2015 – Summer/Fall Part 3

TCS NEW YORK CITY MARATHON

With Chicago’s performance in the bank I felt fairly accomplished for the season, but rather than just sitting on the couch a NYCM entry in the pockets was enough motivation to shortly rest and prepare for a decent performance after two weeks.
The goal was helping Warren Street secure a few club points in one of the events that generally we fall short on, due to lack of participation.

This year we had Sebastien and Alex lining up, plus Aaron and Fabio pacing the faster groups that NYRR organizes. This would have guaranteed us at least a 4th or 5th team finish, enough to make the Ted Corbitt 15k in December worth the trip.
I knew Seb was getting back to his running glory, since he ran two fast 1:13 half marathons leading up to the race, despite his always limited training/sleeping regiment, while Pascal told me that Alex was coming to the race really fit and trained.
My goal was to avoid blowing up like I generally did the previous years when I PRed despite slowing down considerably in the second part.

The week before the marathon brought some unexpected bad surprises after a great 8mile workout 9 days prior to the event: first a pulled hamstring that got back in working conditions only 2 days before the race after extensive treatments and application of tape, then the fact that I had to work multiple shifts day and night up to Friday before the race, and possibly also Saturday day. When could I possibly rest?

The forecast this time was not as ugly as 2014, when headwind had been our companion from start to end.

My strategy was to try and run evenly, with no particular goals, but at least avoid a death march on 5th Ave.

As usual I get angry during the race start up procedures, when dozens, actually, hundreds of people from corrals behind us try to pass us on the way to the start. The result is always the same: a mess in the first 45 seconds. I’ve always started the race in the local competitive area, reserved for those local runners who supposedly have a certain qualifying time, hence the perk of lining up at the very front. Instead, after making the left turn out of the gates, people of any ability and from every country engage in a “pre-race” race to start in front of each other and appear on TV.

This year I did not get penalized too much, since after the start I revived my elbowing skills from my early football days. Maybe 10 seconds lost at best? I’m sure some not so kind words were addressed to me in those first 300 meters.

Back to the race: I was hoping to pop out at the 5k mark together with teammate Seb and hopefully run together since he started from a different corral.

When I turned into 4th Ave in Brooklyn I did not see Seb so I believed I was probably just a little ahead of him. I continued with a conservative pace looking behind me when I could to see if I could spot him. Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Greenpoint went by relatively quickly. Here I had the chance to pick up some fluids from a private aid station set up by my helpful Michelle who had a bottle of lucky water for me.

In the process I picked up some Italians runners who started way too fast. It is pretty entertaining to observe the difference in attire between European runners and American runners: despite the standardization of the top athletes uniforms the mass is still diversified. I noticed Europeans, especially Italians, the French, and some Eastern European runners, are big into compression: socks, shorts, Tshirts, tight singlet on top of compression shirts, BANDANAs (or buffs as they are now called), possibly aerodynamic gloves and brand new shine shoes. Americans – on the other hand – don’t care too much, but they generally prefer to mix and match some pretty ugly color combinations carefully picked from a base array of neon-yellow and bright fluorescent orange or pink/fuchsia.

While crossing the Pulaski Bridge I realized I was even going a bit faster than the splits I had in Chicago; I figured that was a positive, since I would have lost precious time on the Queensboro Bridge. Clearly I knew I was not going to best my 2:35 from the Wind City, but I could have easily got a sub 2:40 that all considered was not going to be a bad deal after a marathon and a 50k just three and two weeks prior.

I was really concern about keeping myself prepared to master 1st ave, and avoid the inconvenience of a 9 min/mile with bathroom stop and intestine troubles like the previous year, so I took things a bit easy on the Queensboro and tried not to get too engaged emotionally by the crowd on 1st ave. I tried to spot the MPF crew that was along 1st ave, but did not make it to see them. Just before reaching the Warren Street cheering station I recognized the first familiar face of the pack: flying by went Hector Rivera, moving well and fast. He would go along to close in 2:36, with an impressive second half.

Everything went well till mile 19, when I had a glimpse of another runner ahead of me moving with a style that was familiar.

It was Sebastien, crossing the Willis Ave Br into the Bronx. Shortly after, on 135th St I caught up with him and I saw he was struggling a little. At that point I was still feeling good and was running strong. He encouraged me to go ahead and not spend time with him.

I felt bad for not sticking around, but we had to give it our best to get some points for the team, so I slowly pulled away from him. However, not too long after that, I sensed that I was getting depleted quickly. I tried to drink some of the water I had with me after the Madison Ave Br, but I could not make it to eat some of the bolts. That is usually a bad sign. I noticed my body was getting tenser and tenser. More than holding the water bottle in my hand I was strangling it.

5th ave for me started to become another slow march towards Central Park. I tried to dose the energy and run as solid as I could without slowing down or accelerating too much.

Despite the unfavorable course profile of the last 4 miles of the race (with quite some climbing late in the race for a marathon) my pace did not get affected dramatically and I made it to loose just a couple of minutes.

I got passed by a few runners, and I passed others and pretty much maintained the same position till Engineer Gate. From here on I envisioned to be able to run more efficiently and steadily than 5th Ave, and I tried to save some energies to at least look good for a nice picture along the final stretch of the finish line.

Everything went ok till I merged on Central Park South. Right turn, slightly uphill stretch that I have run over and over and over even with city traffic, and here I see a small group of runners ahead of me. The desire to catch them was too big and so I did try to increase the effort. I heard someone calling my name, but I could not see clearly who it was. I got close to the group and once caught the tail end my right leg decided to give up.

I ran the whole race after three sessions of treatment with Dr Stu who applied a tape on my right hamstring to reduce a little the tension generated by a small tear on the muscle 8 days before the race during a short recovery run in Norwalk.

All of a sudden I was stuck in the middle of the road limping. I stopped. I felt something got pulled. I waited about 10 seconds and realized I was actually having a cramp. I was about to start swearing left and right to unleash my disappointment, but I remained calm. I walked it off for a few feet, while Michelle popped out of the crowd on the left side of CPS.

I kept walking, then jogging and running again. I tried to catch up those 6-8 runners that had passed me while getting my leg back in working order, but the best I could do was maintain that position.

I finished crossing the line basically walking “on eggs” the last 3-4 feet with cramps ready to come out again…see a video of the finish line here at minute 19:55. Peter Ciaccia came over and shook hands and basically closed the deal for another NYC Marathon that left me fairly happy in terms of performance: squeezed out my PR on the course despite my cramps and slow final 5 miles; but fairly disappointed in terms of placing, since till half a mile to go I was comfortably navigating  on the high 80th position, and finished 90th male, and 102nd overall. Such a disappointment to give up a top 100 finish in a major race like this.

Well… then there is a reason to sign up for 2016

N.B.: After receiving hints from fellow teammates I decided to leave the photo gallery from marathon photo out of the equation this time and avoid problems of image rights bla bla bla

 

NYRR 60k

Two weeks after NYCM and with a lot going on at work with an important deadline to meet before Thanksgiving that put training a little bit on the side, the NYRR 60k represented the perfect scenario to revamp the fitness I gained before Chicago and get ready for the North Face Championship in San Francisco.

I signed up almost last minute when the race was near capacity; I asked around a few runners and inquired if they were participating. I gathered that Stephen England (former 3rd finisher) and Adolfo Munguia (former winner) were both participating. Not that I dislike a little bit of competition, but this time I was not looking forward to set my mind into competition mode. I wanted to experience a few relaxing laps of the Park with friends, maybe a little bit of chatting, and then see if we had it to put up an honest “fight” towards the end.

Well…that’s always wishful thinking, till you toe the line and, as usual for this even, there is the novice runner who decide to gun the first part of the race.

This year the course was slightly different from previous editions and we tackled the 5mile loop of CP starting from Engineer Gate and then switch for the mentally grueling 8 laps of the 4 mile loop counter clockwise.

Despite my preference for the counter clock direction, the idea of doing Cathill 9 times is not so appealing.

So, back to the race, we all started packed with a conservative pace and we exchanged a few words, while one of the usual warriors, white long sleeve t-shirt, blond long hair, gloves and fancy colorful socks, decided to have his 45 minutes of glory 10 minutes into the race and took off with an improbable pace. I learned at this point that Adolfo was not in good shape and was coming back from an injury. I was particularly intrigued by another young guy that was talking to Stephen and was moving his legs quite well (Eric).

After the end of the first lap we formed a small group of 5-6 runners chasing the lonely guy in the breakaway.

Early stages of the race: the chasing group up Cathill looking for #278

Early stages of the race: the chasing group up Cathill looking for #278

While we talked a little, I tried to focus on eating something and drinking regularly at least in this initial phase; soon the pace became more sustained and by the end of the second lap we made some ground and quickly closed the gap: once we had the sprinter in our sight, we relaxed a little, but at that point the pace became very unstable: one minute we were going at 7 min/mile and 200 yards after we were pushing low 6 min/mile. I did not need that type of stress: I can take a constant beating but I did not want to try out an erratic pace for another 3 hours or more, so towards the end of the third lap I started pushing a little the pace, and went constant around 6min/mile or under trying to create a gap. The only other runner that stayed with me was Eric, who not only followed me, but at times was pushing the pace and making me go harder than I wanted.

3rd or 4th lap, still in good company

3rd or 4th lap, still in good company

At one point on the west side of the park he asked me if I thought we were going too fast. “Of course” I told him. I knew we could not keep that up forever, but he also confessed he never ran more than 20 miles, and he did that the weekend before.

“Oh boy” – I thought – “He is going to suffer later on”. If you have not experienced running for more than 20 miles, and you are in the initial phases of a 37 mile run at this pace, only one thing is guaranteed: you will suffer and you will want to quit.

At this point I wondered if I was stepping on the gas pedal too much, but I really wanted to remain alone and run at my pace; I was expecting Adolfo to catch up at one point or another, so I tried to save some energy to keep up with him.

In little to no time I crossed EG again and I saw that Adolfo was instead, unfortunately, sidelined and getting some help from his friends. I found out that his injury came out again and he did not want to make it worse than what it was.

A little messed up by Adolfo’s injury, I kept running; I gave a glance to the watch and saw that the pace was around 6:30. I tried t do some math and see if I was still in time to close it under 4 hours, but it seemed a little hard at that point.

With a couple of laps to go I was joined by teammate Alex who gave me a needed refreshing change of mood. He was biking in the park and followed me for a few minutes talking to me, distracting me and…then he got schooled by the marshal that was following me at the front of the race.

The marshal was threatening to disqualify me since Alex tried to exchange a few words…ridiculous. She told him to disappear and not come close anymore. Now I want to understand why on earth you are trying to threaten people like that.

First, Alex was not offering any help, he was only cheering me. He was not providing support with food, water, nor was he pacing me, so….why are you so nasty? And is there a rule that allows male runners not to be paced while female runners can be paced along the course (heard the same bike marshal saying hi to some of the female runners she knew and asking how they were doing and they answered “great, such and such are pacing me, it’s great”)

Anyway…the result was that Alex stepped on the side and got separated. I finished my dreadful last lap a bit tired and while I took it easy up Cathill, I tried to sprint towards the finish line to finish in under 4:04.

