Tag Archive for ultra

The Finger Lakes 50s: Tales from the Tail of the 50 Mile Trail

It had arrived. The eve of the much anticipated Finger Lakes 50s Trail run which would be my first 50 Mile race. The Mister and I had spent the day driving towards Ithaca from New York City and debating, with varying degrees of intensity, exactly how dark it would be when we finally set up our tent in the Finger Lakes National Forest.

Traditional Race-Chocolate-Chip-Pancakes I ate Thursday in case I couldn’t any while we were on the road Friday- wise move!

I tend to be a little higher strung than my mister and combined with with a healthy dose of pre-race anxiety I was ready to be stretched out inside a tent, full of food, and off my feet. We achieved two of those things earlier in the afternoon by stopping in Ithaca and grabbing a bite of food at the ever-delicious and well named “Gorgers,” which makes huge hot sub sandwiches with in all the styles of your grandest dreams.

Normally, I stick hard to my plain butter pasta pre-big-race, but it was getting late and I was ready to stick with what was accessible than spend more time tracking down pasta and trying to special order it like an asshole. This may have been my one big mistake or at least contributed to my main source of discomfort the next day.

We left Ithaca and wound our way up towards the National Forest, where we parked along side the road. Here, you can see part of the baby loop, and I remarked that I would probably really, really, really hate that baby loop after 49.5 miles. Truer words were never spoken.

We wandered into the camp and registration area with our things (we loaded almost everything into one of those old-lady shopping carts/ big city laundry carts and it was a super smart decision). At the registration, we signed the Mister up as a pacer for the final 16 mile loop and I bought a Finger Lakes 50s hat (that is either brown or maroon, I really can’t tell) for a bargin price of $5.00!! I’m normally pretty superstitious about buying finisher items before actually finishing a  race and I will never, ever, wear a shirt for a race during that very race- gasp, the horror. But I didn’t want to miss out on a sweet hat and I was so excited about this race I broke my rule, and luckily, not my leg.

We set up our tent which, unfortunately, was apparently in a spot that was really bad for runoff and rain was headed in our direction. Fortunately, a kind local gentleman who I think was assisting with race logistics and obviously knew the area far better than we did, pointed out our error. We dragged our tent goofily to higher ground and I called it a night as a huge downpour broke open. Laying in the tent we listened as the rain pounded the tent and I watched the silhouette of a tiny gecko climbing around our tent wall with his bulbous toes holding him there like magic.

Morning came and oh, good god, this is happening! This start included both 50 Milers and 50K-ers (the Finger Lakes 50s, eh- eh?). I knew from looking at the participants ahead of time that they were pretty equally registered with about 80 people starting out for each race.

The first lap started out nice and easy, as usual, it always takes me a good 3-4 miles to even begin to feel settled into a nice, easy, loose run. I ran along Al, who  from miles 6-15 or so, I came to think of as my “Trail Pal Al.” He was a really nice gentleman from Rochester, if I remember correctly, and he was running hist first 50 Miler too. It was great to stick with him for such a slice of the loop and I would have tried to keep my trail pal for longer, but I slowed a bit due to the start of what would be on and off stomach issues. Ugh.

At the end of loop one, I was 16 miles in and feeling great. I got to see my Mom, my father, and my aunt who had driven the hour down from my hometown to cheer me on. It was a huge boost to see them and know that I got to have them near for such an incredible day.  I hit the trail again and began cutting my way into the second loop.

Loop two went well enough- it amazed me during the 60K last fall, and it amazed me again how the marathon mark slips by so uneventfully that I barely notice. 26.2 can be excruciating and is in its own right, a formidable distance. Yet in the midst of even a slightly longer race it is reduced to little more than an “oh, whatever. It cracks me up.

Don’t Let the Cows Out! Photographic evidence I enjoyed this race experience.

