had told me that it was “just a long hike.”
I chatted a bit with Larry Kundrik a Canadian runner that I had met last year at the Fat Dog 120. I was also introduced to Chris Agbay. The time went pretty fast and soon I was headed outside for the start. I did not start in arm warmers or long sleeves. I was cold at the start, but knew that wouldn’t last long. The temps read low 50’s, but it felt high 30’s.
My goal was to finish in 42 hours and to run the first part of the course with Larry Kundrik. Larry ended up dropping me after an hour. After the race I learned that he said that he’ gone out to fast, but finished in a very respectable 41 hours.
About 1 ½ hours after the start I realized that I was a little short on nutrition. I had set my timer on my watch to sound off every 20 minutes to alternate between GU gels and Perpetuem tablets. As a result, I had to extend the amount of time in-between feedings until the next drop bag aid station at Chapman until I could replenish my supplies. I was happy to experience that I could rely on the course markings. I never had to look at my paper map or the course map that I downloaded on my phone.
I was feeling sluggish climbing to mile 15, but once I got to the Joel Zucker memorial I knew that I’d feel better. I’d brought a rock from Harriman State Park in New York to place there along with another rock that caught my eye while in Colorado. This was a special stop for me as Joel’s Sister Lisa in New York is a friend. Now even a closer friend. After a stop at the Memorial I felt fine again and moved on. I felt that I had some help watching over me as the next miles passed quickly while maintaining a conservative pace and staying on trail.
I have to apologize because I don’t remember a lot to tell before my pacers took over. I was locked in and concentrating on nutrition, keeping my heart rate below 150 and keeping a conservative pace while making sure that I was on course. I just don’t remember a lot about the course itself before then. When I race I am concentrating on the moment and sometimes miss things that I could add to a race report. This particular race is more about the overall experience and the people associated with it anyway, not just the racing aspect.
Of all of the beautiful scenery along the course the one that stands out above the rest was the view down upon Island Lake. That and the views above on top of one pass down upon the other passes. Spectacular!
Descending down a scree field was the most fun of the race once I got the hang of it. This was my first encounter. I just dug my heels in, used my poles for balance and went along for the ride. It was kind of like skiing. I had to clean the rocks out of my shoes once I reached the trail below, but what fun and so worth it! One runner almost had a meeting with a bocce ball sized rock that was rolling down the scree from above me. It went whirling past me and just missed the runner below. Had he not fallen just before the rock approached it would’ve struck him on left leg. Luck for sure.
Descending down the rope in the very steep snow after the Kroger’s Canteen aid station at Virginus Pass was a little tricky, but not too tiring. Roch Horton was filling me up with Coca Cola before I made my way down. I passed on the Tequila and Mezcal. I should have used gloves, but escaped with little more than a little blood loss and freezing hands.
Another first for me was glissading (sitting intentionally on your butt and sliding down a steep snow field). That too was a lot of fun as long as you steered well clear of huge rocks at the bottom. Everyone navigated the snow sections well without incident.
I remember wondering why race staff would confirm that we had our spot tracker on as we left certain aid stations. In hindsight it was because these were the hairiest sections of the trail and they needed that confirmation in the event that they had to drag you out… I thought that I had hiked or raced some scary sections of trail in my life, but they weren’t kidding that you could die out there if you weren’t attentive and careful.
About two months ago I was worried that I wouldn’t have a crew. As it turned out one of the best parts of my successful finish was the support that I received from my crew and pacers. Joe Azze must have been a mountain goat in a previous life. He paced me from Ouray to Grouse. I never heard him breathe heavy the entire climb to Engineer. If he ever concentrated on running he’d surely smoke all of us.
Good friend Garry Harrington was supposed to pace me from Grouse to Cunningham, but he couldn’t go because of fatigue issues. I was looking forward to running again with Garry. We had run the entire 100 miles together at Bighorn as we were both in need of a qualifier for this race. Garry had recruited Durango Colorado’s Steve Collins to pace me through this section. Steve proved that he knew this whole section of course from memory without having to rely upon course markers.
As Steve took over the pacing from Grouse Gulch to Cunningham I think that we did pretty well on the climb to Handies. Once we summited, a new friend named Sarah from New York was there cheering for New York and New Jersey to get over the pass. After the race she told me that she couldn’t remember what State I was from so she cheered for both. I remember saying at the top that I was incoherent and had to get down fast, but I was still hiking well.
The road down to Sherman took a lot out of me. I should have been running this section, but I mostly power walked due to the heat. When I got to Sherman I was in bad shape for me and it was only mile 71 or so. I took my time swapping my gear and gathering supplies. After eating a huge PBJ and downing a few Cokes I no longer was thinking about taking a nap. I finally started to feel good enough to hit the trail again.
By the time that I reached Pole Creek I felt that I was in danger of overheating. I wasn’t sure if I was headed for a heat stroke, dehydration or what the problem was. I had to cool down or I’d end up on the side of the trail or worse my race would be over. First we started drenching my cap and bandana in water along Pole Creek. Next I was dunking my shirt as well. Finally, after I laid down in the creek with my feet on the embankment a few times. I started to feel better, like I was cooling down. Luckily I didn’t lose too much time. As we continued to Maggie Gulch I placed snow under my cap to keep my core temperature down.
At Maggie Gulch I was crashing again. I was thinking about taking a nap, which I had never done before in a race. An awesome aid station volunteer suggested that I have a coffee and some soup. I am a coffee hound by nature, but never had a good experience drinking it on race days. Although it was a black coffee and I like mine with lots of sugar and milk I was feeling good in minutes. Off we went.
As we reached Cunningham we encountered a huge mob of sheep. At the pre-race briefings, we were warned that a few hikers had been bitten by sheep dogs just before race day. It’s interesting that the dogs guard the flock without human intervention and they are very protective. Pacer Steve was parting the sea of sheep and we picked up the pace through them. There were thousands! The sheep were so loud that it reminded me of running through Wellesley during the Boston Marathon. Steve was waving his arms and yelling at them, scaring them off in full stride. I laughed at the time because he looked like Ford Prefect using his towel to chase Vogon’s away (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference for those not familiar). After we got through there was one lone lamb just standing there bleating at us with their little black face. Poor bugger got separated on the wrong side of the trail. Good thing that we didn’t see any sheep dogs though.
With another mile to Cunningham we started running harder for one of the few times, only to get to that tricky descent into the aid station. It seemed like it took another 45 minutes or an hour. Now I know that a Hardrock mile is really 2 or 3 miles. Right Steve?
At Cunningham the whole crew was there; Joe, Barry, Elizabeth, Karl and Garry. I wasn’t sure who was going to pace me to the finish. I had assumed that it would be Elizabeth since she knows me as a runner better than anyone. She had also paced me in my fastest 100 miler at Vermont in 2012 and at Western States last year. Steve had also offered to bring me home to the finish.
