This was supposed to be a race report for Lake Sonoma, but it’s been some time since then so the race recap is probably not too relevant anymore. I’ve decided that I’ll include some of my thoughts on my training for Western States and if you are interested in how my Lake Sonoma race went you can read the recap at the end.
At that point, things were looking good for CT50, as evidenced by a comfortable win at Naked Bavarian, a relatively new 40-mile race down in Leesport, PA. The course at Naked Bavarian is ideal for a season opener as it consists of two-loops on rolling, buffed-out single track around Blue Marsh Lake. As for the race, it was uneventful, which tends to be a good thing in ultras. I ran the first loop with David Lantz and Michael Dixon—both great guys to run with—before gradually pulling away on the second loop, recording a slight positive split to finish in a new course record of 5:09.
And then, over the course of a weekend in early April, I was stopped in my tracks. On Saturday, I ran 20 miles on the Schuylkill River Trail and the next day I was reduced to limping around the trails of Wissahickon because of tendonitis in my right knee. So it goes.
I quickly scheduled a physical therapy appointment and consulted with MPF coach, Elizabeth Azze, but the damage was (temporarily) done. There was no quick fix, which meant no Breakneck and likely no Cayuga Trails. I’ve been here before but it never gets any easier or less disappointing. Admittedly, my aversion to strength work—or really anything that is not running—is likely the main reason I got injured.
I began an intensive rehab program as I waited for the inflammation in my knee to subside, which took four weeks. Then I began cautiously running again, logging weeks of 8m, 15m, and 28m before deciding to give the marathon at Cayuga Trails a go. Two weeks before the race, I did some crash training with a fartlek run and a long run of 18m on the CT course. The decision to race wasn’t the most intelligent one coming off an injury, but CT is a hometown race, an MPF/RNR team race, and my buddy Matt Flaherty was staying with my wife and me for the 50, so I had serious fear of missing out.
I got up at 6 a.m. after a restless night’s sleep. Matt was out the door at 5 a.m. for the 50, so no complaints from me. For breakfast, I had a couple cups of coffee and oatmeal with peanut butter before heading over to the start at Treman at 7:30 a.m. After drills and strides, it was time for the start. The weather was perfect with sun, blue skies, and temperatures in the low-50s.
My plan for the race was to be conservative: find a comfortable pace and rhythm, one that felt slightly too easy, and maintain it for as long as possible. Also, I vowed not to get caught up in competition until we re-entered Treman just before 20 miles.
The Cayuga Trails course is death by a thousand cuts. There is no one killer section but rather it is the course’s combination of steep climbs, rocks, roots, mud, and the innumerable steps that slowly saps your strength and will. From training at Treman and Buttermilk, I knew it was a fool’s errand to “fight against” the course, especially given my limited training.
After Ian blew the ram’s horn, I settled into 4th/5th place with Alistair Munro, an ace veteran runner who had placed 2nd in the marathon the previous year. Gabe Rodriguez, in his blazing orange kit, was off the front bounding up the Gorge Trail, while Jason Mintz and Aaron Stredny kept a more reasonable tempo in 2nd and 3rd. After a couple miles with Alistair, he urged me to go on and catch the pair ahead, which I did after a brief hesitation. I caught up with Jason and Aaron before the climb up Lucifer Falls and settled in.
The climb up Lucifer felt rough as my heart rate shot up and my legs felt heavy. As negative thoughts began to creep in, I reminded myself that my body usually takes a few miles and a couple climbs to “wake up.” This turned out to be true as I found my rhythm again as we headed out of the first aid station at Old Mill.
The next seven miles were passed pleasantly as Jason, Aaron, and I chatted about a smorgasbord of topics. At the Underpass AS, we learned that Gabe was two minutes ahead, which wasn’t surprising. None of us had a desire to chase after him this early.
At first, I had trouble shifting gears coming off the muddy Lick Brook connector, but by the time we hit the road at Upper Buttermilk I was the one pushing the group. Jason responded quickly and looked strong while Aaron slowly drifted off the back. As Jason bombed down the Rim Trail, I began kicking myself for instigating the change in pace. Then, out of nowhere, we passed Gabe stretching out his quads near the bottom of the descent. Game on! Jason and I were now racing for the win, or were we?
Adrenaline carried me past Jason on the climb up Buttermilk Gorge. No sooner had I taken the lead then suddenly the orange flash of Gabe blew by me, taking the stairs two and three at a time. In no time he was out of sight. What?! It looked like he was going for a Strava CR in the middle of the marathon.
