Manitou’s Revenge Ultra

So apparently I got beaten by a few guys in Manitou’s…and I got beaten by Ben, Cole, Jan and a few others also writing the race report. I still have a lot of work to do to increase my speed, especially typing.

I admit I have slacked a little these days, but writing something about Manitou’s Revenge and the Catskills is something that requires some thoughts, because this race deserves a lot of respect even on paper.
During the race around mile 48, while going up towards the Fire Tower I had thoughts about how to start this report and I came up with the following:

Q: What is Manitou’s Revenge and how would I describe it?
A: Manitou’s is a 54 mile race in the Catskills that can be described with different adjectives depending on you social status:
If you were a polite refined gentlemen (not my case), you would say it is a technical and difficult ultramarathon
If you were an educated roadrunner, you would say it is a gnarly tough ultra
If you are a truck driver, you would say this is literally a son ob a b*%#h!

Yes it is. It is a son of a b*%#h, and that’s why I liked it more than any other race this year.

I have heard about the Catkills for the first time sometimes in July last year, when someone mentioned the Escarpment Trail run. While researching the Escarpment, Michelle and I ran into the Manitou’s website and the idea of doing it sounded very appealing. We made up our minds sometime in late December when all the other more known ultras in the North East were sold out.
The descriptions in Ryan Welts’s and others’ blogs and the videos posted by MPF increased our curiosity about the event and I ended up contacting the race director Charlie about the application process. By the end of January we sent all our paperwork in and after a few weeks we were signed up.

February and March were very intense everytime we were thinking about the race. We could not hit the trails during the winter or the early spring due to the snow that covered the area, so our training was going to be limited. Michelle recovering from the stress fracture and myself having to stop a few weeks in April caused our fitness level to be very low the first time that we decided to explore the course.

We decided to spend the weekend up there trying to do two long runs in two days to see as much as we could. Obviously the first time out meant navigating around with a map and a few stops here and there to make sure we were on course.
Day 1 was dedicated to the first 13-15 miles of the course, avoiding the road section and picking up the trail right away aiming to reach North/South Lake parking lot. Day 2 was supposed to be along the Kaaterskill climb and descent towards Palenville.
What happened is that the first day was so brutal that we had to cut it short and instead of following the Escarpment Trail after North Point, we took the Red Trail through Badman Cave to the lakes. It took us about 6 hours and change to do the run/hike. Granted that the ascent to Bleackhead Mtn was covered with black ice and we proceeded very slowly there, our effort was pathetic at most.
The night did not go any better. Apparently I had a fever and next morning I woke up burning like fire. After resting an extra couple of hours and getting pancakes from the Maggie’s Kroocked Cafe’, we made our way to Palenville to at least attempt the climb up the Kaaterskill forest.
I was still weak and tired, the fever was not gone, but still the day was slightly better.
We went back home and got really worried about the chances of finishing the event within the cut off time. Probably Michelle was slightly more worried than I was, but it was clear that we needed to do more homework to get a hold of this thing.

We spend another weekend up there exploring the Devils Path from Platte Clove to Mink Hollow going through Indian Head, Twin, and Sugarloaf. We did not try the ascent to Plateau, but instead we went back and next day ran again the ascent to Kaaterskill which I thought was runnable but difficult to run after 20 miles into the race.
We also used the Mt Beacon to train the uphill rhythm, in an attempt to get some more climbing in our legs without driving that far every weekend.
I signed up to Cayuga months prior and wanted to use Cayuga as a training run for this event. Even if the experience in Cayuga was great and I would not trade it for anything else, I could have probably got more benefits from another weekend in the Catskills exploring the course.
Instead Michelle and I went to Ithaca, and were left only with one last chance to see the course the following weekend.
Incredibly the recovery after Cayuga proceeded pretty fast and next weekend we joined the training run/hike that Charlie set up to explore the last 15 miles of the course with a combination of day and night running.

It was a great opportunity and we took full advantage of it.

