Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A taste of redemption - Cayuga Marathon

So this entry, evolved from attempting to write a short note about my Cayuga Marathon race. I tried to say something brief and realized it was not going to happen that way. Here we are, another rambling round of race reflective thoughts.

To put this year’s run into perspective, we have to go back two years to 2014. At that time, there was no marathon distance race, only the original Cayuga Trails 50. I was one of those expected to compete for a podium slot. Well, around 3 miles in, I suffered an injury that I hoped to run out but by mile 7, I knew my day was going to be done. It was my first DNF at an ultra distance. I did not handle it very well. However, last year, I had planned to go back for a bit of redemption. Thanks to the wheels beginning to fall off for my 2015, I did not even make the starting line.

Come 2016 and Cayuga was adding a companion marathon distance race. Instantly, I was intrigued at the shorter race. Mainly, I looked at the marathon race as one that would allow me to gain some confidence on the course and run a race with a little less pressure. Clearly, my first two years of relation to the race did not work out too well for me. I wanted to partake in the excitement of the festivities in a way that I best felt constructive to me.

While, I had not officially signed up until about 10 days prior to the race, it was always on my schedule. But part of the reason for the delay in registration was Worlds End. I didn’t know if I would be recovered. Since in the end, I didn’t run it, I was down. In checking all my camping options, I learned Treman State Park was all booked up so I reached out to Race Director Ian Golden to see if he could help. Turns out, there was an available spot in a cabin. YES!  I made arrangements at my job to do a half day on the 3rd so I could drive up to Ithaca in a timely manner. Last thing, I wanted to be doing was driving out of Philadelphia during Friday rush hour. However, by the time I picked up the rental car and left the house (since I had forgotten the EzPass tag), it was nearing the witching hour. I hoped to be on the road at 2. Ended up after 2:30. As I left, I texted Ian to get the cabin assignment. Considering, I don’t have a smartphone, I couldn’t check my email and missed the one sent to me while I was ‘unplugged’.

Thankfully, for the most part the trip up was really smooth. And because I knew in advance that the Ithaca Festival was happening, I took a route that avoided the associated traffic. Sadly, I did wind up arriving closer to 7. So, knowing that I was staying in Cabin 6 with Matt Flaherty, Jan Wellford (who was my pre-race 50 mile pick) and Andy Vermilyea was nice to know even if none of them were there. And originally, when I walked up to the cabin with my gear, I thought I was locked out. Matt did an excellent job making the unlocked cabin look locked. I nearly freaked out. Because, you know this is Cayuga for me. HA!

Eventually, I got in and left to go eat a Chipotle burrito.

Upon my return, Matt and Andy were back at the cabin. (No sign of Jan at the moment.) Since they were running the 50 in the morning, it was an early night so they could get up at 4:30. My alarm was set for 6:30 since my race started two hours after theirs. As we were turning in, Jan comes in. It was perfect timing. Earlier, Andy and I joked that he would show up at 1:30.

While, the rest of the gang was up for their 50, I pretty much slept through their activities. I got up a tad before my 6:30 alarm and got ready. Much like last time I was at Cayuga, I walked from the cabins over to the start area. Unlike last time when I had a roller cooler of things, I had a sack pack with shoes, shirts and nutritional fixings so the walk was much more pleasant. It was around 7 when I got to check-in and the area was quiet. You could hardly tell a race was already in effect aside from drop bags lining the walls of the hall. Spotted fellow WhippAss, Ryan Espulgar (and this year’s run all the races) already in the house. Chatted for a spell before I went off to do some bib pinning, bathroom usage and focusing. For the marathon, I was rocking the Nathan Peak Insulated filled with Tailwind and a little baggie of Shot Blocs on the front of the belt. For footwear, due to the infamous Underpass water crossing, I wore the original Montrail FluidFlex due to their superior drainage with a part of Smartwool socks that dry well for me.

