Batona 55 mile Run

After doing a bit of research I finally found a 50 miler to run toward the end of 2018. I had one lined up a couple of weeks after the bike ride i completed up in Canada but coming down with a cold the week before the event was not the pre-race prep that I needed. Deciding that i was probably a bit run down and still recovering I pulled the plug the day before the race. Which was why I found myself searching through the vast web for any 50 mile running race that might be happening on the east coast of the US. And ideally not too far away. 

The Batona 55 Route

The Batona 55 Route

I finally came across a 50 miler located a few hours south in New Jersey that was a point to point race following the length of the Pine Barrens, it had minimal elevation gain and technical sections making it a very runable course. 

The 50km run a couple of weeks before had gone pretty well, however I had managed to twist my ankle a bit on some of the more rocky and technical sections. So I had rested up, done a load of yoga and tried to recuperate as much as possible before the race. The down time did allow me to go out to get a load of supplies. Its safe to say i probably over did it with the number of gels, bars, energy and electrolyte drinks but I wanted to test a few of them out to see how I my body reacted to some of them. Over the week i slowly packed everything that I needed with a few of the drop bags for good measure.  The cherry on top of each drop bag was going to be a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Perfect for the mid race munchies.

One of the new items I found was bulk energy gel bags which I could decant into reusable gel pouches. Compared to the energy gels where you end up with sticky wrappers stuck in your pocket as well as throwing out  the sachets I thought these might provide a lower waste solution.

Gu Gel in Bulk

Gu Gel in Bulk

The night before the event wasn’t quite as smooth as I had planned. A few last minute errands changed the prompt departure. Instead I grabbed a pizza from one of our local pizzerias before making the drive into the wet and windy evening. The conditions were not expected to improve with the rain due to continue until the early hours of the morning. 

Arriving at the hotel for the night I spent the remainder of the evening munching down pizza, pre-taping my feet and doing some last minute packing adjustments. It was the first time I had pre-taped the night before a race. Sitting with one foot balanced carefully on the sink whilst I tried to gently pour this yellow antiseptic on my feet prior to putting on the tape. The antiseptic goes slightly tacky after a few minutes allowing the tape to really stick to your skin. It works really well however after completing this procedure I realised it had also potentially stained the sink. Trying to wipe it off and it was still there so rather than having a calm, relaxing end to the evening I spent the remainder furiously scrubbing away. It finally came off as I collapsed into bed a bit after 10. The alarm set for 3.30 am. 

The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm

It wasn’t my best or longest night sleep in the world nor my worst as I rubbed my eyes. I left the alarm still ringing in a bid to not fall back asleep. Breakfast was my pre-prepared not so cold oats warmed up to ambient room temperature overnight. I could still feel the stodgy pizza is my stomach. Going through my head was maybe the calzone pizza had been an error of judgement in my pre-race nutrition. Dinner had not been washed down with beer or ice cream which would have certainly tasted good but would have been even less ideal. 

Outside and the rain was still coming down as I drove over to the start line. I checked in, chatted with some of the other runners before sitting in the boot of my car waiting for the bus to pick us up and drop us to the start line. As soon as it turned up we bundled into the back. The yellow school bus being a bit of a novelty still although it’s slowly becoming a bit more familiar with each running race where we have been carted to the start. It was filled with excitement as either good friends or strangers met up and shared various stories of running or other adventures with their seat mates. A bit like heading back to school after the summer holidays.

The main piece that stuck out from the race briefing was look out for the markers and don’t get lost. Fairly easy advice but with a multitude of tracks, turns and the race beginning in the dark it would be especially easy to go wrong especially in the early stages of the race. The race began and the group slowly funnelled into the woods. The trees sheltered us from the final hour of rain. As the group slowly elongated out, the head torches bobbing in front and behind snaking through the under growth. There was a bit of chatting but clearly people were still waking up and coupled with concentrating on the route the chat ebbed and flowed as the terrain became easier and wider or narrow and more technical. 

Starting the race

Starting the race

As sun up began the birds started to become more alive about the forest. Dawn was finally arriving with a kind of strange early morning hazy, grey light. It was still cloudy over head and the chance of some golden glow suddenly illuminating our path was highly unlikely. 

