After running this distance the first time two years ago, I vowed that the next year would be the “year of the half marathon” for me. The race really chewed me up and I needed a year away from long distances! After a year away from long trail runs, I felt a strong desire to perform better than I did in 2015. I signed up as soon as registration opened, bought Krissy Moehl’s book and started training in mid-December. This weekend was a busy one for our family, too. Elizabeth qualified for the girls state golf meet so she’d be away at Bethpage for three rounds of 18 holes. Amy, Xander and I went to Atlas Bowl in Trumansburg for a pre-race dinner. I ate and drank my fill (and then some). I knew I’d need the calories for race day! The dry mid-60s weather was going to be near perfect for an ultra. I had a feeling this was going to be good.
I woke at 4:15 and had a bagel with peanut butter, orange juice and coffee. I had packed my drop bag for the halfway point the day prior, and also laid out all of my clothes. Amy and Xander were starting their day volunteering at the Old Mill AS, so they came with me to the start. My father-in-law Ray was there to help send me off. It was so nice to have great support at the start! I was really nervous about time, though, since there were just a few minutes before we’d be underway. We had stopped at the Old Mill on the drive down to use the bathrooms there, since it was on the way to the start, but they were still locked! Luckily the bathroom line was not too long at the start and I was on time for kickoff. Ian’s pre-race instructions were entertaining as usual. He was explaining the pink flagging and arrows that marked the way. “If you get lost, it’ll be mostly your fault. Partly my fault, but mostly yours.” He blew his traditional ram’s horn and we were off on my second Cayuga Trails 50.
I chose to not carry a handheld this year, opting instead for a Nathan hydration pack filled with Tailwind. I had extra Tailwind powder stashed in my pack along with a drop bag with more for the halfway point.
3.7 miles in 0:38 – Old Mill AS
From the start, I tried to set off at a conservative pace, just under 10 minutes per mile. The ascent to the top of Treman was quick. Ian added on a 1-mile loop before we got to the Old Mill AS, so the distance there was 4 miles. We’d bypass that on the way back, meaning the last leg would be 3 miles. I’d never run this loop before, and there was a very nice level stretch in here with soft footing. I came into the Old Mill feeling great. I was so happy to see Amy and Xander there helping out. Xander got some great video of me throughout the day, too!
4.4 miles in 0:46 – Read Signs Much?
I chatted with a few runners as we made our way up a Jeep road after the first stream crossing. They were both from out of town and said I was lucky that I could run on these trails. I told them I did most of my training at Taughannock, but I’d been on these trails a few times during my training cycle. It was nice to be familiar with them! At that point, the pair took a sharp left into the woods as I started to continue up the road. Here I was, talking about being the knowledgeable local, and I didn’t see the sign to turn! I made fun of myself, mostly in my head, and I enjoyed a few miles running with this pair as we began a delightful descent on the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT).
6.2 miles in 1:04 – Follow the Xs
I pulled off the trail to water a tree for a moment, and when I got back on the trail I fell in behind a lithe bearded runner. He was wearing 2XU shorts and socks, and I kept seeing the large X’s on his socks as targets to follow. The FLT descended quickly and we bombed some parts of the steep trail. It felt so good to let the legs turn over quickly over the technical descent! Soon we were at Underpass AS. I didn’t linger too long and headed onward to another shallow stream crossing and a first climb up Lick Brook.
10.4 miles in 1:49 – Pancakes, Anyone?
We emerged from the woods to find ourselves at the top entrance to Buttermilk Falls State Park. 2XU said it would be awesome if they had pancakes at the aid station, specifically Buttermilk pancakes. I thought that would be cool, too, and shared that I knew the TrailsROC crew at the aid station had cooked up a truckload of bacon for us. I came up alongside him since we’d been running together for awhile now, and we started chatting more. Steve Meyer hails from Ottawa and is an adventure runner and engineer. He was camping at Treman with his wife, who he expected to see at the Buttermilk AS. He checked in on his pace chart and told me that we were on pace for a sub 10-hour finish. I knew at that point that I’d better back off, since a 10-hour finish would be, as I put it to him, “a dream.” We arrived into the aid station together and then he continued as I lingered a little longer, using the fine facilities at the park entrance.
13.9 miles in 2:26 – Bear Trail
Most of the ascent out of the park is stairs until you get to the Bear Trail. I saw Steve up ahead again after I finished that climb and we were soon talking again. The miles ticked by as we talked. He took a bad fall at one point, and I made a mental note to keep an eye on my own feet. When I get tired, the first thing I start doing is kicking roots. He was okay, fortunately, and shortly we were into the woods heading back down to Lick Brook.
17.2 miles in 3:00 – What Did I Say ‘Bout Kicking Roots?