A few minutes before the start, we got some race instructions from Ian as we hesitated lining up under the start banner. After some nudging we filled in the line. With the blowing of the horn, we were off for a marathon of pure….adventure. Enjoyment is not what I would use. While Cayuga is a beautiful course, it is tough. Still, I went to the front right away. My aim was to run controlled. Inside my mind, I had a lingering worry. I was worried I would hurt myself again before I got any farther than last time. My main goal for the day was completion. Sure I would like to win but that was actually secondary.

It was a constant replay in my brain of the moment, I injured myself two years prior. Still, I kept going. It was cool out so that was keeping me calm (enough.)

As I neared the aid station at Old Mill, the marathon does an extra mile loop to make the distance an actual marathon. Let me say, this section was cruel. You think, how can we get anymore hills, well, we did. The loop hits you with a nice climb and then diverts onto some fresh trail exclusive for use. All flagged with blue flags, I kept losing thinking I lost the course. Had it been more than a mile, I might be somewhere in Canada by now trying to find my way back. Thankfully it wasn’t and I made it into Old Mill and onto the portion of the course that was my last two years ago. I was still moving well (it was early). I figured I’d not see anyone until closer to the Underpass aid station. Well I saw plenty of action before it. One of the things I was excited about for in the marathon was getting to see the 50 mile unfold and cheer on people I knew like Jason Mintz, Adam Russell, Ben Nephew, Iain Ridgway, Elaine Acosta and Cole Crosby. Totally a blast to root for others in their race while doing my own. (Also, two people I didn’t know cheered me on by Philly and my name Mike. They turned out to be Michael Heimes and Sean O’Connor, who knew me from here!)

Eventually, I rolled into Underpass without stopping. Now, every step would be a new fresh experience. The weight on my back had been lifted as I passed all the points where I was before that related to the 2014 injury occurance. It was refreshing. I moved well through the next section to Buttermilk. Still while I moved well, it went on forever and because it was a lot of singletrack, it was tough running in the opposite direction of the 50 milers. I was happy to reach the point where it was a bit of a lollipop because it meant I was back in my own space running by myself where I didn’t have to worry about barreling over anyone so I could catch glimpses of the beauty I was surrounded by. Popping down to the Buttermilk aid station to look up and see the falls was gorgeous. The aid station folks were awesome as they shouted like the dickens to the massive line of people on the stairs (my path of travel) that a runner was coming and to move. The coolest part of my race was running up all of those stairs flanked by a large crowd of people. Think of those images of cyclists in the Tour de France riding up mountains with people within inches. It was like that.

Now I was heading back to Underpass but……

It was starting to get warm and the section back included some exposed sunny spots. I was running well but began to bake a little. And now I was passing people from behind….

Look over there! A whirlpool for me to jump in. Maybe, if I just hang over here I’ll avoid being sucked in.

So for the next few miles, I ran on the edge. I wasn’t feeling incredibly spent but knew I was losing energy to the heat. Now, eventual Cayuga Trails 50 (and USA 50 Mile Trail Championships) winner, Tyler Sigl was headed my way. So that meant, I was about to rejoin two-way traffic right in time for singletrack! The toughest part of singletrack was on a downhill stretch not too far from Underpass where I had to pass three people. Two were easy and as I was within 10 feet of the third, the gentleman fell. I stopped to see if he was ok. He had cramped up. I didn’t want to leave him. However the other two runners I had passed were there too and I was told to get moving.

Before I knew it, I was in the little patch right before the stream crossing at Underpass. The ground damp earlier had caked over showing clear signs of the suns effects and the rising temps. So, I said a big hello to the water taking time to cool off before going into the aid station where I stopped for the first time all day to top off my bottle. I was in and out pretty quickly. At this point, I started to wonder how much of a lead I had which played perfectly into the wall I hit. On the first real incline after Underpass on the way back, my legs told me to ‘bugger off’. I had to power hike what should have been a really runnable stretch. And when I hit the top, I had a tough time starting my running gear back up. OH NO!!!! Not now. Not this far out. In my head, I told myself if I have 6 minutes up with 3 miles to go that I would be good. Considering I had not really seen second all day, I thought I might have had that.