Last turn into 72nd transverse. Visually tired at the idea of doing Cathill once more

Last turn into 72nd transverse. Visually tired at the idea of doing Cathill once more

Mission accomplished with 4:03:59, a slight improvement from the year before, despite the easy pace and the race course changes.

2015 RACE TO DELIVER

This is going to be one of the most enjoyable, yet disappointing races I’ve run. I’ve signed up to this race in an attempt to run more events with NYRR under the new age group (35-39) than what I did as a 30-34 (which is an incredibly competitive group).
I had little expectations, knowing that in 2014 the whole NYAC Team showed up to sweep the top 5 spots, but knowing Sebastien was coming, I wanted to at least try and run with him for as much as I could.
The morning of the race I remember warming up and doing a few strides, but I quickly realized that there was no PR for me ready to happen, and there was not a lot of joy along the course waiting for me. As Sebastien and I lined up near the front at the start we realized that actually only one NYAC guy showed up, and he did not look as harmful as others of his teammates.
Jokingly I told Seb he was going to win the race.

We started and the chasing game began.

While Seb pulled away and was quickly followed by Sebastian (the NYAC guy), I struggled to remain in their proximity the whole time. They alternated taking the lead of the race from each other, and I was hoping that the hills of the west side could help me pick up some of the deficit I had on them.
However, Just before the transverse on 102nd, we were all pretty much regrouped. But not for long: my Sebastien opened up a gap quickly. While I really could not do anything that try to hold my pace, I was hoping he could gain enough to get the win. At one point he was well ahead of me and the NYAC guy, and I got excited dreaming of Sebastien winning the race.

Along the west side hills Sebastian (NYAC) did not run particularly fast, but once the rolling terrain was over, he ran a really fast last mile and a half and despite Seb’s effort, he caught up and left both of us behind. I was the silent witness of their battle, with little to say or add to their rivalry, since I was already gassed out.

As we approached the left turn on 72nd street Seb looked back to check if I was going to be a threat, but a glimpse at my face probably gave him enough comfort.
Seb finished 9 seconds ahead of me, only 5 behind the winner, but we did an incredible run. I was a bit disappointed for not hitting a decent time on the clock, but obviously satisfied for a podium.

After the race we got treated with VIP measures, enjoyed some food at the finish line tend and then proceeded to the award ceremony where we were pictured in an image that I could only dream of three years before when joining him, Paul, Charlie, Fabio, Aaron and Pascal with Warren Street. Often we can find pride, joy and enthusiasm in sharing these moments with people that you look up to, not just obtaining a nice result or a good performance.

Second Place: Sebastien Baret and me with a big smile from one ear to the other

Second Place: Sebastien Baret and me with a big smile from one ear to the other

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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 🙂

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:

http://vimeo.com/99198369

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 🙂

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

Cayuga 50 – US National Championship

Last year experience in Cayuga was simply amazing.

Even though the race did not go as planned, the overall weekend was pretty nice and I made a mental note to come back this year, to enjoy a flourishing town, spend a weekend away from the City, and compete in a spectacular yet demanding course against the finest runners in the US.

Last year race for me stopped after the first 25 miles, with a sore ankle that I wanted to treat properly before the LUT; however, Cayuga taught me several lessons about my body and its needs while running that stayed latent and undisclosed for a couple of months until the summer of 2013.
Both Cayuga and the LUT became my lowest running points last year, yet they were the most valuable experiences that added incredible value for the rest of the season and brought me to a wonderful experience in UROC and at the NYC marathon.
Probably the people that enlightened me most were Michelle and Fabio. Michelle suggested that something did not go right in my eating/drinking plans for the races. Fabio gave me a similar version when I described him what I did in Lavaredo, and he opened up the world of Dr Noakes.

I will not be thankful enough for Fabio’s recommendation to read the book. Dr Noakes’s Lore of running is probably the best (and biggest) publication about running and it transformed the way I try to connect with my body during a run both in training and in a race.
Sometimes I might take an approach about drinking and or eating that is a bit more extreme than Dr Noakes, especially during training, but the book is worth reading every page. With that said, I have not finished it, so a lot more to learn!

Back to Cayuga, the plan was to come to the race prepared and in good to use the evnet as a tune up for Manitou’s Revenge.
The rough patch I went through in April not only cut down the miles, but it kept me away from long runs leaving me with a not so solid conditions getting into the race.

The field of professional, elites, and local speedy gonzales from the Gorges was packed, and way deeper than last year, with everyone eager to crush it because the race was hosting the USTF 50 Mile National Championship.
The course changed slightly due to and inclement winter and a cold spring that did not allow to re-open certain sections of the stairs along the gorges, but race director Ian Golden did an outstanding job organizing an alternative course maintaining the spectacular views of the waterfalls and the keeping the course challenging through the woods.

During the week leading up to the race I made contact with Matt Flaherty, a great runner that I met for the very first time exactly here in Cayuga a year ago. He was so kind to make some time for me even when we met again in UROC and this time I asked him if we could run a few miles together on Saturday. I think I creeply told him that I would have tatooed his name on my chest, if we met for the run. LOL!

Friday evening we drove to Ithaca and we arrived to the little motel where we stayed in 2013, and we crashed into bed, after a 5 hours drive and a long week of work. Saturday morning we were up and ready early and drove to Treman St. Park where the race starts and where Matt told me to meet him.
When he showed up he had a little surprise for me: other two runners where part of the group: Chris Vargo and Brad Lombardi were staying in Matt’s cabin, so we all went out for a 4 mile jog/run to explore a little the course around the Lick Brook crossing and the base of the steep climb right after that.
It was a great pleasurable experience. Seeing how this tremendous runners prepare a race is incredible. Even more remarkable was enjoying their kindness, their humor and listening to their little stories while we were jogging. I knew I would have seen them at the start and finish line of the race only, but spending half an hour with them prior to the race was very unique. Even more gratifying was the fact that along the course I ran into them and they all said hi and smiled to me, even if they were pounding the ground and focusing on that task.

After the run Michelle and I went to the running company to pick up the Bib and here we ran into Kristina Marie Folcik, last year winner and another great person. She came in with hubby Ryan Welts and she was ready to attack the course. We waiting for the packet pick up to be set up completely and in the meantime also Michelle had the chance to meet Kristina.
It was great to see her and Ryan live every once in a while, because getting all the updates about their impressive running and their adventures on the trails via social media every weekend is nice…but seeing the real deal in person is something else. Ryan did not race, he was only coming to crew Kristina and train for Manitou’s, where I am sure he will get his revenge on the Fruitarian this year.

After bib pick up Michelle and I went for lunch at Moosewood like we did last year, and then went back to the running company to meet Stephen and Tiffany who came up from NY with a bunch of friends. We spent the afternoon at the Cinemapolis for a nice screening of Trails In Motion International Film Festival and then went back to the motel to relax for an hour or so.
The evening was quiet and we had mexican food with Stephen, Tiffany, Lucia and Scott. Michelle was worried I was not having enough food and she kept shoveling french fries, corn chips and salsa my way. Funny. A bunch of other people from the Trail Whip Ass group randomly showed up at the same restaurant and started taking pictures with us at the table. People around the restaurant were looking at us trying to figure out what was going on, but we did not care. During dinner Stephen and I exchanged a few thoughts about the race, the competition, and plans for next day. I told him that realistically with all the good players in the field I would feel accomplished getting into the top 30 finishers.
I enjoy a lot spending time with Stephen. It does not happen often that we meet at a race or for a training run, but when it happens I am happy like a kid because there is something nice to learn from him.

By 10pm after a quick visit to a local coop to buy some food for the next day, Michelle and I were dead in bed. Alarm went off as planned early morning and by approx 5 am we were parking the car and getting ready for the start.
I am not sure if it was the anxiety for running a 50 miler with only and medium/long run of 18 miles on the leg since February, or if it was the atmosphere of the event, but I could not stop going to the woods and get a pit stop. 3 visits before the start were a good sign that the belly was pretty empty, at least I thought so.

At 6 am sharp the race started and conscious of 2013 experiences I went out easy and relax for the first few miles. Runners were blazing by me, lighting up on fire the trail almost. Maybe somebody should be reminded that there is not prize for being at the front at mile 1 or 2, but only at mile 50 in this case.
I jogged the first climb towards Old Mill, and occasionally hiked the steeper portions.

Crowded Start...but here I am in the middle of the pack, trying not to get excited early on

Crowded Start…but here I am in the middle of the pack, trying not to get excited early on

Here again with sunglasses, checking out people around me

Here again with sunglasses, checking out people around me

I knew I had a lot to give in the tank, but mile 2 was way too early to press on the gas pedal. I thought I was in a decent position when near me Kristina was making her way through some runners that were already gasping for air after the initial effort.
At the aid station I stayed focused and not losing time or chainging the pace: often when people cheer and encourage runners, the natural reaction is to pick up the pace. I did not want to do this. I wanted to cruise at my speed without outside interferences.
However, I heard a clear “Hey Carlo” from the crowd, and after a few secs for my brain to process the sound, I looked back and say that Ryan Welts was there and spotted me among others. So proud to receive his acknoledgment!
The course started to descend towards the “Underpass” aid station and I picked up the pace just slightly, feeling comfortable and relaxed.

Upper Treman Park - going down the stairs required particular attention Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Upper Treman Park – going down the stairs required particular attention
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

The miles went by quickly and little by little I lined myself behind Magdalena and Katie O’Regan who were in the lead for the woman champ.

Water Crossings are always fun, and refreshing

Water Crossings are always fun, and refreshing

Ready to sink into the deep part

Ready to sink into the deep part

I particularly felt very very good along the steep climb after the Lick Brook crossing. I made up most of the gap from a small group of runners in front of me and gained some confidence that the day was turning into something good.
I figured it was a good chance to see how the pros (women) do it, given that Matt, Chris, Mike Owen, etc. were on another league. We sticked together all the way through Buttermilk Falls, even missed a turn and were called (luckly) by a volunteer (or a hicker) back in track and we entered the aid station together. On the way to Buttermilk we saw the lead pack coming back towards us. It was incredible to see how fast they were pushing through the trail. I had the fantasy that the pace might have been too quick for even some of them and they would have dropped later in the race, leaving some nice spots open for us slow midpackers. At the aid station I lost a few seconds getting an extra gel and drinking some sodas to make sure the sugar was going to help me climb the set of stairs that was waiting for us.
The ascent was good, fairly fast yet not too damaging, since we powerhiked or jogged comfortably. While looking at the waterfalls with the sun starting to hit on our backs and temperatures raising I imagined myself dipping into that refreshing stream. Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhh…didn’t have time for that.