We had a lot of fun and learned a lot from this run. I think it really gave me more confidence that I could run well in these trails and I am sure that even Michelle was secretly plotting to make it to the finish line well ahead of her original goal.
Unfortunately not everything went perfectly during that run: given I am as dumb as a donkey in certain moments, I decided it was a great idea not to get my feet wet when crossing the Warner Creek. I stood on the last dry rock for a minute or so while everyone else was resting and drinking/eating something. It was getting dark by the minute and I figured a dry path across the creek but it required jumping from where I stood to the next rock. I debated internally whether it was safe or not to do it and then I told myself: “What a sissy you are; just jump and get over”. And so did I.

Everyone heard the splash I made into the water after slipping on the rock I landed, going belly up and landing on my back on two feet of cold running water. All good, except that somehow I banged my right knee and my bruised my right leg agains some rocks. The next day I could barely walk and had to force myself to “run” to try and gain more mobility the following days.
Great attempt to sabotage myself.
At least we walked away knowing some new trails, and some new cool people we met that night for the first time (Charly, Amy, etc.)

Race day came up quickly; Michelle and I spent a lot of time during the week to prepare all the logistical aspects of the trip, of the race, the after race, etc. It was a bit hectic to include also Bud’s plan since it changed a few times and this was making Michelle a bit nervous and not much confident on her brother-pacer.
I had a discussion with my friend Jason on Wednesday about the race and shared with him my strategy for nutrition and what problems I had in the previous races (especially Cayuga, when for the first time I had to stop for a pit stop at the porta potty losing a few minutes that could have meant an extra spot at the finish line). Jason suggested me one and only change; he told me we will introduce more of them through trainig in the future, but for now one adjustment was going to be crucial: find Bolt and have that for nutrition. Eliminate completely gels and avoid at all costs sodas. Real food was going to be good as well. He also suggested me to carry a second handheld bottle since I explained how a backpack impacts my breathing and my running.
We did not have a strategy; he told me to just go out and enjoy out there. I was trying to come up with a plan for the race and the only logic thing I had in mind was to hold off as much as I could during the first 40 miles. A little bit of freedom was allowed during the first 5-10 miles, but there was no need to push early on. This was basically my theory.
Friday afternoon, after dropping Jeff at JFK I drove to Michelle and had a late lunch. Bud was there early and after loading the car we took off to Phoenicia.

After picking up the race package from Charlie behind the pharmacy and settling into our little room at the Phoenicia Lodge and checking in for Bud at the Weyside Inn, we started preparing some essential things for next day, like drop bag, shoes, tshirts, maps, water, etc. The evening came in quickly and we decided to get some pasta from one of the local restaurants in Phoenicia, even if we were tempted to hit the Krooked Cafe’ to get some breakfast for the next morning.
While having a salad and some overcooked pasta we discussed with Bud the plan and we gave him maps, charts and estimated time of arrival at the main points where he was going to meet us. We went over the routes, his duties and what we needed from him. During the discussion we saw someone blazing by the restaurant with what it seemed like a Cayuga shirt. There was no doubt in my mind: that figure was one of the guys that chewed me just a couple of weeks before in Ithaca. I did not remember his name, but I knew how he ran there. It was Cole Crosby. I got scared to be honest, cause I was not expecting someone to run so fast just a few hours before the start.

Many doubts came to my mind: if there are so many strong runners, can I really fit in with them? Can I try and hang in there and finish near Ashley?
Ashley was kind of a reference point for me: after passing me half way through Bear Mountain 50 a year ago, she went on to win that same race, establish a CR, and leaving me about 40-50 minutes behind, if I remember correctly (maybe even more). Then she finished third overall in Manitou’s taking the entire women field by daylight.
Knowing a year ago she was much stronger than me, I was hoping that I had made some progress and got closer to her standards.

So many doubts. So much confusion, so much unsecurity. Who cared! The goal was to have fun and this type of punishing course was going to be fun.