So now, I was beginning to lose steam and feeling a bit safe that I didn’t need to panic. I got some running going and during those patches I saw eventual women’s winner Connie Malcolm (who was awesomely supportive and encouraging as she was running her race.), Jason and Adam, who gave me a solid high five. All this was before Lucifer’s Steps which I was mentally wanting to rock but my tank was emptier than a California reservoir during a drought. Umph. I made it up. Whew. After, I had crossed the little stream crossing near Old Mill, I managed to look to the other side of the stream and saw a runner with a marathon bib. SECOND PLACE was right there!!!!!! It wasn’t 6 minutes. It might have been 2 if I was lucky. My race was about to get real. Cayuga was going to test me.

As I rolled through Old Mill, Ian asked if I needed anything…..a big nope. No time to stop Mr. Golden, I got a race hanging on by a thread. Any hope of relaxing on uphills was gone. I couldn’t take it conservative on steps. I had to give it all I had. And I did. Yes, I did have to power hike one or two little spots but if I didn’t my legs were done for. The sketchy wooden steps, I was going two – three at a time. Use the downs to roll into the ups, I was telling myself. Got to get to the crest of the hill we climbed on the way out. Is this it? It is!!!! Open it up, pal. Bomb this downhill. And I did. And every step hurt. I so wanted to be done. I knew I was going to be spit out on flat ground and would have to run easily a quarter mile to the finish. I was hoping it was enough and that I opened up some breathing room. The moment, I hit the final turn, I looked cross the meadow and second was right there! I had to run and run hard. From the sound of the horn, this race was mine for the taking. All day, I was out front. The last thing I wanted now was to lose in the final straight away.

There it is! The finish banner! I crossed it without being passed. I WON!!!! I did it.

As I crossed the line, I went straight to the ground, I was fried. Second place crossed like a boss not far later. After a few minutes, I managed to crawl inside the building and cool off. It took two ice packs (one on my chest and one on my neck) 40 minutes to bring my core down to a reasonable level where I felt revived. Whew.

Later on, I would learn that I had 4 minutes of a lead with 7 miles to go and held on by 12 seconds. My lead grew all day until those final 7 when I gave it all back. Well not all of it, I did have those spare 12.
Finish time: 3:41:46.

I hung around for a bit at the finish once I got back up. Until the idea was placed in my head about getting some Ben & Jerry’s. At that point, I went back to the cabin to get fresh clothes and the car to drive for some grub. Sadly the Ben & Jerry’s did not happen since I couldn’t find the Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz flavor. On the bright side, Arby’s did have the Orange Cream shake! Oh year. I got that and a large order of curly fries. Delicious. Following my food quest, I went back to the finish and spent much of the rest of the day there since awards were to be at 5 (ended up at 6). But I got to talk with Ben, Iain, Ian, Ryan, Jan, Cole, the Rusecki’s and Matt (who took 3rd). Also, saw Elaine win the ‘coming in hot’ award. Sadly, I missed Jason and Adam.

Once things settled down, Matt, Jan and I went to Ithaca Beer Co. for food. Our original party of 4 (Natalie Thompson was joining us) turned into 11 as others including Dylan Bowman joined. Thankfully, we ordered with perfection and our server didn’t hate us all that much. Due to dinner taking longer than expected, any plans of a fire at Cabin 6 were dashed as we opted to call it a night. Early Sunday morning I left while the guys were sleeping. It would have been nice to join the morning shakeout run but I had a rental car to get back. And thus, closed my weekend. (I did get in a run as I dropped gear home first and ran from the rental place back home.)

Before I sign off on this epic, I want to take a moment and say thanks to Ian Golden for hosting the event. My relationship with all things Cayuga Trails has been tough. Two years ago, the 50 was my first DNF. Last year, it was a DNS (as part of a month of 3 other DNFs). This year, I eeked out a win in the inaugural marathon race that accompanied the main event. However, all along the way, Ian has been incredible supportive to me and the trail/ultra scene as a whole. He works hard at what he does to make all the events he is involved with top notch. So if you see a Red Newt Racing or Ian Golden attached to an event, give it consideration. 

Now to move onward and upward. (And maybe next time I'm at Cayuga it will be back for the main event.)

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