The awesome grass downhill coming off Greek Peak Apline Ski Loop, mile 53. Photo Courtesy Steve Gallow
Doing the rock hop at a creek crossing on Finger Lakes Trail, mile 40. Photo Courtesy Steve Gallow
What a great way for my first trip to the Northeast to go down. I’m so pumped to have run 17:34 and grab the course record and my 5th 100 mile win. It was a blast. With it only being a 2nd year event, I was not sure what to plan for with regard to splits and an overall time goal.
So, I figure 18:30 was a good time goal based on last year’s winner’s 50 mile first split, Inov8 runner Yassine Diboun (8:50 was my goal split for the first half). Yassine ran well the first half, but seemed to fade the 2nd half last year. I chalked that up to it being his first 100 and as the ultra vet’s say, you have to run a 100 before you can run a 100.
He ran really well at Where’s Waldo 100k this year, so, I figured I should shoot for a similar first 50 split and run the second about 40-50 minutes slower. To my surprise, it went better than expected despite a small scare early when I lost my S-caps (electrolyte pills) and a 4 minute detour to run back to the aid station to get salt tabs.
I flew in Wednesday night on the red-eye and spent 5 hours on Thursday afternoon with my buddy and owner of Finger Lakes Running Company, Ian Golden, who has really thrown his heart and soul into this thing—a great course and a stellar, grassroots 100 miler. So, we finished up marking the course and resetting my internal clock to east coast time.
Actually, being in the woods from 12:30-5:30 Thursday afternoon, hiking and easy running was the perfect cure for jet lag. I think being in the woods and watching the sun setting in it’s raw natural environment totally re-programmed my internal clock and I went to bed at 11pm and woke up at 8:45am on Friday feeling pretty darn good.
On Friday afternoon, we drove out to the course at Greek Peak Ski Area, near Virgil, NY (30 minutes from Ithaca) and got ready for check-in. I helped unload the sprinter van Ian had race stuff in and went to chill before the pre-race meal. Before I took off from Oregon I wanted to buy a copy of the book Born to Run by Christoper McDougall. I didn’t get a chance to grab it before I left Bend, but as I read the race brief from Ian on my flight east, I found out he was going to be at the pre-race meal and speak. Sweet. I bought a book and got it signed and finished it up in 3 days.
Side Note on the book: Great read (he does kind of put the ultrarunners, all of which I know personally) on a weird pedestal, but it’s still a great book and the background theory of humans as an endurance running people is super interesting…and, if you’re an ultrarunner, it makes total sense…we’re tapping into something genetically coded and primal in our make-up.
First, this course is beautiful. Ian designed a great course. It boasts 17, 448 feet of climbing (based on my Suunto), consisting of a double 50 mile circuit. I found this set-up to be great. Making drop bags and logistics easy (especially being solo with no crew or pacer). I know it wasn’t his first choice for the course, but given the large amounts of private property, land owner issues, and hiker coalitions who don’t like events—he’s put together one heck of a fast, but tough course. Hard, technical and beautiful with one of the best finish lines spots I’ve been too. Another plus, as a front runner, you get to see the entire course before having to run in the dark. A nice perk, especially with no prior course knowledge.
Also, I love deciduous woods. I grew up in Missouri and this is my first trip to upstate NY. Gorgeous. I felt like I was the old farm boy back exploring the “back 40” again. I love the constant humming sounds of the insects, birds and the lush, shady canopy. It’s definitely technical in the trail sections with lots of rocks and roots and very windy singletrack. You don’t get very many straight trail sections to just “open it up” and let the legs roll. You are constantly engaged in a rhythmic dance with roots and rocks and ups and downs…whether it’s 1000 ft climb or a 3 foot roller. To give you an idea…
Stutter step. hop a log. long stride. short stride. juke. side step. cut left. cut right. grab a sapling and swing ’round it. tiptoe across a little creek crossing. up. down—repeat—in no particular order. It takes total mental focus. I found it engaging and fun…you just have to embrace “the wood dance.” My kind of course. I loved every step—well, maybe not at the end when I was worked, but that memory quickly fades—that’s why I keep entering these crazy races, I suppose.
Race morning was cloudless sky with temps in the 30s. I had a good sleep for about 5 hours Friday night and toed the line at 5:55am in the chilly pre-dawn morning in shorts, sleeveless jersey, gloves and arm warmers.