We came upon a female runner and we ran as a trio for a bit. At one point I kicked a root and stopped myself from falling, taking some wildly long strides to keep myself upright. I said to nobody in particular one of my favorite Top Gun references, “Nice recovery, Mav.” The woman running behind me said, “Nice recovery, indeed!” I paused for a moment shortly after and let her pass to run with Steve. Keeping with my own promise of backing off a bit and stunned from my near-miss, I naturally let them get ahead of me. We were starting a steep descent down Lick Brook with tons of roots, and I resolved to not fall. Hitting the dirt here would really be painful. At the stream crossing before Underpass AS, a photographer was hiding in the bushes. He pulled his camera out to snap a photo as I entered the water. I was so startled! I thought he was an animal. I hope there’s a picture of that when the race photos go up. I refilled my hydration pack at Underpass AS, dosed it with Tailwind and started running alone into Treman again.
22.4 miles in 4:02 – Kisses for the Runner
I was alone for much of the traverse to the top of Treman, though I did trade places with a few runners and exchanged some casual words of encouragement. The marathon runners had been crossing my path for awhile and they were very encouraging. After getting my feet wet in the creek again at the top of Treman, I glanced at my watch. It was just about 10 a.m. and I knew Amy and Xander were done volunteering then. Maybe I could catch them! This gave me a little pep in my stride and I sped into the Old Mill AS. To my delight, they were still there! Xander was shooting video, and Amy was recording runners as they came in. I gave her a big hug and kiss. It was such a nice surprise to run into them twice during the morning!
25 miles in 4:30 – Halfway Point Pit Crew
I got back to the start and found a spot in the shade to change out my socks and my shirt. It felt so good to be in drier gear, at least for the moment! This change took just under 10 minutes, but I was happy to have taken care of myself. I happily walked to the AS table and the volunteers were eager to see if I needed anything. I helped myself to a bowl of chocolate covered coffee beans (delicious) and said “Well, now that the fun run’s over, the race can start!” Truer words were never spoken. The second half of the race would prove to be the toughest.
28.1 miles in 5:17 – Damn Muscles, Behave
I was in the middle of that 1-mile loop before Old Mill AS when I felt my quad start to nag at me. I stopped next to a tree and did some stretches. My leg muscles were all SO tight! I remembered writing my blog post about Sodium for Runners. Despite the Tailwind, I was sure that some extra salt would go a long way to fending off further cramping. At the Old Mill AS, I asked about pickle juice, since that topped the list of sodium options. Yes! They had a huge jar of it. I took about 6 ounces in my collapsible cup, chased it with water and went on my merry way.
32.1 miles in 6:10 – No, I Don’t Want a Horse, and Certainly Not Two
I was happily buzzing along on a flat, needle-covered stretch when I caught a root and went flying forward. As I hit the ground, my feet had both flexed outward (like if you pointed your toes away from you), triggering the most excruciating muscle spasms I’ve had in awhile. I tried in vain to get the charley horses to release their grip on both of my calves and foot arches, but it was so painful! A few runners in the marathon event were serendipitously passing by and stopped to help. One of them helped push my left foot back toward me as I worked on my right. Luckily the spasms stopped and one woman offered some pure salt she had stashed in a bottle. I was so grateful for these Trail Samaritans! I awkwardly stood again feeling a bit like a baby deer, trying not to flex any muscles. I feared another fall like that would end my race, if my muscles didn’t do me in first. I had to get myself to Underpass AS, less than a mile away.
32.6 miles in 6:22 – Double Dosing Tailwind
I had more pickle juice at Underpass AS and helped myself to their impressive array of fruits, too. The sun was getting hot and I was getting tired, so I refilled my pack with a double-dose of Tailwind. I believed that whatever magic those packets contained would be even better in a higher concentration. I chose one flavored and one unflavored packet. The only problem was that I let the powder sit at the bottom of the pack for a bit before getting water in there, so things were clogged a bit until I had another half mile behind me. Running and jostling your hydration pack seems to be a great way to mix Tailwind properly!
33.6 miles in 6:40 – PIE
I made my way up Lick Brook a second time, almost as quickly as my first ascent. Near the top, I naturally fell in with another couple of runners, and we ran close to each other as we approached Town Line Road. Ian, the race director, has a tradition of hiding little prizes along the course, but usually they go to the faster runners. This year, Ian resolved to put them out randomly throughout the day. Just before the road, I saw one! It was for a pie. I pocketed the card, smiling at my good fortune. Xander would later redeem my card for a delicious blueberry pie. My muscles were still hanging in there, too. The super-concentrated Tailwind and pickle juice seemed to be working.
36.7 miles in 7:19 – Muddy Residue
The grassy singletrack traverse before Buttermilk was pretty beaten up by the many feet that passed over it. There was one stretch that was now a veritable bog: 6 inches of water and mud that extended at least 20 feet. You could call it a tepid, unrefreshing stream crossing, one that’d leave a nice muddy residue between your toes. Delicious. I crossed paths with Yassine Diboun near this stretch too. He and I both shared our opinion on the “mess” we had to navigate. So muddy! On the road at Buttermilk, I came up between those two runners I’d caught up with a Lick Brook and we exchanged tired pleasantries. To my surprise, they didn’t keep pace with me as I sped just a little, enjoying the non-technical nature of the road. I left them behind as I began my descent into Buttermilk.
37.9 miles in 7:36 – Pizza Rollers Are Good Muscle Rollers
I enjoyed the downhill and spied my Dad in the distance taking pictures. He tried to catch up to me as I sped by towards Buttermilk AS. He must be a pretty good runner, since he wasn’t far behind me when I crossed the timing mat! I needed more salt, so I enjoyed more pickle juice and a few slices of bacon.
