Race Recap

Bring The Mountain to Jamie Hobbs

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Every winter we award scholarships to runners to tackle the race of their choosing. We support them financially, training, and with encouragement and energy. In return they wear our shirt, and write us a post race recap.

Jamie Hobbs was one of our winners and the first to tackle his scholarship race. Below is his recap! Enjoy.

I’ve been intimidated by the 100 mile distance since . . . well, since I was a kid. I had the fairly rare experience – particularly in the 80s – of being raised by a guy who ran 50 milers and had friends who ran 100s. As a middle schooler, I saw slide shows and heard stories that came back from trips to Western States and Angeles Crest. This did not have the effect of normalizing ultras for me. In particular, the 100 was presented to me as a completely nutty feat, to be attempted only by the toughest, lifelong runners and, still, at great risk to the rest of their running lives. I ran in school, but became more interested in climbing and mountaineering, and I never considered that I could run that far. Decades later, when I began to turn from other sports back to trail running, I learned that mortals of all shapes, sizes, and speeds ran 100s. But still, my fear and respect was ingrained, and it only grew as I saw capable and talented friends struggle with their own first attempts at 100. Some finished, some did not, but nobody – or nobody in my league – made it look easy.

I knew years ago that I wanted to run a 100, but I waited several years to work my way up, and I looked to run tough longer ultras to help bridge the gap between 50 and 100. I thought I would be ready in 2016, but plantar fasciitis broke up my training for too much of the year. So I began looking at two 2017 options: Massanutten (MMT) and Vermont. I was fortunate to be awarded a generous community sponsorship from #TrailsRoc to support me at whichever one I chose. As a public defender with two kids in daycare and law school loans, help with race fees and travel costs is a big deal. When I received the award, Amy Lopata, a TrailsRoc board member, gave me a bit of a nudge by letting me know that she and Dan would crew me if I picked MMT. She had crewed Dan there the previous two years in a row. . . . Monetary support and an experienced crew thrown in. Not a bad deal, TrailsRoc, not a bad deal. . . . A couple of additional factors drew me to MMT: it had more single track, it’s a mountain course, and although it’s not point-to-point or a true single-loop course, it is close. It is roughly a figure 8, with only two small bits of the course repeated: the cross-over between the two circles and a little tail at the beginning and end. I was a bit hesitant about choosing a tough, rocky course for my first, but I felt more inspired by the challenge of traversing a mountain range on technical single track and I knew that inspiration would matter. The MMT lottery went my way, and my decision was made.

My training was not ideal, but not terrible. I had squeezed an undertrained Hellgate 100k into December 2016, so I figured I’d take some time to recover through the holidays, and then start building in January. But come January, plantar fasciitis symptoms started to come back, so I quickly backed off for two weeks. Things felt okay when I came back, but I’d lost more fitness, and I was afraid to up the miles too quickly. One downside of an early May 100 miler is that it doesnt leave much room for a glitch in the training cycle. I have never been a high mileage trainer, but I had hoped to build up to several weeks in the 70s and low 80s. With a shorter window and a more conservative build up, I ended up topping out at 69.8, with no single run of more than 35. But I had quite a few quality long, tough runs over 20 miles, some decent back to backs, lots of elevation change, and more weeks between 50 and 70 than I had for previous ultras. I also had good specificity late in my training, getting in long trail runs with sustained climbs and descents.

In terms of goals, I was determined to finish, but more than that I wanted to run a smart, solid race, without unnecessary blow-ups. I felt that if I did that sub-24 was realistic. At times I thought that it might be possible to run a couple hours faster than that, but setting out with that more aggressive goal, on this course, in my first attempt, seemed like a great way to set myself up for disaster. As my training mileage fell short, I knew I should stay conservative. Using data on the race website, I had put together the range of aid station arrival times for 21 to 24 hour finishers over the past few years. And I decided I wanted to be in the back half of that range for the first two thirds of the race. While running, I never thought about that chart and I couldn’t remember any of the times on it. But I gave it to my crew to use as a check, to let me know if I was running too fast or falling off the back end.

The day before the race, my dad, myself and Ron headed down to Virginia. The Lopatas were already down there camping and hiking. Given their experience with the race, they would lead the crew, with my dad helping out and providing moral support. Ron was there to film for his Beastcoast series. I had no pacer, and no concerns about it. I like running alone, especially if I’m suffering. And there are only a handful of people I thought I’d feel comfortable asking or having out there with me. After Mike couldn’t make it, I decided I’d rather just run it alone.

The morning before the race the mountains had received a big downpour, but the sky had cleared by the time we arrived. Spring was weeks ahead down there, and the mountains were a vibrant green against the crisp blue sky. Along the road up through Edinburg Gap, streams were rushing, and the forests seemed to be filled with fresh new, life. It was invigorating, and I was excited to get out there.

I fell asleep without too much trouble and managed few solid hours before my 2 a.m. alarm. We got pulled over on the way to the race start (my dad didn’t dim the high beams). We didn’t get a ticket, which was nice, but the officer –noticing my kit and bib – wanted to make small talk about the race, the route, and his post-race dining recommendations. We sat there politely, but I was worrying about time ticking away. We made it to the start with a few minutes to spare. Phew.

Miles 1-4.1 (Moreland Gap Rd)  The course starts with four miles of pavement and gravel country road, climbing gradually up to the trailhead at Moreland Gap. But first we had to cross a soaked field with standing water to get to that road. Then there were the actual streams crossing the road. Clearly there were not going to be any dry feet on this run. I ran comfortably up the road, letting the front runners go. I had expected to feel some relief to be under way, but I was anxious to get to the trail.

Miles 4.1-12.1 (Moreland Gap to Edinburg Gap)Leaving the road, the world shrunk to a headlamp-lit circle of singletrack, and my focus went to the rocks at my feet. My mood changed immediately. There was about a mile of flat semi-technical running, and then the climb up Short Mountain began. I found myself behind a small group. I might normally have passed them, but with all that lay ahead, I was content to use them as an external governor. The climb never seemed bad and it was over sooner than I had expected.

Up top, it was a rolling, rocky ridge, surrounded by flowering rhododendrons – probably the wild azalea featured on the MMT buckle. It looked and smelled beautiful up here as morning light phased in, and I enjoyed the morning call of the whippoorwill. The first half of this ridge was highly technical – not unrunnable, but constantly rocky – and the trail twists and turns onto and then down off of little rock outcroppings. There’s a lot of ridge running like this along the course. At 100 mile pace, the footing is not a huge problem, but it adds to the work and requires attention. In the second half, the trail seemed to open a bit and become a bit less technical. After a nice view looking out over Edinburg Gap, the trail switchbacked, and we began a fun, runnable descent down to the first real aid station and crew.

Coming in, I peeked at my watch for the first time: 6:15 am, right about where I had planned to be. I chatted quickly with Dan about what was coming, then swapped bottles for a pack, grabbed some watermelon, and headed out. It was over 20 miles to the next crewed aid station, and I immediately forgot most of what Dan had told me. Oh well.

Miles 12.1-20.3 (Edinburg to Woodstock Tower) I hiked and jogged the initial climb. Like the one before it, the climb never felt too steep, and it passed quickly. Near the top there were gorgeous views across Fort Valley to the south and east. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking at, but I knew that I would be running over there later in the day and I marveled at the distance to go. Around this point, I also caught up to two guys. On the descent and the flatter ridge running that followed, these guys were setting a comfortable pace, so I again decided to let them be my governor for a while. They were chatting about various races I’d never run, and I followed along listening for bad ideas. (Tip: Eastern States sounds hard.) I was glad to be running conservative, but after a few miles I worried that I wasn’t taking enough advantage of this runnable section of the course. I pushed ahead, only to find we were about to come into the next aid station. I hit a dramatic view over the Shenandoah valley to the West, and from there it was a short jog into the aid station. The three of us regrouped there.

Miles 20.3 -25.8 (Woodstock Tower to Powell’s Fort)  I topped off my fluids, grabbed some PB&J to go, and got out ahead of them. But after a pit stop, I was right behind again, and had to make a third push to pass. I had forgotten the course profile in this section, and thought it might stay flat the whole way. So, after about 4 miles, I was surprised to be cruising down a long descent off the east side of the ridge. The woods and the trail got wetter and wetter as I went down. At the AS, I checked my watch again: a bit under 5 hours for a bit over 25 miles. I didn’t remember my split chart, but that pace seemed about right, accounting for slow down. I got some info on what the course did next, I grabbed some bacon and folded it into a big fat slab of French toast (best AS food of the day), and I headed out.