Getting to Buttermilk aid station: lettin some pro/elites do the pace so I could learn the tricks

Getting to Buttermilk aid station: lettin some pro/elites do the pace so I could learn the tricks. Photo courtesy of Ron Heerkens

This was not easy...a break was not allowed even downhill

This was not easy…a break was not allowed even downhill. Photo courtesy of Ron Heerkens

Studying the situation in front

Studying the situation in front of me. Photo courtesy of Ron Heerkens

Buttermilk 1st lap B

Yes, I am there. Look closely, just behind her vizor

Of course all shoutings and encouragement were for Magdalena at the aid station

Of course all shoutings and encouragement were for Magdalena at the aid station

Chasing Katie and Magda Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Chasing Katie and Magda
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

While following Magdalena and Katie I got a little annoyed by another runner who kept speeding up, passing me, passing Katie and Magdalena, and then dropping back a few hundred feet. I was not sure what this guy was up to, but thankfully he got out of sight after a few miles and we did not have to deal with his presence any more.
This little incident made me think about my interaction the lead woman: we did not talk during the entire journey, we only looked at each other, especially the other two were probably studying each other, while I was just following close. Was I distracting them? Was I interferening? I hope not.

I'm there...in the back, coming up hot

I’m there…in the back, coming up hot

Still keeping the first two women around to learn

Still keeping the first two women around to learn. Photo courtesy of Joe Viger

Yes, now I am getting up those stairs, can't wait my face seems to say

Yes, now I am getting up those stairs, can’t wait my face seems to say. Photo courtesy of Joe Viger

On the way to Underpass The three of us picked up the pace a little bit and in a few miles we closed the gap on two runners ahead. They were running and chatting quite a bit; they also tried to make conversation with Magda, and I think they might have known each other.

On the way back to the water crossing again. Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

On the way back to the water crossing again.
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Following close Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Following close
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Still fresh after 15-16 miles. Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Still fresh after 15-16 miles.
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

I was not in the mood to exchange many words at this point. Along the steep downhill before the aid station I found myself alone, with the other two dudes only a few seconds ahead while Katie and Magdalena holded back a little.
At this point I was not sure what to do. It was too early to push myself, yet people around me where fading after the initial efforts.
At the bottom of the descent the other two runners approached the creek crossing very carefully. I headed straight for the water and had the time to take a quick refreshing dip. At the aid station only one of them took off quickly with me. Looking back at the photos I think his name was Dave James. We stayed together for a couple of miles, and I started to feel the lack of preparation for the long distance. Certain patches were runnable uphills but I did not have the strength to push they way I wanted. I settled for a more quiet effort, and only along the Lucifer Steps I opened up a little gap on him.

From here on I felt ok until the turnaround point, even with a little mishappening that costed me a couple of minutes and some extra mileage: while running downhill towards the finish I missed a left turn while trying to avoid hikers on the trail and found myself a little lost. I had to run back uphill and pick up the trail again to make it to the half point. Coming down towards Old Shelter I also ran into the lead group and surprisingly saw that Matt and Chris were not in the lead anymore. However, they looked strong and fast. I only found out later that they went off course as well, and gave up the lead in favor of Michael Owen.

Still fairly fresh going toward the turnaround point at mile 25

Still fairly fresh going toward the turnaround point at mile 25

The race proceeded quietly for me for another 6-7 miles and while I tried to run conservatively I noticed that my intestine was feeling a litle weak. This seems to be a theme lately during races and also during my training. Could it be that I need to take more seriously core strengthening? Or was it the colder/iced water that I got from the aid station that was making my belly feel uneasy? About a mile before the Underpass aid station I ran into Michelle who cheered me up with her usual enthusiasm. I told her quickly about my belly issue and she told me to go for a pit stop. When I reached Underpass I did not lose any time and went straight for the porta potty. I lost about 3-4 minutes between the pitstop and the usual water/soda/gel break, and I thought I lost a spot or two.
I felt much better now, and I could now run without those sudden sharp cramps that I was experiencing in the last half hour I could focus on finishing the race. The legs were getting a little stiff but that is normal after more than 30 miles.
I reached again Buttermilk aid station, this time alone, and with my great surprise I saw Silas Carey getting ready to take off.

Silas is a great reference point for me. I do not know much about him, except the fact that at my first ever trail race in Bear Mountain in 2012 (a half marathon) he crushed everyone else, won the race and came back the following year to repeat himself.
This year I saw him in Bear M again where he tackled the 50k and finished in the podium (I forget if he was 2nd or 3rd overall).
This represented a significant experience: I was now side by side to the runner that claimed the first podium that I witnessed. Was he having a bad day or have I improved a little bit and got closer to these running studs?
Immediately my first thought was to retarget my race goals: I wanted to run harder and finish in front of him. This lasted for about 20 feet, because as soon as I approached the stairs cramps completely stopped me for another 2 minutes.
I could not stretch the hamstrings that the calves were cramping and pulsing, when stretching the quads the hamstrings were screaming in the back. It was a total breakdown. With 13 miles to go and probably one of the worst daily performances in front of the cameras of the photographers along the stairs, I had to calm down and focus on moving slowly and effortlessly to bring home the full 50 miles.

Upper Buttermilk Falls, cramps taking a toll on me Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Upper Buttermilk Falls, cramps taking a toll on me
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

I had to do some hiking and after 20 minutes of struggling I was finally able to lock into a comfortable pace running the flats and the downhill to Underpass. Silas was gone, I could not see him even in the long straight stretches near Sandbank Rd. Then all of a sudden just before the aid station I see two figures moving ahead of me: Silas and another runner were marching together. Not all hope was lost.

Second time around Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Second time around
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Getting close to Underpass Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Getting close to Underpass
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

We hit the aid station together, and I took off first trying to gain a little gap so I could take it a little easy for a mile or so.
Silas was not in the mood to lose a spot in a national championship, and he followed me closely, passed me after not even a quarter of a mile, and encouraged me tapping my butt and telling me “Let’s go, Buddy”.
I really wished I had the freshness to follow him and even make some conversation at this point. The good thing is that at least I gained a spot and now I had only 7 miles to finish.
I kept moving at all the time, but the Devils Steps put the hurt on me again: I planned on taking a few seconds to stretch before starting the climb, but as soon as I stopped, my legs went ballistic again. Cramps got all the muscles of my legs, hamstrings, calves, shins, quads. It was painful and funny at the same time.

After a few moments of panic I started climbing slowly the stairs, got offered some help from the volunteers and kindly declined. Slowly I made my way to the last aid station, got some cold water from the hose directly on my whole body head to toe and then took off. While turning around the switchbacks exiting the AS I took a glimpse back and saw Magdalena charging into the area. I was probably a minute and a half in front of her and at this point it was a matter of pride: I did not want to lose a spot.

This could open up a bigger discussion about being passed by women in a race, and how generally men feel about this, but I’ll discuss more in the future. The bottom line is that I do not fear being passed by a woman, two, three, or many. If they are better than me, then be it.
This time it was about not being passed by anyone in the last couple of miles of the race. After battling for 48 miles, why would you give up in the last 2?
There was not man, no woman and no animal that could take that spot from me. I stayed focused on running, making sure I was not getting lost again, and that I was paying attention to all the hikers on the course to avoid sudden stops and possibly cramps that could have made me lose more time.

Finally the trail opened up into the green grassy final quarter of a mile and the end was clearly visible; I was invaded by a feeling of joy and accomplishment. I saw Michelle screaming for me just a few meters before the finish line. I felt proud for both of us. We came to Ithaca together and we were going to make it home together after a fantastic weekend.

Last 50 meter (stupid) thought: pour the remaining water on my head as I cross the finish line: I win the competition for most idiotic finish of the race

Last 50 meter (stupid) thought: pour the remaining water on my head as I cross the finish line: I win the competition for most idiotic finish of the race

Completing an ultra is always a joy, but feeling decently competitive even with the lack of specific preparation is even a better reason to celebrate. Finding moments of internal quietness, where my conscious self and my inner self are working together and talking to each other, exploring each other and understanding what each one is made of is probably the main reason that fuels me to push my body and my mind in these events.
Finishing 15th overall in the US Championship would be considered by many a great accomplishment, and I am proud of myself for getting there; but what I walk away from Ithaca with is the ecstasy of engaging in the process of communication with myself and within myself.

Stay tuned for future photos updates on the this post when they will come available from race photographers

NYC Half Marathon 2014

Surpises can happen. And they are alway welcomed!

NYC Half was a dream race for me since 2013. It was a magic moment already in 2012 when I volunteered by the tunnel entrance at mile 11 or so, but spectating at mile 1 and by the final stretch the 2013 event gave me an electric feeling of overwhelming joy.

Just after a few of the elites pounded the final stretch of asphalt, my friend Brendan popped out from the barriers running towards an incredible 1:17:52 for a 120th place overall and second of his age group.
He ran a sub 1:18 at 45 years of age, and he proved me that improvements can be made, despite of age, and injuries. I ran the last 100 meters behind the course barriers and fence along with him so I could scream at him after the finish line. The incredible part was that he ran that time including the first 10k in Central Park, which is not the easiest going at all.

Brendan told me he got a little push from the wind along the Westside Hwy, still it was a great endeavour for me and the NYC half started to appear as a nice race to tackle in 2014, despite the highest entry fees of any other race of that distance probably in the world. As soon as it opened up for registration I put down my name in the entry list, feeling confident the winter training would have brough me to a great time, close to 1:17.

For several reasons – explained in other posts – training has been just average at best; race results instead have been surpisingly positive this year. The little problems in my left hip became quite critical two weeks before the race during the saturday WS long run, when a sharp pain hit me on the butt after 12-13 miles. This really kicked my confidence down, knowing that fitness was at an unknown level and that the body was not even staying together too well.

I attempted some speed work a couple of times, with terrible results and even deadlier aftermaths. What worked out was the fact that fellow runner and teammate Gary let me try his portable laser to heal the hip. And it worked: I felt better, even if only for a couple of days.
Discouraged and a bit disappointed I went to the expo to pick up my bib and see if I could see any famous runner near the stands, but I ended up running away from the overcrowded place, full of loud and a bit rude people.
I also made plans with Sebastien who was going to participate as an official “pacer” for the 1:19 group. I knew my goal was to better my 1:18:00 from Rudgers ’13, but in these conditions, I felt it was going to be a miracle to hang in there with Seb for 13 miles, and maybe finish just a couple of seconds ahead, to guarantee a sub 1:19 and the qualifying time for NYC Marathon in 2015.

Michelle had the great idea of running her first half after the injury on Saturday before the race, so I spent the morning with her in Long Island spectating and also running a little bit along with other runners. The hip felt pretty heavy after 5-6 miles, so I stopped the run and waited by the finish line for Michelle to complete her race finishing 4th woman.
Michelle

We drove into the city where Gary let me use the laser one final time before the race and then we went home relaxing.

The morning of the race Michelle drove me to the Park early and then she took off to cheer people by the finish line. We met Seb by the Apple store and then headed to the bag drop off area. The chilly (frrrreezing) atmosphere was a friendly ally for me, since I am a lover of colder conditions. I hit the portable potty as soon as I entered the park and then warmed up with Seb for 10 minutes. short and sweet, it was probably the most effective warm up I have ever done. No waste of time. by 7:30 we were all lined up in the corral already.

I was standing by Sebastien, laughing at all the surprised people that were asking him if he was really pacing the 1:19. People were so impressed of his talent that they could not believe it. Running for an hour and 20 minutes, with a pole and a flag and covering 13 miles…pretty impressive…
Brendan was there with me by the start and we made some small talk. He predicted a good race for me, but I told him the result was a mistery. In my mind I wanted to do well.
I started to change my mind as far as following Sebastien and I wanted to just stay a little ahead of him, so that in case of a problem he could have picked me up and distracted me from the pain. A pace of just around 6:00 would have made the trick.