When I sat in the chair at Cunningham I was so happy to get a rest and regroup that I almost tipped over backwards in the chair. I asked who was taking over the pacing and learned that Barry had gotten the call. Barry was repaying me for pacing him from the Winfield aid station at Leadville in 2014.
Of all of the things that I had encountered so far in the race I wasn’t too phased for most of them until I left Cunningham. I was concerned about heat exhaustion at the creek crossing, but I knew if I played it smart I could get through that because nightfall was upon us and it would cool off.
Steve has previously told me that after crossing the stream leaving Cunningham aid station all that I would have left is a little 3,000-foot climb. Little my east coast ass! Little Giant took Barry and I a good 2 ½ hours plus to reach the top. I would hate to do this climb again on fresh legs let alone with 90 miles of trail on them. Once we reached the top it didn’t get any easier with a narrow technical trail to descend until we reached a jeep road. We had to carefully slide down on our butts using our poles for balance while navigating through large rocks and some washed out sections of trail at times. One slip and it could be a long way down although we could not see what was lying there off of the trail in the darkness. That was a good thing.
Now we had less than 7 non-technical miles to go. At mile 95 I was beginning to wonder if I would make it. I was moving well, but starting to lose balance and wobble. I thought that I was literally going to fall asleep in mid stride. I took a caffeine pill and it did nothing. Then I started downing caffeinated GU gels every 5 or 10 minutes. After 4 gels I gained some energy back although it was short lived. I am not sure how far it was from the finish when the crew from the #beastcoast was waiting to encourage me to the finish. Mike Siudy (AKA Cat Skill) had joined the crew for the hike to the rock.
Cat Skill was counting down the blocks in Town until the finish. Turning the corner to the finish chute I went into a Wildebeest sprint and kissed that beautiful rock. I was going so fast when I kissed the rock that Joe Azze joked that I must have knocked my teeth out. Man, what a challenge. All I could do after finishing was think about those tough climbs and wonder how I got over them. I must have said “Holy shit” a hundred times.
I finished at 1:37 AM on Sunday, the same time as my bib number. Garry Harrington would appreciate the significance of my bib number and appreciate the coincidence (or union) of the finish time. I may not get the opportunity to run the race again, but I’ll be back for sure with my Family to crew or pace for my team or whoever else needs support.
Throughout the race I ran along the course with some runners that I spent a good bit of time with. Ken #38, Miles from Oregon, Dima from San Francisco, the Shark, Bj and one runner that was doing the course two times on race week end. Sick. I didn’t get the opportunity to run a bit or meet up with Howie Stern, Chris Agbay, Greg Salvesen, or Bob Fargo from Washington, PA who I wanted to meet because my Father was born in that town.
I’ve been lucky enough to finish a lot of challenging races, with some at altitude; Manitou’s Revenge, two Leadville’s, Wasatch, Tahoe Rim Trail, Bighorn and Western States. This race is way above all of the rest, literally and figuratively in terms of terrain, altitude, the elements and the mental strength required to finish it.
I have never felt such a sense of Family at any other race that I’ve competed in. The sheer emotion and joy that the race director and race staff showed for the participants was heartwarming. I’ve done over 60 races and started 14 hundred milers and this one tops them all. Not to take away from the other races, but it’s no wonder that many racers come back to Silverton 10 or 20 times despite the odds of gaining entry.
My SCOTT Kinabalu Supertrac’s performed great at this race and in my training on the trails. The fit is perfect and I had a minimal amount of blisters and hotspots. More importantly the grip in the highly technical sections never let me down I experienced minimal slipping and I don’t recall falling once. I used Black Diamond Z poles, which once again proved reliable and sturdy.
Date: June 24th, 2016
Location: Pemigewasset Wilderness, NH
Adventure: Pemi Loop, 31 Miles, 10,000 feet elevation gain
Headed up 93 Northbound in New Hampshire with Karl Loops to a seedy side road motel on a Thursday night began what proved to be a kick ass adventure. Room 13 turned out to be a dive and a centipede scurried off, prompted by the abrupt light when Karl rolled back the sheets. 11PM…Karl chuckles, hands me a frosty IPA and we began the pre 50K routine…..Stay up late, drink beer, question your gear choices, trade stories, get up at 3:30AM, eat cold oatmeal, slam a shot of espresso, pay homage to the porcelain throne and get on the road.
We parked at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center on “The Kank” for 3 bucks, did final gear checks and stepped off at 4:34. We both had a 10-hour target in mind and we opted for the (traditional) clockwise loop to get a lot of the climbing accomplished in the first half of the day. We overshot the left turn on Osseo Trail toward Flume in the dark but were back on course quickly getting warmed up for the climbs ahead. It wasn’t long before we started on the long ascent up to Flume hitting some ladders along the way and the sun began to peek. Summiting the first peak early gave us some motivation and we experienced some awesome ridge running all the way until the descent to Garfield Pond. Karl and I, both relative newbies on the running scene, found the terrain on the descents pretty challenging to make good time on.
We hit the AMC Galehead Hut (a must), gave ourselves a 10-minute limit; downing some lemonade, coffee, a cookie, some bread, another lemonade and topped off the water. Karl must have found something at the Hut that I didn’t see because he was on a tear up South Twin! I tried to speed up passing hikers and Karl’s calves just gave me the finger and kept pumping! He put about 30 seconds between us on that climb.
Rejoining at the top, we descended past Mt. Guyot and over to Mt. Bond. The sun was high overhead and we were both feeling the miles with 8-9K of climbing in our legs. Summiting Bondcliff we figured the hardest part was over. Karl had been warned about the seemingly endless stretch along the Bondcliff Trail and it was a true punisher; just flat and straight as far as you could see. The end just would not get closer. We both were fighting off some leg cramps by this point and were relieved when we started seeing people in flip flops and hiking with tiny kids….The end is near!
We stumbled across the bridge and decided that the official end must be at the end of the railing by the wood walkway alongside the ranger station. A quick jump in the Pemigawasset River was super refreshing and prepared us for the ride home.
The exact mileage and climbing is hard to say as I had 30.3 miles and Karl had 32+ on his device. Total time was 9:18.
Gear used: Alta Olympus 2.0, 100oz bladder on a small North Face pack. Karl used a Salomon S Lab vest which worked well. Plan for water at the Hut with a couple other options if you have time to filter at Garfield Pond or go off course to harvest from another Hut. I was overkill on supplies as the weather was mint but I always error on the side of safety.
Manitou’s Revenge is the best race in the world for me. Tough terrain, tons of climbing (+/- 16,000 ft) and a long enough distance (54 miles) to be able to go slow and steady. In other words, very little running. After last years time of 13:14, I was excited to see what I could do with very dry trails and the forecasted low humidity.
