How the weekend began: It was a Thursday as I was at the Finger Lakes Running Company in Ithaca setting up a display for the Elite athlete meeting at the store at 5pm. Andrew, myself, and Claire all worked really hard to get the display all situated. Before I knew it, it was 4 pm and people started trickling in. I met Sage Canaday and many others. I was then off to run once 5 hit in the pouring rain to get a little taper run in there. I tested some of the nearby trails off by the Mulholland Wildflower Preserve to see what would be in store for Saturday's race. I was slipping and sliding on any downhill and I immediately knew that the race would be a slower strength race instead of a speedier track type of trail run. I had the chance to meet with my father and my girlfriend as we relaxed for a big day in terms of race preparation and registration.
The Next Day::: I headed out around noon with my father to the running store for packet pick-up. By the time we arrived near 1, the store was quiet which I expected a busy store because of packet pick-up but I was told that everything cleared out early.
What I call the Lara Croft Stone Obelisk right on the steps of Buttermilk Falls! (You can see the tiny steps on the far right of the picture)
Slick wet conditions
This course had some of the best visuals of any Ultra out there. If you like waterfalls and deep winding single track, this IS THE COURSE!
Watching the water cascade down
RACE DAY!!!!! 4:00am.... My alarm goes off as I slip out of bed. I am tired of course but feel well-rested. I freshen up, lace up the Mammut MTR 141s, and my Mammut gear eat a cliff bar- White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, my favorite and a yummy chocolate protein shake. It is game time! I load up into my father's van and off we go. I have all the Gels, Chomps, and snacks I could ever need. On the drive down, I am wondering about the distance...50 miles.....50 MILES.....50.....MILES??? What am I doing? I can run a fast 50k but to do that then decide to run 20 more fast miles, well that is just insane! My mind drones on with all of the crazy thoughts as I know that in a few short hours, I will embark on a Grand Adventure, the Cayuga Trails 50.
We make it to Robert Treman State Park, and of course the atmosphere looks just like every other ultra. We have the runners with calf sleeves, hydration vests, people clamoring and just being giddy, which at 5 am is pretty awesome. I jog to the North Shelter for check-in and get myself ready. It was cool to see all of the great sponsorship help with the event. Ultraspire, Tifosi, Chobani, Scott Sports, Swiftwick, GU, Irunfar.com, Atayne and of course the Finger Lakes Running Company. Though I played a small part in the organization of the event, it felt great to see everything come together and to know that I played some part in shaping the race. With that thought I chatted with many runners I have met leading up to the race at our store, the Finger Lakes Running Company. With 20 minutes before the race start, I headed into the woods to use the bathroom one last time. I noticed the port-potty facility was full and it would have been too late so I pulled into the woods. I of course waded through some deep grass and got saturated with moisture. I came out and saw that Sage Canaday, the race favorite for the Men had the same idea. I rung out my Fit Socks which as merino wool socks did so well with all the inches of rain, creek crossings, and wet...EVERYTHING!
It was time to take the line:
With the Blowing of the Ram's Horn we are off!!!!!
The race went out nice and fun for me. I am always used to a fast race that this event felt laid back even with the top-level competition. I of course came into this race ready for a break-out race and was hoping for a top 5. If I could average 7:30-sub 8 min pace for the 50 miles, I think that would do it. Naturally, I am used to running much quicker even for a 50k so this pace seemed not too terrible. I settled into the 7-7:30 minute per mile pace as Sage, Jordan McDougal, and this Russian guy, Denis shot out into the lead. I was fourth at this point. I just did my thing. I was nice and relaxed and kept the mantra of "50 miles is a long way, save it for the last 20". I remained a pace I knew I could handle and with running the majority of this course throughout the year I have been here in Upstate New York, I knew what to expect for the most part. The wet conditions made me have to be extra conservative. I tried running some of the steep downs with some speed and I nearly tripped over my feet several times. I knew that I had to take it easy. The Denis guy would sprint at the top of every uphill and downhill and then powerhike the uphill section which I would catch him at the crest of each uphill. This pattern went on like this from miles 5-9. I kept going my pace. Then we came out onto the first section of steps and man was Lucifer Falls looking amazing. With the water crashing down and the mist splashing on you, any person would feel rejuvenated running in such a picturesque site. From here, we wove through the crowd out onto the trails across the deep stream and over to the Lickbrook Preserve, a section I had not seen.
