“This course is incredibly dangerous, not just due to the terrain but the potential for lightning, rock slides, and other severe hazards that could severely injure you or even worse.” – Dick Vincent, RD
This year was my third time in Escarpment Trail Race. I missed it last year since I was on the road trip to Colorado. And as usual, it was raining again. Probably it was me, not the weather fault. Probably 8 of 10 races that I ran this year were raining. But on the other hand, we had sans lightning. Also, this was the 40th Escarpment Trail Race, yeah older than me.
I drove to the North-South Lake campground a bit early, and took a nap in the parking lot for a few minutes. I barely got asleep the night before since there was a dinner party in the house. North-South Lake campground was the finish line location, so we took the bus to the starting line. I decided to go with my Orange Mud single barrel vest, so I could have a Tailwind cocktail for the whole race, and also there would be a storage for my wind/rain shell.
When I got into the starting line, as always I met the same suspects from any races in Northeast. The Mountain Peak Fitness/ RNR team, fellow runners from TWA, some runners from Manitou Revenge and a couple from Trans Rockies Run.
I started with the wave 9 group, since I came out into this race with very low expectation. This should be my last training race before UTMB, so I was not planning to racing it. Also since the race was pretty technical, plus it had 8000 feet elevation gain in 18 miles, so it would definitely slow me down and would be extra cautious. Got injury a month before my big race was definitely not part of my plan. The race had to use wave system since the state park requested to maintain 15 people only per section. It was not really bad, it was only 5 minutes different between the waves, which gave me extra 40 minutes to be anxious after the first wave (mountain goats) started. Not like I would try to chase them anyway. The first wave was for the male elite, and the second wave was for the female elites.
Under a rain and cold temperature, I stood at the starting line with Clinton. I had run with him before, and funny enough, it was on the Escarpment Trail section at Manitou. Somehow we chatted about weather proof laptop and heat reader add-on for iPhone, not sure why, but you know we always talking random stuffs on the trail.
Finally we got a green light to go. I started pretty easy just jogging on my way, following the other 2 runners in front of me, crossing a few new bridges on the trail. Then the trail started to have a little ascent when I started to pick up the other runners. Not sure what, I just felt great that morning, I could feel a little work out from the hill, but I did not feel tired. Maybe training in Sandia mountain for a few days gave me some edge. On the other hand, despite I had eaten 2 bagels this morning, I felt super hungry the whole morning. This race was a mountain race in a very remote area, to have an aid station throughout the race, the volunteer had to haul up all the water and the food, plus the gears. That meant the aid stations were pretty much had a very limited varieties and supply. So, I would not have any real food until I got into the finish line. I guess the hunger made me very focus on the race to keep moving and finished as soon as I could.
Pretty quick I started to run by myself, which was a good thing where I could decide my own pace. I could push myself when I felt comfortable, and fast hiked it when I felt too close to die. There was a junction with multi-direction signs, this was new, which I did not remember this from previous runs. I followed the Escarpment Trail sign that went to the right and going uphill. Actually the first couple of miles was pretty runable. But I still had to be mindful, I could break my ankle or just fell and kissed a rock if I became careless.
Uphill Was The Loyal Companion
On the first steep rocky hike I met up with Jenney and Adam, the couple that I met at Trans Rockies 2015, who also ran in the Manitou Revenge. Jenney was still wearing Vibram Five Fingers like she did in Manitou, not sure how she did it in these unforgiving rocky trails. I told them that I needed to move onward, the dragon in my stomach was pretty grumpy and growling loud. Soon I started to run through a mosaic of roots that were sewn one over the other, before I started to hike the Windham Highpeak point. The hike was not as bad as I remembered, in a weird way, I could do jogging more than I thought. And soon I got into the first aid station at the peak, where I just grabbed water and kept going. The next section was a short steep downhill, which the first technical downhill that was a good warming up for these jelly legs from the uphill. After I got down to the valley the course became a rolling hill. The trail was kinda flat as a topography-wise, but the rocks were just like lego parts in kindergarten play room. But I was able to keep my steady pace yet very careful not to twisted my ankle. On the second downhill, somehow I tripped on the flattest section of the race course just in front of the Acra Point aid station, for no reason. Nothing bad, so I got up, grab a cup of water and kept going. One of the volunteers, I think it was Cory, told me that I spent too long in the aid station (sarcastic). Then I continued to one of the biggest climb to the second peak, Blackhead Mountain. In this race, poles were prohibited, so I tried something new. Instead of put my hands over my quads to give extra push, I left them on my side for the swings, and helped me to give momentum to start running or jogging at the end of the hill. I guessed that what helped me to keep catching up with the runners from earlier waves. I was probably not run faster than them, probably slower, but I could keep momentum in the hike and started jog right away. Also I had a constant pace on the “flat”, even on the technical rocky trail, which I think it made a big difference. As the course getting steeper and more technical, I found more boulders to climb and probably there was one or two high walls that twice taller than me. Tho it was intimidating, but when I suck it up and dragged my buttocks to the top, it was not that bad. There I found the top of Blackhead mountain, where there were water cups along the peak’s ridges, arranged by the volunteers.