Jason caught me on the Bear Trail heading out of Buttermilk. We settled back into a sustainable pace and discussed Gabe’s resurrection. It seemed like we were both recovering from the adrenaline spike of being in the lead. Just as we resigned ourselves to the race for second, we again spotted Gabe up ahead on the Lick Brook connecter. He was struggling in the ankle-deep muck and waved us past. Was Gabe truly done or would he rise again?
Jason and I hammered the Lick Brook descent and headed into the Underpass AS together. While I still felt solid, I wasn’t sure how to drop Jason. I didn’t have the confidence or energy to push on the uphills and he was crushing the descents.
I hit a rough patch as we made our way up the first section of the Rim Trail in Treman. My legs were sapped and I began to power hike. Given the rapport Jason and I had developed over twenty miles, I admitted to him that this was the longest I’d run in a couple months. Like a true competitor, he took advantage of my admission and pushed the next climb. I watched him steadily pull away as I shuffled and hiked in his wake. At this point, the excuse factory in my brain began pumping out consolations: “You put in an admirable effort.” “You’ve only been back training for three weeks!” “Jason is in peak fitness for Western States.”
Shortly thereafter I somehow stubbed my toe on the groomed, gravel trail and flailed to the ground. My pity party was in full effect. The climb up the staircase—222 steps, Pete Kresock has counted them—seemed endless. At the top, however, I caught a fleeting glimpse of Jason up ahead. “Damn,” I thought to myself, “I should try to catch him.” I quickly consumed my bottle of Tailwind along with a gel and tried to rally my mind and body.
The volunteers at the last aid station urged me to press on: “He’s only thirty seconds ahead!” “You can get him, go get him!” “You’ve got this!” I filled up my bottle with water, chugged it, and then filled it again for the road. I braced myself for the final push.
I’m not sure what righted the ship, but my legs felt stronger on the climb up into the Red Pine loop. I spotted Jason up ahead—mesh hat, Salomon pack, blue shirt—and went after him. Only it turned out to be his doppelgänger, which I didn’t realize until I approached and saw the USATF 50m bib. “Okay, no worries, regroup, keep pushing.”
I hopped, skipped, and ran down the stairs of Lucifer Falls as fast as I could in pursuit while shouting out warnings to the numerous competitors, hikers, and families on the Gorge Trail. “Excuse me. Pardon me. Coming through. On your right. On your left.” I saw glimpses of Jason’s back but wasn’t gaining any ground. Did he know I was only thirty seconds back?
Off the steps and back on the trail, I pushed on. “Come on! Just get in striking distance,” I muttered to myself. I was slowly making up ground but quickly running out of space.
After cresting the final climb, I let loose on the mile-long descent to the finish. Arms and legs flailing, I hammered as hard as I could. I yelled ahead to Jason to give him warning that I was coming. He glanced back and started sprinting. For a moment, it seemed like he might pull away again but then his cadence slowed. I apologized as I passed with a quarter mile to go. At the end, only eleven seconds separated us. Aaron and Alistair came in a few minutes later to finish third and fourth. Gabe ended up dropping at the Underpass AS (19mi).
(Video of the finish. That’s my wife yelling. She rocks!)
Kudos to Jason for pulling me along most the day, he’s ready to roll at Western States next weekend. It was a joy to share many miles with him, Aaron, and Alistair. A big shout-out to my MPF/RNR teammates, they crushed it in both races, taking five of the top-15 spots in the marathon and the 50m. Make sure to check out the race reports of Ben and Scotie.
Finally, thank you to Ian Golden and all the volunteers for putting on another first-class event. I am already looking forward to tackling the 50 next year.
It feels good to be healthy again. Next up, Many on the Genny 40 Mile Trail Ultra.
I "Was Live" from the 2017 Manitou's Revenge Ultramarathon and Relay at mile 34ish on Indian Head Mountain, Devils Path!
During Memorial Day weekend this year, the Mountain Peak Fitness / Red Newt Racing Team made their way up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to complete the 18.8 mile Presidential Traverse. With it still being early in the season and after an epic winter in the Whites, we were looking forward to what the mountains would offer us. We traversed at a sensible pace and stayed together. I was out there with camera in hand to capture the day.
Video: Joe Azze / Mountain Peak Fitness
As I sit here typing I am just sitting down for dinner at 11pm, exactly one week after Cayuga Trails 50. I just got home from a workout on Virgil Mountain (Former home of the Virgil Crest Ultras R.I.P.) under a blood red full moon. There is a large mixing mixing bowl in front of me filled with cheese Tortellini, Chicken, Quinoa, Avocado, Green Onion, and some Almonds I roasted the other day. I’m hoping my dinner gets cold, because that would mean I’m actually getting this race report done, something that I have been dreading for well, about a week now. The Virgil Crest Ultras were where I have accomplished some of my biggest running goals, so I thought a trip out there would get my mind moving again and give me the spark I need to get words up on the screen for you to read. Prepare to enter my world as of late- This is maybe not so much a race report, as much as it is a glimpse through a keyhole into my head.
