Friday, June 5, 2015

Definitely Maybe: Cayuga Trails 2015


Over the past few weeks I've been on a kick listening to one of my favorite bands of all time - the one and only Oasis. The short drive from my house to the starting area found me blasting several of the band's more up-tempo tunes to get pumped and ready to rock. As if that wasn't enough, I had an array of Oasis songs playing in my head throughout the race like some bi-polar DJ performing a freestyle mash-up for the first time. Amazingly, it seems many of the Gallagher brothers' songs fit the tone of the race and reference themes that I revisited throughout the day (albeit when taken out of context). What, then, could one of most most successful and iconic rock bands in history have in common with a bunch of grungy, sweaty weirdos running through the woods? I mean, what's the story, morning glory?


Hello! It's good to be back!


http://www.usatf.org/Events---Calendar/National-Championships.aspx?year=2015
On the starting line, once again surrounded by 200 plus trail runners, I took a good look around. Strangely enough, it felt like only yesterday since I last toed the line at the Cayuga Trails 50. The day's forecast seemed to change every hour, and last I checked it was expected to be cloudy with scattered rain showers. Nobody ever mentions the weather can make or break your day. We could only hope the stairs wouldn't be too slick and the mud would be minimal. Some might say we will find a brighter day. 

After five long months of training and preparations we'd finally be setting off in under a minute's time. I intentionally stood near the back of the pack to avoid going out too fast, and was so far back I couldn't hear the traditional sounding of Ian's ram's horn as the countdown clock reached 00:00:00. Little things they make me so happy, but it's good to be free.

Scott and me shortly before zero hour.


 

 

You Gotta Roll With It, You Gotta Take Your Time


I knew that taking the first loop too fast would guarantee failure in finishing under 10 hours. My goal from the start was to go sub-10:00, which would break my personal 50 mile record of 9:59:52 set at last year's Finger Lakes 50s. I need to be myself. I can be no one else. I'm feeling supersonic. Gimme gin and tonic. You can have it all, but how much do you want it? Given my improved level of fitness since last summer and my knowledge of the course, it seemed a PR was almost certain. Definitely maybe. Unlike most other trail races I've done, the runners here weren't particularly chatty in the opening miles. I didn't feel like talking much at this point either, and only exchanged some brief small talk with a few strangers in passing.

Early going. Photo: Ron Heerkens Jr.
A major change to the course from last year was the inclusion of the Upper Gorge Trail at Robert Treman State Park, about two and a half miles in. The original course followed this trail, but last year we had to detour up and around via the Red Pine Trail due to masonry work on the Gorge Trail. The Gorge Trail is not only the most scenic part of the entire race, but the stairs felt much easier to climb than the dirt and loose rock up the steeper Red Pine Trail. Tons of photographers were here snapping shots of runners with beautiful scenic backdrops of the gorge and Lucifer Falls.


I blew right through the Old Mill aid station at mile three, pausing just long enough to make sure my bib number was recorded by the Finger Lakes Runners Club volunteers. The next four miles were pretty easy going. I took my time descending the long, steep staircase on Lucifer's Steps and was passed by several runners on the way down, only to re-pass them on the ensuing flat stretch. You gotta roll with it, you gotta take your time. You gotta say what you say. Don't let anybody get in your way 'cause it's all too much for me to take. The course soon switched to single track, and we exited the park's east end to come to The Underpass aid station at mile seven. I already had it in my head that I'd only stop a few seconds to refill my handheld and avoid wasting time. A few minutes later I was regretting the hasty exit, wishing instead that I took a look around at the drop bag area and food table so I could prepare better for my next time through.


The Master Plan


When running this race last year I made a few strategic mistakes that likely slowed me down some. The first was placing drop bags at the start/finish/halfway point and at the Buttermilk aid station. The former I only had access to at mile 25, and the latter only at mile 12.4 and 37.4. Like last year, I was doing this without a crew and had to rely entirely on aid stations and my carrying capacity for whatever I'd need mid-race. By now you should've somehow realized what you gotta do.

This year I left a large drop bag at The Underpass, which I'd have access to four times throughout the race. Combined with another bag at the North Shelter aid station (the mile 25 turnaround/start/finish), I'd have access to my stuff - dry clothes and my own food and gels - much more frequently. This worked to my advantage throughout the day - the bag functioned as both a pickup point for my food and a drop point for stuff I didn't need to continue carrying. Coming back through at mile 18, I left my shirt in the bag, exchanged my soaked bandana for a dry one, and grabbed a few packets of nut butter for the road.

The performing enhancing
Kokopelli makes a return
Another change I made was to carry only a 20 ounce Ultimate Direction handheld bottle instead of a backpack with two bottles and a bunch of supplies in the pouch. I figured it would be cool enough on this day that 20 ounces would be plenty of water between aid stations. Without the hydration vest, I felt much lighter and was able to keep cooler by ditching my shirt. The only other significant pieces of gear I used throughout the day were the Altra Lone Peak 2.0 shoes and the Suunto Ambit 2. Unlike my Garmin Forerunner 405 last year, the Ambit 2's battery life lasted the entire run.

