Within the first two months of 2011, I had already raced two 50K’s and a marathon. I had a heavy upcoming race schedule for the year and was feeling as fit as ever. Unfortunately, at the NJ Ultra Festival 100 mile race in March, I suffered a tendon injury in my foot and had to drop out of the race. As all too common after coming back from an injury, I rushed back to training too fast, and in the process of overcompensating for my foot, the ITB on my left leg started to flare up, which caused a sharp pain on the outside of my left knee on any run over a few miles. So outside a trail 10K in June, my racing and training season has been pretty limited over the last few months, and I have been focused on just getting healthy again. This has meant that foam rolling, stretching, and strengthening has been the order of business. But not having any knee pain over the last few weeks, and doing some progressively longer runs, I knew it was time to get back out there and try a slightly longer race. The chosen venue was Running with the Devil, organized by NJ Trail Series, in Vernon, NJ.
This was the second year that I had done Running with the Devil, so I had some inside info on just how tough this race could be (especially with temperatures reaching the upper 90’s). Different from last year is that instead of a two-mile loop up and down the mountain the loop has now been extended to 5k, which was suppose to me more "runnable". This has also been the largest field to date for this race, with about 70 people running the 3hr. race.
With a few minutes to 9am, the three and six hour runners lined up inside the lodge at the base of the mountain, which also served as the main aid station for the race. The race started promptly at 9am, and all runners were off for their first loop. I knew that the UP, while challenging wasn’t going to be the real test for the day, and it was the steep down hills that were going to make or break my race. The first climb went very smoothly, luckily unlike the day before (which reached 100 degrees), we had some nice cloud cover that lowered the temperatures on the exposed ski slopes. I past the water stop at the top of the mountain just under 30 minutes and headed back down the slope at a gentle lop. Within a few minutes, a good friend who I have had a friendly rivalry with since we both started running came barreling down the mountain behind me. With that, I decided to throw caution to the wind and matched his pace down the trail. We both rounded out the first loop in just over 39 minutes, with no inkling of knee pain!
I swapped out my Amphipod waistbelt for a pre-filled Nathans hand-held and was out on my second loop with a new sense of motivation. My second loop went much like the first, with the same strategy. It was a slow grind up the mountain, but I was able to make up a lot of time on the downhill back to the start. I was happily surprised at this point to realize that the part of the race I was worried about the most was actually turning out to be my strength. I think I owe this a lot to being pushed on the downhills on the group runs with the MPF Campmor Team at Harriman State Park and Ringwood over the last few months. I came into the start from the second loop in 46 minutes.
I took a little more time on this transition to fill up my water bottle and get some nutrition. If the runners received any reprieve from the sun on the first two loops, it was out in full force now, and it made the going a little slower. But the same strategy prevailed; slow up and push it on the down. About halfway up my third loop I realized that I was just going to be a little shy of enough time to go for a fourth loop, getting back to the start at 2:20. Luckily, the race director had planned out a shorter .5 mile loop that could be ran once another full loop was out of reach. I managed to get 3 short loops (some thanks to the additional prodding of teammate Randy Miller) in before the cutoff for a total of 10.8 miles and just outside a top ten placing.
This race has certainly served to restore some of the confidence that I lost after the DNF at the NJ Ultra Festival, and my proceeding injuries. Now I am looking forward to putting my nose to the grindstone and getting ready for the Mountain Madness 50K in October (watch out Randy!).
A special congratulations goes out to Zsuzsanna Carlson for running a fantastic race and coming in first female. And thank you to Elizabeth, Joe, and the rest of the MPF Campmor Team for the support and the foam rolling tips! ;-)