The race started by the Boathouse and had us face Cathill right away. Good test to kill some of those runners that lined up in the wrong spot of the corral. I could not set into a steady pace until EG because of the amount of people passing me, then dropping back, or just dropping back. A total chaos. But a nice chaos.

Mile 1 was cleared in 5:55, not too far from pace, but I was questioning if I started too quickly. While thinking about it I ran down towards 110th st and got off the park towards the runabout where I saw the pros coming back charging the course.

Near me was Bobby Asher from the VCTC and a couple of other unknown guys who were pretty impressed by the pros. I told them that with some more training we would be there next year. Ahahah…yeah, right…we laughed for a sec, then we re-focused on what we were doing.
I felt I was not in the right place since Bobby is usually too far ahead of me, and mile 2 was in 5:43.
We re-entered Central Park and attacked the hilly sections on the north and west side. I picked up some of the elite women (including a feloow ultrarunner, Kate Pallardy) starting here and continued to feel nervous about my pace. Could I just collapse after this stupid start? Was I doing a mistake?

110 hill A

110 hill B

Well, I figured it was not a big deal to gain 10 secs now and run a couple of 6+ towards the end. So I kept going clearing mile 3 in 5:43 again. First 5k in 18:10. The legs were fresh, I was not pushing them hard, but the turnaround was pretty quick: smaller steps to protect the hip and fast. All of a sudden my mate Bobby abandoned me, probably for a little physical problem, so I remained alone. The west side run counterclockwise is familiar territory, so I stayed alone for a bit, trying to catch up with other folks in font of me.

Paul Thompson could not have missed the race, and of course snapped a picture of me:

Photo Taken by Paul Thompson

Photo Taken by Paul Thompson

I felt silly at this point, cause I envisioned Paul making fun of me for poor pacing, but I figured it was not a big deal, if I stepped off the gas pedal a little. Mile 4 was in 5:50 and 5:48, including the hills. I recognized in front of me one of the runners that got me at the Gridiron, so I used the good pacing of #518 to get closer to him and pass him by the 72nd street transverse.
Here he is in the back of the pack with the red shirt:
5 mile

I think I recognized Aaron from Warren Street around the south west part of the park, but my vision was a little blurry at this point.

When we approached the exit of the park to head to Times Square I could not believe the clock at the 10k mark: 36 and change. Second 5k in 18:03. I tried again to remain quiet, but the presence of a runner in front of me continued being the excuse to pick up others.

CP 2

CP 3

CP 4

CP 5

#518 was coming along well with me, and he proved to be a good buddy in this section towards Times Square, since he was leading our small pack shielding us from the random headwind we were getting.
We aimed at Vongvorachoti, aka Jane, one of the local elite from CPTC patiently paced by a male CPTC runner. Little by little we picked her up along 7th ave, and passed. 7th ave is really a pothole festival. I never drive there (thankfully) but the reality is that even running on it was not comfortable.
The crowd was fenomenal and you need to stay focused on your effort to avoid the risk of going too fast. My pictures here do not look so great, and maybe some sign of tiredness was coming out.
6th ave C

6th ave E

6th ave F

6th ave I

The 90 degree turn into 42nd street going west was an experience: it made me change gears, moving them, lifting them fluidly and naturally, and I started to feel confident that the rest of the race was going to be under control: from now on it was constantly under 5:40. Except for three quarters of a mile along 42nd street: a vigorous headwind pushed us back to a 5:49 pace for the mile. A different story from the little help Brendan got the year before…Another right turn going north on the Westside Hwy and a full 180 degree turn two blocks after (not a great way to keep a fast pace), and I was now on a straight path towards the finish line.

42nd Turn 1

42nd Turn 2

Struggling a little bit with tired legs I made it to improve the third 5k at 17:43.

I could not figure out too well if I was too inconsistent with my pace or if other runners were totally messed up: we kept exchanging positions, passing each other, then repassing. Very weird, and energy consuming.

west side hwy

west side hwy2

The sooner I finish the sooner I rest. Hurry up

The sooner I finish the sooner I rest. Hurry up

The only runner that pretty much sticked with me the whole time was this misterious #518, and the two of us worked well together, even if he worked more than me as a rabbit. He faded towards the end just before the entrance of the tunnel.
As we approached that spot I remembered the hard work I was doing two years prior as a volunteer and the unbelievable happiness I received from those runners that acknowledge our support when they were running by.
I saw a few supporters cheering us and I waved at a little kid with his father to make him happy. It gave me a smile and distracted me from the math exercise I was doing in my head trying to predict the finish time.
I was all over the places with my math skills right now: at one point I thought I was around 1:17, then maybe 1:13, then I thought I was just under 1:19 (yet no sign of Seb near me)…now I entered the tunnel and the only thing I knew was that I had no idea how much more ground I had to cover. I lost some ground from other 3 runners, maybe 40-50ft.
The little incline to come out of the tunnel made me complain a little bit, and I could not wait to hit the finish line now. I was hearing the crowd, yet no sight of it. A little sign indicating 400mt to go gave me some encouragement and I was now close to 90secs or to the end.
After a quick turn to the left I checked my watch and I was just around 1:15. With less than 200 meters to go, I knew I was going to hit something I had only dreamt of before. Energy returned quickly, as I heard and saw Michelle screaming my name from the crowd.
I was feeling I made myself and her proud of my achievement.

After the finish I was waiting for Seb to complete his pacing duty (not too far behind me) and in the meantime I was approached by another runner with whom I ran a portion of the NYC Marathon months before and we small talked for a minute. Then Brendan came in, improving his time from the previous attempt, and we complimented each other.

Stephen England popped out at the finish line a few minutes later, after I saw him along the course in Times Square. He probably paced someone for a little portion of the course (at least little and short for his standard).

Then Seb finished and I shared with him, his wife, Adrien and Michelle the rest of the morning getting some well deserved breakfast.

Running south 1

42nd st

Boh

A bit tired

Drag force

Hard Rock 1

Hard Rock 2

Times Sq 2

Times Sq 3

Times Sq 7

Times Sq 8

Times Sq 9

Febapple Frozen 50k – Feb 22, 2014

I have been waiting for this race for many months; almost from the same day a year ago.

Last year race left me with great feelings, a lot of enthusiasm and the belief that running on trails was way better than running on asphalt. I met new friends 12 months before at this very course: I could eye Stephen England running the 20 miler (his speed made me believe he was running the 10 mile race), and I exchange a few words with that beast of Ryan Jones who whipped me along the course.

Last year it was my first attempt at a distance longer than a marathon; I got second place and – obviously – 12 months later I’ve created a little more pressure inside me to at least confirm the good that came from the previous year race. I really wanted to do well, but for little issues here and there in these months, training has not been perfect the way I envisioned it at the beginning. On top of that I had been welcoming snow and snow cover trails for the last 4-5 weeks, knowing that I could have had and edge in this type of conditions, were I in good form.

A week before the race it was clear that the trails were going to be packed with snow or ice, and the idea was not promising: when I attempted a run in Bear Mountain, I had to give up running just after 3 miles and had to proceed hiking for another 6 trying not to get my ankles cut or bruised too much. A one inch thick layer of ice on top of soft snow was constantly cutting my legs when retracting the feet that were sunk into the soft snow below. This was the result:

Red legs and swallen ankles Cuts and bruises left after washing out the blood

With that said I sweared that if conditions were the same, I would not have run the Febapple. Three days before the race, on Wednesday evening after work I went for a quick inspection of the course and had to sweat my ass through 4 miles of virgin snow in the dark and with no idea of where the course was. The trail was in bad shape, but at least, I could not foresee cuts and bruises.

The course on Wednesday

Another part of the course

It was going to be a huge to complete the race, since lifting legs and feet more than one foot above the surface each step could mean a lot of effort.

This year the race was also somewhat special because it marks Bud’s debut as an ultrarunner and Michelle’s come back to trail with the 10 miler.

We got to the start line almost last minute, and when the RD gave us the green light I was still pinning my bib to my shirt.

I started the race conservatively, watching a few other guys running faster the first mile on asphalt. I recognized the guy that finished third at the Wildcat, and I knew he was not going to be a factor after the first loop. I saw a well shaped guy wearing spandex shorts under regular running shorts and I saw Ryan Jones keeping an eye on the pack. I preferred to settle in fourth and look at how things were unfolding, courious to know if my equipment was going to give an advantage or a disadvantage. In fact, everyone alse on the lead was wearing Yaktrax under regular trail running shoes; I preferred to go bear naked with my new pair of Salomon. I bought them last minute, probably just for the Febapple, but hopefully for other races too. The nice part of this shoe is the sole: while being pretty much the same of the S-Lab Sense, the sole is much more rugged and captivating. I saw it for the first time in Colorado, under royal feet belonging to Tina L., Kilian J., Emilie, etc. Too bad they were not in the market till recently. Well…I made it in time and bout a pair, a little unhappy that they used this sole on the “ultra” version and not in the regular S-Lab Sense (the white and red colors give me more focus when I look down, than the red and black of the ultra), but I was willing to give them a try. The grip on the snow was great, and maybe I was just lacking some traction on the ice, compared to the other folks, but that was not a problem given that temperatures were raising to the mid forties to the low fifties.

After a couple of miles I witnessed the wildest fall ever. It must have hurt a lot, and for sure the other runner was a little shocked by it. He went down horizontally after sliding on a wet rock with his Yaktrax into a creek filled with frozen water and ice. At that point I passed him and followed closely Ryan who took the lead but had no intentions to break away from the rest of us. He lost a yaktrax while running on deep snow and that’s when I realized I was going to have an advantage: I did not have to worry about things falling off my feet nor did I have to worry about losing balance and sliding on rocks. My shoes were one piece, and they would have not broken.

Ryan and I kept running together for a few miles, with a small lead on the rest of the group and we kept an eye on who was following. We completed the first 4mile loop and proceeded into the 6mile. The downhill part was nice. Not as fast as last year, but tricky and slippery. Many runners would lose time in this section and I could have a little edge here. Without realizing it, Ryan slightly lost contact, just a few seconds here and there, and by the aid station at the far end I had a small lead.

Sliding through the ice at the aid station

Knowing it was early in the race I did not want to push, just wanted to be alone so nobody could follow my steps and see my weak points. When I closed loop one and ran the asphalt section I could not see anyone closer than half a mile or so, and I figured I could have pushed a little more and see how the general condition of the body was. I started to develop two crazy ideas:

1) Inspired by Matt Flaherty and one of his recent wins: winning the 50k with the fasted 10mile time
2) Run fast 20 miles and call it a day, dropping out and stil get the win on the 20 miler

In both cases I had to push during the second lap and I did so. Behind me, other runners were alternating, getting closer or further behind: #2 would drop back to #3, and #4 would bump back to #2, but the lead never opened up more than 5-6 minutes I think.
After 14 miles I saw Bud completing his first loop and he was looping surprisingly fresh, happy and in great shape. Maybe I should have slowed down to enjoy more the day like he was doing?

