When I found out my training partner Jay Friedman along with Red Newt Racing would be hosting a trail run weekend in my neighborhood I knew I would be involved in some way. There was no doubt it was going to be a great weekend. I was simply waiting until after Escarpment to see how badly beat up my body was. I would either race or volunteer – I really wanted to race, obviously. I love the 3 race format – the challenge of tackling 3 events with little recovery time between each. This race offered 3 trail runs: a half marathon, a 10k, and a 5k. Your race entry fee allowed you to race all three events, or any combination of the three. But that’s not all – this weekend also focused on fostering the community of trail racing that many of us love. Two nights of camping on the exclusive Williams Lake Project property were also included in your entry fee with a lower fee for friends and family who were not participating in any races. Wait there’s more – you also had access to a food truck on site, breakfast both Saturday and Sunday morning, lunch and dinner Saturday, a CAVE PARTY Saturday night, and swimming in the pristine lake. Yeah, that’s a whole lot of awesome!
Tuesday morning I hit the track with Jay and Phil and was thrilled that I felt great and could still execute some speed. That evening I signed up for Lime Kiln Trail Runs! I did not plan to camp as I live so close to the race site and opted to sleep at home but I was looking forward to the rest of the activities.
Despite this being a local event I was not familiar with the trails – only the public rail trail which the courses utilized. Knowing that I shouldn’t expect too much from my body only a week out from Escarpment I had a plan to run “only as fast as needed” to win all 3 events. I don’t know who I thought I was kidding – no matter what the race I have a hard time approaching it with that kind of casual attitude. Lined up by the lime kiln that the event was named after, with Ian’s ram horn send-off I ran mile 1 of the half marathon at 6:44 pace. We started on the flat rail trail so it was justified but I realized my “take it easy” plan was a joke. It didn’t help that Syracuse Track Club teammate Jade Mills showed up to race as well so I had some tough competition!
After crossing over the trestle bridge we shot down the stairs under the bridge, crossed the main street in Rosendale, and proceeded to the only major climb of the course – Joppenbergh. From there we continued on mostly single track trails – nothing overly technical on the whole course but challenging enough! The highlight of all 3 races was passing through the cave – not something you experience at many races. It offered relief from the heat and the added challenge of your eyes adjusting to the darkness so that you had to pay attention to your footing.
Rosendale Trestle. Photo: The Ascend Collective
I’m not going to lie – I was feeling really tired during the half and although I knew I would complete all 3 races I was starting to dread how the other two would feel. As these thoughts crept in I decided it would be best to back off in hopes of saving something in the tank for later. I had been running with Mike Siudy but as we were caught by another competitor I let the two of them duke it out while I started my “cool down”. Hitting the last aid station Phil let me know there was one more mile to the finish line. I looked down at my watch knowing that couldn’t be right. Was Phil being mean with this foolery or did I miss something? It turns out there was some mismarking of the course making it 2 miles short. I was not at all let down by this. I crossed the line in 1:34:56, grabbed my Vega recovery drink, and straight to the lake with the other finishers to cool off before preparing for the 10k that would start in 80 minutes.
Recovery drink and recovery lake! Where I spent my day. Photo: The Ascend Collective
I recovered quickly and lined up for the 10k. This time we started in the opposite direction as this race would cover the 2nd half of the half marathon course. I felt totally recharged during the opening miles and before I knew it my watch hit mile 4 and I looked down to see that I was averaging a sub-8 pace. Since my “cool-down” miles worked well for me in the first race I decided to use this tactic again and backed it off to finish the 10k in 51:05. The temps were really heating up so I mixed a bottle of Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration and back to the lake I went for my cooldown. 1 hour and 1 race to go!
Lining up that last time for the 5k I was definitely feeling tired but pumped to finish the last race of the day. My stomach was growling from eating only a slice of watermelon and grapes between the races – I realized that maybe a gel before this final race would’ve been a good idea. Luckily it was a short one. The final race would traverse sections of both the first race and the 10k. I really enjoyed the change-up of each course but also appreciated that each race ran us through the cave.
Entering the cave. Photo: The Ascend Collective
The first and second overall males were a mere 20 seconds apart in cumulative time going into the 5k so I was excited to see how this last race would play out. When the race started I tried to keep them in sight to watch it unfold but as expected once we started climbing they disappeared. I tried to run strong for the first two miles and then once I passed Phil at his aid station one final time I felt confident enough to back it off for the finish, coming across the finish line in 25:32. This was good enough for 1st female overall in all 3 races! As an added bonus I was able to improve my pace at each race. 8:30 pace for the first race, 8:17 for the 10k, and 8:15 for the 5k.
Exiting the cave. Photo: The Ascend Collective
√ A high mileage training day with course support and running partners √ An opportunity to race with the added excitement of strategizing √ Negative splitting the races √ Lots of lake time!
I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the lake and hanging out with friends while enjoying the provided lunch and drinks. At 6pm dinner was served along with some live music before the award ceremony began. Every participant received a race poster, every runner who completed all 3 races received a brick from the original kiln that was stenciled to commemorate the day, and the award winners received pick axes. Very cool swag to top off the event!
From there the party moved to the cave which was now lit – it was cool to actually see what we were running through all day!
I think this event was a great success and everyone seemed to have had a great time – whether camping the full weekend or not. I am sure this race will continue to grow and I am excited to see this trail weekend at least double in size next year!
The Ascend Collective was on hand to capture the event and the photos from the weekend are stunning. Make sure to check out the full photo albums to get a look at the beauty that surrounded us.
Jared Avigliano’s video footage of the race and property can be found here.
I never wrote a race report after last year’s attempt at Escarpment. If I had, it would read something like this: I fell. A lot. At some points I could barely progress a quarter mile without falling again. I imagined Manitou pointing, shaking his head, and laughing at this newbie. None of the falls were exceptionally painful – not physically anyway. But with each fall the ground took another chunk of confidence from me and I started to question if I even belonged at this race. I was super-paranoid about injuring myself when it was time to train for Powerman Zofingen, and each time that thought crept into my brain I’d fall again. The end.
As you have probably learned by now I am constantly seeking redemption. It’s always hard for to listen to “never again” when “I can do better” is ringing in my other ear. Which is why I found myself on the start list for the 40th running of Escarpment on July 31st. If you are not familiar with this race simply go the web site and you’ll understand the attraction. To have such an epic race so close to home – how can I resist? Not to mention race director Dick Vincent is one heck of a guy who puts his heart and soul into this race. As do the extremely dedicated volunteers out on that course. The sense of community at this event is one of many highlights.
I accepted the challenge to go another round and Manitou rewarded me by providing exactly what I asked for on race day – rain. Lots of rain. And as an added bonus, cool temps! My goal was simple – run a faster time than last year. The first wave of men starts at 9:00 with the first female wave starting 5 minutes later. Again this year I was lined up with a strong and talented field of women. Kehr Davis was the returning champion and I was happy to see her – she would be my “gauge” in where I should be. Or more like where I shouldn’t be.
We were bubbling with smiles and energy as the anticipated horn blew releasing us on to the single track. I decided to go with Kehr and get a sense of how I felt. Last year she took off right from the start and within the first 200 meters I knew better than to try to stay with her. This year the pace was relaxed and I was feeling great. About a ½ mile in I felt the urge to pass. I knew this wasn’t the smartest idea so I stayed tucked in. But right around the mile mark I wanted to at least take a turn pulling and before long I had a gap on Kehr. Uh oh. Never fear – by mile 2.5 there she was to remind me of my silly error and I never saw her again! Such a strong and humble runner.
