“Whiteface sits on more true vertical gain than all but 14 other ski resorts in North America and more than any resort east of the Rockies. From its sharp and exposed form to an entrance lined with the rings and flags of the world telling of its place in past and current Olympic activity, Whiteface is iconic. Whether you’re keen on throwing down w/ some of the best mountain runners in the world for US SkyRunning points, or whether you’re just up for a beautiful weekend in the DAk’s, the resort and the town of Wilmington will provide the pitch perfect venue for an amazing weekend of hard efforts, epic experiences, and the wonderful community which defines the best of trail running. Red Newt Racing is stoked to have you.
Saturday will provide entrants the brilliant opportunity to redline while hiking…i.e. it’s pretty steep. All of it. Be sure to take a moment to stop, look up toward some of the best mountain runners in the world shuffling forward to the finish, back toward fellow entrants of all ages, shapes, and sizes moving toward the summit, and around at the brilliant Adirondack Peaks enveloping you. You don’t get any of those sites often…soak it up. Sunday will provide two of the steepest alpine loops you’ll find anywhere, in any country, interspersed with a recovery roller loop. Your legs will be pretty thrashed, your lungs pretty worked, but you’ll have completed a pretty incredible feet.” – RDs; Ian Golden and Jan Welford
Vertical K – Above The Clouds
Chang and I arrived in Wilmington Notch Campground on Friday night around 11 pm. We had to pitched our tents under the rain and somehow I could not sleep well that night.
The cool thing about this campsite, it s close to the race area, like 5 minutes away door to door. So we could take an easy morning, got a coffee and simple breakfast while fascinating our busted shoes and what shoes that we had been using.
We arrived at the start and finish area, the Whiteface Ski Lodge sometime before 9 am. We picked up our bib for our VK and Sky Race at the same time. As always, I met with many familiar faces, a few MPF-RNR team, my coach Elizabeth, Joe Azze and some fast runners (or mountain goats) who came for a gold pouch (or two). There were also some runners from NY and TWA peeps.
The official starting time was 10 am, but because of the bad weather, it had to be pushed back twice. We didn’t want the elite runners got struck by lightning when they arrive at the top of Whiteface. At 11 am we started to cross the starting line. People was running fast, I think they all were also trying to win the gold pot. Or maybe there was one at the end of the rainbow. I was jogging out a little, taking my time to ramp up my heart rate slowly. Actually, Chang and I did a little warm up at 9.45 but since the delay, we got cold again. When we hit the grassy area, where the incline was getting a little steeper, I started to unfold my z poles. A little by a little, inch by inch, I started to catch up with the other runners. I tried to hike it not too fast since I knew there still a lot of elevation to gain. It was about 1000 meters (3000 feet something) elevation gain in 2.4 miles short.
After I passed the unused ski lodge on the dirt road junction, I took a small break and a shot of Tailwind at the aid station. There, Stephen England and Chang passed me. Chang was not even using poles and made it looks too easy, so asked him if he wanted to carry me on his back. Unfortunately he said no thank you, and jogged up to the hill. So far the hike was not that bad, there was a steep section but there were also a few flat section that we could jog about and took a breather. Like this section on the dirt road, it was not that steep that we could push a bit harder into a small jog. And it became steeper when we got into the grassy area again. After the right turn where we stepped over a PVC pipe, the hike became more steeper. Although, it had somewhat like a step, a natural stairs that help a little bit. Maybe Ian brought some Cayuga stairs to here, and piled it up with dirt and grass.
There was a small section that a little flat that I could take a breather and jog a bit more again. When I thought the course couldn’t be anymore steeper, and here it was, it became so steep that the runner in front of me had to crawl. If I didn’t have my poles, I would be in the same situation and wouldn’t able to pass him. I think there were also some part of the course had a steep slick rocks that I was forced to pull myself up.
After that, there was another small break, a short narrow bike trail. I took a few O2 intakes and forced myself to jog a little bit more. After a left turn over a double PVC pipes, the course, again, became pretty steep and slippery. More than plenty, I had to pushed my self with poles every half steps, to give myself a buttocks pushed. You know like someone pushed you from the back.
When I got into the rocky section, I heard the cow bell. As I remembered, there were no cows on the top of Whiteface, so it must be the finish line. Probably just a few hundred vertical meters away. So I started to ramped up my pace. I did single strokes poles to help the pace. But I was too focus looking down, I went straight to the bushes area and off the course, so I had to walked back to the course on my left
When I got into the tall grass area, I was spent, yet I tried my best to keep my pace. Burn, let it burn, I talked to my legs. There, Stephen England, my fellow Tailwind Trailblazer runner, passed me and went zoom zoom. I tried my best to keep up with him. It was great, because he gave me a pace reference and motivation. If not because of him, I might had been walking already.
