A passion for trail running, ultras, mountaineering, snowshoeing, hiking, and other outdoor adventures

Monday, September 21, 2009

Losing My Way (Iroquois Trails 100 Initial Report)

Here's a first stab at a a recap I posted on the Yahoo user group I moderate (more gory details to follow later!):

We had a beautiful weather weekend in the Finger Lakes region. Saturday was sunny with highs in low 60s. The course features a real nice blend of forestedand moderately technical single track, steep ski trails at the Greek Peak skiresort, dirt roads, and a tiny bit of pavement. 18K each of climbing anddescent, and folks who have done it by comparison rate the course harder thanstalwarts like Vermont 100 and even Western States. But it makes up for thatwith a generous 36 hour 100 cutoff and 13 hour 50 cutoff.

I only saw her before as we huddled in my car with training partner Garth to stay warm (it wasprobably upper 30s then!) and on the course. But local NYC friend Cherie seemed in good spiritswhen we passed on and out and back, and had a great result. They aren't postedfor the 50, but I believe her time was well under 12 hours, as she had hoped. Yeah Cherie! Look forward to hearing more!

Garth fought through ITB band problems to finish in 12:27, very close to (maybejust under?) last year's time. By the time I saw him on the out and back nearthe Daisy Hollow Rd. turnaround (his mile 38ish) he said he had taken threeAlleves with no relief. But his stomach and energy were ok and he seemed ingood spirits. So clearly he toughed it out from there to match last year's timeunder those conditions! Way to go, Garth! Hope you'll tell us more!

Local NYC standout runner Glenn Redpath, known to many of you out there, did anincredible encore from winning a 100 mile race in his native Canada the weekendbefore by coming in second in the IT 100! In an amazing time of 18:56! To topit off, he's registered to run the VT 50 next weekend. What a triple that wouldbe!

Well, saving the least result for last (or most running for least to show for it!), I missed the cutoff at mile 73, for mylongest DNF in a 100. In actuality, I probably ran maybe 78-79 miles or so, andtherein lies the rub. By my calculations, I lost (very conservatively) 2 hourstotal to "navigational errors," not usually a huge issue for me. A little 10minute normal-type "couldn't figure out where the trail continues" deal in thefirst half, and then a more costly 20-25 minute or so, mile and a half or sotype deal in the first night section in the Greek Peak ski area. In the latterI messed up on two intersections that weren't marked with glowsticks (and onewasn't even flagged), and another runner ahead of me who had done the same andgotten lost and I struggled back and forth to get back on trail finally. What'seasy to follow in the morning with other runners becomes trickier alone atnight.

But a certain amount of course-following errors are standard fare at 100s onsingle track, and those first two alone would have been quite manageabletime-wise. The kicker was the third nav error, which happened at night in(ironically) the first section with my pacer, a great guy named Jason who's fromIthaca who also paced me in that same section last year. Somehow we managed inthe twisty, turny forested trails under a moonless, starlit sky to double backon ourselves when were maybe 4.5 miles or so into the 6.3 mile section, andbasically run back in the opposite direction. Our bad as the Finger Lakestrail is pretty well blazed to start with, but nightime can be a whole differentdeal. True, though, the race's reflective tape was used more sparingly than itmight have been there (and no glowsticks I can recall there except at majorturns).

Really it was my bad for not following Jason's urgings for me to always take thelead, which is the usual pacing method on single track (we traded off informallyas I would slow down to get food out of pockets or adjust my three layers in thenear-freezing temps, and I kind of liked letting someone else navigate toconserve energy frankly). Anyway, as they say, two are more likely to get lostthan one if talking up a storm, as we caught up from last year! Jason thoughtfor some time we were possibly going in the wrong direction, but it was hard toget any bearings at night that would tell us, with no landmarks like a nearbypeak or moon or anything to orient us.So we pressed on at my urging!

We only realized for sure we were going in the opposite way when we came across a guy I knew was well behind me (based on earlyout and backs). Then the course sweeps with radioes sent out from the next aidstation came across us once we had righted outselves and asked if we were ok--wehad been out so long on that section they had sent out the cavalry!Bottom line: In a 6.3 mile section that should have taken us no more than 2:20or so based on last year's splits and how I felt our pace was this, we did 4:04!A good 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hour of extra time! From there it became a racing the cutoffs story, and when those start that early in a 100, well...you know how they end,and it's never pretty!

All the huge cushion I had built up with my conservative pacing strategy the first half (I had 20 hours left to run what I had just run in 14 hours) just melted away on a late summer's night. The typical fading pace in the pre-dawn hours that occurred again this year (surprise, surprise!) was simply the coup de grace (down to 25 minute miles) rather than the main culprit. We had come in right at the cutoff at mile 67.5 . But slowing toa crawl at those lowest-energy moments of the race before sunrise wasanticipated, and shouldn't have been fatal. If I missed the 73.8 cutoff back at the start/finish by 50 minutes, well, you can do the math on how much time I hadthrown away on stupid nav problems! And the buck stops with yours truly on those!

This particular 100 DNF hurts REALLY bad--I didn't break down physically or mentally, which is more than often the case, but instead threw away the race with stupid rookie mistakes. Leave it me to find a new twist on a 100 DNF! I willbeat myself up for a long time about this one!

Thing is, I felt really good and confident and under control the first half, and was right where I wanted to be on my pace chart halfway in and up to mile 56. I still had a shot at last year's 32:45, and if not making that, a cushion of 3:15 in which to still post a finish in the generous 36 hours allocated (10 of the 29 starters would end up DNFing this year, none past mile 73).

But I want to keep it in perspective. However much DNFs can leave you sobbing in the portasan afterwards (don't ask, I was sleep-deprived!), trail 100s remain compelling challenges. I guess, since there's such a high risk/reward ratio in terms of satisfaction if you defy the odds--at least as a back of the packer-- and still make it there. Like the satisfaction of getting your first 50 finish, or that first marathon finish, but magnified. I'll lick my wounds for a while, and hope to summon the courage to get back out there for my (lucky?) seventh 100 start some time not too far down the pike! All wounds heal, right?! Even self-inflicted ones, I hope!

As for the race organization itself, Ian Golden and his great band of wonderful volunteers and the local fire department did a bang-up job with staging this event again. Even better stocked aid stations which remain well spaced, great pre-and post-racemeals, improved markings, a couple minor course changes that added a little single track, etc., etc. Crew, spectator, and pacer-friendly. This year they added a 100 mile relay event, which had three teams (of three up to a maximum offive). Can't say enough about what a great race it is! And it has that low-key, grassroots feel that Ian told me afterwards he wants to keep even as itcontinues to grow. Next year it will be called Virgil Crest (50/100/relay), and will be held againthe third weekend of September. Mark your calendar! Congrats again to Cherie, Garth, and Glenn!

[a more detailed section by section rundown to follow....]

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