Monday, November 27, 2017

Fall Mileage and Foliage: The Cat's Tail Marathon and Mendon 50k

After three weeks of little-to-no running following Eastern States, I slowly started to ramp things back up. My first true long run, five weeks post Eastern, went miserably, but things started to improve from there. Soon after I began targeting the Mendon Trail Run 50k, for no other reason that it fit well with my schedule and allowed for enough rest and training time leading up to race day.

Training was a seven-week block, where all but one week totaled between 50 and 70 miles. Adam had previously asked if I'd run the Cat's Tail Trail Marathon with him and pace him to a finish. I agreed, but had to wait until almost the last minute to sign up. I couldn't commit too early until I knew that Hayley would be okay three weeks after her knee surgery.

I sent in the application—by snail mail only, no online registration—just after the race had sold out, thinking I'd try my luck with the waitlist. After a few days in limbo, RD Mike Siudy let me know I was in. (He'd tell me at the finish line that "You were in right away, but I wanted to make you sweat about it for a few days." Haha, thanks Mike!) So anyway, I drove down
to Phoenicia, NY,  and ran the point-to-point Catskills route the entire way with Adam.

The Cat's Tail course runs from Fox Hollow Road up and over four of the Catskill High Peaks—Panther, Slide, Cornell, and Wittenberg Mountains—in that order, and ultimately ends in the booming metropolis of downtown Phoenicia. One could theoretically run the Manitou's Revenge course from the Cat's Tail finish line as a cool down, in reverse and unsupported. Any takers for next year?

The route offers some killer Catskills views from Slide Mountain and Giant Ledge, just south of Panther. Unfortunately, we passed these points early enough in the morning that the fog allowed only limited visibility. We also had the pleasure of negotiating the infamous Cornell Crack, heading east off the summit of Cornell Mountain. This involved climbing down a near vertical, 15-foot rock face, while trying to look cool in front of Joe Azze's camera. Needless to say, a BQ marathon time was not in the cards for any of us.

A late morning view from the top of Cornell Mountain.
Adam successfully finished his second official marathon—not counting fat-ass runs—and his first on trails. Congrats! I got in a solid long run that left my quads and glutes pretty sore the next morning. I hadn't the chance to run up steep mountain trails or over miles of jagged rocks since Eastern States, so I guess my body had forgotten how to take this type of abuse. It was great seeing the familiar New York ultra crowd at Cat's Tail. This was the last race of the year to draw a large number of runners that routinely run New York mountain races and Red Newt events.


Next on the agenda was the Mendon 50k on November 4. The race is put on by the Rochester Orienteering Club, and I'd met the organizers over the summer while volunteering at the Twisted Branch 100k. This one I planned to race, thinking I was in shape enough to run a 4:15 for a huge 50k PR and maybe even win the race. I was—spoiler alert—not even close.

The Mendon Trail Runs is a 10k loop around Mendon Ponds County Park in Honeoye Falls, NY. Runners maneuver over rolling hills, with wide, smooth trails, and no major climbs. Repeat five times for 50k. The race web page states 1,000 feet of gain and 1,000 feet of loss per loop. My Strava data agrees, but I think the actual elevation change is slightly less. Four distances—10k, 20k, 30k, and 50k—run concurrently, so the trails are pretty crowded. Fortunately the trails are wide and well groomed, making it easy to pass people without congestion and conga lines.

Loop 1 started with confusion only a quarter-mile into the race. The park trails turned multiple ways at several intersections, and the pie plate arrows we were told to follow were nowhere to be seen. Jason West, the leader and ultimate 50k winner, took a guess, while I waited for a crowd to catch up and tell me which way to turn. This happened three times in the first mile. I learned at the end of the loop that the course had been marked, but the arrows were removed by either vandals or an act of nature. Unfortunately these things happen.

I caught up to Jason after he doubled back from a wrong turn, and we ran together in the lead for awhile, thinking that with two sets of eyes we'd be less likely to get lost. After 2.5 miles, I let him go when my heart rate was suddenly jacked through the roof on a pretty easy uphill. I was hoping to hang on longer, but it was a smart move. Jason would crush it and win in 3:59. Clearly I had no business trying to hold his pace.

I thought it would be easy to nail down a fast time, but the rollers beat me up pretty badly by loop 4, proving that I wasn't as fit as I'd thought. The first two loops went pretty smoothly, but clearly I'd started too fast. I completed loops 1 and 2 in 49 and 51 minutes, respectively, before slowing to 56 minutes on loop 3. I was able to run the entire 50k, with only a few minutes spent at aid stations, but the pace gradually slowed as the cumulative pounding on my legs took its toll. By loop 5, I was mostly shuffling along at 10-minutes per mile, hoping to hang on to second place.

Early going at Mendon Ponds. PC: Paul Schwartz
After a 1:03 fifth loop, I finished in 4:41—far off my goal, but a PR for the distance. I was surprised to learn that I finished third, and later realized that the second place guy flew past me midway through loop 3. At the time, I thought he was the leader in either the 20k or 30k. While it wasn't the result I was hoping for, I was happy to lock down a PR and finish an ultra I'd previously never run.

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