At the end of the second loop I had Option 2 still fresh in my mind and I felt like giving up and stopping. The time was probably good for a win, but inside me the feeling was not good: I came here for a 50k race, and I was not accepting a defeat by the course. A defeat by another runner is one thing, acceptable and possible. But not by the course.

So, while going through the aid station, when the RD asked me if I was continuining, I gave him the thumb up and kept going.

Foolish decision!!!

I felt energy levels were running low, probably because I had used only 2 gels in the first 3 hours and a half, so I swollowed one trying to bump back to life. The uphill portions began to kill me. I had no push through them, and hiking was the only way to proceed. Actually, out of desperation I kicked some running, but they were all pathetic attempts, that resulted in wasted energy and tired legs.
I dragged myself ok along the flat portion of the 4 mile loop, but the little ascent to get back to the aid station seemed like a wall. I was really punishing myself there; I wanted to drop out, walk, stop, rest, but how could I give away so easily what I had built to that point?

The photographer, or a dude with a camera told me to hang in there.

At the aid station I threw down a couple of cookies; they helped me last year…I was hoping for the same result next year.
I asked the RD what kind of lead I had (hoping for something like…20 minutes, or more) and the answer killed me: 3 to 4 minutes.
In those conditions I felt like a mouse being chased by a bunch of hungry cats.

After a few minutes I got some energy back and used all I had to open up the gap more on the snowy downhill portion. And I think I did because when I started the rolling hills by mile 25, nobody was in sight. And nobody could see my mishappenings.
My left hip was bothering me, and my right abductors tensed up and locked. I spent more than a minute standing in the middle of the trail stretching, stretching and restretching, hoping for improvements.
My right leg did not want to move and even hiking was a challenge. I looked back and I saw a runner maybe 2 minutes behind.
It was not clear if he was a 50ker, his shape looked familiar, but not his clothes (the son of a b#%&@ took off some layers and I could not recognize him; he was a 50ker!!). Still, when in doubt, don’t offer any opening. I pushed through the pain and started a light run, just not to show the possible competition that I was not wounded.
In reality I felt chased and that gave me a reason to keep my mind off the legs and focus on moving forward. At the aid station I realized I opened up a little more the gap, and figured it was better to keep going, without wasting time for cookies this time. 3 miles to go, no time to waste.

Other runner makes a stop, I keep going. No time to lose with three miles to go

I kept pushing and pushing, passing other runners from the 20 miler or lapping 50kers, until I reached the waterfalls climb. That was the last challenge between me and the accomplishment of the first win for 2014.
At this point I had no gas in the tank any longer. I was running on fumes but nobody behind was coming closer. I let a couple of runners I passed previously go by and I proceeded with a comfortable hike up the climb. It took me more than 14 minutes to complete that mile, but I could not see the runner up coming close, so I kept hiking almost to 3/4 of a mile from the finish.

At that point I saw unclear shapes behind me and I figured it was safer to run well the last stretch. So I did, and got my first win of the year, about 50 minutes slower than last year time, but much much harder and difficult than the effort I did that time.

Second place came in just a couple of minutes behind, then third and then Ryan, who ran very well coming off a great 100 miler a few weeks prior and finished only 5 minutes behind me.

Michelle in the meantime got 13th overall and 5th woman in the 10 miler in her first trail race after the injury (with very light training), and Bud 21st overall in the 50k.

...and still finished 13th overall

…and still finished 13th overall

Bud crazyness

Bud running with new trail shoes

Bud

Of course the day was not over, and once the shoes came off, we took care of business at Top’s diner in Newark. Refuelled and rested enough to make it back home. A not so nice surprise was the condition of my legs after the run. Scratches a bit all over from the ice, and swallen lower parts near the ankles made it look terrible

Legs post race

When the results came out, I was glad to see that not only goal #2 was accomplished, but also #1 got in the bank: won the 50k, ran my fastest lap and first two laps faster than the 10 miler and 20 miler winners.

UROC 100 – Preview – Part 2

Wednesday Morning I got up fairly early and after having breakfast I headed to Frisco where I wanted to get a taste for the second climb of the course: the 10 Mile Ridge.

I left Paul’s apartment with a full tank in my rented high teck Ford Focus and made it to Frisco at around 9:15. The idea was to park near the Rainbow Lake and search for the Colorado Trail. I remembered I watched a few videos of people previewing the trail on you tube, so I though I was in good shape to recognize the path.

As soon as I got off the car I realized nature was calling so I took care of business right away. I came back to the car and I was debating what I should have put on for the run. I felt a little disorganized, since I could not tell if I was going to be cold on top of the mountain, or coming down. I got my shorts on, plently of glide and then needed to get my shoes on.

At that point a red SUV came into the parking lot and I thought “here are the usual kids or tourists ready to make a mess of this quiet place”. I kept minding my own business and about 30 seconds later I hear a voice asking me: “Excuse me…”

I swear I did recognize the voice immediately, even if I never met this person before in my life. I turned around and looked at her with a huge smile.

E M E L I E !!!!!!! I almost screamed

Emelie Forsberg!!!!!

She looked at me, almost confused, and was about to ask “Do you know where the trail is?” Clearly she recognized I was there to do some recon. The problem is that she was probably so mind blown by the fact that somebody recognized her in the middle of a remote parking lot in Frisco, Colorado, US that she asked:

“Do you know if I am famous?”

LOL

I did understand the real meaning of the question and I walked her to the entrance of the trail that was leading to the Rainbow Lake. She went back to the car after thanking me and got ready. I husseled to prep myself so I could get a picture or two with her, but…in no time she was back with her running partner and was about to leave. At least I maneged to get a photo of her…from the back…booooooooo

Emelie and her running partner getting ready for some recon

Emelie and her running partner getting ready for some recon

I said hi to both and I kept rushing to get ready. I clearly remember they guy telling me “Nice Shoes”. Finally I took off probably 2 minutes behind them. My watch did not even have a signal yet, but I was running after them. I brought my phone with me, just in case, so I could capture her running technique, her climbing ability, her style. I was so interested I forgot of two elements:

1. Where the heck would I put my phone in while running?

2. How can I catch up with arguably the best female ultrarunner in the world?

Less than a mile into my run I realized that the network of little trails around the lake was quite intricated and while passing a few hikers I asked them if they saw a guy and a woman running together. They did not see anybody, which was surprising, so I pulled off my phone and checked for directions on the UROC webpage opening the mapmy run file they had. This move turned out to be right on the spot cause I could almost see myself running in the right direction towards the lake. after that it would have been an easy task to follow the trail.

When I got to the lake I heard a noise on my right, behind the vegetation and in no time two people jumped out. Again Emelie and her friend bumped into me and said “Hey you, again”. I must have been visibly happy seeing them and given they seemed lost I told them they could follow me. Then I realized I said something stupid…cause there was no way I could keep up with them, so I gave them some directions.

We took off and I tried to snap a photo of them. Of course running, keeping a steady hand and a good focus on a sweaty phone is not an easy task, but at least I got this shot:

Keeping up with the pros

Keeping up with the pros

We started talking and I asked the routing questions “When did you get here, where did you flight from, where are you all staying, etc.”
After getting a few answers in a broken english (not that mine is any better) I wanted to get the guy involved as well so I asked him if he was with team Salomon.
He looked at me and answered “Yes”, then continued “Do you like the shoes you are wearing?” I told him of course I do, even if I prefer the other model (both Salomon, one the SLab Sense that I prefer and The Sense Ultra that I was wearing). Then he looked at me and said “I invented those shoes”. I replied “Oh yes? Cool…” It took me a few seconds to connect. His name is “Patrick Leick” and he is basically the guy that made the Salomon S-Lab Sense for Kilian. Wonderful. I felt overwhelmed. I wanted to tell him how I loved his shoes, how I felt the first time I put them on while running in Bear M. back in February with a foot of snow on the trail, how I used them with no socks and got bloody heels for the first time, yet, I could not stop running.
I wanted to tell him the thoughts I had while running the Febapple and taking the lead after 10 miles, and looking at my shoes, thinking about Kilian and his book that I was reading, and eventually almost crying thinking about the euforia I had while leading the race, how feelings that had been buried for more than 10 years, they all came out.

But I felt stupid, I did not know how to tell him all those things, so we kept running, focusing more on the whereabouts than on other things.
Emelie started pushing the pace a little bit and I managed to follow her, a good chance to check if the acclimatization process was working better than the day before. I kept going with my little steps almost tip toeing up the trail and I kept up with her easily. I felt great. Patrick started losing some ground, but it was no big deal…he gave us the thumb up to keep going.

Emelie and I kept going up, exploring the course, making sure we were not off track and she even stopped to take a little diversion in the woods…even superhumans need to pee!! Good to know! I felt pretty decent the entire ascent and almost constantly gained on Emelie, so I decided to slow down in some parts until I figured it was a good chance to try and get another decent photo of her:

She is coming up....

She is coming up….

When we broke out of the woods and reached the tree line limit I could not believe the view I could get. I got the camera again and took a couple of photos with Brekenridge just under us, the mountains of Leadville far away, and Frisco well behind us. And Emelie coming through.

Can you find her in this photo?

Can you find her in this photo?

Some residual snow was still lingering upthere, but nothing that could stop us from making it to the top.

Snowy Tops

Snowy Tops

When we reached a portion of fairly flat trail I decided it was time to part ways from Emilie since she has her accomodation in Copper Mountain on the other side of the mountain, just at the bottom of the descent; I only had my Focus back in Frisco…so I did not want to overdo it or run many miles and get my legs busted before the race. She kept going straight on and I looped back, meeting Patrick just a few minutes into my way back to the car. I figured I reached the highest point of the course, I felt good and I believed I only had downhill stretches to reach Copper Mt after the ridge I got to with Emilie.

Great Views from there:

Frisco view and Dillon Reservoir

Frisco view and Dillon Reservoir

Breckenridge view

Breckenridge view

It was a very interesting experience, I’m glad I met Emilie and Patrick; yet I am a bit disappointed by the description of the run she made on her blog. She kind of hinted that she would have preferred to be alone and run quietly. I did not think I made a lot of noise; I was mostly reserved and exchanged just a few words, and actually just helped her and Patrick find the right path. During the climb most of the time I was a little ahead so we did not really spoke for long periods of time…but it is what it is…I’m glad I met them.

After a quick descent I reached the car and went back to Boulder, got some food and rested. At least the morale was much higher at the end of the day, since the climb went very well and I felt confident that when locking into a good pace altitude was not affecting me as much as I thought. I was not feeling so discouraged as I felt a couple of days before.

Thursday morning I woke up and I felt I needed to do some running; Friday I would have traveled to Vail, attended the pre race panel, and most likely just rested, so I needed to get a final last effort to prime the legs without destroying them.
Sham and Paul messaged me and passed me a link with some of the trails that Boulder Park Authority opened up that very same day. Looking at some of the logs that Paul had, I decided to run close to the apartment and hit some trails with a little of climbing involved. Massimo Alpian, Paul’s and Sham’s friend, suggested to hit the Sanitas Trail. I thought it was a good compromise and took off around 11am.

After a short run on the trail around Wonderland Lake where the damages of the floods were still very evident, I proceeded towards Hawthorn Ave where I could hit the trails in just a few blocks.