I had a little trouble getting to sleep on Friday night after I helped Charlie with packet pick-up and having a nice broccoli and pineapple pizza dinner at Brio’s. First it was the bright moon, then it was the dude in the campsite next to me wailing Tom Petty songs on his guitar at 11:15 pm. After managing a couple of hours of shuteye, I woke up at 3 am to catch the bus. The ride up to Batavia Kill Rec Center where the race starts was uneventful and when we arrived I got a good spot in the bathroom line to ready my body for the day. Things were looking good.
My wave (#2) started around 5:09 am. I always take the first three miles of flat road nice and easy, last year someone from the wave 5 minutes behind me actually passed me on the road. Fortunately, experience has taught me to do my own thing no matter what. Running 9 min miles put me on the trail in about 27 minutes where I shuffled and hiked uphill to the Escarpment Trail. I spent some time in the first few miles warming up running with Guillermo Ayala, Marc Gravatt, Chris Gallo, and Henry Pratt as we climbed up and over Blackhead Mt. I wanted to be conservative early on but also beat last years time so I tried to whittle away at my splits from 2015. When I hit aid station 2 manned by Karl Loops, Nick Kirk, and Manny Hernandez, I was right on schedule. I kept cruising as I ran a few miles to North/South Lake with Sheryl Wheeler and Tom DeHaan.
Leaving Aid #3, I hooked in with Hyun Chang Chung and Michael Chu and we cruised down to Palenville together. I had a minute or so on my previous attempt and was feeling good, that is until I started to climb up Kaaterskill. I was overcome by severe stomach cramps. I made a pit stop in the woods which gave little relief. I was feeling overheated and the cramps prevented me from eating, drinking enough, and getting full breaths. The climb was much more of a slog than normal. Laying in one of the streams up top helped a bit but it was short lived, I had lost Michael and Hyun and did not see them again. A slow shuffle down to Platte Clove put me around 13 min behind pace and I knew any chance of a fast day was gone.
It was now all about taking it easy to feel better and try to finish strong. The only obstacles in my way were the Devil’s Path and 24 miles, no problem. I have summitted each of the DP peaks over 20 times so I know them well, inside and out, and having a strong traverse of them is always difficult. During last years race I hit my stride and had a really fast split to Mink Hollow, but due to the fact that I could hardly run any of it, I lost another 26 minutes in just 7.5 miles. It was taking rest breaks at overlooks and even sitting down on large rocks for quick breathers, this was not going well. The climb up Plateau is always a beast, and at mile 39 it is pure torture. Eventually I made it and shuffled down the very runnable trail section to the Silver Hollow aid station. I was really tired because I still wasn’t eating enough so I sat on a rock and tried to let things settle down.
After 5 minutes or so in the aid station I managed to eat a couple things and decided to move. I hadn’t seen any runners besides Steve Hawkins, who was going through his own stomach situation, in a couple of hours. As I was leaving the aid, Sheryl Wheeler came in looking as strong as ever. Sheryl is one of seven people that have run all four Manitou’s and she has the fastest average time of that group. Finishing near her means you are having a solid day so I was determined to do make it as hard as possible for her to catch me. I hiked fast and steady up the 650 ft. ascent to Edgewood Mountain.
As I began the descent into Warner Creek my stomach finally started to feel better. I got really hungry and started eating all of my food that I had been carrying for most of the day. I love to eat kids apple sauce (and other fruits) packets on these long runs. They taste great, are easy to digest, and are natural sugars as opposed to whatever gels are made of. I ate three of them climbing up to the Willow aid station after laying down in the creek for a minute. My stomach was good, my legs came back to life and I was able to run well on sections, even uphill. I came into the aid to see Steve looking pretty terrible. He hadn’t eaten since mile 20 and was doing everything just to keep going. I chatted with my friends Joe Brown, Stewart Dutfield, and John Holt who were manning the station, grabs some food and filled my water bottles. As I was leaving my friend Mendy Gallo who was running the relay came in. I told her I’d talk to her when she caught me and took off. I reached the Mt. Tremper fire tower quicker than expected and let out a jubilant howl. From here it is 4.5 miles to the finish with no more climbing. As I was packing away my trekking poles for the descent Mendy caught me.
We began to fly downhill together, both ready to end a very long day. Mendy had “only” run the last 24 miles but was up as early as anyone, shuttling her husband Chris and friend Andrew Zalewski, who were her relay partners, around the course all day. We told each other the days events, complained about the trail underfoot, and before we knew it were on the road with only 1.3 miles to go. I really dislike running on road and each time I’ve done Manitou’s, the road at the end was torture. Last year I was even passed by Jonathan Cornibe 1/2 mile from the finish. Having Mendy to run in with made me forget about the pavement and it flew by.
My time of 14:13 was just under an hour slower than last year but still good enough for 10th male, 11th overall. I’ll take it considering the 25 miles of cramping.
Thanks to all of the runners I shared to trail with on this wonderful day. Much respect to all finishers, especially Steve Hawkins and Mike Dixon who both gutted out solid times after being on the verge of dropping. A huge thank you goes out to the volunteers at the start and finish, the aid stations, the sweeps, and anyone that hauled many gallons of water uphill in the prior few days. You are too numerous to list by without each of you, this race cannot happen. Thanks to Mountain Peak Fitness/Red Newt Racing for the support of myself and this race. Of course the biggest thanks goes to RD Charlie Gadol for having the vision to develop this insane race out of nothing and create one of the most amazing and toughest 50 milers in the country. I’m unbelievably fortunate to have completed it 3 times.
Mile 32ish. Somewhere near the top of Indian Head Mountain…lying down on a rock, calling my mommy…texting 2 possible pacers that I wouldn’t be needing any pacing at Mink Hollow since I would be dropping out there. “I will probably drop at mink unless a miracle happens. So don't go to any trouble to get anyone. I am resting at Indian Head and will be a long time getting to mink. Flies are swarming me like I'm dead. ☹” I was 100% sure I wouldn’t be able to achieve a fourth finish at Manitou’s Revenge. From about mile 26 to mile 37, I told anyone who would listen I was going to quit at mile 40. I did get up from that rock. But I sat on many more rocks and whined to many other runners. All of them were encouraging and supportive, but I was steadfast in my plans to quit.
I had had an injury to my rib cartilage (costochronditis) several weeks before Manitou’s. The first week was bad, but after that (and a lot of Aleve) the pain was improving. I had logged some long runs, including the Cayuga Trail Marathon and about 24 or so miles at Mt. Greylock the preceding week. The rib pain affected both outings—it hurt to use my arms for support and my breathing was labored, but it wasn’t enough to make me regret participating.
