The Mt. Tammany 10 is a close to 40 mile trail race on the Appalachian Trail on the New Jersey side of the Delaware Water Gap. There are 10 climbs of Mt. Tammany, which each climb having 1,200 feet of ascent. It’s a 10 loop course with descents on the backside of the mountain that you can really bomb down if you choose to trash your quads. There is also a 10 hour time limit. Hence the race name Mt. Tammany 10!
You have to be part mountain goat (or Wildebeest) to complete this race within the time limit. The field was limited to 30 runners for this race. Only 21 started in 2013, which is common for such a grueling event. There were 7 finishers with the majority of the field dropping out or being pulled for missing the cutoff.
There are some beautiful views on the trail, but with the rocks, snow and ice on the course there wasn’t time for sightseeing. A deep concentration was required to avoid falling and an injury.
After finishing second at the Mt. Tammany 10 in 2012 it had become clear to me that I lost that race to friend and future teammate Julian Vicente in the first 15 minutes of that race. In 2012 I power hiked each ascent. Julian ran each ascent. For 2013 I planned to run the ascents too.
Due to the foul weather I had only two good days of training on the course. One additional day was cut short due to a bad fall on the ice before I completed a full loop on the course.
When race day arrived I did not know what the course would look like in terms of conditions. I expected the worst because of a couple of snowfalls in the two weeks before the race and also the potential for ice on the trail from the warmer weather subsequent to those snowfalls. I came to the race prepared with one pair of sheet metal screwed trail shoes along with two extra pairs of trail shoes, microspikes and YakTrax.
The race started just about one minute late at 6:31 A.M. Sunrise had not arrived yet. I stayed with the front of the pack to get a good jump on running up the stairs that led to the first section of climbing on the Appalachian Trail. This was key to my race plan. I had to keep up with the leaders in the field early no matter how fast other runners pushed the pace.
Just before the stairs fellow MPF Campmor athlete Elizabeth Azze was to my right and another runner that I remembered from the Vermont 100 was on my left. I remembered jockeying back and forth with that runner from the VT100 for tens of miles. My main concern at that point in the race was to stay ahead of that person. I knew that they had both speed and endurance. Elizabeth and I could always work together as teammates if the field was pushing the pace early.
Once I reached the bottom of the stairs I ran out front and headed for the start of the technical ascents. As I made my way up the AT climb the sun rose and made it a lot easier to see the trail.
Once I reached some of the more runnable sections I looked back to see where the rest of the field was. This was probably about 15 minutes into the race. There was no one in sight and I could not hear anyone either. I reached the top of Mt. Tammany in 21 minutes. This was way too fast, but I had plenty of time to recover. It was going to be a long 38+ mile day.
As I started my descent on the blue trail I found that the trail had both snow and icy spots from being on the back side of the mountain where it got less sun. Not to mention rock fields of epic proportions. Although slippery and snow covered I didn’t have much trouble navigating down the descent and decided to stick with my Inov8 312’s that I was wearing.
As I came into the check in on the end of loop 2 I had time to see where the rest of the field was. To my surprise I was able to start my loop three ascent without seeing any runners. This meant that I had a 7 to 15 minute lead, which was exactly where I needed to be.
All I had to do was stick with the race plan and maintain even splits while looking over my shoulder for other runners. This is easier said and thought than done when you have another 6 hours plus of running to do. Although very early in the race it seemed that this was my year to get a sore neck from looking over my shoulder watching for approaching runners as teammate Julian had documented in his race report from last year.
Loops three through six passed uneventfully as I lapped a few runners. There were a few groups of up to 15 hikers that were gracious enough to let me pass without breaking my stride. Most of the runners and hikers encouraged me on as I pushed forward.
As I started the ascent on lap 6 I was reasonably comfortable that no one was within 20 minutes of me. I decided to start power hiking the climbs instead of running them. This was done to save energy, keep my heart rate lower and store some gas in the tank in case that someone caught me and I had to race to the finish. Even though I power hiked the remaining ascents I only lost 7 to 10 minutes of time. This was well worth the conservation of energy. My legs started to cramp while climbing the first steep technical boulder field. I took two Endurolytes immediately. I had been taking at least one a loop anyway, but I take an extra one when cramping starts. If this had been warmer weather taking two Endurolytes at this point after cramping had already started would have been too late. Normally I would have stopped to stretch when cramping in the legs starts, but today I decided to push on.
I started to pass some runners for the second time ascending on the start of loop 8. One runner told me that no one else had passed them yet. Although it was good to hear that I try not to count on what race volunteers or fellow participants tell me during races. They have been wrong too many times and it has cost me a higher place finish on at least 3 occasions (Randy, remember 20 in 24 in 2009?). I wasn’t going to slow down my pace.
As I came into the checkpoint at the end of loop 8 I received a lot of encouragement from the race director and volunteers. As I left the aid station the race director Alex Papadopoulos shouted “One more and it’s time for pie!” The Mt. Tammany 10 is truly a great race and test of will and endurance. Instead of a medal all finishers receive a rock that has been picked from the course and mounted on a really nice wood stained stand. It has an engraving with your name and the year of the race. As a bonus you also get to pick one pie from a fresh assortment from a local bakery.
I did not think about it at the time, but no one had confirmed to me how much of a lead that I had during the entire day. This is fine with me. I was sticking with the race plan anyway.
As I started the descent of my last loop I remembered thinking to be safe and not risk a fall that could ruin the day. The snow covered trail and rocks had turned to slippery slush revealing ice and more rocks beneath them. As I passed some of the hikers again they gave me more encouragement and actually remembered what loop that I was on.
Just before approaching the last mile I crossed the footbridge before coming into the Dunnfield Creek parking lot. I did not have to check my splits anymore and I looked at my watch to see the elapsed time. It was 8:38. This was the only time during the race I looked at the elapsed time to determine if I could improve my time from last year or maybe even break the course record. At that time I thought that the course record was 8:42, so I figured that I would just miss it.
On the road about a third of a mile from the finish I remembered that I started my watch early before the race clock started and I may actually have an elapsed time of less than a minute vs. what my watch showed. I would usually slow down at this point since no one was behind me, but I decided to keep my pace just in case I had a shot at the course record. I knew that my time would be better than last year.
When I finished my watch said 8:42+, so I thought that I had just missed Julian’s record time, which I still thought was 8:42. The race director knew that I was buddies with Julian, so when I finished he mentioned that I broke Julian’s record and he asked a volunteer to check the website for the official course time.
I usually run with an Ironman watch to keep track of loops and a Garmin to track heart rate and mileage. It turns out that since I started my Ironman watch early my Garmin time was closer to the race clock time. My Garmin time was 8:41+. The official course record was actually 8:45:28 and I finished in 8:41:46. I just made it!
After my race I waited for teammate Elizabeth and the rest of the field to start coming in as I chatted with the race director, volunteers and Nick “Storm Trooper” Bautista. Elizabeth took the Women’s race and just missed the course record by mere 26 seconds! Elizabeth finished third overall just behind Jason Friedman. Marge Ascari was the last official finisher placing 7th, but proved once again to be an animal for finishing a race that is not for the faint of heart.
Overall it was a great day for the MPF Campmor team!