Race Report: The 2015 Manitou's Revenge Ultramarathon by Amy Hanlon

I was nervous and excited for my 3rd running of the Manitou’s Revenge 54 Mile Ultramathon. It is an incredibly beautiful and extremely challenging 54 mile course in the Catskills that connects the Escarpment Trail and the Eastern Devils Path to Phoenicia.  

A little history of my first two finishes at Manitou’s: First year 22 hours and 34 minutes, second year: 17 hours and 11 minutes! Big PR!  Haha. The biggest difference was my knowing what to expect, being prepared, and running at night. The first year my fears of being alone in the dark led me to stay with a group who didn’t run at night at all. In addition, I didn’t carry enough water and it was hot with aid stations spaced farther apart than I had imagined. The race was just a lot harder than I anticipated. I knew it would be hard--I’d completed a Devil's Path Traverse, I’d been on the Escarpment Trail, I’d run multiple 50 milers, but even with all of that, the course is just brutal! Anyway, the second year was cooler, less humid, 2 miles shorter, and the trails had less mud and fewer stinging nettles. I ran with my friend Paul, who I’d run a few 50 milers with in the past, and we made a pretty good team. My strengths do not including climbing fast, so I always need to be making up time on flats and downhills. That is what we did and it paid off. I also attended Charlie’s group night run consisting of the last 15 miles of the course and did some additional training in the dark. The combination of all these factors allowed me to PR by 5 hours.

I’d had a rough winter and I wasn’t feeling very strong, but with the coming of spring I felt much better and was able to train effectively. Running Cayuga 50 and feeling good all day was a great confidence builder for me. Dick Vincent invited me to stay at his mountain house and drive me to the start, giving me the gift of three extra hours of sleep. He had also offered to pace me the last 15 miles. I wasn’t sure if Paul was running, but he contacted a few days before the race and we decided we’d run together again. As well prepared as I was, I knew that in a 50 miler like Manitou’s anything can happen--and it probably will.

On the day before the race I had some rough heartburn, and I worried it would continue into the morning. I hoped not – but it continued through the evening. Nevertheless, I traveled to Olana Friday evening for a scenic slow run of about an hour with Dick. I had eaten a big lunch and decided to have just some salad for dinner. I went to sleep early, with my alarm set for 3 am--much better than getting up at 12:30 am as I had for the previous two Manitou’s.

I slept well, woke up, feeling pretty good. I still had a little heartburn but it was definitely less severe than it had been the previous day so I didn’t worry much about it. I had some coffee and a small breakfast and just before 3:30 Dick and I headed for the start.

We arrived to an empty parking lot and stayed warm in the car until the bus arrived a few minutes later. I chatted with friends, making multiple nervous trips to the bathroom, wearing my warm clothes over my running clothes until the waves started taking off. I get cold very easily so I waited until ten or so minutes before my wave was to depart before stripping off my down jacket and sweatpants and putting on my hydration pack. After I did this I started jogging to the staging area and I noticed I was all wet. I looked down and the bite valve was missing off my bladder hose. OH NO! I ran back to the car and found it on the ground next to the door. I HAD CLOSED IT IN THE CAR DOOR AND BROKEN IT! I couldn’t believe the worst part of my race was happening before I even started. I tested it and found I could still drink out of the pack, but I had no idea what would happen during the race. I was practically in tears as I made my way to the start and found Paul. I tucked the hose into a strap on my pack and heard Charlie say, Go! Off we went. Paul knows me pretty well--we ran the last 12 hours of last year’s Manitou’s together and we’ve have run a few other ultras and training runs together. He is a man of few words, which is a good contrast to me, since I have a tendency to talk and talk. He tried to keep me calm as I was freaking out every three minutes that my hose would come free from wherever I tried to put it and let water out. So I began to just hold it upright until we arrived at the real start of Manitou’s into the trail at mile 3. I realized holding it would not be viable for the next fifty plus miles. So I told Paul to run ahead and not to worry about me as my race was probably over. I stopped and tried a few things with the hose and eventually rigged an extra ponytail holder with a small hair clip to my pack strap which held the hose upright pretty well. I was elated by this and scampered ahead to catch Paul. I caught him quickly and we pretty much ran together the rest of the day: him chasing me downhill and flat, and me chasing him on uphills and mud.

It was wonderful to see so many friends at the aid stations. Each time I arrived at an aid station I was treated as though I was the most important runner they’d dealt with all day. MPF RNR teammates were everywhere and it was extremely uplifting and a huge boost to my day. Dick was at almost every aid station offering words of encouragement and offering a new bladder at N/S Lake. But it was not a perfect fit, so when Elizabeth said she had one and would get it to me by Palenville I was thrilled. Although my temporary bladder was working well, it still sprayed Nuun all over my face whenever I leaned forward to climb, so I was eager to replace it. I felt so looked after!  I knew at this point despite the rough start, I would finish and finish as strong as I possibly could rather than let this amazing group of volunteers and supporters down.