You have to embrace the darkness to get to the light. There have been a lot of big changes in my life since my last race report, which was for Grindstone 100. I pretty much had a walk through Hell at Grindstone, as my marriage was coming to an end amongst other things. Trudging through pouring rain mostly alone for 30 hours or so gives a person way too much time to think. After I realized my race goal was absurdly out of reach my mind brought me deep into the pain cave, and I decided to embrace it with open arms. Grindstone was where everything came to a head. Exhausted in the pitch black and driving rain I broke myself down as far as I could go. I brought everything I had buried within myself to the surface and confronted it head on. Somehow I knew that completely tearing myself apart was the only way I would be able to rebuild to be the person I am now.
So why am I writing this at 11pm on a Saturday night? Because I’m a single dad and the day after Cayuga I started my “week on” with my Daughters Kinsley and Hailey. On top of being a single dad I decided to take a new job that is a 45 minute commute from where I now live. Both my girls are running and playing soccer, so I am pretty much a taxi driver during my weeks on, generally driving just over 100 miles a day. Once I got all my errands done, Girls On The Run drop off and pick up, more chores and a soccer game in the girls and I got home at 8pm. I got them dinner and then it was off to Virgil for my workout. These days I function on 5 hours of sleep if I’m lucky, but I can honestly say I haven’t been this happy in years. Kinsley and Hailey keep me on my toes, and when I have them I am always “on”. I used to hate waking up early, but now I am up at 4:30-5am everyday, even on weeks when I don’t have the girls. I’m writing this at 11pm because I’m switched on, and I’m confronting my fear of writing race reports.
I’m really fortunate to be a member of the Mountain Peak Fitness / Red Newt Racing team. Did I say team? What I meant to say was family. One of the heads of my running family is my coach, Elizabeth Azze. This is my third year having Elizabeth as my coach, and she really has me dialed in right now. She was there for me as a friend during my separation, while at the same time coaching me toward what I want to achieve as an athlete. Thanks for bearing with me Elizabeth!
The Thom B 52k Trail run was my lead up race for Cayuga. The main goal was to go out at about 80% and stay consistent on the 13k loop course, as well as get my nutrition dialed in. My friend Mike Welden was racing and is super fast, so I figured I would see if I could hang with him for a while. At the start line he shook his head saying he wasn’t coming with me, which basically told me to run scared, because he could come from out of nowhere and smoke me at any moment of weakness. The race starts with a big climb up a seasonal road and then makes a hairpin left onto singletrack, where you can see runners on the climb as you head back down through the woods. I didn’t see anyone headed up the climb as I doubled back, and it would remain that way the rest of the race.
The weather was rainy and maybe 54 degrees, and I couldn’t get warm. I really focussed on running just out of my comfort zone, working the climbs and really hammering the descents- something I have really been working on getting better at. I went through the 1st loop in about an hour, and didn’t stop at my drop bag for aid. Loop two was about the same, just over an hour and I stopped briefly to switch out my bottles and grab some oranges. For quite a while I was using Tailwind, but for some reason my body wont tolerate it anymore. I switched to Skratch Labs in training and this would be my 1st race using it. Loop three was more of the same, just rolling consistently and trying to stay warm. I stopped very briefly after loop three to grab some more fruit and was told I had a big lead on Mike. I didn’t really believe what I was told, and was feeling good so I really went after the last big road climb. When I got to the top I just started rolling on the undulating single track and pounding the downhills, working on my turnover. The final ½ mile or more of the loop is all downhill and I went after it hard and felt great all the way. As it turned out I ran a 27 minute PR for the course, and was 8 minutes off Cole Crosby’s 2014 course record. More than anything else I was really psyched that my nutrition was spot on and that I felt that good during the race regardless of the result.
My recovery from Thom B went really well. My right calf was a little locked up but a quick visit to Gerrit Van Loon at Natural Health Family Chiropractic and a daily routine on the trusty trigger point roller fixed me up PDQ. Regular foam rolling and stretching, along with A.R.T. and massage have proven to be an invaluable part of my training and I can’t recommend it enough.
Other than having a lot of nervous excitement I felt great going into Cayuga. The weather was going to be perfect, and the girls were with their mother the week going into the race, so I didn’t have a ton of running around to do. The night before the race Elizabeth and I took over Ian & Sherry Golden’s house for the MPF/RNR potluck dinner and good fun was had by all. After the potluck I hit the foam roller and stretched and was ready for rest, as my 4am alarm was going to come quick.
