Distance. : 54 miles
Finish Time : 17:13:32
Rank : #39 (overall)
Walking Into A Lion Den
This race was one of those races that made me worry for the whole year. Specially after I got injured and DNF at Cayuga 50 miles, 3 weeks prior to this race. This race at least 4 miles longer, about 4000 feet more on its elevation gain, definitely more technical, and it was probably the hardest ultra marathon race in Northeast. With 30 hours cut-off for 54 miles distance race, that was enough to keep my tail stay between my legs. On the top of it, I still feel not 100 percent recovered from all of my injuries.
So the whole time on the way to Windham, NY, I was so antsy and nervous. Thanks to the almighty that Maria, my crew master, was there and we spent most of our time go through the race detail. Kept my mind occupied. Yet, later on that night, I wasn’t able to sleep until the last hour.
Patience Is Golden Grasshopper
The sun was still shy when we got into the starting line, and it was a bit cold. I saw some familiar faces there, some runners from New York, some runners that I met at the pre race night run 2 weeks before, and others were from Cayuga.
There is a new thing in this year at this race, it was its starting waves. Because the new rule from the park, they only allow a certain amount of people on the trail at the same time.
At first, I read on my BIB that I was in wave 2, but it was actually wave 5, which was 30 minutes later. I did not mind anyway, I told Charlie that he could place me in any wave, and it was much better than started with those faster runners.
I did have a game plan, I knew what I needed to do and don’t, and I prepared many scenarios for every situation that I could think of, yet I was still as nervous as a sheep on the way to a slaughter-house.
When Charlie said go for our wave time, I knew that I need to be at my slowest pace as I could, specially the first 3 miles was on a road. It would be too easy to run fast on the road.
For the first mile I was still a bit at the front, only a lady that in front of me that was blasting like a deer. It was good that I didn’t get provoked by her, since a few hours later, I found out that she was on a relay team. On the other hand, I gradually slowed down my pace till a few more runners passed me.
After the first water station, we turned sharp left where the real race was begun, straight into rolling uphill of roots, rocks and hard mud. Funny that I felt relieve to get into this uphill single trail. I tried my best to be as conservative as I could. Power hike as early as I could and made up my time on flat and down hill, which was almost none. Slowly but sure I started to catch up with other runners, and also I started to catch up with the runners from wave 4. It made me a bit worry, that I thought I had been very mindful about my pace. So I ended up hanging back with them for a good mile. The next obstacle was all the runners in front of me, one by one, offered me if I wanted to pass them. The monkey on my left shoulder started to grin and whispered to me “pass em… pass em… pass em…”. I was such a sucker, I did pass them, but I was still not blasting off like I usually do in other races.
Climb Like A Dog
In one point, I knew that I was at the Blackhead Mountain, since the terrain started become a long/high ridiculous flight of stairs, which was made from huge boulders. From the race report that I read before the race, this would be the warming up climbs of the race, so I really needed to reserve as much energy as I could. At that moment, I remember Evy Gonzales story at the Cayuga post race breakfast, where she was on the Cayuga stairs section, she climbed with her hands like a canine. So I tried, and it was the best thing happened that morning. Although, I climbed with slightly slower pace than standing up, but my heart rate never spiked, my legs as fresh as I had before the climb, and I could bolt out right away after the climb.
I was so happy that I might had been cruising faster than I should, and I started to pass more runners, specially on the downhill. Oh there was a guy with a half T-Shirt, almost looked like a loose sport bra, I thought he would make a new trend soon. A hipster ultra runner. Other than that, nothing was changed, the terrain was continuously a rolling technical hills with plenty rocks that almost as tall as my waist, specially on the downhill.
The second aid station, was more like a camping aid station. I believe those volunteer was hauling the water and food with their backpacks and hike to this point. God bless them. I refilled my flasks and grabbed a little snacks. I started to hike up the hill while I ate my breakfast. Oh there was a plane crashed site about a mile or two away, tho I forgot to take a picture. After this point, everything was getting more “flat” and descending.
