Good Legs are only part of the equation…Mountain Madness 50k (referred to often as MOMA) is a trail race put on by NJ Trail Series. It is held in parts of Ringwood & Ramapo state parks in northern NJ. Now in its 3rd year, MOMA had races of 50k, 25k & 7.7 miles. This years event took place on October 15th. The few previous days had been slightly warm & humid for October but on race day the weather was perfect. It was a crisp autumn morning.
At 9am the 50k started with a simple countdown & go. The beginning section is 7.7 miles loop referred to as the mountain bike loop. Runners were off the front going hard. I stayed back. My plan was to take the 1st half of the race easy & save myself for the difficult end. Holding back & going slow is a lot harder then running fast. The urge to follow the runners ahead was great. Thankfully, my Mountain Peak Fitness/Campmor team leader Elizabeth had the same plan. I ran with her & she kept me in check, providing great pacing. We concluded the loop in a little over an hour. It was faster then planned but we felt good & were on schedule. A quick trip back to the start finish area & we were back on the trail heading to our next destination. Aid station 3 is in Ramapo reservation right off of Rt. 202., it was about 7 miles away. This was a hard section. It featured 2 big climbs. I again raced a conservative pace. I was feeling real good. My watch was set to beep every 20 minutes to remind me to take in calories. I have had nutrition issues in races in the past & was following a new strategy. On training runs I had picked the brain of MPfit/Campmor teammate (2nd place finisher, 50k, race report to follow) Randy Miller who had given me sound advice.
I made it to aid station #3 feeling good. This was a special stop for me. My girlfriend Debbie & good friend AJ were working this station. I grabbed a quick drink, snack & kiss and then was off down the orange trail which started with a small water crossing. To some it was knee deep. My 5’2” frame made it thigh deep. There is nothing like sopping wet shoes with 15 miles to go. I cruised the next section, increasing my pace & running alone. Aid station 4 was the stop before the skyline drive section of the course. It is rocky with a big climb, about 3 miles total. I hated this section in training and it scared me all week leading to the race. I put on my iPod and started off, not knowing what to expect. Well, I absolutely crushed it. I made it to the top in a little more then 45 minutes. I was feeling great with 10 miles to go.
This is where my race took a turn (literally & figuratively) for the worse. I left aid station 5 feeling confident in finishing below 6 hours. A runner was following me, relying on me to lead him on the trail. About a mile into this section I missed a turn onto the cannonball trail. I new there was a turn around and was looking for it but just missed it. I continued running on the wrong trail with a feeling in my gut that I was heading the wrong way. I still had the other runner following me. I ran for about 20 minutes, not seeing the markers I was looking for. Should I turn around I thought? What about this person following me? If I had been alone I probably would have turned around sooner but what if we weren’t wrong & had to come back to this point again? Finally I decided to turn around to find the correct path. I found my missed turn and headed off to make up time.
Mentally I was destroyed. I had lost almost 40 minutes going off course. I wanted to stop, sit down and quit. I cursed, even cried a little. I was feeling so physically great but made a mental mistake and it ruined my race. Everything up to that point had been going perfect for me. I felt defeated. I knew I had to fight through the feelings, to get myself going again and finish. I had a gel, cranked some music and powered on. I pushed my pace. I passed other runners. I was focused on getting to the finish line. I knew the last 3 miles real well. They were hard & hurt. My calves were beginning to cramp but I did not stop. I made it out of the woods to the dirt road to the finish. I gave all I had and crossed the line in 6 hours and 33 minutes. I saw my teammates and collapsed next to them. I was equally disappointed and satisfied.
Trail races are tough both physically and mentally. The terrain is always changing, constantly up & down with rocks thrown in for good measure. Good Legs are only part of the equation. One must always be mentally sharp as well. Following the course and markers is as the speed and strength in your legs. Today I had one but not the other. Each race is a learning experience. I definitely learned a lot about myself today and will put it to good use in the future.