 

And then, early on this second loop, it happened. The stomach problems. For all the runners, I don’t need to say more because I think everyone understands. I had to stop two or three times because my stomach was so uncomfortable/ I thought there was going to be a real disaster, haha, luckily, there was not.

The real downside to my stomach issues, other than the loss of time, was I became increasingly less able to eat. Which really stunk because it was pretty hot and mentally, the idea that I was in the middle of 50 miles and not going to be able to keep the fuel levels up, was really discouraging.

I came into the finish of loop 2 feeling relatively fresh on my legs, but my stomach was really messed up. I told my family the current status, letting them know I thought this could be something that would slow me substantially on the final loop.

On the upside, my Mister was going to be joining me for my last loop!

finger-lakes-50s-course-map

The 16 Mile Loop! times 3 + the Baby Loop = the 50 Miler

 

On the downside, it was a pretty ugly final loop. The first mile after the home aid station was a complete mind-fuck (sorry about the language, but there is really no other word for it). You spend 15.9 miles thinking about getting somewhere and its pretty motivating. And then after two rounds of that, you depart again and it is like being set adrift at sea with not a hint of land insight. So there was that, and then there was the nausea. And that first mile or two with the Mister was pretty slow.

But I was really eager to show him The Morgue Aid station. We meet another runner there, who looked at us and said “Think we can make it?” I laughed, because I thought he was like 100% joking, and said of course, we were going to make it.

Little did I know.

About 3 miles from The Morgue, IT HAPPENED, mind-fuck number 2. You didn’t know there would be a second one? Well, neither did I.

A guy comes running up behind us, and I step aside, “You should go, we’re pretty slow right now.”

“You don’t want me to do that- then you’ll be on no course” he said, or something to that effect. “I’m just picking up the flags. Take your time, don’t let me rush you.”

And then the entire forest swirled around me- whaaaaaaaat!

Ok, you’re last. That part I could totally deal with. I knew time wise that I was looking pretty good for the cut offs and was well within the normal time range of finishers. I was not, some under-trained lollygagger.

However, the idea that my slowness at this point was now going to actually be holding people up- people at aid stations, volunteers spread over 16 miles, literal forest rangers, race directors- completely destroyed me. I’m pretty shy, so the idea that so many people would be thinking about the last person, and where is this slowpoke, and thinking I wasn’t prepared, just wrecked me.

finger-lakes-50s-elevation

The Race Begins

We fell into a pattern of trying to run as much as I could, while I wondered if maybe I was foolish to attempt this and should just pack it in. But I keep thinking, well, I guess I can make it to one more aid station, and then we’ll see. I couldn’t even begin to imagine returning to the finish line in a car. So we made it to the South Beach Aid station (twice, as the course has it) and then began the reluctant push to The Library. This was the last cut off of the race.

As we started, the course-deflagger/spirit-crusher ran after us and said “I think you guys can make the cut off, but you are going to have to move a little faster. You were doing about X minute miles last stretch, and you need to do X-2.” (I forget what the times were, but we had to go about 2 minutes per mile faster. Ha. Ha.) I was grateful that this gentleman had done some math for me, but on the other hand the idea that I had any control whatever over how fast I was going was hysterical.

A nice, deep, first-50 miler, burn had settled into my legs, and wasn’t going anywhere. I knew this type of pain was coming one way or another, but because of my stomach problems earlier, I felt like I had to deal with the leg pain for more miles than I expected.

We set off for the Library Aid Station, with the idea that we do the best I could, and whatever happened with the time, well there was nothing I could do about that. When we finally emerged from the woods and made our way across the road for The Library, all the volunteers were cheering.

“You made it!” they said. “Literally, by like a minute!” they added. (I was almost sad I had to keep going). “No one can you off the course now!”

I looked at my Mister, “I know we can go on, but I don’t know if we should.” My legs felt like mush on fire. Why should I waste everyone’s time?

