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.