Miles 25.8-33.3 (Powell’s Fort to Elizabeth Furnace)  This section starts off uninspiring, but ends with some great mountain running. There’s a couple miles of gradually climbing dirt road, which was made drearier by the beginning of a steady rain. The road also featured a couple stream crossings, running mid-calf deep and too wide to jump. Next there’s a bit of flatish singletrack around a reservoir. On the north side of that reservoir, you run into a small trailhead with a few options. I had one of my only moments of being unsure about which way to go. I soon found a confidence marker to tell me that I had made the right choice. After a few more foot-soaking crossings, the trail headed up a long, rocky climb. Maybe it was leg fatigue setting in, or the wind and rain, or maybe this climb is actually steeper and harder, but this was the first time I felt like I was climbing a real mountain. I enjoyed it. The descent off the other side was an absolute joy. It is well graded and only mildly technical – just enough to keep you focused. I caught up to another runner, tucked in behind him, and enjoyed some easy speed all the way into the aid station.

Miles 33.3 to 38 (Elizabeth Furnace to Shawl Gap) – I came in around 6:20 for 33.3 miles, somewhere between 19 and 20 hour pace if the course is 103 miles as advertised. I felt that was a good place to be, but I knew I could easily use up that 4 to 5 hour cushion in the next two thirds of the race. I was glad to see crew again, but it was raining enough here that it wasn’t all that pleasant to linger. I’d see them again in less than 5 miles so I ditched my pack and took a handheld. I declined a second handheld, and within a mile of the aid station I took my only fall of the day, cutting up the palm of my unprotected hand. I don’t recall much more of this section, except that it has a rocky singletrack climb, followed by a wet grassy trail descent. Completing this section was nice mentally, because it meant I had hit the northernmost point of the course and crossed over to the east side of the mountain range to begin the return trip south.

 

Miles 38 to 41.1 (Shawl Gap to Veach Gap) – From Shawl it’s about 16 miles to the next crewed aid station. Two short road sections sandwiching a longer trail section. I swapped out my bottle for a pack. With the road sections and the ridge running in between, I figured now was one of the few times that a change into dry socks and shoes wouldn’t be futile. It was probably worth it, but it cost me some time. As I was about ready to head out, a couple of MMT veterans caught me, Keith Knipling (who has 18 prior finishes) and Kathleen Cusick, who I knew was last years MMT (and Twisted Branch) winner. I figured these were good people to be running near. I caught them both on the road and passed. But we would yo-yo back and forth for much of the next 30 to 40 miles, with me running a little faster but them moving through aid stations more efficiently.

Somewhere in here, I began to break down my 24 hour goal and focus on more immediate time goals. Since Dan hadn’t blown any alarms at the crewed aid stations, I figured I was still somewhere on my split chart. But it would be a while before I saw him again, and it wouldn’t be too hard to slip off target. I didn’t know what the chart said, but I decided I’d better get to 50 miles in 10 hours, so that I’d still have 4 hours to play with in the second half.

Miles 41 to 50 (Veach Gap to Indian Grave) – This section follows the pattern of several to come: a long steady climb up the mountain, some technical but relatively flat running along the mountain top, then a long descent back to an aid station. Kathleen had moved through Veach AS faster than me, and I reeled her back in along the climb and got ahead of her somewhere along the ridge. The average pace along the climb and the technical ridge on the top had me a little concerned about whether I was going to hit that 10 hour goal, but those slow miles up were soon offset by faster miles down. Indian Grave aid station is right about at 50, and I came in in 9:56. I was happy enough with that that I sat briefly to take in some calories. I began to fixate on my next self-imposed target: hit the 100k mark by 13 hours.

 

Miles 50 to 54 (Indian Grave to Habron Gap) – I jogged 9 and 10 minute miles along this fairly flat gravel section. Not fast, but well below the average pace I would need to maintain. The rain had stopped and it was nice to pull up to a cheering crowd at the aid station, especially to see crew again. I gave back most or all of the time I had just banked by taking a long pit stop to treat a painful blister between two toes. I was losing my taste for gels, so with another 9 mile trail section coming up, I grabbed a little to go bag of something savory … pierogis or bean burritos? I don’t remember. I tucked them into a shorts pocket and headed out.

Miles 54 – 63 (Habron Gap to Camp Roosevelt)  I was stiff after the long break, but the hike back up to the mountain top gave me a chance to loosen up. I thought this was another climb up, run the ridge, descend to aid station section. And it is for the first 6 or 7 miles, except that the aid station doesn’t come at the bottom. Instead there’s another 2 to 3 miles of rolling singletrack down in the valley. That’s a nice runnable bit of trail in the end, but I was mentally ready for the aid station long before it came.

My made-up time goals were looming like cutoffs in my mind. Not that I was going to stop or be pulled if I missed my made-up goal, but I felt that if I missed them 24 hours would slip away. I ran much of the race with sense of anxiety about hitting them. After the long break at Habron, I was worried by the slow pace climbing and along the ridge, but again I made the time up on the descent and along the runnable miles at the end. Per GPS, I came through 100k just ahead of my 13 hour goal.

I believe it was here at Camp Roosevelt that Amy had made pierogis for me. They hit the spot. And she got my watch hooked up to a charger, so that I could keep it going throughout. Meanwhile Dan reminded me how miserable the next section was going to be.

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Miles 63-69.6 (Camp Roosevelt to Gap Creek I)  I had been looking forward to getting through this section because it would mean I had closed the larger, northern loop of the course, and that I just had the roughly 50-55k southern loop and tail to go. My watch would be in my pack for this section, so I couldn’t track the time, but I figured that if I could arrive at Gap Creek before 15 hours, that would leave me 9 hours to close out the race.

Dan had warned that this section was wet, and that it had some of the worst, nastiest footing on the way down. He probably understated it. Maybe it was the fresh rain, but for the majority of the ascent, the trail was simply a running stream. The grade would have been mostly runnable, even at this point, but the extra weight and resistance of the water made it a tough slog, and I was walking a lot more than I would have liked. There were also several knee high crossings in here. Mercifully, the trail finally turned away from the water, but only so that it could climb more steeply up to a notch below Duncan Knob. The descent off the other side was as nasty. Not just technical, but loose rock. The fatigue in my legs wasn’t helping. I recall greeting crew and volunteers with my unvarnished opinion: “Well, that sucked.” That got a laugh, and I was smiling again. I was happy to be there at about 14:35, ahead of target, and ready to see what the last 30+ miles held. But I had to take another long stop for another blister between my toes. I grabbed a headlamp, Dan’s trekking poles, a snack bag, and an extra shirt.

Miles 69.6 to 78.1 (Gap Creek I to Visitor Center, aka Kerns Mtn)  For the first time I left the aid station feeling not only stiff, but cold and shivering. Evening was approaching. It was getting cooler, and exhaustion was setting in. Soon enough I was on the climb up Kerns Mountain, and warm again. This tough, steep climb marks the crossover point in the figure-8, and it is one of the only bits of the course that would get repeated. Using the poles, I made good time up the climb, catching and passing Kathleen, who must have gotten ahead of me at an AS. Along the rocky, and beautiful ridge top, I struggled with the poles a bit. The trail was too tight, with rhodies and rocks on either side. I couldn’t figure out an efficient way to use them, and I didn’t know whether to put them away or not. Kathleen and I began to yoyo back and forth along the ridge.

One of my goals in this section was to hit “Q’s view” – a major viewpoint near the southern end of the ridge — before sunset. We had been in clouds for many of the views during the race, but it had cleared now and I was looking forward to a sunset view. We hit on time, but Kathleen announced that she would be taking a bathroom break there. I took the announcement as a request for privacy, and even if it wasn’t, I would have felt a little odd lingering for the view. I guess I’ll have to go back.

The trail from there was gorgeous runnable singletrack, and I was happy to try to cover a little bit more of it before needing the headlamp. This trail ends at Crisman Hollow road, which then winds down to the next AS. I was enjoying a good pace cruising down the road, as darkness set in. I became convinced that the road was going on longer than what I had been told, and I began to look for a ribbon. No ribbons, no ribbons, come on … Worried that I missed a turn and that I was going to have to climb back up, I slowed to a walk. But after a few minutes, I saw Kathleen’s headlamp behind me, and suddenly a ribbon ahead of me. I picked it up and headed down to the aid station, with Kathleen right behind me again.

This was my first night aid station, and I enjoyed the lights and soaked in that feeling that unique feeling of a night aid station. I had passed my previous furthest distance run, and I was happy to find that my legs had not yet exploded. I was more than fatigued and looking forward to being able to get off my feet for good, but I could still hike and run.

