Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bringing It All Back Home: Cayuga Trails Take 4

PC: Steve Gallow
I could hear the siren song of the Treman gorges calling me back. On a 50-mile course that’s thrice chewed me up and spit me out, it was inevitable I’d return to and face the known peril of Cayuga Trails. Lucifer’s Steps were calling, and the tune was nearly palpable. And hence my quest once again for a 10-hour finish. This was my fourth straight year running the Cayuga Trails 50, and the fourth time it's served as the USATF 50-Mile Trail Championship. In 2015 I narrowly missed going under 10 hours after a rough second loop. Last year, my training was there but some early nutritional mistakes put me in a hole and I finished way off my potential. Based on my training over the first half of this year, it was all but given. I fully expected to run somewhere around 9:15. That is, until I learned of some late course changes a few days before the race. Ian mixed things up a bit compared to previous years, leading to two significant changes in the route. A flat, half-mile of grass and park road adjacent to the start/turnaround was replaced with some hilly singletrack through an old growth forest a few miles in. Double that over two loops, and it meant two miles of rolling hills

instead of two easy throwaway miles. Also, the two-mile Rim Trail section on the outbound part of the loop was replaced with a more technical stretch on the Finger Lakes Trail. Add a copious amount of mud near Upper Buttermilk, and you’ve got yourself some slower times across the board. At least the temperature was the coolest it’s ever been on race day.

I took the first mile out pretty hard. Maybe it wasn’t wise, but I wanted to avoid any bottleneck as runners merged from a wide service road onto the narrow Treman Gorge Trail. With the grass and park road removed from the course, that meant less time for the field to spread out before the singletrack. I knew that passing people on the Gorge Trail’s roots and stairs was difficult.

The 50-mile start. PC: Hayley
The next several miles were uneventful. I figured there were 30 to 40 people ahead of me, and the trails were not very crowded in my area of the pack. I ran for a bit with my buddies Scott Dawson and Tommy Hayward before different pacing strategies dissolved our little triumvirate. I reached the Underpass Aid Station at mile 7.7-ish in 1:13—a pretty good pace compared to previous years. The Underpass was swarming with BATS—not the furry flying rodent kind, but volunteers from the Binghamton Area Trail Runners. The BATS were amazing all day, keeping us moving as all 50-milers trod through their turf four times throughout the race. I appreciate the help from these guys and gals much more than the winged mammal I found flying around our bedroom earlier in the week. Immediately after leaving The Underpass, runners cross through the thigh-deep Cayuga Inlet. An overwhelming sense of bravado struck and I tried to dash right through the creek while barely breaking stride. It seemed to work for about 1.5 seconds—then BOOM! Faceplant into the water, hard, nearly fully submerged. I ate it about five feet from a photographer, putting me in the running for the Best Water Show award. Honestly, that was completely unintentional! Five miles later I hit the Buttermilk Aid Station and began the arduous mile-long climb up the Buttermilk Gorge Trail. This climb is where I began to fall apart last year, so I was extra careful to take it conservatively this time around. The steep, endless stairs on the lower half of the trail are deceiving and can really wear you down if you don’t pace yourself correctly. I'd recently done several training runs around Buttermilk to develop a pacing strategy for this climb. I think it paid off, as I made pretty good time using a run/walk combo from the falls up to the top at King Road. An unusually high volume of mud on the orange FLT Spur Trail, coupled with two-way traffic, made for a few tricky miles. I’ve run this trail dozens of times and there’s never been as much mud as there was during the race. Recent heavy rainfall and the lack of enough hot days made for some gooey conditions, and running through it was nearly impossible. The new mission objectives became:
a) Don’t wipe out and eat a mud sandwich for breakfast; and
b) Don’t lose a shoe.
At the base of Lickbrook, around mile 18, I ran head-on into the marathon leaders. The single-loop race started two hours after the 50-mile, so now I’d be dodging marathoners for awhile in addition to other 50-milers. I didn’t recognize the leader, but got a boost when Rich Heffron and Jason Mintz flew past in hot pursuit, 20-30 seconds behind. After passing through The Underpass and grabbing watermelon from the BATS, I came across the women’s lead pack for the marathon. The top four ladies are some of the best trail and ultrarunners in the region, and I couldn’t help but think how great is was that the marathon drew such a competitive field in only its second year.
*** The return trip leads runners back through Treman State Park via the Finger Lakes, Rim, and Gorge Trails. The trails skirt the edge of Enfield Glen—the gorge that runs the length of the park. The gorge was formed over thousands of years as the waters of Enfield Creek slowly ate away at the walls of shale and sandstone. The flowing water has since created a series of waterfalls, the largest of which cascades down a 115-foot drop deep into the glen. Much of the masonry and carpentry work found along the trails today, such as the hundreds of stone steps, was done by members of the Civilian Conservation Corp during the Great Depression. The park land was once owned by Robert and Laura Treman, who purchased the land in 1915 to improve it and prevent heavy development. Five years later, the Tremans donated their land to the State of New York for the creation of Enfield Glen State Park. After Robert's death, the state renamed the park Robert H. Treman State Park in his memory. The property turned over to state management in 1920 included the Enfield Falls Mill, a grist mill with an attached residential house that was previously owned by Robert's grandfather, Jared Treman. The turbine-powered mill sits adjacent to Fish Kill Creek near what is now the park's western end. It was constructed in 1837 to replace a previous mill that had burned down. Enfield Falls Mill remained operational until 1917, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. 100 years after its closure, the mill remains a tourist attraction where one can learn how the turbine once worked to grind grains. ¹
Enfield Falls Mill (The Old Mill) as it is today.
Treman State Park's close neighbor, Buttermilk Falls State Park, has a similar history. The gorges and cascading falls were formed in the same manner by the flowing Buttermilk Creek. Some of the land comprising what is now Buttermilk Falls State Park was also donated to the state by the Tremans, in 1924. Hence the eponymous Lake Treman in Upper Buttermilk. Rather than an historic mill, the upper park trails lead to an old dam that once supplied water to Ithaca residents. The CCC also left their mark on the many stair cases and trails they built throughout Buttermilk. ² The mill, the dam, Treman's former property. It all serves as a scenic destination for hikers, tourists, and day trippers. They also play host to the Cayuga Trails 50 and Marathon. *** Somewhere around mile 23, the DNF demons hastily made their way inside my head. One minute I felt totally fine, and the next minute things got fuzzy, energy levels dropped noticeably, and I was unable to muffle a screaming voice demanding that I call it a day. Having been through this kind of mental fog many times before, I knew that it was only temporary, and if I could act quickly enough I’d conquer the demons. I shuffled through those last two miles of Loop 1 to reach halfway in 4:22, about 15 minutes faster than my 2016 time. Things were pretty blurry coming into the North Shelter Aid Station. I chugged a few glasses of Coke, knowing that eventually the caffeine would kick in and clear things up. There were a ton of volunteers and other runners around, but all I remember was checking in with Ian and telling him that the course was definitely tougher than it had been in previous years. His response was unforgettable, and it helped me get through the rest of the day. “Maybe it is, but YOU’RE tougher now too.” That thought stayed with me the rest of the race, especially over the next ten minutes as I jogged back out to the Gorge Trail while patiently waiting for the coke to take effect. Sure enough, the Coke did the job and the fog lifted instantaneously. I found myself back in business and on the move again. I saw Hayley for the first time since the start, at The Old Mill at mile 29. She was on a volunteer shift with a bunch of her friends at the FLRC-sponsored aid station. Apparently I had missed her by only a few minutes my last time through, around mile 22. I was already riding high after my escape from the mental black hole and from remaining ahead of pace. Seeing Hayley gave me even more of a lift. Immediately upon leaving, I came across Jason and Rich duking it out for the win in the final few miles of the marathon. As I receded into the woods away from The Old Mill, I could hear a rush of applause as the two leaders reached the aid station. The midday temperature never became a factor like it usually does at this race, topping out in the low-to-mid 70s. A new challenge was the Upper Lickbrook mud that had become a sticky, shoe sucking swamp by Loop 2. I was all alone in the mud pit when I was suddenly startled by Cole Crosby coming the opposite direction, audibly cursing the goo just as I was cursing it silently. Cole was looking great at this stage in the race—much better than when he responded to me with a thousand-yard stare several hours earlier—and ultimately ran well for a fifth-place finish. The next few miles were slow but steady. The major climbs—the Buttermilk Gorge Trail and Lucifer’s Steps—were draining, but I just kept reminding myself “You’re tougher now than ever before.” I reached The Old Mill for the final time at mile 47. Amy Dawson got a few photos of me looking doofy and slamming down some Wegmans Cola. Hayley made sure I was good to go and planned to meet me at the finish line. I resolved to beat her there, and—spoiler alert—lost handily.

