The Finger Lakes 50s has been a goal race of mine for as long as I've known about it. It traverses the Interlocken Branch of the FLT inside Finger Lakes National Forest on Fourth of July weekend. I have familial attachment to the National Forests, familial attachment to the Fourth of July, and have hiked parts of the Interloken trail several times. So, two years-ish ago, when I started contemplating doing an ultra some day, I picked this race as my first.
Life didn't end up that way, and I'm so very glad it didn't, as Palmer's Pond 50k taught me a lot about myself, and pushed me to test and prepare things that I wouldn't have otherwise. I'm endlessly grateful to this community for its support and love through these crazy adventures.
I wish I knew a way to reduce pre-race jitters. My co-workers we just about done with me and my mecurial crankiness by Thursday, and my family suffered too. They were so tired by time Friday came along, that we chose for me to go down self supported rather than asking my kids to be on their best behavior one more day.
I recently read a book where Mark Twain is a fictionalized protagonist. In it he comments about how under stress, even rational people pick up superstition to make it through. So, I show up planing on full #TrailsRoc regalia, white injinji toe socks, and place my tent exactly where it was two years ago at the 25k.
I wish I knew a way to reduce pre-race jitters. I checked in quickly, as accidentally rude to one of the volunteers (while handing me a free GU "Do you have any flavors that aren't disgusting?"), and had four hours until it was reasonable to sleep. So I took off to Ithaca and acquired myself a case of their finest. There's a lot of rootbeer in our house right now. In fact, I see an opportunity to compare/contrast Iron Fireman and Ithaca's.
Upon return, I fell in with Tom Butler, fixture of many Rochester trail races. We ended up spending a delightful evening talking about running and how various races have changed over the years, and generally using each other to not talk about the next day.
In the middle of all this, there was a crazy downpour during which I discovered my tent is pretty good and reawakened my fears of the mud, a two mile scouting walk to see how the trail conditions were, and the meeting of a scared Canadian lady and her family. She had come down to do her first 50k, hadn't found anyone admitting to less than 50 miles, and wanted to know what the trail was like. I'm not sure she'll ever forgive me, as I described them in mental comparison to Palmer's Pond, Ontario Summit, and videos of Ben runs.
I woke to the best feeling legs I've had in months. I wisely mostly packed up camp in the morning, waved at several Rochester runners, and made it to the start line just as the RD began his spiel, and we began the race with the traditional leisurely half mile tromp down the dirt road to the single track. Two miles later, I was miserable and already considering quitting. Luckily, shortly after that my Gordon B Hinkley paraphrase came to mind "Forget yourself and go run", and I was able to get down to business.
I can't continue to blow by blow this run and keep you entertained.
The first 3.5 miles down to the Morgue are largely (endlessly) downhill and smooth. You get past the first cow pasture (three of them), and the sites where most of the pictures of the race. I ran, and started to enjoy the unnaturally beautiful weather. Other than Ron, how could you not love running the FLT bug-free in 55 degree weather with a light breeze that somehow managed to be at your back all the time? I blew through the aid station (how do people take so long?) and headed to the next one. The morgue is usually decorated with skulls and the vollies wear scrubs. Fun stuff.
The second leg to South Beach is about a mile and a half up a gully over some fairly technical roots/rocks. I moved up the hill well, and had no problems keeping the heart rate sane. I was holding back some energy for the next section. The nicest volunteers ever were here, and they sent me off telling me what great shape the next part of the course was.
3 miles gets you back to South Beach through portions of the trail I'm very familiar with. Every time I have been on this trail, there is a mile of pure thick mud hashed up by boots and hooves. You turn right before the site of my kids first backpacking trip, and spend some time on the Finger Lakes Trail itself. But, I've been coy about the mud. There was none. Oh, you could see where the mud would be, but it was soft dirt with footfeel similar to pine needles, rather than the shoe removing muck that is the usual.
On to the Library, which is another 2.7ish miles. Straight, largely flat and simple running a couple boardwalks, and a cow pasture with stunning views of the lake below.
My least favorite part of the course follows. You start by running a steep ravine down over a rooty mess, followed by climbing right back up. To an open asphault climb. Just when you think you hate things, you take a left into a horse camp and spend the rest of the run dodging deep horse prints and a smell that would make even Princess Leia complain loudly. Oh, and then to punish you, a long neverending straight open climb to the next aid station. But, none of the smells or deep quagmires of poop were there. This really was magical conditions year. On my way to the aid station, I was delighted to run into Josh Stratton, the first person I recognized on the course. Then the aid station hove into view, and I see two people wearing #TrailsRoc Hoodies. Salvation!
I have no idea who they were, and they didn't know me, but any port in a storm. To my right was the next climb. Two years ago, that climb was through a melange of mud and cow patties that was up to my knee (Ron says he went in even deeper). Rock solid, other than the openness, an easy climb.
Two and a half miles back to the start over crazy collections of roots, rocks, boardwalks that look more like a roller coaster than a path. I was broken at this point. Body was fine, I was going to continue, but I said something stupid to a spectator. "18 miles to go!". I couldn't get that out of my head, and I was tired.
