New Paltz Extravaganza: Pizza Mile & Bear Mountain 50K by Natalie Thompson

I went into this past weekend with a pretty ambitious goal: run teammate Jason Friedman’s New Paltz Pizza Challenge Friday night, (register for and) run The North Face 50k in Bear Mountain Saturday morning, drive back up to Rochester Saturday night, and race the Medved Madness 25K in my hometown on Sunday.  Well, in brief, I did not accomplish all of these goals, but whatever I did accomplish, it turned out to be one of those weekends you just hope never ends!

I have to give so much credit to Jason Friedman for even conceiving of a Pizza Challenge, let alone putting it all together and in such great form! Jay’s NPPC was a 3.3 mile race with 7 pizza stops along the main strip in New Paltz.  The course was a loop, in which runners stopped at each designated pizza shop to eat one slice of pizza (at two of the stops runners ate one half of a slice…thank you Jay).  There were plenty of rules, tough referees at every stop, and so much silliness!  I turned out to be the only female racer (one other gal was signed up, but did not make it on time for the start), so I took the liberty of making my own rules and eating only 4 of 7 slices. Lucky for me, I ate apparently the 4 best slices, leaving out the disgusting-looking nacho slice with sausage, and the final (enormous) bacon-bbq-chicken.  I decided at slice #4 that I just did not need to eat 3 more slices of pizza, especially the night before what would be my first 15+ mile run in over a year.  I did, however, continue on to the final 3 pizza stations, to find these guys eating every single morsel of every slice of pizza – they were all so determined!  Even after Jay had long-since taken the win at the finish line. 

Naturally, we followed the pizza up with some beer and laughs on the New Paltz strip Saturday morning I had the good fortune of being driven from New Paltz down to Bear Mountain by a friend; we caught a 6:20 shuttle to the start area from the parking lot, made our way through the port-o-john lines, through the drop-bag lines, and finally to the registration tent where I registered for TNF Bear Mountain 50K at 6:49AM.  We made it to the front of the line of first-wave runners just before 7AM, where I got to meet fellow MPF RNR athlete Silas Carey, and also Amy Rusiecki, who, turns out, I should have stuck with in the early miles!  Let me preface the remaining saga by saying this is my first written race report, but not my first rodeo.  I trained quasi-seriously for my first 50K back in 2011, but since then I tend to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of runner.  I rarely train properly (whatever that may mean), and I enter races knowing full well I could DNF at any point (due to lack of fitness, or mental capacity, or both), but I always enter with some odd-ball fantasy of winning.

With Silas at the finish.

With Silas at the finish.

Runners take your mark, set, go!  As always I pretended for the first several steps that I’d keep up with the boys, but they dropped me as soon as we hit that single track!  I got to lead the race for women for probably the first mile – exciting and terrifying at the same time.  Having not run much more than 15 miles since December 2013, I was curious to see how the day would turn out; I was also apparently not well-versed in taking the first half easy.  A speedy non-American runner chick passed me somewhere in the second or third mile. She was accompanied by a non-American runner dude and I guessed they were French or French Canadian because they certainly weren’t speaking English to each other!  I stuck with them without too much effort for a couple of miles, but they’d lost me by the time we hit Aid Station 1.  I kept trying to tell myself to slow down, take it easy, save something for the second half.  Well, hey, I tried!  

I felt great and was having a blast pretty easily through the first half of the course.  Compared to Ian’s Breakneck two weeks prior, this terrain was a synch!  Super gradual and short inclines, super gradual and manageable down hills.  No wild boulder fields to descend at 45 degree grade; no rock scrambling; just regular old rolling hills!  So easy to run!  Too easy for this gal, in fact!  As could be expected, after I turned the corner at mile 15 my strength started to peter.  My legs got lazy, my stride got lazy, my mind got lazy.  I’d wisely tucked my credit card and driver’s license into the front zipper pocket of my vest…along with my nuts and other snacks.  At one point en route to Aid Station 4 I opened the pocket to eat some nuts.  I left the pocket open, chewed my nuts, reached in for more nuts, and realized my two cards were gone…gone, flew right out of the gaping pocket!  Well, I’d already lost the lead to the speedy French girl, and certainly wasn’t getting faster in that moment, so I turned around to find my cards!  Fortunately I didn’t have to backtrack even a quarter mile before I found both the credit card and the license lying in the middle of the trail.  Great! Now I know never to make that silly mistake again. 