Again, the dragon in my stomach started to growling, so I chugged a cup of water, and ran straight to the trail and started to descending. Like the ascending, the downhill was pretty technical, plenty boulder to jump on. I became a little aggressive on passing people since it would be dangerous for me and the others to follow runner who scaled down with too cautious. At one point, on the technical switch-back, I saw Kait and Miriam who started on the earlier wave. I said hi and cheered them out, but I continued and kept jumping around to keep the momentum. Plus my hunger became so bad that I could eat a bear in one gulp. I think at this point, the rain started again. With the rain it was a bit tricky since the boulders and rocks could be slippery. Yet, this switch back was runnable, as long as I didn’t fall to the slopes on the sharp turn.
Jump Around and Get Down
After a few minutes I saw some balloons were hung on the trees. And they were the greetings from Dutcher’s Notch aid station. When I got to the aid station, I saw Chang and Roxy (Chang’s dog). I grabbed water from Chang and greeted Roxy. Also another volunteer gave me a slice of banana, which my first meal since the starting line.
The course, right away, went straight up to a steep hike, to the last peak, Stoppel Point. Although it was not as technical as the Blackhead, but the steep hikes were kept rolling, I felt like they were never ended. A bunch of times I felt I wanted to give up or felt too exhausted, but somehow my body recovered pretty fast and I kept pushing forward. After a few steep rocky switchbacks, finally I saw the ship wreck. Usually that would be my cue where the race begin, but I just kept the same pace pretty much. Although the downhill terrain and the gravity did half of the work, so I could catch some breather along the way. I heard the music, and right away I arrived at the Stoppel Point aid station.
After chugged some water and grab a couple of fig bars, yes I was still starving, I went ahead to continue my race. The course become steeper and more technical. I was getting more cautious but pretty confident on running down the hill. Some time I just hoping with two legs, swinging tress, or skipped some rocks to avoid the hazardous rocky trail. I continued catching up with more runner from the earliest wave. I saw Geesler too on the trail. He was the veteran runner, living legend, that I ran with on the first half of Manitou Revenge. I probably was pushing it a little bit too fast, specially on the technical downhill. After a few big rocks slabs, deep cracks and ravines, I arrived at the last aid station. From there I could see the North South Lake, which probably only 2 miles away. At this North Point aid station, the rock was pretty slippery. And at this point, I decided not to pushing it too hard. There was no point to risk any fall or injury, a month away from my big race. Probably the race of my life.
The downhill actually become more technical and more dangerous. At one point I was running on my favorite spot on the course. It was the section where we were on the very rugged rocks, zig-zag-ing over big rocks, while massive cave-like rocks on our left. When I made a sharp right on a rocky edge, I knew I was really close to the finish line. But again the course surprise me with a steep slippery rock smoothie downhill. I was literally walk it down, since I became too careful. Then I saw the finish line.
I crossed the line and saw Jan Welford were cheering on me. Later I found he won the race. My coach, Elizabeth, was there too. She asked how was the race, what was my wave and what not. I checked the clock and I found out that I just did sub 4. I was pretty happy with the race, I had a PR with only one minor fall on the flat section. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay longer. After grab my lunch, finally real food, I left the race festival. I had to fly early the next day to Colorado, where my long hike and altitude training would begin.