The 2016 Mt Tammany 10 "Better Late Then Never..." by Ben Nephew

I woke up, and my watch said 3:10am. The Tammany 10 started at 6:30 in the Delaware Water Gap, over 4 hours north of where I was scrambling to get my bags to my car in Fairfax, VA. I had managed to not oversleep for the three days of grant reviewing at the National Science Foundation, but then overslept on race day. I came close to bailing on the race right when I got up, but then figured I might as well see how close I could make it to the race start. I got on the road by 3:30, and managed to get to the start by about 6:45. Seven minutes later, 20 minutes after the race started, I was on my way to the shattered pile of rock towering over the Delaware River known as Mount Tammany.  

While not the ideal pre race routine, my legs felt pretty good for the first two 4 mile loops. The race consists of a disturbing 10 loops up and down the mountain, and most of the footing is nasty; it makes the Escarpment trail seem like a carriage path. On the first loop, my timing was perfect to catch the most amazing sunrise lighting up the cliffs across the river in a brilliant red glow. I was probably a little too aggressive during those first loops, but it was cold and I didn’t get a warmup in. When I ran last year, much of the descent was buried in snow and ice. While that would seem to make it more difficult, the rocks are so bad that I was soon wishing for snow cover. It was fun passing through the race field, as I got to say hello to everyone despite missing the start, including all my MPF RNR teammates, eventually.

I slowed a bit on the third and fourth loops, but my legs still felt pretty good considering the abusive course. My Merrill All Out Peaks had great traction and have the protection of a Sherman tank without being heavy. They definitely saved me on a few stumbles, even at that point in the race. While last year was a novelty and more of an adventure with the snow, the incessant and repeated technical nature of the trail was getting old rather quickly. One factor that may have contributed to my mental fatigue was the fact that my work at NSF leading up to the race consisted of three 12 hour days where we reviewed 100 grant applications. I tend to try and convince myself that work does not affect my running, and usually it doesn’t have a major impact, but this reviewing was quite intense. I was lucky to be staying with my old friend Peter Nicoll in Fairfax where I could enjoy some relaxed dinners after the long days.

On the fifth loop, the trail started to get to me, and I started to wonder why I was there. I was tired from the week and missed my family. I usually have one work trip a year where I am gone for an extended period of time, and the key is to stay busy. My work was done, I was tired, and part of me wanted to go home. The sixth loop was similar to the fifth loop, and I had been running alone the entire race. I run by myself most of the time, but it sometimes gets tiresome at races when I would hope there would be a chance of running with someone. Jason Lantz was in the lead, it was highly unlikely I was going to catch him with a 20 minute lead, and I thought that Jay Lemos was up there with him. As I headed for the finish of the sixth loop, I was seriously considering heading home to the family.  

Then I saw him, the big pearly white smile, hair flowing in the breeze, Jay and his silky stride was running at me just out of the aid station! It was like the second coming of Christ! I told him I would run with him and quickly made my way to the aid to fill up on Coke. I overdid it a bit trying to catch up with him and then started to think he tried to drop me as it still took me a while to close the gap. I finally caught up to him as he was chasing Michael Austin up the long climb to the summit. We’ve never run together, but I was not surprised to see him doing so well after a scouting report from Iain Ridgway. He commented on how he was enjoying running with me, and I said I also try to enjoy running with myself, as it typically is not a choice. Michael was climbing well, and we didn’t catch him until the start of the 7th descent. Jay was really rolling down the hill, and with three more downhills to go I backed off the pace a bit.

I quickly caught up at the start of the 8th loop, and I was impressed at Jay’s hiking speed. I basically had to run a few steps once in a while to keep up with his hiking. The trail was definitely getting busy at this point, with some rather groups of hikers. Jay had one hiking pole on the last loop, which he broke, so on this lap he grabbed a wooden staff from the woods and began doing the Moses up the mountain. I was relying on my secret sticky Coke hands on the quads trick to keep up with his mad pole trekking. As we traversed the summit ridge, some ladies were envious of his pole, and he just gave it to them without hesitation. They were shocked, and initially refused his offer, but then Jay insisted. That Jay, he is a real giver.

He continued to give it to me on the next downhill, and my quads were not appreciative of his generosity. We ran into the aid station together, where Jay proceeded to have a three course meal while I diversified my Coke intake with a few ginger ale chasers. I was going to throw down some Mountain Dew, but thought things might get a bit too crazy. Jay threw down his dinner bib, and we were off for the final two laps. The climbing pace started to drop to Everest expedition speed, and he backed off on the next downhill which gave my quads a needed break. The conversation waned on the final loop as we focused on the effort. That is the funny thing about running with someone, you don’t have to have an actual conversation for it to be a social experience, especially with Jay. He flashed his smile at one young lady on the course, and she responded with quite the naughty hello. Being an empathetic fellow, Jay was concerned about the feelings of her nearby boyfriend.  

I tried to put us out of our misery as quickly as possible on the final descent and just end the thing. It was a pleasant surprise to see Elizabeth scurrying down the slope looking more like she was on her first lap than her eighth. I kept the pace honest as we ran down the road to the finish, and then heard Jay make some sort of animal noise and come to a stop. I thought something was wrong, but this was just a ploy to get me to stop, since he knows I don’t like to stop. He had mentioned something about really wanting a pie, and took off screaming something about it being his pie. I then threw my 32oz bottle at his head Conan-style. As he stumbled around with warm Coke dripping through his silky locks I ran past to the finish. We finished in 7:45, with Jason Lantz running an impressive 7:05 for the win.

I’m glad I hung in there and got to run those last 4 laps with Jay; yet another good run with one of my teammates. Tammany is a great early season test, but it is not to be taken lightly. Even with perfect running weather, the finishing rate was under 50%. It is strange how surprised I was with feeling better running with Jay considering that I study social support at work in the lab. I got some food, warmed up, and then drove 5 hours home in time to put my boys to bed. It was good to be home. Thanks for the support from all the MPF crew, and to the RD’s for all the work with the event. Congratulations to all the runners! Hopefully my quads recover in time for next year…