Let it rain…
After completing my first TNFECS event last year (marathon distance) and being thoroughly impressed by the organisation of the event and difficulty of the course, I decided to challenge myself for 2017 and sign up for the 50k! Knowing full well how technical the course is, my training throughout a rather gnarly NY winter focused more on time on the trails, elevation and distance as opposed to volume.
On the Thursday before the race weekend, we headed to our designated race packet pick-up at Paragon Sports in Manhattan. Everything went smoothly and it was one less thing to do on race morning. If I ever have the chance to pick up my number before the race I always choose to do so, as race mornings are generally busy enough!
Last year, we had a perfect sunny spring day for the event, but, checking the weather daily on the run up to this year’s event, the weather was forecasting to be absolutely miserable with rain & storm conditions forecast for the entire day. With this now very much at the forefront of my preparation, I began to review my gear selection and in light of the impending nor’easter conditions I made a few last minute gear purchases, primarily a fully waterproof Salomon S-Lab Hybrid Jacket [full gear list below], that will prove to be invaluable later on.
We drove up the day before the event, which only takes ~1hr 15mins from where we live. It still amazes me that in such a short amount of time, you’re in an entirely wild environment with mountains and peaks surrounding you rather than urban high rises and the rat race of City living. We stayed in Fort Montgomery which was just on the outer edges of Bear Mountain State Park and a typical upstate New York village. En route to our lodgings for the next couple of nights, we stopped off at Woodbury Outlet Village for some retail ‘therapy’ and lunch in which I carb loaded on Spaghetti and veggie pizza (after carb loading the night before also on Jamie Olivers Superfood Veggie Bolognese). We dropped by the race start point and hiked around Hessian Lake and also locked in GPS on our devices. After getting settled in the hotel room, getting the kids to bed, sorting race gear, it was an early night with several alarms set for the morning in case of a very rare late rise…having a 3y/o toddler and 7month old, that hasn’t happened in 3 1/2 years, but if it was to happen, it would be on a morning like tomorrow, ha ha!
Cutting it fine…
Boom…race morning! I woke before my 6:05am alarm and had a brief shower to wake me up and get me ready for the day and the 50k of gnarly trails that awaited. My wife was a superstar and got the kids ready while I checked gear and got prepared; the forecast was 100% on point and it was raining and looked dank. After my usual pre-race breakfast and getting my UD pack sorted, we left the hotel with 10 mins before race start…I normally like to get to the race a little bit earlier, however, with the terrible weather, I didn’t want to be standing around for an extended period in the cold & rain. I got to the race festival with 2mins to go…efficient! I was in Wave 1, which sounds prestigious but the waves are purely to prevent bottle-necking on the initial part of the course. I decided to roll with Wave 2 and had a brief warm up stretch. The race site is really well set up and is like a mini-festival with music playing, various tents including, massage, food, beer and sports vendors.
At 7:03am we were off, I stayed with the front pack and the pace was reserved…I knew as soon as we banked onto the trailhead from the grassy start we would be met with a gradual climb that is full of loose rocks. With the rain this meant it would be a muddy gambit too. There was some serious bottle-necking for the first 3miles and people were dancing around the trails trying to avoid the mud and keep their feet dry for those few minutes longer, however, with the downpour that was relentless & forecasted for the entire day, as well as the distance that lied ahead, it was almost pointless. After initially being one of the ‘dancers’ I was inspired by a fellow runner who charged through the center of the trail which was a mud bath and I followed, which turned into a great strategy as I could open my stride and begin to move out of the crowds. I remember the first 5k from last years Marathon being a slap in the face as I’d really not trained any technical trails, but this year felt far better and before long I rolled into the Anthony Wayne Aid Station [AS] after 4 miles. A quick shot of coke and I was out of the AS swiftly…I was carrying my entire day’s worth of nutrition [a combination of Tailwind & Gu products] so the AS’s were going to provide me with real food and some ‘luxuries’.
