Friday, May 29, 2015

Cayuga Trails 50: Final Preparations and Additional Resources

With only a few days to go before the Cayuga Trails 50, I feel like I'm as ready as I could possibly be. The previous five months of training have been a lead-up to this coming Sunday. The last few weeks have been a combination of running on the course and getting in an ample amount of hill work. I'm hoping to run a PR for the 50M with the secondary goal of beating last year's time here, and feel like I have a good chance to do both.

The fun starts tonight (Friday), as Scotie Jacobs and Ithaca Beer are bringing back the Lucifer's Steps brew in conjunction with the race. The brewery is hosting a MUT runner social gathering of sorts, along with a pre-race briefing. The Race festivities continue tomorrow with the Trails in Motion Film Festival. Even if you are not running the race, considering checking out the Film Festival on Saturday afternoon, held downtown at Cinemapolis. I attended the festival last year and it was well worth it! (Click here for a full rundown of the race schedule of events.) There will also be mid-race live tracking of all runners through Ultra Sports Live.TV. My bib number is 1043, for anyone who wants to follow along or at least confirm that I'm not lying dead in a gorge somewhere.

The Past Two Weeks


Two weekends ago, my friend Rob and I met at Robert Treman State Park to run one 25 mile loop of the entire course. Race direct Ian Golden was looking for volunteers to track the course data via GPS, to be used by Ultra Sports Live.TV for the real-time runner tracking during the race. Technology is amazing, right? I studied Ian's preview video of the course on Youtube and printed a turn-by-turn cue sheet so we could follow the course exactly. (Aside from a slight mishap near Lickbrook, there were no wrong turns.) We ended up walking a lot, but learning the entire course - the hills, turns, and varying terrain -  will be helpful in pacing myself come race day.

Group run. Photo: Yassine Diboun
Over the past week, I've been taking some classes with the Animal Athletics coaches Yassine Diboun and Willie McBride to learn some things that I hope to practice throughout the summer as part of my Virgil Crest training. The Portland, Oregon, based coaching duo returned to Ithaca this year to put on clinics for a couple of weeks. In their classes, Yassine and Willie stress the importance of functional movement in both endurance sports and everyday living. I've attended a few classes to learn some things about speedwork, full body strength training, core strengthening, running hills, and mental training. I also had the chance to do a few group runs with Willie and Yassine, and feel I've learned some nice takeaways from these two experienced endurance athletes to help me over the next four months.

Ready for an Animal Athletics track session. Photo: Maria Costanzo
Practicing the Iron Cross at the Animal Athletics boot camp. Photo: Gary McCheyne

"Freeing the animal within." Photo: Gary McCheyne
Side note: Yassine Diboun lived in Ithaca for many years while he first got involved with trail running, and was actively involved with the Finger Lakes Runners Club. Virgil Crest was his first 100 mile race, which he won, before moving west and becoming a coach and elite ultra runner. After running Cayuga the past two years, Yassine had to leave town earlier this week to represent the USA at the IAU Trail World Championships in Annecy, France. The race starts at 9:30 PM EST on Friday, May 29, and will be covered live by iRunFar here. Best of luck to Yassine and the rest of Team USA!

Last Saturday, Yassine and CT50 RD Ian Golden led a group run over part of the Cayuga course, covering the Treman and Lick Brook sections. Ian ran around with a Go Pro while a cameraman was on hand to grab some video footage of the trails. I was told a film about the race may be in the works. The run was pretty casual and social, and the weather was perfect! A few of us even got to plow through the Cayuga Inlet creek crossing an extra time for the cameras to get some extra footage!

Big turnout for the course preview run. Photo: Yassine Diboun

As if that preview run wasn't enough, my parents and cousin took a ride up on Sunday to hike around Robert Treman State Park. I met them there and again got to cover part of the course, this time stopping to take some pictures.