I woke up race day feeling fantastic. I had a quick bite to eat, an amazing cup of coffee and was on my way to the start. Elizabeth was going to be crewing for me which gave me an extra layer of security. I also got a Bonus crew member, Gavin Nephew (teammate Ben Nephew’s oldest son). At check in there were so many people to talk to I forgot all about the nervousness, and in no time the ram’s horn sounded and we were off. I stayed back from the lead pack, aiming to run the 1st 25 miles in just under 4 hours. My main goals were to run under 8 hours (which would be a 45min. PR), hopefully finish top 30 overall and top 5 for masters.
I ran the first section to the Grist Mill aid station really conservative until I got to the Finger Lakes Trail. This section of the FLT is one of my favorite sections of trail around, almost all downhill flowing singletrack. I picked up the pace and had a ton of fun all the way to the underpass, running fast and relaxed. I stopped at the underpass quickly and filled my bottles and got some food. The top guys were already skipping aid stations, which boded well for me, as this course tends to prey on those who don’t take care of themselves. The next arguably toughest part of the course is the lick brook climb and then descent into Buttermilk state park.
I hiked hard and ate some food on my way up the climb, but being careful not to over do it. The running from the top of Lick Brook to the bottom of Buttermilk was pretty uneventful, as I was just cruising along in the zone. When I got to the Trailsroc aid station at buttermilk I grabbed a fistful of bacon and two bottles and off I went. It was shortly after that when I spotted Yassine Diboun on the climb up Buttermilk falls. When I caught him we started reminiscing about training together when he lived in Ithaca. At this point there may be some video footage, as Joe Azze was close behind us until we reached the Bear Trail. Yassine wasn’t feeling too good and we parted ways, but I had a feeling I would see him later in the race. It was at some point from the Lick brook descent to the halfway point that I too started to not feel very good. As it turned out I was over hydrated, which has never happened to me before! Elizabeth cut my water rations in half and when I got to the halfway point I took a 12 minute bathroom break (ugh). I think my time for the first half was around 3:46:00, a bit faster than I thought I would be.
The second half was very similar to the first, without all the bloating. I reeled in all the people who passed me during my extended pitstop but told myself there would be no “racing” until the Lick Brook Descent. At the bottom of Buttermilk Elizabeth gave me a stinger waffle followed directly w/ a honey stinger gel, which was pretty much Heaven! She also showed me her Garmin which read 7:42. “What’s that?” I said. Elizabeth replied “That’s Ben”. I knew Ben must have been having a bit of a tough day, but it still lit a fire under me because I knew he was 1st Masters, and that left me in 2nd.
As I had no idea how close the next masters guys were I tried to pick up the pace. The rest of the race went by pretty quick and my memory is foggy, as I was running scared. I got to the Gristmill aid station and ditched my pack for a single bottle. The last few miles were quick and quiet. I really just embraced the beauty and sounds of the gorge and took in the last bit of what was an awesome day. I crossed the line in 8:26:52, an 18:26 PR. I also nabbed 2nd masters, and 11th place overall (8th for the USATF championships). Click here for full race results.
Better than the results though was how I felt. I moved really well most of the day and only had one low patch. My recovery is also going much better than previous races, which is good as Many on the Genny 40 miler (www.manyonthegenny.com) is just two weeks away. Many thanks to all the volunteers for helping Ian Golden and Red Newt Racing make this event happen! Happy trails…..
To celebrate our fallen soldiers and to those that are currently serving, we chose to head to the state that carries the slogan "Live Free or Die", New Hampshire. We spent time giving thanks by hiking the iconic Presidential Traverse.
The Presidential traverse is one of the nations most challenging hikes at around 18.8 miles and over 8,000 feet of elevation gain. Mt Madison – 5367 feet Mt Adams – 5774 feet Mt Jefferson – 5712 feet Mt Clay – 5533 feet (Was re-named Mt Regan in 2003). Mt Washington – 6288 feet Mt Monroe – 5384 feet Mt Franklin – 5001 feet Mt Eisenhower – 4780 feet.
Thank you to our armed forces who sacrifice their lives everyday for our freedom!
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Ben is I’m always interested in challenging new routes, and has been especially interested in new FKT routes in CT & MA that are accessible for months longer than trails up north so he found himself the South Taconic Trail along with the AT that gave him a challenging route of 27 miles with about 8,000 feet of gain and some amazing views!
In its third year the Breakneck Point Trail Runs did not disappoint. The weather proved to be ideal once again and the runners were greeted with a beautiful, grueling rollercoaster of rocks that never let up until they reached the finish line. Congratulations to the MPF RNR athletes, the MPF Adventure Club & Clients and to all of the runners, organizers and volunteers!