The first 21 miles at Manitou were wonderful. My body felt good. It was warm but the heat wasn’t bothering me. I was moving at a decent pace (so I thought…I didn’t wear a watch) and I was joyful to be back on trails I love with so many awesome runners and volunteers. I was happy to catch up to Elizabeth Azze and Kathy Hoegler. At the aid station in Palenville I decided to use trekking poles up my least favorite section of the race, Kaaterskill Mountain. I was slow on the ascent and leaned heavily on the poles. My breathing was labored and uncomfortable but I was in good spirits. I got to the top still feeling decent and then my chest wall really started hurting. Although the top of Kaaterskill is pretty gnarly, muddy and rooty and rocky, it is usually a spot I am able to run a little. But I began to struggle with any pace except a virtual crawl. And while the descent is something I have barreled down in the past, now I could only walk and every step and every breath hurt.
My theory is the poles aggravated the costochronditis. I had some conversations with myself. I love the Devils Path section of the trail and even if I was uncomfortable, I could hike it at the slowest pace and just drop at mile 40 at Mink Hollow. I didn’t like the idea of dropping but I started to get used to it. I pictured myself unpinning my bib with tears in my eyes. I pictured myself wistfully watching other runners continue on up Plateau Mountain to finish their 54-mile journey. I even started looking at the bright side--I would be rested for a hike with my coworkers the next day and get to see some of the faster runners finish.
I arrived at Platte Clove at mile 31 feeling very defeated. Even with my grouchy mood - it was good to see my friend Peter Preston and the other volunteers. I felt sorry for Elizabeth who had to drop after a fall injuring her ankle. I told her and Julian and Karl from MPF about my plan of dropping at Mink. But that little part of me that wanted to finish the race hinted at the idea of getting Julian or Karl to pace me for the last 15 miles. Right away, Karl offered.
So after an extended break at Platte Clove, I pressed on towards the Devil's Path portion of the course. It is by far the most challenging section--8 or so miles with nothing but gnarly roots and rocks and ledges and brutal ups and downs and very little opportunity to get into a steady groove. While this is typically my favorite type of trail, today I was truly struggling and found myself having to stop and rest, sit and even lie down many times. My negativity increased to levels I haven’t experienced in a while and that is when I found myself on the top of Indian Head in a pathetic heap. I even gave all of my water to other struggling runners, knowing that I would never finish the race so I was fine to dehydrate myself.
Fortunately other runners on the trail really helped me through this section…getting me out of the “poor Amy” state of mind I had gotten myself into. And things steadily improved after Indian Head. While neither my body or mind were in a perfect place, they both improved and continued to improve until I found myself smiling climbing down Sugarloaf’s technical descent, knowing I felt better. I couldn’t drop out. And I would finish my fourth consecutive Manitou’s.
The volunteers and runners at Mink Hollow fed and encouraged me. So onward I traveled, picking up the pace when I could. I felt much more like my usual self. I had an extra moral boost on Tremper when I discovered that even though I had texted Elizabeth not to send Karl to pace me, she had confidence that I would end up finishing. Karl got into Mink Hollow an hour after I did, chased after me, and finally caught up with me a little after the stream crossing at Warner Creek. His company made the last miles fly by. Seeing my good friends Stewart and Joe at Willow, and Dick at the road junction boosted me even more! We even had a bear sighting during the last mile on the road into Phoenicia!
I was elated to finish my fourth Manitou’s revenge in one piece with a smile on my face. I faced pain and self doubt which made ultimately succeeding all the sweeter.
Manitou’s Revenge is one heck of a race. Thanks to Charlie Gadol for creating this masterpiece. I feel lucky to be a part of it. Thanks to Mountain Peak Fitness for their support and passion and love for the trail running community, especially Elizabeth and Karl who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Thanks to all of the volunteers and runners who make this race unbelievably special and amazing. I’ll be back for number 5 nextyear!
Race day is when you plan for all of your hard work and preparation to come together. It takes a lot of courage and commitment to even get to the starting line of any ultra endurance event. Some days you have the race of your life, while others don’t go quite as planned. This weekend was a perfect example of that at the extremely challenging Manitou's Revenge Ultramarathon & Relay, one of the toughest trail races anywhere in the world! MPF RNR Athlete Carlo Agostinetto crossed the line in 1st place! Check out some of the race footage below from his day in the rugged Catskill Mountains of New York!
Huge congratulations to Kehr Davis and Carlo Agostinetto for their stellar performances on this years Manitou’s Revenge!! They battled warm conditions but fortunately had dry trails and low humidity as Kehr ran to victory in 13:47:14 and Carlo in 11:16:40. Congrats to the rest of the runners as well! Full results below:
Not only was Manitou happening this weekend but MPF RNR athletes & clients were at the The Big Horn 100, Mount Washington Road Race, Gorges Ithaca Half Marathon & the Tanglefoot Tail Run. A shout out to Amy Jennifer Hanlon, Cat Skill, Eric Aditya, Harry Hamilton, Jay Lemos, Matthias Lipshitz, Jayson Kolb & Scotie Jacobs! Congratulations to everyone who toed the line this weekend and thank you to all the volunteers who without, these races would never be possible.
For the first three years of this event, I had placed 7th, 5th, and 5th, with progressively faster times on the varying versions of the course. For this year’s event, the training had been going well, although slightly different with more hills than most years, and I was hoping to run in the low 7 hour range, improving on my 7:28 from last year. In terms of place, the field this year was incredibly deep, even deeper than the vast majority of people realized due to the wide variety of runners. While it was common knowledge that guys like Matt Flaherty, Jared Burdick, and Tyler Sigl would be up front and other guys like Brian Rusiecki and my teammates Jan, Cole, Silas, and Iain chasing, there were also many more strong runners such as Adam Russell, who I had chased most of the day at Breakneck, and Robert Bond, a GBTC runner that was 3rd at JFK last year.
I decided to sleep in a tent instead of a cabin this year, and ended up getting 5 solid hours of sleep, which is about two nights for me. The weather forecast had looked promising, with a forecast high of 78, and I thought maybe we would get a cool year at Cayuga. After a short warm up, the race was off at 6am, with Tyler heading out on his own. It didn’t seem like an insane pace, and I was almost tempted to run ahead to catch up with him. The rest of field seemed to be closely watching Dylan Bowman’s pace, and it was nice not to have a suicidal speed right from the gun. Brian Rusiecki and I ran these early miles together with a large pile of competitors close behind. My legs felt good, and, the air was still nice and cool.
I was still in 5th or 6th place at the Underpass aid at 7 miles. As I stopped to grab some Coke for my bottle, things suddenly got crazy. I was handed an unopened bottle which absolutely exploded all over me. It then took a while to fill my bottle, and by the time I got back on course, I must have been passed by 8 runners. Not just passed, but dropped, everyone was gone. The only person I could see was Matt Flaherty, and he was a good ways up the trail. It was far too early to be racing, so I just settled into my own pace. I have always found the practice of surging around aid stations early in ultras strange, as I don’t see the point getting 30 seconds on someone so you can run alone for another 6 hours. I run alone enough in training, and one of my motivations for running races is to actually see another human runner. Some of the surging in this race was more due to a few runners not carrying anything with them, which I was impressed with.
