On Saturday, June 8, I took on my latest challenge…. The inaugural Cayuga Trails 50 miler in Ithaca, NY at Robert H. Treman State Park (or, as it would be for me, the Cayuga Trails 38. It happens). This was the first time I had ever been to Ithaca, so I was excited to see the area and try out this new race. I had heard great things about the area and the scenery, and it definitely didn’t disappoint! So, without further ado… here is one mid-packer’s take on this awesome new event 🙂
Packet pick-up was in downtown Ithaca, at the Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Company. Very cool store, check it out if you find yourself in Ithaca! Our packets were complete with cool personalized race numbers. My name was on it – bad ass! After the race briefing (follow the pink ribbons. mud. lots of elevation. 3 creek crossings per “lap” (wait – I’m sorry… did you say I would be crossing a thigh deep creek? hm. interesting. I left my swimmies at home.)) it was time to grab a cheap-o plate of pasta at a little hole in the wall local joint with Anthony and Gary. After that – time to lay out all of the gear and hit the sack…it was a fabulous evening of laying out a variety of wicking clothing and mixing up the flasks of slimy orange stuff and counting out the gel packets that would keep me going for (10? 11? 12?) hours. Very glamorous stuff.
|Decisions, decisions…. calf sleeves? arm sleeves? buff or visor? ah, the complicated life of a trail runner|
4 am came quick… even though I never sleep well before these things. I stumbled into my stuff and wandered out like a (perfectly color-coordinated, dry-max-clad) zombie. Coffee.
|Pre-race check in. Awesome array of fruits, bagels, chobani, and… COFFEE|
STAT. I tried to eat, but I mean, really. Have you ever tried to stuff a boiled sweet potato hunk down the hatch at 4 am? Gag. My pre-race nutrition needs work for these early races. Perhaps a carbo-loading IV, followed by a caffeine chaser? Chewing and swallowing food at that hour just ain’t happening. Blech.
It had rained hard the night before, but luckily we started off with wet ground, but no rain. I felt great, and just rolled with it. I had no idea what to expect of the terrain, but the profile
|Thumbs up at the start!|
that the race director put out was a lil’ scary. The course was a 12.5 mile out-and-back, with two small loops to avoid congestion from runners going in both directions in tricky areas (two out-and-back “laps” to make the 50 miles). I have to say, I was surprised by the relative run-ability (is that a word?) of the course. The course was a mix of broken up pavement/dirt park trails, dirt roads, flowing pine-needly singletrack, amazing stairs cut into the stone surrounding the gorges that we climbed up and around, and one monster of a steep, switchbacking, “hike for your life bent over with your hands on your quads, trying not to roll back down” hill. I was stunned by the beauty of the course… everywhere you looked, it was just beeeeeau-tiii-full! Let’s start out this party with a little (picture heavy, but well worth it!) course tour… here we go, from the start to Aid Station #3, aka mile 12.5, aka the turnaround point for the course.
|How bad can you feel running along terrain like this??|
I started out feeling pretty good, maintaining a pretty steady pace that felt comfortable. Not super slow, but not the “uh oh I feel good now but what’s going to happen in a couple hours” speed that can sometimes lead to disaster in these things. The first 3 miles were gorgeous! (gorges? he. he. he. yah. I went there. so, so punny.) The trip into Aid Station #1 (Old Mill) led us through some paved/gravel park roads, up lots of stairs, and onto the Gorge Trail, which was amazing! We snaked along rocky paths and stairs on the side of stunning waterfalls. Bright green foliage and moss contrasted against the gray rock and gray sky, making for a beautiful backdrop no matter which way you looked. The highlight of this section was absolutely climbing up the side of and to the top of the 115 foot Lucifer Falls. Wow! I was afraid that the wet rocks and stairs along the side of this portion would be slick, but I never slipped at all. Good shoes? Good luck? Who cares! A lot of the “hills” in this section were stair climbing – better get an 80’s gym membership to train for next year!
