The weekend of June 27th marked the inaugural Whiteface Skyrunning weekend, and I was eager to test myself in a new discipline of racing.
Skyrunning is characterized by racing on mountains with long, steep climbs with grades exceeding 30%. As such it is usually only held in Europe and the Western U.S., but the always-excellent Red Newt Racing brought a stop of the Skyrunning national series to the northeast at Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks. With the greatest vertical drop east of the Rockies (3,400+ feet!) Whiteface is the perfect setting for this type of race.
There was a vertical kilometer (race video) race up the mountain on Saturday, but due to travel limitations I wasn’t able to participate. A slew of my MPF/RNR teammates powered up the mountain that day and reported that it was brutal! Those reports combined with a forecast of 2” of rain overnight and into Sunday promised that the Skymarathon on Sunday would be truly epic.
Sure enough, it started to rain during the night and would not let up until the next afternoon. We arrived at the base lodge to a summit shrouded in fog and blowing rain falling. I stayed dry inside the lodge as I debated what to wear in such wild conditions. I decided to go with my team short-sleeve Patagonia shirt, shorts, arm warmers, and a hat to keep the rain out of my eyes and toed the line with all the other intrepid souls for our first lap up the mountain. There were several domestic and international pros that flew in for the race, which made for a very competitive field. Jan sent us off into the rain and the fun began.
The course was flat for all of about 100 meters before it turned right and straight up the ski slope. My plan was to remain patient and not redline myself on the first alpine loop, but even trying to be conservative I was pretty much at my limit as we climbed. Living in Manhattan does not afford me many opportunities for training on this sort of vertical, a fact that was all-too apparent in the burning of my quads and calves as I climbed into the rain and fog. Nonetheless, I was happy to be in the top 15 or so as we gained the first summit. Turns out we took a wrong turn on our way up and had climbed the section we were supposed to descend. Ian was aware of this and filled us in at the top. Ian seems to be in a constant Zen state even when running around managing all of the logistics of race management; it’s quite remarkable actually. He very calmly told us to go back the way we had climbed, not to worry, and that they would work it out.
The descent from the first summit was, in a word, crazy. The rain had turned the ground to a soft, slippery, shifting, muddy mess. It was all I could to stay on my feet (not entirely successfully I may add) and not run over the other runners coming up. As I was picking my way down the rocky, muddy slope I heard a runner coming quickly down behind me. I turned to see Tom Owens, a Scottish pro running for Salomon and the eventual winner, quite literally sprinting past me. It was a thing of beauty to see him effortlessly bounding down that type of terrain. The ability to run quickly downhill on steep, technical terrain is truly an art and something I hope to develop in the future.
Turns out I underestimated the weather when making my clothing choices. It was a full 20° colder at the summit. My t-shirt and arm warmers were enough to keep me warm in the 60° at the base of the mountain, but soaked from the rain in 40° summit temps I was pretty well frozen by the time I got back to the base. Luckily my parents were there crewing for me and had a jacket and buff ready for me. Among the many great volunteers present was my MPF/RNR teammate Scotie Jacobs, who appeared at my side out of nowhere and helped me in to my jacket. This is a prime example of firsthand experience shining through. Scotie knew that my frozen fingers and hypoxic brain were going to have a hard time zipping that jacket even before I did. He offered to zip me up and get the buff over my ears and got me out of the AS in no time. Teamwork makes the dream work, thanks Scotie!!
The rolling trails of the Flume loop were wet from the rain but passed quickly as I tried to open up my stride and make up some time on the mountain goats ahead of me. I gained another spot and before I knew it I was back to the lodge and headed out for the final alpine lap. Other than a few more spills, including one especially spectacular barrel roll that left me with a bloody knee and head-to-toe mud, it passed uneventfully. I made it down the slopes to finish in a surprising 6th place overall. I am pretty pleased with this result considering the caliber of the field and the lack of vertical I have access to. Yet another reminder to not write yourself off before the race even starts, just stay positive and take things as they come. Even if what comes is a mountain covered in knee-deep mud that seems hell-bent on throwing you off your feet with every step! The crazier the conditions, the better the stories you will have to exchange with your buddies after.
I had a fantastic time in the Adirondacks and would highly recommend anyone looking for a challenging and beautiful race to make the trip next year for the second annual Whiteface Vertical Weekend.
As always, a huge thanks goes out for the support from Mountain Peak Fitness, Red Newt Racing, Run on Hudson Valley Running Store, Confluence Running, Patagonia, and Ultimate Direction. Also much gratitude to my family, friends, and teammates, without whom this crazy thing called ultra running would be a lot less fun!
Altra- Superior 2.0 shoes
Patagonia Air flow Shirt, Strider Pro Shorts, Duckbill Cap
Injinji Original Weight Crew Socks
Ultimate Direction Handy 20 Bottle
Tailwind Nutrition Lemon Endurance Fuel
Cayuga Trails 50 Buff
Silas Carey's Athlete Page
More Whiteface Skyrunning race reports, photos & videos
2015 Whiteface Marathon Video (coming soon)