While I have had carbonated Coke at plenty of races, it wasn’t quite sitting right in my stomach, which was making it harder to maintain my pace. Cole and a couple other runners caught up with me, and I latched on as they went past. I didn’t feel awful, but I certainly wasn’t 100%. Things did not improve heading up the Buttermilk stairs, and I began to wonder if running another 5 hours like this was worth it. Cole was holding a good pace, and I just latched on and hoped that I would feel better at some point. It didn’t help that a runner heading the other direction counted 14th, 15th, and 16th place for Cole, another runner between us, and myself. That was not what I was looking for.
As we descended to Lick Brook, the trail wove through an incredible field of wildflowers that boosted my spirits a bit. Cole began to struggle, and Aaron Saft, a runner that I have known for quite a while but rarely see, caught up with us. We had a nice chat, and I started to feel stronger as we approached the 22 mile aid station to run back through the northern part of the gorge to the start. I decided to try and see if I could handle a little more speed, partially because I enjoy running through the gorge trails.
It was shocking how far ahead Tyler was as I made my way to the halfway turn around, and I was encouraged when I realized that most of the other runners ahead of me were closer than expected. I made up some ground over the last mile to the turn, quickly refilled, and headed back into the gorge. While there is always quite a bit of carnage at Cayuga, I was surprised at how early on a number of runners were struggling. It was certainly getting hot, but I tried not to dwell on that, as I don’t enjoy running in the heat myself. I passed Amy Rusiecki heading the other way, who instructed me to work together with Brian, who was just ahead. It is always smart to listen to wives, even when they are not your own. I did as Amy instructed and caught up with Brian after passing Zach Ornelas, my third pass of the first 3 miles of the second half, at around 28 miles.
As soon as I approached Brian, he let loose with an impressive ode to the course that was something of a cross between Debbie Downer and Donald Trump. He was also having a less than stellar day, and apparently it was all the course’s fault. He had some good points, but it is just a tough course that is hard to get right and can really beat you up, especially for guys like us that don’t put many miles on the roads. Even with the flood of negativity, Brian was running as steady as a metronome, and I appreciated having him there to run with. The two of us could be exhibits of how negative energy can be used effectively to improve your race. Everyone always talks about smiling their way through ultras, which I think is the result of too many viewings of The Sound of Music. We were not smiling much, and I’ll take this opportunity to thank the 9 million runners who enthusiastically greeted me by name during the race and apologize for only nodding or grunting in return. Cayuga trails, where everybody knows your name.
We passed a few more runners on our way back to Buttermilk. While each of us would have a short low occasionally, we were making decent time considering the heat. It wasn’t the pace I had been hoping for, but I felt much better than during miles 7-22. The Coke at the aid stations was all flat now, which helped, and one station had even loaded it into a dispenser jug. We moved through the Buttermilk station quickly and Brian was strong heading back up the stairs. He started to pull away at one point, but I caught back up once we headed back into the trails at the top. The open fields were rough as the sun beat down on us, and we were hitting the fluids pretty hard. Brian, being the amateur that he is, did not put his salt tabs in a container, and they were all stuck together from the river crossings so he had no salt. On our last run together in VT, all his water froze solid for the entire run. I’m sure he’ll figure out these details with a few more years of ultra running and racing under his belt.
The heat was affecting me most on the uphills, but my legs were in good shape no cramping at all, which Brian was struggling with at times. Submerging in the river was a life-saver during the second half. In cramping desperation, Brian grabbed a pile of 5 S-Caps stuck together and tried to swallow all of them about 5 miles from the finish. It almost killed him. He started choking, stopped makings sounds, and just as I was ready to drop kick him in the stomach, the conglomerate fired out of his throat onto the ground. It was honestly scary for a few seconds, but he was back to speed within seconds of the episode. We were hurting heading up the last stair climb, which is followed by a rude hill, and it was a relief to reach the final aid station with a mostly downhill stretch to the finish. At about 2 miles from the finish, I asked him if he wanted to run it in together, or duke it out. He told me his dukes were shot, and I was perfectly fine with finishing together.
We ended up tying for 6th in 7:40, which I was certainly happy with considering how I felt earlier in the race and my placing at that time. I would have liked a better time, but I couldn’t have expected to do much better than 5th even with a very good race. It was great to see Jan and Silas finish a few minutes later to get 3 MPF RNR runners in the top 10. They both ran really smart, and without Brian to pull me along, they might have run me down. In terms of the heat, despite drinking about 140 ounces of Coke during the race, I never had to make a single pit stop, where in the past years I’ve always stopped once or twice. It was hot. In contrast to past years where I have spent massive periods of time running by myself, it was really enjoyable to run with Brian. I could have put time on him at some aid stations, and he probably could have dropped me on a few hills, but it would have resulted in us running a minute or so apart for 10-20 miles. This would not have helped either of us, and most likely hurt our performances if any sort of surge was involved. Apparently this is becoming a trend for me this year; running with Jay Lemos at Tammany, with Iain for the entire race at Rock the Ridge, and now with Brian. For two guys that run and race alone most of the time; it was amusing how much we both appreciated the company.
In contrast to Brian’s steady pacing, the surging tactics common at ultras are often associated with massive positive splits, which are not always a bad thing. This came up in the discussion of Tyler’s impressive run, where he took advantage of the cooler temps during the first half of the race. The trick is that you have to be able to tolerate the demands of an aggressive pace, which require ideal fitness and fueling. Given Tyler’s performance, I think he could have won using just about any race strategy one could think of. His halfway split of 3:05 was ridiculous, as well as running 6:43 in that heat. Jared’s attempt at running him down to finish in 6:55 was also impressive, but even he acknowledges that Tyler was not going to be caught. While the hard early miles worked for Tyler, there were at least 8 guys ahead of me where the fast early pace did not work out, and I had an unhealthy positive split myself.
Congratulations to all the runners who survived that beast of a course that is always harder than it seems and never gets easier! Having so many MPF RNR teammates out on the course, both running and supporting the race, made it feel like we had a home field advantage. While I hope to have a stronger race next year, my main goal will be to enjoy the course more. I got a bit too caught up in the racing to enjoy the scenery as much as I have in the past, and that is unacceptable at Cayuga. Thanks to the Red Newt Racing crew and all the volunteers for putting on such a spectacular event, we are lucky to be able to race through such unique terrain!
- Ben’s Athlete & Coaching Page
- Everything Cayuga Trails (race reports, photos, videos)
- Facebook Live (video) at the 2016 Cayuga Trails 50!
