The 2015 Mt. Tammany 10 "Snow in March" by Ben Nephew

It is fitting that I ended up doing a loop course race following the recent discussion of whether or not loop courses are defined as trail races.  I can tell you now that the Mt. Tammany 10 is definitely a trail race, and despite the 10 loops, you could not even call it monotonous.  I was wishing for a little more monotony towards the end of the day (day, for a 40 mile race?).

"Welcome to the MT. TAMMANY 10. This will not be for the faint of heart. The 10, 10, in 10! 10 Climbs, over 12000 ft of gain, in 10 HRs. Hence the name MT. TAMMANY 10. You want a real challenge!!! Well here it is!!!"

The lead up to the race was a bit less than ideal. Two nights before the race, I was up most of the night with Aiden due to his cold. I ended up getting 3 hours of sleep. The day before the race, I ironically attended an infectious disease symposium at work.  I called Steph in the afternoon and she told me that both Aiden and Gavin, who had a fever that morning, were diagnosed with strep throat.  I started waiting for my fever to spike, and wondered if I could hit my Lyme disease buddy up for some antibiotics.  After a long drive to New Paltz and a relaxing dinner with my teammate Jason Friedman, I didn’t get everything ready for the race until midnight. Another 3 hour night.

I drove the hour and a half down to the Water Gap, right to the trailhead, and ran onto the trail into a solid 3-4 inches of snow. Even in good conditions, 12k (more like 13k) of climb in 40 miles is rough.  This was going to be ridiculous.  The starting instructions were quite simple, run 10 laps of Mount Tammany, and check in every second lap by running down the short road to the Water Gap visitor center. We were off at 6:36am.

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After not racing, or even doing controlled timed efforts in quite a while, I was anxious to test my fitness and started too hard. Despite the lack of racing, I had been doing a lot of strength work with all the stroller-pushing snowshoeing, along with some hard treadmill workouts while Gav was at parkour. Following the tracks of 2 runners that started at 5:30, I started up the mountain like I was doing a 2 hour hill workout. The red dot summit trail climbs 1,200 feet in 1.3 miles. Other than a couple short steep sections, I ran all the way to the summit. The early morning light made for some great views across the Gap, especially since I had never visited the area.  

I actually caught the two guys from the early start on the descent on the blue trail. It was a tricky descent to say the least. The snow was covering several large icy sections. I found one about a third of the way down, and Joe has a picture of how I cleared the snow off it; with my body.  I was probably going at a 6 minute pace when I hit it, and the only thing that saved my hip was the steepness of the ice. You know it is a good fall when you land on your back and side and end up on your stomach with your hands trying to grab on to the ice.  I wasn’t done with ice, and fell hard a second time. I thought it was funny that I typically don’t fall once over the entire Devil’s Path, but fell twice in 4 miles at Tammany. This was going to be a long day. The other thing I realized after that first loop was that the descent was just about as steep as the ascent since the 1.7 mile blue trail included about .3 miles of ridge up top.  When you consider some short flat stretches at the start of both the red and blue trails, both the ascent and descent trails have 100 feet of vertical change every 0.1 mile.  

I was relieved that the trail was in much better shape during the second loop, with a nice packed path in most sections despite there only being about 30 runners in the race. I ran the second loop in about 40 minutes, which was 5 minutes faster than my first loop. The third and fourth loops were almost in identical time, but on the course the sun came out and went from 30 degrees to 45 and sunny, and the sweat was pouring off me while climbing. Then, I would freeze on the downhill. I knew I was still working too hard, but I was too stubborn to slow down at that point.

Again, the fifth and six laps were identical to my previous pairs of loops, around 1:25.  I was regularly lapping runners at this point, and this made me fully appreciate my Inov-8 Oroc’s, which were providing great grip after the first two spills.  I never fell again for the rest of the day.  The 7th lap started to get considerably harder, and I backed off to try and avoid imploding on the last two laps. It was great having Elizabeth, Joe, Julian, Karl & Sam at the race cheering us on all day long, especially over those last 4 laps.

By the 9th lap, my quads were cramping on the climb and were killing me on the descent. I backed off to ensure that I didn’t have to crawl or cry on the 10th lap. One benefit of going out too hard is that I didn’t have to ask people to let me pass. They could hear me breathing about 100 meters before I reached them, and seemed to move to the side out of a combination of fear and pity.  With that much climbing and the aggressive start, I’m not sure I have ever spent so much time breathing so hard in a race.  My lungs and chest were as exhausted as my legs by those last few miles. While I was clearly fading in all respects, at least a few minutes of the 1:44 it took me to cover those last two laps were due to the deteriorating trail. The uphill was fine, but the downhill was getting softer and looser due to all the traffic and the vaguely warming temperatures.

I was finished in 7:33 for a new course record. Other than those last few miles, I really enjoyed the race. While it would have been nice if the trail was clear for the race, Tammany is a very unique mountain, and the awesome views changed all day long with the weather.  Even the road start is scenic as you run straight towards the wall that is the Tammany side of the Water Gap. Many thanks to Alex and Dennis at Athletic Equation for putting on such a spectacular event, and to the Mountain Peak Fitness / Red Newt Racing team for the support and camaraderie. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season, which won’t seem as hard after Tammany!

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