A 100K race that I don't have to drive hours to get to? And it's on trails that I have never run? And it's point to point? And it's beyond my 50 mile race comfort zone BUT IT'S NOT 100 MILES? And the finish is less than an hour drive back to my own hot shower and bed? Sign me up.
And that's how it all started. I had sworn off signing up for any more 100 milers and I needed a new challenge. The 100K trail race distance is sorely lacking in our area of New York State and so I was especially excited when I heard about the new Twisted Branch 100K. And I love point to point races because I feel like I am actually travelling somewhere.
I am always leery of new races. Will it live up to my expectations and what I have become spoiled with? From everything I had read about this race it sounded perfect. The weather leading up to race weekend was nice and cool, almost fall-like. Unfortunately that is not how it stayed for race day. Here is a brief recount of what I can remember from the race. I had my usual down times but overall, I can absolutely say it was just plain fun.
FRIDAY. We had a nice drive to Hammondsport to pick up my race number and packet. It was a beautiful clear, sunny day, although a bit too warm for my liking. The race schwag was superb! Awesome shirts (thank you ... I don't need yet another tech shirt! the nice soft cotton blend shirt is so sweet!). A nice little tote bag, coffee (that I have yet to try but it smells amazing!), snacks, and cool stickers. I was already liking the style of this race.
On to the Bristol Woodlands Campground which was about a 20 minute drive from the start. I had really wanted to camp at the start at Ontario County Park but unfortunately after multiple phone calls and messages left they never called me back. And I decided that 20 minutes drive would not be that bad. We asked the campground owner for dinner recommendations and he hesitated, especially when we asked for good food. He suggested this little café in Honeoye called The Mill Creek Café and gave us a photocopy of the menu. The food looked amazing but given his reaction, we didn't expect much. But it was about 10 minutes away and we had no other options. Well, the place didn't look like much but as we drove around the back of the building the parking lot was packed! The food we saw people eating looked as good as the menu had sounded. And they had GOOD BEER on the menu! The food was fantastic and after a nice fish fry dinner and a couple of Ellicottville Pantius Droppus Imperial IPAs, I was ready to get some sleep for the next day's journey.
SATURDAY. 2:53 am. I woke without the alarm going off. The full moon was so amazing and I was ready to roll. Coffee and some eats in hand and we were off to the race start.
I loved the old school feel of this race. Everybody walk to the start, ready, set, GO! And we were off into the darkness of the trails. It was already hot and humid and I was trying to just go at an easy pace, which is hard when everyone is so packed together on a narrow trail. I feel obligated to keep up the pace so as not to hold those behind me up. The footing of the trail was awesome. Very little mud, not many roots, very runnable. Unfortunately I quickly realized that I had not made a good shoe choice and was a little pissed that I wouldn't be able to do anything about this until I saw Joe at the 20K mark. So I just tried to focus on trail and not falling. There were cool reflective arrows at some of the major turns that lit up nicely in the light of the headlamps. Even though small, these arrows reflected so nicely that they were easy to see.
I got to the first aid station and I was ready for some real food. Unfortunately there weren't many choices other than some candy and chips. I don't drink sports drink so I settled for some Coke and ate the cheese crackers I had in my pocket. The sun was now up and we were out on a road for a bit, so it was a good time to walk and regroup. The group I had been running with had left me, which was OK, since I needed to get into my own head. I had missed a major turn just before the aid station because I was busy following the group, who obviously missed the turn. I needed to pay more attention on myself and not just follow along.
Finally I got to the 20K aid station and Joe ... and my Altra Superior shoes that I should have had on right from the start! My left foot was already bothering me and I hoped it wasn't too late to fix this problem (that I knew was a result of the first pair of shoes I had on). And I was getting very hungry. And the sun was really up at this point and it was getting warm. The nice volunteers offered me some TailWind but all I wanted was cold soda. I got a nice cold Dr. Pepper from Joe and it was heaven. But what I really needed was some real food. There was some cold grilled cheese at the aid station, so this would have to do. I grabbed my trekking poles from Joe and headed out for the upcoming big climb. I was further behind time-wise that I had wanted to be and Joe seemed a little worried about this, which then made me a little more worried. Fortunately I am a pretty strong uphill hiker, so I hoped that this long climb would give me a chance to get some time back on my side. It was hot and humid and the horseflies were swarming me like crazy! Holy hell ... I don't think I have ever been attacked by horseflies out in the woods! Deerflies and gnats, yes, but never horseflies. And they were huge!
The trail was pretty easy to follow ... just keep following the orange blazes that were painted on the trees. Some trickier sections had orange ground flags put out to mark the course, but unfortunately many had gotten trampled by earlier runners and not so easy for me to see. Fortunately, I was not going at any blazing pace and I know how to follow a trail, so I just kept my eyes peeled for the orange tree blazes.
By the time I got to Joe at the next aid station I was probably really getting into a calorie deficit. It was so hot out (which I despise!) and I hadn't eaten much because I just wanted some real food ... bacon would have been a welcome sight at this point! And my feet were feeling the burn of the downhills. So when I got to Joe it was time for more Dr. Pepper. OK, I'm not bragging here my any means, but I have to say that I don't ever remember being in a race where I have had to worry about the cut-off times. Somehow it just works out that I hit the spots at the right time. Well, on this day I was really beginning to worry about the first cut-off. I was pushing as hard as I could, climbing well, but falling apart on the downs. Downhill running is just not my strength. At all.
I lubed up my feet and changed my socks, ate a little bit but still just wanted a big bacon cheeseburger. Or hot grilled cheese. Or pizza. Anything hot and greasy would have been welcome. But I didn't have long to worry about this because Joe was urging me to get moving so I wouldn't miss the cut-off. So I got it into gear, my feet started feeling better, there was a nice long uphill climb, and I was back in action.
