The inaugural Water Gap 50k, was to be my last race of the year. After a busy summer and fall that included five ultra marathons, countless hard miles of training, full-time grad school, balancing a social life, relationship, and work I was ready for a break both mentally and physically. Nonetheless I was still very motivated to make this final race a good one.
As we drove to the start, the valley of the Delaware River outside Milford, Pennsylvania came alive with the reds and golds of autumn in the northeast as the sun rose. The day promised to be absolutely perfect running weather- sunny with cool temperatures and no humidity. And indeed as we got underway at the trademark toot of the ram’s horn from Ian, the day couldn’t have been any better. Sun shone through the mist and lit up the leaves as we eased into the race.
A group quickly formed off the front consisting of fellow MPF RNR athlete Carlo Agostinetto, Justin Weiler, and myself. We chatted and enjoyed the morning as we cruised along the path. After racing on technical trails and mountains for most of the season it was fun to be able to open up and run quickly.
We kept up this fast but reasonable pace through the first 12-13 miles, averaging about 7:30 pace. Carlo had just run the Chicago Marathon a week prior, and I had run both the Virgil Crest 50 and Cat’s Tail Trail Marathon in the four weeks leading up to this race, so we were both fit and ready to run fast but cautious to not get over enthusiastic early and blow up.
Carlo and I have raced against each other several times in the past two years and have always been well matched. It’s a lot of fun to run with someone so close in ability, as we really push each other. Around the 14 mile mark there came one of those great moments in running when there is a completely unspoken and unacknowledged agreement between two athletes to go for it. We each just kept turning the screws a little tighter until we were ticking off 6:30 miles. Justin fought hard to hang on, but he was steadily losing ground and it soon became clear that it would be Carlo and I alone to the finish.
The format of the course- being point-to-point parallel with the road meant that we got plenty of support. My wife Alli was once again the consummate partner and crew as she kept me going with bottles and encouragement. Ian was doing his usual trail ninja/RD thing appearing in the woods around seemingly every turn. Elizabeth and other MPF RNR members were at aid stations, and Joe was out getting the great photos seen here as well as footage for a fantastic highlight video.
By about the 22-mile mark the sustained fast pace of the day was starting to take it’s toll on both Carlo and I, but we kept pressing on.
In my two years of ultra marathon competition I have finished in second place five times. I do not at all mean to sound pretentious, and I will never complain about a podium finish… but I really wanted to win a race! I had been putting in a lot of hard work throughout the summer, doing workouts and logging long miles alone in the heat, and I wanted to make good on my commitment. Although we were not overtly trying to break each other, and there was no animosity between us, neither Carlo nor myself were giving the other an inch. We would each surge a little as we went through cycles of feeling good (and not-so-good), but were running stride for stride.
The singletrack sections of the course late in the race were beautiful, but my legs were having a hard time switching modes to keep moving quickly over roots and rocks. I was totally focused on maintaining as fast a pace as possible.
In the last four miles I was fighting off hamstring cramps and hoping for the finish line around every bend. Over the last series of hills my legs felt numb in a way that I have never experienced before. When the finish finally came into view I managed to surge just enough to get some separation from Carlo for a hard-fought win.
In my first ultra-distance win I did not throw my hands in the air or blow kisses to the people lining the finish chute- I had total tunnel vision on the finish line and could do nothing but sink to my hands and knees upon crossing it.
This win meant a lot to me, but not as much as the people involved in it mean. This sport has given me so much in my life and I am deeply thankful just to be able participate. You will never find a better atmosphere or collection of people than at a small trail race. It is about the experience of being in nature with like-minded people all pushing their own personal limits of body and mind. It is a testament to the power of the human spirit. I congratulate and extend a most sincere thanks to everyone who ran, volunteered, worked, and cheered.
Much respect must go to Carlo, who pushed me all day and made me suffer for this one, and also to Jason Friedman who ran a tough and intelligent race to make it a MPF RNR sweep of the men’s podium!
As always, a huge thanks goes out to Mountain Peak Fitness, Red Newt Racing, Finger Lakes Running and Triathlon Company, Confluence Running, Run On Hudson Valley, Patagonia, and Ultimate Direction for the support. It has been a fantastic year of racing and I could not be more thankful for the opportunity to be a member of this team. It is truly a special thing that Ian, Joe, and Elizabeth have created.
Salomon Sense Ultra 4 Shoes
Patagonia Air flow Singlet, Strider Pro Shorts
Buff - Original Buff
Injinji Original Weight Crew Socks
Garmin 910XT Watch
Ultimate Direction Handy 20 Bottle
Tailwind Nutrition Lemon Endurance Fuel