Manitou Revenge 2016 – The Game of Rocks

“The race is thought to be one of the burliest, non-altitude 50-mile races in North America” – iRunFar

This was my third year in a row to participate in Manitou Revenge race.  The first year I finished the race in the dark, probably in sub 18 hours. The second year, I DNFed at mile 40 from chest pain. And now, I came back again this year to put my dices on the Manitou’s Table of Rocks. It’s always a mystery why I always came back to this race. Literally this was the hardest 50 miles foot race ever (for me at least), so nothing was easy, pain was the game and my only companion, yet it was pretty out there. I guessed  my brain somehow filter out what to remembered, only the good memory from Manitou that stamped in my brain.

The Preview From The RD

Charlie Gadol The RD – photo by Mountain Peak Fitness

Manitou’s Revenge is a 54 mile ultramarathon through the Catskills beginning in Windham, N.Y. on the northern Black Dome Trail and then mostly following the Long Path from Acra Point all the way to downtown Phoenicia, N.Y.

This is a grueling, gnarly, nasty course with approximately 15,000 ft. of climbing, much of it rocky and precipitous. To be sure, there are some runnable sections, but you will more often find yourself hiking uphill or down, sometimes hand over hand. Expect this course to take you much longer than your average 50 miler. That’s why we are allowing 24 hrs. to complete this monster. Because of its remote and difficult nature, there will of necessity be a limited number of aid stations, 8 or 9, and runners should be prepared to spend up to 3 or 4 hrs between aid stations. You will have to be reasonably self-sufficient. To make matters worse, the course gets progressively more difficult as you go along! And to top it all off, the average runner will have to tackle this hardest terrain in the dark.
So… There must be something that makes this race worthwhile, right???

Yes, the Catskills are truly scenic and wonderful, when you can look up every now and then to sneak a peak, and this will certainly become a memorable experience for anyone who takes on the challenge.

Escarpment Trail – The Fun Run
I drove into the Devil’s Tombstone Campground pretty late on Friday. First, I got stuck in traffic to get out from the city, then my smart phone GPS took me to the other side of the mountain. So I didn’t make it to the campsite until 22:30. So I ended up went to bed around 23 hundreds. Chang (who arrived earlier) and I woke up around  2:30 to catch the bus in Phoenicia, to shuttle us into the starting line. So pretty much I did not get enough sleep, but I felt fresh enough, and not too groggy. Although, I managed to dosed off in the bus, next of Stephen England.

When I got to the starting area, I met more people. It was kinda a little reunion with my extended family, I only met them on these families gathering, swapping stories and heard what had they been up to.
I was so happy that I was placed in the wave 4, so I could start with my jog mode and assessed my life from there, rock after rock. I started pretty easy for the first 3 miles on the road, going to the trail head. It was a little chill but it wasn’t as cold as last year. After the first mile I started to feel sleepy, so I started to entertain my self by looking around. The view was something to remember. It was quiet, eeire, but yet pretty. The sun rise, the mist, the green and with animal’s noises as  their ambiance.

The second wave started – photo by Mountain Peak Fitness

When I got into the trail head, I skipped the water station, and straight ahead to the beginning of my play date with the rocks. I started to follow an older runner, I think his name was Geesler. He was such an old-school runner. Very minimalist runner. A long hair with bandanna, shirt and short, Asics road shoes, a fanny pack with 2 old-army bottle-look on his waist sides. He was nothing like today’s trail runners. And he was moving. For a while, I was amazed with this living legend figure. Anyway, we started to ascent to the first hill, Acra Point. From the trail head we took the left trail, following the Escarpment Foot Trail. For a few moments I had an urge to pass Geesler, but I just remembered my Cayuga shit show, where I ran to fast and burnt out on the second loop, so I decided I just gonna stayed where I was. I just power hiked on every ascent and a little jog on the flat one. Slowly but sure we started to move forward and caught up with the runners from earlier waves. I think it was 5 minutes start difference between the waves. Though I still kept my plan (coach plan) in check. Hydrate, count my calories, and watch my time/pace. I had 2 front bottles filled up with Tailwind, and I also had a half-filled bladder on the back for emergency. I carried some waffles, gels and salt tabs, also for emergency, if the day became too hot/humid and would take me longer on the course. I also paid attention on my heart rate and cardio, I did not want to repeat my last year mishap. So I kept my cardio around medium level, I paid attention not to over exert my effort. On the foot of Blakhead, I saw Elizabeth, my coach, who was also in the race. I had that feeling like a bad student that would get yell by the teacher because I was stubborn. I said hi, and she was actually pretty chill about it, and just remind me to watch my hydration and my time. Phew.