My plan was to run the first peak, Windham, at a steady pace as it is the easiest of the 3 (for me). Windham is a 3 mile climb ascending ~1800 feet. Once you reach the peak you are rewarded with a nice descent and some runnable miles before you hit the wall that is called Blackhead. At just under 1 mile you claw your way up for 1,000 feet. It’s a fun section for sure, but tough, especially for the vertically challenged. This year it was where I experienced my first fall of the day. I had a miss-step on one of the rocks and immediately started to slide back down the mountain. I was able to spin onto my back so that I could see what was below and my thoughts weren’t about hurting myself, but rather that I was going in the wrong direction and would need to tackle this part of the climb again.
You may think you’ll get some relief once you reach the peak of Blackhead, but the descent is equally tricky. Still lacking the confidence to tackle this course with reckless abandon I gingerly made my way down through the rocks and slick mud. This time when I fell at least I was sliding in the right direction. Next up is Stoppel Point – the 3rd and final major climb on the course. This climb is only about 2 miles long and a little less than 1,000 feet of climbing, but now your legs are feeling the effort from the first 2 climbs and you’re running on pure determination to get up and over. Near the peak you find the infamous airplane wreckage from 1983. This is where I cued the Stranger Things theme song – it fit the mood with the eerie crash site, low visibility, and rainy weather. And it meant that the hard part was over – 4 more miles to North Lake!
When I hit this point my focus was on running strong to the finish. I was having flashbacks of last year where in the last few miles Sheryl Wheeler came blowing by me like a freight train as I gingerly tiptoed over the rocks like it was my first day on a trail. Sheryl is a strong runner who craves mountains – the more gnarly the better for her! I knew she had to be gaining speed and momentum and must be hot on my heels. Any time I felt myself easing up I reminded myself that she was on the hunt. What I forgot is how technical some of those sections are in the last few miles. I wanted to hold 2nd place but I still wasn’t willing to take any risks for it. So I charged full speed ahead on the runnable sections hoping that would be enough to hold her off. I could hear cheering from the finish line and as I passed a volunteer he shot off 2 pumps of the air horn to announce that I was coming. I made it! Across the finish line and directly to Dick to give him a hug thanking him again for this amazing race and the opportunity to run it. It wasn’t long before Sheryl arrived bounding through the finish line – not even 90 seconds behind me. Wow that was close!
I hit my goal running almost 10 minutes faster than last year. I felt way better too. I rewarded myself by heading to the lake to cool down and wash off – high on the list of my favorite parts of this race. Then it was back to the finish line to cheer in the other runners with a great crew of people that I love to be around. As I said my goodbye to Dick he said “I hope to see you next year” which he quickly followed up by saying I would be back next year – it had already been decided. And I can tell you he’s right – I can do better.
I’m going to have to apologize up front. I went into this race with the full intention of actually paying attention to the course so that I could provide an accurate description for those who would consider making the well-worth-it trek to the Georgian Bay in Ontario for this North Face Endurance Challenge. However as usual I was lost in my own little wonderland of racing and would have a very hard time recounting what I encountered at any given point in the race. Except for maybe the last 3 miles where around each corner – surprise – let’s climb up the ski slope some more! And then descending the face of the mountain one last time – using every ounce of energy to not come tumbling down. But let’s back it up a little.
The Prep Friday morning I drove from Syracuse to the Blue Mountain region and I was immediately enchanted by this place. Beautiful rolling terrain, windmills, fields of wild flowers, unicorns. Yes, I’m certain there were unicorns in this picturesque fairy tale land. It had been over a month since my last ultra and to say I was amped to race is an understatement. Once I saw where I would be racing my excitement grew ten-fold. I checked in to my hotel at 6 and heated up my good ol’ pre-race curry while I sat in bed with my course guide fanned out around me. It was time for a cram session! Looped courses make it easy to strategize but this course had no rhyme or reason. At this point all I knew is that I wanted to beat last year’s winning time which was 5:46. So let’s shoot for 5:30!
I had the course map, the elevation profile, and the aid station-to-aid station detailed course description in front of me and came up with my plan. I rehearsed the plan over and over in my head. I considered writing it down on my arm – sure I would forget. Nah – I hammered it into my brain – I was ready.
The next morning brought gorgeous sunny skies and perfect temps to start the day. Obviously, I was in magicland! As I lined up at the start I met Anne Bouchard and she definitely looked strong – I needed to watch out for her. Since there was going to be a lot of climbing in the first few miles my plan was to go out easy – always my biggest challenge. Since I was sure Anne was right there with me I hit the first mile at 7:40 and reminded myself, repeatedly, of my plan. And this is about the point where I cannot tell you much about the course.
Let’s just say it was a steady mix of running across the exposed slopes, running up ski trails, running down ski trails, hopping off ski trails into extremely twisty turny single-track trails through the woods – going up, going down. There were some sections of stone access roads, dirt roads – long straight roads where you could see yet another climb ahead of you. Around mile 7 there was a small cheering section ahead with signs as we made a right turn. When you see a sign that says “Make this hill your bitch” you know you’re in trouble. There were even some sections of paved roads which were nice for opening up your stride a bit. In some of the wooded sections the trail was so soft and the trees were so tall you felt like a small spec floating along. There were some rocky sections, roots, wooden bridges – but not a very technical course. We crossed one small stream, twice. I loved the mix.
I can’t tell you exactly where I linked up with Matt – it was very early on in the race. I also can’t tell you who came upon whom. But we seemed to fall into sync with each other as we traded on and off leading and we began to chat. His goal was 5:30. Perfect! It was a great distraction as I realized by mile 5 or so that my “rehearsed” plan of how the course was to play out did not at all match what I was experiencing. I don’t know how to explain it really – as the race went on I realized that I actually had no clue of what I would encounter at each chunk of mileage so I threw my plan out the window and just raced! The other perk of running with Matt is that he had pretty extensive knowledge of the course. There was a long section running through very tall grass. My tick-phobia was kicking in big time.
Me: Matt, do you have a tick problem here? Matt: A what? Me: Where I’m from I could expect at least 20 ticks on me at this point. Matt: I’ve never had a tick. Found one on my dog once.
Once?!? This truly is a magical place! No ticks! As a matter of fact, I don’t recall there being any bugs at all. When we reached the halfway point I looked at my watch and asked “the 2nd half is easier than the 1st half right?” He responded with a resounding “yes”. We were well ahead of 5:30 pace and this got me pumped.
Matt and I ran alone for quite some time before Tarzan caught us. Okay his name is Anthony – something I did not know until I looked him up in the results – so during the race he was Tarzan. He was very built for an ultra runner, and the fact that he was shirtless accentuated this. After he passed I was mesmerized by his calf muscles. He was also full of positive energy which made me want to hang on to him. He would occasionally let out a loud whoop, or start clapping, or yell back at us “you guys are doing great – keep it up!” This guy was great! It was also his first 50k – he was obviously having a blast. His goal was top 10 and I was sure he had it in the bag. For a while the 3 of us ran together but they tended to linger at the aid stations when I was prepared to breeze through quickly. I felt a little guilty about this but without any knowledge of where the next female was I had to race my own race. I actually thought about asking for some info at an aid station but decided I didn’t want to know. I’d rather keep racing scared the way I like it.