Under headlamps, Ian blew the rams horn and we were off at 6am sharp. We proceeded down the short strip of pavement and onto Tune Road’s gravel and soon were making our way up Greek Peak’s ski slope for the first climb. The first climb is a nice hiking grind and pretty steep. We immediately had soaked feet from the heavy dew and I settled in with Tim Ingall (a local running the 50 miler).
About halfway through the Greek Peak Alpine Loop, it was light enough to turn off the lights and Tim and I soon hit the summit and began the nice grass slope downhill back toward the Gatherings aid station, just cruising and chatting. By the time I hit the road back to the Gatherings aid (mile 5.9), my feet were soaked, but I had decided to roll with it that day and not stop and just let my feet dry on the move.
I came into Gatherings about 40 meters behind Tim, who went to change shoes. I got my gels out of my drop bag and headed out in the lead. After Gatherings you have to run up a paved road for about a mile before entering the Finger Lake’s Trail on your left. Tim caught me on the uphill paved section and pulled slightly ahead. I knew he liked to run hard early and was doing the 50 miler. He also told me on the opening loop that he hadn’t put in a lot of long runs and was going to run hard until he couldn’t anymore. So, I didn’t worry about staying with him, just sticking to my own splits and race plan.
So, I settled in and cruised into Pipeline about 100 meters behind Tim at mile 12. We came into Pipeline aid and I was in and out quick. About 2 minutes out of the aid station I went to grab my S-caps (electrolyte pills) out of my short pocket but they weren’t there!! Apparently, I had not quite got my left hip pocket’s velcro dot connected and the pocket was open and they bounced out. Not good. Not good at all. Without salt…no way I could go on without cramping. I turned around and ran back uphill to the aid station in a slight panic.
I asked for whatever they had. E-caps…not ideal, but would work. Then, a guy stepped up and said, “I have a few S-caps.” He gave me 8 pills and I thanked him and took off. I now had several 50 mile folks in front of me and had lost about 4 or 5 minutes. I settled myself down mentally and started to figure out how I was going to make it through the race with limited salt tabs. I needed more.
I had pills at 23.7 (Gatherings aid), but wasn’t supposed to get those until mile 50 to get me through the second half. So, I decided I would have to go on E-caps, which they had at the aid stations. They have 227 mg less sodium per capsule, but I’d just have to make due and use them to get me through.
So, I started taking LOTS of E-caps, up to 4 pills at a time to equal what I’d normally take in one S-cap. I figured if I could make it to mile 37 at Daisy Hollow aid, I could then switch to what I had for S-caps for the rest of the race. I came back into Pipeline after the loop and cruised on for Gatherings aid.
So, I caught back up to Tim and another runner (both in the 50 mile race) about halfway to Gatherings and passed them. They were starting to look tired. I kept plugging away, not feeling like I was pushing at all and got my refill of gels at Gatherings (mile 23.7) and headed out for the 26.4 mile round trip out and back on the Finger Lakes trail to Daisy Hollow.
I jammed up the gnarly 1000 foot climb to Greek Peak aid and kept plugging away to Rock Pile aid and arrived at Rock Pile in 5 hours flat (the 50k mark). I got into Daisy Hollow (mile 37) at 11:58am, turned around and headed back to Gatherings. This was my first chance to check-in on competition and see how far back 2nd place was. A local named Daniel was in 2nd, about 9 minutes out of Daisy Hollow turnaround (18 minutes back). Closely behind was Glenn Redpath (who I knew was strong and would be my biggest competition). He was obviously running his own race and I was worried he would be able to bring it late as the mile went by.
I just tried to stay smooth and not push hard and was finally heading back down off Greek Peak to the halfway point at Gatherings. I hit Gatherings (50 miles) in 8:11, 39 minutes ahead of my halfway split goal. I was hoping that wasn’t too fast, but I never felt like I was hammering, just cruising. So, I just trusted how I felt. I grabbed more gels, ate a banana and orange wedge, put on my iPod shuffle and headed out for the second 50 mile circuit.