|Old Mill Aid Station|
|up, up, and away!|
|ah-ma-zing scenes along the way|
|Following my new BFF for the day along the rocky paths…. I’m lookin’ at you, lard gazelle!|
Heading out from aid station 1, we headed into the woods and into more varied terrain, including the first creek crossing at about 3.5 miles in. It wasn’t too cold, and was only about ankle deep. Easy going, except for the squishy wet feet. We headed up into a mix of dirt roads and nice, rolling singletrack… very different from the first section, but a really nice section of course with some great smooth, pine-needle covered rolling trails. Very runnable part of the course. This section headed under an underpass and ended at Aid Station #2 (Underpass), at the far end of Treman State Park. Continued to feel great through here, though we did end up in a bit of a conga-line for a while, which was a little frustrating because the flowy singletracks and downhills were so runnable, but a little too tight to go flying by a big group to pass without going off trail. And, well… we weren’t exactly winning this thing… so really no point to be “that guy” this early in the race 🙂
|Heading out from Aid Station 2|
The next 5.5 miles led into Aid Station #3 (Buttermilk), the turnaround point for the course. This was a pretty varied section. We headed out from the second aid station into some singletrack, over some railroad tracks, and across stream #2. This one was deeper than the first… knee deep in the beginning, and thigh deep at the other side. Easy crossing here as well. We headed into the woods, over a dry creekbed and into the steepest climb. I’m not sure how long this really was, but it felt like it was sooooo long! Super steep switchbacks that seemed to just keep on going… and going. It finally leveled off, and into a series of more wooded, rooty/rocky single and doubletrack ups and downs. There were a couple of short road crossovers and some very sticky, slippery, muddy sections (with one last muddy water crossing) that eventually led into Aid Station #3 and the turnaround point at Buttermilk Falls.
So there is a little tour of the course. It really is one of the prettiest (if not THE prettiest) courses I have ever run. I managed to pair up with some really fun people who were keeping a similar pace to me, which made it even better. Seriously… I’m not sure how you can possibly have so much fun, laugh so hard, and feel so much pain and misery all in one event (and sometimes all at the same time. these ultras are weeeeeird races). The first half
|Mile 25… with the best. crew. ever. 🙂|
of the race was great. I was feeling good, and came into the start/finish turnaround area in about 5:15 or so. Pretty good for a course this challenging, I was stoked! Nothing was really painful, legs were still functioning… good stuff.
I started to feel a little stiff and tired once we headed back out to start our second “lap”. Running around the field and back out onto the course felt like it took forever, and it was starting to rain some, so it got a little chilly. There is always a “down” point to these races, and it was starting to kick in a little here. I knew if I just kept moving it would pass, so off we went. I focused on
|Still smiling… heading out for round 2|
making sure I was taking in my fuel and distracted myself by chatting with my newfound partner for the day, Will. One of the very best things about these races, and what keeps me coming back, is the people I end up meeting along the course. I have been incredibly lucky to have met some amazingly funny people out there with me, to share the experience with. This time was no exception!! Big thanks to Will for keeping me laughing and helping to make this a memorable day 🙂
I could definitely feel some fatigue setting in… my legs were moving slooooowwwwly. Seriously. Pack of snails went blowing by me at around mile 28. Quick little bastards. I was so focused on keeping myself moving that I somehow managed to miss a turn, somewhere around mile 29-30 (it wasn’t just me… a group of us all independently managed to miss the turn. Apparently following the pink flags was getting a little tricky at this juncture). After backtracking (back UPhill, of course), we got back on track. Lost a bit of time trying to figure out whether we had really gotten lost or not, but oh well. Such is life in a trail race. At this point I had started to notice that my right ankle was pretty sore. I must have twisted it at some point on some of the slick, uneven terrain, but didn’t really remember doing it. Ah, well, nothing major, right? I continued on, sinking even further into the “low”. This part of the race? Major suckage. I “ran” along, cursing myself for thinking this was a good idea, and vowing to never, EVER, NEVER EVER, do this again. EVER. Yeeeeeah… not so good here.
