Going into my second attempt at a fifty miler, I pretty much had three goals for the day:
- Finish the damn thing
- Hopefully finish under 10 hours
- Race Smart
The second I turned off the paved road in the first half mile of the race, I knew all three goals were potentially not going to happen. Ankle deep mud seemed to be covering about 90% of the trail. My feet completely submerged about 10 steps in, and I lost a shoe about 20 steps in. The second my bare sock plunged into the mud and I had to scrape it clean before slipping back into my shoe, my goal came to just enjoy the experience. Hopefully I will never see mud like that again, but I might as well enjoy it for what it is worth. I was confident in my training and ability to finish, but mental grit was going to play a larger role in finishing the race.
Training for Finger Lakes went about as well as I could hope. I had been traveling for New York essentially weekly for work, so the extent of my weekday training was running laps of Central Park. The lack of time on the trails gave me little confidence, and Boston’s insane winter didn’t help any. Still, I was consistently hitting 60+ mile weeks in the Spring which culminated to my first two ultras: The TARC Spring Classic 50K and the Wapack and Back 50 miler. Stomach issues and nerves for my first ultra made the 50K more of a struggle than I had anticipated, but I still loved every second of that race. Wapack and Back was an entirely different monster – 11,000 feet of elevation change over extremely technical terrain. That race was frankly a disaster. I did not have the climbing ability I needed to perform at Wapack, and settled for a very long 43 mile race filled with cramping and exhaustion. After the races, I went right back into 60+ mile weeks without any specific workouts until a week before Finger Lakes for my taper. Several sub-par days training in the heat rattled my confidence slightly, but an incredibly fun weekend at Ragnar with The Breakfast Club and November Project washed away any doubts I had.
Colleen can attest to my nerves going into Saturday. Normally races have me extremely excited and antsy, but Wapack shook my confidence and I knew regardless of the terrain, 50 miles is no joke. My only priority for the day before was to take it easy and eat a ton. And I did both. The drive to Ithaca was picturesque and I think I had something like 5 bagels over the course of the weekend. A quick stop at a local running shop gave me some intel of the sheer amount of mud the next day would hold. I slept extremely well Friday evening which made waking up easy and helped settle me down a bit heading over to the race start. Stepping outside we were greeted by a fair bit of rain, and the concept of 50 wet, soggy miles erased my satisfaction from my good-nights sleep. A bit of confusion at the start checking in made me nervous, but I wasn’t letting anybody know, because at this point I was pretty much focused on the long day ahead.
Regardless of check-in woes, the race started at right around 6:30 and we were off. My goal of racing smart meant take it easy for as long as I could tolerate and stay on-top of my nutrition. The mud pretty much made sure I would not be moving too fast, but within 10 miles I knew my hips were going to have a long day. I think at the end of it all, my abs and back were the biggest suffers, with my legs feeling surprisingly fresh afterwards. As for nutrition, my goal was Gu every 45 minutes, real food at the aid station every time I stopped, and 200 calories of tailwind per lap, which helped me also get about 16 oz of water per lap in addition to the plain water I was drinking. The first loop went very smoothly. I took a place father back than I would consider ideal, but it helped me keep it dialed back. The first loop I decided would mostly be course reconnaissance of the 16.5 miles. Aside from the mud, the course can simply be described as rolling. There is one big downhill, followed by one kind-of big uphill, but outside of those two memorable sections everything felt slightly up or slightly down. I covered about 4000 feet of vertical for the day, so not even half of what Wapack put me through in seven less miles. None of the course I would consider technical, but the traction-less mud was a new experience for me. I ran a smooth section of the trail with a nice guy from New Zealand who made this race seem like a walk in the park compared to some of the races he has run. I pushed away from him after a slight uphill that lead to a long smooth portion leading into the final aid station. The last 3 miles of loop 1 was when I started to pass. I felt strong and started to feel more confident in the mud, so I started to settle into my goal of running a 10 min/mile pace for everything that was runable. I came into the start area feeling amazing, and Colleen was ready with fresh tailwind, my iPod, and plenty of confidence to make me feel strong for the second loop.
I took off and immediately passed a few runners. The set up of the race made it impossible to tell who was out for 50K or 50 miles, but every single pass is a nice reward. Regardless, anyone who went any distance that day was truly out of their mind and incredible. The long downhill mentioned above comes at about 3 miles into the loop, and I absolutely bombed it. Well, as fast as someone who had already run 20 miles and was planning on running 30 more could, but my watch was telling me I was moving at about 7:15 per mile. This is immediately followed with a the only thing I would call a significant climb. I power-hiked hard and kept pushing to the next aid. There, I met up with a local runner who had run the race I think a total of 8 times before. He confirmed that this was the muddiest he had ever experienced which added a little pride to what we were out doing. We shared a few miles before I pushed up a hill away from him. I ran everything until the last aid station alone where I passed two more runners climbing through the last cow pasture. I kept the place through the start area where Colleen let me know I was in the top 10, unsure of the specific number.
A quick shoe change later, I took off for the final loop, this time with Colleen! The race allows for a pacer for the last loop of the 50 miler, so I planned on taking advantage of it. Colleen was incredibly cheerful, excited, and ready to push me. I don’t think I have seen anyone else be more thrilled to be slipping down hills in mud, but Colleen made the experience even more special.
About 9 miles in Colleen took a hard trip and aggravated her knee. At the same time we caught sight of a runner ahead. Up until mile 9, Colleen dragged me along, but seeing the runner made me push with what I had. Colleen kept up and kept positive, but at the aid station at mile 10 we both decided she should head back to the finish to avoid further injury. I knew I could finish the last 10K, and coming through the aid station I passed the runner. It turns out this put me into 9th place. The last 10K was a slog filled with a few falls from my tired legs, but I made it to the baby loop in one piece. The baby loop is the race’s final half mile to make it an even 50, and I treated it like a victory lap. Although at close to 7 minutes, it felt like an eternity. Before I crossed the line, I gave Colleen a kiss, and finished with 5 minutes to spare of my 10 hour goal in 9th place.
I felt incredible at the finish for about 6 seconds, then my stomach seized and I had to sit down for about half an hour. At least my legs did not cramp and I was able to walk to the car. In the drive back to where we were staying, I told Colleen I knew I wanted to run a 100 miler, so clearly the mud shook the screw a little further loose. As for the Finger Lakes 50, it was an amazing experience run by a great group of people and volunteers. The course was extremely scenic and not overly challenging. I’ve already told some running buddies it fits the bill of a great first 50.
- Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 2 (First Two Loops)
- Salomon Sense Ultra 4 SG (Last Loop)
- Balega Socks
- Salomon Adv Skin3
- Garmin Fenix 3
- Gu, Roctane, Chomps, Raspberry Tailwind
- Ciele GoCap