Then the steep climbs begin, I started to hike huge rocks, or boulder, roots, and never end ascent. Here I met Jeney, a runner that I met in Trans Rockies, and she wore VFF. I could not fathom how she could handle the rocks with those slippers. She told me, “with style and a bit of insanity”.

Then at the peak of Blackhead (I think), we hit a tall wall which was taller than my height. In Escarpment trail race, this was where the 1st aid station located. It felt a little lonely without them. Missed the cow bells. Then we ran through a steep downhill, jumping some boulders rocks and dirt. After a few rolling hills, I arrived at the first aid station, Dutcher. I refilled one of my front bottles, grab an oranges and 2 bananas, before I continued to Stopple Point. The hike was not as steep as the Blackhead, but it was longer and steady uphill until I saw the Airplane wreck. And from here to the North and South Lake had a few good run-able section, with a few splash of jumping over boulder kind of downhill. I remembered that I had to pass over people, since I felt I moved safer with jumping over the bolder instead of hike down cautiously, not sure if this sounded make sense. My favorite part of this section was, where I ran left right up and down before went thru a half cave size on my left. Then, probably a mile before the aid station, I saw Joe Azze on the sharp turn, I didn’t pay attention that I was like 10 meters away from jumping over a cliff.

Palenville – The Last and Only Breather

Escarpment Trail was a tough course already, but unfortunately it was only the end of the beginning. A warm up. The course wouldn’t be any easier, probably would be getting harder till the last rock of the trail. Except this second section.
When I arrived at the North South Lake aid station, the day had been drastically warmer. I took a few minutes to fill up my bottles, fix my shoes that started to get holes, and grabbing some bananas. I ate while I was heading back to the  course. For a moment it was pretty flat until we got back into the tree lines. We continued on an easy ascent over Escarpment Trail for a mile or something. Then it became pretty flat and run-able. I remembered I made a wrong turn at this section last year and went to the Boulder Rock.

After a handful of rolling hills, we made left turn, going downhill, following the Long Path. In normal circumstances, I would have bombing this 3 miles downhill, which that was the case for the past 2 previous years. But I opted for taking it easy. I kept shadowing Geesler. Like a little duck, I followed his wisdom on the trail from behind. I learned a lot from him how to run smart but still moving.

Kaaterskill –  Up Up And Away

Palenville aid station was the lowest elevation of the course, here I met Stephen England and Jun Bermudez. I was feeling pretty good when I got into the aid station. But from this point ahead,  it would be tough. The next aid station could be almost, 10 miles. So I refilled all my bottles with Tailwind from the aid station. I also grabbed a couple of pieces of pbj and bananas. I needed to get as much fuel that I could get. This upcoming section wouldn’t be too technical, but it would be a long steady hike. I walked out from the aid station at the same time with Geesler. We crossed the road and after we cross the bridge we made a sharp turn to the left, and went around the street barrier, following the Long Path trail  blazer. I was running a little bit with foods on my hands. I want to run it as much as i could, and wanted to eat on the ascent, where I preferred to slow down and hike. When I finished with stuffing my face with foods, I took out my Zpoles samurai style (wished) from my new BPVP Orange Mud. Plop plop plop (the poles assamble sfx), and I started to shuffle my way up to the hill. There was a sharp turn to the right where the ascent became slightly steeper, there was a trail mark that said something stairs. God bless the poles, I always remembered this section probably the most depressing climb, not sure why, but the poles made my day. I utilized them as a prop on the hike, saving  my legs for more technical stuffs. After a few lonely moments, I started to hear familiar voices behind me. On the flat part where I could run again, I looked back and it was Jun, Stephen and another guy. I let them passed me. Stephen asked me to run with them, but I was not sure if I wanted to keep up with their pace. I wanted to safe my soul and energy for the last section after Mink Hollow. Oh the other guy,  Zack, it turned out he was another Tailwind Trailblazer too.  We stopped a bit at the biggest stream to take some splashes some fresh water on our heads and face.

