Out of all the NJ Trail Series races, this is one of my favorite events. Mountain Madness is a rugged 50K with approximately 5,000 feet of elevation gain held on the rocky trails throughout the Ramapo Mountains of Northern New Jersey. Since the beginning of August, I have been on a crash-training plan to do as much training on the course as possible, and while I knew I didn’t quite have the legs yet to keep up with the other speedsters on the MPF Campmor team, I did have some specific race goals that I wanted to obtain. Namely, I wanted to run an evenly paced race, and I was really hoping to try and grab a sub-7 hour finishing time. I even made a cheat sheet of goal times for each aid station to ensure my desired finish time. Obviously nothing could go wrong.
The race start has a real laid back vibe and it was great see so many familiar faces before the race. After a quick race briefing from the race director, Rick McNulty, the race was off. The first 7 miles are run on a loop called the Mountain Bike Race Course, before going back to the starting area to head out on the rest of the course. I knew that this section is the least technical part of the course and I wanted to gain as much time here as possible, without using too much energy so early in the race. About five miles into the race I made the mistake of following a group of runners in front of me and not paying attention to course markings. After about 5 minutes, when someone realized that no one had seen any markings for a while, we were forced to back track until we found where we missed the turn. As I knew from past experiences, this is a course that will definitely make you pay if you lose focus for even a little bit. I wasn’t too happy about losing time so early in the race, but knew it could have been much, much worse. So I got back on track with the goal to stay positive, and the lesson learned to stay focused.
After leaving aid station 1, it is a short two miles until the second aid station. After aid station 2, the climbing on the course starts. My aim now was to pick up the pace a little and try to get back on track for my goal time. While there are some tough climbs between Aid Stations 2 and 3, there also long stretches of fast downhill sections and here is where the race was really starting to click for me. I was fully warmed up, and really enjoying the perfect weather and scenery that Ringwood has to offer. Coming out of Aid Station 3 there was even an adventurous water crossing, where the trail had flooded and was well above my knees. Coming into aid station 4 (17 miles), I had shaken off my earlier detour, and continued to click off the miles and just soak up the day. In my opinion, this is where the race really starts to toughen up.
Out of aid station 4, it is about 4 uphill and mostly rocky miles to aid station 5 on Skyline drive, plus you now have 18+ miles on your legs. The rocks and climbs in this section started to get to me, and the temperature started to rise from the midday sun. I lost a little more time then I would have liked coming into aid station 5, but I was happy to find my girlfriend waiting there to cheer me on. This was a nice mental boost after the last tough section, and I was re-charged for the last 10 miles to the finish. I left the aid station with a group of three other runners, and had a great time leap-frogging with them until we got back to aid station 6. At this point, I was a little behind a 7-hour finish, but I still hadn’t given up on my goal time. I figured out that I had 1:10 to run the 10k back to the end, if I wanted to make my time! So I made a quick turn around at aid station 6 and tried to make hay back to the finish.
Unfortunately, the last part of the course, which I like to refer to as “the Soul Crushing” portion of this race, consists of a seemingly never-ending and deceptively challenging three-mile uphill section. It is never very steep (except for the rock scramble at mile 29), but you will continually swear that the finish must be just over the next hill, as surely, it shouldn’t take this long to run only three miles! I eventually made it out of this section (which I actually do really enjoy), and back around Shepherd’s Pond to cross the finish line in 7:15.
While I didn’t hit the time I wanted, I did meet my goal of running a fairly consistent race, and I also PR’ed this course by 11 minutes on my time from last year. To add to that, the weather was perfect, and I had a great time hanging out with all my trail running friends, so I can’t really ask for much more. Up next for me is the DWG 50K, and I hope to keep up the momentum from MoMa to lay down some solid times in my future events. Thanks to NJ Trail Series, and all the volunteers for putting on such a great event. Also, special thanks to all the MPF Campmor crew for making the all the training time on the course over these last few months so much fun, you guys are great!