The Whiteface Skyrunning Weekend by Len Huffman "We Came Here to Race Both Days!"
Challenging. Hard. Vertical. Rewarding. These are words I keep using to describe events put on by Red Newt Racing. The Sky races at Whiteface Mountain on the weekend of June 28th fit the bill. When I signed up for the races, the 2.5 mile vertical challenge on Saturday and sky marathon on Sunday, I knew they would be hard. I had no idea how challenging they would really be. The races are held in the town of Wilmington, NY near Lake Placid so I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to combine a weekend of racing with a family vacation. There is ample lodging choices in the area. My family stayed at a KOA campground 2 miles from the race start. When I arrived in the area on Thursday I got my first glimpse of the mountain I would be running up. It was massive. I started wondering if it real was a good idea to be running up slopes meant to be skied down. Friday further confirmed my thoughts when we drove to the top of the Whiteface and I got a view from the top, down. It was to be a very new experience for me.
Saturday morning of the first day of racing was beautiful. Temperatures were comfortable and the sun was out. A 10 o’clock start allowed for a causal morning of sleeping in and relaxing. Since I was close by I decided to run the 2 miles to the race site. After getting my number, I found my MPF RNR teammates. We debated our equipment option for the day. It was only 2.5 miles so no real need to bring anything...you would think. But what about trekking poles? It was just 2.5 miles but also 3100 feet up. I chose to use my new Black Diamond distance Z poles that my wife had gotten me the week before for father’s day. I also tied a windbreaker around my waist since it would be cool at the top.
The race started promptly at 10 with the Red Newt Racing signature blow of a Ram’s horn. I started running. 400 meters later I stopped running. The hill was just too much. I decided that in order to make the top I would need to power hike it. I tried to be as efficient and even paced as possible. I settled into a nice pace (about 24 minutes per mile). The poles were extremely helpful. I felt a little clumsy at first since I had not used poles often but soon found a comfortable rhythm. The slopes on the lower section of the course were tough but manageable. I chatted with fellow racers as we worked our way up. The beautiful day that was in the morning soon became a hot, sun beating down day. I was sweating like crazy. At the halfway point there was water that quenched me temporarily. The second part of the course took a more brutal (if possible) approach to the top. The footing on the steep ascent was tricky. Finally the top came into view. I tried to muster a trot across the finish. I finished in a time of 1:01. As a bonus, a group of us climbed the final few hundred feet to the true summit, just because we hadn’t gone up enough.
It was such a tough race. So hard, I was seriously considering not doing it again on Sunday. If it was so hard to go up the mountain once, how would I be able to do it multiple times for over 19 miles? I pondered my options for the rest of the afternoon. Being a volunteer instead wasn’t so bad. Debbie, my wife, talked me back to my senses. She reminded we came up here to do those races and I would always regret not pushing myself again if I choose to opt out. I was in for the next adventure!
The Rain. It started late Saturday night. I laid awake listening to it. When my ride (thanks Sean Gavin) picked me up to head to the race it was still pouring out. It was going to be a long, wet day. After checking in, I wandered over to the shoe display set up by race sponsor Scott Sports. I was checking out their new line up of trail shoes the previous day and had noticed a massively lugged model. The Scott Kinabalu Supertrac would be the perfect shoe to handle the slippery slopes that awaited. I was generously loaned a pair and readied myself for what was to come
The race started at 7 and we were off in the rain. The course started on the same slopes as Saturday’s race. Armed with my poles again, I started my trudge to the top. Surprisingly I felt better then yesterday. The burning in my legs turned to a dull ache as I worked my way to the top. The course took a gentler (if possible) slightly longer approach to the top. I was happy to reach it in about 1:07. If going up was hard, going down was worse. The footing was not good dry, wet, it was a mess. There were streams running down the mountain. Every step down had to be carefully calculated as to not end up glissading down. The Scott’s held great. After descending about half the elevation, the course turned up to go too Little Whiteface. I found this to be the toughest climb on the course. I just kept my head down and took it step by step.
Another slippery descent followed all the way down to the start/finish. I was greeted at the aid station by MPF RNR teammates Amy & Scotie. They offered their help and I was off on the next section, the Flume Loop. This section was great. About 6 miles of runnable single track. It had its ups and downs, but it felt great to stretch the legs and use different muscles. I had to be conscious not to go to hard as a second go of the first loop waited. It was also drying up some, enough for me to lose my outer shell. I was back to the start finish in under 4 hours. I was keeping track of the time since we were driving home that day. I was planning on stopping if it took too long to do the first 2 sections but I was good to continue. Lucky me.
I started out for my second attempt to conquer the beginning loop. Though I was already 13 miles in, I was starting to feel stronger. I had been doing a good job of taking in calories and drinking at each aid station. I powered my way to the top once again, only slightly slower than the last time. The weather at the top had changed. The winds picked up, gusting up to 50 mph. I was nearly blown over. I hurried into the hut to warm up before I headed down. The trail was really torn up at this point and made for a slow, careful descent. I was exuberant when I crested the final climb to little whiteface. All that was left was the down. Another treacherous descent followed. As I neared the finish, I saw some fellow racers behind me. Now I knew I was nowhere near a top place but still did not want to be passed. I quickened my pace and ran hard to the finish. My time was 6 hours and 38 minutes. I was so happy and proud to be finished.
It was such an epic weekend of racing. Everyone who was out there one the course either of the days deserves a big slap on the back. I had never raced on a harder course or in worse conditions on Sunday. It was also the perfect location for a race. The area is great for the family. I wish I had more days there. Thanks to Red Newt Racing for putting on such a great weekend of races. It was great to hang out and be supported by my MPF RNR teammates. Last but not least I got to spend some relaxing (if you count running up and down mountains relaxing) days with my family.