Miles 78.1 to 81.6 (Visitor Center to Bird Knob) – Again I lingered at the AS too long. Even with a blanket over me, I was thoroughly chilled by the time I got up to go. I wouldn’t get warm again until the climb up Bird Knob started in earnest. This was a stiff climb, but again the poles helped me crank up it. I must have been moving well because when I caught Kathleen, she remarked: “Someone’s feeling good. I passed her for the last time there. There’s a nice view point at the top, and I peeked out at the distant lights, but there was too much wind to linger. (New goal: When I come back for Q’s view, I’ll just have to speed up a bit to make it here before sunset.) The section ends with some runnable double track into the AS, which seemed to come sooner than expected. I had told myself I wouldn’t sit here. But they had homemade mac & cheese that looked amazing, and a cranking space heater, so I sat just long enough to inhale a bowl. I eyed the bottle of bourbon on the table, and thought about the warmth it could bring to my core, but I was riding the edge of exhaustion with too much night running left to do. I got out of there.

Miles 81.6 to 87.9 (Bird Knob to Picnic Area) – I recall running along a forest road for a fraction of a mile and then hanging a left on singletrack and heading up. But after that I have basically no memory of the rest of this section other than arriving at the aid station. From looking at the course profile, I can tell you that it goes up and down a couple of times before descending steeply to the aid station, but I don’t recall a step of it. I think that I may have spent much of the section attempting to do pacing math, over and over with different results. At some point, I settled on one thing: that I really wanted to be back at Gap Creek, the last aid station, by 22 hours. So that I would have a full 2 hours to cover the last 6 mile section. I figured I could do it in less, but I knew that I was slowing on the technical climbs and descents, and I wanted the cushion.  I do recall coming into Picnic Area AS. I got to see crew here again, and I was also waited on by an attentive volunteer. Maybe it was just his way of dealing with addled runners, but I got the sense that he was examining me closely to see if I still had it together. Probably had reason to, given my memory. If so, I must have satisfied him, because he soon began to push me to get out of the aid station. It was good advice, but it was still too late to avoid another case of the chills.

Miles 87.9 to 96.8 (Picnic Area to Gap Creek II)  I left stiff and shivering, and unfortunately this section starts with some technical downhill. So I was trying to pick my way down rocks, shivering, and propped up by Dan’s poles. It soon became more runnable and I warmed up. Then the trail began to climb. There’s nearly 4 miles of climbing here. Either I can recall this much better than the prior section, or my imagination has filled it in. The trail climbs up to a road crossing, then along some grassy double track, then into the woods, all gradually at first, but eventually more steeply up the Big Run trail. I was warned that I would be climbing a creek bed with running water, but I climbed on and on and on up dry trail. I began get upset that I wasn’t stumbling around in the creek, because I knew the climb wouldn’t end until I did. When I finally found it, it was no big deal compared to the miles of stream hiking out of Camp Roosevelt.  Near the top, I had my only near-bonk experience. I felt my energy dipping to its lowest point of the race. I had two gels that I had carried almost 50 miles for a moment just like this. I sat on a rock and looked at them, they looked back at me. Ending the standoff, I forced them down. A few minutes later I was feeling better. I used the poles to make my way down the descent and along some rocky trail out to a dirt road.

This section ends with a bit less than 2 miles of dirt road. I hit that road with about 20 minutes to spare on my 22 hour goal. I jogged, poles ticking along, at a pace that felt about right. I pulled into the AS at exactly 22 hours, with a bit of disbelief that I hit the target on the nose. But mostly it was relief and excitement. Just one section to go, and barringmajor misstep, I was going to get it done.

 

Miles 96.8 to 103 (Gap Creek II to Finish)  During the prior section, I had the sense for the first time in a while that there were people behind me, but I didn’t see them until the road just before the aid station. Three guys came in within the few minutes that I was there, and there were also people coming in from the other direction, just hitting Gap Creek I at mile 69. I had been running alone and encountering only the same couple people for so much of the day. It felt strange to find myself in the middle of so much activity.

I climbed up Kerns again, but this time with headlamps ahead and behind. This climb wasn’t easy the first time, and it didn’t get easier with 7 hours of additional wisdom and experience. At this stage of exhaustion, the technical descent off the other side was even worse. I figured a broken skull was one of the ways I could blow this thing. So I just stepped aside and let two runners go ahead. Place did not matter, only the ticking clock did. The trail seemed to go on longer than it should, and I had a momentary relapse of anxiety. But eventually I hit the road a touch under 23 hours, and the anxiety lifted. I could cover 3.5 mostly downhill road miles in an hour.

I set out between 9 and 10 min pace, which physically felt decent, but with the anxiety gone, I struggled to keep up the effort. I saw no point in pushing, even when another runner passed me here. I allowed myself several short walk breaks, but kept returning to a decent running pace. Soon enough I turned off the road and pushed up the final little kicker hill into the campground. From there it’s down a little trail, across a high single log bridge (thankfully, there’s one handrail or I might have taken a DNF right there), and around the field into the flood lights at the finish line.

I enjoyed a handshake from the RD and the warm congratulations of my crew. There were so many feelings and thoughts swirling around at that moment, but most of all it was relief, joy, gratitude, exhaustion, and an urgent need to pile on layers before the chills set in.

19403790_10213940134964011_1884058611_oThe numbers: 23:41:31. 19th place. The last sub-24 hour finisher. Per GPS: 101.4 miles, with 20,315 ft of gain.

I couldn’t sleep much that morning. I soaked in the tub, sipped on a beer, laid uncomfortably in bed, and sobbed, several times. I have run a bunch of long, hard races, including some that I was unsure I could finish or that have pushed me to exhaustion. But I have never felt so overwhelmed after a finish. I don’t know that I could put those feelings into words. I don’t really want to try. But from where I am now, a month and a half out, I have some thoughts on how this one feels different. I had finally faced up to a challenge that had scared and inspired me for years, I had made a plan to get it done, I had stuck to it, and it had worked. That in itself is immensely gratifying. I rarely plan and execute that well, even at distances I am comfortable with. But at this distance it also felt transformative. I was governed by caution in this attempt, I will be pushed by confidence in my next. I am not about to get cocky. I know that there are a million things that could have gone wrong in this race, but didn’t. I know I won’t get that lucky every time, especially if I push to run faster. But I know now that I am capable and how to get it done. I am not afraid of 100 miles anymore.

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This race was an amazing personal experience for me, and so many people helped to make it possible. I can’t thank Dan and Amy enough for building their vacation around the race and being there to help me out. They were a perfect support crew, and I owe them, big league. Huge thanks to my Dad for being there to help as well. It is always such a lift to have family there for events like this, and I feel so lucky that he takes pride in seeing me out there. And I am grateful to Ron for coming down and filming, helping out with the support. Ron’s been there for so many of my big races over the years, and he knows better than most how I run them. It was reassuring to have him there, and I feel honored that he came down to film this one. I am extremely grateful to #TrailsRoc, both as an organization that thought I was worth backing, and as a community of runners whose cheers buoyed me in training and in the race and whose congratulations kept making me tear up afterwards. The race organization and the volunteers were amazing, and I really appreciate the work and time it takes. They put on a flawless race. And of course, I owe the biggest thanks to my wife, who puts up with all the hours I spend training and thinking about these things and who took care of our two young kids while I was playing in the mountains. None of this would have been possible without her.

This report is directly from the runner – #TrailsRoc has not altered, any of the writing and we are not affiliated with the writer in any way outside of sport of trail running

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”

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Every winter we award scholarships to runners to tackle the race of their choosing. We support them financially, training, and with encouragement and energy. In return they wear our shirt, and write us a post race recap.

As one of our sponsorship winners in 2015, Danielle Snyder traveled to Canada to tackle the Squamish 50K. Her story is below.

Some experiences are difficult to explain using words, the vastness of the experience is just too great to capture. Usually I can do a pretty good job somehow finding a way to describe it but trying to come up with the right words for my Squamish experience has been utterly impossible. As a part of my TrailsROC’s sponsorship, I was asked to complete a race report and I have just struggled to get my shit together and write something that completely captures the experience. Here is my futile effort at describing something that can’t be described:

Back in August, my friend, Tammy, started to research races and spotted a race called SQUAMISH. Like any good runner friend, she told me to look up the race. She said something about mountains, it being called Squamish and I didn’t need to look up the race, I just told her I was in. This is how most of my trail adventures start, limited knowledge about the actual race and more of a tag along effort. As awesome as Squamish sounded, it seemed a bit far fetched. We chatted about it and I decided to enter the TrailsROC’s scholarship on a whim not thinking I would win. Somehow, out of all the other awesome applicants, I was picked to represent TrailsRoc at Squamish. This locked me into the race and I called up Tammy and said: “Hope you were serious about this race because we are going!” (I am not sure any of us were that serious about it until that point). Since winning the scholarship, it has been a series of ups and down training for the race. Tammy, the mastermind behind the plan, had to undergo a significant surgery and could not run. Watching a friend being unable to do the thing she loves is heartbreaking. But in true Tammy form, she went along for the ride, was one of the main reasons this trip happened and the race was successful.