The trail twist and turned, my headlight came off and was stuffed into my running vest as it became more than light enough to run without the additional light. All was going well and on track, despite the drizzle of rain,  we couldn’t have asked for better conditions. After some time we came to the first check point. Reading my number to the team arming the check point and it transpired that they thought I had dropped out. It didn’t feel like a great sign or omen. Particularly when I had to have the same conversation at the next few check points. Until either the message got round or the crews rotation meant they had already met me at an earlier station. 

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Leaving the aid station and heading on one of the guys proclaimed he was ready to rock as he exited the state parks bathroom. Perfect point and time for a stopping point so I jumped in not wanting to get caught out part way. Continuing on and the trail skirted round some lakes which unlike the Cayuga marathon earlier in the year did not look nearly as tempting to jump in with their brown, cold looking water. A section of wooden boarding weaved amongst the trees above the water line. It was at this point I learnt that my trail running shoes had close to no grip on these. I almost ended up on my arse as my first stride hit the wood. The subsequent steps resembled bambi on ice. Despite the precarious nature of them though it was really cool running through the woods. 

Skating on the wooden boards

Skating on the wooden boards

The day slowly heated up and each stride was inching me closer to the finish. By late morning the first marathon was complete. I felt good on my feet a few hot spots had quickly calmed down. Not a great sign but given the race length I was not so concerned. Longer or multi day races might have required a bit of an investigation but where they were I knew I would be ok for the duration of this race. The following day or week could be a different story.

I was carefully making sure to get more than enough electrolyte and food into me as the day progressed. I was using more sugary gels and bars compared to normal. They certainly tasted pretty good although compared to my normal fruit a nut mix. Certainly on a hot day this snack is sometimes pretty hard to swallow as it seems to suck all the remaining moisture from my mouth. However it does provide more natural sustenance than the sugary gels that can after a while taste sickly sweet. This was very much a test though to see how my body reacted to them through the race, ultimately whether or not I could stomach them.

Munching a PB&J sandwich!!

Munching a PB&J sandwich!!

I made my first error in direction. With my head down for a bit I was just plodding a long and came to a soft sandy section. Not wanting to over exert myself through the short section I began to walk. It took some time but it slowly dawned on me that there were no other foot prints. Unless the rest of the field who were in front had all gone wrong, I was on the wrong trail. Tracing my foot steps back and I met another runner making the same mistake as myself. It made me feel less bad and equally fortunate that I had picked it up as soon as I did. As the day crept on my pace slowed overall, not surprisingly, and three of us ended up inter changing positions for a while before I settled on running with one of the guys for a bit. It was great to pass some time chatting away about the day so far and various running adventures. After some time we split and I went a head not expecting to see him till the finish, as one of his legs seemed to be causing him some problems.  

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By early afternoon the sun was out and it had truly turned into a beautiful day for running through the woods. One section my mind was pulled from its meandering thoughts by a cacophony of birds calling out clearly disturbed by myself or some other runners a head. The sound they created was amazing. What felt like not long later I was caught back up by one of the runners who had had a second wind. It was great for me having someone to chat about various races and adventures to pass the final hours of running. The definition of technical terrain or a hill had by this stage in the race very much changed in profile and now even some of the more minor slopes were in the bracket for walking up. We were however on track for hitting the sub 12 hour mark. Which was perfect, the sun was still due to be up by the time we finished so at the penultimate check point I ditched the torch in a bid to save some weight for the final miles. I ran out of water just before the final check point which although was close to the finish I felt I should top up just in case. In retrospect I should have just sucked it up for the final miles but hindsight is always 20:20. 

The final few hundred meters were marked with plenty of flags, there was to be no sprint finish and as we crossed the finish line just after the 12 hour mark the race was all of a sudden over. Not wanting to be too sleepy for the drive back I said my thank you to the race organisers, grabbed my drop bags which had magically made their way to the finish before me and made a dash for the drive home. My legs I could feel were slowly stiffening up and I was particularly thankful as I filled up at a New Jersey gas station (petrol station) where someone fills up for you. By the time I was back home, my normal jumping out of the car had transitioned into a slow, steady but fairly uncontrolled slide out of the car. Before making a beeline for the back door and the stairs that had all of a sudden become my Hillary’s step on Everest to getting into the house. Laura found this equally funny and I think concerning as she kindly helped unpack the car whilst I summited the steps. After a shower, food and a good nights sleep my legs slowly began their recuperation. With a 1000 cycle in September, a 50km running race in October and a 50 mile running race in November it is turning into a fairly solid finish for the year! Now just time to plan 2019’s events! 