With about 9 miles to go I took off at the aid station and was feeling really strong so I started to push. This was also sparked by looking at my watch and realizing that sub-5 hours was surely going to happen. On an undulating forest trail I heard that loud shout from Tarzan in the distance and I returned the call. When he caught up to me I could tell that although we were both running strong, we were both struggling with the distance between aid stations in the last few miles. By now the heat was turned up and although there was aid stations o-plenty they seemed so far away. And we were now back on the ski slope with a lot of sun exposure. I kept thinking to myself it would all be downhill from here. Wrong! There were a good 5-6 climbs in the last 3.5 miles. Just when you thought there is no way there can be another climb, you made a right turn into another wall. This was taking it out of me and soon Tarzan was out of view.
I hit that last aid station with one mile to go – the steep downhill… Almost as steep as Loon Mountain’s Upper Walking Boss. After running it at mile 6 of the race I knew what I was in for and tried to hammer down it to the best of my ability. Seeing Tarzan pass a runner on the descent made me want to get one last pass too. And right near the bottom I got it. From there it’s a short shot across the mountain to the finish line. I crossed in 4:46:17 – 1st female and 8th overall.
I have not experienced such a lively finish line outside of World Championship races. A long line of spectators screaming and ringing cowbells made the finish feel amazing! And then of course there was the award ceremony which seemed more like a concert. The crowd was packed tight and deep making it hard for the award winners to get to the stage. We quickly learned what this was about – November Project was in full force at this race as there was a marathon relay event. The top 3 overall males and females were brought up for each event. As their name was announced the crowd would chant their name. Once the podium shots were taken the “crowd surf” chant started and every one of us answered the call. It was a unique experience to end an amazing race day. North Face Endurance Challenge Ontario, I love you. I’m pretty damn sure we’ll meet again.
I may have said it once but I’ll say it again – The North Face Endurance Challenge sure knows how to host a top-notch race event. I’m glad I discovered this race series and can’t wait for the Championship event in December!
P.S. Good luck to Anne who will be heading to UTMB to race CCC – my goal for next year!
*** Notice*** By reading this race report you hereby agree to remind me of said race report in the event that you see another short distance mountain race on my schedule.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about Loon Mountain Race. 6.6 miles with over 2,200 3,351 feet of vertical gain, the last kilometer of which hits grades of 40%+. It is intense and challenging – right up my alley! However this year all I could hear in my head was “this isn’t fun.” Perhaps Loon Mountain Race should be a bucket race list and I have checked it off not once, but twice. Enough for me!
I took a shot at this race in 2014 not knowing what I was getting myself into but looking forward to a new challenge. That’s exactly what I got! I placed a disappointing 21st but was hungry to take another shot at it. The need for redemption is always strong in me. In 2016 Loon Mountain Race was again the USATF Mountain Running Championship which meant the field was going to be stacked deep – just as it was in 2014. However this time I decided to throw some specific training into the event in hopes of bettering my position in the final standings. So after 1 week recovery from Cayuga Trails 50 I hopped into a 3 week training plan for a short, intense mountain race. It’s always exciting to throw a different training block into the mix and I was really looking forward to these 3 weeks. My overall run volume did not drop from my lead-up to Cayuga but the intensity increased as well as adding more doubles to the schedule.
After 1 week my training hit a wall much like the one you hit when you make that right-hand turn and face the Upper Walking Boss on Loon Mountain.
A seemingly minor issue in my lower leg was causing a lot of pain and swelling which would only behave with short, easy, flat runs. Local athlete and ART extraordinaire Scott Field was ready and willing to jump in and provide relief. So much so that I was able to run 2 track workouts the week of the race which turned out to be my fastest track workouts of the year! I found myself itching to race a road 5k instead of a mountain race but I was still excited to give Loon another shot expecting to both race and feel stronger this time around despite the lack of actual hill training in the 2 week lead-up.
I was definitely not in the racing state of mind the morning and felt stressed. I knew I would need to get a decent warm-up in before the start – the climbing begins almost immediately so you better be ready! After about 10 minutes of warming up I felt over-heated and downright exhausted so I headed over to the start line to hang out and wait. Save it all for the race. For me a terrible warmup normally leads to a good race. I was excited to see Katie O’Regan at the start line and it was a relief to hear that someone else had the same goals as me and also the same uncertainty. Neither of us was there to podium – we just wanted to see what we could do. Sayard Tanis also made her appearance to the start line looking primed. It was great to see so many PA runners in the mix!
I had my sights set on top 20 and when the race started that’s exactly where I placed myself in the pack. The first climb felt like we were crawling but was also pretty manageable. In 2014 the women raced a shorter 4 mile course. Turning onto the Nordic Section was new territory for me and turned out to be my favorite part of the course (because it wasn’t totally uphill!) The trail was completely shaded with rollers and a bunch of muddy trenches to run through. Now we’re talking!
Once you pop out of that section you cut across the mountain and prepare to climb for almost the remainder of the race. It was helpful to find markers on the course letting you know how many miles were left. I wore my GPS but never even had a chance to look down at it! With 2 miles to go we rounded a corner where a group of male racers (they started an hour before us this time) were standing to cheer us on. One of them told me I was top 20 but as I started the 2nd hardest climb of the race, Upper Bear Claw, I turned around to see a rather large group of women right behind me. And sure enough the passes started as I was barely moving up that hill. Somehow these climbs felt way tougher than last time even though I felt better equipped to handle them. Wrong!
Finally I reached the gondola where you get some relief before the final, monstrous, Upper Walking Boss. “Haulback” is all downhill from the gondola to the base of the final climb and “haul-ass” is what I did on this section. Even though I knew a top 20 placement was long gone, and after that it didn’t really matter to me where I finished, I still wanted to push. No point in saving my quads so I bombed the hill! And there ahead I saw that final turn where you abruptly face the wall. I knew I would be hiking the whole thing so it was time to put my head down and get it done. My calf felt like it was going to explode at this point and I briefly considered calling it a day here instead of risking damage. On that climb there is no way to approach it gingerly. I immediately realized that was the dumbest thought ever – the Upper Walking Boss is what makes this race epic!
Every time I looked up it hurt just a little more when you cannot see an end in sight. One female had already passed me so I stopped looking up and decided to instead look back. There were a few women behind me but they seemed to be moving at the same pace as I was – can you even call that a “pace”? This motivated me to keep pushing and hold onto my spot. I got really excited to see the “500 meters left” sign only to realize that 500 meters up that mountain meant I was still nowhere near close to the finish 😉 But now we were getting into spectator zone and the guys did a great job at motivating us up that climb!
As I drew closer to the finish I looked back one last time to hear one of the guys say “no one’s close – you got this”. Another guy shouted “1:09” in an attempt to get me to push for a sub-1:10 finish. That was just what I needed to hear as I tapped into my empty tank for one last push to the finish. I didn’t have a time goal for the race but having someone motivate me to look up at the clock and inspire me to finish strong was huge. I finished in 1:09:38 which put me in 25th place. Katie hit her goal of top 20 snagging the 20th spot, and Sayard was right with me finishing 27th.
That race downright hurt. Brutal. But it was great to connect with friends I haven’t seen in way too long and I also got to meet fellow Topo athlete Kyle Robidoux. He is beyond amazing!
Now don’t let me scare you away from this race. Loon Mountain is a course you should definitely experience if you’re a mountain-lover. Acidotic Racing does an excellent job organizing and hosting this event. I mean, already by the end of this race report my mind is churning – should I go for redemption on my failed redemption? And this is where I go back to the top of the race report to read it again .