Mile 47 soda slam. PC: Amy Dawson
All I had to do was keep a steady pace to finish under 10 hours and bring it all back home, like the classic Bob Dylan album suggests. The last two miles down the Treman Gorge Trail involved dodging hikers and tourists like I was playing Pole Position on the Atari 2600. At least I had come to expect heavy traffic, as it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon at a popular state park. I finally broke that elusive 10 hours barrier. My time of 9:48 was a 50-mile trail PR by 11 minutes. What’s more, consensus is that the course was definitely harder and possibly a little longer that it been in previous years. This is evident with the winning times. Chris Raulli’s 7:32 and Dani Filipek’s 9:03 are both about 45-50 minutes slower than the typical top times, with no lack of competition. (With their wins, both earned spots on Team USA for the 2018 IAU Trail World Championships in Spain.) That makes my own time that much more satisfying, even though I was expecting to run at least 30 minutes faster before I learned of the course changes. (Full Results.) Post-race, the food, beer, and high-fives were abundant as Hayley and I hung around to wait for other finishers and watch the awards ceremony. One of the best aspects of Cayuga Trails is how the event serves as an early-season reunion. The hometown race draws tons of good people I’ve met at races around New York and Pennsylvania, and many more whom I know locally. Catching up with many of these people in person—before, during, and after the race—and swapping stories of how our day played out, is something I always look forward to.


My thank yous are always repetitive, but to leave this paragraph out would be inappropriate. Thank you Hayley for putting up with all my time spent training, and for volunteering to help out the entire field at The Old Mill. Thank you Ian Golden for making Cayuga the incredible race that it is. And thank you to the many volunteers from FLRC, BATS, #TrailsRoc, RNR/MPF, and elsewhere.

¹ http://townofenfield.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Enfield-History-Enfield-Falls.pdf
² http://nyfalls.com/waterfalls/buttermilk-falls-state-park/

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