Early morning we joined a bunch of other people in the parking lot behind the pharmacy in Phoenicia and got transported with a bus to the start. Immediately I spotted Ben Nephew in the bus and he was sitting next to a russian guy who was telling him any type of story and experience from his previous races. It was too early for me too even get my brain to work and follow the conversation: I was just hoping for a break of the story telling to catch a few more minutes of sleep.
Once at the lot everyone hit the bathroom for a pre-race pit stop. I hung in there for a while just to stay a little warm. I brought with me only a singlet expecting warmer temps during the day, and I did not want to carry anything that was unecessary weight.
Michelle spent the next 45 minutes inside the women bathroom enjoying the hot atmosphere inside those walls.
After a quick speech by Charlie we started lining up for the first wave to take off. I am so grateful and honored that Charlie put me in that wave (damn permits and authorities; the wave start was completely useless in my opinion, and it just penalized more people in the mid pack that used 30 minutes less of daylight): this was my chance to start with people that I usually don’t even attempt to get close by šŸ™‚

I counted and figured there was 14 of us. One was missing and apparently it was the fruitarian Denis who won last year. Charlie got a phone call just as we were walking up together and I have overheard someone saying to be late, getting lost while driving, etc. I kind of figured it was Denis; yet, the hope of him not being part of the race was huge, since – I was told – he usually takes off like a rabbit and often drops after a few miles.
We ran the first few miles on paved road and we were all together keeping a comfortable pace in what was going to be the easiest part of the course.
I felt excited: at one point I was in 4th place overall. I was already feeling accomplished; maybe I should have sprinted and could have said that for a few hundred feet I was in the lead? Ahahahaha
By mile 3 we made a left turn and after crossing a brand new wooden bridge, we hooked up with the Range trail that led us to the Escarpment Trail.
See a video from MPF of us going through the bridge:

Mindful of the experience with Michelle on the Escarpment months before, I did not want to overdo it at the beginning and I was really glad to see Ryan taking the lead and guiding us through the course without pushing the pace too hard. At the end of the day…he was the one that knew the course better than everyone else!!
After Acra Point we headed towards Blackhead Mountain and I noticed that the big dogs were coming up strong: behind me was Ben, and on his heels Brian; both hiking strongly and I felt I should have yielded and give them the room to pass.
In a couple of spots I noticed that a small gap was created between them and Cole and I. Cole was actually the fast guy that was running through Phoenicia the night before. So Ryan was steady in front of us (Cole and me) while Ben and Brian were quiet and tucked in behind ready to make their move at the right time.
Everything was going smooth until the unexpected happened.
That’s when Denis came through at caught up with us and passed us at double the speed. It was clear to everyone that he would not have lasted at that pace, but still, would could have been Ben, Brian and Ryan’s reaction?
Ben and Brian, followed by Adam took the initiative and started chasing Denis almost right away. I thought for a moment of passing Cole and join the chase, since I noticed that Cole was not as comfortable as Ryan and the others on some rocks.
Still…I was way out of my place there, and in my mind I kept thinking that with other 40+ miles to go, chasing the speedy fruitarian was just suicide; this way me and Cole kept going together and a small gap was opened. After a minute or so even Jan came by but a more steady and reasonable pace; Brian and Ben told us that he lost a little bit of time at the first aid station where he was supposed to pick up his belt with fluids, but there was no sign of the belt there.
Thinking back maybe I should have pushed a little more in this section and kept contact with the lead, since the first mistake of the day was around the corner: Cole and me reached a little open area in the woods and could not figure out where the trail was. We looked around for the blue marks on the rocks, for the Long Path blue markers on the trees, but nothing. We went around for probably a couple of minutes and after retriving our path back to where we came from we understood we just needed to make a left turn. Guesstimating from the map this seems an extra quarter of a mile not included in the course.
Here is an extract of our wanderings (my first one of the race):

Wandering around the course, because 54 is not enough

Wandering around the course, because 54 is not enough

After that point we proceeded towards the North/South Lake and Cole let me pass just before the aid station. I did not feel like pushing the pace, and was more focused on checking out the trail markers not to get lost again but I found myself alone at the aid station.
The volunteers were very organized, and refilled my bottle quickly. I got some of my special bolts in and someone at the aid station recognized me and asked me if I ran in Ithaca a few weeks earlier. They recognized the shirt. Good think that Warren Street gets recognized outside the city…not too good that I get into other people’s radars. It’s better to stay undetected!!

From this aid station the race turned into a lonely effort between me, the course and myself. I was looking forward for these moments, I was craving for time with myself, I wanted to let go the competitive aspects and only focus on my feelings, my internal dialogue, my emotions.

