12 hours-long racing drama on the most rugged mountain trails that I’ve ever seen.
Catskills Mountains, New York. June 22nd, 2013. http://www.manitousrevengeultra.com/
Photos by ManitousRevengeUltra, Katherine Varn Hawkins, and Kristina Marie Folcik.
Let me start by saying that 50mi is not my favorite distance. I lost my last two 50-milers (in 2012) with pretty solid gap behind winners (Ben Nephew at Peak 50mi, and Jack Pilla at Frozen Fifty). I prefer to either sprint all-out in shorter events, or be in the “survival” mode for a 100-miler. 50 miles is in-between, when it’s a pretty long way to go, but you still need to be running fast in order to win.
I was not in my perfect racing shape and a bit tired psychologically after my busy spring season. Therefore, I didn’t have high expectations for this race in terms of placing, my goal was to check out rugged Catskills trails and to enjoy the day. I also didn’t sleep at all the night before this race, coming straight from NYC to the starting line.
After few miles there are 3 of us running in the lead, then it was just me and Ryan Welts (team Pearl Izumi). On the only familiar to me part of the course (Escarpment trail) I went ahead, enjoying early morning hours in the woods and feeling light and fast… And this is a good time to share my pre-race thoughts of the course, just to explain my good mood while running rugged Escarpment trail…
Had I known the whole course, I probably would have been WAY more conservative in the first half of the race. I’ve heard before that Devil’s Path (later portion of the course) is really hard, but I’ve never been there, and in my experience Escarpment trail had the highest rating of technical terrain and I just couldn’t imagine that there are foot trails harder than that. So, I was having a blast on the early (still really technical) trails, thinking that they would be the hardest in the race. As I painfully discovered later, at that time I was actually going on some of the easiest parts of the course.
Here is a brief course description from the race website:THIS IS NOT LIKE ANY OTHER ULTRA YOU’VE RUN BEFORE! This is a grueling, gnarly, nasty course with approximately 17,000 ft. of climbing, much of it rocky and precipitous. To be sure, there are some runnable sections, but you will more often find yourself hiking uphill or down, sometimes hand over hand. Expect this course to take you much longer than your average 50 miler. That’s why we are allowing 24 hrs. to complete this monster. Because of its remote and difficult nature, there will of necessity be a limited number of aid stations, 8 or 9, and runners should be prepared to spend up to 3 or 4 hrs between aid stations. You will have to be reasonably self-sufficient. To make matters worse, the course gets progressively more difficult as you go along! And to top it all off, the average runner will have to tackle this hardest terrain in the dark.
Okay, back to the race…
After familiar trails were over, everything was new an exciting. First I was treated with several miles of slippery wet roots barely protruding from muddy trail. You either jump on roots or plunge your feet in the dirt. Few times after plunging into sticky mud, my foot was out of the shoe and I had to go back to pull the shoe out. So I was mostly dancing on wet roots. Lots of fun…
And then, after 30+ miles of rocks, roots, and mud, a really technical part had started. It was a crawl, more of rock climbing than running/hiking, I had to use my arms almost all the time going up. It took me 3 hrs to get through next 9 miles.
I was not prepared. I didn’t know what was coming and that I won’t have any water for 3 hrs during climbing in the hottest part of the day. My scant 2 bottles of liquid disappeared very quickly and I was ready to drink from any stream on the way. But there were no streams. And dehydration coupled with overexertion made me a bit more desperate for water. After climbing another huge boulder I almost blacked out, and really had to do something about hydration. Then I saw some water slowly dripping from mossy walls of the mountain. Yep, I just stood there letting water drip from rocks on my tongue and getting some from wet moss… This would have gotten a lot of views on Youtube…
Somehow I made it to the next station in one piece and spent some time there drinking bottle after bottle of water and juice. I was still running first, and remember saying there that if more than 3 people overall will finish this race I will be surprised…
Apparently, some people had way more fun on the course than I did. During all race Ryan was not that far behind from me, gradually getting closer, and he was on a mission to finish his hunt in a classic fashion, passing poorly-paced leader close to the end of the race… He was only 7 minutes behind me at the end of those steep climbs. And I had no idea of this hunt and of Ryan’s proximity. Why? Let me explain at the end of the report, it deserves a separate paragraph… Let me just say for now that I was led to believe that I was far away from any chase.