Prior to leaving for BC, my amazing friends threw me a party to celebrate the experience. I couldn’t write this race report without recognizing how thoughtful it was for them to do that. Although I am a tad superstitious (by tad, I mean EXTREMELY), they handled me trying to cancel the party because I was so afraid I was not going to finish. To a lot of people, it was only a 50k but to me, it was going to be a huge challenge. My friends who love me regardless of my idiosyncrasies, refused to cancel and gave me the best party a girl could ask for! I left for the trip feeling extremely blessed and encouraged. The three of us (Tammy, Emily and I) boarded a propeller plane seating 20 people to begin the adventure on August 19th. We arrived in the gorgeous city of Vancouver and everywhere you look there are mountains. I fell in love with BC as soon as we arrived and the days leading up to the race were full of exploring: we went to a nude beach, explored the city and mountains. The night before the race, we went to packet pickup and just seeing the other runners gave me butterflies. They had some serious muscles and you could tell these runners were the real deal.

August 23: The morning of the race! We wake up and there is a huge crack in the windshield of our rental car…. and it proceeds to get worse as we drive the winding mountains to the start. Thankfully we arrived at the start without a complete shattered windshield!

The morning was gorgeous, a bit chilly but temps were predicated to get hot. I have butterflies in my stomach and am so thankful for Em and Tammy to keep me semi-calm. The RD talked a bit to us and informed us that anyone who liters is DQ’ed (which I dig). Everywhere I look around, people are smiling and embracing each other. Even in a city so far away, I immediately feel welcomed and reminded about why I love the trail community. The start was mostly single and dusty track, it had not rained for quite sometime. I had heard the first 10k was flat but around mile 3, we encountered a portion kindly termed a “hill”. This was not a hill, it was the size of Bristol!!! But the runners around me informed that this was nothing compared to what was going to happen. I quickly learned that Rochester and BC’s definition of flat vastly differs. Going up the little warm-up hill, I talked to this Adidas Rep who filled me in a about the race and warned me about the portions to come. He said after this flat portion the real climbing started and boy, was he right! After the first Aid Station, we came to the first big climb of the course which I was told was the worst. It went up, up and then up some more. I cruised through the climb but the downhill killed me. It was super technical and my quads did not get that type of training. Feeling a bit discouraged about the fact I was so tired before Mile 10, I focused on the beautiful trails and making it to Tammy. At mile 15, I finally make it to Tammy! As I climb towards the aid station, I look up and the entire courtyard is full of dogs. I think mountain and puppies, this is my heaven. I see Tammy smiling and I am just beyond grateful for her support. I tell her: “this is the fucking hardest thing I have ever done.” Then hugged a stranger’s dog for a bit. It had gotten really hot at this point and as happy as I was to see her, I was really tired already. I got a little teary-eyed and told her I didn’t know how I was going to finish. Like any good friend, she said something along the lines of,” oh you are finishing. Now go.” And Off I went! Every climb I completed, I focused on the amazing views and continued to fight with the voice that told me I wasn’t going to finish. I continued to just tell myself make it to Tammy at the last check point. My legs got less tired and I started to make up some time. At the final check point, Tammy was expected to be there. When I arrived and she wasn’t there, I decided in my head that I had ran the last section so fast, I beat my crew! Looking back now, I recognize that is not possible but during the race, it was such a motivating thought. The last miles of the course are what some consider the hardest but at this point, I knew I was finishing and just kept moving. We climbed one of the harder climbs of the day and met some dude at the top who informed us it was smooth sailing from there. At the bottom of the climb, there were some rock climbers hanging out on the cliffs. I stopped for a few seconds, asked if I could climb and then remembered I had to finish this race and started moving again. Someone yelled at me only 2 km left and I was pumped until I realized I had no idea how far 2 km was… I was ready to be done. In the past, the last mile of a race has always been a grind but this race, the voice of my friend, Liz came to me. She always says: “This is the last mile you will ever run for this race, you better enjoy it. “ And that I did. I actually looked back and took in the mountains we just climbed and let it soak in. I head up the road saw Tammy’s smiling face and headed towards Gary (the RD) for the finish. Gary is well-known in BC for his huge hugs for every racer who finishes and he had a huge hug waiting for me as I crossed the finish line.

The website for Squamish reads: “The Squamish 50 races are TOUGH, truly unforgettable trail running experiences. The Squamish 50 – 50 km is a very challenging course as evidenced by the 11-hour cut off time. ” (Ascent: 2500 m / 8500 ft
Descent: 2750 m). I had read that description prior to starting to the course but didn’t really process it until I saw the mountains. I thought I had climbed mountains before this race. I thought I understood what mountain running was. And boy, was I wrong! Going up one of the mountains, I pointed out an amazing view, someone recognized my accent and asked where I was from. I told them New York and they asked me how I trained for this type of climbing. I talked about my trips to the ADK’s and hill repeats and the guy laughed. He said: “The Adirondacks are molehills compared to our mountains.” At some point in my life I might have been offended by this comment but after that race, I couldn’t agree more with that statement. Those were some mountains.

Even on beautiful amazing trails, when it gets tough, it is really easy to get down on yourself. You start to look at your accomplishments and there is always someone who is running more, harder, longer, etc. It is hard as a human not to compare yourself to other’s accomplishments and start to belittle yourself or not believe in yourself. After you work so hard for a goal, it is difficult not to think about what you could have done better. Each time I go into the woods, I always receive a take home lesson. In the mountains of British Columbia, I learned that it is not about the fastest time, the furthest distance but about the amount of heart. I can honestly say, I have never used as much heart during a race as I did during Squamish. It was by far, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Not only because the size of the mountains but because I was able to overcome not believing in myself. Toeing that start line, the biggest challenge for me was starting the race not believing in myself. Somehow those mountains helped find a portion of myself I had lost. I’ve said it before and I am sure will say it again but the mountains are like coming home.

I am so very grateful to TrailsROC for the scholarship. Without the scholarship, I am not sure this adventure would have happened and it helped propel a once in a life time change to run an amazing race. And to my friends and family who never stop believing in me (even when I don’t believe in myself), I couldn’t do anything without you guys. Life is very much like the trails we run, when things get hard, you put one foot in front of the other and hang on until it gets easier.

Manitou’s Revenge Race Report

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This race report was originally published on TrailsROC! Co-Founder Ben Murphy’s website.

Well, that was one hell of an adventure. This past weekend’s Manitou’s Revenge Ultramarathon more than lived up to its brutal reputation, and I had an absolute blast. This was easily the most fun I’ve ever had in a race due to the beautiful setting, the amazing racers and volunteers, and the sheer ridiculousness of the course and the conditions. It was also probably the worst time I’ve ever had in a race due to circumstances out of my control that, ultimately, ended up costing me the chance to finish – exiting the race at mile 44, scratching my head on what had become a pretty bizarre situation.

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To say I was intimidated by Manitou’s going into the race would be an understatement. 54 miles of super technical mountain “running” with 17,000’ of climb (and possibly 18,000’ of descent) over more than a dozen mountains should give anyone pause. As far as I’m aware, this is the only 50 miler on the planet that has earned a coveted 4 point rating from UTMB’s qualifying system. Enough said. My head space was a jumble going into this one as the reality of what I was about to bite off set in (course profile above).

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I drove down to the Catskills the day before the race, setup camp at Devil’s Tombstone, and popped down to the beautiful little mountain town of Phoenicia for packet pickup (image above). It was still early in the afternoon, so I headed over to North South Lake for a brief mosey on the Escarpment Trail to shakeout my legs and clear my head. Which was exactly what I needed, the views instantly reminding me of why I do all this (below image of NS Lake from Sunset Rock). I hit the sack pretty early given the 2:30am alarm and slept well falling asleep to the sounds of owls up in the mountains.

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I woke up early, had some food and coffee, geared up, and headed down the road to catch the 3:30am bus to the start line. Made some new friends, connected with some facebook friends, and enjoyed chatting with folks from, literally, all around the world as we waited for our wave starts gunning off every five minutes starting at 5:00am. It was cold at the start (in the high 40’s) with a beautiful sunrise, and it seemed everyone was happy that the day’s high temps wouldn’t climb out of the 70’s. I certainly was. Also, there were storms forecast for later in the day; something that would make the race interesting for everyone but the winners.

