Steep climbs, runnable fast downs, waterfalls, beautiful gorges, creek crossings, and a mix of single and double track trail provide the foundation for what Trail Runner named the most scenic race in the East. It’s drawn some of the fastest UltraRunners in the world, has/is serving as the USATF 50 Mile Trail Championship for 2014/2015, but it’s not reserved for the speedy alone. The Cayuga Trails 50 is a tough, beautiful trail run set in the wonderful small city of Ithaca, NY. With solid aid stations, amazing volunteers, gracious sponsors, delicious apple pie, and an international trail running festival pre-race, it’s a pretty amazing weekend in an amazing corner of the world.
The Staging Area
Robert H. Treman State Park, 105 Enfield Falls Rd, Ithaca, NY is a perfect staging ground. The Park itself, just outside of downtown Ithaca is carved by a central gorge, a steady stream of waterfalls culminating in a beautiful swimming, and beautiful single and double track trails and historic stone staircases flanking both. Camping and cabins are available for those who get on reservations early and a great playground sits adjacent to the start shelter for families making a day out of crewing.
The course doubles up on a 12.5 mile out – 12.5 mile back format, starting in Lower Robert H. Treman State Park, running out to a turnaround in Lower Buttermilk Falls State Park. Aid stations average 4 mile intervals, roughly 9,000 feet of elevation gain (w/ corresponding loss), and there’s a 15 hour cutoff.
Cut-Offs and Dropping Out
The event, per useable trail light, and park policy, will start at 06:00 and have a 15-hour cutoff at 21:00. Individual AS cutoff times have been set to ensure that entrants are moving through at or under 15 hours. No runner however, if of good physical and mental condition, and where safety is not of concern, will be cut prior to the established 13:00 (1:00 PM) cut off at mile 25.0, AS6, North Shelter. Runners may fall behind guideline cuts prior to that point but no runner checking out of AS6 after 13:00 will be permitted to continue. Individual AS Cut-Offs will be enforced beyond AS6.
This was my second year running the Cayuga 50 miles. I DNFed last year prior to my hip flexor issue and rhabdo issue, I had to stop on mile 43.
This year, despite I came with some prolonged injuries, I came with more experience and race strategy. In a way I was more prepared and my goal was to finish strong, hopefully would have a negative split on the second loop.
Too Much Hype For Me
I arrived in Itacha NY early in the morning, the day before the race. I was lucky that I had an opportunity to sit down with 2 champs on the pre race interview with USL.TV. It was for the front runner round table in Itacha Running Co. On my left, Maggie Guterl, who just placed herself 4th place in the 24 hours world championship, and helped US female team took gold medal. And the other champ was Tyler Siegl, who just won TNF ECS Wisconsin 50 miles in ridiculous time (5:25:55). We were pretty much discussing about the race snapshot and prediction with Bree, the host from USL.TV.
Too Early On The Race
It was early in the morning when we lined up to the starting line. There were so many fast runners on the front line, some were familiar faces, some were new faces for me. Chang and I were standing on the 3rd layer of the line. I didn’t want to start fast but at the same time, I didn’t want to stuck on the stairs’ bottle-neck.
The race started a little different from the previous year. Instead of running straight to the trail, we made a short u-turn before we went to the trail for a small ascent.
I was running with comfortable pace, I let others passing me. I continued to keep my pace easy until the first wooden stairs where I took the side of stairs and passing the other runners with a power hike. Then course started to get more interesting with twisting rolling hill where I started to pick up my pace. In one section we were running along a natural wall on the right side and stream on the left, of course with stairs. I asked Ian before the race, would he fix the escalator, but too bad he had a hard time to find the right engineer.
Suddenly I arrived on the first aid station where I skipped it and continue on my run. I felt really good, no issues from my injuries at all.
A few minutes later, I got into the steep down-stairs. Additional note, just before this stairs, there was a scenic view on the left. After I got to the bottom, I saw some people were running into the opposite direction. I thought that I couldn’t be that slow. But it turned out that they got lost or confused since there was no sign/flag on the next junction. As I remember from last year, the course ran to the trail on the right, not to the creek.
The trail became a single track rolling hill with a plenty falling trees as our obstacles, I felt I was doing a hurdle on the trail. After I ran through the underpass, I arrived at the second aid station. I drank water and stuffed some snacks into my plastic bag and stored them into my Orange Mud vest front pocket.
After a short single track, I crossed the train tracks that followed by the race signature river crossing. Then, a couple of minutes later, I got into the Lick Brook Hill, the only steep climb of the race. I took my time here to preserve my energy, my strategy this time was taking easy on the 1st loop and pushed as hard as I could on the last 12 miles.
