A very tough run for everyone, on some some tricky trails and a super hot day. Seemingly a little longer than 50K – according to some reports (someone’s Garmin logs suggest otherwise) – but fun as always, well marked, and great company along the way. Another solid win for Mike Dixon. 4th place for me, and my third top five finish in my last three ultras!
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Song for the moment: All My Friends, by LCD Soundsystem
Another Saturday, Another Ultra, Another Bloody Flight Across America
Ha. OK so that sounds REALLY grumpy, and in actual fact this was the race I was looking forward to most – since I knew I’d get to see so many of my NJ buddies all in one happy place! So this was the third ultra trail race in an eight week spell for me. Pretty bad planning really, but I’m quite renowned for that to be fair. Tired doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt as I got ready to toe the line at Ringwood State Park. Squeezed in between these three races was: a flight to San Francisco (for the San Fran 50M race), a local half marathon in San Diego, a flight to Seattle, a flight to Scotland (!!), a flight to Wisconsin (for the North Face 50M race), and now – finally – a flight to New Jersey. I’m thinking that has to be over 20,000 miles over those two months!! In anyone’s book, that’s a lot of sky time, and a hell of a lot of time travel – with all the timezone weirdness. In the build up to this final race in my sort of ad-hoc trifecta, I could definitely have benefited from A LOT more sleep. But hey – it is what it is. Just one more easy little race (well 50K seemed little – compared with the two 50 milers) and I can get back to San Diego, settle down, catch up on some rest and basically chill out – til maybe December! Well, just like the last two, it was anything but easy.
Coffee, Mozart, The Fear and Invisible Bears
My good friend Denis was kind enough to house my homeless ass during my trip back. Denis – you are welcome in San Diego anytime! I owe you one for sure. I actually got a solid sleep on his little boy’s bed, then we hit the road early, grabbed some good strong coffee, and made our way to pick up Tom and Elaine.
My rental car didn’t appear to have AUX (later I discovered it actually did have USB, but hey), so thankfully we’d grabbed some of Denis’ finest compact discs before leaving. Nothing like a bit of Mozart’s Requiem to get you pumped for a 50K!
This – I think – is the first time I’ve headed to a race with Elaine. She’s so funny. Every so often I’d hear a big sigh or a groan from her in the back seat. Turns out it wasn’t because of my terrible jokes – or Tom’s or Denis’ for that matter. Elaine just gets really damn nervous before these things! Which I find a bit bizarre given how she does ultra races almost weekly these days!
As we pulled into Ringwood State Park and winded our way up to the car park, Denis and maybe someone else caught sight of a big black bear on the road ahead! By the time I looked it was gone though, but there’s video evidence somewhere on facebook of us all going a bit bear-crazy in the car for about 30 seconds! Naturally Elaine panicked that it might end up on the course!
I really am like a big girl these days – the amount of shoes I am amassing! Just the day before the race, a nice shiny red pair of Salomon S-Lab XT 5‘s arrived from runningwarehouse (pic below!). After running this course last year, I remembered the sharp rocky paths – and the punishment they inflicted on my feet with just my little New Balance MT 110 slippers on! I recall audibly squealing with every footfall at certain parts of the course! So I figured I’d go for something more supportive this year, but not go as crazy as the HOKA or anything like that (despite temptation!).
Well after wearing the Salomon’s for the flight over to NJ (can I really call that breaking them in!?), and doing a quick scamper around the car park in them, I quickly saw sense and slipped into my trustworthy old stalwarts – the MTs. Maybe I’ll do a few practice runs in the csome more rugged hiking or snowy trails – when I might prefer the extra clunkiness.
Oh Aye – The Race…
Yep, so like all NJ Trail Series races, there was no big song and dance about the start. People just gathered into some sort of flock, and Rick let us loose. This is a notoriously tricky course to follow the markings on – since it shifts from one trail to another quite frequently. If you don’t know the trails already, or don’t want to carry a map and gaze at it every half mile, it’s best to stick with someone who knows what they’re doing! That said, you should always be looking out for yourself too, otherwise you’re liable to both get lost together! I ran with Dave and Dixon and Denis for the first 5-10 miles, and boy was I thankful to have them there. The one time I thought I’d try and lead the pack and push the pace, I literally lasted 30 seconds before I missed a marker and ended up skulking along at the back again!