After a brief road section to gather myself, a sharp turn onto the ski trail which is a steep gradient…one thing I’ve learnt during my trail running races: walk the uphills. A good solid hike is almost identical to trying to run uphill and it doesn’t increase your HR as much. I’m no elite runner and find this strategy works well especially for a course with net-uphill. After the steep incline and some single-track it was onto the technical descent which was made even more difficult due to the wet ground…I was over-cautious/hesitant due to the rain so my legs were tensing to try and anticipate a potential slip, this would not help for later in the race. Coming into Silvermine AS I was excited as this would be the first time I see my awesome family who were braving the rainy conditions to cheer me on. After quickly filling my bottles with water I saw my little champ clanging his cowbell and got my wife to get some Tailwind out of my pack and add it to my bottles. After a brief review of the course and conditions so far I was back on the course with the next AS at mile 14.2.
Stockbridge Mountain pass…
Leaving Silvermine AS there is a fire road for a couple of miles that leads onto a harsh technical section over the Stockbridge Mountain pass. Rain continued and with the 50-milers that started 2hrs before the 50k distance the trails were cut up and loose rocks littered the ground, extra caution was required on an already uber-technical course. I made a conscious effort to eat or drink on every incline, nutrition is key for me especially later on in distances further than 15miles as my appetite begins to fade. This section had the big scramble up over sheer rock faces and then an instant descent on similar terrain…one runner took a wide race line to avoid the slight bottle-neck while other runners took their time to descend and he had a bad slip, thankfully he landed with no damage done and rejoined our line down the descent. After this technical section we hit a half-mile road section, uphill into Arden Valley aid station. I refilled one bottle with water and topped up with Tailwind, ate some salted pretzels and crisps and had a shot of coke. In hindsight, I took too long here and began to get cold, thankfully there was an instant road descent so I took off and picked up the pace to warm up on the road section before banking left into the woods.
During this next section, I hit the mid-point of the race, I always break the race down into sections and for this race I’d broken it down in my mind as 16miles/26/30/31…no science involved, just mental ‘highs’ to keep me motivated during the race. However, I had a slight scare at mile 16.5: I was taking a wide line on a particular boggy section due to nearly losing a shoe on a previous section, and on a smooth clay-like bank my foot slipped (for the first time on this terrain) and I did the splits which caused my right hamstring to spasm and tighten up, I let out an ‘Argh!’ and got back to solid footing to try and avoid a full on cramp which it felt like it was evolving into. I took it easy for a few feet and did some mild stretching…the constant apprehension on the downhills could be at play I thought. I contemplated having a salt tab but decided to continue to Owl Lake AS and take stock. The next section was overgrown singletrack with plenty of fallen tree’s to hurdle. At Owl Lake I had some veggie broth, coke & salted pretzels to get some extra sodium onboard to offset any future cramps, I refilled my bottles and was enthused to get to the next AS in 2.7 miles where I would see my family again.
The next section out of Owl Lake offsets the elevation gain and descends into a long sweeping, muddy downhill…descent’s are usually my strong point when trail running, ‘controlled falling’, but with the inclement weather I was over-cautious; for me, finishing is more important than time, purely because of all the training & time away from my family when in training…those long 2hr+ runs on the weekend are only worth it if I cross the finish line, so in this event, with the treacherous terrain made worse by a slick of rain & mud I chose to be over-cautious rather than blast it down a descent and potentially have a race ending fall. Every time I let go a bit I kept uttering “Easy, patience”. As I made my way down to the Anthony Wayne AS I started the decision making process whether I wanted to change my shoes and socks which had become soaked with silt, mud and water, my Nike Wildhorse’ were draining well and my feet felt fine, no blisters or hot spots. The shoes had become at one with my feet I laughed to myself. As I came around the bend I saw my family and knew this would be the last time I would see them before the finish.
