This wasn’t on my radar until about two days before the race. I ran quite a few races (by my standards) in the spring and summer and didn’t make any hard plans for fall races, though Virgil Crest and Stone Cat 50 milers were on my “maybe cuz I’ve done them before” list. I took August off after running my first Escarpment (Woo Hoo!!!) at the end of July. Had to sign up for Stone Cat Aug 1 lest it close out (which it did in 36 hours). So with Cat on my schedule, when September rolled around I had to start seriously training again. Virgil Crest 50 miler seemed like a good place to start, so I did that. Then what to do...
First, I ran a great race in Red Hook, NY, directed by Lisa Glick with a little help from Doug Freese. The Harvest Half Marathon on Columbus Day weekend is a road race, but it has the grassroots, small-race feel that I love and a beautiful course. Took that as a 13 mile tempo run, plus a few to warm up.
Then it was suddenly about to be three weeks from Stone Cat. Like to do my last really long run three weeks out.
As the week dragged on, I didn’t have it together. Didn’t make plans with anyone to run long locally. Rough week of not enough sleep. Things were going downhill. Didn’t feel like I had in me the 6+ hours of running I wanted as the weekend approached. I remembered the NJ ultra folks talking about a race down there in October. Google got it. Mountain Madness 50k in Ringwood State Park, NJ.
On Thursday I started thinking about it. On Friday I decided to do it--with only a quick skim of the webpage which said the course was “challenging but not impossible,” mentioned “rocks on almost every part of the entire course” and stated there was about 5,000 feet of elevation gain over the 50K. For some reason, I interpreted this as “easy.” What was I thinking?
So here’s how it went down.
Saturday Morning, 10.15.11:
4:55 am. That CANNOT POSSIBLY be my freakin’ ipod going off. No way I can go run 50k today. Exhausted. Feeling a little sick. Hoping the coffee works some extra-powerful majik today.
6:00 am. Why am I backing out of the garage? Why is the GPS programmed for New Jersey? WTF?
7:45 am. Arrived at Ringwood State Park after repeatedly ignoring the GPS exhorting me to go down a dead end road and then “turn around when possible.” STFU already.
8:00 am. Wrote my $75 check. What? It’s $95 race day? Better be serving caviar at the aid stations.
8:05 am. No medium shirts left? Ok, I’ll take a medium from 2009. Even if I did pay $95. Yeah, I know, I registered race day. Actually like the 2009 design. I’m good with that.
8:15 am. Camelbak or handhelds and waistpack? Camelbak. It’s just a training run, after all. I go through this every race. Still figuring out who I am, ultra-wise.
8:30 am. Big bottle of Perpetuem. Going all liquid or semi-solid fuel pre-race today. Still working on that also.
8:50 am. Pre-race briefing. Complicated set of trails in the park, so the briefing went something like this (poetic license applied): “Follow this trail, not that one or the other one, except when you cross the first one when you should ignore the markings for the second one, which you’ll pass twice on the first loop, then pick up again on the second pass before you head back into the woods. The trail is marked in yellow flagging, then orange, except for the part from AS 3 to 4, which is back to yellow, then back to orange after AS4, except for following the red trail markers part of the time, but sometimes the yellow trail markers mix with the red.” Ok, maybe I should dash back to the car and get my headlamp just in case...
9:00 am. Two orange chairs in front of the park restrooms are quickly dubbed the starting line and we’re off. Doesn’t quite have the normal ultra vibe. Not much talking. Kinda weird. I clearly don’t have my mojo working. It’s breezy and cool, great running weather, but rain and wind all night have covered the rocks with wet leaves. Dicey. Some runnable sections though. Waiting for those endorphins (endocannibinoids?) to kick in. Not happening.
10:15ish am. AS1, about, 7 miles, back at the S/F. Still not feeling the love, but not entirely unhappy about how I feel physically. How I feel about finding the trail for the rest of the day...not so good. Several very confusing and poorly marked trail junctions out there. Runners coming at us when they shouldn’t be (or were we going at them when we shouldn't be?). Frequent use of the F word by large numbers of people. But we’re running in the woods, so we’re happy.
??? am. AS 2, 8.5 miles. Still not feeling good, but moving forward. Moving farther down the trail of no return--exactly what I needed. If I’m out there on a big loop with no reasonable way out except to run/walk/crawl back to the finish, I’m forced to get my long run done. Trail is runnable in spots, not so much in others.
11:55 am. AS3, 14.75 miles (almost exactly halfway). I’m out of the AS at noon, 3 hours into the race and still not feeling great but thinking “wow....even with some slowing in the second half, I can break 7 hours or maybe even sub-6:30.” Why do I EVER think such things?
The rest of the day is a blur of rocks, hills, wet leaves, rocks, missed turns (not many but some close calls, lots of second guessing, and creative use of the F word), wet leaves, rocks, hills, and rocks. Not to mention rocks, hills, and wet leaves. And some knee deep wading through streams. I love running trails! And beautiful trails they were.
Gotta mention the volunteers...deja vu all over again. I think it was the same 2 or 3 people jumping from AS to AS. Started feeling like the movie Groundhog Day. But that was ok, and we couldn’t have so much “fun” without you guys so....Thank You Volunteers!! As for the aid stations themselves...well, not quite what I’d expect for 95 bucks (or even 75 prereg). Basic stuff and plenty of it--Heed, water, M&Ms, PBJs, coke, chips, gels. Canned potatoes..ug. I’ll never make that mistake again. Nothing hot. Well, it’s only a 50K, and a nice, grassroots affair at that. I can deal.
4:57:35 pm (aka 7:57:35 after I started).. Done. Actually felt pretty good, despite taking about forever to run 50k. A burger, some chips, and I was on the road feeling pretty damn good about getting a 50K long run in on a day I didn’t have it in me, about getting another race done (if you can call that “racing”!!), and about spending a gorgeous fall day exploring new trails and making new friends. What could be better than that?
Overall, I never felt good, but I didn’t really feel bad. My legs seemed to have a little fatigue left from the Virgil Mud Fest three weeks ago (sounds like a good excuse) and together with my lack of mental focus, I just couldn’t run the wet, leaf-covered rocky stuff for fear of taking a bad fall. I could run the runnable sections ok, just not the rocks. And there were lots of rocks. But hell...it was a trail run. I got to wade a couple streams. Got muddy. Used my hands to pull myself up over big rocks. Used my hands to lower myself down from big rocks. Stubbed my toes. Swore a lot. Talked about religion and sex and marriage and divorce and politics and running with people I’d never met before in my life. In other words, your typical ultra. The trail was technical, gnarly, wet, hard to follow at times, hilly but not monstrous. The volunteers were cheerful and encouraging (even if there only were 2 or 3 of them....or so it seemed....). Another good day in the woods. Lucky me. Now...on to StoneCat!