What events have you got planned for 2019? 

Cayuga Trail Marathon

After much anticipation it was time for the Cayuga trail marathon. Since early on in the year I have been slowly increasing my mileage for this event and despite having to drop from the 50 miler to a marathon so I could make a return journey for a bachelor (stag) party I was very much looking forward to the race. 

The race felt like I went from having weeks and weeks to go to nothing. Booking some last minute accommodation and it was suddenly the day before the event. It was Friday and after finishing up work, the evening quickly switched to travel mode with a decent drive to up state New York. In our haste to get on the road we completely neglected thinking of food. Realising our error within a very short period of leaving the house that we were both pretty hungry and had only just started the drive. This was within 20 mins of starting the journey as we hit the first traffic jam. Not wanting to detour too far from the road we opted for the first available standard burger joint. Possible not be best pre-race nutrition nor did it turn out to be that close to the main highway.

Full now of chips, burger and a small milkshake we made good progress up towards Ithaca. The final part of the journey meandering amongst the mountains. Unfortunately we were not able to take in the beauty of the local area with the sun already set. We finally reached the accommodation for the night. Sitting right next Robert H. Treman state park where the race began. It was a perfectly comfortable pre-race spot and despite being a motel had an almost ski chalet type vibe to the place. The car park filled with trucks a few piled high with BMX bikes. 

I had prepared most of my gear and snacks for the race prior to the drive. The next morning was a strong start, trying to make a coffee the filter broke spilling coffee grinds all over my mug. Half a sleep and not wanting a repeat I gave up at this point and instead loaded up on locally made bread and jam. 

Heading over to the start line before 8am and the temperature was already beginning to soar with runners seeking a bit of pre-race shade, topping up with fluids and having a bit of a warm up before the race began. The 50 miler was a qualifier for the US team, so with that came a number of serious athletes to both it and the marathon. Some had opted to go shirtless right from the start, armed only with a water bottle for the entirety of the event. Finally the time had come as all of us huddled together at the start line. With the blow of a ram’s horn the race began. We started the initial trot. Like many races this initial period is always a bit slow off the mark as runners finally get over the actual start line. It was time to get in front of some of the pack before sections of single track prevented it. It turned out as the race progressed that there were more than enough places to over take or be overtaken. 

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The course itself was a gorgeous meandering track through the state park, through Lucifer falls and up towards Buttermilk falls. The route had incredible views especially as the course headed up gorges, past glistening cold water falls and along wooded single track. You certainly couldn’t ask for much more. 

As the day heated up each pool I ran passed became more and more tempting to dive into. Especially as we saw more people out through the day swimming about in these crystal clear blue coloured pools. It was a hard task to run past them. The aid stops came as a perfect treat and distraction from the heat with an array of trays of cut orange, melon and a few other goodies. I have found it pretty interesting over the years how I seem to crave specific foods depending on the event, the weather, terrain and how many miles I have done or am doing. One of the most memorable being a canal race where I gave into my slight sweet tooth. Munching down a whole load of gummy bears at each stop, I later spent the night curled up in a ball with terrible stomach pain. The second day and stage of this event was less than pleasant, the lesson learnt not to always give in to those immediate cravings! Anyway coming out of one of the check points and rounding the corner there was a river to cross. Perfect!!! Despite briefly thinking of the damage that could happen with wet feet I jumped in and dosed my body in some much needed cold stream water. It was invigorating. My feet were going to get wet regardless so why not enjoy the experience. Cooling station down and it was time to jog on, slightly soggy with squelching feet. Back in the UK this would normally mean wet feet for the remainder of the day. However 20 mins or so later and my feet felt bone dry and ready to roll.

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With all race you often end up chatting to some of the runners as your paths cross. I was given some insight into the course that was to come up. I hadn’t realised that the course had a large number of steps. I gave up counting not long after starting when i saw them meandering up the hill side and knowing i was doing a loop to come back down them. We crossed paths with some of the 50 mile runners who were leading the pack and had started earlier in the morning as the out and return loop criss crossed and joined at different sections. I was amazed at their speed and at how little some of them carried. Having got used to everyone using a little body vest with pockets for anything and everything you might need, these guys quite often just had a water bottle strapped round their wrist. Maybe i wasn’t taking enough of a risk and carrying too much on a relatively short course given the number of aid stations. 