On the upcoming climbs, I lost them, they were hiking it up pretty solid. I also let Geesler passed me, while I was fixing my shoes, the holes were getting worse, and I could not get a solid traction since my feet were moving around inside. After the hike, I got into the trail that full a jumble of roots. I felt like I was running on the Medusa head, but instead of snake, it was a roots and mud everywhere. It was flat, but at the same time it was really hard to pick up the pace, so it was a bit frustrating. The course continue for a little more on the single trail before it made a sharp left and going downhill on a loosing rocks for a couple of miles probably. Here I caught up with Geesler again, before I got into the aid station. My shoes were a total disaster at this point. My toes came out left and right, and I might get a black toe nail or two.

Devil’s Path – Dance With The Devil

RIP NB WT110 v2

RIP NB WT110 v2

Usually I never used a drop bag for a 50 miler, but this time I followed my coach suggestion to have a basic necessity in my drop bag. Included SHOES. If I did not have those, I would be a DNF for sure. No way I could traverse Devil’s Path with my toes outside my shoes. I did change my shoes, but I kept my socks. It would take me forever to change the socks, and I know my Swiftwick and TrailToes would hold up all day and night. I topped op my Tailwind again and gulped some cokes. I also met Tom at this aid station, he was a strong runner, he usually way faster than me, but he seems had a tough day. I looked around at the table, and somehow I could not figure it out what should I eat. I knew I needed to eat something, I felt a bit depleted by this point, and the next climbs would be a tough cookies. So I got a handful of cookies and bananas. By the time I headed out, Tom, Geesler, Jun, Stephen, and Zak were long gone.

