Friday, June 10, 2016

Ain't No Easy Way Out: 2016 Cayuga Trails


noun \so·di·um\

1.  a silver-white soft waxy ductile element of the alkali metal group that occurs abundantly in nature in combined form and is very active chemically.

2. one of several electrolytes required by the human body during an ultramarathon, the mismanagement of which may cause a long and painful day.


noun \ˈslēp\ 
1. the natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored.

2.  a condition required by the human body in the days prior to an ultramarathon in order to replenish energy, the mismanagement of which may cause a long and painful day.

That's now three finishes at the Cayuga Trails 50 and that elusive sub 10 hour time still escapes my grasp. Going into the race, I thought - no, I knew - that my fitness was there, and that breaking 10 hours was all but given. Unfortunately, this is
ultra. Nothing is ever a given, and there ain't no easy way out.

The course is a double lollipop loop, starting at the east end of Robert Treman State Park and cutting over to Buttermilk Falls State Park and back, with a nature preserve and some private land in between. The 50 mile race served as the USATF 50 Mile Championship for the third straight year. New in 2016 was the accompanying marathon, which consists of a single loop of the 50 mile course. The CT50 and Marathon runs in and out of many of Ithaca's famed gorges, crosses several creeks, goes up and down stairs and steep singletrack adjacent to towering waterfalls, and through the bright green forests of early summer in Upstate New York. While there are no major sustained ascents or descents, runners are constantly moving up or down on rolling singletrack and stone staircases, for about 9,000 total feet of climbing and descending over the 50 miles. 

Having learned from experience, I knew the night before a big race like this would lend itself to very little sleep. For that reason, I tried to bank sleep during the entire week leading up to the race. Because of the upcoming race and some other impending life changes that I won't bother to detail here, I found myself wide awake at 4:00 AM nearly every morning. I was lucky to get six hours a night. Fortunately, the sleep deficit didn't leave me fatigued during the daytime, but so much for starting with those sleep hours in the black. 

6:51 until Go Time

Right from the gun, I took off harder than I had in previous years and covered the initial flat section at a pretty solid pace. We all knew the day would be a hot one, so it was important to focus on drinking enough early on. My plan was to carry water and drink Tailwind from a collapsible cup at each aid station. I blew through the Old Mill AS at mile 3 and paused at the Underpass AS at mile 7 just long enough to refill my handheld and learn that there was in fact no Tailwind anywhere on the course, only GU Brew. Had I misremembered about Tailwind on the course? Who knows? I've run enough of these things and learned not to be 100% reliant on aid station food. I have nothing against GU Brew - only that I haven't trained with it and wasn't about to start now.
Creek crossing at Lick Brook. PC: Nancy Hobbs/ATRA

Immediately upon leaving the Underpass, it became apparent that no one expected this to be a run-swim duathlon. The creek crossing at Lick Brook is generally about about mid-thigh deep during cooler times of the year, and knee deep during a hot stretch like we had in the week leading up to race day. I hopped into the creek and plunged forward, almost falling under as the cool, refreshing water rose well past my waste. After a bit of fumbling like a drunkard, other nearby runners and I were able to hobble up the far bank while FLRC staple Joe Reynolds just pointed and laughed at all the unsuspecting near-downing victims. Meanwhile Nancy Hobbs from ATRA got the whole thing on camera. It left me suspecting that Ian dug that crossing a foot deeper to add some extra flair to his race!

Invigorated by the cold water and unexpected obstacle, I made short work of the steep climb up Lick Brook and through the mud-free, flatter section of singletrack that followed. I felt great coming into Upper Buttermilk where Hayley was waiting, and I took five seconds to brief her on my day so far. Jeney, (one of my pacers at Virgil Crest), and her fiancee Adam were at the park entrance as road marshals, while Lisa Holt cheered on runners as she pedaled her stationary trainer on the side of the road. Seeing so many familiar faces kept me running strong, and I was looking forward to passing through again in another five miles. I made great time into the Buttermilk AS at mile 12.4, the midway point of the loop, in just over 2:00.

The mile climb up the Buttermilk Gorge Trail is where things quickly started to unravel. A few minutes out of the aid station and I felt my brain and body fatiguing rapidly. Eating an almond butter packet at the top seemed to do little, and things got fuzzy by the time I reached Hayley et al. at mile 15. So much so that I don't recollect getting cat-called by Hayley and Adam as I left the road and followed the trail back into the woods. At the time, I chalked it up to my cumulative sleep deficit.

My energy level got better before it got inevitably worse. I savored the creek as I recrossed Lick Brook, pausing to fully submerge myself in the silty water. A minute later I downed some still icy Guayaki Yerbe Mate from my drop bag at the Underpass AS, mile 18, and chased it with some dill pickles and watermelon. Great idea for a fast food combo meal, I know.

I hoped the mate's caffeine would keep me going but it did nothing. I felt like the walking dead and yearned for the reaper's icy hand to take the pain away, or at least come and lower my core temperature. Slogging most of the next stretch back into the Old Mill AS I knew I wouldn't go sub 10:00, and the day wasn't even half over. The bagpiper at the base of Lucifer's Steps - the same man I'd seen a month earlier bellowing his death march atop Breakneck Ridge - failed to hasten my gait.