Trail Entrance near Wonderland Lake

Trail Entrance near Wonderland Lake

Wonderland Hill, of course

Wonderland Hill, of course

After an asphalt section still very damaged (see photo below) the dirt road became fairly steep and in no time the road gave room to a single track trail that was making my heart pump intensively.

Last portion of Asphalt road still displayed the evident signs of the floods occured two weeks prior

Last portion of Asphalt road still displayed the evident signs of the floods occured two weeks prior

I was glad I was running, cause the feelings were great and confidence was building up quickly. Being able to move quickly on steep hills but with a moderate effort (i.e. when you know you have more in the tank but you are not giving it all) builds a lot of confidence that things are going in the right direction.
The trail at one point became an incredible display of rocks and I got tricked into an area that was not part of the trail system. Not a big problem: with a few steps on some edgy cliffs I returned on the right track and proceeded to the top. Once I arrived to the Summit I had no idea of what I did: I climbed Mt Sanitas in Boulder!!
I did not know what Mt Sanitas was…until I learned that even Kilian came there the previous year to set the climb record time.
So, when I reached the top, looked at the views of Boulder, and saw a metal plaque on some rocks, I thought it was a deserved prize to take a picture for the records!

Top of Mt Sanitas: a plaque certifies the accomplishment

Top of Mt Sanitas: a plaque certifies the accomplishment

Mt Sanitas view: looking east

Mt Sanitas view: looking east

Mt Sanitas view: looking north

Mt Sanitas view: looking north

While snapping the picture of the plaque I heard a person breathing heavily coming up behind me, from the other part of the hill I just arrived from. Somebody was making an intense effort and I did not turn around just because I was taking pictures with my phone. At first I thought it could have been a friedn of one of the hikers that were chatting just around me.
Then the breathing became increasingly more pronounced and loud in a matter of a few seconds: I understood it must have been a runner.
Carefully I looked to my left without turning my head to avoid looking suspicious and I saw the minute frame of a woman standing a few feet from me. Immediately I recognized her shoes but I noticed they were not regular Salomon, since the sole was different.
Who was this person standing by me?

Misterious Runner on Top

Misterious Runner on Top

She approached me and asked if I came from the trail on the front side of the ridge. I confirmed I did and that the trail was open and only a couple of spots were a bit dangerous, but with some caution she should not have any problem.
At this point I was contemplating returning to base camp and rest for a few hours before going to the Boulder Running Company for the afternoon event with Kilian Jornet. While I was still navigating in deep thoughts on how to return to Paul’s apartment the misterious woman was already gone from where she came from. I was a little pissed cause I did not even ask her who she was and what she was doing there (besides running, of course). I decided to follow her, without a clear plan. The problem is that now I was headed south, the opposite direction of my final destination, so I was a little concern that I was going to put on too many miles…however, at this point there was not looking back.
I qwuickly caught up with her, even if I stayed a bit at some distance. She was going down the rocky terrain fairly fast, and I was doing a good effort to keep up with her.
She must have heard my steps and while pulling a bit to the right she told me I could pass her if I wanted.
I declined the invitation, explaining that she was going already quite hard, and I needed to save some energy for the weekend.
That helped breaking the ice and we started a conversaton about the weekend plans, what I was running, what was she planning, we talked about her injury, until she said she was a little disappointed that this year she could not defend her 2012 Leadville Champion Title.
At that point my jaw dropped.
I had in front of me Tina Lewis. That made it 2 professional athletes in less than 24 hours. Incredible.
Even more incredible the fact that….she knew Mike Arnestein, the Fruitarian from NY!!!
We reached the bottom and I told her that was it for me, but as soon as I realized I had to go north, we joined again to run the Sanitas and the Dakota Trails together until I was back closer to the apartment.
She told me she had to go to the Salomon event with Kilian and that she would be in UROC to spectate.
It was a great conversation and – as I found out later – a very nice person to talk to.

Once back at Paul’s place I was getting ready for the next day: I needed to pack my things, clean the apartment and get ready to meet Kilian and fellow runner/ultra marathon addicted Stephen England who was coming to Boulder straight from Telluride just to see Kilian.
Here are a few pictures of the event, where I saw again Patrick and Emilie, Tina, I met again with Matt Flaherty. The major thing I remember was the phone call with Michelle just towards the end of the event. LOL…

Kilian coming out of the BRC

Kilian coming out of the BRC

Kilian approaching the tent

Kilian approaching the tent

Kilian fulfilling his sponsorship duties. Sad.

Kilian fulfilling his sponsorship duties. Sad.

Emelie listening to Kilian presentation.

Emelie listening to Kilian presentation.

Patrick, Emelie and Emelie's sister

Patrick, Emelie and Emelie’s sister

CAmeron, Kilian and Emelie

CAmeron, Kilian and Emelie

After having dinner with Stephen and Tiffany in downtown Boulder, I took off from the city and headed deep into the Colorado mountains to get settled in Vail before the predicted storm hit us:

The highway going to Vail. Snowy conditions in September are ok, if I don't have to run the next day

The highway going to Vail. Snowy conditions in September are ok, if I don’t have to run the next day

I had lunch at the village and took a quick look at the finish line and the expo. Settled into the hotel and picked up the Bib. I also let Stephen and Tiffany know that the weather conditions were not ideal for camping so we arranged to spend the night in my room so we could all get some rest before the race.

We participated to the panel discussion and we listened to all the pros talking about their race predictions and their preparation.
I finally had the chance to take a photo with Kilian (with Stephen’s kind help), and I must admit it was a bit weird to ask this poor guy that was harassed by everyone to sign autographs and shake hands and take pictures with, to spare some time with me.
So I asked him in Italian, and he was surprised to hear a different language.
I asked him “Ciao Kilian, posso fare una foto con te?” He replied “Certo”. And after taking the picture I wished him “Buona fortuna per domani”. “Grazie anche a te” he said.

Eccoci assieme

Eccoci assieme

Stephen leaving the desk after his interview with the elites. He prefers to hang around with us regular runners, rather than staying with the big boys :)

Stephen leaving the desk after his interview with the elites. He prefers to hang around with us regular runners, rather than staying with the big boys 🙂

the big boys

the big boys

Bear Mountain 50 Mile – The North Face Endurance Challenge Goretex 50 M – May 04, 2013

So, if you read the previous post you know already the pre-race situation and all the eveants that leading up to it.

My swallen foot just a few days before the race

My swallen foot just a few days before the race


After Doctor Minara’s visit, Michelle and I headed back to CT to pick up my gears.
We drove to the Bear Mountain Bridge Motel (clearing some heavy traffic on 287, and eventually opting to go through Peekskill), checked into our room, inspected the start line and operations that The North Face was setting up, and went for some good mexican food in the area.

Start/Finish Line the night before

Start/Finish Line the night before


No, I am not drinking beer. There is black pepper inside the Corona

No, I am not drinking beer. There is black pepper inside the Corona

Once we got back in our room after dinner, I filled up my drop bags and got everything ready for the early morning in Bear Mountain.
We slept realitively well, maybe only missing a little more extra sleep, but overall it was a pleasurable night.

We got up incredibly early, I think around 3:00am, went across the street to get a coffee, made some quick breakfast (slice of bread with nutella for me, slice of bread and almond butter for Michelle), picked up all our things and drove to the start line.
We made it there pretty early, to the point that after we parked inside the lot before volunteers I was a bit concerned they could have kicked us out and made us drive down to Anthony Wayne. Well, it did not happen, got lucky for once.

Early morning in Bear Mountain

Early morning in Bear Mountain

A few runners started getting there around 4:15-4:30, transported from A. Wayne with the official shuttle service. At that point I walked towards the crowd, and felt the need to use the porta-potty, before getting any line. That’s when I discovered why runners (probably experienced) were walking around with a headlamp when heading to the bathroom: at 4:30am it is way too dark to see what business you are conducting inside there. Lesson learned: I’ll bring the headlamp with me next time.

While walking around the tents more people started crowding the area and a couple of known characters popped out. I saw Stephen England, I saw Jordan McDougal, and other faces that I saw in the photos from the previous year event.
I’ve seen Stephen a few times before, running in Central Park, I saw him at the Sleepy Hollow Half Marathon in 2012, and I saw him at the Febapple crashing the course on his 20mile chase. He even joined WS once for a short run together, escorted by Gary.
I never spoke to him personally, but he is one of those people that appear nice, and are actually even nicer than what they look like. I have followed his stories on his blog (http://rundiabetes.com/tag/team-novo-nordisk/) and after dropping the chance to run Leadville last year, I noticed Stephen was in the entry list and got very passionate about following his adventures.
I thought this was a good chance to talk to him during the race, if I was anywhere close to his positions.

The atmosphere was great, many runners were gathering towards the start, some were still awaiting by the fires near the tents to warm up their bodies in this relatively cold and a bit humid morning.

The speaker invited the first wave to line up near the start line reminding everybody else that the second wave was going to take off 2 minutes later.

This aspect upset me a bit: I wanted to take off with the big dogs, I wanted to see for a few miles how they run, how they approach the hills, the rocky course, when and how often they drink, etc. But I couldn’t, because I had to take off 2 minutes behind. I know I am not as good as they are. I know they are way faster than me; still, I wanted to see them in action, live, by my side.
I worked hard the first 3 miles to catch up at least with the tail end of their group and probably paid later on the effort of running a few sub 8min/mile so early, but I was glad I did. It was my strategy anyway to run strong at the beginning: not knowing if my foot could hold up for a long time, I wanted to cover as much ground as I could with no pain.

I picked up a few runners and I saw Nikki Kimball after 2 miles. Wow. It was such a feeling to see an elite next to me. I looked at her, and I stopped running almost. Then I told her, very respectfully, “Nice to meet you Nikki”; she looked at me, smiled, and said Hi. She probably thought “here is another idiot that blasts the first 3 miles and then drops out”, I know this was in her mind. I totally get it.
I kept going and after a few short climbs I was on my way down to A. Wayne aid station, where I noticed the familiar stride of another runner. I was not 100% sure, but I recognize the stride, it was stuck in my mind, but I could not connect it to a face or an event. I’m the type of person that has a good memory for these things, and I can recognize easily a runner by their cadence, by the way the swing their arms, their stride, etc.
I was not mistaken, I knew that person, I just needed a confirmation. I got closer, just before the aid station, on a short downhill gravel road, and after looking at the guy I told him: “Hey, you are the Febapple guy; you kicked my ass in that 50k”. He looked at me a bit confused, and then recognized me. It was Ryan. Oh my god. I was near Ryan. We run a few hundred feet and got to the station, where I got some water real quick and took off with him.
I felt a bit confused at the aid station. Usually after 3 miles or so I do not need to take water, liquids or food, but knowing that this would be a long day I preferred to get a quick glass of water. As I turned around and took off I completely forgot my drop bag was there…see ya…I’ll meet “her” again 37 miles after.

Running with Ryan just before A. Wayne

Running with Ryan just before A. Wayne


Chatting more about Febapple

Chatting more about Febapple


As Ryan and I take on the little paved section that brings us to the Harriman State Park section, I notice another runner just in fornt of us.
Did he pass us at the aid station? Was he there at the aid station and I did not realize? Well…it does not matter: it is not dark anymore already and it was time to resume a real 50mile race pace rather than an all out sprint to catch up with the top runners.