Then, there were 2 runners caught up with me, James Hunt and Marc Pelosse. I met James on the pre-race night run 2 weeks before. And Marc was in wave 3 but he got lost for 30 minutes on the Blackhead Mountain. We were tagging all the way till the North and South Lake. It was really good to have some companies, specially we were almost got lost a few times, and having 3 people combing down the perimeter was definitely a life safer. The last 7 miles of this Escarpment Trail was actually pretty good enjoyable run. Most of it was run-able and it was really scenic. About 2 or 3 mile away from the lake, there was a point that we could see the lake, so the downhill from this point had a plenty big nasty drop.
James and Marc were such a good runner, and they were kinda push me a bit harder, it was good caused it kept me up beat.
When I got into the North/South Lake aid station, I was way too fast, I was even slightly faster than my last year Escarpment Trail race finish time.
When I headed out to the next section, I was really taking my time. It started on the jeep road and then I got into an open grass historic site where I turned right back into a single trail uphill. I hiked leisurely on the uphill and keep my pace on the slow side on the flat. Then Marc caught up with me. I thought he was way in front of me after the aid station. I told Marc that I was slowing down my pace, I needed to conserve my energy for plenty nasty climbing that were waiting for us pretty much until we hit mile 47-ish.
Then after a mile away from the aid station, it was all loosing rocks downhill, God bless the rock plate. We started to pass more runners. We were really not trying to run hard, but I guessed the gravity does it work.
When I saw the Palenville aid station, I was surprised, I did not expect it would be that quick.
On the other hand, Maria “scolded” me, since I was way too fast. She told me that the next two sections would be hard so I needed to really mindful about my pace and refueled myself.
Hills On My Heels
On my way to Palenville, I could see that the next hill was a tall and long one. So when I left the aid station, I started with a slow pace through the road. After I passed the bridge, I turned left back into the trail marked, it has a little incline. This trail seems like I ran across someone’s back yard. At that moment, I could feel the sun was starting to heat up my skin, but it was not as bad as the constant uphill that was waiting for me. At the junction I turned sharp right into an inclined jeep trail. I started to do my power hike. This section was a good amount of steady uphill, so when I saw a tree branch on the trail, I picked it up and used it as my walking poles. It really helped me to reduce stress on my right hip flexor. Amazingly, that perfect size branch just sat there to be picked up, it was comfortable to use too. I glad that I used what the mother nature had offered me because this uphill was really long. Probably almost halfway of this section was a relenting steady uphill, tho it was not that technical. When I started to catch up with more runners, one of them was singing all the time, crazy people.:D
I think, for me, the hardest part of this section was running on the muddy creek with crazy roots that swarming over and under the dirt/mud. It was a bit frustrating for me caused I could not really run it, and those section was the flat part of this section. Although, it was a bit fun, in a way. They kept entertaining my mind, that I felt like I was in a kindergarten playground.
Not long after those roots monster section, the course became downhill, a long one too, which I didn’t mind at all. I made up my time there and I caught up with Marc again, and continue to tag run with him. Then the Platte Clove aid station was there in front of me. I checked my watch, and I was pretty far away from the hard cut off, I was so happy that I might have been pumping my fists.. And I saw Maria was there ready with her iPhone and taking pictures, what a crew master I had. She told me I was still ahead of schedule, despite I walked so many times on that muddy roots monsters section. I ate a lot at this aid station, also they had chocolate cookies, humm yum yum. I changed my socks at this aid station. And thank you to Trail Toes, I had no blister at all, not even from those muds that was inside my socks. Maria reminded me to refuel and hydrate well, the next 7 miles would be the hardest section of the course.
So I continued my run and we decided that Marc and I would keep running together. It helps to have someone to keep us upbeat and move forward.
The course, the Devil’s Path, started with a combination of flat and a few mellow up hills. We maintained our pace in the low side, we did a lot of run and hike. I really wanted to conserve my energy on the upcoming hills. I remembered, this section elevation map was looked more like my heart rate when I run uphill.
After a few mile, the battle begun. It started with a reasonable natural steps. But a few minutes later, the relenting steep rocky uphill were waiting for us. It seems the mountain was playing a teasing game with us. After a huge hike (or bouldering if I may say), there would be a hundred meters or so of flat trail, before another stacks of dirt, rock, roots, and anything in the mountain that I could name it. I felt they just popped up out of no where and kept going for ever.