Maria and the rest of the Finger Lakes Runners Club volunteers at the Old Mill were amazing all day, but they couldn't perform miracles like turn water into Tailwind or resurrect my motivation to move. I ate a salt potato and a smorgasborg of other stuff, walked 100 feet down the path, and sat on the edge of a stone bridge, staring emptily into a watery void while hikers and tourists moseyed on by. 

It's easy to fall in love
When you've run your luck you know you're done
And the last kiss had fool's cost
Now your tired eyes can only haunt
There ain't no easy way
No there ain't no easy way out

- Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

I hit the halfway point at the North Shelter AS in 4:37 - two minutes faster than last year, but without the energy needed to come close to last year's time. I downed another salt potato or two and a bunch more fruit. My buddy Joel was working the aid station and enthusiastically offering the tired, poor, huddled masses of runners a stark reminder. "Alright! You're all warmed up now! Get out there for lap number two!" I had to remind myself this was the same friend that zipped past my house during the Ithaca Festival Mile the night before - in bare feet, while wearing a full tuxedo in the 80 degree heat.

I ran back through the woods, up a bunch of stairs, through the drab grayness of a 10,000 year old gorge, past a massive 400 foot wall of ancient shale and sandstone, and up a bunch more winding stone stairs right alongside the 115 foot Lucifer Falls. After all of this I found myself back at the Old Mill at mile 28, in no better shape than the last time through at mile 22. I made a mental note to design a t-shirt that reads "Ithaca Is Stairs."

This time Ian was at the Old Mill. "Before you leave tell Tyler to get out of here." I looked over and there was Tyler, sprawled out in the grass next to the food table. Tyler was a local guy I'd met the day before at packet pickup, and we'd run a few miles together earlier in the race. I learned was hurting bad and had been sitting there for quite awhile. Another salt potato and I was ready to go, despite still feeling fuzzy headed and unmotivated. "C'mon, get up and we'll walk." I wasn't asking Tyler to go. I was ordering him. We were both obviously deep in a pain cave, but it would be alleviated slightly if we had someone to talk/complain to while walking. 

The next few miles were a combo of a walk and painfully slow shuffle. At some point I felt able to run and pulled on ahead of Tyler, at his behest. Whoa, all of the sudden I'm running again, even uphill! Just then, men's leader Tyler Sigl flew past in the opposite direction. I estimated he was at mile 45, and the guy looked like a thoroughbred fresh out of the gate. (Sigl went on to win by a large margin and break the course record by four minutes.)

Hobbling along around mile 34. PC: Melissa Weiner

By the time I reached the Underpass AS for the fourth time, I realized the reason for my early misery. I had forgotten to take in enough sodium. D'oh! The salt and S-Caps I'd been consuming for the past hour finally kicked in and got me out of the haze. Before that, the little bit of salt from one almond butter packet and a few pickles wasn't enough. The only other food I'd been eating was fruit, plus a few swallows of watered down GU Brew. With that revelation, I continued to eat a bunch of potatoes and S-Caps the rest of the way and kept the bonk at bay until the finish.

The final 18 miles went relatively smoothly - lots of eating, drinking, and cooling down at creek crossings. By the time I'd realized my fueling mistake at mile 30 it was too little too late. I was able to run continuously, but my legs were so beat up after 30 hilly miles that I couldn't up the pace enough to break 10 hours. At the 8:00 mark I realized I only had to manage 11.5 miles in two hours. I tried briefly to surge but couldn't maintain the effort needed to do it, ultimately finishing in 10:47 with a few strong miles to close it out. The most frustrating part is that I allowed the same sodium problem to slow me down at Cayuga Trails last year, and then again early on in the Virgil Crest 100. Taking in salt early on a hot day is something I need to make a habit of. 

The finish line scene was awesome! A cooldown dip in the Enfield Creek Swimming area, a ton of eating, a massage by Dale Cooper, LMT, a ton of eating, catching up with friends old and new, and a ton of eating. Recovery was on my mind immediately upon crossing the finish line. Next on the list is the Manitou's Revenge Ultramarathon in only two short weeks.

The 2016 Cayuga Trails was like a family reunion.There were loads of familiar faces throughout the day. Some local, some I'd met the day before while volunteering at packet pickup, some I knew from other races, and others I'd met at the previous editions of Cayuga. Everyone I came across seemed genuinely happy to be there in any capacity - volunteering, crewing, spectating, or running. As I've said a hundred times before, it's the trail running community that makes the sport so appealing to all of us and keeps us coming back for more! 

Thank you again to everyone I had the pleasure of running with. Thank you to each and every volunteer, the Finger Lakes Runners Club, Dan and Amy Lopata and their entire #TrailsRoc posse, all the random hikers that yielded the right-of-way to runners even though they didn't have to, and to Ian Golden and the Red Newt Racing/Mountain Peak Fitness team for making the whole thing happen. 

And a special appreciation to my wife Hayley for getting out of bed at a ridiculous hour see me at the start, and for later cat-calling me with "Nice legs!" as I nimbly escaped back into the woods.

My first race as a USATF member.


Additional resources:

Check out the Running Inside Out Podcast. Based out of Rochester, host Chris O'Brien interviews local and regional runners and they often talk about the trail and ultra scene around Upstate NY, including CT 50. Chris just ran Cayuga for the first time, and his podcast is certainly worth a listen.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome job Pete! I'm sorry you didn't hit your sub ten ... but you WILL for sure and soon!!
    Great re-cap - so bummed we had to miss it this year! With 2 wedding cakes to deliver we just couldn't make it happen.