For the past five years, #TrailsRoc has offered a sponsorship/scholarship (now the chance to be a #TrailsRoc ambassador) to Rochester area runners so that they can run a goal race. I had been hesitant to apply for the sponsorship in prior years for many reasons – didn’t have a “goal” race, didn’t want the added pressure and so on.
When #TrailsRoc posted about the sponsorship in 2017, I considered applying but I had the same apprehensions about applying for the sponsorship that I had in prior years. With a little encouraging, I put some additional thought into applying and what race or type of race I would want to run if I applied. I hadn’t run many destination races so that sounded like a fun idea. My favorite time of year to run is in the fall. Considering my ideal fall running weather mostly occurs in the Northeast, this became the general area in which I looked at potential races. I had a general location, now I needed a distance. After running Many on the Genny in 2017, I wanted to take an extended break from ultra-marathons. It’s hard for me to justify travelling too far for anything shorter than a half marathon. With my narrowed criteria, I searched online for potential races.
Eventually, I found the Trapp Lodge Mountain Marathon – a mountain marathon in Vermont in October. The combination of these elements sounded perfect. I had only run one previous marathon (Ontario Summit Trail Marathon) despite having run 3 ultras, but I went into that race with the approach of it being a training run for Many on the Genny. I’ve enjoyed previous mountain races I’ve run, and I appreciate the challenge of some elevation. I had been to Vermont once before and I really enjoyed the Stowe and Waterbury areas. I was also familiar with some of the terrain from having hiked Mount Mansfield and other areas during my prior visit. Lastly, if I had to pick a favorite month for running it would be October. The air is becoming crisp but not yet harsh, and the scenery just pulls you in and makes long runs seem all too short.
I ended up applying for the sponsorship. I still wasn’t sure I would be picked from amongst the other applicants. Luckily, I was selected and I am glad I was given this opportunity.
When I signed up for the race, I had visions of a perfect training schedule that would get me in peak condition for running a trail marathon. In reality, there were both physical and mental hurdles along the way that forced me to keep changing my plans.
My training plan included building my base mileage through the winter so that I could work on both speed and distance as the spring and summer rolled around. My winter running and snowshoeing went as planned, and my early spring running continued that trend.
As luck would have it, Ironwood Adventure Works (the racing company behind the Trapp Lodge Mountain Marathon) was putting on a first year race at the Cummings Nature Center in Naples, NY in early June. I had a chance to check out how Will Robens and crew put on a race without having to make a long haul. The Frost Town Trail Fest 25k was just as challenging and fun as I hoped it would be. It felt like my running was on the right track, and I felt even better about my decision of what race to run in the fall.
However, once the warmer weather came around my training seemed to hit a wall. I can’t quite pinpoint why, but I kept making excuses for why I wasn’t going to run on some days. By the time dense, humid mornings became a daily summer occurrence, it was the only excuse I needed to put off long runs. If there’s one thing that I especially dislike when running, it is when the air is thick and steamy. I tried to fight it, even waiting until mid-mornings some weekends before starting my runs so that the humidity could at least drop below 90% – I didn’t think that was asking for too much. I started to feel a little better after running 0 SPF. I didn’t have a great finishing time but considering it was my least favorite running weather and I didn’t feel well for the last few miles, I came away from the race feeling like I wasn’t too far from making some more positive strides. I still had 3 full months before my race. I just needed to push myself and hope the weather would cooperate just a little bit.
I had pushed myself through some of the mental challenges, when a physical challenge presented itself in a much unexpected way. During a game of laser tag in mid-July, I caught my toe going down a ramp just enough to take a spill onto the cement floor below. The worst part about the fall was that I landed directly on my right knee. This is the same knee that has kept me out of running for periods of time over the last decade due to overuse/ strength issues. At first I tried to walk it off, but it eventually ballooned to about 3 times the normal size. I hoped it was just swelling and I would be back to running in a week or less. Unfortunately, it kept me from running more than a few miles for close to a month.
In mid to late August, I was able to test my knee a bit more as my wife and I spent time hiking in Yosemite with a couple of our friends. To my relief, my knee was starting to feel much better. To my disbelief, I only had 7 weeks until I would run up and down a mountain twice on the two-loop Trapp Lodge Mountain Marathon course. The first few thoughts in my mind were whether I should drop the race or drop down to the half marathon. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone and I felt like either of those options would disappoint those who were sponsoring me and those that made plans to cheer for me. I didn’t even know how to express these thoughts to anyone. I simply told my wife that I didn’t know how I would get ready for this challenge in such a short period of time. She first gave me words of encouragement then told me she was making me write out a training plan for the remaining weeks I had – I needed that.