It's all part of the master plan. I was hoping my pacing strategy would allow me to hit the North Shelter halfway point in 4:30-4:45. I knew I'd never run a negative split, so that way I'd have 5:15 to 5:30 to run the second half. I could slow down to an extent, but would still have to be vigilant with my pace the second time around.


Bring It On Down


Buttermilk aid station, mile 12.4. Photo: Amy Lopata
Upon leaving The Underpass at mile seven, runners were immediately treated to a three foot deep creek crossing, followed by switchbacks up the steep, 20-25 percent grade at Lick Brook. I felt great trudging up the hill but already began to dread repeating the same climb on loop two. The Lone Peak, combined with Smartwool socks from my Northface swag bag, had my feet feeling dry by the top of the climb. This was a huge confidence booster in a race with eight creek crossings spread evenly apart,

Around this time I began running along side other people and everyone seemed to be in a jolly mood. I ran with two other guys through a boring, flat stretch and into Buttermilk Falls State Park. As we drink to ourselves,
we'll amuse ourselves underneath the sky again.
Another course change from last year was that on the outbound section, the Buttermilk Bear Trail was replaced with a flat, paved park road. Runners only kept to the Bear Trail on the inbound portion, making the course a little easier and adding some more variation to the out and back.

What was that sound ringing around your brain? Today was just a blur, you gotta head like a ghost train. What was that sound ringing around your brain? You're here on your own - who you gonna find to blame? After bombing down the Buttermilk Rim Trail I reached the Buttermilk aid station, commandeered by the Rochester-based club #TrailsRoc. Everyone here was super helpful and in great spirits. I left after retying my shoes and took off up the Buttermilk Gorge Trail feeling pretty good.

  

Lord, Don't Slow Me Down


The next section was kind of a blur. I remember that the rain started to fall and I began feeling sluggish around mile 15. The stabilizer muscles around both ankles started to ache. It was way to early to starting hitting a wall. Lately, did you ever feel the pain in the morning rain as it soaks you to the bone? Fortunately, I got to talking with a guy from Toronto and the conversation distracted me from the discomfort for the next few miles. You keep saying that my head's locked up in the clouds, but keep praying that the Lord won't slow me down.

After crossing the same three foot creek in the opposite direction, I was back at The Underpass where I dropped off my shirt, changed bandanas, and ate a few pickle slices out of my bag. The cool, salty pickle brine and the crunchy texture really helped me feel rejuvenated for awhile. Yeah I feel like the force of nature could make you sing like a bird released. Running back through Treman the way I came, I finished the first loop in 4:37, within my predicted 15 minute window. Hayley was waiting there and snapped a picture before I headed back out for another round. Half the world away. I've been lost, I've been found, but I don't feel down.
 
Halfway home. Photo: Hayley Kresock

Cruising the singletrack at mile 30-ish. Photo: Rebecca Lee

Is This Confusion? Am I Confusing You?


Upon crossing the dam at Lake Treman around mile 35, I suddenly started to feel much worse. I was losing momentum fast, but was hoping to avoid eating anything until the aid station two miles away. I stepped off the grass onto the park road in Upper Buttermilk Falls and immediately felt dizzy, weak, and disoriented. I stopped moving for a minute to try and clear my head, and then began to walk it off. Here am I, going nowhere on a train. Here am I, growing older in the rain. Despite the severe haziness, I knew I had to keep moving forward. The dizzy spell soon passed and my mind began to clear.

But it's getting colder - I feel a chill in the air. There's a change in the weather. Here it comes again. I can feel the rain. It started pouring harder now and there were no other people, runners or otherwise, anywhere in sight. Now that I mention it, there were probably others around that I couldn't see. The problem was something I've never experienced before. In a matter of seconds, my line of vision shrunk from 180 degrees to just straight ahead. I've experienced tunnel vision plenty of times before, but only when my brain felt fried and my body was ready to give up. Here, my brain suddenly seemed okay and my body felt surprisingly strong. I simply had no range of vision! I can't tell you the way I feel, because the way I feel is oh so new to me. I was still able to move pretty well, so for the second time today I bombed downed the Buttermilk Rim Trail and into the aid station at the bottom, mile 37.4. Bring it on down - bring it down for me. Your head's in a fish tank, and your body and your mind can't breath.  

Amy Lopata and the other #TrailsRoc volunteers said I was looking strong, but I wasn't so sure. I think I gave Amy a scare when I asked if I looked pale. The PBJ and salt potatoes at this aid station somehow did the trick and I felt great a few minutes later while power hiking back up the Buttermilk Gorge Trail. I get up when I'm down. I can't swim but my soul won't drown. I do believe I got flare. I got speed and I walk on air.

At this point, I did the math - 7:20 elapsed meant I had two hours and 40 minutes to cover the last 12.6 miles. I felt confident I could take my time and still finish under ten hours. I had a new PR waiting at the finish. Definitely. Maybe. Unfortunately, as I should have remembered, nothing's ever guaranteed in an ultra. D'you know what I mean?


