Race Report: The 2014 Rock The Ridge 50 by Elizabeth Azze

When I heard about the Rock The Ridge 50 early last year I was torn.  I wanted to support this local race but along with our athletes and clients, we have been a part of The North Face Bear Mountain races since its inception in 2008, and both races were being held on the same day.

About a month ago, the RD for Rock the Ridge, Todd Jennings contacted me to invite me to the 2014 event.  I held the invitation in the back of my mind until less than a week prior. On Wednesday night after checking in with our trail running team and making sure our clients were prepared for the North Face races, I accepted the invitation.

I went into the race with the goal of using it as a training run to test my current fitness level and to fine tune some race strategies for the upcoming MMT 100. I didn’t have much time to study the course but I knew from doing some running at Lake Minnewaska, most of the course was going to be on hilly carriage roads.

The start of Rock The Ridge

The Rock The Ridge 50 does something very different than most 50 mile runs, it gives its participants 24 hours to complete the course. What an awesome opportunity to have a supported adventure through the preserve. Whether you enter as part of a team or individual, the experience you will have will last a lifetime and give you a new found respect for yourself and nature.  

As I read a little more about the race and the Mohonk preserve I began to realize that this wasn’t just a race. This was much more, this event was about educating the public about preservation of one of our local wonders the Shawangunk Mountain Region. All of the money raised by each participant goes to help preserve the area so generations to come will be able to enjoy it. To learn more please visit Rock The Ridge 50 website.

The race:
Joe dropped me off at the start to pick up my bib, I ran into Ben warming up but didn’t want to disrupt his warm-up, who knows what he has to tell him self to get pumped to sprint for 50 miles, alone. I said hi to some familiar faces then stood on tired legs awaiting the start. I had know idea how I was going to feel, this was the 3rd week of my training block leading into the MMT.  Todd asked me, “how long do you think it will take you, between 7:30 and 8:30”? I shook my head...I really didn’t know the course so I had no idea. Ok, no pressure...

You couldn’t ask for a better setting or weather.  The race starts slow with about 4 or 5 people going out fast, which is very unusual for a start, typically most are going out too fast.  The course started downhill with a nice 1 mile warm-up before our first climb of the day. I was there to push myself a bit so I decided to try to run most of the hill, other than a bathroom pit stop and minor gear adjustments, I tried my best.

When we reached the first fluid station I was still running within myself, taking in the scenery and beautiful sunrise. I ran along eagerly anticipating what was next, I didn’t notice many people around me until we started a loop section. During the loop I was able to see who was behind me and in front of me.  It was great to see so many runners smiling and those part of a relay team pushing themselves.

Boom, the 10 mile aid station, wow that came quick! I said to myself you can really run yourself to the ground here if you’re not careful.  During the next section I noticed a group of 3 that have been sticking together, I wasn’t sure if they were part of a team or people who just met but we were sharing a similar pace. As the miles ticked by the views were spectacular of the Mohonk house, Bonticou crag and other vistas.

Another opportunity came to see fellow racers as we were headed up to Skytop. I had some brief conversations with folks, telling me to slow down because there were many hills to come, I said thanks and continued on. The group of 3 passed me during this section, I let them go slightly envious that they had each other to talk to.

Heading to the beautiful Lake Minnewaska, mile 26.6, this is where Joe and Sam were waiting to crew me. Having them to look forward to always gives me a boost.  Parts of this section were beginning to look familiar, I’ve run through here before, the majestic Awosting falls are coming. As soon as I made the distinction Ben Nephew comes blazing down the climb that I soon would have to run up. I said to myself he is more than 10 miles ahead of me, realizing this made me laugh out loud. Seeing him run down looking fresh gave me a new found energy to try to run the entire hill.  I made it to the top pretty spent looking for Joe and Sam. I quickly refueled, turned on my music for the first time and grooved around the lake.

At this point 15 miles were left in the race. At the base of the hill the woman broke away from her group to pass me right around Awosting Falls, I didn’t chase. I stayed in my zone not sure of what the last 10 miles of the course had in store for us and how much I should leave on the line.  I haven’t been in this position for a very long time, there is a big difference between racing and running. We both got to the next aid station a minute or so apart. I quickly had something to drink and slowed my pace while leaving the aid station. I thought to myself, do I want lay it all out on the table? Right at that moment my stomach started to bother me, this couldn’t come at a worse time!  I pulled off into the woods. I’m not used to drinking the race sport drink (gatorade) but I got myself back together and decided I would try to close the gap.

I ran along at a decent pace aware of the distance left but unaware of how many climbs were left. I tried to find a good song to put me in the right head space, then carried on. I approached Trapps bridge; I yelled out right or left because there were many people standing around blocking the directionals. I knew we came from the left so I was surprised when they said right. I took a right and felt like I went back in time to when I was a teen learning to rock climb here, what a special place! Everyone looked the same, I even remembered some climbing routes and felt like yelling out hand positions. I was lost in the time warp for a couple of minutes until I  snapped myself out of it. Am I on the right trail? Would they have the race run underneath where climbers are climbing? I looked behind me for other runners and ahead, nope, no one. I asked several climbers if they saw other runners wearing a number pass by, some said yes others said no. Hmm...I slowed my pace fearing I was wasting energy going in the wrong direction. Then finally someone assured me I was on the right track.

I found my confidence again and proceeded to pick up my pace, I wasn’t sure what mile I was on since my Garmin 910xt hasn’t been accurate all day. All I knew is that I felt like Forest Gump running and running,  I’m not sure if I have ever done this much consistent running in my career. The races I usually participate in are rocky and extremely mountainous, this may sound tough but the terrain offers you a chance to hike a bit.

I stopped quickly at the last fluid station, mile 42.2, almost to the finish! At this point I figured the folks I was using as my target were long gone. I looked down at the time, I think I can come in under 8:30... With that being my new goal, I picked up the pace.  Nearing the end I see one of the guys that was with the woman I was chasing. I asked the guy if he knew how much further and said he didn’t know, his garmin has been off all day as well. Screw it, I looked at my watch determined to finish under 8:30. I clicked off some 8:00 min miles and got her done in 8:28:57, good enough for 2nd place female, 7th overall. Can you believe a PR, thank you for the push Nancy!

Racing others or against the clock can bring out the best in you.  What a great event!  Thank you to my husband Joe who always does such amazing job capturing the event and to all the volunteers, race directors & fellow runners. 

No matter your speed or age, on May 3rd The Rock The Ridge 50 brought us all together to share the same path. Congratulations to all!