A Challenge in a Challenge
This is my second year participating in the FLRC Challenge (last year's recap is a great explainer). The courses this year varied from the prior year, but I again really enjoyed the variety of "10 area courses, split evenly between road and trail, and with distances ranging from 1 mile to the half marathon." Now, that's challenging enough, with plenty of gamification throughout: who can run the fastest/most frequent/be most social? But what about the challenge in the challenge? The race page tells the tale:
Where most people will be running, walking, or hiking as many courses as they can from April to August, can you complete all 10 courses—slightly more than 100 kilometers—in the space of one 24-hour day? That’s the goal of the FLRC 100K Ultra Challenge, a unique test of your ultrarunning prowess. You can run the 10 courses in any order, but you’ll need to figure out the logistics of traveling between them, decide how you’ll fuel and stay loose in between, and make sure you can navigate each course successfully.
Amy and I completed the main challenge of running all 10 courses at least once. Amy wondered if she and her friend Teressa could do the ultra challenge? The challenge season ends in just one week, so the time was now or never.
How it Started
Amy shared her plans with me. As I listened, I felt a pang of jealousy. Prior ultra challenge completions came from really serious runners, some with really impressive ultrarunning pedigrees. Was I that person? Surely not. Yeah, I've done a few ultras, but by no means would I advertise myself as an ultra runner. The distance is still quite out of my wheelhouse. As she shared her plans, though, I reacted aloud, "You know, if you do this, I'm gonna want to do it too." Would I really do that, though? By myself? She replied, "What if you came with us?" I thought that sounded awesome. I'd be able to get the external motivation from two friends doing this crazy adventure with me, and we'd all be committed together. We hatched a plan, using our most optimistic and pessimistic times. Here's what it looked like, using our pessimistic times in the tracking spreadsheet I created.
At worst, we'd finish just under the 24 hour cutoff, and at best, we'd finish in the early evening. We planned to get started at 3a at the Trumansburg High School track and go from there. When the forecast solidified, we made one alteration, moving Brookton before Lick Brook. Given the heat advisory for indices between 95 and 100, Brookton would be a scorch-fest. With the move, we'd be off it before the sun was fully up.
How it Ended
There's no yada-yadaing through 21 hours -- there's just not. That's why I put our course-by-course play-by-play below, complete with pictures. But we did it! By my GPS, I covered 64.45 total miles (100K+). I also lost 7.5 pounds despite trying desperately to stay hydrated and fed. As with the best-laid plans, they changed, too. After Lick Brook, we decided to improve our overall finish time by adjusting our course order. Economizing on drive/prep time was the only real way we had to control it. So, courses 6-10 got totally re-worked. This post's featured image shows the route best: the latter courses carved a clean arc through the eastern half of Tompkins County.
If you're interested, this Google Sheet shows how this schedule kept us on track. After every run, I marked our actual run time and travel time to the next destination. I marked each leg when we completed it, which was a nice way for our families to know what we were up to. There's a nice touch in there that shows what legs would be in the dark, too.
Roving Aid Station
Did I mention that this challenge is totally async and unsupported? We had total discretion over when and how we did this, as long as it fit in a 24-hour window. We packed enough food and drink for a small country. Don't most ultra support vehicles look like this?
Our ultra support vehicle
Our favorite foods for the day were pickles, watermelon, and Twizzlers. I knocked back three red Gatorade bottles and countless liters of water, too. I should share about our tech, too. Our Apple watches obviously wouldn't hold a charge for this type of event. I found this fantastic portable power station that served us well all day long. We were able to plug in our watches and phones during our transition periods and keep them mostly topped off throughout the day. Much cheaper than having to buy a legit GPS watch!
2:57a: Sweet 1600
Ready to go!
1.01 mi in 7:40: We started at the Trumansburg High School track a few minutes after picking Teressa up. The picture of us at the beginning was the freshest we'd be all day long, but we were looking forward to the adventure ahead. I had a little waist light that worked well for these four loops, and they were over quickly enough. The air was so incredibly humid my shirt was soaked through by the end. I love this picture I took as we were about to start. Really amazing.
Track in the dark
3:21a: Taughannock Rim & Falls
4.66 mi in 46:50: Our home course! I've run this 75+ times for this year's challenge, but never in the dark. I've actually never run in the dark before, so this was a completely new experience. I started a few minutes after they did, and really enjoyed this shirtless run around the rim and base trails. I was struck by how the lack of light transforms everything. Across the gorge, you can easily make out landmarks that are normally obscured by trees. I picked out the overlook and the camp shower house solely due to the lights shining within. I took this photo touching the bridge post at the end of the base trail before returning the car.
Tagging Taughannock's post
4:46a: Inlet Shore Trail
6.23 mi in 51:23: Another shirtless run. Oppressive humidity! A mile into the run I was grateful to see that the Cass Park bathrooms were open, with lights on. My little Strava map shows my little detour. It was cool to see the sky start to lighten as I rounded the loop near the north end of the point. The lake, the sounds of the animals ... really amazing to be out in nature at an hour that I was normally in bed! I encountered only a few people on the south part of the trail, beginning their morning walks. Really quiet and peaceful. Xander was due to meet me in Brooktondale to run the next leg, and we were tracking 20-30 minutes ahead of schedule. He was ready to go and started driving to meet me sooner than he'd planned. Good teenager! We took this picture heading out of the parking lot, just before we saw Aaron King. Aaron's a really good runner, and I shared what we were doing. He shared that he was, too! So, we were not alone in pursuing this effort on an oppressively hot and humid day.