I got to the top, and chasing the finish line that seemed not getting closer. Well it did actually, it was just like a time warp experience when everything bent into slow motion yet moving fast. I saw an awesome bearded man, Clayton cheering. Jan gave me a low five, Ian howling like a hungry wolf, Joe Azze chasing us the finisher with his camera with his moon-running.
And I crossed the line with my last breath. But eventually I remembered to take another one though. Elizabeth, my coach give me a congratulations. Stephen and I celebrated our triumph against this burly elevation race.
Got High And Got Lost.
After I grabbed the drop bag and changed into a dry shirt and jacket, Chang and I decided to hike more to the very top of the Whiteface, and it was gnarly. Good lord Jan and Ian didn’t put this section to be part of the race. We hiked it to the top with another runner name Chad from Rochester. It was very misty up there that we could only see a few hundreds meters away. After a few pictures, we went back down to the finish area. It was almost empty by then. Chad went back down right away. Chang and I grab some food a bit, went to small talk with Jan and the volunteers, before we went down. We gotta a chance to cheer and play the cow bells for the runner who were finishing. At one point we waited one runner in the junction, since he could not see the course from the thick mist.
Halfway down to the gondola we met Charles who hiked with his baby on his back. We ended up hiked back down together and talking about training in the flat land New York. At the gondola junction, we split. Charles and his family took the gondola, where Chang and I decided to walk it down. Unfortunately we took the wrong left turn. Supposedly turn right first toward the gondola and turned left, but we turned left at the big junction toward the route 24 blue diamond. We decided to bushwhacking towards an abandoned lodge where we saw the course flagging along the gondola.
When we got down, it was around 2 or 3 pm, and most of the people were gone, but we were at the right time for the award ceremony. So we ate while amazed with these fast people finish time. I think the first guy from Canada, Alexander, did it in 36 min something. Amazing.
Sky Race – Got High Once Ain’t Enough
At the next morning, we had to wake up a little bit early to break up our tents. But we still got a chance to enjoy our simple breakfast. Oh thanks to my mom old recipe, our shoes were as dry as it could from the previous day. We put newspaper paper into the shoes over night.
Well that effort was useless at the end. It was pouring when we got to the race area. I met more runners from NY like Jun and Kevin Bartow. Soon we lined up under the rain. Honestly I was nervous about climbing the Whiteface Mountain twice in a row. I barely made it yesterday, and how on earth I could do it twice in one run.
The same like yesterday, everyone started pretty fast. I forced myself to hold my saddle back, and I actually started to hike pretty early compare to yesterday. Many runners passed me, but my fear (or respect) to this Whiteface overtook my monkey ego. I continued with my hike, while I took off my rain shell on the go. It was the first time I tried to do it without taking off my Orange Mud Single Barrel Vest, and surprisingly it worked out. I pat myself on the back for that.
I think after the first aid station after the abandoned lodge, I started to catch up with those folks. I was always wondering was I too slow or not slow enough, should I hike it faster or did I hike it too fast. I ended up just listened to my body. I pushed it to the edge beyond comfortable, but not to work out my heart or out of breath. It was kinda weird that it seems the hike was not as bad as I remembered, but still far from easy.
When I got to the top, Jan was there cheering us up and also I saw Amy Hanlon and Dick Vincent (Escarpment Trail Race RD) were there. It s always nice to see a familiar faces. Those feelings cheered me up and made me forget the pain. I just gulped another Tailwind shot with some figs biscuits (I think) and started to run it down. I started to jog down the hill, it was pretty rocky and slippery from the rain. And soon the gravity took me over and started to pass people. There was a little hike towards the gondola area before we made a left into a steep drop, where I slid off with my buttocks. I continued with running down the hill and let the gravity be my guide. I saw Joe’s with his camera taking pictures of us slid down this crazy steep slippery single track downhill. I did slip once or twice but I let it be and felt like a fast mud bob-slide. At one point, I passed a runner on a rocky bend, and I slid like I tackled a striker in football (soccer), thanks to my Swiftwick long sock, it slid it smooth and I was back on the run again. Then it became steep again, tho my legs and squads didn’t disappoint me, I kept wonder how far this madness went. And suddenly I could see the festival area. So I kept sprinting down, make right on the jeep road, and switch back to the start finish aid station.