My wave gunned off at 5:15am, and we settled in down the back road from the Maplecrest, NY recreation area. After an easy 5k of rolling pavement transitioning into dirt, we made a turn onto the trail and started the first climb of the day up to Acra Point. An easy ascent, topping out on the ridge before hitting the first sizable climb of the race up Blackhead. It’s a testament to the difficulty of this race that Blackhead – which gains 1,000’ in under a mile, requiring hands-on climbing – is merely considered an “easy” warm-up climb for the rest of the race. I made the top of Blackhead around the 2ish hour mark and began the long descent down into the Dutcher’s Notch Aid Station. Checked in, said hello, grabbed some fruit and then headed out for the long, but not-too-steep climb up to Stopple Point. Saw the plane wreck (image below) and knew I was near the top. Another 4ish miles of descent brought me into the North South Lake Aid Station in 4:45, right on target at a very comfortable pace. I checked in, restocked on water, grabbed some eats, said hello to the great volunteers from Mountain Peak Fitness and headed out for the long descent into the Palenville Aid Station on fairly runnable trails, making it there at just over 6 the hour mark, right on target.

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At some point I inquired how many people were still behind me. Not many. 6 or 7. I wouldn’t see any of them until later, but it speaks to the toughness of this race that there really aren’t any of your typical back-of-packers on this course. Certainly, the entry process is designed to weed out anyone who shouldn’t be out there (it’s the only race I’ve entered that asked me to list my mountaineering experience), but even the “slow” folks are individuals who have completed races like MMT100, Hardrock 100, and Grindstone. This is an elite field.

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I was shooting to take the front portion of the race into Palenville at a comfortable, but steady 15-17ish minute/mile average pace. I figured that would leave something in the tank for the back half of the race, which I knew would be infinitely harder than the front half. Which is really saying something, because when you run the infamous Escarpment Trail (image above of one of the flat, easy parts just before North South Lake) as the warm-up? Well, that’s just crazinesss. This course is absolutely unforgiving, rocky, rooty, steep, unpredictable, and gets exponentially harder the further you go.

And now, we bring you, “things you can do, but shouldn’t do, when mountain running with poles”:*

1.) Don’t do a snot rocket when moving, because if the tip of your pole hits a rock you could get punched in the face with the handle of the pole, resulting in a bloody lip.

2.) If you’re making switchback turns, don’t straddle the pole as a shortcut because it could catch on a rock or a root and hit you in the balls. Hard.

(*I may or may not have done any of these things. I’m pleading the 5th.)

Herein ends this segment of “things you can do, but shouldn’t do when mountain running with poles.”

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I felt good heading out of Palenville, making the easy road crossing over the river, and looking for the next turn up KHP (Kaaterskill High Peak), which, while not a technical climb, is the fourth most prominent peak in the Catskills, making for a nice little 2,500’ grind up from Palenville. Which broke me. I was good for the first 1,000’ feet or so as it was basically steep access road, very reminiscent of some of the steeper Hi-Tor climbs back home. But it kept going. And going. And I had forgotten to fuel. And… boom. Stopped. Regrouped. Kept plodding. Noticed some hikers easily keeping pace. Starting pushing harder and refueling. As I hit the plateau in the middle of the climb the refueling kicked in and a few stops at ice cold river crossings (image below from the top of the falls, plunging over 100’ into the valley below) helped me refresh and get moving back on pace. I made the final push through the unbelievable amount of mud and roots, speed hiking at an easy 4mph clip headed down into the 50k mark at Platte Clove on target in 9:48 – feeling really good, ready to grab my drop bag, restock, and head out for the back portion of the race trying to book as much daylight time as possible before the forecast rain and thunderstorms rolled in.

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Except that when I arrived at Platte Clove Aid Station my drop bag wasn’t there. The labeled bag I had personally handed to the race director early that morning and watched him put it in his car with all the others… was nowhere to be found. Nowhere. How could that even happen in a race this well organized?!? Really?!? Talk about a sucker punch. I was speechless.

I was running on my own with no crew or pacer, so every single thing I needed for the back 23 miles of the race (which are waaaaay harder than the front 31) was in that bag. Carefully planned out, calculated, and packed ahead of time. Headlamp, backup headlamp, backup batteries (all required items in order to even leave this aid station), all my nutrition for the next 10+ hours, rain gear, dry socks… Totally missing in action. I thought for sure there had been some mistake, that my drop bag had been misplaced under a chair or a tarp, but the volunteers turned the place upside down trying to help me out. Nope. The thing had vanished. I was livid.

I tried really hard to keep the words in my head from coming out of my mouth, but I could tell the volunteers were picking up on my frustration. Clearly, I was pissed. I tried to retain some semblance of politeness (and I was told afterward that I did, in fact, manage that), but… I was beyond angry. How could I possibly not be? I hadn’t worked that hard to get to this point in the race, set up right where I wanted to be, and then have to throw in the towel because some bonehead didn’t compare the bag # with the race checklist.

The storm blew in. Misting rain quickly turned into a downpour. I watched as all the racers I’d been ahead of checked through the aid station one by one and went on their way. I stood there, totally helpless as calls were made. No cell phone reception. This is the Catskills, after all. Volunteers drove out to nearby houses multiple times to use landlines and try to send texts from where a cell signal could be received. I did manage to get a call out to the race director. Voicemail was full. Nothing.

The volunteers, to their credit, went all out. Let me borrow jackets to keep warm in the rain, made sure I refueled while I was waiting. I didn’t sit down, which I think helped keep my legs feeling fresh – did some yoga to loosen up and just kept pacing until I got an answer. I definitely knew two things: 1.) I wasn’t dropping there unless I was absolutely forced to; 2.) I’m asking for a refund. Finally, after over an hour, word came through that my drop bag had been located. It had been picked up and taken to the finish line prematurely. Problem is, the finish was a 45 minute drive away. One way. There was no way they could get it to me before the sweeps arrived and the aid station closed down.

And, right on cue, the sweeps arrived. They heard what had happened, and – confirming that I was indeed crazy enough to continue given the circumstances – pulled extra gear from their packs – headlamps, rain shell, extra nutrition – and offered it without hesitation. They also informed the volunteer in no uncertain terms that my drop bag had better be waiting for me at the next Aid Station – regardless of who had to hike how long through what to get it there. And off I went.

I left Platte Clove in dead last, having lost an hour and thirteen minutes as a result of this whole fiasco. I arrived 9:48 into the race. I left 11:01 into the race, technically already behind cutoff. I’ll never know for sure, but the whole clusterfuck may have cost me a finish. It was, at the very least, a major factor.

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I pushed through the remainder of the Platte Clove Preserve, making good time as the rain came down harder, and harder, and harder. I’d run Devil’s Path twice before and it’s tough in perfect conditions (google “toughest most dangerous hikes in the world.” Devil’s Path will be on the list). Toss in high winds, driving rain, dropping temps, and waning daylight and it becomes a bit more challenging. Scary as shit, actually. Easily one of the more frightening things I’ve ever done. (Right up there with scrambling down off the summit ridge of Katahdin in a lightening storm.) Clearly, I’m not an especially risk averse person, but… I really wouldn’t recommend doing Devil’s Path in these conditions. The climb up Indian Head helped remind me just how tricky these ascents and descents were (see above image from the Platte Clove Aid Station – stolen from Dick Vincent – you can do the math). Hand over fist. Up. And up. And up. There were no sweeping views of the mountains around me. Just wind, rain, and fog. I wish I’d taken pictures, but… it was raining hard enough that I thought better of it not wanting to destroy my phone. Plus, I was trying to make the Mink Hollow Aid Station before a cutoff that I was, technically, already behind of. I managed to bank 30 minutes through Devil’s Path making it from Platte Clove Preserve to Mink Hollow in 4.5 hours. It was dicey. Downright terrifying in places. The rocks, roots, mud… everything was slick and this is a trail where you simply cannot afford to fall. Implementing a “measure twice, cut once” philosophy, I tried to make it through as quickly as caution would allow. Made it through Indian Head, up and down Twin, and up and down Sugarloaf (always a bear), only taking a few minor falls. The sweeps kept a good pace and caught up with me coming down off of Sugarloaf and I actually welcomed the company. Great guys, and great conversation helped pass the time on a pretty ludicrous descent into Mink Hollow. Made good time and only needed the headlamp for the last ten minutes or so before hitting the Mink Hollow Aid Station.

My drop bag was, indeed, waiting for me at Mink Hollow. Checked in, restocked everything, returned the borrowed gear (except for the shell, which the sweeps graciously allowed me to hang on to for however long I needed it) while I grabbed my own gear, repacked and headed on out ready to hammer out the last 15 miles. Which… I thought at the time would take me roughly 7 hours and I’d still be able to finish under the 24 hour cutoff. I felt good leaving Mink Hollow.