I made it through the underpass aid station and continued on into the woods, back across the stream and up, up, up the hills. Mentally I was starting to feel a little (teeny, weeny, itsy, bitsy) bit better. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, right? Back up the steep switchbacks (ow), up and down the hills again (ow, ow), and along the rocky, rooty, muddy trails. The muddy section we had passed through before was incredibly sticky and slick, slipping through ankle deep mud. At some point in here, with a few miles to go before hitting Buttermilk Falls again for the turnaround, I noticed that my right ankle was really starting to hurt. The off camber, super slick mud was doing nothing to help that situation!
I started to think that maybe my mind was playing tricks on me… after all, everything was getting sore by this point, I had run over 30 miles! I had to really focus myself on this to assess the situation (seriously. this is what running that long does to you. I had to talk myself through figuring out if my ankle hurt. ridiculous.). So here I am, finally out of the ooey gooey muddy parts and onto some “normal” trail and into the park roads. My inner dialogue went a little something like this…
- step, step, step, step…. hmmmm. every time I step down on my right foot my ankle hurts.
- But waaaaait. How do I reeeeeally know that it’s just that? What if I’m just tired?
- step, step, step, step….. yup. my ankle hurts. just my ankle. every step. Not normal.
- But, but… nooo. It can’t be. That’s never happened before.
- step, step, step, step…. Uhhmmm. yes. it’s happening. and now my running gait looks more like some sort of Quasimoto-troll hybrid. Like a really out of shape, peg-legged Quasimoto-troll. With Forrest Gump leg braces on. And this is making my knees and hips hurt. badness.
- But, but… I’ve finished races in troll-mode before! No big deal!
- Ahem…. I am now walking. downhill. and it sucks. and it’s painful.
- NO. we are NOT doing this for another 12 miles.
And that, friends, is how “I” convinced “me” that the race was over for the day. A series of itty bitty barely noticeable ankle twists and rolls turned into a minor sprain that had me
|Gimping on in to mile 38… the end of the line for me|
hobbling into the turnaround point in misery. Nothing major, but the thought of hobbling through another 12 miles was inconceivable. I have finally grown out of the “finish at all costs” mentality. I’ve got a whole Summer and Fall of racing ahead of me, and I wasn’t about to blow that by causing a REAL injury. So, despite every bit of me fighting against it, I dropped out at mile 38. (Though I did stand there at the aid station rolling my ankle around and hopping/standing on the bad leg, just to make sure. And yes, it hurt.)
And so ends the tale of the most beautiful, challenging, and FUN DNF ever. I had a great first half, and learned a lot about myself and my approach to these races along the way. Still a lot to work on, but I’m getting there. And loving every second of the journey!! Sometimes? Throwing in the towel is ok. And smart. And the right thing to do.
Cayuga Trails 50 was a very well run race all around, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The aid stations were well stocked and well spaced, and access for crew was very easy. I will definitely be back, and I would recommend this to anyone out there who wants to experience an extremely scenic and challenging Norheast course (who doesn’t want that!?). The trails are definitely not the extremely technical rocky stuff that you can get out here in the New England/Northeast terrain, and there was a fair amount of pavement in the park sections. Definitely something to consider if your strength is super technical rock and root-hopping – this course is NOT that. Lots of hills, but mostly runnable ones. And remember… it’s an out and back. What goes up, must go down! (and back up again. and then back down again.) Repetitive loops/out and back set-ups are not my favorite, but I’m learning to like them.
The out-and-back setup of the course also allowed we “mid-pack” folk to see the leaders multiple times as we passed each other, and it was really cool to be able to cheer them all on (as I jumped off the trail so they could go flying past me). I loved being able to see and cheer on all of the leaders and my much faster friends, I usually only get to see them take off at the start! Everyone was super nice and returned the encouragement, which is one of the best things about trail racing – where else are you going to get cheered on by the freaking winners?
Big congrats to all of the finishers… strong work on a very challenging day! Congrats to Kristina Folcik on the win – Amazing!!! Also great job to Deb Livingston on a strong finish, and to Gary and Will on crossing the finish line as well… you guys all rock!!
And, of course – the biggest thanks in the world to Anthony for being the best chauffer, crew, motivator, photographer, cheering squad, and husband EVER! I couldn’t do this stuff without you!
|The day after – hobbled out for some photos of the falls|