I have learned from my teammate Paul’s blog that “Sometimes victory is bittersweet“. I would add to this concept that “Sometimes defeat is bittersweet“.
I am writing this post 6 months after Cayuga and after reviewing how other races and events I have attended it is easy to admit that we never stop learning and exploring ourselves.
Cayuga 50 was a new race set up in Ithaca. I am not really sure why I wanted to participate, but given that in 2014 it would host the US 50 mile Trail National Championship, I figured I wanted to give it a try and see if the course was more challenging that what I generally experience in Bear Mountain.
Michelle and I took off early Friday evening and reached Ithaca leaving behind us a nasty storm and pouring rain in Connecticut. We lost some time due to an accident on I-87 North midway through our trip, so we made it to the hotel/motel by 8:30pm. That was already a bit pushing it, since I had to be up early for bib pick up and race preparation. The other issue was food: we had to search the town for something edible when most kitchens had already shut down for the day.
We found a vegetarian restaurant, but it had closed at 9pm, and our only option at this point was a Thai restaurant. That is not an inconvenience at all…generally…
We ordered food and while waiting I got a phone call from work telling me that the project was flooded and we had 2 lanes of the highway shut down because of approximately 4ft of water ponding on the left and center lanes. I had to spend the next couple of hours on the phone trying to figure out how to make something happen while being 300 miles away. My phone got hot and at a certain point I just turned it off to feel more relaxed.
Food was ok, but I did not really enjoyed it since all this stressed from work was making me a bit anxious. After dinner we headed back to the little nice crib we rented for the weekend and I took care of race preparation: gallons of Gatorade, water, bottles, hydration pack, salts, shorts, t-shirts, glide, watch, glide, socks, shoes, etc.
After a short nap of a few hours we were up again ready to attack the 25 miles of this trail loop in Robert H. Treman State Park and Buttermilk Falls State Park. Michelle supported the weekend initiative with unprecedented crewing skills and vocal support at all aid stations.
The start line was threatening to the least: Sage Canaday, Jordan McDougal, Matt Flaherty, Yassine Diboun, Ben Nephew, Brian Rusiecki, and others were all ready to put the course on fire. Even if it was foggy, wet, slippery and muddy, those guys really were running at a different level than normal guys, and literally the trails were on fire. I was told after the race that somebody tried to break out of the group and attack from the early stages at a unsustainable pace. Not sure who the heck that guy was, but you gotta be quite the positive guy if you think you will break away from these champions. I guess reality caught up with him later that day…
The first few miles from North Shelter to Old Mill did not look promising in terms of landscape, judging from the first half mile after the start. However, as soon as we started climbing and following the stairs carved in the rock of the waterfalls leading to Old Mill, some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve only dreamt about before appeared in front of me.
I started the race quite conservatively, to make sure I could go through all the climbs that the corse offered. At some point after about 9-10 miles I felt pretty fresh, in good conditions and I pushed a bit on the gas pedal. This was after I got lost somewhere along the Finger Lakes Trail (at least I realized it quickly when 3 other runners came towards me saying they had run more than a mile ahead but did not see any course mark on the trail). In particular after meeting Michelle at the Underpass Aid Station, I felt pretty pumped up for crossing the train rails and a pretty deep creek. A wonderful experience!
Too bad after that we literally hit a WALL called “Steep Hill”. I realized it was smart to just hike that portion, but got a little carried away after the climb because Cassie Scallon just passed me. I could admire her chiselled calves from behind. WOW…she was putting some power on that hill. In the next flat section I hammered a few good miles at a good pace and felt pretty strong. I kept drinking from my flask and was choking down quite some water and Gatorade consistently, little by little, hoping not to get dehydrated on this very wet day.
When I reached Buttermilk at mile 12 I was still feeling fresh and dynamic. I thought that the day could only get better. In fact it did get better, though I did hit a low point between Underpass and Old Mill, because the lead woman caught up with me and I tried to stick with her for a while.
I learned at the end that she was Kristina Marie Folcik, a great athlete that got recently married to another animal of the trails. A guy whose name sounds like a myth to my ears: Ryan Welts. I love when the lead woman or other strong runners pass me: it is an opportunity to learn, steal a trick or two by these amazing people.
It is highly important to recognize how certain people run uphill, how they move, how they balance their bodies, their stride up and down hill, their frequency in the movements. You never stop learning.
I’m not exactly sure how it happened, and when, but while trying to stay ahead of Kristina and Jason Friedman I took a wrong turn and realized immediately I was going off course. A little angry for the wrong move I probably placed my right foot in a weird way and hurted my ankle feeling some discomfort. I sucked it up for another mile or so to reach the Old Mill aid station, where Michelle was surprisingly and unexpectedly waiting for me and cheering me on (loudly as usual). At that point I felt accomplished because I hit mile 23 and the leader (likely Sage) was not on his way back…yet…I did not want to disappoint Michelle dropping out of the race because of some pain on the foot, so I kept going at least till halfway at mile 25, just to see if the pain was going to subside. For the next 3 miles before reaching North Shelter, I kept thinking about stopping, because it was the logical solution because completing the race could have meant aggravating my already banged up ankles, limit my regular training and eventually underperform at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy in just three weeks time.
I told Michelle that I was going to drop out to avoid further issues, and it did not feel good to have my first DNF on the records. DNF is always a bad word, sometimes associated with failure or unsuccess.
In this case it is still bothering me (7 months later) that I stopped and did not finish. However, one needs to have priorities in a dense calendar like the one that I set up dor 2013. I do not like to prepare for one or two single events during the year and peak at those events and then disappear for the rest of the year. I certainly enjoy moments away from competition and performance while focusing solely on improving, training, and enjoying the run, but generally have a lot of fun at races, because I can see the results of the training I do, and test the level of fitness understanding if what I am doing is paying off, or if it needs to be recalibrated.
That is the reason why my race calendar includes tons of events. Plain and simple.
So dropping out sounded like a bad experience, a poor decision at that time, but given the importance of the LUT, and what it meant to go back to Italy to run a race, I was 100% sure I was making the right choice.
In this case defeat really seemed to be bittersweet. A conflictual decision that gave me the confidence that even when fully engaged in a competition my mind still manages to elaborate rational processes and come up with logical solutions. At least I know my brain still works well in these circumstances