Saturday morning, 5AM. I wake up and can’t believe the day has finally arrived. Today will be the third running of the Mountain Madness 50K. Seems like only yesterday when I toed the line for the very first race. Like every year I spent a lot of time on the course training, trying to remember every turn, every hill, and anything else that would give me an advantage on race day. This 50K in my opinion is one of the toughest in the Northeast. You have to stay focused 100% of the time because of all the rocks, roots and other obstacles that are present on the trail. Also, because the minute you stop paying attention there will be a turn that you could miss. All of the above is why I love this race so much and because I can drive to the start in 20 minutes.
I have been fortunate enough to have won this race the past two years not because I am the fastest runner out there but because I know the course, inside and out. This year I was hoping that would work for me again. I have gotten slower this year even though I feel I have trained harder. My game plan was different than the previous two years. This year I had trained hard running up the hills and planned to do that during the race. The past two years I power hiked most of the hills and had the energy to put the pedal down the last 6 miles so I was a bit nervous but was willing to give it a try.
My wife Mara, was going to crew for me again which is a huge advantage. She has this down to a science. If you add up all the time in the manned aid stations I think I spent a total of ninety seconds this year. She is amazing.
We arrived at Shepherd Lake at 8:00 a.m. My teammates from the MPfit/Campmor Trail running team were there so we chatted for a few minutes. The weather was perfect and we knew it was going to be a good day to be in the woods. I proceeded into the park lodge to pick up my packet. I overheard someone in front of me say to Rick, “Is Randy Miller running this year?” in which Rick replied , “Yep”. I felt like there was a Bull’s Eye on my back. I took my normal 3 bathroom breaks before the start. Rick gave his usual in-depth pre-race briefing and at 9:00 a.m the gun went off.
My training partner Julian Vicente took off like it was a 1500m race. My first thought was he was going out way to fast but that is what Julian always does. I thought for sure I would see him again later up the trail. I settled into a comfortable pace with two other guys. We talked a little but I think they were just happy to let me lead the way. As we came out of the first loop we had to run back to the start and then turn around and run right back up the trail. It was a perfect time to see how far of a lead Julian had. I was surprised to see he had over a 5 minute lead and was still flying.
We all came into AS #2 (8 miles) at the same time. Mara handed me my bottle and off I went. Total time…1.2 seconds. See, I told you she was good.
The next 7 miles there are two long climbs. The first one I decided to take a walk break. My two friends decided to keep running so it was nice to be by myself for a while. That lasted for about 3 minutes. They both ran off course and as I came by they were stopped looking for the markers. I told them which way to go and we were back to me leading. I decided I would make a surge and see if I could lose them before the next major climb, I did this move last year and it worked. I really picked it up and told myself not to look back until the right turn up the green trail. This is a tricky turn because if you are not paying attention you could run right by it and lose valuable time. Sneaky, but like I said, I needed every advantage possible. This is my home turf and I know the same thing could happen to me on their home course.
I made it to the turn and to my dismay there they were about 50 yards back. I am not going to lie, this took me back. Here I thought I could relax and take a break up this big climb but I guess not. I decided to let them catch me and try to get some of my energy back. We all came into AS # 3 at Ramapo Reservation which was around mile 15. Julian and the second place guy were now only 3 minutes ahead. He said as I passed, “I may have gone out to fast.” I told him to keep it up but in the back of my mind I thought I may just catch him by Skyline drive, which was 6.5 miles away.
Mara gave me my new bottle and iPod. It was time to boogie and try to catch my training partner. I took a big swig of my drink and realized Mara gave me my recovery drink instead of my bottle of Clip 2. Oh well.
I ran most of the way to AS#4 which was 2.7 miles away. As I approached I could see the 2nd place runner just leaving so I figured Julian was not to far ahead. I got my bottle refilled by the great volunteers and off I went. This next section has a really hard climb, I knew there was no way I could run it so I geared myself up for a quick hike. The whole way over to Skyline Dr. (AS #5) I could see the 2nd place runner but just could not catch him.
I came into AS #5 and Mara put my Nathan 2.0 on my back and told me Julian had 6 minutes on me. CRAP!!! He was running faster and I was starting to run slower. I could only hope he would slow down. I would have the opportunity to see while running down the road to AS #6. As I left aid station 5 the 2nd place guy was re-hydrating and taking in some calories. The guys that were following me were no where to be seen. I tried to run faster but my energy level was really low and I started to feel some cramping in both calf muscles. I took a few S-Caps hoping and a 5 hour Energy, sometimes they work for me and sometimes they don’t. I was keeping my fingers crossed that it would this time.
I got to the road leading down to AS#6. It is a ½ mile descent and then you have to turn around and run back up to the Cannonball Trail. This is a perfect time to see where you stand in the race. There were people everywhere, Boy Scouts and the 25K runners. I was only about 100 yards down the road and here came Julian bouncing up the road like it was nothing, I knew I was in trouble. He looked so strong and I knew I looked pretty tired. He probably had over 7 minutes on me. I wished him luck, and knew all I could do now was try to keep second place.
Took a few glasses of coke at AS#6 and off I went back up the hill. I tried running but the slightest incline my calves said no way and the engine room said there was no fuel left. I started to think I may just lose it here. I was about halfway up when I saw the 3rd and 4th place guys coming down the road, It was enough for me to dig deeper and start running.
The last 6 miles of this race is tough, not a lot of big climbs but it just wears on you. It is not a real definite trail at times and there are some tricky turns. I was now coming up on a lot of 25K runners. It was nice to see some people for a change. I think everyone was getting tired and wanted their race to be over, me included. My calf muscles were getting worse, I took two more S-Caps but they never eased up. Not sure why I had this problem but it definitely affected my race.
I was looking forward to the last climb because then I knew I had less than a mile to go with a nice long downhill to Shepherds Lake, I blazed down as fast as I could. As I hit the dirt road I realized I did not look back once since AS#6. Now I looked back because my calf muscles were cramping big time, running on a flat road were really doing a number on them. The only way I could run was to swing my legs out to the side. I kept looking back every 10 seconds hoping no one was coming. Finally when I hit the parking lot I knew I was going to get 2nd place. I crossed the line and saw Julian sitting on the ground, he beat me by nine minutes and set a new course record. I was glad my friend won.
Things I might have done differently.
1. I think I may have gone into the race with depleted electrolytes. The past 4 weeks I went totally vegan. I wanted to see what would happen to my body. This may have caused the cramping the last six miles. I think I needed to take in more salt the days leading up to the race.
2. I went against my usual game plan of taking walk breaks in the first half of the race. I ran the first 8 miles without a break and I ran it harder than I usually do. WHY? I think when I saw Julian take off like a rocket I needed to do what I could to stay close. This may have caused my slowdown in the second half of the race.
3. I should have drank more water. I had only one bottle for the two long sections.
Overall it was a great race and I look forward to coming back next year. Thanks to Rick and Jen McNulty (NJTrailSeries.com) for all the hard work in planning this race. Thanks to our sponsors, Mountain Peak Fitness, Campmor, Saucony, and Nathan for supporting our sport. Mostly thanks to Mara for crewing me and all my great friends who went out on those long training runs with me.