I started with a slow hike, while I was eating the cookies and bananas. Oh for this section, I actually wasn’t using my poles, and I zipped them back into my pack, since the climbing up and down would be technical. Then suddenly there was someone running the uphill. I looked back, I recognized him as one of fast front-runner, not sure what was his name tho. He was tall, a bit lanky, eyeglasses with a grey hydration pack. I told him that I thought he was waaaaaayyyy ahead of me. And he said, he was DNFed, but he got Tylenol and a beer, and he was un-DNFed himself. Then he went zoom zoom. Also Ivan, who did a relay, he was crushing all the uphill. Humm maybe I should just do the relay next year, I thought.
I finished with my munching as fast as my stomach allowed me, then I started to do my power hike, and soon the climbing was begun. It was pretty fun in the beginning, felt like I was in a playground, and also I was able to use different muscles. After a few climbs, I was behind Geesler again, and it was at the same time when Mendy was on my tail. Then we got into one of the tallest climb. The whole stone wall was probably twice or three times taller than me. We had to use roots and holes in the rock to climb up. It was weird, it looked intimidating, but it was not that bad after all. When I got to the top, I let Mendy went ahead of me, she definitely was faster than my sluggish legs. After a few “small” climbs, the course became more technical downhill. And I decided that I needed to graduate and pass Geesler. He was still moving forward, but my aggressive downhill jumping around would not be safe for both of us.
I spent the most hike to the Twins peak by myself, and tried my best not to push it too fast. On my hike to the second peak of Twins, I saw Stephen was sitting on the side, he seems also had a tough day. I was a little worry about him, but he said he would be ok, he just needed to put more calories and blood sugar on his body. So I wished him well and asked him to catch up with me soon. On the downhill, I started to catch up with Tom. We chatted a bit and hung out with him for a bit. Then I felt that I needed to kept moving on my pace, so I told him that I would see him in a bit at the aid station.
On the last peak of this section, Sugarloaf (nothing sweet about it, maybe bitter-sweet), I ran into 2 others MPF athletes, Harry and Jay Lemos. Jay had been fighting with knee/itb injuries for a month or two (I think), but he was out here and still crushing the course. Pretty bad ass. Not sure how he could manage to move around in these terrain, even running it.
Running behind him actually gave me an encouragement. It just occurred to me that everybody was hurt, and I just had to toughen up, sucked it up and danced. This Sugarloaf was really a heart breaking. It seems there was always climbing walls after walls, rocks after rocks, roots to the next roots. Even when I thought it was over and running downhill, it started another climb again. Then until finally we got into the downhill that full of rocks and boulders, I picked up my pace and went ahead. I told Jay and Harry that I would see them in the aid station. I had an emergency urged to gulp Coke. Well at least I could use that as a motivation. After a few minutes, I was not sure which one was worse, the uphill or this downhill. I ran down into rocks and boulders that as tall as me. I jumped, buttocks slid, rolled, and any kind of move that could help me to go down without breaking any bones, or neck. Probably about a mile before I got into the aid station, I felt my quads were gone. I was just lucky that I did not fell on every boulders.Tremper The Temper – The Longest Miles
When I got into the Mink Hollow aid station, I was literally sat down on the ground for a minute. My legs felt like a wooden-jelly. I drank a few coke with ice, it was so good that they should make an ads for Manitou Revenge. Meanwhile I ate perogies and potatoes, I asked the volunteer to filled up my Tailwind with my sachet, so I could get more concentrate calories on it. Harry and Jay came in, but they made a pretty quick stop and went out to the trail right away. A few minutes later Tom came in, just before I left.
Again, I started with a slow hike while I ate a couple of bananas slices that I stole from the aid station. The Plateau was also another steep hike, but it was not as technical as the previous 3 peaks. So I decided to take out my poles and abuse them for an extra booster. I just realized that the day was started to get darker. I knew at the moment I arrived at the Mink Hollow, I would definitely finishing the race. But now, I was not so sure that I could finish it before the sun down. Well, I told to myself that whatever, I should not think too much about it, just ran as the best possible as I could and be happy with it. When I got into the top of Plateau, the course was getting flat and it was a run-able single track. There would be a sharp left turn to Long Path, not too far away. This year, Charlie (the RD), supported us with a course marshal, who would direct us to the left turn. Every year a few runners missed this turn and got lost pretty bad, especially last year with the course mark got vandalized.
I was enjoying my ride at this point, focusing on the foot steps and my running forms, tried to distract my brain from the negative thoughts. And suddenly boom, I hit a rock with my right knee. That cursed rock did not want to step aside, while it knew that I was running in this narrow single trail. My knee felt numb for a few seconds that I had to lean onto the poles. For a few minutes I was hobbling and shuffling with three legs (plus poles). And when I got into the downhill, it really weaken my movement, so I was running it down pretty slow, just to playing it safe until I felt 100% strong on my steps. Half way down the descent, Tom caught up with me and passed me. It was good to have someone to talk with, and distracted me from the pain. After awhile, I started thinking that they had moved around the aid station, this downhill was way too far then what I remembered.