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I ended up with a few runners who seemed to be at a steady pace to myself. We tended to split up a bit on the hills between the up and downs but as soon as it flattened out we bunched back together again. It always helps pass the time chatting to someone new, hearing about their stories of past events, adventures and life in general. The girl in the group worked on a vineyard in the area. So we got a crash course in wine making and how the season was going for the grapes given the unusually wet summer. 

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The group dissipated and feeling like i had regained some strength in my legs I sped up. I had a brief spell feeling like i was about to get cramp in my calfs. Particularly after tripping on a couple too many roots, but after munching down some salty nuts I was picking up again. 

Towards the end of the race I came across a few guys who were going at a good speed to finish off the final few miles. I thought this was probably how the race would finish up for us. Chatting all the way to the finish line. This was almost the case until the final mile or so. Slowly but surely i felt like i was dropping off the back of the group. Initially I put this down to beginning to get tired. I put in a burst of effort to catch back up with them and I realised this was not the case. The chat had stopped and instead the pace was slowly being cranked up. Again naively i thought it was good to have a strong finish but at least the three of us would be crossing the line together. I come to this thinking because we were ahead of the mid pack but still a long old way from the leaders. Maybe this is where I go wrong in races as I like to do well but the difference between say 30th and 31st or 32nd is still a long way off top 3, 10 or even top 15. Any way it is safe to say we looked awesome sprinting into the finish. I crossed the finish line just on the tail of one and slightly a head of the other. Elated, incredibly hot but still feeling like i had more than enough in the tank to keep going. Maybe i should have sprinted harder. 

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Overall i finished 31st out of 153. 10th in my age group  or 1st scot (I am assuming there were no other recent expats from Scotland at the race!)

Until the next race, it would be great to hear whether you compete against others in races or purely against yourself and the clock. 

Returning to Skimo

It had been a year since my last (and first) skimo competition. Last season I had grand ambitions of filling my weekends with skimo competitions, possibly slightly ambitious given I had only just moved over to the US. Last year’s competition fell on my very first weekend in the US. I ranked it higher priority than, you know, trivial things like finding my nearest supermarket or studying for my US driving license. 

 

A year on and with slightly more of an idea of what to expect, I made the drive north to Berkshire east to kick off the season. Despite all my best intentions of arriving fresh to the start line the snooze button at 4am was too tempting. In a bid to speed up the morning I had packed the car and prepared breakfast and coffee the night before…The evening prep took much longer than expected. When I finally jumped into bed it felt like only a couple of hours before I was up again and rubbing my eyes awake as we drove north. 

The sunrise revealed an overcast day and as we reached the mountains the wind picked up, trees swaying and snow drifts forming and flowing at the sides of the road. Despite a heavy right foot we still hadn’t made up for the heavy use of the snooze button. Wife’s are useful for times like these for any extra pair of legs to help run around sorting the pre-race entry and parking the car.

Entry complete and caffeine level replenished we all stood together on the start line - a mixture of either Lycra clad, carbon covered racers to those with the intentions of maximising the workout with heavier telemark skis or setups designed more for a short hike from a nearby lift ideally. I was one of the latter, the additional weight of my skis were clearly going to make a significant difference to my time and general efficiencies over the mountain. After a year of hunting for the best American BBQ, burning off as much energy as possible fitted the bill perfectly. This year I opted for the short course rather than the full. Mainly due to preferring not to be spend as much time boot packing (hiking uphill with skis on my back) on this occasion. 

As the starter went, the group made a dash up the hill. Everyone letting the more competent and quicker competitors to go first. Soon a line was spread out up the mountain with our skis sliding beneath us. Compared to last year the cooler conditions felt much more enjoyable. Making it to the top of the first hill and I got tempted by the longer course for a lap. The shorter course is much more about taking part aspect so doing a hybrid certainly when I wasn't in a competitive position wasn't going to affect anyone. Skins off and tucked into my already sweaty top I skied back down the mountain before applying my skins and heading back up the mountain. The next stage included a couple of boot packing sections. Hidden amongst the trees and what felt at times like I was hiking up a small frozen stream with ski boots on I slipped, slide and scrambled my way up hill. At times trying to perch on anything I could. Trees, rocks and anything poking out from the snow became a possible hand hold. I am sure there is a better techniques for this but on this occasion it wasn't coming to me. I wasn't helped by my poor attempt at strapping my skis to my bag - resulting in my skis smacking off my helmet with every other step. Good thing it wasn’t my head. A final skin up and it was time to ski all the way back to the base of the mountain for round 2 of 3.