I get a bit closer to the runner I previously spotted, Ryan follows me closely and I noticed some “head to toe” Salomon dudes coming up fast, way too fast behind us. I was not worried about them, I was more interested in the runner in front of me.

Once I got closer I recognized him: it was one of the local idols, Stephen England. The guys is amazing, not just as a runner, but especially as a person. As I said I never talked to him personally, maybe just a few words at the end of the Febapple when he was at the finish line with Ryan; I only exchanged a few emails, and fb messages, but he seemed one of those approachable people that gives you a feeling of warm brotherhood when you engage them in a conversation.
Stephen is not just an accomplished runner, he is a Leadville 100 finisher, and a person that is doing something great in life. If you need inspiration, check out his blog, because it is a piece of art: http://rundiabetes.com/

As I reach him, Stephen stepped on the side, to let me pass, and he seemed a bit ticked off by all the runners passing us so early. I told him I was not going to pass him: I actually thought I was going out too fast if I was around two legends like Ryan and Stephen. I followed him, got on top of the little hill before the downhill section that was bringing us to Seven Lakes Drive. The three of us talked a bit about the course, our experiences here and Stephen shared his goal: had I been able to stick with him I could have run a sub 9 hour 50 mile; at my first attempt for the distance. Certainly it was an appealing goal. I was thrilled.

More fancy runners blasted through the paved section we were climbing and this is where I heard one of the funniest comments coming from a runner (Stephen) who was clearly not worried about other, but was focused only on his goal and his race: “The people that are ahead of me right now are either faster than me, or stupidier than me”. Clearly the last 5-10 people that passed us were much more stupid than the three of us. I’m not sure how they finished, but we picked them up a few miles after, already consumed and almost done for the day.

The three of us turned together into the trails again and we were talking about our race strategies, how Ryan did not know the course nad how Stephen and I suggested to keep something in the bag for the last 6-7 miles, because they will be real hard.
I told them that my race was a great question mark due to this funny left foot, and my strategy was to run as much as I could early on, when the entire body was functioning: fresh legs at mile 40 paired up with a bad foot will not bring me far.

Stephen kind of agreed, but I think he thought it was a bit of a suicide to push the pace early. After 10-15 minutes of uphill trail we made a right turn and I gained a few feet. I was now following another dude that just passed us, and I forgot about Ryan and Stephen for a couple of minutes.

The dude imploded no more than 3 minutes after that and I found myself alone. At this point I felt stupid stopping and waiting. I decided to keep up with my strategy and I kept going along the yellow trail leading to Silvermine.
Usually I run very fast this downhill section full of loose rocks, and I love to float on the bigger rocks that from the lake brings us to the parking lot. Not this time. I did not float too much; I was only running smart hoping not to hit my weak spot under the the left foot.

Cautiously attaching the rocks near Silver Mine, thinking that the foot needs to stay relaxed

Cautiously attaching the rocks near Silver Mine, thinking that the foot needs to stay relaxed


On my way to Silver Mine

On my way to Silver Mine

I did not spend too much time at Silvermine, I was feeling good, I just had more liquids and a bit of bread with jam and off again towards the Long Path.

The long section of unmarkedtrail till the connection with the Long Path was ok, I pushed a bit the pace, found a fellow runner that was working on some blisters on the side of the trail, ran uphill and enjoyed the nature around me. I was feeling great, and confident that the day was going to be a success. I ran, sometimes power-walked the hills, but I was keeping a tremendous pace. I was feeling pleased with the effort.

Arden Valley was next, even if I got the first bad surprise of the day just before that. Having trained a lot in Bear Mountain, I knew the station was just a few hundred meters once we reached the flats. Too easy: for some reason the course now diverted and made a hairpin turn to the left and made us do some climbing adding probably another half mile that I never explored before.
No big deal, I knew this could have happened as it did the year before for the Half.

At the aid station I made sure I filled up my bottle, my hand carried blatter, had plently of liquids and a couple of sandwiches before leaving. I looked back, but I could catch any sign of my previous runner mates S&R. I knew they would have caught up with me just a bit later, making fun of me for going out too fast.

The next section was fairly long, about 7 miles with a very deceiving first part (it is quite difficult to follow the marked course along the Long Path for about a mile or so), runnable but tricky and at least two steep climbs before reaching Skannatati Aid Station.
Also there were some nice flat sections where I always feel like I wanna run there with my arms wide open, touch all the leaves and branches around me and caress them softly as I pass by. It is a joyful moment for me.
And…there is the best and worst section of the race: after ascending on smooth huge rocks along the Lichen and Dunderberg Trail you can admire famous 360 degree views that are really astonishing. I could not do it this time. It was getting sunny and hot, and it was not a good idea to stand around right on those rocks (nice place for snackes as well…I did see a huge one just 10days before in that area). I did feel some minor cramps on my hamstrings in the early miles, and I had been able to keep them under control till now. Once I made the left turn into the Dunning (yellow) trail, I felt some sharp hits again.
Not a problem – I tried to convince myself. I have a nice section now where I can run at a decent pace, with not many isses of footing, and stretch out my legs a bit.

WRONG!!

Cruising downhill, after a quick left, and a quick right a cramp came up again, and unable to keep the stride going, I had only one option left: falling. First (and not last) hard fall of the day. I picked myself up a bit embarassed, but I was still all in one piece, no scratches, my hand was saved by the blatter and glove i was carrying (already almost empty at this point) so I kept going again, trying to stretch the muscles while running.

Just before Skannatati I recognized two spectators: Tom (Bud) the ANIMAL and our friend Rob Preti. I realized a few miles earlier that carrying the headlamp till that point was unecessary, and I wanted to ditch it. Perfect timing. I threw it right at them and reached my first full buffet of the day.

I stopped there at mile 21 for about 3-4 minutes, I took my time and got plenty of liquids, plenty of food, stocked on gels and also stretched well the hammies before re-starting again.

Now I had to face a relatively simple section to Camp Lanowa. No big hills, not super difficult footings or rocky terrains, but the heat was on, and 20+ miles were already logged.I caught up with two other runners and we kept a nice pace till we heard some quick steps behind us at mile 24/25.

It was the lead woman, Ashley Moyer, coming up strong. I felt I wanted to keep up with her, she was running well, and now the group became a 4people unit. However, I was feeling the effort, and when I checked the watch about a mile later, I noticed a terrific 7 something minute per mile. Time to back off for me. I might run a bit all out at times, but I was not going to blow my first 50miler like this. I let the three ahead of me and I settled on a lonely slower pace that allowed me to continue my honest effort.

No more than 5 minutes later I caught up with one of the two guys that were with me and tried to follow Ashley. He was hitting a low point so I tried to help him a little. He had a spanish accent (I found out only later that he was from Ecuador) and that made my day even harder: a guinea (myself) and a South American dude trying to talk to each other in broken English…imagine what we talked about? I don’t, but at least he had nice words for me in the next few miles before Tiorati. I tried to repay the support giving him info about the course. I told him there was a hill just half a mile before the aid station and I cautioned him to have some energy for that. Just after I gave him the news, he puked. Ah…just what I didn’t need.
The guy got himself together real quick and in less than 10 seconds he was back on my heels escorting me to Lanowa.

Just before the aid station I made up a mental list of things I needed to focus and get accomplished while there:
1) Get more food. In the last 2 miles every sip og Gatorade game me energy almost instantaneously. That is not a good sign: I felt I was getting depleted, and I was only at mile 30. The goal were the jam sandwiches that I got at Skannatati earlier
2) Drink and hydrate myself enough not to relate just on the few onces of the blatter and the bottle + Pick up all the goods that I had in the drop bag: my own gatorade, my own s-caps, my gels…my familiar tools basically.
3) Stretch again the hammies and the quads as well, some runnable downhills were ahead and I needed to keep the legs fresh and springy

Outcome was:
1) The volunteers did not want to make two or three sandwiches with jam, they were only making peanut butter (that I hate) and jelly. Thank god that one friendly soul helped and told me she was going to make one just for me. And she actually made two!!

2) My drop bag was nowhere to be found. “There you go” I thought, the Ancient Greek Gods are trying to stop me from conquering this Bear. I spend 2-3 minutes trying to sort out other runners bags and then found mine and Michelle’s packed separately because the volunteers coudn’t read the numbers that the guy at the drop bag station wrote. I ended up getting a couple of gels and the gatorade from the bag. Eventually

3) I stretched for a couple of minutes and I have to admire my South American buddy (Paul Riera). He was ready to take off in at least half of my time, but he waited for me, he even encouraged me not to stop to long to avoid getting the legs out of the groove. Unreal. What a feeling. This is one of the many reason I love the trails, rather than the road races. You do not get this on a road race; here you do not have many competitors, here you are your competition. I have found this quote somewhere, I forget where, but it describes perfectly the spirit of running on trails and running ultras: “What many people recognize–yet fail to fully appreciate–is that the true race-day battle lies within ourselves, and between our ears. It is the brain that ultimately decides how far and how fast we can run.”
Paul was not racing me, he was racing himself with me. And I was doing the same. I enjoyed.

I enjoyed it only for a few minutes, because…on a smooth downhill section we got passed by some old dudes…little I knew about them (found out by running guru/running star and superathlete Paul Thompson that one of them was a buddy of his…and run together in the past…of course the guy was 50+, but with a pretty good pedegree when younger. Of course here he won his age group, and crushed 20, 30 and 40 year old people like a kid can have candies. BEAST), but I admit I felt pretty disappointed and discouraged. For one moment I felt their old grit was the real deal, and not even my age advantage could make that gap up.

Paul and I tried to keep up a bit, maybe 2 miles max, but their pace was just those 15-20 seconds faster that I could not bear. We remained alone again, and now I started to feel thirsty.
This was a problem, because the sun was now hitting me hard, it was probably noon or just past noon.
Temperature raising, humidity fairly high and…not a lot of liquids with me. I was very glad that at least I drank as much as I could at the station.
We ran together on some up and down sections of dirt and asphalt road. I did not remember the paved stretching from the winter training, and I did not like too much the feeling of my feet bumping on such hard surface at that point. My legs were moving by inertia and the two of us were really pushing each other towards the next aid station.

We crossed a local road supervised by one encouraging volunteer and we jumped into the trails again, this time headed towards the Irish Potato. I remembered nostalgically the place, since this is where Shelly’s sunglasses are still buried somewhere. One day we’ll find them.
At this point I was focused on keeping my body moving trying to run smoothly even in the uphills. I felt my hamstrings and calves getting tighter more and more often; noticing that Paul was falling behind a bit, I stopped a few seconds here and there to stretch the legs again.
At one point we jumped out of the woods again and made a left turn into Lake Welch Pkwy, a paved road that we were meant to follow for about 1.5 miles.