Keep something in the tank…
I spent some time in Anthony Wayne AS to refill my bottles, top up with Tailwind, take on some veggie broth (which became the AS hero of the day as it warmed the core), coke and pretzels. I got chatting to a few runners while we grazed the smorgasborg of nutrition and one runner said there was a big climb in 6 miles so leave something in the tank. My legs were feeling fine on the uphills, but I made a mental note. I jogged out with my family as they went to dry off in the car, so thankful of their commitment to me while I was out on the trails…these events really are a team effort and having a great support crew really lifts the spirits. Seeing them at mile 21 before rolling out for the final 10miles helped so much, more than they’ll know. I followed the orange cones through the car park and onto the trailhead…into unchartered territory as the marathon section from the prior year is on another part of the Bear Mountain trail system. This section was milder terrain which was welcome and according to the course guide, it was the route the British Army took to take over Fort Montgomery during the American Revolution in order to take control of the Hudson River…history! However, a steep gradient at mile 23-24 had me thinking that runner had got his miles mixed up, it was a quad burner but I took solice that it was stretching out my calves & Achilles as I dug in and found a good line to reach the summit, I later found out this was Pines Mountain.
Marathon & Timp Pass…
I reached the Queensboro AS to be greeted by all the AS volunteers decked out in fancy dress…soaked but everyone smiling and there to help. I had my usual cocktail of veggie broth, coke, pretzels and crisps which was doing a grand job on top of my other nutrition which I was maintaining well, a quick refill of my bottles and I embraced that in the next few miles I would complete the marathon distance and embark on the push to the finish, however, it’s an Ultra…anything can happen…and it did…Timp Pass. In hindsight, I should have noticed that the next AS was in 2.5miles, which is a big indicator that the next section is tough and man it was! This was the section that the runner earlier on had mentioned…it was the hardest climb of the day for pure elevation and gradient and with the addition of hitting miles 27 & 28, mental toughness was required. I gritted it out and made good progress to the false summit, then traversed the rock face and summited before an immediate descent which was just as difficult due to the conditions.
To the finish…
When I finished the New York Marathon in 2013, the last .2 of a mile was so tough, even with the crowds cheering in Central Park, I always remember the pain and the person in the crowd urging me to run. I always remember this and reference it in daily scenarios and it was no different here. As I came out of the Timp Pass section and into the final aid station before the finish, I took stock and refilled both my bottles and drank some coke…there was only 2.8miles to go, less than 5k, but I replenished everything just in case something happened like the .2, I also started to really savor the moment. I thanked the volunteers for being out here in such rough conditions and then began the final section. Now, this course doesn’t have a 5-Star technical rating for nothing and even in the final 2 miles there are two more climbs before rolling down the underpass I’d gone through 6hrs ago…as I made my way through the second underpass I howled a massive ‘Awoooo’ for the Wolf Pack back in the UK and then charged the final bend before approaching the finish…last year I sprinted to the finish with my son and it has become something of a race stalwart, I picked them out by their umbrellas and grabbed my son’s hand and we crossed the finish line together. I was embraced with a medal and water bottle and made my way through the runners section to the race festival where we reconvened with my wife & daughter. Typically, I never feel like a beer after a big effort, but today was special so I headed to the beer tent after pictures on the podium with my son and enjoyed a craft pilsner. I had plenty of doubt whether I could complete this distance coming into this race, especially given the technical nature of the course and the elevation, and thanks to mother nature adding further complexity I finished feeling like well & truly liberated. I’ll savour the accomplishment for a lifetime…and begin thinking about the next challenge…c’est magnifique! 😉
Official Time: 6hrs 31mins 22secs | Overall: 125th / 407 | Age Group: 32nd / 76
- Kicks | Nike Wildhorse 3, [Backup: LaSportiva Akasha]
- Socks | Drymax Maximum Protection
- Apparel | New Balance Performance Top, Salomon S-Lab Hybrid Jacket, Nike Performance Shorts
- Pack | Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 3.0
- Nutrition | Tailwind, Gu Gels & Stroop Waffle