I had one simple goal coming into this race – run a PR. After last year’s implosion (you can read about it here) I figured this would be an attainable goal for my 2nd 50 miler. I would be lying if I said a podium spot wasn’t also on my mind but after finally doing some research on my competitors (a mere 3 days before the race) I decided it was not wise to get hung up on that notion with the talented women coming to this race. I also had a “loose” goal of sub-8:30, but mainly I was concerned with the PR.
Race morning brought cool temps which was a pleasant treat when we knew what was in store for the day. The high humidity at 5 am was a stark reminder that the heat was on its way. I had some nervous energy as I was milling about and catching up with friends. For once I fully executed a taper and I was ready to go! Once I lined up at the start next to my friend and soon-to-be fellow Strong Hearts Vegan Power Teammate Jason Mintz I was also surprised by Ellie Pell who showed up to give me a good luck hug and, I was hoping, some of her speed 😉 First Caitlin Smith lined up next to me, then Sabrina Little, then Corrine Malcolm. The intimidation set in but also the excitement of seeing how this race would unfold!
The countdown clock expired and we were off! (I can’t say enough how much I love the relaxed start of ultra races!) The field slowly settled into a very relaxed pace. The lead pack was chatting, telling jokes, laughing… I was right behind Jason and we joked about how this felt like a group run and we would be totally happy if the pace stayed like this. As expected once we crossed the field and then the road to head out on the trail the race began. Sabrina took the lead within the first mile and Corrine was quick to tag along with her. I had to fight the urge to follow suit – I knew that if I wanted to have a successful race I had to stick to my plan. It wasn’t long before both Corrine and I passed Sabrina but then Kelsey Allen blew by and charged into the lead. I watched Corrine go with her and reminded myself to stay right where I was.
The miles were ticking by with ease and I felt totally relaxed. At each aid station I received info on the time gap between 1st and 2nd. It was fairly close which made me feel even better about how I was running. As I approached Lick Brook climb I caught up to Corrine. As we hiked this massive climb together it was great to be able to chat with her – she’s a cool girl with a great attitude. Once we reached the top she again pulled away and I again held off on chasing. It was still way too early for me to make a move I would pay for later. My Suunto beeped, ringing in mile 9, and I said out loud with excitement “I only have 41 miles to go!” Who was this voice inside my head?!? That’s how relaxed I felt and how much I was enjoying this course – which was every bit as beautiful as I remembered!
Photo: Kate Paice Froio
Around mile 19 I was surprised to see Kelsey just up ahead. At this point the marathon runners were coming through and one of the guys yelled “there’s only 15 seconds separating the first 3 females – now this is a race! I knew that she was in reach and I would pass her soon but hearing this got me super-pumped. I had to tell myself to calm down, relax, let it happen. I stuck to it and made my pass on Lucifer’s stairs, moving into 2nd place. I was still feeling totally relaxed and started to question whether or not I was taking it too easy. Looking at my watch I saw that I was going to finish my first loop under my goal of 4:10 – I was not going too slow.
I thought about how much better I felt at this point compared to last year and as I approached the halfway point I was ecstatic to see my dear friend Kate on the trail with her camera. She cheered, she chased after me, screamed “I LOVE YOU!” My spirits were soaring. Just as planned, yet another Strong Hearts Vegan Power teammate, Jay Phillips was waiting to replenish my fuel. I swapped my empty flasks for new bottles of Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration and Hyper Hydration, along with 2 more packs of Skratch Labs Fruit Drops and Huma gels, and was on my way. Now the race begins!
My plan during the first loop was to take it easy on the downhills so that I could save my legs for loop 2 where I could ramp up the aggressiveness. For some reason this wasn’t working – both of my knees and my bad hip were in excruciating pain reducing me to a hobble on the downhills. I felt fine on both the flats and uphills so I took advantage of these spots.
By the second loop I was noticing how the rising temps were affecting me – I was already drinking more and realized I would need to focus on hydration for the rest of the race. The collapsible cup provided as race swag was a part of my fueling strategy as I stopped at every aid station to fill it with water – sometimes more than once. (thanks again Ian for reducing waste by avoiding paper cups!) Leading up to the race as I watched the forecasted temperature rise I decided to tweak my hydration plan slightly – and try something new. I knew that late in the race I could use a fresh, cold pick-me-up so I mixed a bottle of Vega Sport Sugar-Free Energizer that would be waiting for me at mile 37. Now after every beep of my Suunto I would look down and say “X miles to go-go!” (the name my sister and I use for this Vega drink). This helped me to have a goal and break up the race.
Cooling off. Photo: Kate Paice Froio
When I arrived at the underpass aid station I was excited to see watermelon and after filling my water cup I enjoyed a slice before continuing. I also saw freeze pops which were so tempting and promised myself that I could have one on the way back with only 7 miles to go. I set another milestone to look forward to! Climbing Lick Brook a second time the heat was definitely rocking. After you get to the top you run through a few fields where you are totally exposed to the sun. I realized that I made a major error at the last aid station – I should have drank one of my flasks and refilled it instead of trying to ration. Now my fluids were really low and mile 37 seemed so far away. I hopped out onto a road crossing and saw a man carrying a jug of water to the course marshal. “Is the water for sale?” “No, you can have it for free!” I stopped and waited while he adjusted all he was carrying and opened the jug for me and oddly I only thought to have him fill my little cup 😦 I wasn’t thinking straight! It was still a relief and after thanking him and calling him my desert oasis I sped off.
About a mile from the aid station I came upon Jared who was hiking with a hydration bladder and I kindly asked if I could have some of his water. I stopped to take a swig and off I went again – this was getting rough! Finally I made it to Buttermilk Falls where I found Kate once again – I told her I was going to need my sparkle drop bag (all the cool kids have them) and she sprung into action – sprinting ahead, hurdling coolers to get the go-go juice I had been so anxious to enjoy. This time I remembered to fill both of my empty flasks and leaving that aid station with a slap on the ass from Kate and 3 full bottles of fluids gave me a burst of energy. Home stretch!
At mile 39 I heard someone behind me and turned around to see Sabrina,
and feel the impending doom that came with it. Sabrina has way more experience in ultra racing and is a very strong runner. I knew that my time in 2nd place had come to an end but for my own sense of pride I wasn’t going to go down without a fight! In that moment of despair I decided to surge – what did I have to lose at this point? I knew that it wouldn’t last but why not give it a shot. For 3 miles I was feeling strong – thank you go-go juice! When I got to the descent on Lick Brook I was once again reduced to a slow hobble and was sure it wouldn’t be long before she re-appeared.
I arrived at the underpass aid station anxious to claim my prize of a freeze pop. To my dismay I grabbed a purple tube of refreshment to find it was pure liquid 😦 I said out loud “oh, they aren’t frozen” to which a volunteer responded “we have frozen ones!” I waited for her to retrieve one and cut off the top for me while I tossed back the liquid one anyway. I grabbed the green one she handed to me and off I went. I can’t tell you the last time I had freeze pops so I didn’t remember how vile they tasted. But I can tell you they taste the same coming back up – which happened within a mile of eating them 😉 It was still worth it.
I was approaching Lucifer’s stairs when I heard 2 runners coming up behind me. As expected, it was Sabrina and she now had a running partner, Zach Ornelas. They were chatting away and making it look like they were on a relaxed, easy run. Once we summited the stairs I stepped aside to let them pass. With my surge I was able to hold her off for 6 miles but it was time to face reality. Now I started to worry about who was next – surely Caitlin must be closing on me (I did not know that she had dropped). I convinced myself that I could muster one last surge in these remaining 5 miles if needed. In all honesty I don’t think I could have, but I had to tell myself I could make it happen.