And then Plateau destroyed me. I didn’t realize until part way up that I hadn’t been fueling/hydrating properly having been so focused on the hand and foot work necessary to traverse Devils safely. It’s hard to eat and drink when your hands are occupied trying not to fall off a mountain. And, as dumb as it sounds, you don’t want to stop to eat/drink because, well, it’s a race.

As I climbed, in the dark, headlamp piercing the blowing rain and fog trying to locate trail markers above me, I was falling apart. Heartbeat was spiking. Core temp noticeably dropping. My memory of Plateau as being “not as bad as the other peaks on Devil’s” was clearly wrong.

A thousand feet into the climb up the side of Plateau Mountain (w/ 500′ more to go) balled up by the side of the trail in the dark alone in the middle of a storm dry heaving and trying not to pass out as my core temperature dropped, it occurred to me that I might want to spend some time weighing the pros and cons of pulling out of the race regardless of the whole drop bag fiasco thing costing me significant time. Exposure in the mountains can have dire consequences, and I was not in a good place. Not that I’d have the option of dropping out in the near future. Down climbing super steep/technical terrain in the pouring rain back to an aid station that was most likely packed up and gone wasn’t an option. I knew if I hit the top I’d have 4 miles of flat/downhill to the next checkpoint. It took me something like 2.5 hours to cover those four miles of mud, roots, and rocks in the fog and driving rain. I tried to refuel, and slowly felt it kicking in, hoping I’d be ok by Silver Hollow Notch to swap out some warmer clothes, and successfully regroup like I’d done earlier in the race. And knowing the sweeps were behind me was a good margin of safety; I could see their headlamps behind me.

But I was flagging. I knew, objectively in the back of my mind, that the right call was to safely get to the aid station and be done even though I didn’t want to be. This race isn’t going anywhere. I can come back. I was freezing; I’ve done enough sub-zero winter running to know the early signs of hypothermia and how hard it is to reverse it when you’re away from civilization. Mountain running requires a high level of self-sufficiency, it’s not like there was an EMT crew around the corner if something went wrong. I’d be looking at hours in a dire situation (at best). I also had two more big climbs (and descents) and a river crossing ahead of me. And I was behind the cutoff pace. True, that part wasn’t my fault, but… it was the reality I was faced with and my health wasn’t worth the gamble. My family is more important.

So, as we hit the Silver Hollow Notch Aid Station just under 19 hours into the race (17:45 in adjusted time), I pulled the plug. It was definitely the right call. But it still irks me. Did the delay cost me the race? Who knows? I think that it did. It certainly reduced my odds considerably. Without the delay I would have banked more time on dry trail, and would have topped Plateau in daylight – which had been my goal. I’m fairly certain I could have slogged it out from there, but I’ll never know. It was such a major blow to be dealt that deep into a big race where mental game is everything. I’m certainly proud of myself for sticking it out when most folks would have just thrown in the towel. But it pushed me to dead last when, in fact, I hadn’t been. I made good time through Devil’s Path, even in the rain, and would have had a :90 cushion from the sweeps if the whole fiasco hadn’t happened. That’s an extra 2-3 miles, which is almost exactly the margin I was behind 24 hour pace by the time I exited. It’s frustrating.

I do know that I’ll be back out there next year and will knock this thing out.

THE AFTERMATH

As the sweeps proceeded onward and the volunteers tore down the aid station and we hiked down to the cars, the thunder and lightening rolled in making things even crazier. It rained so hard that my waterproof headlamp filled with water and the lens looks like an aquarium (although… it still works). My emergency lighter – double wrapped in two plastic ziplocs – bit the dust.

We made it back into town. Back to the finish. Changed into dryer clothes, grabbed some food, hung out for a bit, headed back to camp. It was raining so hard I didn’t even bother getting out of the car. Just went to sleep in my seat. Woke up when the rain died down and crawled into my dry tent and warm down mummy bag. Woke up late Sunday morning, the sun had come out. I cleaned up, ate (food below; I don’t skimp on eating even when camping), packed up, hit the road home.

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I ran for 19 hours on Saturday. I’ve never done that before (previous longest was 12). So that’s really cool. Opens up all sorts of possibilities. There are two bruises on my forehead, I’m not sure why. I vaguely remember smacking my head off a tree climbing up Plateau in the dark. I must have hit harder than I thought.

My body feels remarkably good sitting here 48 hours after. I’m certainly tired. Definitely beat. But, my legs never felt spent during the race. I have a few aches, pains, and sore spots, but I’m not stiff, and I went for a 3+ mile walk today. It didn’t suck. Ready to get moving again and go have fun racing Escarpment in July.

All in all? An amazing experience. And, despite the frustrations, I did have a blast. Loved it. Can’t wait to come back and knock it out. Congratulations to everyone who finished this year! Brian Rusiecki and Sheryl Wheeler killed it for the win (in absurdly fast times), and anyone who stuck it out through the storm is to be heartily commended!

Should you sign up? Depends what floats your boat. If you like hard races, mountains, and are comfortably self-sufficient in remote settings? You can’t beat Manitou’s Revenge. Despite my experience, I really was impressed with the overall organization and attention to detail of this race. Can’t say enough good things about it. The course speaks for itself. You aren’t going to find a harder 50 miler anywhere apart from Barkley’s fun run. This race is a beast and then some.

SPLITS (Approximate):
– NS Lake, 16 miles: 4:45
– Palenville, 21 miles: 6:06
– Platte Clove, 31 miles: arrived 9:48
– Platte Clove, 31 miles: didn’t get to leave until 11:01
– Mink Hollow, 39 miles: 15:36 (14:23, adjusted)
– Silver Notch Hollow, 44 miles (just under +/-30k’), 18:58 (17:45, adjusted), DNF

GEAR: Altra Lone Peak 2.0, UD Hydration Vest with 70ounce bladder, Easton ATR-70 Poles, Princeton Tec EOS Headlamp, Garmin Forerunner 310XT

MORE INFORMATION:
Manitou’s Revenge Ultra – Official Site
Mountain Peak Fitness Photo Gallery (Incredible!!)
Official Manitou’s Revenge Ultramarathon & Relay 2015 Results

UPDATE: In follow-up to what happened, the race director reached out, apologized profusely, is issuing me a refund, and already has me entered for 2016’s race. I said it was a well-run event. I also found out that he personally hiked my drop bag up to Mink Hollow, in the rain, meaning he had to miss the winners coming through. Stand-up guy. Thank you, Charlie!

I’ve also been featured in two running media outlets as a result of my Manitou’s experience. Pretty cool!

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RUNNING INSIDE OUT PODCAST: Episode 4 – A Pretty Dicey Situation (available on iTunes)

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ULTRARUNNING MAGAZINE: Meet Ben Murphy – a 2015 Participant in Manitou’s Revenge (available in the July 2015 issue, as well as online)

Unless otherwise noted, all images Copyright Ben Murphy, 2015, All Rights Reserved.

The Mountain Moves for No One

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Every winter we award scholarships to runners to tackle the race of their choosing. We support them financially, training, and with encouragement and energy. In return they wear our shirt, and write us a post race recap.

Dan Lopata was one of our winners and the first to tackle his scholarship race. Below is his recap! Enjoy.

 

You don’t climb mountains without a team, you don’t climb mountains without being fit, you don’t climb mountains without being prepared and you don’t climb mountains without balancing the risks and rewards. And you never climb a mountain on accident – it has to be intentional

~ Mark Udall

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13 years ago, filled with piss and vinegar, running away from a failed marriage, behaving in unseemly ways that contradict my morals and ethics (which are socially, not religiously bound) I arrived at a mountain certain that I would finish a 103.7 mile footrace on it…

I failed.

Fast forward to May 16th-17th this year, I arrived at the same mountain, with the intention of finishing the 103.7 mile footrace on it. Spoiler alert, I made it just under 70 miles in 24 hours before being pulled from the course…

I succeeded.

Yes, I covered fewer miles this year. Yes, I didn’t achieve the intended outcome. Yes, I still don’t have a buckle from Massanutten Mountain 100 Miler. But I still succeeded.

On May 15th at 6:00 AM Amy and I headed to Massanutten Mountain for my return engagement with Virginia Happy Trails Running Club’s (VHTRC) premiere event. This return engagement was a long time in the making and made possible by a generous scholarship from #TrailsROC, the running club I belong to in Rochester.

I don’t just mention #TrailsROC because it is my obligation to as a result of the scholarship, it is because this group and its members are indicative of the larger reason why I consider this outing a success.