Shortly after nearly losing my identity, I celebrated the fact that I hadn’t yet fallen once!  I was traipsing along happily behind two guys, finally taking a slower, steadier pace (even though this would have been the logical time to start ramping up the pace…someday I might actually learn how to race).  We hit an easy downhill section, and, if you don’t already know, the downhills are my favorites!  I like to say I learned how to run downhill by watching videos of Kilian Jornet, which is mostly true. Well, these guys weren’t crushing the downhill fast enough for me!  I decided I ought to pass them, which I did, thus enjoying the rest of the downhill at my own pace.  As soon as we hit the rolling flats again they caught up to me and I felt obligated to run faster than felt comfortable so as to not slow them down….THUD!  Too fast for old Nan!  I guess I wasn’t making it out of this one without a crash and burn.  I’m not even sure how I tripped, but I caught my fall with my right shin bone across a fallen log.  

Photo from Julian as I was approaching the aid station he was working

After sitting there stunned at the pain, letting the guys pass me, I wondered what the heck sort of damage I’d just done. I hobbled back up, limped along for a few steps, and decided the pain was not excruciating, so must be no broken bones.  The swelling across the front of my shin was immense, but I could run on it okay.  Luckily I was more than halfway to the next aid.  And what a sight to find Jullian at Aid 4!  I couldn’t have found him at a better time!  I took a minute to ice the shin, and found out I was definitely not at mile 20 (AS4 was at mile 18.5; the volunteers at AS3 told me the next aid was at mile 20).  I let myself sink in that moment and gave up a little bit on ever catching that speedy French girl.  With that pressure off my mind I shuffled back onto the trail.  At this point I hadn’t seen another girl behind me in miles, so I was feeling pretty confident in my second-place status.  Then, of course, as soon as we start nearing AS5, she’s behind me! And I don’t mean visible through the forest way behind me; I mean on me! Shoot!  She came out of nowhere!  We rolled into AS 5, Amy on my heels and getting faster, and me handing over second place to take a pit stop in the old port-o-john.  I figured I’d find Amy again up ahead on the trails and recover my position.  

The last 9.5 miles were beautiful and offered a little bit of technical challenge.  For reasons unknown to me, I left AS 5 with a horrible tightness through the outside of my right knee – a pain I’d never before experienced.  I let myself take it fairly easy, walking the uphills a little longer than I should have.  Fortunately everything else felt fine, I even felt strong again!  My stomach was doing great, my mind was clear, my shoulders, back, everything was ready to kick it!  But that darn knee; and knees are important.  I took pleasure in holding at least third place and decided to take it easy in the remaining miles.  I was happy to have frequent aid in those last miles, and took time to ice my knee at the last two aid stations.  It’s always exciting to know you’re nearing the finish line when you can hear the crowd, and when lovely spectators come out to cheer you on with cowbells!  I found enough strength to finish the race with a good kick, holding my place in third (5:14:41). Turns out the winner is French Canadian (5:07:55), and my new acquaintance Amy took second (5:09:25).

I am so happy I hopped into that race.  I’d say it was the best 50K experience I’ve had yet. The weather was gorgeous, the course was gorgeous, the people were wonderful, and the event was so well run!  Thanks to Joe, Elizabeth and Jim for being there to cheer us all on at the finish! Thanks to Run On Hudson Valley & Red Newt Racing for the support. And congratulations to all the other MPF RNR athletes who raced this weekend! 

Fore more photos from the day, click here.