Photo: Allan Kresock
This week I've run very little. Thursday morning Willie McBride led the Animal Athletics hill running class, and I followed that up with the Ithaca Festival Mile on Thursday night. Despite an ice bath, I feel the soreness as I sit here and type this on Friday afternoon. The IFM is a flat, straight run down North Cayuga Street and runs right past my house. As someone who detests running speedwork, the pain I felt midway through the mile seemed worse than any marathon I've run before. It's obvious that improving aerobic capacity is something I need to work on that can be useful in both short road races and trail ultras. The good news is that racing a single mile only lasted a few minutes and was followed up by the Ithaca Festival Parade, the kickoff for the annual three day Ithaca Festival.

Ithaca Festival Mile. Photo: Hayley Kresock

Aside from packing drop bags and an easy run tomorrow, I'm ready to shake, rattle, and roll on Sunday, come rain, shine, or miscellaneous. My next blog post will be a recap of the race, hopefully in the creative writing format, to include the good, the bad and the ugly of the Cayuga Trails. Good luck to everyone running this weekend, and thanks in advance to Ian and all the volunteers! See you on the trails!


Additional Resources and Info on the Cayuga Trails 50


Official race website

My race report from Cayuga Trails 2014

Teaser video from Ian Golden:

Ultra Sports Live.TV's live race coverage

The Ithaca Journal's feature length article on the event

Must Love Jogs previews the elite field and hosts a prediction contest 

My friend Scott Dawson's spreadsheet pacing chart to predict aid station arrival times

Ian's preview video of the entire course:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Gnarly Times: The North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain

On the first weekend in May, I headed down to the Hudson Valley for a 50K trail race as a warmup for the Cayuga Trails 50 Miler. I've previously run the half marathon and full marathon at the North Face Endurance Challenge: New York, and thought the 50K would be a solid training effort for Cayuga. (I crashed at my friend Adam's house the night before the race, which helped immensely on the logistics. Thanks Adam!). Based on my memory of the marathon from 2013, I figured I could break six hours in the 50K without putting in an all-out effort. The 50K race started at 7:00 AM. After some brief pre-race announcements from Ultramarthon Man and North Face athlete Dean Karnazes, we were off, and by 7:05 I had already realized how wrong I'd been.

Pre-race sunrise. Looks to be a beautiful day!

 "And we're off!" Photo: Ultra Race Photos

Cruising in the early miles. Photo: Ultra Race Photos
In the two years since I'd run the trails at Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks, I'd forgotten how the tough, gnarly terrain took a pretty good toll on my body. Despite being in better shape with more trail running experience this time around, I was still running that same marathon course plus an extra five mile section on the side. I guess I had suppressed the painful memories from the years prior - memories of struggling up the steep ascents, running down 15% grade on dry creek beds composed of loose, sharp rocks, the heat of the late morning, and the 4000+ feet of total climbing and descent. As I ran the first mile, on the most runnable section of the course none-the-less, I already felt like I was struggling and would be in for a long day. I immediately began to doubt the prospect of finishing in sub 6:00.

Photo: Ultra Race Photos
For whatever reason, I began to feel quite a bit better after passing through the first aid station at mile four. Maybe I just needed a few warmup miles, since I hadn't tapered much for this race. After a brief uphill section on a paved road, the course veered back onto singletrack for a few miles. I kept myself busy during this stretch by thinking about how I wish I had a pair of Altra Lone Peaks to make running the trails easier. The Merrell Bare Access Trail shoes I had on were falling apart and were worn down too much to provide much traction on the rocks and in the mud. Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Company ordered some Lone Peaks in my size to try out when I got back to Ithaca. Obviously that was no help to me now, but it was all I could think about for the next few miles as the trail circled around Silvermine Lake.

Before long though, the course started to get pretty gnarly as it merged with the Long Path. A lot of steep ascents with some mini rock scrambles while traversing a ridge made for a long stretch between aid stations. I think it was somewhere around mile 15 where I inexplicably sat down on a trail side bolder simply because I didn't feel like climbing up the steep ascent that was now staring me in the face. I began to have doubts about whether or not I'd finish this thing.

"Save your legs for Cayuga Trails, the race you've been training for since January."

