Because of some health problems, I decided to drop down to the 50k option instead of the 50 miler. I'm trying to gain strength and get healthy, so I've really been going easy and I'm trying to get a lot of rest.
I enjoy this race because the Finger Lakes National Forest is beautiful and we like to camp there before the race. When most people think of New York, they don't think of hiking, camping and trail running, and neither do I. My mind usually conjures images of pollution, traffic, and loud annoying people. All of which is ALSO true.
Jo and I got to the campground, which also serves as race headquarters, on Friday. We set up camp, picked up my race bib, and headed into town for my pre-race meal.
When I say "TOWN", I mean Watkins Glen, NY. Watkins Glen is really quirky, and if you've never been, it will be hard to properly describe. It's a town that is working REALLY hard to put on an air of sophistication. They seem to be aiming for cosmopolitan...but they're falling a little short. While it really is a cool little town, they'll never be sophisticated because the town is populated by Hill People. It would be like dressing a monkey in a tuxedo. Fine...the monkey LOOKS civilized, but he's still probably going to fling some shit against the wall before the night is over.
We had dinner at Rooster Fish Brewing Company. We ate here last year too, and we really enjoyed the food and beer.
A pizza and a pile of sweet potato fries is an almost perfect choice for me the night before a race. This food was truly amazing. One of the best parts of running a lot of ultras, is the fact that I get to eat like a frat boy.
After dinner, we headed back to camp so we could unwind and get ready for the race. By unwind, I mean have a few more beers until my eyelids get heavy.
I knew when we started taking pictures of Flat Bart in various compromising situations, it was probably time for bed.
Soon, we were off to bed for a restless nights sleep on the hard ground. We really need to invest in some pads or an air mattress.
Huh...bib #1 again...
Morning cup of coffee to get me moving.
Tent city on race morning.
Jo and I before the race.
I want to quickly explain something about my bib number. I'm bib #1 a lot...in fact, if I'm not #1, I'm usually #2. On the surface, this doesn't seem like a big deal. But people tend to think I have that number because I'm an elite runner and I'm favored to win. You would be surprised by the comments and disappointing looks I get when I'm not running with the lead pack. LOOK PEOPLE...I DON'T NEED THE ADDED PRESSURE!!! BACK OFF!
On to the race...
Like most of the country, we're in a heat wave. Temperatures are going to be over 90 and a lot of this race is run on exposed trail with very little shade. I expected attrition to be high. After my issues with severe dehydration at the ZION 100, I was going to be running a very conservative race and monitoring my fueling very closely.
The 50K is actually 33 miles, consisting of two 16.5 mile loops. For the first loop, I planned to carry one bottle with Gatorade and drink water at the aid stations. There was plenty of aid available on the course, so a single bottle would work fine early in the day.
For the second loop, I planned to drop my bottle off with Jo and retrieve my hydration pack. Jo would have it ready for me, filled with ice and water. Then I would start drinking sports drink at the aid stations instead of water. My pack would also have salt pills, ginger, and Snicker's Bars (because they really satisfy).
The race provides HEED at the aid stations. This is a mixed blessing because HEED really seems to work well for me, but it tastes like shit. All the time and money invested in creating the perfect balance of electrolytes and energy, but they couldn't lift a finger to make it drinkable?
However, in the event that Hammer Nutrition wants to sponsor me, I would totally recant the above statement.
After a few words from the Race Director, we were sent off into the woods at 6:30 AM.
We run down a gravel road for 1/2 mile, then turn onto the trail. We run through the dense woods for a while and eventually emerge into a cow pasture, then back into the woods. The trail isn't overly technical, but there are a lot of roots in most sections and it takes a lot of focus to run with any speed.
I have heard some people refer to the course as "Flat". There are two very steep uphill sections on the loop and the rest of the trail is far more gradual. But this trail is deceiving because there is so little flat running to be found. There are dozens of long grinding uphill sections and corresponding downhills. An elevation profile wouldn't show a lot of big spikes, but this course is extremely challenging because it is so runnable and the hills will eventually take their toll on your legs.
Here are a few pics of the trail...
The race thinned out pretty fast and I was running alone from early on, occasionally passing runners, or being passed. I was feeling good and having a lot of fun on the trail. It's a feeling that I've missed lately. So I took advantage of it and simply focused on having fun.
The first loop was fairly uneventful and I cruised back into the finish area looking for Jo and my hydration pack. I gobbled down some calories, got my gear ready, and headed out.
First loop done. Halfway there.
A bottle of Ensure and a few chips. Always does the trick!
Headed back onto the trail!
By the time I started the second loop, it was getting really warm. I was determined to run the second loop strong, but cautiously. I had been losing fluids rapidly, so I didn't want to put myself in a bad situation. Running through the cow pastures was more burdensome in the heat, and my time at the aid stations lasted longer on the second loop. There was no need to be in a big hurry.
I passed a lot of runners on the second loop. The heat was becoming a problem.
I maintained a steady effort and my split times hadn't fallen off much since the first loop. I also noticed that my splits were much better than they had been in 2011, which was one of my goals coming into the race.
While running through mile 31, I was very pleased to still be feeling strong and I was excited to be getting to the finish line in good shape and without incident. Then I fell down. Hard.
This is significant because I never fall down while running trails. It's happened to me exactly 4 times before today (now 5). And whats even more amazing, is I had fallen in almost the same exact spot last year. If you're keeping track at home and running the stats, that means 40% of my falls have occurred on a trail that I have run exactly twice in my life. Vegas couldn't calculate the odds on something like that.
When I say "I fell", I'm sure you picture me losing my footing and sliding to the ground in some kind of controlled, defensive, self preserving manner. Not even close! I fell hard. On my face. Then I bounced and skipped down the trail for several feet, while banging into every rock, root, and stump along the way. And it hurt.
It was reminiscent of how I used to throw my Stretch Armstrong doll down our gravel driveway when I was a kid. He would bounce and skid mercilessly. Yeah, that's right, I played with a doll. But I made it look cool.
In case you weren't a child in the 80's.
After dusting myself off and verifying that nobody saw me, I started heading down the trail once again. More carefully this time.
I crossed the finish line at 5:50. Considering the heat, the 2 extra miles, and my condition, I was happy enough with that. I routinely run short ultras at a 10 minute pace when using them for training, and this was slightly slower, which was to be expected.
Approaching the chute.
For some reason, I left the shade of the tent so they could take my bib while I stood out in the sun like an idiot!
I cooled off with a couple of beers, then Jo and I made our way back to Philly for my post race recovery meal.
And for me, after a race, there's only one burger that will do. The Peanut Butter Bacon Burger! Pure excellence! Yes, that is a huge helping of peanut butter on top of my bacon, on top of my burger patty. And yes, that is a huge side of jelly sitting next to it. As the burger masters always say, "It's the jelly that really brings out the excellence". This may sound a little odd, but if you eat one, you'll be hooked forever.
All things considered, I feel like the race a was success and we had a lot of fun. I am hoping to get healthy again and recover my strength. For that to happen, I need to focus on proper rest and recovery.
I'm not racing for the next two weeks, but then we're off to Colorado for the Leadville 50. We can't wait to be back in Leadville!
Thanks for reading. Happy Trails!