The volunteers were so kind. One of them even said to me, “The next bit goes on and then comes back out after a mile by so-and-so, who has his car by the road. So if you want to stop then, you always can.”

One more mile try? Can’t argue with that. And from that point on, my motto was, “Let’s try.”

Can you run a few feet? Let’s try.

Can you make it one mile? Let’s try.

Can you make it to the next aid station? Let’s try.

And that was how we got to The Outback Aid Station. (Did I mention we met up again, momentarily with the runner from The Morgue, the Do-You-Think-We’ll-Make-It Guy? It felt good to no longer feel like literally the last person on the course).

The volunteers made me feel even better.

“Thank you SO MUCH  for being here. I’m sorry I’m so slow.” I said.

They laughed, “Are you kidding? We’ve been out here way later before. You’re doing fine!” And then they tried to get us to eat the rest of the Aid Station food- at some point someone tried to get me to take the remains of a huge package of Twizzlers!

We left, spirits more buoyed than when we arrived, and set out for the final miles.

I should mention, the Baby Loop. As we staggered toward the finish, I thought about the Baby Loop with the fiery hatred of 1,000 suns: F*@k that Baby Loop, I thought, when I get to the finish area I am done. (You have to go *through* the finish, and back out for the 1/2 mile Baby Loop). They can’t make me do it. I entertained myself often those last miles with the absolutely insane notion that I was going to DNF 49.5 miles into a 50 mile race.

But somehow we made it to the finish line and I set off to finish on my own. As I was moving through the final wooded area, I heard it- Eye of the Tiger was playing at the finish area, which was unfortunate because I really wanted to walk. However, I knew that my family must have requested it, because Eye of the Tiger and I go way back to the Musselman Triathlon and when I thought I might drown in Seneca Lake and my uncle yelled “Eye of the Tiger Sam!” And the only way I was going to get to the finish line in time was if I started running right now.

So I ran. And as I ran into the clearing, about to finish my first 50 mile race, I saw that almost every person in the finish area had formed a tunnel, their hands raised up like a bridge, and I had to run under their hands and through the human tunnel to the finish.

I wish I could describe it. I get teary eyed now thinking about how overcome with emotion I was in that moment and I smushed down all my tears so I wouldn’t cry, even happy cry, in front of a bunch of strangers.

That, was my first 50 miler.

And my last. At least, that was what I told myself on the drive home that evening. Well, I don’t think I’ll every need to do that again, I thought with a good amount of confidence. How long does it take to forget the feeling of ragged mush muscles set on fire? Mmm, about 24 hours.

That, was my first 50 miler.

And my last.

Epilogue

Things learned:

-Last doesn’t feel that bad. I knew my training was good and I was well within the time frame of finishers over the years. Other than that, eh, whatever. Last- someone has to be.

-Learn to eat real food for ultras. I ate gels and I ate real food. I wouldn’t describe myself as gel-dependent. I ate maybe 5 before my stomach bonked, but I blame the gels 60% (Gorgers, I’m looking at you for that other 40%). I hate peanut butter sandwiches, but I think I need to learn to love this ultra staple.

-Pacer doesn’t necessarily mean pacer. Spirit guide, I believe is much more accurate. I always kind of knew this (trying to “pace” runner brother often turned into “try to be upbeat, not annoyingly so, and don’t feel bad he is super grumpy”), but now I understand it.

-Anyone can quit. I wanted to quit. But, no one signs up for 50 miles so they can learn what it feels like to quit.

I signed up to push at the expanse of what I thought I was physically capable of. 26.2 miles is a number I had come to know. It had structure and tangible edges- a beginning, a middle, and an end. 50 miles? I stood at a race start three years ago and told myself that I would never be one of those people. That there were some special people out there who could accomplish something as unfathomable as that and that I was wise enough to know I would never be one of them. Three years ago was before my first half marathon. Three years ago, was before my first marathon, before I knew the size, and shape, and scent of a marathon. Three years ago was before I realized that the best leaps of faith, test your faith in yourself.