For the next 2 rounds I went back to my original plan of not boot packing and purely skinning and skiing. As the field spread out working out who was on what loop and which course became increasingly hard. Nonetheless I mostly ended up skiing along with someone for at least part of the lap,  which provided some distraction from my now burning legs as we headed up hill again. The second lap went by without any hiccups, my transitions seemed to be improving between skinning up and getting them off as quickly as possible before skiing back down the mountain. 

The third lap and my energy levels were beginning to dip a bit. I munched down some food and finished the last few remaining drips off water in my water platypus pack. As I was eating and drinking though I knew I had missed timed it. At this stage it would not give me much of benefit compared to if I had started slightly earlier. A learning for the next one.

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A tough race, but brilliant! The thing I really enjoy with skimo is how it uses so many different muscles and the satisfaction (smug feeling) you get from self-powering your way up the mountain. It certainly makes me appreciate the ski down much more than if I just jump on a lift. 

 

Its all about earning your turns.

In terms of top tips that I have learnt so far from doing skimo

1) know the course as best you can. It can be difficult converting a not to scale map of a resort with the various sections so ideally visit the area. 

2) practise taking your skins on and off your skis as well as how to pack them away.

3) most importantly enjoy the experience and hopefully you will end up doing it a few times. 

Tesla Hertz 50km Ultra Run

After building the training up bit by bit and a half marathon as a warm up the next stage was a 50km ultra marathon out on Long Island. Its called the Tesla Hertz ultra race. Making it sounded like an exceptionally well sponsored event!!

Unlike the last race, being point to point, this was a steady 10mile loop with barely a hill to match. As bizarre as it sounds having some hills makes for a nice change on the body along the route. However with it still being hot and this being one of my first ultra's back in a while not having to carry a huge amount round due to it being laps was definitely going to be a big advantage. 

Friday night and with everything finally packed for the weekend I headed out first to get some last minute supplies and then onwards to Long Island. One of the key things after almost getting cramps at the last race was some electrolytes. Back in the UK I had found the cheapest and best solution to be dioralyte, designed for dodgy stomachs it seemed to hit the spot every time. Searching for something similar in the US I have come across something called pedialyte. Pretty much exactly the same thing with a different name. It's also rumoured to be an excellent hang over cure. I don't think it beats irnbru on that front though.

Arriving at a massive campsite for the night I setup camp for the night with the occasional bug bite in the process before jumping into my sleeping bag. It was incredibly humid and my sleeping bag designed for Scottish summer meant I was roasting. In the process of this restful night's sleep I jumped out mid way through the night for a bathroom break and in the process stubbing my toe on the only curb around. Back into my hot and sweaty sleeping bag with a throbbing toe it felt like no time at all before my alarm was going off in my ear. A slightly unique alarm sound to wake up to. If your interested check it out below.

Getting out I was greeted to a thick blanket of fog wrapped over the forest. Taking the tent down whilst trying not to wake the rest of the campsite. A quick bite to eat and I was ready to  head to the start of the race. I made the short trip to the start of the race, bumping into a few fellow competitors before a quick sign in. As we signed in people who had started in the early hours of the morning doing 50 miles, 100kms or 100 miles crossed over the start line for another lap on route to the finish. Greeted to a round of applause it was inspiring to see. 

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The tesla hertz race had a attracted a wide variety of people from all over North America to compete in. Located near the historic site of tesla tower a radio mast that was originally aimed at sending messages back to the UK it was a very fitting event. 

A quick photo from the start and brief before we made a start. Bizarrely I found myself near the front of the race. I say bizarre as I've normally sat around the top third to top half. I was happy enough though and was making good ground. The blanket of fog slowly lifting from the trees and replacing it with an ever increasing amount of humidity. It still felt like pretty ideal conditions. Running through the cushioned hard pack trails past trees starting to show glimmers of fall. The ground littered in a variety of fungi. My knowledge in this areas is low to none (basically don't eat the red ones...) but I'm sure for the experienced picker this could have looked like a natural feast. 