My plan started with 5 mile runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays that would be increased up to 6 to 8 mile runs. This allowed me to get some speed and hill workouts in during the week – and get the natural push of running with others at the #TrailsRoc Tuesday Trail Workouts. One of these weekday runs included running up one side and down the other and back on Chair Hill for 5 miles (with the #TrailsRoc orange Adirondack chair both greeting and taunting me each time).
Additionally, my plan included weekends filled with back-to-back double digit mileage days. The first weekend began with running the Webster Trail Classic. While I was not as fast as prior years, I felt good until poor nutrition caught up with me in the final miles. This was very encouraging to me. My legs felt really good and I could fix the nutrition issue quickly. The next day brought about my first time in months running double digit miles on back-to-back days. The ten mile run went well and my legs didn’t feel much fatigue. The following weekends went according to plan and I was even able to add a little extra mileage to my original plan each week. This allowed me to lessen my miles the final weekend before the race. It provided some amount of tapering and gave my knees any rest they might need.
The last element of my training plan was cross-training. I knew that running alone would not get me to marathon condition in such a short period of time, but I also usually avoid cross-training like the plague. Fortunately, there’s one type of cross-training I don’t mind so much. This comes in the form of the Beach Body 21 Day Fix workout videos. I had done these videos, often begrudgingly, with my wife previously and actually came to appreciate them. I decided to include these half-hour workouts into my daily morning routine for the first 4 weeks of my training plan. I was especially appreciative of the yoga workout I would do between my two long runs on the weekends.
At the end of my training, I felt like I put in the best effort I could have in the short period of time I had after my knee injury.
I’ve never been good at tapering (maybe because I’m also not good at training). However, life delivered a distraction to keep my mind from racing while my legs were given some rest. The week of the race started out with the passing of my grandmother. It was expected but anytime someone you love passes, it makes you stop and do some reflection on the time you had with that person. She was a very resilient yet humorous woman. I like to think I acquired some amount of those traits from her and they’ve come in handy when running some of the tougher races I’ve done. I hoped they would serve me well during my upcoming endeavor.
The forecast for race day during the week showed chilly air with little to no precipitation. I was looking forward to such conditions but was prepared for less favorable weather if it occurred. While the conditions were different from the forecast, I was glad that it wasn’t towards warmer temperatures. Instead, there was a light drizzle in the air and the threat of more precipitation as we arrived at the yurt for packet pickup. The scenery and weather screamed fall – just what I signed up for!
About 70 marathon runners slowly gathered near the starting area. In typical trail running fashion, no one made their way to the front of the start area until the last second. At exactly 8 a.m., we started our tour of the Von Trapp property to the cheers of our on-looking friends and family. The race started with about two miles of gentle downhills, and the occasionally little uphill, so as to lull you into a sense of having signed up for a leisurely fall stroll through the woods. At least they provided some gentle uphill in the next couple miles before the real fun began.
The first aid station was at approximately 4.5 miles. Aside from the start/ finish/halfway point, this was the most spectator friendly spot on the course. My family was there to cheer me and the other runners through before we made our 600 foot climb to the next aid station 5 miles away. I didn’t stop at this aid station, but thanked the volunteers for their encouragement as I passed through.
Typically, I find myself caught in large gaps for most of the longer races I’ve run. I was pleased to find that I had company for my first climb towards the highest point in the course – the peak of Round Top Mountain. Along the way I chatted with a college student who was running her first marathon. It helped pass the time during the brisk hike.
Before I knew it I was at the next aid station. I passed through and thanked the volunteers without stopping to take anything. I had been drinking and eating along the course (although kept lagging behind my original mile marks for taking nutrition). On the final 300 foot climb to the peak, I chatted with a gentleman whose first goal for the race was to beat his wife’s half marathon time from the prior year during his first loop (he did). The climb was a slog as the continued rain/ sleet made the steep ascent a bit slick. Once at the top of the mountain, I was able to take in the beautiful view of …… snow. Although it wasn’t the scenery I was hoping for, the snow was quite enjoyable.
I thought the final climb to the peak was a slog but I found that the next half mile was much more daunting. It was much of the same terrain as the final ascent, but now going down. Running down slick, technical trails definitely is not my forte. I took this section slow knowing that I could pick up speed in the final 3ish miles of the loop since it was about 1,000 feet of decent over that distance. This section was very enjoyable with its combination of switchbacks and steeper descents – all of which was very runnable.