6:36a: Brookton Hill & Dale
10.34 mi in 1:34:55: I dropped Amy and Teressa off and left to plant a small cooler at mile 5. By the time I got back to Brookton's Market, Xander had arrived and was ready to run. I was so grateful we'd changed our order, since it meant we'd likely be done with this run by the time the sun was fully up! We had a delightful run at a decent clip. Xander was a really good sport about me walking the hills, and we enjoyed sparse conversation: I was working way to hard to be a full conversationalist! He needed this course to get his finished medal, and I was happy to have done it with him. We finished almost exactly when Amy and Teressa did!
Xander and me before starting out
9:03a: Lick Brook & Treman FLT
So grateful to see the turnaround sign!
14.14 mi in 3:55:10: By this point, we'd run almost a marathon. I surely felt like it. We decided to do the Lick Brook side before taking in the longer Treman side. I put my two sodden shirts on top of the Pilot to dry in the sun as I banged out Lick Brook. On my ascent, I saw Aaron King moving well down the hill. He looked really fresh! On my descent, I saw fellow Challengers Josh and Caroline Brockner, also was a nice lift. Once back at the car, we all took a break to get water and nutrition before heading out for the longer loop. We enjoyed talking with fellow Challenger Kristina Harrison and her husband as we headed out. The next 10 mile segment was so difficult. I hiked most of this and was grateful for the trekking poles we'd brought. My water consumption was through the roof and I found my pack mostly empty by the time I was halfway through the return trip. I rationed well, though, and promised myself I could drain the pack at mile 13. When I returned to the car, I took time to re-pack my water bladder with ice and water, and get some much needed food in my body.
Is this the right sock, or the left sock?
Before we left, we talked about the rest of the day. We were a bit concerned about our transition times, so decided to reorganize the second half of our day to economize on drive time. It turned out to be a fantastic decision!
2:04p: Cornell Botanic Gardens Beebe Lake
3.89 mi in 54:20: Now we were securely in the heat of the day, for sure. Beebe was a bit exposed at the beginning, but we soon found shade. Now hiking as a trio, I was no longer feeling the isolation of hours of hiking at Treman. We did run a bit of this, mostly on the downs of the arboretum side.
3:19p: East Hill Dryden Rail Trail
Aaron and Amanda King
7.42 mi in 1:44:12: As we pulled into the gravel drive marking the start of this trail, we saw Amanda King waving at us from her car! She was crewing for Aaron, and doing some running with him, and she was our trail angel here. She brought over some excess ice and offered to get us anything else we needed. Aaron arrived soon after and we took a picture before starting our respective efforts on this course. We each started a different direction. We ran the outbound mile on the East Hill Rec Way and hiked back to the car. The heat off the pavement was oppressive, and there was no shelter from the sun. Ugh! It was cool to see Aaron finishing the longer leg as we finished ours. Shame I had a pickle in my mouth for this picture: otherwise it's a good one!
No better time to eat than during a picture, right?
On the rail trail part, Amy had a brilliant idea. We'd run a quarter mile, then walk a quarter mile, and repeat. I joked with Teressa that we were campers and Amy was our camp counselor. Amy was really motivational, helping me along when the thing I wanted to do least was run.
Rail Trail turnaround sign
5:50p: Long Loomis
5.38 mi in 1:45:30: Hammond Hill is so beautiful. Amy and I love running and skiing there. We pulled into the empty lot, got ourselves together for what we knew would be a hike, and got started. Time slowed down for me here, and that probably had a lot to do with the diminishing light. The sun was setting in the sky and the woods exacerbated the effect. I knew it'd be dark soon.
As we started the half mile descent to the parking lot, I heard faint music in the distance. As I got closer I realized it was bagpipes. Was I hallucinating? Had my kids arranged a surprise bagpiper to lift our spirits? There's an old shack at the start of the trail that the club affectionately calls the Hammond Hill-ton (I think I have that right?) and someone was in there just practicing their bagpipes. It gave me a much needed smile.
8:23p: Jim Schug Trail
8.06 mi in 2:10:42: We stopped at a gas station in Dryden to use their facilities and regroup for our last big effort. While waiting, I hopped over to Pizza and Bones and got three slices. It was the only outside food we'd gotten all day and it tasted so good! We got underway shortly after 8 and used the remaining light before switching on Amy's light belt. We were keeping such a good hiking pace that we agreed to not try the run/walk that we'd used on the rail trail. Thought the moon was on the fullish side, it cast little light for us. It was surreal walking past Dryden lake and the bogs that surround the trail. The frogs were plentiful. A few bullfrogs surprised me when then leapt into the water to escape my feet. I couldn't help but be a little guilty for intruding on their space. It was nighttime, after all! After a few hours of effort and fun conversation, we were done. Just 3.4 miles left!
Starting the Jim Schug Trail
11:00p: Lansing Center Trail
3.33 mi in 45:26: We arrived at Lansing Center Trail a few minutes 'til 11, and we realized that if we made an effort to run, we'd finish before midnight. Amy was adamant that we finish before then, and I was sure we could do it! You know what? We ran most of this thing. Not a blistering pace, mind you, but with 60 miles on your legs, what can you do? We spent some of the time recapping the day, grateful that the weather had cooperated (every other day this week brought torrential afternoon rain), and that none of us had dealt with any kind of injury. As we closed in the final mile, I said "You know what? We're gonna f%$king do this!" And we did.
Three 100k finishers.