Making to the first check point I was excited to see whiskey and an array of treats. Including Swedish fish and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This is not an early American conversion but something that had been growing on me for quite a while. Fortunately this is considered a perfectly reasonable lunch request or sandwich/ bagel deli request. For those used to running events particularly road running events these aid stations might seem strange but for longer races the prospect of being sustained on energy gels is not particularly appetising! I made a fairly quick transition through this not wanting to loose much time before heading back the way I came. It was a cool feature of the race being able to see how far behind the next competitors is. The answer was not much. 

Running further along and we started coming across more people out on their morning cycle or run. The day was definitely heating up bit by bit. Coming up the brow of the one and only hill was a perfect little break from the constant flat gradient. Crossing lap one I and they had water melon! I may have ended up eating too much this race but watermelon on a hot day was seriously refreshing! 

 

Lap two and I could feel I was slowing a little bit. The competitors in front I would briefly see running the opposite way just before the aid station and check point on the lap. But apart from that it felt like I was alone in the woods running round the trails. It was at this stage that the sun had finally broken through at it was hitting the high 70's low 80's (high 20's/ low 30s). My water consumption had suddenly gone through the roof and my top was soaking. It was time for my top to come off. I've generally not had the need to do this back in the UK but the heat was pretty intense. Once it was off I immediately felt cooler.

The one and only hill came and went by slower than the first. Before lining up for lap 3. It was at this point and I am not sure what triggered it maybe the fact I hadn't been passed by anyone but I wondered if a lap was 10km not 10 miles. Checking out my watch and asking a couple of people I pasted about what distance they were doing and I was pretty sure I was on track with it being 10 miles. I grabbed some more electrolyte at the start line for lap 3 and a bit more food and water before the making a start on the next one. Despite not doing an ultra for a while the idea of constantly fuelling the body is something I haven't forgotten. I knew that especially on a hot day like it was missing the opportunity to eat and drink could catch up with me quickly. 

The final lap was by far my slowest, admittedly it was what I was expecting to average for all the laps it just worked out that my first two were much quicker. Being out in front though kept my mind thinking that if I could just keep a steady pace I should finish in a good position and ideally hold where I was. I hadn't seen the guy up a head for quite a while and as I made my way up towards the aid station I wasn't expecting to see him as for the entirety of the race he had been up a head by an ever increasing amount. Just as I reached the station though I reached him. Not only that but I was surprised by my wife, Laura, who had after a red eye flight driven out to Long Island to see me running. The final chunks of watermelon and pb & j sandwiches consumed before heading back out onto the course for the final 5 miles ish. On my way back out I passed a few people who had made ground on me but I was confident I could maintain the gap  for the moment at least. Not long after I came across the guy who had been a head race. We ended up running most of this final stretch together passing the time chatting about various races. Towards the end he managed to pull away, my legs no longer feeling fresh and not much left in the tank I didn't manage to close the gap as we headed up towards the finish line. Finally crossing in 5 hours 27 min.

I was elated about finishing and even more so for being in 2nd place. As we walked back to the car for a celebratory chocolate milkshake I cramped up crossing the road whilst stepping up the curb. Almost falling back in could have been a bit of a disaster but fortunately Laura was there with a helping hand. 

The drive back was long but pain and cramp free!! 

Trail Run Racing North East USA

I recently took part in my first running trail race in just over a year and prior to that one it has been a couple of years. It also happened to be my first since arriving in the USA.

The race was along the Shawangunk ridge in the state of New York. It's a beautiful part of the state as well as being a tree covered ridge line with enough hills to add to the difficulty. The event had 4 choices of race lengths; 70, 50, 30 miles and half marathon distances. Each followed the same route you just jumped onto the course at different stages along the way. The beauty of it being point to point is the added interest along the trail. When looking out for races I managed to find a large number of them in the northeast of the US that did laps of a trail circuit. Both options have different benefits. But for my first one back in a while a point to point was perfect. You can check out the race details on the link below

https://www.longpathraces.com/shawangunk-ridge-trail-run

I had opted for the half marathon, having not had a suitable amount of time to train up for some longer I was thinking of using it to get me used to races run in the US as well as a good stepping stone to some longer events later in the year. 