I cruised the Greek Alpine Loop, back to Gatherings (mile 55.8) and was soon in the woods again on Finger Lakes Trail, heading for Pipeline aid station. I cruised through Pipeline (100k mark), downed some potatoes and salt and proceeded into the Pipeline Loop. I made a small mistake right before pipeline. I always make myself take a gel every 15-20 minutes, even if I’m 5 minutes from an aid station. I don’t wait, I take it. No exceptions. However, I did not stick to this self-imposed rule coming into Pipeline. I waited and ate when I got there, but that little 5 minute “wait” caught up to me about 2 miles out of Pipeline and I got bonky. I took two gels immediately and a salt tab and hiked up to the radio towers feeling pretty low on energy.
The gels finally kicked in when I hit the gravel road and soon I felt normal again. I decided I should bump up the “every 20 minutes” regimen of gels to every 15 minutes. That did the trick and I never felt an energy lull the rest of the race.
I soon arrived back into Pipeline aid again at mile 67 at 5:28pm and asked them when 2nd place had come through there (at mile 62). They told me Glenn Redpath had come through 20 minutes back at mile 62. I told them, “Whoa! too close!” That got me motivated and I started to leave, went about 40 meters and realized that I forgot to get my lights out of my drop bag. Whoops. Grabbed lights and took off with a fire under me to put some cushion on my lead on Glenn. IT was time to let Bronco Billy ride!
I decided to push until darkness fell. I knew it would be easiest to run hard with daylight—before dark forced the inevitable slow down. And, I knew I would have at least 20 more minutes of daylight to cover the course than Glenn would, due to my lead.
Gear Geek Side Note—Night Lights: I have to give a huge shout out to Roch Horton, a Patagonia teammate, and our team rep for Black Diamond. He’s been working on a new prototype headlamp for running. It’s based on the Black Diamond Icon headlamp (with a filtered light setting and a high beam spot that shoots out 80 meters), but with the battery pack mounted separately (not on the headband). It’s a headband that has a cord that hangs and connects to the 3AA battery pack via an easy plug (it basically looks like an old-school speaker plug…nice and bomb-proof and easy to plug and go). The battery pack is versatile, as you can throw in a pack, in a pocket, or thread it onto any BD width headlamp headband—whatever you choose. I did some pre-race night runs to test out various set-ups and decided on mounting the battery pack in the small of my back and threading it onto the headband strap of the Black Diamond Spot headlamp (which I wear around my waist like a belt) and use the BD Spot as waist lamp. It turned out to be an awesome light set-up—the best I’ve ever had in any previous hundred. I didn’t feel like it slowed me down in the technical singletrack at night. Hands-free and super bright…like a 747 in the woods, baby! Thanks, Rocho.
So, before dark, I hammered hard the 6.3 miles back to the Gatherings (mile 73.8) and covered that section of trail in 57 minutes (only 5 minutes slower than my first lap split earlier in the day). In and out of the aid station with a touch overa marathon to go—a final 26.4 mile out and back section of technical singletrack trail to Daisy Hollow and back.
I made it up the 1000 foot climb to Greek peak and arrived at that aid right at dusk, about 7:05pm. I was getting my water bottles refilled and giving instructions to the girl working the soup, “…little noodles, 2/3 full of broth, top it off with cold water so I can chug it”—had also lost a nipple bandaid about 10 miles before and was getting pretty sore and chafed. The guy there grabbed duct tape, gave me a 5 inch strip, pulled off a small patch square mounted it to the sticky side so it would not stick to my already chafed nipple and gave it to me. I slapped it on and it did the trick—problem fixed—perfect, dude.
This same guy had a little son (probably 4 years old) and he was just standing a foot from me staring up at me, right in the trail. His dad, worried about him being in the way, instructed him to get out of the way. He kinda lingered, a foot from me still staring up at me as I held up my shirt, slapped a big slab of duct tape on my left nipple and chugged my cup of soup.
I can only imagine what was going through this young boy’s mind…this crazy, dirty, sweaty dude comes barrelin’ out of the woods like he’s on a mission…he demands food, lifts up his shirt to bare is chest and slap duct tape on his left nipple…I mean, c’mon…it’s hard to not stare, right?!