After I passed the hill, I continued to kick my heels to my butt. I ran through a dried creek before the course was turning into a downhill, and made a sharp turn into a small creek on the left. In a split of millions second, my brain told me that those rocks on the water edge would be slippery, yet my foot stepped on it. Suddenly I was on the air, spun, and fell on my side. Poor my pelvis that hit the rock, the same pelvis that I popped in TDS last summer. For a minute I could not move, but I had to, if not, it would be a disaster for the runners behind me. I dragged my dumb leg across the creek, and managed to get over the side and lean on a tree so the other runners could pass me. For a few minutes, I couldn’t move my hip, it felt like I didn’t have it. Then, a runner, later on I learned his name was Jim, he stopped and checked on me, offered me help to get out from there. He stirred up my consciousness that I was in a race, I told him I would be ok, I gonna walk it out. It took me forever to dragged my leg across the small hill. On the flat section I started to shuffle and slow jog. I was so mad about this incident, it was around mile 8 and I was already in a survival mode. Now my strategy was one aid station to another.
An Illusion to Pulling Off
For the next mile I was able to move again, slowly but more fluid. Specially on those 2 back to back long single trail over an open grassy field, I was able to find my pace again. Somewhere in between aid station 2 and 3, I ran on a single track with a pretty high grass with flowers decoration on each sides, I thought that was pretty neat. Thanks for the decoration Ian.
By the end of the grassy field I saw the front runner on the opposite direction, I lost too much time I thought. Then on the junction, I saw Mario, asking the volunteer what was the gap. He won overall at the end.
I got into the aid station number 3, Buttermilk, my hip was trashed. A few of volunteers and spectators were checking on me, I told them it was not good, but I gonna keep going. I grabbed food and banana and continued my own race. Here I was, at the bottom of the mighty stairs. As I mentioned on the interview, if one couldn’t run it, then enjoy the scenery. This long stairs run along a gorgeous creeks and waterfalls.
Chang came in right behind me, he cheered me up, and I told him I fell and gonna be in a slow mode. I continued my power hike, not try to push it too much and made the hip getting worse. After I got to the top of the stairs, I started to run on the single trail. Somehow I felt better and I started to run on my normal pace. I met Ian the RD somewhere along the course, cheering on the runners. Just before the aid station 2, on the single trail, I fell again and the whole of my body felt tighten up and stiff. I pushed it to walk and jog a little. Although, by the time I got into the aid station 2, I was able to run again, painfully. So far, it had been a wave of high and low with my pelvis, it was manageable, until I climbed the last steep stairs. My pelvis started to getting worse again, it gave me a deep pain on every pressure from my hip movement. On the downhill I saw Tyler made a huge lead, probably 10 minutes ahead of Jared. Jared finished 2nd overall, and it was his first ultra trail marathon. Later on, Tyler told me he fell at the foot of Lick Brook hill and pulled his old injury, and it hold him back to do walk and run for awhile, where Mario and Jared passed him, he finished 3rd. At that time I started to hobble, every step on the downhill flared up my hip. Just before the first aid station, I saw Ben Nephew was flying by and jumping around, crushing the trail. Ben was the 5th person who got into the finish line.
I ran through the aid station in pain, but it was just 3 miles away from the start and finish, so I decided to continue. Before I left, I saw Brian passing through the aid station. Another contender to win the race, he just won TNF ECS NY 50 miles 3 weeks earlier, he ended as the 6th overall.
On the single trail, from far away, I saw Carlo running up the steady ascent. I was putting my money on him to be on the top 10, he looked strong at that moment. He finished 8th overall. On the rolling hill before the beautiful stony path along the creek, I saw Amanda the 1st female, who was way ahead from the second female, probably 20-30 minutes ahead. Then I saw Liz and Karen who ran back to back, and followed by Jackie. Jackie got 2nd female, Liz got 3rd and Karen was 4th. Then I saw Maggie on the stairs, she said her knee start bothering but she looked strong, she finished as 6th female.
I ran down the last part of the trail, I barely moved my hip, but I wanted, at least, finished one loop. I finished the 1st loop in 4:50
After I dropped out in the start finish aid station, the 1st loop, I went to the medic. He took a look, and he said there was no bone problem, probably just sprain and bruise, and contusion the worst. He gave me the medic information for treatment, and contact if it s getting worse.
I was so mad, upset and disappointed. I thought I had it. I wished I was more careful. But I think I made the right decision, not to create a bigger issue with my trouble pelvis. Also there was nothing good would come out with this condition, if I pushed it further.
I ended up just sitting around at the finish line. I got another interview with Bree from USL, told them my unfortunate story.
On the other hand, I had the opportunity to see the fast people finish. It was pretty exciting.
At the post race, I got to hang out with friends, champs, and fellow runners. The awards ceremony was really fun to see. The beer from Itacha Brewery was flowing like the waterfall.
At the end it was a fun day, even with my tail tucked down when I walked out to the parking lot.