There I hear Ian was howling, crazy RD yet awesome. I also saw Jay Lemos and my coach Elizabeth. She offered me to hold my poles for my loop run before I went back up to the Whiteface for the second time. I also refilled my Tailwind bottle, and grabbed 2 slices of PBJ sandwiches, I needed put back my energy as much as I could get. Just before I left, Elizabeth told me that I was doing good, but too good, I needed to take it easy for the second climb. So, I guessed that’s kind of her warning that I was running too fast.
The loop section started with an easy ascent towards the construction area, before we went into the forest area. I started with hiking it up while I was eating my sandwiches. I started to run again when I got into the forest area. It was a single track trail that running along the Ausable River. Here I was carried away, since it was such a pretty trail, not technical so I could really enjoy the ride and lost in the moment, following the lead from 2 guys in front of me. Then I checked my watched, and I found that I was running too fast, probably 7 something. So I recheck my pace and slow it down where I could feel a bit more comfortable and felt a bit effortless. I stopped at the aid station just to get a Tailwind shot, I saw Clinton the Beardman there and directing us to take a sharp left, towards the uphill (I think) away from the river.
I was jogging up on the easy hill and on the flat, enjoying this easy-going trail but yet it was not that easy. I think entertaining was the right word. Soon, Stephen England caught up with me. We started to chat and gossiping of our other runners. Talking about Jun lost his BIB last night and ended up with drawing number on a paper for his BIB. We also talked about our upcoming UTMB trip plan. Also we talked about the crazy downhill that we just had, down from the Whiteface. On the uphill, I let Stephen passed me, I told him I was taking it easy to conserve my energy. And he again went zoom zoom on me for the second time this weekend. Then the trail became more a little steeper, and I hiked more than before. But most likely it was still runnable. When we get off from the forest area, we were running on the service road hills, and yeah off course they made it up going up hill. When made a left turn, the course started to going downhill, and a steep one. I started to pickup my pace and let the gravity took me. Probably close to the festival area, by the foot of the hill, the trail became blur and I took the further left side of the hill further back from the course, whoopsy.
When I got to the aid station, I topped up my tailwind, grabbed more sandwich, and Jay passed my poles before I continued to my last climb to Whiteface. Oh boy I was not ready for this, but I did not have any option other than moving forward and got this done. I knew this would be my last climb, yet I still doubted myself how much effort that I should spend. Should I went for it, gave it all, or should I reserve some energy until I got to the top or even for the nasty downhill. I would need my quads to venture those sliding land. So I chose to be smart and hiked it up with cautious. Somehow the time flew by pretty quick and went by as not hard as I thought. I saw Joe again on the steep hill (again God bless my poles), and he encouraged me to keep push forward. And just before I got to the top, by the rocky section area, I found a broken deer’s leg on the left side of the trail. Not sure if it was a left over from somebody’s lunch or the deer broke its legs from running the terrain. By the time I got to the top, the weather became windy and cold. Amy was offering me hot soup. As much as it was tempting, but I preferred to get out of this cold weather and got it done with this race, plus it would be only a couple of miles downhill. I just got a gulped of Tailwind with my fold-able cup from Cayuga, man I love this cup, I said thank you for these people who manned up in the cold and head back to the trail.
Feeling relieve that I had passed the worst, I started to let go and run with all my heart. When I got into the steep slippery section after the gondola, the image of broken deer leg, somehow, popped back into my head and kind of got into my head a little . So I ended up slowed down my pace a little, this was my training race after all, it was not worth it to go too crazy and got injured. Oh there was a guy running with barefoot, what a brave man.
Soon, I saw the festival area, I chomped down the hill a bit faster, the turning, the long stretch, and I was done. I didn’t believe it that I made it. This probably one of the best races I had. Yes I suffered pain and doubt myself plenty times, but I had so much fun every seconds of it. Also I felt I was in control most of the time, that’s probably why I felt good. And that was all trail running supposed to be for me. It supposed not to be easy, but it should be fun.
We hung out a bit for the award ceremony. The RDs were very creative this year. They put the winning pods into an old wild wild west bank coins sack, filled up with quarters, and yes they were heavy. Also they gave a cowboy hat with the money sack, so all the winners looks like the Dalton gang who just robbed a bank.
After lunch, we drove back right away. Since we didn’t get a chance to celebrate with beers, Chang and I decided to stop at ADK market to get pie, apple dumpling,cookie and coffee. It was the best pie that I had in a long long time, pretty good treat after 2 days hard races.
On the finish line I talked with another runner about how I could run the steep downhill, and I gave the credit to Elizabeth and Mountain Peak Fitness for all my strength training and guiding me throughout the year. Also I had a constant fuel intake thanks to Orange Mud and Tailwind that IV-ed my blood. I also scrapped and blister free because I had a great protection from Swiftwick long socks and Trail Toes layering my feet.
Man, I Love To Get High.