When I first heard about a race that was combining the famous Escarpment race course and the infamous Devils path with some other mountainous segments to make a rugged , gnarly and ridiculous 50+ mile ultra with a 24 hour cutoff in the Catskills of New York, I immediately put it on race calendar.
So far this season I've been staying healthy except for a small ankle issue from my 4th place finish at Terrapin Mt 50k back in March. I did travel to California to race the Leona Divide 50 in April but it was too damn hot and sunny for this east coast kid, so I just called it a training run from mile 16 on and still finished in a respectable time. Also I've been running the NE mountain series to get some speedwork a little bit of vertical and bypass the lottery for the Mt Washington road race next year. So, with all that, my only concern was I was way out of hiking shape and had been lacking in the habitual weekend long runs we all hold near and dear to our heart with the busy mountain running schedule.
Back to the race. Nobody really knew how much climbing there was on the course! people were guessing, 12k, 14k, 16k?? All I knew was it was going to be tough , the second half was the crux and I was going to run it like I would a White Mountain Hut Traverse.
On Friday morning Kristina and myself drove out to Palenville to meet up with our friend and Catskill expert Cory to scope out some of the course and get an idea of the layout and aid station locations since Kristina would be crewing me. I got in some easy miles on a short section of the course and we made our way to Phonecia for packet pickup and some cheesburgers and beer at Brio's (hey we're ultrarunners!) Then back to the hotel for race prep and a few winks before my alarm went off at 2:45 am so we had time to drive up to Maplecrest for the 5 am start.
It was clear, cool and fairly dry in the air for a summer morning. The forcast was highs in the mid 80's and 20% chance of a thunderstorm. I don't do well in the heat but I could deal. What I didn't want was for the Catskill rock to get wet and slippery.
The aid stations on the course were pretty spread out due to the difficulty of getting access to ridge and limited road crossings. Most were 7 to 10+ miles apart. I opted to wear and Ultraspire Surge with 2 liter bladder. We own two of these pack so I could just grab a fresh pack at all but two aid station which were too remote for Kristina to get to.
The first 3 miles of the course were on the road and i started off at a slow comfortable pace and found myself in the lead right off the bat. After a mile or so a couple others were running along with me including eventual 3rd place finisher Ashley Moyer. When we hit the trail I led the way up the trail to Acra point on the Escarpment trail and a couple were behind me one of which I knew was Denis Mikhaylov who has been running very well this year and after I saw his speed while crewing Kristina at Cayuga two weeks ago before he went off course I was really hoping the course was unrunnable as possible to give myself a fighting chance at a win.
Three of us made the turn at the ridge junction together and soon after it was just denis and myself making our way towards Blackhead, which apparently would be the toughest part of the Escarpment section with some "hands on trail" ascending and descending. We were motoring along pretty decent but I was feeling a little pressure from behind and was struggling to keep my blinders on so I made the decision to let denis go ahead so I could run my own race. Sure I could have hung with him easily, but I knew I would need all my strength to attack the difficulty of the last 30+ miles.
All alone coming through Dutchers Notch at 10 miles I topped off my bladder for the next 7.5 miles to North-South Lake. The volunteers told me I was two minutes back.
I was constantly questioning my pace on my way to the next aid station but I knew there was a 5 mile 2000 ft descent followed by a nasty 10 mile section over the shoulder of Kaaterskill to contend with before then getting to the hardest part of the course, the Devils Path.
I was getting warm as I descended to NS Lake and as I was changing my pack I filled my hat with ice. Works like a charm! As i was leaving 3rd place came in quickly filled his bottle and was hot on my heels. I had run this section of the course on Friday so I put out a half mile surge and quickly dropped the threat who would end up finishing 2 or 3 hours after me.