Facebook Live Videos from the 2016 Cayuga Trails 50! MPF's Elizabeth Azze was posting throughout the day with live footage and updates! If you missed any of the live video feeds, you can re-capture the day here! This was all live footage and it is unedited. This page is best viewed from a desktop or laptop. You can also visit our Facebook Video Page for the 2016 Cayuga Playlist for a better viewing experience.
For everything Cayuga Trails 50, including videos, photos and race reports from 2015 & 2016, click here.
I was tempted to not do a write up as I felt that the disappointment that I had at my race result (and season so far) would be a big drag and all negative. But I think these write ups help me race and could be cathartic moving forward.
Single-Speed-A-Palooza 2016 was my first A race on my race calendar. So yes I have had some injuries and illness issues that have hampered my training this season so far but who hasn’t. I was finally feeling healthy and strong and put in a lot of work to get here. I decided that even though the course (one lap of 26.6 miles) was muddy due to all the rain we recently got I was going to run the hardest gear that I have ever pedaled- a 34x18 (2 gears harder than last year). So more gear inches should equal more speed on the fire roads and the ability to pedal more on the flats and downhills but is going to hurt bad on the punchy stuff- and if you are feeling a bit tired or your legs are heavy that day, you are going to be forced to use your second gear…walking…
I lined up 3rd row with 100+ of some of my closest Open/Pro friends and right away started to stress about being too far back. The mass start (with another 200 people coming 3 minutes later) is a real cluster f. as the road is pocked with big holes filled with water of who knows what depth. So while I’m trying to move up the field is trying to avoid holes and death. Right away a guy crashes on my right and I just make it by his front wheel. At this point we are at 25-28 mph and I’m picking up spots rubbing tires and elbows and riding dirty.
We hit the water/mud filled double track and I’m feeling good. We end up single file and cruising hard through slimy turns and railing it. And then the pace slows and my group is now stuck behind an MTBNJ rider who is just spinning like a hamster as people are yelling for him to get off the front and he just keeps at it. There are some aggressive moves to overtake us and that means going into the long grass (and who knows what) to make a strong pass. This is probably what I needed to do but the risk of me taking myself out in the first 5 miles was just too high. So I finally got by him and then ran my shoulder into a tree which bounced me off my bike. My remount in the mud sucked (I took some yelling at) and got passed by a strong local singlespeed racer on my left.
We hit the road and I just kept trying to move up, close gaps, and hold wheels- there was some passing back and forth but I picked up some spots but didn’t make the first group- I was relegated to the second group of 5-6. We all rode for a while together and traded spots- I had some tough times on a couple of the hills and had to catch back on but I held my own. As we got into the “climbs” the Finkraft guys in front of me just kept popping off late and running up the steeps and I just wasn’t able to get around them. I made one final last pass to retake the guy who passed me about 20 miles earlier. And I was gone- time trialed it 4 miles to the end.
I gave it my all and put up a whole bunch of PR’s ---and rode to a 21st place finish. The one bright side is that the top 20 were the who’s who of racing on the east coast scene. Lots of big names ahead of you is supposed to make you feel better...
I improved my overall placing by 3 spots, my overall time by 20 minutes and upped my average speed by 1.5mph to 13mph.
This race was never on the schedule but first Ken then Ben contacted me to see if I would run. I’d never heard of the race until I joined MPF RNR Team but was really interested in a fast 50 mile ‘trail’ race. I use the inverted commas as it is generally a very fast course on the carriage roads of the Mohonk Preserve; however whilst fast it also contains a significant amount of elevation change, albeit very gradually. It certainly appealed but fell at a busy time of year.
However with an upcoming move and increased Daddy day care duties fast approaching, I’m racing far more than I typically do in the early part of 2016. With Ocean Drive Marathon, Naked Bavarian, Springle Track, Breakneck and now Rock the Ridge 50 this is my busiest start to a year for a long time.
Ben kindly invited Gwen, Meredith and I to stay at Steph’s mums house the night before the race so the logistics were all pretty much taken care of. All I had to do was run a solid 50 miler, hopefully stay close to Ben. Having been soundly dropped by Ben and the lead pack at Breakneck only two weeks previously I was far from confident I’d even make half way with Ben and I also haven’t run a runnable 50 miler since Cayuga back in 2014. I was disappointed with my Breakneck run, whilst I didn't expect to compete with Ben there this year I wasn’t happy to be almost 30 minutes behind him, after being with him 10 miles in. Injury issues affected winter training but since the new year I’ve been happy with my training, luckily my inherent selfishness (which my wife will testify to..) has meant having a newborn hasn’t overly affected training so I feel fitness is starting to return as we enter the main season.
My plan for the race was pretty simple.. hold on to Ben. We set off and I expected it to be just us but we had a relay runner and then another runner joined us who we thought was in the 50 miler too. Steadily we pulled away and I sat in behind Ben on the long first climb and Ben seemed strong, whilst the pace was a tad hard for me, I felt I wasn’t dipping into the red so just followed along, soon we dropped the other runner and it was just the relay runner and us on the long 3-4 mile climb to the first fluids station. Ben was obviously stronger early on but seemed happy to keep me along for company. Looking at recent results Ben has ran most of his previous 150 miles on this route solo.
This race is just the perfect hybrid of road and trail, just miles and miles of slowly undulating crushed gravel wide trails, occasional sections of stony and slightly technical ground but it just winds around stunning vistas of the Mohonk Preserve. Having ran at Springle Track and the Ellenville Mountain Running Festival I’d seen small sections of the Mohonk Preserve but this was my first time really seeing all the carriage roads.
Ben was powering through the early miles and I just held on. The unspoken idea for me was we’d push to break his old record but with the recent fires in the area I’d expected a changed route and we then found out it was a slightly longer route. With not knowing the course I was happy to just sit in behind Ben. To be honest I was just wondering how far I could follow Ben for.. ‘Make the first aid station’.. then ‘Make 10’.. It wasn’t like a flat race where you can watch pace, so at the start I switched my watch data fields so I couldn’t see time, all I could see was average pace, lap pace and distance. Average pace would give me a rough idea but without knowing the course ahead I couldn’t predict anything. For the whole race I never once looked at my time nor asked Ben how we were going against his previous times.
We climbed over skycap and enjoyed the views but as we approached 20 miles Ben was struggling with his stomach and didn’t seem as keen to push the pace. Still my view was 45 miles. Keep together if we could, just having someone to pace off, even the occasional words would help time pass but from miles 25 onwards I felt I was actually feeling better. Ben warned me there was a long 6 miles of climbing between miles 24 and 30 up to Castle point, which I doubted. How can they fit 6 miles of climbing? As we climbed past Awosting Falls, steeply but never steep enough to walk, the climb just went on and on, past the lake and then around and over point after point until we finally reached Castle Point. I was definitely feeling my hip flexors by now but Ben said he just felt empty. I did consider making a break around then but I had no real desire to run the last 20-25 miles in unless Ben’s pace really dropped. From there it's actually almost all downhill so I was keen to get the pace down into the 7’s which we did and Ben just sat behind me as we started the long run to the finish. On the way back in we were passing the runners heading out so received support from many which helped keep us going. I don’t think either of us said much in return as we were both feeling pretty bashed as we approached the last 10 miles. The consistent running in this race really destroys your legs and I was thankful to have Ben alongside to help keep the pace solid.