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Sunshine Road Trip

Amy was coming along because she wanted to crew for me. This alone is a new experience for me, I was nervous because I have never had a crew before, I have always just relied on aid stations and drop bags in the past. This change in behavior was going to be different, I was worried about feeling responsible for my crew, I was worried that Amy was going to take my gruffness the wrong way, I was worried about a change in routine. Some of this was founded and some not. It took some getting used to as I was expecting bottles to be handed to me right as I passed through the first aid station, but waited for them to be brought out of the cooler. Also, I ran right by where Amy had set up shop going into the Elizabeth Furnace aid station because it was before the aid station and I was concerned about getting to the aid station and having my number recorded so I had to walk about 50 yards back to Amy’s set up. And then there was the little dispute about a buff vs. a bandanna.

All of that was minor… the actuality of the situation is that I have never had better care and attention through aid stations in my entire ultra career. Amy knows me, she knows when I’m feeling good, and when the wheels are off. She made sure that anything I needed or asked for was at the ready. She got me coffee, chicken broth, socks, shirts, shoes, bandannas, buffs, headlamps, batteries, pepperoni jerky, ginger root, ginger ale, tailwind, trekking poles, mountain dew, turkey sandwiches, pierogis, quesadillas, bacon, water, bag balm, chocolate covered espresso beans, and she made sure that officials knew I was on the course still when they thought everyone had come through……. Just amazing!

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May 16th.

3 AM is an early wakeup call, but it happened, I threw on my #trailsROC shirt, my sleeves, my Northface Nearly Naked Long Haul shorts (which elicited some great comments later as I was pulling little bottles out of hidden pockets all over the place at an aid station), 2-Toms chafing solution (which doesn’t work well if you’re wearing cotton underwear… there’s a lesson learned) SmartWool Socks, NB MT110v2 shoes, Ultimate Directions AK Race Vest with bottles, and a buff. I headed down to the start to check in and they were cranking “Get up, Get on Up” James Brown J Hanging out I got to see fellow #trailsROC runner Yoshi and get his picture with me.

The scene is surreal, you have a PVC pipe made start/finish line with a clock counting down to 4:00 AM and tons of people just leisurely sitting in seats under a tent. It wasn’t until 3 minutes of 4:00 that anyone got up to get near the start line, and then promptly at 4:00 AM Kevin Sayers says “go” in the most unassuming start for one of the most epic races ever. I have seen the cannon shot and start at Kona, I have seen the Boston and NYC marathon start, I have felt the immense power of the understated simple “go” at the MMT 100 mile footrace, and it is no less spectacular than any of those others.

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Yoshi

Start

I don’t want to get into a play by play here, but I just want to mention that the first four miles of this race is a gentle uphill (600ft) of road. A guy I was running with quipped, “This is Bullshit!” which became quite the code for, “Yup, this is what I signed up for, let’s have fun with it.” Heard it while climbing Short Mountain, heard it while climbing Kern’s Mountain, heard it while descending into Elizabeth Furnace (Where I saw fellow #trailsROC runner and now VHTRC runner Angie K.), even said it while not being able to run the ridge at the top of the climb out of Elizabeth furnace. A bunch of us were having fun with this as we went along.

Angie

We also had a ton more in common, I wish I could count the number of times I heard people talk about that reason we were out there was to grapple with our demons. Not that I actually believe in demons, but I do have issues in my life and my psyche that I grapple with: alcoholism (in remission for 23 years), chronic depression, crippling self-doubt, and anxiety. These come out at the worst times, dealing with work, family, bands, household economics, marriage relationship, socially, politically, etc. One of the things about an ultra of this magnitude is that it is a tangible experience that reveals how wrong I am on so many counts when these “demons” rent space in my head. Part of the reason for this is that they show up during the event, and that happens usually at about 4.5 miles in a stretch of 9 miles without an aid station. What am I going to do? Sit down in the middle of the trail and cry/die because no one is going to lift me out? No, I put one foot in front of the other until I reach the next aid station. Usually around 6 or 7 miles in that stretch I realize that I continued to move forward even when I thought I couldn’t, and realize that my worry, self-doubt demon was just a false thought.

“Tired is not an injury”

Gap Creek

While I had the intention of going the distance, I also realistically knew that it might not happen. I told Ron Herkeens Jr. before the race that the only way to get my off of the course was to pull me off, even if it meant crawling. Mile 54, Habron Gap Aid Station, I was greeted by a volunteer who asked how I was doing, and if I was okay (must have looked dazed after 4 miles of exposed road running from the last aid station (that had guacamole). I just looked at him said, “Yeah, I’m okay, tired is not an injury.” He laughed and said that was the best quote he had heard all day. I had beat the cut-off by about an hour at this point and was told to sit and fuel up for a while because the next climb, Kern’s Mountain, was 2.5 miles and 1300+ feet of climb.

So I took some time, changed my shoes, socks and shirt, got a buff, ate some broth, got my trekking poles and set off. Kern’s is really tough, not just because it’s huge but because that four miles of road traversed before climbing it, affords a daunting view of the mountain to stare at. It’s breath taking, not just because of the beauty and anticipation/fear of the climb, but because breath is already gone from traversing 50 miles to this point. But tired is not an injury, and with numerous rest breaks I climbed this thing through the night and traversed this section to Camp Roosevelt with 15 minutes to spare before the cut-off. I didn’t dilly-dally, but I didn’t know that I had another 1000 ft of climb ahead of me, and a steep descent. I missed the next cut off at Gap Creek by 45 minutes, happy, grateful, sad, disappointed, proud, humbled, basically every emotion I own except one, the one that is my truest demon, the one that dogs my every step every day… Anger. There was no anger. THIS IS THE SUCCESS.

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

~ Sir Edmund Hillary

What did me in? My feet which were blistered pretty badly and in pain with each step. I was exhausted, there was no gas left in my tank, even though I fueled and hydrated really well. Basically out of the quote at the beginning of this piece, I was not fit. I can blame all sorts of things for this: long cold winter, rolled ankle in October that never completely properly healed, job/family constraints, new medication… but those are just excuses, the real reason is that I didn’t devote enough time to my fitness. I am 20 lbs heavier than I was last year when I ran Cayuga Trails 50. I have not been paying any attention to diet, which I never do. I have rationalized all of my missed workouts away. But as Steve Prefontaine said, “A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” I have myself to blame for not finishing.

But of my success the reality is because I have so many incredible people around me, my life is completely different than it was 13 years ago, I am not finished with this event by any stretch of the imagination, I did not quit.

Rock

My demon is not the DNF, nor the rock that goes with it, my demon was/is my anger that does not allow me to see the beauty. The voice that says I’m not fast enough, I’m not good enough, nobody likes me, I’m a second-rate bass player, I’m not an asset toROCSPOT… this is the voice that obscures the vision that sees: the community of #trailsROC, and Oven Door Runners, the community of my Soul Matters group at First Unitarian, the community of ex-drunks and druggies that infiltrate all areas of my life (work, music, First U, running), the community of my family, my kids, my incredible ultra-babe wife, the community of like-minded scientists and activists in ROCSPOT. This is the voice that obscures the vision of the beauty of the trail, the vista at the top of the climb and during the climb, the ridiculous finds of neat notes buried in old books at Sibley Music Library, the thrill of being a part of helping Rochester out of energy poverty and hopefully economic poverty, the smile in my wife’s face, the achievements of my oldest, youngest and in-between children. For a moment, for 24 hours, this demon was slayed.

And that is the magic of the mountain. It doesn’t care, it is just going to stand in my way and everyone else’s way and knock us down until we find a way up and over in order to see that incredible vista of all the things surrounding us and supporting us.

I’ll be back. Will I finish? I hope so. Does it matter? Yes, but not as much as all of the things I find along the way, and hopefully give back.

I owe so much to this one:

ultrababe

A few more pics, all pics are courtesy of Amy Lopata:

Yoshi run

First Aid

Elizabeth

Stats and splits can be found here at Strava.

Short Film: The Beast of Winter

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NOTE: This was reblogged from Ron’s blog http://ronheerkensjr.com/blog/2014/01/24/short-film-the-beast-of-winter/

In 2010, Ben Murphy began his journey. 5’9″ 220lbs, 70lbs overweight by medical definitions. Ben set about to change his life and began a journey that saw him get into running, triathlons and take on adventures most people never even think of. Just a few short years ago, Ben could barely make it thru a mile. One of the first adventures Ben did was a double traverse of the Crescent Trail, one that would take him 42 miles.