I made good time down to 23a and grabbed a fresh pack for the climb up kaaterskill which Cory had warned me was A BITCH so I throttled way back and chugged my way up and then across the height of land which was really muddy and rooty and all around tough going. I was wishing I had made a little better time on the Escarpment trail.. I got along the best I could without wasting myself and made it down to Platte Clove rd unscathed but that section was so tough I had forgotten to hydrate and fuel as well as I should have, Denis' lead was at 22 minutes down from 30 at 23a in Palenville. I felt good, I was closing on him.
The next 9.5 miles would nearly break me... Start out with a mile run up Platte Clove rd with the heat of the day on your back to get good and warmed up before you circle back around and negotiate Indian Head, Twin and then Sugarloaf before reaching the Mink Hollow aid station. These mountains are beautiful, don't get me wrong, but trying to hammer up and down them with 30+ hard miles in your legs was very demoralizing for me. My pace slowed to what felt like crawl, one of the first steep pitches going up Indian head I swore I saw Gandalf yelling, "you shall not pass!" My hands were on the trail as much as my feet for the next 7 miles and I'm not exaggerating! The kicker was, what I thought was Sugarloaf was actually Twin and I was out of water with one more mountain and 2.5 miles to go before I would get my fresh pack.
As I pulled into Mink Hollow I actually got a little choked up that I had made it over those F*&^%ing mountain alive.It had taken me 3 hours to do that 9.5 mile stretch and my quads were starting to ache pretty bad, probably from having to ration my water on that segment.
Kristina informed me that I had narrowed the gap to 7 minutes and that Cory was going to try and meet me on the trail ahead to run the final miles with me, as I took off for what was supposedly the last tough climb of the day, Plateau Mt.
The climb up Plateau was atrocious and my communication with hikers was reduced to grunts and looks of disgust. Soon it flattened out though and ran a really nice section of ridge before making the left to head off the mountain down, down, down to Warner creek. As I switchbacked my way down a recently cut trail and reached what I thought was the bottom..no creek?? shit... I kept moving as strong as I could knowing I still had one climb with vertical gain unknown ahead. I heard a hooting and hollering up ahead in a clearing, Corey had bushwhacked up some old overgrown road to meet me in some col in the middle of nowhere. Pretty cool!! We headed up the trail and climbed over some mountain that I'll just call "in my way" that was on the Catskill 100 highest list. Down the other side for a bit, then, there he was. Was he limping, cramping? I suddenly came alive and felt the urge to capitalize on his altered gate and make my move. He look startled as I came up on him and he picked up the pace. I answered hoping I could finish him off on this descent. We were flying down the mountain like with 8 miles to go like we had just started an 8 mile race. He missed a sharp turn and I went by. I kept moving down the mountain the best I could over the loose rocks and blowdowns. As the terrain leveled out Denis actually went off trail and passed me. As he went by I noticed his 2 bottle waistpack was nearly empty and I was under the impression there were no aid stations until the bottom of Mt Tremper with 1 mile to go. So, I let him go, again... he had put it in an adrenaline driven gear I just couldn't match on the flats and I was sure I would catch him on the climb up Tremper or better yet, completely wasted and out of fluids sitting on a rock. Boy, was I wrong!
I made my way up the mountain the best I could trying to recover a little from our duel in case I had to throw in another surge. After all we were still 6 miles from the finish and I didn't think I had enough in the tank to run hard to finish at that point. (weak minded fool)
We then came upon the Willow aid station, to our surprise. I filled my almost empty bladder as the volunteers told me Denis had 5 minutes on me. I tried my best but I just couldn't run that hard anymore and ended up finishing 20 minutes behind Denis in 12:11:43. Kristina told me he had approached the last aid station looking like he saw a ghost saying "they're right on me" "which way?" Must have been funny waiting there so long for me to show up, scratching their heads, wonder what he was talking about.
In the end I'm very happy with the way the day unfolded and know what I need to focus on in my training leading up to Grindstone 100 in October.
This was an awesome race that I will most definetly be runnig again! For a first year event things went off without a hitch and the post race spread was very impressive.
Race day kit included: Pearl Izumi Trail N2, Pearl Izumi shorts and shirt and Ultraspire Surge race vest.