The next section was not so challenging, and I tried to run very very effortlessly the descent to AS 4 in Palenville where Bud was tasked with hauling in the bolts refill, the second handheld and some ice before attacking Kaaterskill.
I only saw Kristina at the actual aid station and I was told I was 6 minutes behind 5th place and the others were 12 minutes ahead. With no sight of Bud around I figured it was not a big deal to just make it to the next station where I could find my drop bag with an extra handheld (just in case Bud was still sleeping).
After leaving Platteville with no other runner in the station I ran into Bud driving like a maniac down RT 23. He pulled a U and stopped just where the road turns into the trail again. I got my refill, a little bit of ice and the second bottle. Lost a bit too much time maybe, but I was not too concern with positions and time at this point. I was focused on Kaaterskill.
With Michelle’s company, we did this climb a few times in the previous months and I had been able to run it all the way up with no issue. A runner can make up a lot of time here compared to a hiker, so I promised myself that I would have tried to jog this portion. The reality is that after a quarter of a mile up I realized that jogging here might have meant destroying the entire day because steam started coming off my head.
I settled for a more comfortable hike up, occasionally running the flat stretches inbetween climbs and then again tried to save gas in the downhill leading to Platte Clove where I made it 9 minutes behind 5th place and about 18 to the leaders. I had no idea who was in front of me, but in my mind I kept envisioning it was Ryan.

Not sure where this was taken, but I believe it was by Katherine ( Adam's wife who missed him at Silver Hollow AS by 1 minute and a half like I did)

Not sure where this was taken, but I believe it was by Katherine ( Adam’s wife who missed him at Silver Hollow AS by 1 minute and a half like I did)

At Platte Clove the real race was going to begin with the Devil’s Path standing still in front of us. Even if I tried to save my legs as much as I could previously, I found myself unable to really run up towards Indian Head. Even if I explored once this section of the course, I felt that I was lost in the section leading up to Indian Head. The course was not that steep or anything, but I remember that I had about a mile on the Long Path before making a sharp right into the red marks of the Devil’s. I checked the mileage on the watch and was totally confused cause I passed the 1 mile mark, and there were no flags, tape or arrows signaling where the course was.
I stopped a couple of times, looked back searching for a clue, and actually hoped for the first time to spot other runners picking me up, but nothing. I was alone and I had to do it alone. After another few minutes I spotted a red tape hanging from a tree and that made me feel much much better.
I was now thrilled to reach those vertical sections that I enjoyed watching on MPF video from the previous race. I was hoping someone would take pictures of me climbing and hiking the toughest part of the course.
In the end it happened and MPF was there and took some video footage of my effort.
Follow the link and see me at approx 3:20 in the video below:

Maybe the trick was the 2 fingers per hand support on those rocks? I would have gladly used all 10 fingers if it was not for those bottles.

I am not a big fan of carrying bottles during a race, and would rather deplete myself and dehydrate myself rather than carrying a bottle. After the experience in UROC, when I felt comfortable carrying one bottle with me, I have picked up the habit of carrying one handheld device if the race is longer than 50k. In Cayuga I did use the regular NF bottle, and it helped me keep the body cool during the hot hours of the day.
In the Catskills I felt that one bottle would be enough, but while discussing with Jason my problems using a backpack, he encouraged me to use a second bottle. As I said here and multiple times in other posts, I think that drinking during a race is overrated. If you don’t drink…you won’t die. You will only have a decrease in performances, till you drink again. This means that at the next station you’ll get some water and you’ll move on.
On the other hand if you drink too much, you may have serious consequences…see Dr Noakes’s books. My philosophy: drink only if you are really thirsty, not just because you have water with you.
The 8-9 mile section on the Devil’s Path was the one I was more worried about. Not that I felt I needed water to stay hydrated, but I wanted water to refresh my head and my face here and there. At the end of the day I made it to Mink Hollow after Indian, Twin and Sugarloaf with almost both bottles empty.

Back to the race, the race got longer for me near Pecoy Notch, where I followed the wrong trail of stones and got off course again.