I charged down to Palenville feeling amazing. That downhill section is one of my favorites. While running down I decided I wouldn’t make the bladder switch till Platte Clove--I didn’t want to take the time when I didn’t need it. The weather was cool, I knew my water would last, and after Kaaterskill I would need the break! So when I saw Dick in Palenville with Elizabeth’s new bladder in hand, he promised to bring it to the next aid station, and I continued on. He had my splits from last year--I was ahead each time--and I was actually looking forward to going very slowly up Kaaterskill. And slowly we went. We clocked over 30 minute miles for the climb. It wasn’t hot and I should have gone faster, but I didn’t want to hate that climb the way I had the past two years. When we got to the top I was also very slow, as the mud and sludge was intense and I hate the feeling of mud in my shoes. I pretend I’m tough, but sometimes I am a little prissy, and with a lot of hours left in my day I wanted to be comfortable! A few people passed me during these sections, and I was absolutely fine to let them go. We picked up the pace again running into Platte Clove, and there was everybody! Dick switched out my bladder, Jason Friedman and his daughters fed me and were awesome and encouraging. And next thing you know – off again – to begin my favorite section of the course, the Devil's Path.

This section of the race is under 8 miles, but it’s a doozy! It’s extremely technical both up and down. But I felt great and happy, and while I am not the fastest going up, I felt like I was pushing myself to go a little outside of my comfort zone with pace while I was still able to keep smiling. We were kind of playing cat and mouse with a few runners, who would catch us on the up and we’d sneak by them again on the downs. It made it kind of fun. And then it started drizzling. I don’t mind trail running in light rain – but the technicality of the trails in this section of the course made for some slow going on the wet rocks. So we took it slow and the drizzle continued but eventually we made our way to Mink Hollow, where we were met with enthusiastic aid, as we were at every aid station. Dick Vincent paced us up Plateau Mountain which is a spot on the course I almost turned around on and dropped the first year. This year – while I wasn’t what you would call racing up – I felt strong still and happy to be out there and before I knew it we were at the top on the runnableish section.

We were making great time down the mountain and soon arrived to the friendly crew including my teammate Natalie Thompson at Silver Notch Hollow aid station. We chatted for a bit and then headed to Warner Creek. We arrived at Warner Creek in daylight and 20 minutes earlier than we had the previous year! Yay! Amazing to realize that considering the deteriorating conditions.

The rain and drizzle turned into pouring rain as we plodded up the endless switchbacks on Tremper. I found a nice walking stick to help me up. As the last of the light faded it became incredibly hard to see. The trail markers were hard to find, the pouring rain seemed to diffuse the light, and the plod up Tremper became by far the toughest of the day. My legs felt strong but I couldn’t make up any speed because it was so hard to see and everything was so slippery. My watch had died by this point so we didn’t know when to expect the next aid station and it seemed like hours before we saw the lights at Willow. Again – I was met with very friendly faces, Peter Preston and Fred Pilon. Peter is someone I have spent probably hundreds of hours on the trails with and seeing him and Fred really perked us up after the difficult climb we had just endured. After leaving Willow, we continued up to the fire tower, which seemed to take forever. Visibility was awful, it was absolutely pouring, the trail was overgrown and difficult to follow but finally we made it. The run down Tremper was where I made up a lot of time last year. I passed several runners during that section just barreling down the rocky descent. This year it was not to be. Every time I attempted to break into a slow jog I would slip or trip. The trails were soaked and slippery and it was tricky to see. So I walked down deliberately, taking care with each step. Even with the extra care I managed to slip several times.

Eventually we saw the light of the final aid station and I was thrilled. I got so excited that I started to run without thinking and immediately slipped and fell. Argghh... We got our reflective vests and raced the last mile as fast as we could. It felt like a 6 minute mile, although I am sure it was not even close. We even passed a runner on the road. Finally, the Finish Line!  I was so happy to finish my 3rd Manitou’s Revenge. There had been ups and downs (both literally and figuratively) but I wouldn’t change a thing. And I will be back!

Big thank you to Charlie Gadol for making this incredible adventure in the Catskills a possibility for so many people. And thanks to Dick Vincent for crewing and pacing and being a good friend. And thanks to Mountain Peak Fitness for being so amazingly supportive to me and the other runners--Elizabeth was like my Mom out there, telling me how strong I looked and how great I was doing. And without her replacement  bladder, I don’t know if I could have stayed as strong as I did.

By the way – I got pulled over for driving too slowly a few hours after finishing, and the police officer was flabbergasted when he heard my story. He said I was the craziest person he had encountered in a while, and I took it as a compliment.

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