Amy Schwartz Lopata lent me a roller for my legs, too. I had to laugh. It was a Pampered Chef pizza roller, the same kind I have at home. I’ve never thought to use it as a muscle roller, but it works great! My Mom and Dad were with me, taking pictures and being good sports about me not wanting to talk about anything other than where I was at the moment.
Two years ago I felt like dropping at this aid station. This year I felt fantastic, and grateful that my cramping was under control after the earlier mishap. The TrailsROC crew was awesome, as usual. I was off again, eager to get this over with.
41 miles in 8:24 – Hello, Columbia
I ascended Buttermilk alone. I started playing mental games with myself. I’d pick geographical markers in the future and set them as my sole goal. I was no longer focused on finishing the race, just making it to the next marker. After exiting Buttermilk, the next marker was my friend Columbia Warren who was volunteering at the intersection with West King Road. I ran up to him with a big smile and told him that he was my goal. He asked what my next goal was, and I told him it’d probably be Underpass. As I started running, I told myself, “Nah, Underpass is too far away. Get to Town Line Road.”
43.3 miles in 9:00 – Time for a Bath
I descended Lick Brook again without tripping or falling, for which I was immensely grateful. I hit the stream crossing before Underpass. A rail trestle goes above it and the afternoon sun shone beautifully. I was the only runner around and two spectators sat on the trestle above me. I waded into the creek and stopped halfway, leaning down for cupfuls of cold water. It felt so refreshing to splash it on my salt-caked face and arms! I resumed my run to Underpass AS, filled my pack again with Tailwind and ingested more pickle juice. I talked distance with one of the aid station workers: she said just 4 miles to the Old Mill, then 3 to the finish. I was going to do this! As a reward, I pulled out my earbuds, since I’d been without music the whole race. I chose a Pitbull album and started enjoying the distraction in my head.
45.8 miles in 9:35 – Pitbull
It’s all mental at this point. My body was starting to feel broken but I resolved to not stop my forward progress. If it was downhill, I’d run it with an intense focus on where I placed my feet. If it was flat, I’d run it. If it was uphill, I’d walk it. Those were the only choices. I was soon at the massive staircase by Lucifer’s Falls and took them one-by-one. Near the top, I saw a runner sitting dejectedly on the stone wall. He was beaten up but after I talked to him (perhaps coincidentally) we both got going again. I told him as we ascended the rest of the stairs that I was rewarding myself with some Pitbull. He stopped and said to me, “Wait, you’re getting a dog as a reward?” I had a good laugh about this. Yep, I ran a good race. Let’s go puppy shopping! I said, “Nah, it’s the rapper, Pitbull.” I stopped to rest at the top and he took off up the trail.
47.2 miles in 9:55 – Family Reunion
I saw my Dad in the distance again with his camera, snapping away. I knew my family would be at the Old Mill just several hundred yards away, and I would be so happy to see them. My Dad ran behind me again, commenting how it was easy to keep pace with me so late in the race. Just to prove a small point, I picked up my pace discernibly enough to make him laugh, saying “or not!”
I pulled into the Old Mill AS to see Amy, Xander and my Mom. My friends Tim, Melissa and Walter were also there for an afternoon shift at the Old Mill, as many others had been throughout the day for Finger Lakes Running Club. I had my last taste of warm pickle juice for the day and lingered only for a few minutes. I had one last milestone: the finish!
50 miles in 10:26 – All Good Things Must Come to an End
I was so happy it was mostly downhill from the Old Mill. As soon as I took the left turn off the main trail onto a Jeep road, it would be all grassy downhill. I was even happier about that! As the finish line rolled into view, I saw Amy and Xander and flew past them with a huge grin. I was about to finish this race for the second time, ~2.5 hours faster than 2015! As I approached the sun-drenched finish line, I started pumping my fist and yelling, “Yes, yes, yes!” With the race completed, I did only what came naturally, crouching down with fists clenched and biceps flexed, uttering the most primal yell I could muster. I had done it.
The only thing sweeter than a stainless finisher cup is the ability to fill it with Ithaca Beer’s Flower Power. Amy, Xander and I enjoyed hanging around the finish area while I drank my beer, stretched and talked with other runners. The trail running community is truly wonderful. No matter the outcome of the day, everyone was smiling and talking. We enjoyed every part of it. The three of us had dinner at Ithaca Beer before heading home for the night. Sadly, my stomach was not cooperating and I had just a few slices of pizza before getting the rest to go. It would serve me well the following morning for breakfast.
Many thanks to Ian Golden and Red Newt Racing for putting on such a quality event! It wouldn’t be possible without the many volunteers that come together to work on all aspects of the race, either. A very, very special thank you to Amy, Elizabeth and Xander, for putting up with my long weekends of training and varying temperament leading up to those big runs. Thank you to my Dad for the great pictures, and to Xander for the video. You’re all awesome. Thank you!
By the Numbers
Overall: 49 of 164
Men: 38 of 122
M40-44: 8 of 19