Lost again, this time just before Sugarloaf

Lost again, this time just before Sugarloaf

Another couple of minutes lost and some swearing against myself for not keeping my head up enough and missing the trail in such a stupid way..
Regardless of this little mishappening I had a lot of fun in this section, and to my surprise I cleared it much faster than expected. I knew that Denis and Ryan last year took just under 3 hours (2:50 and 2:40 respectively), but my split here was around 2:35 (given we had a shorter course since a section of road was eliminated this year) and while descending the nasty boulders of Sugarloaf I thought I made some ground on 5th place – which, in my imagination, was held by Ryan.
While approaching the last part of the downhill I saw a man climbing up the trail in the opposite direction. I recognized his face from somewhere, and I believed I saw him in some races with Ashley. I was not sure if he was her father, a supporter, a friend, but his presence gave me a little kick in the butt, cause it meant she was not too far behind.
He was climbing like an animal. He was intense and passionate and he was doing it in Jeans and sneakers. Loved the guy, the passion and attitude he had. 2 thumbs up. He asked me if I saw a woman just behind and I told him I had no idea, since I have not seen anyone for the last 5 hours and change.

He kept climbing, I kept descending, taking a little break at Mink Hollow, where I was told I was 10 minutes behind 5th place. For the entire race I was surprised to find myself in 6th place and several times I thought that I could even give up a few spots to more solid runners coming from behind and still finish top 10. A very respectable result.

While a 10 minute gap is not that much in these races (less than a mile) and even if I was a little tired, my feet were not beaten as in other rocky races. My legs were still holding it together and the feeling of making it back to 5th started to populate my mind while I was getting my bottles refilled.
I knew I needed to reset for a minute and clear my thoughts before just going out and chase other runners.
I sat down in a chair at Mink Hollow and had a glass of Ginger Ale, tried to have a cookie, but it was too dry in my mouth. Grabbed the gallon of water that Bud brought up there and poured some cold water on my head. My plan was to push a little in the next climb up to Plateau, then go harder in the next downhill towards Silver Hollow and see if I could gain anything.

The climb up Plateau started with a negative note since my left quad started to shake a little bit as a premonition for cramps. I needed to back off to make sure not to overdo it. The climb started to be annoying and I was just wishing for it to be over. I found a few hikers half way through and they informed me that the previous runner on the climb was only 7 minutes up.
With some added encouragement I tried to push a little more, and when I reached Plateau I got into a good running mode and never stopped till I reached Silver Hollow. On the descent another couple of hikers informed me that the other runner ahead was about 5 minutes ahead. Given the margin of error that people have when estimating time, I figured we were pretty much at the same pace.

When I got into Silver Hollow I did not see other runners ahead leaving the station, but was told he was only 1.5 minutes ahead. That was surprising, or at least it meant the info from the hikers were accurate. Now I knew that I had the downhill undercontrol; the legs were moving well, I just needed to be careful climbing. The little section up towards Edgewood Mtn is one of those stretches where my mind starts to zone out from the race. Again, like it happened in previous stages of the race, running alone brings me in close contact with my breathing, my heart beat, my mind. Nothing else around counts. I can’t remember if I was pushing, or just resting. I knew I had to make it to the top and then nail the downhill to close the gap to the other runner.

I feel I am writing a long report, and transporting many details about how the race went and how fast or slow I was running each section, how the other runners were doing, etc. – while the reality is that my goal is to try and define these moments of complete loneliness when my mind, my thoughts, my body and my physiological perceptions melt together. I said it in other posts: it is almost exploring something inside me. I see it, I live it, I experience it, but I do not have the words to define it here; and I am disappointed for this lack of words on my end.

I guess many other runners in these moments of the race find themselves in the middle of nature and – with such great landscapes around – stop and enjoy the view, contemplating nature and its mystery around us.
That is not my thing. Even if I like nature, I do not take part to these races to have a chance to experience nature and be in close contact with it.
I am lucky enough that I was raised in it. I lived it daily, fully, until I moved to the US and – call me spoiled – I cannot see the same beauty, and the same powerful majesty of my Dolomites and my Alps back at home when I run on trails here. However, the Devil’s Path has something rough and edgy that is intriguing.

I hope in the future I can use more words to express what happens in these moments and how I can draw satisfaction for going through this physical punishment that does not feel punishment at all. Stay tuned!