So when I did arrive at the Silver Hollow aid station, I complained why they moved the aid station further away (joking). I sat down on a couch made of rock, and hung my legs for a minute or two. It felt good to take the weight off from my legs for a while. Then I filled up water, more coke, more cookies and bananas. And off I went. There was a small climb to Edgewood Mountain before the Warner Brook. I was really slow down by this point. My knee was not hurting so much, but now the other limbs were hurting, from my hair to my toes. Tom was back in front of me again, and I was barely kept up with him. But it was good to have a company.
When I got into the Warner Brook, I was surprised how low was the water level. Its depth could be only a half from last week when we marked the course. I splashed my hat into the cold water, and onto my head. I look down at my watch, it was probably around 6 pm. And I talked to myself that I might still have a little hope, a little window to finish before dark. I shout to Tom “Last climb, let’s go”. I moved along to the ascent, and now I was really put all my effort to finish this last 8 miles or something as fast as I could. I know there still would be Mount Tremper, but it would not get any nearer if I was not moving any faster. I remembered Sheryl Wheeler told me last year that there would be only 3 major climbs between the Warner Brooks and Mount Tremper. I could do that. The hike was pretty much a lot of switch-back with a steady hikes, with no major steep climbs. After a while I started to doubt myself if I got lost, but again Mike Siudy’s GPS Map assured me that I was on track. I thought the last aid station, Willow, was moving away as I was moving forward. But I did not allow my legs to slow down. At one point, I heard a few howling noises. And then there was so many flees around the trail. Immediately I was thinking about carcasses around here. There would be better no bear or wild canines around me, I would not be able to fend myself or ran away from them (I don’t think I could ever), but especially right now that I was so tired. After a few more than plenty doubts, I was in the single trail that I knew I was not far away. There was a volunteer cheering me and took pictures, he said it would be a few hundreds yards away. I was so happy to see these guys, and I did not pay attention where I stepped and flipped a rock like a soccer ball and kicked it with my shin. That was a good wake up call, hurt tho.
At the Willow aid station I sat on the log for a minute or two again to take my legs off from weight. The volunteers were so kind, in every single aid station off course, they helped me to full up my bottle, while I drank more cokes. I was hoping Tom would show up, but I felt my solar-powered-clock was ticking. So I said thank you and ran back to the trail. In my memory, the fire tower supposed to be not that far, but again someone moved the fire tower further away. After a few fakes hills and hopes, finally I was at the fire tower with the Sun still on my eyesight. I shout a Rick Flair’s wooohoo, and ran the down hill. There was a dog kept barking on me from the lean on. The rock was too many that it would not matter anymore where I put my foot, I just prayed that my legs held up and not twisted any ankles. If I was a geologist, I could write a book about history of rocks from this course, they were pretty astounding actually.
I kept running and jumping left and right, I folded my poles so I could run easier, I kept telling myself 10 more minutes after every minute. Then suddenly I saw the phosphor light hanging on the course streamers. I knew I had arrive at the end of the trail and only had about a mile away from the finished line on the road, brand new painted road. I was so happy that time that I felt like I had my 10 years old birthday party again. I ran as fast as I could, or jog. And again, the 1 mile felt like forever, but I saw the clock far away at the end of bending road. I still saw the sun, barely. And I did it, 15 hours something. I was so happy to see everyone, I was probably made 2 hours or more PR that I could not be more happier. My coach, Elizabeth was there to congratulate me. She was the brain behind my success in this Manitou race, again I owed her. If not because of her race plan and suggestion, I was probably would still be crashing and crying on the course at this moment.
Beat The Impossible
If I looked back a few months ago, it seemed it would be impossible for me to run this race this good. Not that I was running faster than previous years, but I ran smarter, stronger, and more constant across the course. I was really careful with my hydration and fuel intake, so was pretty solid the whole day without any guts issue, nor cramps. Thanks to my new pack from Orange Mud BPVP and Tailwind that constantly infused to my blood stream. Also I had no blister issue at all despite the broken shoes, the Trailtoes and Swiftwick protected me well from mud, wet and whatever on the course.
This would be also impossible with out the help of Charlie’s volunteer, and Mountain Peak Fitness foot warriors along the course. Some of them had to hauling gallons and gallons of water up to the rugged mountain, the aid stations, most of them, were pretty remote. And yet they were treating me like their son or brother, with smile and kindness all the time.
I ate almost right away after I my body calmed down, and changed my clothes. The food as always was amazing. But unfortunately I was really depleted that I was not able to hang out. I was afraid if I stayed longer, I would not able to drive back to the campsite where I still had my tent. So I said good-bye and thank you to everyone. I had a blast and “enjoy” the race so much, and I carried that into my dream right away after I got to the campsite.