NEXT SECTION: Lickbrook Preserve and FInger Lakes Trail-----I was still around 4th. Then finally, Yassine D caught up to me. I relaxed through the course as he was talking with the runners behind me. It was not until the next aid station where we all caught up. At this point, we were out hanging out, Yassine, Sam Jurek, and Matt Flaherty. This was my group. We were the chase pack! We had caught up with Sage at the Lickbrook Preserve aid station and it was cool to be running behind such a fast dude. Then it went into the winding singletrack. Up and down we went. I still had not run these sections so I felt a little off leading the group. I pulled us off of a sharp hairpin turn and asked if Yassine could take the reigns. He thought he could probably break-away so he went for it. Matt Flaherty, Sam Jurek, and myself gave chase. It was near the Lick Brook Climb where we all caught up. Jordan was not feeling to good as we passed, and Sage was leading the charge up the climb while Matt was powerhiking really well. I kept pace with him as Yassine was tiring a little. My MTR 141's had the toe flex to make all the uphill running a dream. I felt like running uphill in the race was in fact the easiest portions of the race thanks to this shoe and some training in the hills! Then after this section, Matt Flaherty left us to chase after Sage and that was the last I saw of him.
Near the 18 Mile Mark In Buttermilk Falls! Feeling Great and making a move!
Flashforward to Buttermilk Falls-------I was waiting with Yassine and Sam for the Buttermilk Falls section of the race. I had run it many times and knew that this could be a nice place to make a slight move to ensure a smooth finish. This section was near miles 14-19 or so and it was time. From the photo here, I made my move at Buttermilk Falls and with my father there to save me with nutrition if I needed it, I was ready. The move began shortly after this road section. I went for it just relaxing on the downhill and flying down. The terrain was still slick and though my Mammut shoes never let me down all day in terms of cushioning, grip, the whole shebang, I still did not want to risk my whole race.
Coming out of the Buttermilk Falls steps, My father saw that I looked the best out of any of the others that had passed on by. Now it was time to shoot for the turn-around. I felt really good here. I had my space, I was feeling like my pace was solid and I could maintain the 7:30's I had set out. I had run every uphill section and my legs felt just fine.
THEN IT HAPPENED!!!!
I bombed a nice downhill section leaving Buttermilk into the Finger Lakes Trail and then (THUD)...I had twisted my ankle. I was immediately halted to a hobble. I spent the next few minutes walking it off trying to regain my composure. I knew that I would be caught rather soon so I just tried my best. My ankle had already began to swell to that of a tennis ball. I could not really run the downhills as the downward pressure was too much for my weakened ankle. I hobbled down the low stretches and then ran on the upswings. Yassine caught me in about 8-12 minutes of running and he asked me how I was doing and I told him to pass because I twisted my ankle really bad and had to take it easy. It was hard to let him go. Here I was running the race of my life and I had a major hiccup. Shortly, my body began to tighten up because of the overcompensating my left-side had to do for my ankle. Soon, my whole body began to stiffen and cramp. I remember running in the Finger Lakes Trail section alone....bruised, beaten, defeated. Would I finish? How much longer can I go? Am I seriously injured?
These were the questions I asked myself in the stretch. I also twisted my ankle again with the pain shooting through my legs. And then the Bonk came. I was running on a slight uphill section and soon I slowed to a walk as my vision became blurry, I started breathing really hard, my ears began to ring, I was losing touch with reality it seemed. I yelled to myself
"OH MY GOD, I AM BONKING!! THIS IS WHAT BONKING FEELS LIKE!"