I did not remember it so steep, but with more than 30 miles in the legs, I felt more comfortable hiking a few hundreds feet. I turned back and I saw Paul falling behind a bit more. I did not push the pace, hoping he could catch up with me. Afterall, we waited for each other all along and I would rather have a buddy next to me, rather than going solo.
The problem was that while hiking my legs started feeling really really sore and it was more painful to hike than to run, so I opted for a good jog up the road. Without realizing I moved from about 12 min/mile to about 8:30 just before making a right again into the trails, in a familiar section that I knew was very close to the aid station. The terrain was a bit tricky here, by mostly downhill and in a couple of miles I reached the Tiorati aid station.

Here I was welcomed by Bud and Bob again. It was unexpected, but very refreshing. I told them that the foot was ok, but not great, and that it was also a tough run. I got a lot of water again, stretched, and spent a good 5-6 minutes relaxing.
At this point I had no idea of how the race was going; I figured Jordan and Co. were already close to the finish line, but I thought it was worth to ask how many people were ahead of me. I did not pass too many after the first 13 miles, and actually got passed by the old folks half way through.
The volunteers told me I was 22nd overall.

What? 22nd? Might be a mistake? Where was the big crowd that lined up for the first wave? Were were all the great runners that looked tough at the beginning?
I was not sure, still it was a nice feeling to know that I was in such a nice spot and definetly the morale become much more positive, despite the fatigue.

I saw the shadow of another runner coming in and it was not Paul, it was another dude that we previously passed near Irish Potato, when he went off course into a creek looking for some fresh water since his bottle was empty.
It was time to go again, and I was feeling better physically and mentally since I was approaching another section that I knew pretty well from the winter training.
I cranked a few 9 or sub 9 miles and got mixed in with the 50kers. This was another great injection of energy.
Having someone around you openly complaining about the difficulty of the course, whining about the terrain, crying about their tired legs and so on, (yet being totally pristine, clean and jogging like a sissy city individual) usually makes me go even faster, and work harder on the hills.
I felt good again and Anthony Wayne was approaching quickly while I was passing dozens of slower 50kers.
I had a good word of encouragement for each of them, because – regardless of speed – they are all out there busting their arses in a very tough race.
Here I was still trying to calculate the projected finish time, and thought that a sub 9 hrs was totally achievable.
After reaching the top of a hill the downhill felt pretty comfy until suddently I tripped on a rock while passing a woman. Everything happened in slow motion.

My right leg tripped on the rock and I got a cramp on the hammy for the sudden overextension, my left one moved forward quickly to protect me from the fall, but it was too late. The left quad actually cramped and as a result I propelled myself even more, extended my arms forward and then flew for a few meters, landing horizontally on a bed of leaves and rocks. I hit something with my right hip and probably started bleeding on the side, but did not notice it till later at the finish line
Once again my hands were saved by the gloves and the small flask that I was using. I was loving Salomon at that point.
The woman I passed asked me if I was ok while getting back on my feet and while telling her I was feeling great, I was – in fact – feeling pretty shaky from the scary fall.
Well, I could not loose more time and launched myself down the slope again and while getting near A Wayne a few North Face officials encouraged and told me I was keeping a good pace and a smooth stride.
I was feeling pumped and thought my tank was still full of gas when I got to the aid station.

Here I was surrunded by probably 25 runners from the 50k or the marathon, and I was feeling very confused. Previously at the aid stations volunteers were totally dedicated to no more than 4 runners; here I believed I was in a stadium, cause I was not even able to hear what the volunteers were asking me or telling me.
I asked for water and dropped and entire gallon on the back of my neck. Washed my salty face and dirty hands and arms from the falls. Got a gel, more water, refilled the bottle and on my way towards what I consider the most difficult section of the race, and the one that I like the most.

There is something magical about these last 10 miles of the course; it is almost a second home and I do most of my trail running here.
For about 3-4 miles the run was pretty uneventful, not boring, but just a steady effort. Once I hit the 1777 trail after the bike path I found myself on the ground again. I realized I was constantly loosing freshness in my legs and I could not wait to finish the race to rest.

Now the tank was pretty empty, in need of some gas…
TOO BAD that I still had to climb Timp Pass and the section on the yellow trail.

I got to the yellow trail part first; generally I run it all the way up in training. Today it was not a choice and I hiked almost the entire ascent. I carefully started the downhill when a fellow runner, with an old looking appearance passed me at triple the speed.
I thought he was one of the marathon leaders, and only found out at the end that he was actually running the 50 mile.
So I was down one spot, and now was really struggling to finish.

At the bottom of the descent I looked back and did not see anybody else following and couldn’t detect anybody close, felt the urge to take a leak and proceeded to take care of “natural business” right on the side of the trail.
I noticed the color was not really clear, actually it seems a bit dark, and I made the decision to stick with water from now on.

I remembered the feelings I experienced the previous year in this part, during the half marathon, and how I was able to suck it in a bit more, just another mile or so, till the Queensboro Aid Station, where I could have refilled my body with very much needed calories and maybe a bit of a break.

You could hear the noise of the aid station already, even when more than a quarter mile away. It was defenitly the most cheerful I have to say.
As I got there and grabbed some water, I was hit again by the big surprise, very much unexpected: Bud and Bob were there.
We did some talking and I probably wasted more than 5 minutes, and still I was not ready to leave. I went back to the table for more water, I stretched, and talked again with the support crew.
Clearly this time they were interested in talking to me, asking me how I was feeling, etc. I will find out only at the end they were actually a bit worried, cause I did not look well at this point. They told me at the finish line I was in bad bad shape there.

Well, enough with the talking and asking about Shelly, I needed to proceed and break this comfortable feeling of standing around chatting. I had only 5 miles to go, it’s not that much, and Timp Pass should be the only little obstacle between me and something I considered almost impossible just 12 months before.

The first 2-300 feet after the aid station were pretty rough. The legs were moving in a funny way and even the little jog I was putting up was pathetically painful, and so unecessary, cause each part of my body was aching. The legs, the feet, the arms, the left side of the torso as a result of the latest fall, and the abs too!
Even if pretty demoralized I kept up the effort and this turned out to be a good strategy cause moving actually helped me feel physically better.

Jogging was transformed in a little run and one after the other I crossed the three creeks leading to Timp Pass, taking advantage of the fresh running cold water to soak my feet and give them a bit of a rest before the pounding that was expecting me in the next descent after Timp.

Another fast runner passed me here: I had the same thought as before. It must be one of the top guys in the marathon. I found out I was wrong again, it was a fellow 50miler, hitting the last few miles pretty hard.

Other 50kers were along the course, but it turned out to be pretty easy to pass them, since they were always stopping on the side. Only one annoying person did not want to be passed and forced me to step out of the trail and sprint downhill to make a move past her.
Come on…what’s up with that? You have to fight someone that is not even in your same race? Did not understand this at all, and probably never will.

At this point I am on my way up towards Timp Pass, in the rock flat stretch that preceeds it and I hear a woman ahead of me screaming to get out of the trail. I am not sure why, when a guy pops out from one of the trees (he was either resting or peeing) and said that there is a snake up there. Great. Not only I had to go uphill now, I have to actually take a detour that costed me a few minutes off the trail to avoid snakes.

DAMN!!

After avoiding the encounter with the snake I hiked up Timp Pass, vigurously pushing my legs with my hands, trying to maintain a decent hiking pace, and I passed the kind lady that yelled back at us pointing out the snake and her group of friends.
Timp Pass was cleared and I started the downhill. I thought I could run it slowly, keeping an eye on my footing, but as soon as I entered the rocky and dangerous section, I had to give up and continue with small steps from one rock to the other.

The quads were not in great shape, but what was worst was the discomfort under the feet. At this point I really thought I had blisters everywhere, not to mention that now the pain in the left foot came out again.
It is mentally difficult to strive for something – in this case a nice and comfortable run – and just be able to produce a very slow hike.
I was in desperate need fo the next aid station, since all the water I previously packed at Queensboro was not gone. Once I got out of the rocky part the easy part of the downhill brought me quickly to the last AS (1777) where I did not want to spend to much time but to refill my cup and the little flask.

I did not see anybody coming up behind me, but I did not want to blow the chance to keep my spot. I felt like Stephen, Nikki, Ryan, Paul, and a bunch of other strong runners would have come up right behind to pass me now, proving that their strategy was better.

While leaving I kept looking back, knowing this is a bit of a loser mindset (better to look forward to pick up a spot than to look back to save yours), but at this point, I was just happy I was making it to the end.
I ran the last section all the way.
Ran the ski trail down and up, then down again to the small artificial lake where a small crowd of tourists was swimming and diving. So Jealous they could actually relax in there. I even ran hard the little uphill connecting to the trail we did (on the opposite direction) first thing in the morning.

From here on it was an easy downhill towards the finish, with just a little climb about half a mile to go. I ran most of this part, hiked maybe a quarter, looked back again, and then ran, this time fast, my body that could barely move a few miles before, now was flying towards the finish line of oone of the greatest accomplishment I have achieved in life.

I was barely able to express happiness with my smile. I was euforic. As I was crossing the finish line I turned back and walked backwards like Kilian does, not because I wanted to imitate him, but because I wanted to take a snapshot of what was behind me, of the scene that just saw me going by.

Getting to the Finish Line

Getting to the Finish Line


I finished and I let myself fall to the ground, backwards again, screaming towards the sky.
Finish Line crossed, and ready to fall....yes, I did get a cramp while falling

Finish Line crossed, and ready to fall….yes, I did get a cramp while falling

Once the cramp disappeared, I could enjoy even more the moment

Once the cramp disappeared, I could enjoy even more the moment

I was joyful at this point and glad to recognize Bob Preti waiting patiently for me at the finish line. I composed myself a bit, and after a few words with Bob I decided it was time to speak up publicly.
I headed to the the guy with the microphone and asked if I could say something. Unfortunately the content of my message did not pass the PG-13 screening and I got censured, so I opted for a less glamorous “Thank you North Face”.
Now it was time to rest, recover (which I did submerging myself in the usual icefilled plastic bathtubs) and wait for Michelle to complete her endevour.

It did not take too long before she got there, and I could catch some of her action as she was escorted by Bud, who went through his first Bear Mountain experience as a pacer and as a runner on this very day.

Michelle crossing the finish line

Michelle crossing the finish line

Now it was time for everybody to celebrate, and share some of the experiences and feeling we had during the day; moreover, it was time for Bud and Bob to tell us how pityful we did look along the course as our race got into the final miles.

I’m not sure what the siblings were talking about at this point, but it could have been food…and I was happy to hear we were going to fill our stomach with anything we wanted.

Evidently more discussion going on

Evidently more discussion going on

Intense discussions among the family

Intense discussions among the family

Somebody refuels herself with maragaritas...

Somebody refuels herself with maragaritas…


The CREW enjoying the post race dinner based of mexican food

The CREW enjoying the post race dinner based of mexican food

After another visit to our favourite mexican restaurant in the area we got separated, and Michelle and I went back to our wonderful motel to rest our bodies.
It was here that the real pain began. The race kept our bodies alive, vigourous and moving. We ignored or suppressed discomfort, pain, hunger, thirst, black toenails and much much more for several hours.
We could not fall asleep that night because every inch of the body was aching. My legs obviously were emitting heat at their usual rate, the back was hurt, the feet even worst, the abs in pain, the neck was stiff. I could not even roll from one side of my body to the other to find a comfortable position.
Unreal, but real.