It’s 6 am on Sunday morning and I am waiting at the race start. Despite what you might think, I’m not nervous at all. Mainly because I started and finished the 50 mile race I had entered over 12 hours ago. I now had the privilege of helping to crew a runner attempting to finish his first 100-mile race. It has been a wild weekend at the NJ Trail Series’ Ultra Festival.
My weekend really stated when I got to the Sussex County Fair Grounds on Friday night to set up camp for the fun filled weekend ahead. The NJ Trail Series Ultra Festival, which I decided should just be called “UltraFest”, started three years ago as a 100 mile fastass and has now grown into a weekend of five separate race distances ranging from marathon to 100 miles, and has over 300 entrants. The race course consists of a 10 mile double out and back loop on an unimproved rail trail and road sections around the fairgrounds. And while the race is in a different location from the first years, what has remained the same is the overall flatness of the course.
After the race briefing, I was off on my 50 mile journey at 7:15am. The course starts with a mile plus run on a perimeter road before turning onto the trail. As usual, I got caught up in the excitement at the start and went out a little faster than anticipated, but quickly dialed back the pace. Once we turned onto the trail, it took about 100 feet before the mud started. We had a snowstorm earlier in the week, so I figured that there would be mud, but I just wasn’t sure how well the trail drained. I learned very soon that the answer was not well at all. The first section of trail was a short (about a mile) out and back section with a water drop at the turn around point. Racers were also on the honor system, as there was a gate with a sign on it that you had to touch before turning around. The second longer leg of trail was an over five mile out and back section with a fully staffed aid station at the turn around point. The muddy parts of this section were much worse than the first section, and in addition to the mud there were several old railroad bridges that required a heightened focus to cross without falling into the freezing water below.
I finished my first 10 mile loop in 1:38, which was a little faster than I had planned, but I still felt good. The great thing about loop races is that you pass a central aid point several times in case you need to make any adjustment to anything. The temperature hadn’t changed much from the first loop and everything I was wearing was working out OK, so I skipped my tent and just made a quick stop at the aid table to refill my handheld before heading out again. The second loop was very similar to the first loop, with the only exception of there being more people as the marathon and 50K runners were now on the course. If you want to do a race where you are looking to be alone, this is not the race for you. Due to the nature of the course, there is pretty much always another runner not far off.
I came in from my second loop and the 20 mile mark at 3:20. While it was an overcast day, the sun would break through briefly and it was starting to heat up, so I switched out my winter hat and grabbed my iPod for the third loop. At this point, the warming temperatures and hundreds of runners on the trail were starting to take a toll on the course. The muddy sections started to significantly expand and deepen, especially on the longer out and back section. Other than that, it was a perfect day for running, and I came in from the third lap, and the 30 mile point, at 5:20. I probably took more time at the aid station than I should have, but I was hitting that part of the race, and especially a loop race, where you have gone a good way, but you still have a long way to go. I grabbed some more food for the road and walked most of the perimeter road before turning into the trail. Despite my earlier low, the fourth loop went pretty well, and I managed to keep a decent pace despite the worsening trail conditions. I came in from the fourth loop at around 7:30, and was happy to set off for the last loop, and to get the extra boost of energy that came with knowing that you are almost done! I touched the sign at the turn around point, trekked through the mud, and ran over the bridges, all one last time, to come in for a finish of 9:45.
I would have loved to finish a little faster, but overall I feel that this was a good start to the race season, and I’m looking forward to another exciting year with the MpFit Campmor team!
By the way, if you were worried about the 100 mile runner from the beginning, he finished his race in just over 26 hours.