At 10am, on January 18th 2014, he lined up with a group of people that were just slightly as crazy as him. With temperatures in the teens and windchill pushing into the single and negative digits, runners set off for their own journeys. Some running 50 miles, other 100. All runners would face the same course. An out and back of 25 miles (12.5 one way) along the canal path starting in Lockport, NY and running to the turnaround point in Middleport, NY.

I had offered my services to Ben as crew and pacer (for the final 12.5 mile return) and he took me up on that. I recruited Lisa Murphy ,fellows #TrailsRoc runner and ultra runner, and her husband Tom, driver and crew chief extraordinaire. This enabled me to split my duties and be able to film as much as I could.

It was an amazing day to watch a friend set out and —— ….what you think I’m going to spoil the ending?

For filming I brought along my GoPro HD Hero 3 Black and my Sony DSC-WX100. I had the GoPro mounted to a stick the whole day, everything else was filmed hand held. GoPro was recorded in 2.7K and the Sony was recording in 1080p. I’m still impressed at the quality that Sony gets for video. Around mile 49 the batteries in the GoPro ran out resulting in some very shaky handheld footage from the iPhone. For a later mental note, I am not impressed with the nigh-time on the GoPro, but LOVE the results of the Sony at night. The result of the film is lacking in areas. If I had to do it again I would’ve brought my steadicam mount for the GoPro and filmed a lot of the static shots that eventually became the photos, and decide on some sort of narrative before hand.  This was one of the most footage I’ve ever had to edit down. 11+ hours worth of video with a goal to trim it under 10minutes. After several rough cuts I got it to where I was happy. Found some music on the Creative Commons on Soundcloud that seemed to fit well then went to work editing it down to its final form.

It feels good again to get back to film and editing. Putting something together with some meaning. It has always been one of my greatest joys in life, and to combine it with running feels natural. So…here is The Beast of Winter (available in 1080p as well)

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WTF Recaps

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mortfrozen

Well the WTF came and went – but the snow stayed – We could not have asked for more perfect conditions to kick off the winter racing season. There were so many thank yous to offer –

Eric offered up some of those thanks on his site Trails2Brews here.

We had amazing photographers pitch in and give us some great photos to remember the event by

Mike Lesher

Brian VanBuren

Alex Tong

Did you write a post race blog about the event? We saw a few right here – Loved them all – Thanks for the kind words – If you wrote one or know of one – Give us the link so we can add it in! We love hearing what you all thought of our events – It helps us improve.

“6. Nothing can compare to the beauty of trail running in the winter. I never have found this feeling during road races but something about trail running takes my breath away (and no, it wasnt because it was so cold). It was insanely beautiful.”

Daneille – We couldnt agree more!

Blogs below!

Jen http://fromrobotwithlove.blogspot.com/2013/12/on-1st-day-of-christmas-universe-gave.html

Danielle http://drschoices.blogspot.com/2013/12/what-f-aka-winter-trails-festival.html

Jamie http://www.fromcouchtoironwoman.com/2013/12/0-degree-wtf-5-mile-race-recap.html

Andrea http://blogs.democratandchronicle.com/fair-weather-runner/?p=2018

Mike http://lonlinessofthelongdistancerunner.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/what-the-fest-trail-thing-cold-15-miles/

Gretchen http://www.dailymile.com/people/GretchenS6/entries/26421868

 

Thanks so much again – We hope you join us for our next adventure in April – Mess The Dress!

www.trailsroc.org/MessTheDress

Mendon Trail Run 50k Report

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Fresh off of Lisa’s 100 mile report, check out our report from our very own 50K finisher, Ben Murphy!!

Last Saturday, November 3rd, I joined 72 other brave souls in cold, wet, snowy, windy weather (yeah, that photo above is very misleading) for the Rochester Orienteering Club’s annual Mendon Trails Race at beautiful Mendon Ponds Park just south of Rochester, NY. Over 25% of those folks would drop out over the next few hours of trail running. Cold weather (didn’t get out of the 30’s all day + wind and regular intervals of snow) and challenging terrain seemed to be the rule of the day.

…but, then again, this is Upstate NY trail running in November. Nothing out of the ordinary.

The Rochester Orienteering Club’s annual trail race offers participants a 5k, 10k, 20k, or 50k option on a challenging (and hilly with 1,100 feet of climbing per lap) 10k loop of trail down at beautiful Mendon Ponds Park in Upstate, NY. And, at around $20 (depending on your distance), you can’t possibly beat the entry fee!

Those of us who opted for the 50k version gunned off at 8am, :90 ahead of the others. That meant we’d all be into our second loop before the more sane runners gunned off. This was my second ultra (my first being almost exactly one year ago) and – surprisingly to most people – only my fifth trail run up over the 30k mark. I continue to be amazed by ultra and by what the human body is capable of if only the mind will let it.

I am not a hot-weather, road runner type of guy. I’m not fast, but I can go long, and love inclement conditions, so Saturday’s weather on challenging trails was definitely my cup of tea! And, although not speedy, I hit [just barely] my goal of a sub-15 minute mile pace with a finish of 32.07 miles and 5,500’ of climbing (11,000’ elevation change) in 7:57. Which placed me dead last. Yup. A testament to the pace being pushed on Saturday (actually, a course record of 3:52 was set!). And a testament to the course and conditions – there were 20 DNF’s on Saturday.

 

I loved the solitude of this race. It was a race, but… there weren’t very many people around. I was alone the vast majority of the time – which I absolutely thrive on. I love solitude out in woods, it’s very peaceful and spiritual for me… got plenty of that on Saturday!

My strategy – as I’ve learned through painful trial and error – was to take it easy and begin the race with the end pace in mind. I was looking to finish the day at under a 15 min/mile pace, which may seem slow, but for trail ultras that’s a respectable benchmark as far as I’m concerned. And… over 2:30/mile faster than my ultra pace a year ago, so I’m cool with that sort of improvement.

Laps 1 and 2 flew by. I really can’t differentiate the two in my head. I completed lap one in 1:08 and lap two in 1:24, so kept the pace fairly brisk for the course and conditions.

Before lap 3 I switched out of my Columbia OmniHeat longsleeve tech top for a simple micro-fleece-lined shell (Champion C9 – cheap as dirt ($30 at Target), tough as nails). I love my OmniHeat, but with the temperature dropping and the wind/snow/rain picking up, it wasn’t quite cutting it.

The first few miles of Lap 3 sucked. I was hurting – more mentally than physically. My brain was really at a low point by then. There was never a place on Saturday that I wanted to throw in the towel, but round about mile 15 was a low place mentally… which I expected it to be because that’s usually a low mental point for me in long trail runs. And than, again – just like I expected – I got a second wind round about mile 20 and… just kept cranking through the loops from there. My last three laps settled into a (literally, give or take less than a minute difference) 1:48 / lap pace and the rest of the race pretty much flew by from there. (You can view the Race Results / Splits by clicking here…)

As the day wore on there was more and more solitude out there. It got cloudier. Colder. Snowier. But I loved the peacefulness of it all. I also experienced “some new ultra things” that made me realize that I’m steadily getting better at this and understanding my body more and more each time I head out. The first thing was being able to recognize the difference between physical energy drain and mental energy drain – and being able to successfully refuel each of those things separately and effectively. The second thing was the experience of my body core trying to pull blood circulation out of my hands as it got colder out and my body tried to stay warm. I’d literally be running along and my fingertips and hands would start feeling numb – not from the cold, but from the blood circulation in my extremities slowing as my body tried to triage blood to its core for warmth. A strange sensation to be sure, but certainly one that’s important to be familiar with in cold-weather ultra pursuits (which I have  A LOT more of coming up), given that there’s a very fine line between that sensation and the early onset of hypothermia.

My favorite parts of the race were the inclement conditions, interacting with the other members of our amazing trail running community, the beautiful scenery, the wildlife (saw several good-sized buck running through the woods), giving high-fives to the cheering boy scout troops out for hikes on the trail that day, and the awesome volunteers. And the warm soup, beer, and hot fire in the lodge afterwards certainly didn’t hurt either!

Lastly, a very special thank you to the TrailsROC crew + friends who all came out during various parts of the day to wish all the racers well and to be there to cheer on and support at the loop each time! I never cease to be amazed by this crazy group of people who… well, we all met less than a year ago… and there aren’t many people who’d come out to cheer runners on for 8 hours in the freezing cold on a Saturday. My ultra-brain seriously can’t recall everyone who was at the pit stop throughout the day, but you know who you were, and I do know that I can never thank y’all enough for the “how’s it going?”, “awesome job!”, “what do you need and what can I get you?” at every single loop! The Rochester/Finger Lakes region seriously has one of the best running communities anywhere. THANK YOU!

So… what’s next? That’s another post… coming soon!