After a few hills, we got into our first peak, the Indian Head. Then, when there was a little stretch of technical downhill, Marc had a problem with stabilizing his ankles, and he needed to walked down on those downhill. He asked me to keep going and shouldn’t wait for him. It was pretty sad that I had to left him behind, but he was right. It would be bad for me to stop multiple times, where I could stiffen my muscles sooner than I wanted to. So I told him that I would see him at the finish line.
Again, me myself and the mountain. After so many solo canine climbs, finally I got into the second 3500+ feet peak of this section, Twin. When someone asks me, why I do this kind of running, this moment was the exact answer I could give. The scenery was so amazing that I couldn’t put it in words. It was 1000 times much better then any high-definition TV in the market. It made me forget my tired legs and soul from the uphill, I felt so refresh that I was actually eager to continue and felt a fresh energy like I just started the race. There were an elderly couple there, doing they picnic while sipping wine, I said au revoir to them and headed back to the shadows of the trees on my right. The trail brought me to the second Twin’s peak, and continue into a technical downhill. When I got into the bottom of this mountain, the trail went to the left and straight back to a relentless ascending. I would say this Sugarloaf Mountain was ain’t sweet at all. The uphill was probably the steepest climbs of the course, but the downhill was much better topic to talk about. I thought the escarpment trail has pretty gnarly downhill, as like the uphill, compare to Sugarloaf, it was pretty much a warming up. It was not a regular rocky technical downhill like in any regular races that I have done. It was a natural boulder stairs in abstract. I had to utilize my buttocks multiple times, could be every 5 monkey strokes. Or probably I was a bit too short for this mountain. To be honest, I was a little chicken out to take chances. I preferred to crawling down and finished in one piece then trying to be a Killian Jornet wanna be with broken ankle. Probably it took me almost an hour just to get thru this section. Then I started to hear noises and I thought I saw Maria tried to climb up those lovely mountain stairs. I apologized her that I was behind my schedule.
Maybe the other people in the aid station thought that I was a bit mental. But I was so happy that I got into the Mink Hollow aid station. I knew that I had passed the toughest part of the course, and I had run the last section a few weeks ago, I knew what was waiting for me. I just couldn’t hide my grin away. Don’t get me wrong, I felt my jelly legs, my hip flexor was at the brink of twitching, I was tired. But the happiness at that moment washed all my misery away . I also felt happy because I felt blessed that I could do what I had just done, I felt blessed that my legs could take me to the high places, and I could afford to participate in this race.
At this aid station I took time to eat, recovered my muscle and mind, did more stretch and talked nonsense with everybody. James was there when I arrived and he had a digestion issue, but he managed to push himself and continued his journey. After I changed into my long sleeves, just in case I would be out there when it got dark and chill, then I kicked my back to move on with my race.
Don’t Let The Dark Eat The Youth
The beginning of this section was started with a tough climb, the Plateau Mountain, though it would be the last steep climbing. It was my last chance in the race to utilize my canine style climbing skill. I took it slowly but sure. Then after the quick downhill and I got into the flat section.A couple mile away from the foot of plateau, there was a junction, where it could be missed easily. I did missed this junction on our pre race a few weeks ago and off about a mile or two. But on the race day, Charlie put like a millions of flags and streamers that looked like a fence of UN office. At one point, there was a sharp right turn, but at the edge of that turn, there was a scenic spot, probably one of the best view of Catskill, I was lucky that I got there before dark, and got a chance to enjoy the view for a minute. Then the trail started to go downhill, tho the trail was zig-zag-ing with sharp turn, but it was fun. I was managed to pick up my pace, since I heard human voices about a mile away. I think at that point I was tired of running by myself in the mountain for hours, and looking forward to see humans. When I got into the bottom, it was the Silver Hollow Notch Aid station, and Maria was there already. She humored me by asking me to run up again so she could take a picture, for a second I was considering it. Like at the previous aid stations, I ate like a cookie monster, but this time I tried to make it a quick pit stop. I knew it would be about 10-11 miles more to the finish line, and it would be a few long steady uphill, so it would take me a while.
So weird that I felt great and I did not want to lost that momentum. After refilled my water flasks and filled up my mouth till my face looked like a balloon fish, then I went on with my ascent to the next hill. It was not that long and it became a combination of downhill and flat single trail. I looked at the horizon, and I saw the sun was also almost finish with its journey of the day. It was a bit a bummer that I would not make it to the finish line before the sun down, but I could live with that as long as I finish. It was the Manitou Revenge crazy race after all. Close to the bottom of the hill, I heard foot steps behind me, and it was James. He was dealing with his digestion issue at the Silver Hollow Notch aid station when I left, and I did ask him to catch up with me. He was such a great runner, with a tons of issues he was still running strong and nimble. I was so happy to have a running buddy at that moment.