As I came into the finish line / loop restart, the RD is announcing that he expected to see the winner of the 50k any minute, and I look up at the banners. Left means another loop, right means I quit. Shutting the mind off, I take the left and commit myself. Fifteen minutes of fighting with my food storage, and headphones (I gave up on them), and water bottles and I was off again. Now this is about honor. I had done a 50k before, I had paid silly amounts of money to get ready and be here, my wife was home alone with the kids for me, I had promised many volunteers I would be back, I had so many of you I didn't want to disappoint.
We can breeze through this lap, the opposite of what I did.
I had lost most of my get up and go (Thanks, The Bickersons), and just wanted this done. As I argued with myself over how excited I was to be here, I managed to get up a run. Finally moving well again for the first time in miles, I catch a rock and fall, and suddenly realize how much more comfortable the ground was than running. Up and out and down, the hill down to the Morgue doesn't allow anything other than running, and so run I did.
I climbed the gully to South Beach with the gentleman in second place for 50 miles (I didn't get lapped by any 50k people, the lead for 50 miles lapped me shortly after my fall). The fact that I was keeping pace with him up hill tells you how rough he was feeling. I later heard that maybe both he and first place dropped, but don't take my word for it.
And then from behind trotted the Canadian lady. It shouldn't need to be called out, but holy cow are Canadians nice. She inquired after my feet, my stomach, and everything else, offering me half her pack of remedies while I turned them down. She then floated off down the trail, smooth as butter. At this point, it felt like something was wrong, but I couldn't pinpoint the nature of the problem. My back hurt, but I haven't figured out how to navigate dense roots without craning my neck over, so that made sense. My stomach wasn't icky, but it wasn't happy. So, keep moving forward.
With the cool temperature of the day and wind, getting a feel for sweat was hard. My face was covered in dried salt, my back and hat were saturated wet. Finally, most of the way to the Library (24ish) I stumble off the trail to try, um, alternate measures of hydration. I wasn't pleased with what I saw. Time to drink more.
So, I varied between moving well, stumbling, and climbing with stops this time to get the pounding of my heart out of my head.
Shortly after Library, I realize that I've just PRd my marathon time. Some quick math points out to me that if I halved my PR, they still wouldn't let me into Boston. Not that any road marathon is ever an ambition of mine.
Up up up, over ground I've covered before, I end up getting lapped by 11 50 milers. One of which, I'm pretty sure, picked up a pacer in the middle of the loop. I'm fueled by perogies and left-over monk packs, water and heed. Two miles to go, I invent a new goal that is achievable in my current state, and gain the ability to run well right about where I lost it on the first lap. Oh it felt good to be moving again. Why didn't I do that sooner?
I come in to the strains of Taylor Swift's Style, and start dancing as I run. I only know the music due to a delightful coworker of mine that has always insisted on her awesomeness, and something about finally being done made me agree in that moment.
I come through, insist on shaking the RD's hand and thank him for putting the race on, then put my foot in it as I insult him about the finisher prizes. I had been fighting back pain for much of the second lap, they hand me a backpack, and I listen horrified as my mouth says "Just what I want, another thing on my back." I still have so much learning to do still.
I collapse into my camp chair in front of my tent and just deflate. I'm done, I'm happy, and I'm missing the endorphin rush from Palmer's Pond. I don't know, is it that it wasn't my first and so my body was already inured to the accomplishment, or something else?
The Canadian lady had beat me by only 20 minutes, which said she did a great job at putting on a happy face as she floated away. We chatted, and became the typical fast friends of trail running. Her name is slipping from my mind even as I write this (Update: found her). Her husband hopped up and had my site packed up before I could even protest. That random act of kindness exemplifies part why I love this community so much.
After about an hour of watching and cheering and resting and hoping for others to come through, I haul my gear out and begin the long drive home.
Things I learned
It is harder to be happy and upbeat when you don't know the runners or the volunteers. There were several times that I was as bad as the comic character Cathy, and I'm sorry about that. The volunteers at South Beach, Josh Stratton, and the #TrailsRoc folks gave me miles of energy that I cannot thank any of them enough for.
This is the most important one, and so I'm going to bury this in the middle of the others. I can do this. The stupid fear after Palmer's Pond was that the distance was a fluke, and here I am with two. I had ideal weather for both, and I'm sure that that will gnaw at me for a while, as humans are excellent self-doubters, but I can do this.
I need to lose more mass. Last time I was on this course, I was about 40 pounds lighter, but hadn't ever run further than 13 miles. There are sections of this loop where I was moving smoothly and happily this year that had me near tears two years ago. My legs are stronger, my mind is more curmudeonly, but I can't move as fast. Speed has a benefit all its own.
Hydration is weird, and I don't know where my body was this weekend. By my calculations, I drank somewhere around 10-11 liters during those 50k. That is a crap ton of liquid, but I was never sloshy, nor needed to urinate, and had reason to fear that I wasn't drinking enough. I'm going to have to figure this out soon, as I can only carry about 3 liters in my largest running pack, and a 6 hour self-supported run in three weeks.
The messages of love and support from all of you on Thursday and Friday were of immense use to me, and I'm grateful to all of you for that. I'm positive I couldn't have done it without you
Other than that, I have a bunch of silly couple sentence anecdotes here.