So, I looked down at him, and having kids myself (the dad in me couldn’t let him go unnoticed…I had to acknowledge the little guy and let him know he wasn’t in the way and his presence was all good in the ultra world…we aren’t uptight, right? We’re go with the flow trail hounds). I turned to him and said “Give me high five, buddy!”—held out my hand—waiting. He looked at me right in the face for a split second, sizing me up, wound up like he was going to throw a baseball and gave me the strongest high five he could muster. WHAP! I yelled “AH YEAH! Let’s see if we can break 18 hours!”—grabbed my full bottles and took off running into the coming night. My memory of that aid was a big, proud smile on his face as I took off. Sometimes all you need is a little fan to give you some juice. Thanks little guy.
Right out of Greek Peak, darkness fell and I flipped on my lights and kept plugging away for Rock Pile aid station. I had been doing the math and figured if I could get to the turnaround by no later than 9:20ish, I had a good shot at breaking 18 hours. So, that was my focus. Get to Rock Pile in about an hour, then on to Daisy Hollow in about an hour, that would give me cushion for the 13.2 mile return trip…basically leaving me with a little less than 3 hours to cover roughly a half marathon on technical singletrack in the dark—doable (if my quads held together).
On my way to Rock Pile aid station Rage Against the Machine came onto my iPod. This has always motivated me to push the pace and I had 10 Rage songs coming in a row. Ah yeah! Let’s get this party started and jam some singletrack, y’all! I came into Rock Pile, to the aid station staff hooting and hollering and me yelling too. They gave me some broth, and were kind enough to fill my bottles and empty my used gel packets out of my handheld bottle pocket while I chugged two cups of broth down. I busted for Daisy Hollow and the turnaround.
The section from Rock Pile to Daisy Hollow is really technical and you have to constantly be dancing through roots and rocks, over logs, and the trail is never straight. There are a couple of sections that are steep with permanent ropes tied to trees to aid you in the climb if it’s wet (although not needed for the race due to dry trail conditions), but gives you an idea of some of the grunt steepness factor. It takes a ton of concentration, especially in the dark under lights.
I got to the turnaround at Daisy Hollow (mile 87) at 9:02pm. Exactly where I wanted to be for my sub 18 hour cushion. Leaving me 2 hours and 57 minutes to cover the final 13.2 miles.
The aid station (which is about 40 meters into the woods from a paved road), requires runners to proceed the 40 meters out to the road and back to be “official” at the turnaround. And, since you run this course as a 2 lap circuit, this knowledge is nice on the return night trip. No surprises. So, I knew I had to do that coming into the aid, and as I came running in, handed my bottles for refilling to the aid station staff and popped out to the road and back. Came back, refilled my gel supply out of my drop bag, downed some orange wedges, and went out of there with a fire to see how far below 18 hours I could push it.
I marked my time leaving the turnaround as 9:04pm to see when I would run into Glenn and see if I’d put anymore cushion on 2nd place since mile 62. I ran into Glenn about 25 minutes out of the aid station—giving me roughly a 50 minute lead with 11 miles to go. Perfect. No mistakes. I just had to keep moving, not blow up and not trip and hurt myself and I had a win.
I kept Rage kickin’ in my iPod and kept hammering through Rock Pile aid, then on to Greek Peak. I definitely started to feel it in my quads about 2 miles from Greek Peak (mile 94 or 95). My quads were done. So, I just kept moving…no hammering any downhills, just concentrated on turnover and only short hike breaks on climbs.
I got through Greek Peak aid and was descending the final steep descent when I saw a headlamp coming uphill. It was Ian (the RD), who had hiked up to catch up with me. He was pumped. He asked if he could cruise in the last mile and a half with me. I said “sure” and he tucked in behind me and we danced the final wood dance down the last steep, rooty section of trail to Tone Road and the final mile to the finish on gravel road. I cruised it in and crossed the line in 17:34:17—for a new course record. I was pumped. I’m glad I was able to come out east and throw down proper on a great course that Ian has set up. It was great to see Ian again and hang out with his family. It’s a truly “old-school” grassroots ultra and I hope folks will step up and support it in order to keep it alive. It’s a great course and a great event. He runs a pretty tight ship for it only being his 2nd year. Giddyup!
Thanks to the Big Man upstairs who kept me safe and to my wife and kids for putting up with me and my insane training. And also thanks to all my sponsors: Patagonia, Black Diamond, Rudy Project and Footzone of Bend.