Turning up to the event early on a cloudy and cool Saturday morning I had estimated my finishing time. Not on many hard facts for this one just rough estimates based on the distance. As I got chatting to people at the start line it transpired that my estimation was probably off, a quick time for the half marathon and winning time the previous year was just over the 2 hour mark. Along with this a number of people mentioned various points in the course where it was difficult finding the route. There are route markers but they are intermittent and are just the normal Shawangunk ridge trail markers, rather than any additional ones being used other than at the end where some occasional additional red strings of tape had been used. I picked up the map which being for the full length of the course (70 miles long) didn't provide great detail on a side of A4 to really navigate by. With the route on my gps I thought this would suffice. But after speaking to the fellow runners I decided to try to download the route map onto my phone as a back up. Being out in the middle of  nowhere with limited reception this took until part the way through the race to download fully. Better late than never. 

My first yellow bus journey

My first yellow bus journey

Boarding a couple of yellow school buses at the finish line we headed to where the half marathon started. It was my first time on one of these American icons. Boarding the buses made me realise the vast array of runners from whippets at the front to experienced runners right through to those who fancied the challenge for a weekend. Arriving at the start line we all bundled out and did our final preparations before the race started. This along with the race briefing where getting lost was mentioned again. I hoped this would not be me...

We were set off in waves according to our running numbers and I quickly got into a rhythm following behind a few people. We were making good progress along the trail and had made the transition from the little tributary of a trail the half marathon started on to the main trail. It followed beneath pine trees on a hard packed trail as the day began to heat up. Well above the temperatures I was expecting. Rather than being in the mid teens (60F range as I get into the US metric) it was well into the high 20's ( high 70F low 80's).

All was going well till we passed another runner but he was heading in the other direction. It turned out the girl who I was following was his wife. They had a brief chat and she carried on. Now I assumed that he had come out to meet his wife on the trail and as she had continued on we must be heading on the right direction. Turned out this wasn't the case he was doing the 70 miler and we were going the wrong way. About 15 to 20 of us spread out along this part of the trail. Checking and re-checking the maps we turned around and headed promptly back in the reverse direction. We had travelled about 30 mins round trip in the wrong direction. Not ideal on a race that was already due to be a tough half marathon.

Turning around and it was back the way we had come. Sweat already soaking through my top. I met up with a runner who it turned out spent a lot of time of the years running in the area and knew some of  the tougher sections of the course. It was great way of passing the time chatting away as well as getting some local insight on the course or at least pointing out some cool looking areas which I may have otherwise just run past without looking up. Despite being hard packed trail we had already passed one guy limping the other way having gone over on his ankle on one of a number of roots, which I had almost slipped on as well. The trail meandered along a spectacular ridge line with views up into the Catskills. The odd tree hinted at the transition to autumn or fall with the colours beginning to change but there was still a way to go for the real show to begin.

Views from a clearing

Views from a clearing

 

Making it to the second a final check point marked the start of a long ish up hill section. As well as a short scramble through a boulder field to reach the top. A definite possibility for some scrambling or potentially some bouldering at a later date. I had heard the area was famous for roped up climbing as well. 

Making it to the top and my legs still felt pretty good I bid farewell to my running buddy for the morning and headed off. The trail flattened out and was beginning to descend towards the finish I passed by one of the 70 mile racers who was running in sandals although he was doing incredibly time wise looked to be struggling a bit. Think I would have looked distinctly worst at that stage of a 70 mile run! The heat of the day had clearly had an impact on me as I could feel the odd twinge of cramp setting in. I just hoped a random movement wouldn't set it off. Easing up on the pace for a bit I was trying to minimise the risk of it happening before picking up again. The course by this stage was a gentle descent through cool and damp under growth. With old pine needles littering the floor making for a soft cushioning feeling for the body. 

Warm conditions out on the course

Warm conditions out on the course

 

I came across a few more runners not really knowing which course they were on I greeted them as I passed them by on route to the finish. Coming round the corner and I was greeted to the bridge I had driven under earlier in the day. By now the day had well and truely cleared from the initial clouds of the early morning to reveal the view across the valley. I quickly stopped to admire the view before the final few hundred metres to the finish line. 

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Crossing the finish line and being welcomed to cold drinks, a toast with a very small beer and a slice of pizza was a perfect finish for the race. Before making a rather sweaty journey back south again. 

16th place in 3hrs 10mins. Shouldn't have got lost for 30 mins! 1st place was completed in 2hrs 8mins. I think i will be back for one of these events next year.

Blinded by the sun a great shot...

Blinded by the sun a great shot...

Got any race recommendations? Or have any questions about trail run racing?