I’ve seen Ben produce some impressive runs but this probably ranked as one of the most impressive runs I’ve seen from him, he just sat next to or behind me, from being empty at 25 miles he just kept on going. I was keen to keep the pace high but never red line and see where that took us as we approached 45 miles, with a good few miles of flat running where we managed to hold our pace in the mid 7’s. The sun was well up in the sky now but it was probably only mid 60’s so about ideal temperatures for a long run.
The climbs over the last section are all small, rarely that steep until the climb at 45 miles but we still kept on a run going and climbed well before we started the long final descent. I decided with probably no climbs to go I’d attack the last 3-4 miles back to the tower. The descents are smooth and gradual so holding mid- low 6 minute miles over the last section wasn’t too hard, a quick glance back revealed Ben was still hanging on which worried me I’d gone too soon, but I managed to keep the pace up and hoped I’d managed to open up a few minute gap. There was one worrying section on a long grassy traverse that was quite out of place with the previous well maintained crushed dirt roads which had me worried I’d missed a turn but thankfully I spotted the barn Ben had pointed out on the way and it was just a final retracing on my steps. There is one sting in the tail, a short climb on the road but then a lovely run in down the tree lined grove to the tower. I finished in 6:12, Ben just two minutes back in 6:14. The last 3.5 miles I’d averaged under 6:30 minute miles which was pretty pleasing. Still a good chunk outside of Ben’s record of 5:56 but with the course being slightly longer a respectable enough first effort.
Overall a great final long training run for Cayuga Trails 50 and a bit of a confidence booster after not having a great run at Breakneck. Still work to do for the year ahead but the main thing was my body held up OK and I’m pretty running fit at the moment, but worry I will struggle on the steeper terrain at Cayuga. After two days off I was back running which is always a good sign that I’m finally getting some robustness back.
Gear wise I used the new Ultimate Direction Access 20 waist pack with its very accessible 20 oz water bottle and small pouch which meant I could carry the GU gels that I almost exclusively used, and on my feet I opted for the Hoka Clifton’s due to the hard packed nature of the course. These were perfect, I could feel the occasional stony section, but the cushioning seemed to protect the legs on the long descents.
The course is very picturesque, very fast, undulating but still fast and it would be great to see it get a stronger field from runners. There are not many more scenic fast 50 milers. Thanks to Ben, Ken and Todd for the encouragement to enter and providing a great race and company. Thank you to our team sponsors, Mountain Peak Fitness, Red Newt Racing, Merrell, Run on Hudson Valley, Ultimate Direction & GU Energy. Next up is Cayuga Trails 50 miler, the USA Track and Field 50 mile trail championships.
This year I was fortunate to be able to participate in the Rock the Ridge 50 mile Endurance challenge at the Mohonk Preserve. In 2014 this was my first 50 miler. I registered in 2015 but had to defer because of Plantar Fasciitis. It was a long journey for my recovery so the word GRATITUDE can’t even describe my feelings being able to train and participate this year.
One week before the event there was a brush fire at Sam’s Point. The fire escalated and burned almost 3000 acres before it was contained and stopped. Up to the day before the race we were not sure if we would be permitted to run the part of the course that used Minnewaska State Park. The night before the race we received word that all was well and the race would go on as planned. Minnewaska re-opened to the public on April 30 after being closed all week as a precaution.
I had the honor of being an ambassador for the race as I often do my training runs at Mohonk and have recruited several people to participate. I also had the pleasure of singing America the Beautiful at the start of the event. Singing and running- these are a few of my favorite things.
The weather on race day was made to order. Cool, dry, partly cloudy, with a slight breeze. The race starts at 6 AM which means getting up at 3:30am for me. The check in is impeccably organized. This makes for a low stress start. Drop bags marked and dropped off, ankle bracelets for timing, a few announcements, a little singing and off we go.
There were plenty of aid stations. Some with just water and a few snacks and a main one at Lyons Road (that you hit twice) with hot food and some fanfare. This event is created specifically for runners and hikers of all levels. There is a generous cut off of 24 hours.
I had an amazing day. I had many months of excellent quality training runs progressing from several 20 milers to a 32, 36 and a 40. My training consisted of hard/ easy weeks with lots of cross training. I was well rested. I was mentally and physically ready. I am a fat burner so I ate very little during the event. A few pieces of summer sausage, a few pieces of cheese, some hot soup, lots of water. My boyfriend, Jim Porter crewed for me and brought me a hamburger, a few pieces of bacon, and hot coffee for later in the day. I know-I’m a lucky girl!
I started out slow averaging 14 minute miles for the first half. The second half went well and I was able to average 12- 13 minute miles. Jim joined me and ran with me for the last part. I finished in 11 hours and 13 minutes. My goal was to finish without injury, have fun, and enjoy the day on the trails. Mission accomplished.
I love living in the Hudson Valley and I treasure our local trails. I am delighted that I can support the Mohonk Preserve by participating in this event right in my own back yard.
After a year of running with the MPF RNR team, I was excited to return to the place where it all began, the one and only Breakneck Point Marathon. A local runner from NH, Lars Blackmore, posted a couple rowing pictures recently, and it got me to think about the similarities between running and crew teams. About 22 years ago I was recruited to help out the crew team at Hobart College as a coxswain, and it led to some of the best memories of college, and my wife. I was going to write something specific about running and being a coxswain, but I’m really busy right now, so I’ll just combine it with my race report.
For the sake of chronological order, we will start with my experience as a coxswain. I’m a competitive guy, so the initial thought of sitting idly while 8 men in front of me gave their all was not appealing; I thought I would hate it. In addition, I was still running road races in the spring (we had no track team), and a crew schedule is not conducive to doing anything else, including living. I didn’t like it at all, I loved it. While at times I wanted badly to grab an oar and try and rip my arms off, the opportunity to have a front row seat to the effort involved in intense crew practices and races was amazing. In addition to being able to witness such intense effort, I quickly felt that I could make a difference in terms of both motivation and technical coaching. It took me a while to really learn the technical aspects of the sport, but most coxswains are not athletes, and my teams seemed to appreciate my perspective as a fellow athlete. Finally, what I may miss most is the sensation of being in a skilled boat of 8 dedicated athletes that work as one. I cannot think of better definition of flow; the perfectly synchronized expression of power, and I have not come close to recreating it. Being that close to the surface of the water, the sensation of pure speed is intensified. At full speed, the hull ripping through the water sounds just like cooking bacon. At times I was privileged to be in boats that had such good balance that they could take 10 strokes and hold the oars up out of the water for over two minutes until the boat came to a complete stop, which seems impossible in a 60 foot long boat that is 16 inches wide. When that level of skill is combined with the fitness of years of 12 workout weeks, the type of bond that many families strive for, and an unhealthy degree of competitive intensity, well, it was extraordinary.