Not letting my embarrassment or insecurity get the best of me has been something I felt I never quite got the hang of, even after all these years of sobriety. Finishing this race, even with the loop of pain and misery and doubt in all its ugly rawness (sorry you had to witness that mister!) I realized that not every journey, whether on the trails or off, is picture perfect or goes according to plan, but that doesn’t render it worthless.

Pacing the Beast

BEAST OF BURDEN ULTRA RECAP

This weekend I was originally going to run the Fred Lebow ½ Marathon, but I ended up swapping 13 miles in Central Park for 13 miles of pacing my crazy brother, Charlie, during the Beast of Burden 100 Mile Ultra in Lockport, New York- upgrade!

Charlie ran his first 100 miler during Virgil Crest  in September, but this was his first ultra on a flat course so we were eager to see how it would go.

Lucky for everyone involved, the races (25, 50, or 100 miles) kicked off at 10:00 am. The joke was that the former race director liked to sleep in and now it was helpful for Canadian racers who liked to drive down the morning of. We left the Finger Lakes around 7 am, got into Lockport around 8:45, and were ready for the pre-race meeting at 9:45.

The parking lot was filled with cars doubling as race-resumes with stickers ranging from the JFK 50 to the Musselman Triathlon and everything in between.  It was a great atmosphere; the daunting distance didn’t deter runners from donning their finest costume garb which featured horned hats and pink fur.

Ultra pre-race meeting 100 miles

At the pre-race meeting the race director went over all the final details, which included to option to change distances before the race began. He reiterated runners change it before the start, because “if anyone tries to change it during race, we have a special acronym for that called ‘DNF’.” Laughs all around.

And they were off!

Beast of Burden Ultra Start Lockport

It was an out and back course: 12.5 out, 12.5 back in, four loops to complete the 100. It was completely and utterly flat, winding gently along the bends of the Erie Canal.

Beast of Burden Ultra course race

For runners the aid stations were at Mile 1 (Lockport), Mile 7 (Gasport), and Mile 12.5 (Middleport). For Crew and Spectators, the main checkpoints were Mile 1, Mile 6 (Orangeport), and Mile 12.5, so my aunt, my mom, and I spent most of the day shuttling back and forth.

Runner soup aid station ultra

Fifty Miles on the Erie Canal: The First 50

The first 50 miles were pretty smooth. Too smooth maybe, since his times matched up with a lot of his shorter races of the same distance.

Miles 1- 12.5 = 1:45 (11:45 am)

Miles 1- 25= approx 4 hrs (2:00 pm)

Charlie took fresh chicken noodle soup from us at the 25 mile marker, but after that ate mostly from the aid stations which were STOCKED with pretty much anything imaginable: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese, chicken broth, vegetable broth, salt potatoes, pizza, pretzels, chocolates, HEED, electrolyte tablets- the list goes on.

Runner aid station 50 miles 100 miles ultra

He finished the Miles 25-50 in about 5:17 (7:17 pm) and locked in a 50 Mile PR about 2 hours faster than his Bear Mountain finish last spring.

He had paired up with Ben from Cleveland some point after Mile 30, and the two had joined with Yak Hat sometime after Mile 37. Note: I tried to ask the third runner’s name but Charlie was to tired to entertain me.

So, Charlie, Ben, and Yak Hat- the three came in together at the 50, and set out on their third loop together.

ultra runners at aid station lockport

Miles 50-100: The Tough Get Going

By the time we met them again at Mile 62.5, Charlie was hurting. Bad. The three rested for a bit at the Middleport aid station before finally Ben and Yak Hat set off. Charlie’s legs had basically tightened so badly (most likely due to a combination of a mis-timed yoga class and the cold…maybe even the 62 miles he had just run?) that it was increasingly difficult to run at all.