Little By Little


I felt like I was moving pretty fast, all things considered, over the next section. The rain let up and I didn't walk a whole lot, although my running pace dropped significantly. Time to focus on one step at a time. Little by little, you have to give it all in all your life, and all the time I just ask myself why you're really here.

I found myself back at The Underpass at mile 43 where Hayley was waiting. I now had about 1:15 remaining to cover the last seven miles. Either my math was fuzzy or the previous section took way longer than it should have.

The salt potatoes and PBJ were so tasty at the last aid station that I decided to go for more of the same. Big mistake. They seemed to take an eternity to digest. I had no GI issues all day, but I could feel the undigested food sitting in my stomach. The winding singletrack eventually led to the final climb up Lucifer's Steps - the spot that was nearly my bane a year ago. By this time, the potatoes were finally digested and I felt much better. Egged on by some random hikers, I made short work of the stairs while trying to make up for lost time. A mile earlier I encountered Gerrit, the course sweeper, who told me I had a mere 4.5 miles from the top of the stairs. Suddenly I had 43 minutes to run four and a half miles. I thought that I heard someone say now. There's no time for running away now.  Hey now! Hey now! Feel no shame - cos time's no chain. 


Sing a Song, Soldier On


About 20 minutes later I came into the Old Mill for the last time. I knew it was near impossible to run eight minute miles on these trails with fresh legs, never mind that pace with 47 miles under my belt today. If I'm to fall, would you be there to applaud? Or would you hide behind them all? I thanked the FLRC volunteers at the Old Mill for the final time and decided to finish the last three miles strong, whatever that meant. I felt really good overall - I just couldn't find the strength to move much faster. Maybe the songs that we sing are wrong. Maybe the dreams that we dream are gone. So bring it on home and it wont be long. It's getting better man! 

A hundred yards to go! Photo: Hayley Kresock

Tonight You're a Rock and Roll Star


Coming through the final grassy stretch, I was greeted by Hayley, some friends, and a bunch of strangers, all applauding as I ran through the arch in 10:12:40. Come on! Turn up the sun! Turn it up for everyone!

I ended the day feeling great! Missing my 50 mile PR by only 13 minutes was still a victory, given the much higher difficultly level of the course and the lack of a pacer. Upon crossing the finish line I felt like I could have kept going a lot further - a huge confidence boost as I begin shifting focus ahead to Virgil Crest.

Hayley and I stuck around for several hours to watch our friends and other runners finish. I had no stomach issues and began stuffing my face with all kinds of real food and some Lucifer's Steps beer from Ithaca Beer. Hayley even volunteered to pick up my drop bag, then run home to grab me some warmer clothing so I could stay at the finish line for awhile. She returned in time for the awards ceremony. She is love and her ways are high and steep. She is love and I believe her when she speaks.

One of several race sponsors was Altra, and  I was lucky enough to win another pair of Lone Peaks 2.0's during the post-race awards ceremony and giveaway contest. I was very pleased with how the shoes handled the various types of terrain and didn't cause any blisters, chafing, or unusual foot pain. I'm not sponsored by Altra or throwing around product endorsements, but I can say I'll be buying their shoes for years to come.

I hung around for awhile to socialize and watch some friends finish. Dale Cooper's post-race massage was killer as always. In my mind my dreams are real. Now you're concerned about the way I feel. Tonight I'm a rock 'n' roll star!


Don't Look Back in Anger, I Heard You Say


Reflecting back on the day, it's difficult to see where I could have cut another 13 minutes off my time. I timed myself in each of the 11 aid stations, and only spent about 18 minutes total stopping to refuel. Aside form the aid stations, there were only a few additional minutes when I was not moving forward, and while moving forward I did very little walking on the flats and downhills. I also had no issues with gear or significant  stomach problems to slow me down, and no wrong turns. (In previous ultras, all of these things have contributed to wasted time.)  The only way to significantly improve my time is to train harder to increase muscular endurance, aerobic capacity, and my body's ability to burn fat. These are all things to keep in mind for Virgil Crest and for Cayuga Trails 2016.


In the end, it was a long but rewarding day on feet, surrounded by beautiful scenery. I enjoyed meeting new people and catching up with those I've run with before. I'm already considering making the Cayuga Trails 50 my annual go-to race for as long as my body can handle the distance. I feel truly lucky to live in a community with people and events like this!


 

Live Forever


Once again, I can't thank everyone enough for making Cayuga Trails the incredible event that it is! The USATF and Ultra Sports Live .TV helped add new dynamics to the race by drawing in more competition and an added media presence. Thank you to Ian Golden and Red Newt Racing for putting the whole thing together, all the accommodating volunteers who sacrificed their Sunday to make this race possible, Team FLRTC, The Finger Lakes Runners Club, all the runners I had the privilege to share the trails with, and the random hikers and spectators along the course who helped me continue to move forward!

Last but not least, thank you to my wonderful wife Hayley for supporting me on this for the past several months and coming out to cheer me on!

You and I are gonna live forever!