At the bottom of the hill, we started to get into a flooded trail. I knew that there should be a sharp left turn to get into the river. I was doubting myself multiple times, I thought I had missed it. Then again, Charlie did a great job with creating an art installation of flags to mark the left turn. When we crossed the river, I did a quick cat shower, it was so good. That was where I lost James, he kept going while I was still playing with my own water park. When I started to do my hike on the hill from the river, the day light started to fail on me. So I tried my best to do power hike and jog as much as I could. After a mile or two, the darkness pushed me to take out my headlamp and fire it up. I think for a second I saw a giant owl, probably I was hallucinating. On the last couple hill to the Mt. Temper peak, I started to feel tired and sleepy, thank you for the darkness surround me. I begun to walk on those hills. To make my mind busy so it would not go to the dark side, I started to do a little math. After a good 30 minutes, I figure it out that I was already off schedule. I would not finish by 9 pm, but I might able to finish by 10 pm, with these walking mode, I could make it up by running on the last 3 miles downhill. So I felt pretty happy about it. Unfortunately it did not washed away my jelly legs and tired body. I stopped once, maybe twice, for eating and took out a tiny stones from my shoes. At that time, I started to hear Amy’s voice and another runner about a quarter-mile behind me. Then something great happened. I was pretty sure I was dreaming, since the trail was decorated with light, lamp, or lampions (not sure what to call them). I felt I was running into magical fairy forest. Then I saw the fire tower, and I knew that I was not dreaming. And a second later I saw those 3 lovely fairies, well volunteers, but they created magic. I ate hot noodle soup, more chips, and drank soda. While I was devouring my hot noodle soup, Amy and Ed came into the aid station. I was right again, I was not hallucinating, that was a good sign. I grabbed an extra handful of chips, fare my goodbye and gratitude to those lovely volunteers, and made my way to my last 4 miles. This 3 miles downhill was far away from easy, with my tired legs, I could not fly down as I wanted to, wished I had wings so I could actually fly. There were full of losing rocks, I was twisting my ankle couple times and cursing my dull legs. Suddenly Amy and Ed passed me like a lightning.I almost made a wrong turn a few times, and I was afraid that I would stumble into a rattle snake den, as it was mentioned on the course description.
Then, I heard cars and human noises, I knew I probably one or a half mile away from the last water station. I tried to run as fast as I could. I was enlighten again when I saw that water station. They did not have any extra reflector running vest, so they asked me to be careful. When I got into the road, I saw the town light that created an ambience on the dark sky, I thought the sooner I got there the better I would be. Then I started to do my “sprint” on my last mile. I tried my best to run as hard as I could, could be 8 or 9 min pace on jelly legs, based on my screaming quads and calves. But I stopped once just to step aside when there was a car passing me, boy they did not slow down, did they. Then I heard the commotion noise and actual light from the town, I kicked my buttocks to run faster a bit. Then there was Charlie was waiting at the finished line, followed by Maria with her iPhone flashing at me. I was the happiest kid on earth that moment. I FINISHED!!
Surreal Yet It Was Real
Until today, I still did not believe I did finish it. After all of the turmoil on my races this year, struggling with back to back multiple injuries, I was really doubting myself that I could not finish this crazy race. At the finish line one of the finisher asked me what made it different compare to my race in Cayuga. After a few weeks to think about it, I think first of all it was Maria crewing me. This was the first race I had a crew. With her awesome job as a crew, I had enough time to recollect myself, re-fuelled, tending my muscle issue by stretching, and keep myself up-beat. Second, I was never allowed my mind goes to the dark side, I kept my mind optimist and funny enough I was genuinely happy the whole race. I was having fun from start to the finish, I was not trying to make a race, just simply running and enjoying the sceneries.
Before I headed back to NY, Charlie asked me if he would see me next year, at that point I was really have no appetite for anymore hills, but right now I feel that I missed that gnarly rocky hills. So I might see these crazy runners and Charlie again next year.
I DID FINISH!!!