"Forget it. If I can't handle 31 miles here, there's no chance at ever finishing Cayuga."

"You're only halfway. The second half will be way more hellish than even this."

Several runners passed my listless corpse here on that boulder and a few kind souls checked that I was okay. I gave them the good old ultra-grunt as an automated reply. I'm not sure how long I sat like this - in reality probably only a few minutes - but it seemed like an eternity. At some point I glanced down at my watch, studying the numbers as if the distance display would magically read 30.9 miles. It did not, but the pace display of "0'00/mi" hit me like a bolt of lightning. Where does this little Finnish piece of electronics get off with taunts like that? "All you gotta do is avoid sitting on your lazy ass all morning and another ultra is in the books." I vividly remember that shocking revelation - "As long as that Suunto pace reads something other than 0'00/mi, you're guaranteed to finish this thing." And with that new-found wisdom, I started up the rocky hill.

"Gnarly, Dude!" Photo: Ultra Race Photos
The next several miles went pretty well after eating downing some caffeinated GU gels and Cliff Shot Blocks. At mile 21 I descended to the Anthony Wayne aid station. It was here, two years ago, where my friend Adam stood along side the road with a camera, taking my picture, and I felt so fried I didn't recognize him until he started talking to me. This time around I felt much better. Shortly after leaving the aid station, a guy came flying past me. Way too fast to have been running behind me all this time, I realized it must be one of the 50M leaders. Sure enough, it was eventual 50 mile winner Brian Rusiecki looking strong at what was (for him) mile 41.

Photo: Ultra Race Photos
An hour or so later and I realized the final aid station was less than two miles ahead. "Just make it to the 1777 aid station and the rest is downhill," I thought with a sudden elation. As if in response, a guy running just in front of me muttered out loud, possibly to himself "Okay, just up and over that ridge." I completely forgot about the long, rocky climb up to Timp Pass, a true heartbreaking hill that puts Boston's little speed bump to shame. After running for five hours and beyond a marathon, I was ready for it to be over. The climb up and over that pass took an eternity.

Next up - Cayuga Trails! Photo: Ultra Race Photos
Finally in the home stretch with a few easy miles remaining, I was in a much better mindset and the pain was minimal. I found myself walking along side a guy and discussing the impending finish. He kept pace with me, running and walking and told me how this was his first ultra. Walking up the slightest incline, I flat out told the guy "After we reach the top here, we are running down to the finish line. You don't want to finish your first ultra walking it in, right?" He agreed, and together we took off downhill at the fastest pace we could manage. The final paved path into the finish area was lined with cheering spectators. Newly invigorated, I ran hard over the final flat half mile, crossing the mat in a few minutes over six hours.

The post-race runner amenities were plentiful. Runners were treated to a post race massage, a delicious hot meal, and free beer from Sierra Nevada. We also had access to an ice bath tent, a foam roller tent, free print screens on our race t-shirts, and a boatload of samples of Cliff products to take home (which I eat regularly even when they aren't free.) The North Face event organizers went all out to accommodate runners before, during, and after the race. For such a large scale event, it was very well organized and thought out. (I'd say the same for the previous two times I ran at the event.) Surprisingly, the entry fee is on par, if not cheaper, than many smaller scale trail running events of this distance. Although the course at Bear Mountain is very difficult across all the distances, the cutoff times are fairly generous. The races consist of the 50 miler, 50K, marathon, and marathon relay on Saturday, and a half marathon, 5K, and 10K on Sunday. I'd definitely recommend North Face New York for first time ultra or trail runners.

Enjoying a beer by the lake.
As I walked around to the event tents and took some time to relax, I encountered several people from Ithaca. A few I knew, and a few others I'd never met came up to me and introduced themselves when they recognized the logo on my FLRTC singlet. Feeling right at home, I also struck up conversations with people from all over the US, and even a few international runners.

At last, it was time to hit the road for a four hour drive home. Feeling pleased with the day's work, my thoughts as I pulled out of the parking lot were simply "Bring on Cayuga Trails!"