Once you get out of college, running tends to be an individual sport. Moving to the Boston region, I was fortunate to be part of the Greater Boston Track Club and the Central Mass Striders for many years. As I grew away from the roads and shorter races, though, I missed the team aspects of running. With joining MPF RNR, I definitely have that back. Despite the geographical challenges, everyone makes efforts to get together for the RNR races or crazy training runs or weekends. In the past year, the vast majority of my races have involved a considerable amount of quality time running with teammates (sometimes too much time!). In some races, it has been like being in a boat, as one of us will take up the position of stroke and lead the way through a difficult section of trail while another will steer from behind and let the man in front know he blew a turn. Sometimes words of encouragement are shared, and at other times nothing needs to be said as we know we are in the same boat of pain.
Breakneck this year was the 1 year celebration of the birth of our trail family, which continues to grow in terms of both the team and Breakneck race fields. After too much socializing and a lack of race prep, Ian got us started up the first long climb to the ridge. I was a little too cold and excited for the first half mile, but settled down to run with Iain and Ryan. I was jealous of all the half runners who could afford to be more aggressive with their pace. We made good time up the climb and were soon making our way to Sugarloaf Mountain, as Matt Lipsey roared by after missing a turn early on. Adam Russell went by on the descent to the base of Breakneck Ridge, and a whole pile of us were together on the climb. This is one of the most amazing trails anywhere, and never disappoints. There were 2-3 instances where I almost lost my grip (with my hands) and fell back onto Adam or Ryan. While Ryan wanted a faster pace up the scramble, I think we may have covered the climb faster than the half guys.
On the next descent, I guess I was feeling creative as I picked some very unorthodox lines down the broken shoulder of the ridge. We managed to mostly stay on trail, and Adam once again pulled away on the lower section. The old carriage road was covered at sub 6 minute pace, and the lead group was down to the three of us and Jed Sheckler. Adam was climbing strong, and it took a while for Ryan, Jed, and I to catch up to him, with Iain a few steps back. The pace was solid, so I felt no need to try and pace and force the issue, we climbed Bull Hill, descended, and climbed back up to Breakneck Ridge. Adam once again plunged downhill off the ridge at an impressive speed on some rugged terrain. I almost took a massive spill when my left foot got tangled up in a vine where I had to kick it free in mid-air before sacrificing myself on a pile of jagged rocks.
After the third aid station at the base of Sugarloaf, we had to jump across a brook and I felt my inner hamstring start to cramp. At 13.4 miles, it was way too early for that, not good. While some of it was due to over striding on the jump, I was still concerned. I hit the salt and tried to stay relaxed as Ryan and I chased Adam up the hill. Adam was running strong, and Ryan was not able to bridge the gap by the time we went up and over Sugarloaf. I hung on as Adam flew downhill and was surprised to hear a cheer from Steph off to the side as my eyes were glued to the trail. She seemed to be doing well, which was great to see considering she was still recovering from an ankle sprain.
I was sad that we had pulled away from Ryan and Iain, and at the same time wondered if I was going to pay for this pace later. It was sad to see our MPF RNR pair with coxswain break up, and I hoped that Ryan and Iain would be able to rejoin us. Adam finally backed off a bit, and we started to talk about our families and his farm, where he produces 2700 gallons of maple syrup. I think that requires about a billion gallons of sap. He mentioned that he does most of his running on dirt roads, and I thought that he does pretty well on technical downhills for a road runner! While we had just met, we soon turned into a team of two, where it was us versus the Breakneck course. Just as my confidence was building, we hit the 16 mile aid station, and there was no Coke. I tried not to panic, but I think Amy Hanlon could sense the fear in my voice, so she filled me up with Tailwind. I’ve never had Tailwind before, but it was getting hot and I likely needed the water and the calories. The Tailwind and Coke combo was not bad! The cramps in my hamstrings had started to return, so I grabbed another S cap, bit it, and rubbed salt all over my gums like an addict.
We both struggled up the steep mile up to Beacon and dove down into the undulating Fishkill Ridge. I really enjoy this section, and started to gradually pull away from Adam, mostly on the climbs. They are small climbs, but the trail is incessantly technical and the combination is tiring at this stage in the race. The downhill coming off of Fishkill is pretty vicious; steep, broken, tight singletrack covered in jagged rock. I blew a couple of tight turns, but managed not to maim myself despite a couple close calls. I was able to stride out on the way down to the last aid station where the trail travelled along a stream. Refilling with Coke was like seeing an old friend, and I set off on the 1400’ climb back up Beacon convinced I was going to crush. Things went well on the up and down initial section, which was encouraging. As I reached the main part of the climb, where I had been telling myself I could run, both quads started to cramp, so I hiked.
This course is a beast. I was a worried about Adam reeling me in, but everyone would probably be hurting in a similar fashion, so I trudged on. The worst part was the sad pace I ran on the flat section close to the summit. My legs were shot, and I became concerned about the ledges I would have to descend on the way to the finish. Thankfully, descending uses very different muscles, and my legs felt much better once the trail headed down. It was still a rough descent, but Tammany had certainly hardened up my quads in preparation for this race. Considering Adam’s cannon-like downhill speed, I was still worried about being caught through the 2.5 miles to the finish, which did not feel as downhill as I had hoped at times. Despite not having Iain there to chase me down, I was not able to crank the pace down to 3:21, but I did manage 4:13 into the finish at 5:04. Adam came storming in at 5:14, with Jed at 5:28 for third and Iain and Ryan in 4th and 5th in the low 5:30’s. The women’s race was won by Natalie Thompson in an impressive 5:54, and it was great to see my friend Sheryl Wheeler finish strongly for 2nd place.
Another great Red Newt Racing event, thanks to the many volunteers that made it possible, including many of my MPF RNR teammates, our running crew! It was exciting to see the event double in size compared to last year, and a special treat was having many of my favorite RD’s on the course, Ian, Charlie Gadol, and Dick Vincent. Congratulations to everyone who survived such a wicked course!
These videos are from The North Face 50 Mile Endurance run in Bear Mountain, New York. This race takes place every May. The course is very technical and runs through Bear Mountain & Harriman State Park. This area is a great place to train & adventure. It is also just a 40 minute drive from the George Washington Bridge. Let us know if any questions about the area.
Help us kick off the Springtime Jamboree by joining us on May 14th, on the Suffern to Bear Mountain Trail!