I was relieved to make it to the last aid station to fill one last bottle one last time. As I approached a spectator yelled “you can’t stop she’s only 5 seconds ahead!” An exaggeration for sure, and I assured him that I was not in a place to catch her at this point as I grabbed a slice of watermelon to power me through the last 3 miles. As I was about to turn onto the grass trail with about a mile and a half to go I see Jason Mintz in front of me! I knew this meant he wasn’t having the day he had hoped for but at the same time I was happy to have some company to finish the race. When we hit the home stretch and I could see that no one was behind me I could finally relax and enjoy the finish!
Jason and I crossed the line at 8:28:06 (that was my time anyway, his was oddly 4 seconds faster). I had a lot to celebrate – I ran sub-8:30, I made the podium with a 3rd place finish, and best of all – I ran my race and stuck to my plan! The heat was a factor but I think I handled it well (thanks to Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration – I swear by that stuff!) Sure there are plenty of areas I can improve on – could I have run those last 10 miles stronger had I been running higher volume weeks? I’m certain of it. This race was a step in the right direction and I’m excited to see what I can do next.
I cannot say enough great things about this race – Ian and his Red Newt Racing crew do a top-notch job at organizing and supporting this event. The aid-stations are well-staffed with knowledgeable volunteers – it really makes a difference. Thank you to all who donate so much of their time to make this event what it is! I also want to thank Topo for their support this year – this was my 2nd race in the Runventures and when you can run 50 miles without even noticing the shoes on your feet that’s a great sign! I didn’t have one single blister or even a hot spot. Also thank you to Skratch Labs for providing products that are easy on the stomach, ease my heat-sensitivity, and most of all taste delicious! I don’t think I could ever grow tired of those Fruit Drops! Thank you to Jay Phillips for coming out to refuel me at the halfway point, and to Kate who never ceases to amaze me. She captures great photos, runs her tush off, plants kisses on my salty face, and she’ll even give you a slap on the ass to get you on your way! Every time I saw her on the course (which was a lot – she was everywhere!) it brought a smile to my face and recharged me. And last but not least, thank you to Jay Friedman who pulled me around the track and up the hills of New Paltz week after week preparing me for this race. I got to see him once – when I was heading out on loop two. Little did I know he was having a terrible time due to illness and was about to drop out. He was smiling and cheering for me – giving me support despite what he was going through. It was tough day for many – the finish rate was 68%!
This was my 2nd time racing the Cary Du Classic as the Long Course Duathlon National Championship and to sum it up – I had a bad day. I can say that I went into this race not having the best mental attitude (which I may expand upon during another post after I do some soul searching in Santa Fe), but it really comes down to not having the speed, power, and grit that I normally possess. As much as I try to squash my lack of confidence and convince myself that I’m ready to race at my best, it doesn’t always work and my weaknesses show up on race day. Here’s a brief re-cap of my day.
I arrived at transition feeling rested and ready. I was definitely a bundle of nerves for this race but reuniting with so many great friends eased a lot of that anxiety. There was Yvonne Carter and Cora Sturzl from the west coast, Erica Ruge and Jason Heimink from the midwest, Tracy Lempke, Kristin Allyne, Jeff Guara, Jackie Miller, and my wonderful host Dave Tierney representing the local crew. Although we were missing some key people, it was like a duathlon reunion! I knew that no matter how my race went today it was worth it to be here with some amazing friends doing what we love.
Yvonne and I – representing Topo
The female start time was 7:04 am – it was still cool and crisp before the heat and humidity rolled in. When the command to “go” was given I of course shot off the front. No one was challenging me and the pace was manageable so I settled in, hitting the first mile at 6:05. I heard some people behind me and soon could tell from shadows that there were 3 females latched onto me. Looks like I was the pacesetter and with the strength of the runners at this race and my lack of confidence in my run speed I didn’t think this was a good position for me to be in today. I backed off just a touch as one-by-one the 3 of them passed me. I hit mile 2 at 6:14 and soon after that was the turnaround where I could see the 3 females coming back towards me. They all looked amazingly strong – not at all how I felt. I really love watching strong runners even if they’re ahead of me so it was a treat to see this talent. I finished the first 5 mile run with a 6:13 pace and was excited to get out on the bike.
The bike course changed this year and we were now doing 2 loops which cut out some of the climbing. Normally I would be happy to have more hills since I don’t possess a great amount of power on flat courses, but since I had only ridden my bike outside 3 times prior to the race, I figured a flatter course would benefit me. It wasn’t my strongest bike but I think I fared better than I was expecting. Over the 30 mile course I was passed by 3 females putting me in 6th place off the bike.
Time to get on to that 2nd run and see if I could chase anyone down! As soon as I started run #2 I could tell I was fading fast. I was eventually able to pass the 6th place female, Allie Norman, but I wasn’t confident that the pass would stick. I started getting pretty bad stomach cramps (which I believe were a result of a minor nutrition error) and I could only imagine how bad I must have looked trying to hold it together. I remember telling myself “you’re running slower than your training pace“, which wasn’t actually true, but it sure felt that way. The first female I saw on the return was Cecilia Davis-Hayes and she looked so damn strong – it was awesome! I gave her a big cheer as I plodded along. After the turn-around I saw Meghan Fillnow storming down the hill and knew it was only a matter of time before she blew by me. I did what I could to keep my momentum going and told myself it was okay to be passed on the run, but this was the only pass I would allow 😉 Sure enough she made her pass with a mile to go and I stayed focused on getting to the finish line.
Photo: Dave Tierney
My performance earned me the bronze medal in my age group and 6th overall female for the day. Not the result I was shooting for but I raced with all I had in me that day. I absolutely love racing – good, bad, or ugly – it’s always an experience I cherish. Today was no exception. Many of my friends also earned medals for their strong races so there was much to celebrate!
Me, Kristin, and Cora
Run #1 – 31:05
T1 – :33
Bike – 1:21:28
T2 – :29
Run #2 – 34:07
This was my 3rd Leatherman’s Loop and I find myself already excited to return for the celebration next year! The founders and race directors have really created something special with this race – steeped in tradition and approached with the utmost respect by each runner and spectator – it is easy to see why this is likely the largest trail race on the East Coast drawing over 1300 runners to tackle Ward Pound Ridge Reservation’s natural obstacles. I promise you – come and experience this race once and you too will be hooked by its charm.
Giant peace sign made of flags. Each runner was asked to take a flag – a piece of peace – home with them, as that is where peace begins. Photo: Flint
Maybe it’s the theme of peace that surrounds you when you enter the park. Maybe it’s the way Tony Godino is overwhelmed with emotion when he climbs the ladder to address his captive audience. Maybe it’s the way the Loop’s long-time, loyal friends and legends are introduced and recognized one-by-one for their achievements. Maybe it’s the way we are reminded to reflect upon and celebrate this very moment on this very day when we all come together to share this experience. Or maybe it’s how Danny Martin invites us all to recite the Leatherman’s Loop poem along with him before we are sent off into the wild. It’s all of this and more.