On the descent to Warner Brook I came back to conscious mode and felt that if I wanted to have a chance to do something more than 6th place and avoid getting a 7th, 8th or worst overall, then I needed to do something about it. The conscious and unconscious selves brought me back to the race and they wanted me to leave behind the feelings of accomplishment and explore that mysterious land where I attempt to translate what I can do, I wish to do, but sometimes do not want to do into action.
I figured that if I had only a couple of minutes from 5th, I had to keep him in sight and have him about 30 seconds in front of me before the creek and to do that I had to work harder the downhill.

The problem is that I may have worked too hard, too soon, because after less than a mile the two of us were together.
He politely yielded and told me to proceed. His name was Adam, I learned, and at that point I was feeling very satisfied. I asked him how he was feeling, and we proceeded together for a few minutes. I let him lead to see if he was really done for the day and he seemed still functioning well.
I proposed him to run together and cross the finish line together, but I was not sure that was a great idea. I noticed in a few rocks some footprints of shoes and they seemed pretty fresh, maybe no more than 10 minutes old. I asked him if he had any idea where Ryan was, and the other guys and he told me that Ryan was probably 40 minutes ahead.
That was a bummer. We could not make up 40 minutes on Ryan, no way.

Still…that footprint…we had another half a mile or so to reach the creek and I pushed a little the pace to get a little gap and dip into the cold water for a few instants. After soaking myself for a few seconds I noticed that Adam was a little behind and moving not so fast. I got out of the creek where I fell two weeks before, and then proceeded on the trail to see more footprints (or shoeprints).

Maybe Ryan had a bad patch and was just ahead of us? With only one big climb and one ugly descent at the end, I wanted to give everything I could in an attempt to catch that 4th spot in case someone in front of me was bleeding šŸ™‚

I passed a volunteer that was clearing some bushes near the trail and he told me the guy in front was only 4 minutes ahead. 4 minutes? You kidding me! I gave one final push to try to run some portions of the uphill leading to the fire tower, got more bolts in me to have enough energy to push the downhill, but realized I did not have a whole lot to spend at this point. I had to hike long stretches and that is always something that feels conflictual inside, because I strive to be able to run everything, even at the end of the race.

Eventually I made it to the fire tower (this is where I had the thoughts about how to describe Manitou’s to a person, see the beginning of this post) and the aid station and I was told Ryan was 35 minutes ahead.

Damn it. it was not 4…it was 40!! with 4 miles to go and 40 minutes behind, that meant that the top 4 were all done, sitting on a chair and celebrating with some food.

Well..what can I say…the guys in front of me were too good, too prepared, too strong. I was now in 5th and happy. I left behind the demons of other runners coming from behind Adam and catching up with me. I wanted to finish the race the same way I did in Cayuga: throwing water from the bottle on my face/head. So I spent some extra time at the aid station refilling both bottles.
While descending I did not want to run fast and destroy my decently preserved feet, so I kept just an honest effort and even the final mile on the road was just a simple jog towards that finish line that brought more than just a 5th place, it brought the awakening of peace inside me during the race.

At the end I laid down on the grass by the finish line, rested for a few moments and then after taking a quick shower I spent the entire afternoon, evening and night waiting for Michelle.

Go to minute 5:03 and see my water splash and me resting at the finish line.

Ryan sitting on his chair relaxing and enjoying the other runners completing the epic event

Ryan sitting on his chair relaxing and enjoying the other runners completing the epic event

She finished well ahead of what was planned, almost two hours ahead, completing a race for some ways even more difficult than the LUT (her previous hardest effort), only 6 months after returning to run and with a conservative approach to avoid injuries.
What an accomplishment and what a feeling of pride I have for this woman that never stops to surprise herself as much as myself.

Michelle approaching the finish line with Mr Bud as "reliable" pace

Michelle approaching the finish line with Mr Bud as “reliable” pace

Closer to the finish

Closer to the finish

Shelly jumping across the finish line

Shelly jumping across the finish line

and the END!

and the END!

And now let’s celebrate for more and more of these!

A sincere and deep thank you goes to all the people involved in the race, that supported it, spectate it and made it happen with hard work. Charlie, volunteers, all the sponsors that helped the event. I have never had a better experience in a race. Also the food at the end was phenomenal!

Charlie, if you can, make it even harder next year. I loved every step of it

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