I made it to the halfway point in about 2:36. I was still feeling good and only stopped to grab a couple energy bars from my drop bag. The second loop started uneventfully as the downhill running continued for another 2 miles and I ate some of the mini pierogis I packed. It was around the 15 mile mark that the approximately 5 miles of mostly consistent descent started to wear on my right knee. Momentum was still guiding me until I hit the start of the gentle incline to the next aid station. I started to feel a weakness in my knee and I wasn’t sure if it would pass or if I needed to be more concerned about continuing. By the time I made it to the aid station, I had been walking for about a half mile and started to get slightly cold from the rain and the slower pace. My personal cheering squad was there doing a great job encouraging me and the runners around me, but I was in my own head and didn’t feel much like being cheered up. My wife asked if there was anything she could do to help and I only thought to say wait for me longer at the finish line. I grabbed some Gatorade from the aid station and took my time. It was probably only 30-45 seconds, but a long time for me. I started to look for reasons not to continue, but a voice in my head kept pushing me to move forward even if I had to walk the remaining 8 to 9 miles.
I left the aid station walking but forced myself to try to run about 100 yards later. I’m glad I did. Whatever pain/ weakness I had in my knee seemed to be gone and I was able to run until I made it back to the hiking section of the course. I wasn’t moving as quickly as I typically do on these sorts of climbs but I was moving forward. Thankfully, I had company again for part of the climb. I briefly chatted with a couple – the woman was running the marathon and her partner was running the half but acting as her support for the second half of the race. They picked up speed (or I was losing it) as we marched toward the next aid station. They left the aid station as I arrived. He said, “see you on the other side” as they went on their way. I stopped again to drink some Gatorade and grab a wedge of peanut butter and jelly sandwich to go. It wasn’t until I started up the last scramble to the top that I processed what he said and the line triggered my recollection of the exact same line in the Hamilton musical. I began to sing the songs in my head as the lyrics were fresh in my mind from having listened to the soundtrack over two dozen times in the last year.
Between the musical interlude in my head and the exchanging of encouragement with two of the half marathon runners I had passed, the final climb to the peak passed quickly. This time I was greeted with a much different perspective from the top. The rain and clouds cleared enough that I could see the bright red and orange colors on the trees in the distance. I stopped for a second to appreciate the view.
The next half mile down was the worst part of the race. The section that was already slick on the first loop felt like a slip and slide the second time through. At this point, most of the 200 half marathon runners had come through in addition to half the marathon runners making their second pass. I was actually moving slower down this section than I was walking uphill at any point. Toward the end of this segment, I tried to pick up speed as it seemed like the trail conditions were improving from the earlier section. This was a mistake. My foot slid and got caught on a root. I went down fast. I landed right knee first. I panicked for a second only because of my previous issues with my right knee. I realized just as quickly that I wasn’t in pain and got back up. As I walked the final bit of the single track, I assessed that I didn’t have any cuts or major bumps. The only damage was a sizeable tear in my left sneaker, but nothing that would keep me from continuing on.
When I made it back to the wider trail, I knew I only had about 3 miles to the finish and it was all downhill. My plan was to let momentum carry me until I got to the finish. The majority of the final stretch went by quickly as I twisted and turned through the switchbacks and let gravity take hold on the open hills. With about half a mile left, I realized that the course leveled off more than I remembered. I now had to put in more effort to get one foot in front of the other. I spent a few minutes walking until I saw my wife. She started cheering when she first saw me in the distance. I continued to walk a little bit until I got closer to her. She snapped a few final pictures as I started running toward the finish in the open field just beyond the wooded path that guided most of my journey.
I crossed the finish line to the cheers of my family, the race organizers and fellow runners. I completed my second marathon in a time of 5:25. In what I know believe to be typical Ironwood Adventure Works fashion, there was beer waiting at the finish line to be served in a glass that served as our finisher medals. I couldn’t think of a more delicious way to celebrate having completed such a race. We hung around the finish line a little longer to cheer on runners as they completed their adventures, until my body started to realize just how cold it was.
After I got a much needed warm shower, we celebrated further by going to the Von Trapp Brewery (based on the crowd, it appears many had the same idea) and a couple other local establishments.
Thank you to my extremely supportive wife, Annie, who not only joined me on this adventure but has encouraged me to believe in and push myself throughout our relationship.
Thank you for my sister, Lee, and brother-in-law, Rob, for joining us on the trip to Vermont. It meant a lot to have you there cheering for me and the other runners. And just importantly, it was great to have you there to celebrate with afterward.
Last but certainly not least, I want to thank the #TrailsRoc board members. I am very appreciative of the support you provided me for this particular endeavor. I am even more thankful for the support that you provide me and other runners on a regular basis through the runs and events you create and coordinate, and the great community that you’ve formed and fostered.