But once the start command is issued the craziness begins! A stampede of eager racers erupts and no matter how prepared I think I am for the punishing pace and battle for position, I always find myself getting quickly sucked backwards in the funnel. Today was no exception but I decided to take a chance and cut left so I could reach the outer edges and hopefully have a better chance to hold my own in the flurry. It worked! I was pushing myself to a pace that no one should be dumb enough to attempt in the opening 1/2 mile of a race but I was gaining ground and moving my way up the field just in time for the single track. I’m never quite sure how I make it through that initial field sprint without taking a terrible tumble. The ground is uneven and with the high grass it is hard to see the terrain beneath – getting tripped up seems inevitable. However I survived again – must be the spirit of the Loop!
That initial mile left my lungs searing but that’s part of the fun! You redline from start to finish at this race. All of the nuances of the loop come rushing back to me as I make my way up and down the risers, over rocks and roots winding through forest paths. I wore my Topo Runventures for this race which offered the perfect lightweight protection and grip to tackle everything this course throws at you. Occasionally there are some spots where you can make passes, but for a lot of the time you either keep up with the pace pushing behind you or get out of the way! I was holding my own and having a great time, naturally. Although the course seemed slightly drier this year the first water crossing appeared to be as deep as usual but I was able to make a pass or 2 running across.
Exiting the first water crossing. Photo: Hailey Ivey
You reach a clearing which means it’s time for the first sand hill. With a mariachi band serenading runners with some upbeat tunes you can’t help but be feel excited to tackle that hill 😉 From there you make your way to the halfway point which means after a sharp left-hand turn you’re into mudflat territory. There’s no avoiding the deep mud lagoons along this section so you may as well embrace it and have fun! Once you tackle the flats there is one more sand hill to conquer, this one hosts a bagpipe player beckoning you to the summit, before the hard part of the course is behind you.
One of two sand hills. Photo: Michael Rodgers
I had been taking it “easy” on the hills during this race – more than once reminding myself that this was not an ultra and I needed to hustle up every hill I encountered. Telling myself didn’t work, and during the 2nd half of the race I found myself being passed by a few guys on the uphills only to turn around and pass them back once the trail flattened out. Trading spots with these guys over the last 2 miles helped keep me motivated and on my toes for the last section of the race.
Once you exit the forest you have a short field to run through towards the final act of this race – SPLASHDOWN! You can hear the roaring crowds from far away – this is by far the main attraction of this race. And for good reason. Runners can’t see the bottom through the deep, rushing water so every step is an adventure! Being my 3rd time, feeling like I should be a pro at this by now, I had it in my head that I was going to charge through Splashdown like a maverick – impressing the crowds with my water crossing skills. Which could only mean that I should expect the exact opposite… First step in and down I went! Okay, I still have another large section to navigate – I got this. I climbed over the median and leapt into the next section with total confidence. Down I went again. All I could do was laugh at how far removed I was from my visualization of this. But there was no time for laughing at myself – I heard the crowd screaming “you’re the first female – GO!!!!!”
Photo: Closer North
I popped out of the water and began my final charge up the hill through the tunnel of spectators lining the way to the finish line. There was that familiar feeling – like I just ran through wet cement, not water, and now with the air hitting my legs each step felt like I was getting slower as I grew colder. I forgot to bring my watch to this race which was actually refreshing – I didn’t really need it and why not race without worrying about time and pace? Once the finish line clock was in sight I was sad to see that this had been my slowest Leatherman’s Loop yet. However that disappointment was fleeting because no matter what my time, or what my place at this race, it is so exhilarating to be out there pushing so hard on a challenging and fun course.
I was able to defend my title of 1st overall female for the day, but it wasn’t by a longshot! The crowds screaming at me to GO in the Splashdown knew what they were talking about. 18-year-old Gemma Nuttall was a mere 30 seconds behind me. I’m going to have to do some work to maintain my streak against the young talent that dominates this event!
Photo: Deborah Burman
In the meantime, I’ll enjoy holding on to that spot for one more year, and the award that comes with it. Each year I receive a large bag overflowing with goodies! If you know me, you’ll know that awarding me food is always a plus 🙂 And so I celebrated that evening with some pancakes and local maple syrup courtesy of Leatherman’s Loop!
One more awesome thing to note about this race is that every year they collect food pantry donations to directly benefit families in need. I wish more races would take advantage of the sense of community trail running fosters. Even if only half of the runners bring 1 item to donate, that can still make a huge impact. It definitely adds to the sense of family that this race nurtures.
It’s hard to put into words how excited I was leading up to this race. It was my first trail ultra of the year and I was ready! Even the deteriorating weather forecast throughout the week couldn’t suppress my excitement. A little cold, rain and snow wasn’t going to kill my vibe – this was looking like a fast course! I had a 50k PR time etched into my mind and I was itching to grab it!
I woke up Saturday morning before my alarm went off – a sure sign I was ready to race! First thing was peer out the window into the artificially lit parking lot – I could tell it had been raining quite a bit throughout the night but it appeared to have stopped. Next order of business was to check my weather app – cloudy and staying below 40 throughout the race but the rain seemed to be gone during the window I would be racing. This put even more of a spring into my step. After eating 2 bananas and a packet of almond butter I mixed my Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration drinks for the day, layered up in plenty of clothing, and was on my way to the parking area where shuttles would await to take us to the start.
Riding on the bus it was still pitch black and I had my headphones in listening to my pre-race jams. I looked to the front of the bus and noticed the windshield wipers were on full speed and we were driving through a downpour. I was happy that I made the last-minute decision to dump my dirty laundry bag before leaving the hotel so that I could keep my gear dry. After a short hike to the race start in Algonkian Regional Park we were greeted with the most pleasant of surprises – they had 4 giant propane fire pits roaring for athletes to huddle around and try to stay warm. I had about an hour before the race start so there I stood – bundled up in rain gear with my backpack stuffed into a plastic bag to stay dry. Without those fire pits it would’ve been a rough wait. As we’re talking amongst ourselves I was listening to stories about how muddy this course can get even if it hadn’t rained in the past few days. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill mud – it was like ice skating. The hills become big mud slicks and athletes have had to push each other up and over. The only “dry” area was at Great Falls Park. The stories didn’t stop and although I was assuming these were over-exaggerated tales I quickly realized that with the amount of rain that had been falling, it was time to forget about that PR.
Clearing up for the start
As the 7 a.m. start time drew near the rain tapered off and you could feel the energy building as we had some relief. I shed my layers, checked my gear bag, and lined up at the very relaxed start where Dean Karnazes sent us on our way. The first 2 miles were grass to road to gravel trail and I ran them both at just over 7:00 minute pace. This was faster than I needed to go but I figured I should take advantage of these “clear” miles. Hopping onto the trail was refreshing as the mud didn’t seem nearly as bad as I had imagined. I can deal with this! At mile 4 we hit the first climb and it was great to finally have a change in elevation. But then…the trail dropped us down along the river and that’s where the real fun started!
Those early miles had hardly any mud!