Miles 42 to 48 (after the hardest climbing) I was taking it quite easy, trying to get home safe. I still managed to hit some rock pretty hard while running, I screamed with pain, and was limping for few minutes. This is when out of nowhere appeared Ryan and his pacer Cory. They passed me flying around mile 48.
I understood that there was some bluff in their insanely fast pace, just trying to demoralize me. Ryan was having a classic winning scenario for ultra races: staying a bit behind all day just to pull impressive win in the final miles. I didn’t like this scenario and had to start working again.
I stuck right behind Ryan and Cory, not letting them get ahead of me more than few feet. For several more minutes we were going very fast on technical downhill. It’s hard to get away from me on this kind of terrain and I kept up well.
After few minutes I warmed up a little, got into my sprinting mode, and decided to make a counter-offer… I went off trail flying on rocks past Ryan, and quickly disappeared from his view. In the remaining 6 miles to the finish I kept my sprinting pace and opened a 20 minutes gap, crossing the line in 11:51.
Here is Ryan’s recollection of the events (excerpt from his awesome race report):
Down the other side for a bit, then, there he was. Was he limping, cramping? I suddenly came alive and felt the urge to capitalize on his altered gate and make my move. He look startled as I came up on him and he picked up the pace. I answered hoping I could finish him off on this descent. We were flying down the mountain like with 8 miles to go like we had just started an 8 mile race. He missed a sharp turn and I went by. I kept moving down the mountain the best I could over the loose rocks and blowdowns. As the terrain leveled out Denis actually went off trail and passed me. As he went by I noticed his 2 bottle waistpack was nearly empty and I was under the impression there were no aid stations until the bottom of Mt Tremper with 1 mile to go. So, I let him go, again… he had put it in an adrenaline driven gear I just couldn’t match on the flats and I was sure I would catch him on the climb up Tremper or better yet, completely wasted and out of fluids sitting on a rock. Boy, was I wrong!
I made my way up the mountain the best I could trying to recover a little from our duel in case I had to throw in another surge. After all we were still 6 miles from the finish and I didn’t think I had enough in the tank to run hard to finish at that point. (weak minded fool)
We then came upon the Willow aid station, to our surprise. I filled my almost empty bladder as the volunteers told me Denis had 5 minutes on me. I tried my best but I just couldn’t run that hard anymore and ended up finishing 20 minutes behind Denis in 12:11:43.
Full results are here.
Third place overall (!) went to fantastic Ashley Moyer, who finished in 13:32. Overall the race was incredible, trails like this can not be found in any other running event. I am happy to be the first person ever completing this course. This race has a great future.
– “Wow, I ran 15 minutes faster than I did at the Vermont 100 Mile Trail Run”.
– “The Lion will sleep well tonight after being on the hunt all day long. He had the perfect hunt and had the Gazelle down going with the fatal blow about to be delivered..only to have the Gazelle leap up like a friggin’ unicorn and disappear into the enchanted forest. ” – Cory DeLavalle.
My recently found angel called Veronica was helping me at each aid station that had access for supporters. She did fantastic job with driving around and having my nutrition ready for me, but it was only her third time seeing an ultra race and I completely forgot to explain some basic strategies that can be involved in these races (and importance of knowing the details about potential chase).
At the aid stations when I asked how far behind was competition she just replied “way behind”. After the race she said “I thought 10 minutes is a lot of time. Besides, you didn’t have to know all this chase stuff and worry, because I knew that you were going to win anyway”.