But I supposed part of the point of a 100 Miler is that it is difficult, whether it is in the way you expect or in the unforeseen surprises that arise from even the simplest of things.

He set out again, and some time soon after my mom, my aunt, and I all swore we would never go to another 100 Miler. And some time soon after that we all recanted and set out again to follow around someone intent on torturing himself.

Charlie had decided I should jump in for miles 75- 87.5, so I was suited up and ready to go as we waited for him to come back in to the main aid station. When he did come in, he was hurting. Luckily, one of the volunteers, Dwight, happened to be a massage therapist and helped Charlie work out some of the knots in his legs. It looked excruciating, but Charlie said it was well worth the pain.

Beast of Burden Cold Ultra

photo_2[1]We set out just after 3:15 am. There were no lamp posts, so most of the course was dark, and we had head lamps, and blinking red LED lights on our backs. It was about 20 degrees and dropping, with 15-20 mph winds. With wind chill factored in, it felt like it was a frigid 5 degrees. Unfortunately,  Charlie’s legs were still too cramped to get running at this point. And so we walked. And walked. And walked.  You couldn’t see that much ahead of you or around you in the dark, and what you could see looked the same as the mile before it. The miles and the darkness of the morning stretched on and on like some hellscape that I imagine would drop off the edge of the earth before it reached a finite conclusion.

We reached my mom and my aunt at the 6 mile mark around 5:30 am and scrambled into the car. The idea was to warm up, and hit the road again. Then Charlie dozed a little and said 6. Then 6:15. Then maybe 6:30. It was a tough call. I literally shivered in the car for an hour before I began to feel warm again. I put on more layers. When I finished, I had on 2 long sleeve base layers, 2 long sleeve tech shirts, a hoodie, and a waterproof outer shell.

Finally, at 7 o’clock, Charlie made the call to push on. He was adamant he was going to continue the whole 100 even if he had to walk until just under the cut off, so we set out. After a few feet, he realized the cramps were starting to fade, but not enough to pick up running again just yet.  So we walked some more. The sun was just coming up through the trees, and for a few minutes the landscape looked not-so-barren. Within an hour, clouds had settled over again, but for a little bit, it was quite nice.

Beast of Burden Erie Canal Ultra

We also began to see more runners. While we were car napping, I didn’t see many people. But as soon as it began to get light, one by one the course began to come alive with more runners; we were like bears coming out of hibernation.

Charlie and I made it into the Middleport Aid Station, and again, we were chilled to the bone.

By the time we met Charlie at Mile 94, he had been able to start running again and had made up a lot of time. Who knew after 94 Miles things would be drastically better than ten miles before?!

Beast of Burden Ultra Finisher

As we waiting at the staging aid station/ finish area, we could see runners on the other side of the canal as they wound their way back the final two miles to the finish. We say Charlie and several other runners across the water all within 30 minutes of each other.

The volunteers here were incredible, and popped out of the warmth of the tent to lookout for finishers. When they spotted someone, everyone would grab a cowbell and run out to welcome the runner in. It was incredible, especially since many were running with out spectators or crew.

Then it was Charlie’s turn and at 1:07 pm, Sunday afternoon, he finished.

Beast of Burden Race Director Finisher Belt Buckle

It didn’t go exactly as planned. We asked Charlie how many other runner’s he saw, he said ‘Well there’s still a couple of people behind me’. And then we saw the results: 11th out of 30 finishers. He was one of the 2 youngest runners, possibly the youngest.

I’ve never run an ultra, yet. Charlie is working on changing that. But from the tiny sliver of this experience I shared with him, I can’t say with certainty that I would have chosen to go on after 75 Miles. I don’t know that even if I managed to make it 75 miles, I would head out again when every step was excruciating- and optional.

Charlie did. I’m not even sure if it was ever even a choice in his mind- whether to continue or not. And to me, physically finishing 100 miles pales in comparison to his certainty and determination that, one way or another, he would finish.