So maybe they weren’t kidding about this mud! The single-track offered no option but to sink into ankle-deep slop. I’m not at all afraid of mud – I find it to be kind of fun. But yes it was slick and with all of the twisting turns you had to slow down significantly to maneuver through them. My pace quickly dropped into the 8’s and 9’s out of pure necessity to stay upright and not overshoot any of the sharp bends. I was loving it though! I knew that this slower pace would only benefit me later in the race. I also felt lucky to be in the top 10 at this point and getting some of the “fresh” tracks in the mud. We came to the next steep climb and there was no choice but to hike because, true to the stories, it was like climbing an oiled plastic tarp. Coming down the other side proved to be even more challenging, and I even considered sliding down on my rear as it may have been faster. However the random roots jutting out made me double-think that option 😉
Despite the slick and slow-running mud the miles were clicking by with ease. It had rained once and there was even a short hail storm, but neither were bothersome and I was feeling appropriately dressed for the conditions. I was only tiring mentally as I had to focus on every footfall. All I wanted was a short break from this terrain so that I could relax, settle into a nice pace, and enjoy the scenery. I could tell that the views around me were awesome as I heard the Potomac River roaring at some spots while at others it was completely calm and peaceful. For long stretches the single-track was twisting and turning through lush patches of bluebells. I was looking forward to reaching Great Falls Park where rumor had it there would be a much-needed break from the mud.
I was having fun in Great Falls!
That break did not disappoint! Arriving at Great Falls Park I was greeted with stunning views of rock cliffs that made me say “whoa” out loud. At mile 13 there was another aid station which was also a main spot for racers’ crew, so there was an abundance of spectators, cheering, and energy. And such a nice change of pace on runnable trails! I was definitely enjoying this section (as were my ankles, knees and hip flexors) and I could finally open up my stride. There were two out-and-back sections in the Great Falls loop and around mile 16 I saw the 2nd female. By my estimate she was about a mile back. Way too close for comfort! I knew it was time to shift into another gear and tackle the 2nd half of this course. However Great Falls seemed to bring a 10 degree drop in the temps (that’s what it felt like anyway) and after feeling plenty warm up to that point I was suddenly wishing I had more clothing, especially on my legs which now felt frozen in slow motion. At the 2nd out-and-back spot I hit the turnoff before seeing her again, so I felt some relief that she hadn’t gained any ground during those 2 miles.
Now it was time to mentally prepare for those long muddy miles on the return trip. I knew they would be in bad shape, but they were way worse than I had imagined! I was still hanging tough up until mile 24 but now the marathon runners were coming in the opposite direction making this tricky single-track even more challenging. Although my Topo Runventures were doing an excellent job in these conditions, I don’t think any shoes could tackle the muck that we were trudging through. My pace had become embarrassingly slow, and at one point I said to myself “this is a race – get moving!” The reality was that I couldn’t go any faster. I was skating on the mud and each step was a test in staying upright, never mind trying to accelerate. The only acceleration was the exhaustion in my legs. My only thought was that the 2nd female would surely catch me at this pace. Thinking was not a smart idea, not at all, because the slight distraction caused a slip I couldn’t recover from and down I went onto my hands and knees. I made it all the way to mile 25.5 without a fall. At least the landing was super-soft 🙂 I tried to wipe a chunk of mud off my face which only caused it to smear. Okay, I have my war paint – let’s finish this thing! I was still certain that I was going to be caught by the 2nd female and convinced myself that 2nd place would be okay. Quickly after I had this thought I said to myself “you didn’t lead this far to lose it in the final miles”, and tried to dig a little deeper. That was a mistake. The next fall was much more dramatic as I was attempting to move way faster than my feet could skate under me. I crafted a head-first dive and slid a good 5 feet. Safe! There was a guy behind me this time as he yelled out “are you okay?” and I could only laugh as I shouted back “yes!” I was completely covered in mud on my right side. I quickly stood up and tried to wipe the bulk of this mess off me as I suddenly felt a few pounds heavier. The mittens had to come off as they were full of very cold mud. Having nothing on my hands meant I quickly lost feeling in my fingers. The temps still felt cooler than the start thanks to the 30 mph wind gusts (that’s what I heard they were anyway). I was so close to the finish that having frozen fingers wasn’t an issue. Shortly after the fall the lead male of the 50 miler was coming up behind me – I could hear his pacer shouting out every obstacle in his path. I took advantage of this fresh, helpful pacer and after allowing them to pass me, I hopped on for as long as I could manage. I could definitely feel his pain as I watched him navigate each step with caution. And he had way more many miles under his belt!
Instead of counting down the miles to the finish I was counting down the miles until I got to the gravel trail. I knew all I had to do was make it out of the endless mud pits. That point finally arrived and I thought “I don’t remember this stretch being so long!” I cannot even tell you how many times I looked back in those last 2 miles – convinced that the 2nd female was closing strong on me. Making that final turn to the finish line I saw that I had it! Way off my goal time but happy to have made it across the finish line in 1st place!
I may not have run the time I wanted and I could quickly tell that I was going to be way more sore than normal the next day, but I really had a great time! Racing in tough conditions makes the memory much sweeter. Being surrounded by such beautiful natural scenery makes the suffering much more enjoyable. The best part is how great I felt throughout the race – that feeling trumped every other victory! 🙂
Sonja Hinish and I were the only 2 who stuck around in the cold for awards
This was my first North Face Endurance Challenge Series race and it definitely won’t be my last! I’m already signed up for the Championship race at Golden Gate National Recreation Area on December 3rd. And I would love to return to the DC race next year. The race was well-organized, the course was beautiful, and the volunteers…well they deserve an extra round of applause for this one!
This was my first race in my Topo Runventures and they served me well considering what I put them through. It was also my first race sporting my Ultimate Direction TO Race Vest. Both of these items deserve their own write-up and that is exactly what I will do. Look for product reviews coming soon!
Last weekend I ventured to NYC to run a tune-up race prior to my marathon (which is now only 2 weeks away!!). Also to obtain the elite qualifying time I needed for that marathon. Did I run time I needed? Yes. Did I run the time I wanted? No. But hey, that’s what tune-up races are for – to see where your fitness is and what improvements need to be made. Yes, I am celebrating a win, however the greater experience I got from this race lies in what I take away from it. As with any race, you learn.
This race took place, as you can infer by the name, in Central Park. The half marathon consisted of 3 loops – each one slightly different from the last. As much as I studied the course map I was nervous about making an error. However the signage for each loop was easy to read and understand, the volunteers and course marshals were on top of directing you appropriately, and I had the added benefit of the lead female cyclist riding alongside me throughout the entire race. Not only would she tell me whenever an aid station was near, but she would also ride ahead to each intersection that she could stop and make sure she was directing me to the appropriate loop. She was awesome! I started at a conservative pace (what?!?) and held a fairly consistent pace throughout the race. This is not my racing style – I tend to go out too hard and hang on for dear life. It’s what has always worked for me. Sometimes I like to experiment with “doing it right” – or at least doing what other people preach is right. Today was one of those days. At the start line I chatted with a man who had arrived from London 2 days prior and decided to do this race while he was in town. We talked about our time goals and I gave him my A and B goals. He then asked if I was going to “go for it”. I told him it depended on how I felt. While there was no need to put it all out there it would’ve been nice to test myself. But…I definitely wasn’t feeling it and I certainly didn’t go for it. I felt controlled the whole race, but not strong enough to push it. It was a good way to start the season 🙂
This was the first race in my Topo Tribute’s. Verdict: I love them. They are super-lightweight, extremely breathable, and provide the perfect amount of protection for the ride. Basically, I did not even notice my shoes at all, which is exactly what I want in a zero drop racing flat. If you want to read a comprehensive review of the Tribute, check out this one.
TOPOKLINE20 for 20% off
NYCRuns put on a great race. It was well-organized, well-staffed, and they provided nice swag along with a post-race spread including lots of fresh fruit that you don’t normally see at races. Berries and grapes? Yes please!
It went by so fast yet it felt harder than any 6 minute race effort in recent memory. 6 minutes and 4 seconds was all it took for me to fall out of love with tower racing. A short but torrid love affair that left me feeling hurt, disgusted, and even deceived. Why did it have to hurt like that?
