Breakneck Marathon 2017: Return of the Farmer by Ben Nephew
As in the first two years, the Breakneck Point Trail Marathon had a slightly altered course to keep everyone on their toes, smashing into rocks. As I looked at the new map, it seemed as though the last few miles were likely to be decisive, but this is not a new feature of the race. There were both new and old racers coming to compete this year, including Adam Russell (who owns a family farm), who dragged me up and down the course most of last year before I was able to pull away over the last 5-6 miles. I was also curious to see how Adam Wilcox would do, as I was sure the course would suit his strengths on rough terrain with an excess of climbing.
While I thought I had done a good job of preparing all my gear for the race, and Steph and I seemed to arrive at the venue early for the 7am start, apparently the marathon started at 6:30. My warmup was slightly frenetic. We were again lucky to have a cool morning for the race, as a hot day at Breakneck is a unique version of hell. One runner shot into the lead with an aggressive pace at the start, but then backed off and let me in front as we made the climb to Breakneck Ridge. This was a new section of the race, and the running was a bit smoother on a more easily followed trail.
Wilcox soon took position behind me for the early few miles, and then took the lead as we neared the turn to head down to route 9D. Not long after we started the descent, Russell came flying by. Given I had seen him do this many times last year, I was expecting this. Wilcox took up the chase, but I held back a bit. They had a good lead as we ran down the road to the rock scramble back up Breakneck. My legs felt good on the climb, and I was able to catch both Adams somewhere past the middle of the climb. The views up and down the Hudson, especially across to Storm King, were amazing.
We seemed to pull away from most of the field at this point, but Ed Cullen from RI was not far behind. Wilcox was inspired by Russell’s downhill running, and led the charge from the summit down. He almost led the three of us right out of the race, as we missed the right turn towards Bull Hill. Somehow, he heard a course worker yell about the missed turn. We were probably a tenth of a mile downhill from the turn, and by the time we got back, Ed had caught up and took off down the slope. We basically had 3 very aggressively downhill runners and me, who was trying to save a few quad fibers for the last 10 miles, which were sure to be rough.
Ed pounded down to the base of Bull Hill, and continued to press the pace on the climb. He was soon out sight, and I moved into second with team Adam close behind.The Bull Hill climb was higher this year, and was now the biggest climb of the day. However, it was still only in the first half of the course, with plenty of vert to manage over the second half. As you can imagine, I was passed shortly after the summit. This downhill, and many of the new ones in the race, were slightly less steep, loose, and violent than previous versions of the course. I was able to stay in touch without incurring excessive risk, but they were still pushing on the runnable terrain leading back to Breakneck. I wasn’t able to catch up until we started the steep climb back up to the ridge. Although it is hard to compare GPS tracks and different courses, I think we were 2-3 minutes faster to 13 miles this year compared to last year, probably due to Russell chasing Ed as opposed to being in the lead at this point last year.
The three of us had a good time riding the rolling terrain leading up to Mount Beacon. With two major climbs left, I decided I needed to push the pace a bit. Wilcox seemed to be struggling on the climb, and as I passed both him and Russell toward the top of the steep 600 foot tower with plenty of scrambling, I spotted Ed for the first time in over an hour. He was doing the Everest-without-O2 shuffle, but definitely picked up the pace when he spotted us gaining ground. Russell hung tough on the climb, and the three of us were right together at the aid station at 17 miles. It took me a little while to get my Coke, and Ed and Russell had taken off like there was only a few miles left, rather than 11-12. I picked up the pace as much as I dared, but could not see either as we traversed some nice singletrack to the red trail. At this point in the race, this 900’ drop over 0.7 mile on hard, rocky, washed out trail was pure torture. I knew we had a major climb right after this, and was trying to balance getting back in contact with not absolutely destroying my quads.
As I imagined the synergistic downhill bombing ahead, I forced myself to think positive thoughts:
Maybe Ed will run all the way down into the town of Beacon…
Maybe Adam will miss a turn and knock himself unconscious on a tree…
I started to feel better when I reached the base of the climb up the Lamb’s HIll where it was likely that I could gain some ground on the downhill bombers. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I spotted Ed. We exchanged some grunts of encouragement, and I set off to search for Adam. It took me a good amount of climbing before I spotted his green shirt, and he was not struggling. I wasn’t able to catch him until the top of the climb, and he led the charge over the tight, undulating singletrack over Fishkill Ridge. The spectacular views were one after the other, but we were distracted by the thick foliage that was ripping into us as we leaned into turn after turn.
This section never seemed to end, with one small climb after another. At this point, I was keeping up with Adam on the descents and I could not put much time on him on the short climbs. It was a relief to finally turn back towards Beacon on a smooth runnable trail that traversed below the crest of Fishkill ridge. The problem was that Adam was not letting up and started to put a few seconds on me. There was one moderate climb left, some rolling singletrack, and then the screaming last 2.5 miles down to the finish.
When we got to the moderate climb and there was a rock wall we had to traverse, my right hamstring started to cramp. The timing was not good. It is funny, though, how many races I will get fatigue related cramping on the very last climb. I backed off, hiked a bit, and then started running and soon passed Adam. He latched on like a deer tick, and I could not drop him despite him breathing so hard he was sucking up leaves from the forest floor. We had already passed each other too many times to count, but there were another 4-5 passes over the next mile and a half.
I’m sure we horrified the group of hikers we passed shortly before starting the downhill plunge to the finish. I took off downhill as hard as my quads would allow, but there was no stopping Adam. He passed me and blasted down 3 consecutive gullies filled with rocks covered in 6 inches of leaves, pulling further and further away. My knee lift and turnover were gone, and Adam won by about a minute in 5:09. He said he was motivated to come back and take another shot at the course, and he definitely improved on his 2016 race with an extremely strong last 10 miles.
Adam Wilcox rallied for third despite bleeding from both shins, as Ed suffered from dehydration towards the end. Congrats to all the runners at the Breakneck races, that course makes you earn it! Thanks to all the volunteers who worked on the course and aid stations, not sure how those supplies got up to Beacon! It’s been fun to watch the race grow over the past three years and hear the overwhelmingly positive response. It’s a great start to the season, even if my legs don’t exactly agree with that.