We all noticed an early pack of runners had shot ahead and were well out of sight very quickly. The consensus was that they were mainly newbs, and they’d likely get lost – fast. Nonetheless, Dixon – being the favourite for the win – eventually felt the call of his Kenyan gods, and sped off up some switchbacks and set off in chase of them. I made a bit of a move here too – to up the ante a little. I had a brief trail chat with Jason – who had came charging up and moved ahead of us – before dropping the hammer a little more and moving into what would be nearly 20 miles of solitude. This is definitely the downside of getting competitive in these races – you can be all by your lonesome for a long time!
The legs felt pretty good – as they tend to at the start of races – but as always I pushed it a little too hard too soon and very quickly felt the consequences. My first powerhikes began before even mile 15. I was pretty disheartened by that, as I knew I wasn’t performing at my best. I was also extremely SLEEPY! I seriously wanted to just curl up into a ball and go for a nap! I actually thought about making a little sign asking Denis to wake me when he passed. Which in retrospect was a dumb idea because Denis was only about ten mins back!
I knuckled down though and hammered out the miles, and it was clear I wasn’t the only one. I still managed to pass a couple of those early speedsters despite my lethargy. After the turnaround point in the out-and-back section, it was awesome to catch sight of everyone – starting with Denis – who had an awesome run – then Dave just behind, then eventually Gene, Molly, Matt, Elaine, Tom, and a surprise sighting of Andi Grumet and Kate Tuckerberg, and even Srini! That always lifts the spirits! Going back up that big hill was agonising though – and I lost a place here (eventually this guy would beat me to that 3rd place and the $25 booty!).
From then on, it was getting really hot, and water was disappearing fast. I remember really struggling to conserve water between the aid stations for the last two sections. The second to last section – back to the race start/finish area (before you head back out on the mountain bike loop) – seemed to just go on forever! I had a grumpy 25K runner beside me – who just kept whining about how much time he’d lost because of the markings. And he kept tripping up and falling too. I think he thought I was a 25K runner too, because he really tried to stick with me. I heard him fall one more time as I disappeared round a corner and I did a bad thing: I kept running. He’d already fallen about 3 times trying to run beyond himself – and I’d stopped and helped him up and reassured him each time – like I know others would do for me. But I was getting stressed out by his antics and negativity and had to escape!
Thirsty Work on the Last Loop
Just starting the last 7 mile loop of the course – around a relatively simple mountain bike path – is a bit of a victory really. Because it’s always so tempting to just bail at mile 25 – which is actually the start/finish area – where there’s hot food, cola, beer… You gotta just fill up, and throw yourself back out there – and know that you’ve done all the hard work, and you’re just an hour and a bit away from all those glorious treats!
I knew from the last section that my water was going to be the biggest concern. I had a single water bottle that I’d filled up, and I sipped at it very sparingly over those last 7 miles. It was hot out. I was desperate to pour some water on my head, but couldn’t. I hauled my bones around that loop pretty much parched in the mouth the whole time. Each little trickle of water I treated myself to felt like the best thing in the world! And I’d be instantly looking forward to the next one – which would probably be another 5-10 minutes. When I was down to just 1 sip left, I really hoped I was close to the end – because I really wanted to drink it! As soon as I saw other runners, and the loop rejoined the main course, I knew it was now the end game. About a mile to go. I sucked all the water and all the air out of that water bottle and let loose – reinvigorated by the liquid, and the knowledge that cold beer was imminent!
Popping out of that forest and seeing the lake – with the finish party underway at the other side – was just the best feeling. I got a few cheers from folk who were out on the road, and from other brave souls who were just heading out on their own final 7 miles of thirst! I crossed the line in 4th place, and went straight for the cola! Damn it tasted good.
Thanks Rick and all for putting together another fantastic event in glorious New Jersey!