I had my Clif shots in my Ultraspire belt as well as about 4 Roctane gels and 2 in my water bottle. Like a wild animal gorging myself for my very life I gnawed at the Clif shots package with my teeth until I could open a large-enough hole to get the shots out. I pressed the package to my lips and the series began...ONE...TWO....THREE.....Down.....FOUR.....FIVE.....SIX...Down. Shot blocks down! Now onto the Gels! I first grabbed the gels from my water bottle and ripped the tops off easily with my teeth and squished every last morsel of gel into my body. I washed down each gel with a nice swig of GU Brew. Like a man rising from the ashes, with each and every gel I felt my life systems recharge. It was like someone unplugged me momentarily only to plug me in again. My walk soon became a glide to a run. I was still tight but I could semi-run at 9 minute pace. I was moving. Could I survive 50 miles? My confidence came back to me. My top 5 finish was shot but maybe I could pull myself together for 28 or so miles at this point of running for survival.
So how did it all end???????
The Conclusion: I never bonked the rest of the way. The combination of GU chomps, Gels, and my energy drink kept me feeling solid the whole way, only if I had a new body I would be good to go. I could not believe how crucial that nutrition is. To be the best, you have to re-fuel like your life depended on it! What makes Sage Canaday one of the best ultra runners in the world? The answer is simple: he not only trains smart, recovers well but come race day he takes in the nutrition (gels and chomps) like a kid gorging themselves on candy so that he optimizes his performance level. I never realized how crucial it is to re-fuel as such. Once I was on-tap with my nutrition I felt great! I ran into every aid station loading up on the gels and chomps with my one cup water, one cup ginger ale, one cup coke, three shot combo that sent me on my way feeling strong. I was passed by a few guys though through it all still held it together. I hit the last aid station asking how much was left. I was told just a 5k!!! A 5k!!!!!!! I WAS ALMOST DONE WHOA!
I fueled up one last time and made my final push. Let me tell you, the last 12 miles of any ultra are tough but this was a toughy at a 5k. My body wanted to quit at mile 18 with the twisted ankle and I willed myself a whole 32 miles. I was almost there. I pushed the last uphill and then came to the field where the finish was, I did not know if we finished on the same side, I thought we might come around the opposite way. I ended up going back on course for an additional 3 miles before running into some guys the 10th and 11th place men who told me I was going the wrong way. I was not happy with that so I sprinted my legs to 6 minute pace the best I could do for my last mile to ensure I could hold off those guys behind me. I had survived 8th place for hours on end that I could not finish out of the top 10 no way! I came down the straightaway and say that I was passed by a guy I ran onto the trail that I asked if I was going the right way because I should be finishing and he told me he had no idea. You see what 50 miles of fatigue can do to a person!
I came across the line right at 8 hours. I placed 9th in my first 50 miler in a super competitive field. As a new sponsored athlete in the trail running scene, I was happy to get myself into the top 10 after my ankle really altered my race. Overall, it was an amazing experience.
53 Miles--Finishing Strong in my Mammut Gear! Best Apparel on the Planet and the MTR 141 is what I call the "Performer of Ultra Trail Shoes"
***** What we learn from ultras is that no matter how bad you feel in life, just believe that you can keep going or rather just doing so can take those low moments and allow for us to crest into such magnificent high points. All the athletes out there had some tough moments out there, we all at one point felt like we wanted to drop from the race. But often it is in those moments that we truly find ourselves and realize what the human spirit is made of. Sure I run, but I do the activity because it is something so rudimentary, so simple yet so complex. I want to thank all of my friends, family, and sponsors: Mammut, Acidotic Racing, Fits Socks, Karhu/Craft and Dion Snowshoes and the Finger Lakes Running Company. Your support was motivation for me out there and I thank you for making my dreams a reality.
Sage the winner coming in at 6:47
The official results
Myself tired but happy after my 8 hour finish
Here is a link to a summary of the race and a sweet video!!!!
Here is a photo of me post 50 miles!
Making a move at Buttermilk Falls State Park!
The front group at the beginning of the race! (I am number 45)
Before the Start!
The closeup! I am number 45 next to Sage Canaday and Yassine Diboun
13 Seconds to Go!!!!
Photo of Matt Flaherty at the Buttermilk Falls Gorge Trail!