I hit the first cut-off mark at 28-ish miles with about an hour to spare. Sweet. Things are going to be OK, I thought. I drank more Dr. Pepper and grabbed some snacks. By this point I should have had something more meal-like in me and not having this is likely why the wheels just kept falling off.
I had a great time going through the cornfield, completely blind except for the orange ribbons that I just had to trust would lead me out. That had to be the coolest part of this race!
I normally never wear a GPS watch during races but this time I thought I would try it because when I start to get tired and mental it is just helpful to have some idea of what mileage I am actually at. And it was helpful.
The volunteers at the next aid station, mile 36-ish, were a welcome site in the middle of the woods. Unfortunately they had very little soda by the time I got there and again, just snacks of candy and chips. But the chips were greasy and salty and tasted amazing. Sorry to those behind me ... I drank the last of the Coke. And I loved every drop of it.
Holy crap. Still more climbs. When I looked at the elevation profile on the website, I saw the MAJOR ups and downs, which made the smaller ups and downs in the middle look not so bad. Well, maybe, just maybe, I should have looked at the scale on the chart to notice that those "little" ups and downs were still pretty impressive. And they were. Wow. Thank goodness I didn't give up my trekking poles the last time I saw Joe.
I pulled into the 39-ish aid station with only about 15 minutes to spare to the cut-off. Wow ... and I had an hour in my favor at the last cut-off. This race was the real deal. I was starving and the bacon at the station was apparently long gone. Fortunately another runners crew person gave me some that he had in his stash. It hit the spot. And I downed two chocolate milks which about a half mile later I realized was not such a good idea. Everything in moderation; I should have stuck with just one. And what I wouldn't have done for a beer at this point. I cursed out loud on the wicked little switchback section that seemed never ending. I was truly beginning to wonder if I was going to make the last cut-off but I decided that I would just keep going until they wouldn't let me go any longer.
I hit a dirt road section that passed some houses and I heard (and then saw) some barking dogs. If they had come after me I likely would have had to just lay down and play dead. Maybe I wouldn't have to play ... I was feeling pretty dead at this point. And then my GPS watch died. How appropriate. I knew I was 40-some miles into this thing and I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. My friend Barbara caught up to me and we commiserated a bit about whether we would make the last cut-off. At this time I told her that this race, mile for mile, was definitely tougher than the toughest 100 miler that I have finished (Virgil Crest 100). No joke. Again, this race was the real deal. But it was awesome. I never regretted being out there. The trail was so beautiful and I knew that I was going somewhere. I was actually going toward something and I just had to keep moving forward. And then we hit another long steep climb and a little more wind just left my sails.
I hit the mile 46-ish aid station at a pretty low point. Looking at how long it was taking me to get to this point, I just couldn't see how I was going to make the last cut-off. My sister had driven a long way to run that last 4.5 miles with me and I so wanted to do this with her, but I was falling apart. And then I got to Joe. And the hot greasy cheeseburger he had waiting for me. And that cold Dr. Pepper. I whined a bit and he blew me off, like always. Thank goodness he doesn't listen to me. So I grabbed that greasy burger, tossed the bun away, and headed off down the trail, determined to make my best effort to try and make that last cut-off. My friend Amy said something about a cooler with water in it on the trail that was out there for the runners. It really didn't make sense to me until I saw it. Unfortunately, at this point I didn't want more water. I was ready for another soda and some company. I had neither. So I just put my head down and climbed some more.
Eventually I saw another person in front of me. Dan! I had wondered how his race was going. We chatted a bit and then I just kept moving. The burger was kicking in and I needed to take advantage of this surge. But by the time I got to the 54 mile aid station the surge was gone. I think I only had 45 minutes at that point to make it the last 5.5 miles to the cut-off. I wasn't going to make it. It was dark and the trail was getting trickier in sections and there were still some brutal climbs and descents. But I was proud of myself for not giving in and accepting a ride to the finish. I was going to get to the next aid station on my own two feet. I was going to keep going until I wasn't allowed to anymore. The full moon was out and it was beautiful in the woods. And I was at peace with my defeat. I did all I could. I was going to just enjoy these last 5.5 miles, enjoy the journey, enjoy that I started at one point and made it all the way to another point on my own. Not a 100K run but an effort that far exceeded my last 100 mile effort. This race really made me work for everything I got.
The trail was a little hard to follow with no glow-sticks or reflector tape to keep me on track, but I found my way. And I was pretty happy with myself for that. I felt very strong and pleased with myself for keeping on trail, although I would repeatedly question myself if I was still going the right way until I saw another white blaze.
I finally made it to Urbana. About 45 minutes late. The first time I have ever been cut-off at a race. Maybe I should have been upset but I just wasn't. I did all that I could, left it all on the trail. I travelled 59.5 miles from one place to another. That was so cool. And now I could have a beer. Even cooler. And sit down. We had some good laughs here and it was all good.
During this race I kept thinking this 100K with an 18-hour cut-off is not for the mere mortal runner. And I swore that it probably just wasn't for me. Well, I now think otherwise. I know what to expect, I know what I have to do to be successful, and in 2016 I will come back immortal. I will finish this.
Thank you to the RD for making this wonderful event happen and to all of the fantastic volunteers and may amazing crew husband, Joseph, who did their best to try to get me to the finish. Thank you to my sister and her husband who drove a long way just to see me sit in a chair and drink a beer. This is ultrarunning. Some days you get to the finish, some days you just finish when you finish. Being a part of an inaugural event was certainly an amazing experience.