One Boston Place
Why tower racing? The Empire State Building Run Up has been on my bucket list for a few years, quietly tucked away in the “something new” category. Every year it pops into my head and then I go online to check it out only to find out the race has already occurred. So this time I was ready. And I was excited. I submitted my lottery entry, marked my calendar for the day the climbers were announced, and planned my training for the event. The training itself was exciting to me. I am not at all bored with my current training but the thought of adding a new element sounded cool to me. Especially since I will be running the Cayuga Trails 50 again this year, and for those of you not familiar with the race, there are a lot of stairs to climb!
At last the big day came and the entrants for the Empire State Building Run Up were posted. My name was not there. I was gutted. I don’t know why I so badly wanted this race – I was super-bummed to not get in. I did something I rarely do – I called in a favor from a friend to see if there was any chance I could slip in through some back door. No go. I knew it wasn’t going to happen this year so I emailed the race director and asked what I needed to do to receive elite entry for 2017. The answer was:
“Next year’s qualifications are not set in stone, but being one of the top 15 ranked women in the U.S. would help.”
And that’s how I ended up in Boston last weekend to attempt my first tower race.
Training This section will be short and sweet. I didn’t train on stairs nearly as much as I thought I was going to. The best training occurred when I stayed at a hotel in Philly right before the holidays that was similar in height to One Boston Place. I ran from the basement to the top 3 times in a row. It was tough, taxing, and exhilarating! It was also a great learning experience – by the 3rd climb I had a better grasp on pacing and ended up with my fastest split. I came back to New Paltz and suddenly that state-of-the-art stair climbing machine at my gym was not so bad-ass. It did the job to get in some workouts but the top speed was not fast enough for me to put in any real hard efforts. Once you have a taste of climbing actual stairs the hamster wheel doesn’t provide the same experience. Not by a long shot. However I felt that my experience in Philly gave me the confidence I needed to perform well in Boston.
The race starts at 8 a.m. with climbers being sent off in 10 second intervals. My start time was 8:12:15 which gave me time to scope out the start line. It was a quiet check-in during those early hours – there were 1,737 climbers scheduled to start throughout the day so it was going to get quite chaotic. The check-in process was very well-organized and after I went through my race prep it was off to the 39th floor where I would drop my bag before returning to the lobby.
Once my time came to line up in the chute the rest was pretty much a blur. You stand at the start line where a volunteer sends you off 10 seconds after the person in front of you disappears into the stairwell. You wear the timing chip on your wrist and when given the “go” command you simply swipe your wrist across the table as you enter the stairwell and it’s time to start climbing! I ran into the stairwell feeling totally flustered and confused. How hard is it? You find the stairs, which are right in front of you, and you run up them. I was out of my element and, I guess, pretty anxious.
I learned in Philly that looking down at my watch to check my time was not a good option when trying to avoid tripping up the stairs. My goal for this race was to go under 6 minutes but I really wanted to get as close to 5:30 as I could. I set the interval timer on my watch to go off every minute. That way all I had to do is briefly look up to see what floor I was at. If I could climb 8 floors between every interval alarm I was in great shape to meet my goal.
Going into this race I constantly drew upon my climbs in Philly – what it felt like, what worked best, etc. That seemed to have all gone out the window. Within a few short flights I passed the female who started in front of me. Okay, passing was really hard. I don’t even know how to explain it. Once you catch someone you have to find that extra gear to climb past them quickly to avoid being in their way. It is a lot simpler on the bike and while running, but this felt totally different. I also noticed really early on that the air in this stairwell felt entirely different from what I experienced in Philly. I was having a tough time breathing within only seconds of starting. I was hoping that this would even out as the climb progressed. My first interval alarm went off right as I hit the landing of floor 8. Perfect!
But my lungs were burning. Bad. I alternated between climbing a couple of flights taking 2 stairs at a time and using the handrails to utilize some upper body strength to pull myself up the stairs, and then taking one stair at a time so I could “run” them. This seemed to be working well for my legs. The floors were flying by but at the same time I felt like there was no end in sight for the stabbing feeling in my lungs. By the time my 3rd alarm went off I was only at floor 22. This wasn’t too far off my pace but I was only slightly over halfway to floor 41! I was able to pass a few more people along the way – that never got any easier.
When my 4th and 5th alarms went off I didn’t even bother to look at what floor I was on. I felt dizzy and each shallow, labored breath caused searing pain. I could taste that awful acid in my throat. My legs weren’t hurting – why weren’t they hurting? I’m clearly not going hard enough. But I can’t possibly push any harder with this hot knife lodged into my lungs hampering my breathing. I felt like I was in some kind of dream sequence – I was dizzy, my head was throbbing, the lights seemed dimmed and hazy, and even though there were volunteers talking and cheering their voices sounded completely muffled. The only thing I could hear was breathing – not just my own breathing but everyone else who I would come upon. I caught 2 more climbers – 1 right behind the other. I knew I needed to pass them but I needed to sit behind them for just a second or two to muster up the energy to make the pass. At that moment my 6th alarm went off and I realized that we were at the finish line. 6:04.
Across the finish line you stumble into a hallway lined with chairs and volunteers. I was still very dizzy, my head was throbbing, and the sounds still seemed muffled. Bodies were everywhere – like the girl sitting on the floor draped in bags of ice and a puke bucket in front of her. I quickly moved past. Everyone was coughing and trying to catch their breath. I found a spot at the end of the hallway where I crumbled into the corner on the floor. A volunteer was following me and kindly took my timing chip. This area felt suffocating so I grabbed a cup of water and headed down another stairwell to the 39th floor to collect my belongings.
I will spare you the ugly details of the events that took place as I struggled to regain composure. What I will say is for an effort this short, it was one heck of a recovery! At least I wasn’t the only one struggling in the bathroom. During that recovery I tried to come to grips with what just transpired. I was frustrated that my race didn’t go as planned. I wasn’t even paying attention to make my final kick up the last flights like I had practiced. Had I done that I would’ve passed the last 2 competitors and reached by sub-6 goal at least. I couldn’t understand why it felt so different from when I ran the stairs in Philly. I was expecting my legs to tire and my calves to burn. Sure I was expecting to have a hard time breathing. I was expecting my whole body to feel spent by the time I reached the top. I did not expect to have pain so sharp in my chest that it held me back. And fresh legs. Moral of the story: I need to train my lungs. It was a huge positive that my legs felt great and I wasn’t even sore the next day. It was a huge negative that I had a hacking cough and rattling lungs for 2 days after. The running miles I sacrificed for this race really brought me down mentally. I vowed that I would never race a tower again unless I had nothing else in the lineup that would be hindered by it. By now my attitude has softened, at least a little 🙂 Missing workouts is always tough for athletes but once you straighten your head out you forge ahead.
A few hours after the race I was able to determine that I was sitting in 1st place for females and 12th overall. Of course this end result was not final with the time trial start so I was on pins and needles up until the awards ceremony. But alas I was able to hold that position, barely edging out the 2nd place female by a mere 4 seconds! Despite having a rough start in the tower racing world I was happy with my result and it felt great to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new. I have yet to plan my next one but I know there will be more to come!
Sau-Mei Leung (red), Me, Kelly Spencer (2nd)
The Fight For Air Climb participants raise funds to support the mission of the American Lung Association, helping to make a positive impact in the lives of those affected by lung disease.