Trail2Trail Kettletown 50k by Ben Nephew "Should Have Worn My Orocs!"
As I was looking for a race between Rock the Ridge 50 and Cayuga Trail 50 milers, I came across the Kettletown State Park trail races in CT, part of the Trail2Trail series. The races are held on a 10k loop that was described as challenging, and there were options for running 5k, 10k, 20k, or 50k. After Tammany and Breakneck, how hard could a race that never got over 650 feet of elevation be? The race site only had an elevation profile for the 5k, which had about 600 feet of climbing, but I could not find any topo maps of the Kettletown State Park to check out the rest of the 10k loop. I was thinking that I should be able to run the course in 4:00 or faster with decent weather. At work, that would be described as a hypothesis, which in this case was quite uneducated despite the fact that I regularly run in CT. What the RD’s did is cram an impressive amount of climbing over consistently technical terrain where only about 10% of the course is easily runnable, and that percentage often consisted of short sections of singletrack between rock gardens, or was uphill doubletrack. In addition to the unknown difficulty of the course (I was not aware of the winning time of 5:24 from last year…), the weather forecast was way off. Instead of a passing shower, we were treated to a downpour that lasted from an hour before the start to about an hour into the race.
My introduction to the course on my warm up quickly included a hard fall on some seriously slick rocks. This was not a good sign. I hit my hand and hip hard, and my hand started to swell. I guess that is what happens when you are used to racing in Orocs and decide to test out a new pair of Ultrarace 290’s. The 290’s have great grip, but dobbed and non-dobbed shoes in general are on different planets of grip. Luckily there was no major damage from the fall, and I finished my short warm up very carefully and set my bottles up near the start/finish. The race started before I knew what was going on, and I found myself behind about 10 other runners. I had no idea who was running which distance. I worked my way up to the second place runner, David, and found out he was doing the 20k. The guy in the lead was going fast enough that it really didn’t matter what distance he was racing; staying with him was not a healthy option!
David was running a little too fast for me, and my original plan was to focus on the last 20-30k to run hard, but it was obvious that I would be running entirely by myself all day if I did that. The first couple miles were hilly but not too technical, and for a moment I thought 4 hours might be realistic. While my Garmin is consistently short, we hit 2 miles in 17 minutes, and I then realized it was going to be a long day considering the pace felt too hard for a 50k. David maintained his pace as we began the harder section of the course on the other side of the start/finish. Almost all the rocks were incredibly greasy, and there was sections where there was no easy way around or through that were pace-killers. Fortunately, the trails were great fun to run, just not as runnable as I had initially thought.
We came through the first 10k lap in around 50 minutes. I thought about backing off right then, but then figured I could do that on the later loops after David finished the 20k. I did end up backing off on some of climbs, and by 9 miles David was starting to pull away. I let him go and settled into a more rational pace and completed the second 10k in 52 minutes, about 35 seconds behind David. The third and fourth laps were 55 and 56 minutes, as the course was starting to wear me down. I was hoping for a stronger fifth lap, but I wasn’t able to push the uphills much at all. I did manage to pick up the pace over the last couple of miles and ran about 1:30 faster than the 4th lap. As I was pushing one of the technical downhills my foot slipped right out on a root and I fell head first towards a rather large tree. I got my hands out at the last second and my face ended up a couple millimeters from the bark. That would have been ugly. I finished in 4:27, about an hour under the course record from the inaugural race in 2014. Scott Gregor was second in 5:24, also under the winning time from last year, and Justin Lubeley was third with a 6:24 (results). When I looked at my Garmin data and saw the 7k of climbing, my time made a bit more sense, especially considering the conditions.
Overall, it was great event, with something for everyone. Thanks to the RD’s and the volunteers for setting up an awesome course, manning the aid station, and organizing the results. The 50k is a surprisingly good option for anyone that wants to get some climbing on rough terrain and is not able to get into the mountains. As with many of the trails in CT, the course was entertaining even in the rougher sections, and the half mile we did along the brook was worth the trip, slip, and the fall.