Thursday, May 7, 2009

from the archives: 2007 long island greenbelt trail 50k race report

as i get ready for the 2009 edition of the long island greenbelt trail 50k this saturday, i've been looking over my past race reports. i posted my 2008 race report here last year. my 2007 race report was originally posted on the runners world on-line masters forum, and included in the glirc newsletter. i thought take the opportunity to repost it here.
Long Island Greenbelt Trail 50k
Saturday, May 12 2007
Plainview, New York

The Greenbelt Trail Run was my first time back on trails this year. In fact, I hadn't run on a trail since the Appalachian Trail portion of the JFK Fifty Miler last year. As my experience on the course revealed, my trail navigation skills were more than a little rusty.

The week before the race, a three page instruction letter arrived from Nick Palazzo, the race director. In addition to those general instructions, a separate one page detailed course description was included. It's basically a double out and back course. The trail portion is preceded by a rolling 1.8 mile road section. Runners then enter the Greenbelt Trail from the Sunnyside Boulevard trail head in Plainview and run the northern third of the trail to its terminus and turnaround point in Cold Spring Harbor.

I drove to the race with my friend Emmy. She had injured her calf earlier in the week and it hardly seemed possible that she would run the 50k with that nagging injury. One possibility was to run the 25k, instead. Or, volunteer at an aid station if she couldn't run. To my astonishment, she started the 50k, and finished the 50k.

The run started at 7:30 and had a 10 hour cut-off. Runners were advised to carry the pre-printed course directions. Point 7 of the instructions read: "A course guide setting out all the turns, crossings and approximate distances is enclosed. We strongly suggest that you familiarize yourself with it, and you should carry it with you on the run." I should have heeded this bit of advice. But at the start I wasn't concerned about navigation. In fact, after the turnaround on the road segment, I caught sight of Emmy as she approached me and she was visibly in pain with each step. I told her not to run in that condition - it wasn't worth further aggravating her injury.

The first couple of trail miles were tame. The proverbial calm before the storm. But it wouldn't last long. Soon we had to cross the first of a number of roads that bisected the trail. At 3 miles it was Woodbury Road. At that time the roads were quiet, but things would be different a few hours later. In fact, it was merely a prelude to a much busier road crossing, Jericho Turnpike, only 3/10's of a mile further away. And, to complete the trifecta, we crossed Syossett-Woodbury Road less than a mile from the Jericho Turnpike!

This reminds of Point 10: "There is no police or other traffic control for this event. There are several points where you will be leaving the Trail to cross a public road, and there are vehicles on the roads whose drivers don't have a clue that a race is going on, so please exercise your common sense and your survival skills at all times!" Aside from the numerous roads and having to negotiate an underpass to cross the Long Island Railroad tracks, the northern third of the trail run was filled steep elevation climbs. The terrain wasn't technically difficult - but the constant elevation changes were very challenging. One climb led to another, which led to another, and on it went without respite.

Things got difficult for me on the return leg of the first out and back. I inauspiciously ran beyond the turnaround point, and that should have tipped me off to what lay ahead. It felt strange coming out of the woods well to the north of the aid station and having to retrace my steps there, somewhat sheepishly. But that paled in comparison to my next off trail adventure. At the top of a ridge line I spotted another runner making his way down the slope. Since he was moving in my direction, I took off after him. I soon realized he was lost - but not before we had made our way down the mountain side. Not only did we both have to climb back up to ridge line, but I still couldn't locate the blaze. Lucky for me a runner happened by us on the inbound direction.

Rob, as it turned out, has been running ultras for 15 years and has done the Greenbelt Trail. He's also done the Vermont 100, and a few more 100s as well. We talked about ultras and trail running in general. At some point I ran on ahead hoping to make up some time from my earlier miscues. Amazingly, I once again found myself lost when I missed the turnoff that would have brought me back to Stillwell Field. It seemed that I ran a half mile before I realized I wasn't in Kansas anymore. Which brings up Point 7 again: "If you travel more than 50-60 yards without seeing a marking, you have almost certainly gone astray, and should retrace your footsteps. ... The bottom line is that it is YOUR responsibility for staying on the course, PLEASE KEEP AWAKE!" That emphasis is from the original text! So, dejectedly, I retraced my footsteps and eventually found the missed turnoff. I even caught back up to Rob. He was surprised to see me because he thought I was further along on the trail!

And this wouldn't be the last time. After we crossed Jericho Turnpike, I once again headed off down the trail. Only to reach Woodbury Road and stand there positively mystified at my complete inability to locate the trail head - which couldn't have been more than 50 feet in either direction from where I was standing. It was pretty comical to see his expression as Rob emerged from the trail to see me standing there. "What happened," he asked? "I can't find the trail head!" "It's right over here," as he ran the few yards down the road on the left. Even though I was less than a mile away from completing the first out and back - I could just as easily been on Planet Claire. Four mistakes on the return leg - had all my years of Boy Scout training failed me?

Well, in an astonishing turn of events, I completed the second out and back with no mistakes or mishaps. But the damage had been done, going out too fast and trying to make up for the lost time on those little detours had cost me a lot of energy. Mentally, I was practically burnt out from those careless mistakes. Physically, however, I felt fine. In fact I made up a bit of time retracing the first 2/3rds of the outbound leg. But, when I reached the Stillwell Lane aid station, the exhaustion started to creep up on me. The toughest third still lay ahead before reaching the Cold Spring Harbor turnaround. So that portion included mostly power hiking the numerous hills and a modest amount of running on the few flat stretches.

On my way back in, a mile or so beyond the turnaround, I ran into Emmy heading outbound. I couldn't believe it. I had seen her on the first leg - during my string of mishaps. That's when she told me she had switched out of her trail shoes and into her trainers. That did the trick and could run, albeit slowly, again. What was an inspiring sight seeing her out there. After reaching the Stillwell Lane aid station for the last time, I knew the toughest stretch of the trail was finished. I picked up my pace a bit, but I still walked all hills.

Finally, after finishing the trail, all that stood between me and the finish was a half mile of road. But even that wouldn't come easy. "Left" and "left" were the directions from the volunteers. "The second left" I said. "No. Take your first left, then take the next one after that. Straight down to the clubhouse." For some reason I just could not process that information. It was especially vexing that the first left - literally - was a highway on ramp! I eventually found the finish - helped in no small part by a large bunch of balloons attached to a sign post! My reward was an ice cold Sam Adams. I finished in 6:21. Even discounting all the wrong turns and miscues, that was well off the 5:30 that I had targeted as a time goal.

But I was happy. I settled in with my beer and waited for Emmy to finish. It turns out that Rob's next race will be the Nipmuck Trail Marathon. He's run it many times, and it's probably one of his favorite races. I'm registered for Nipmuck also. So between now and then, I need to add at least one more trail run to my race calendar. Emmy, smiling and not looking the least like someone with a calf injury, finished up in 6 hours and 55 minutes. She was the fourth female finisher, just behind Alicja.

Despite my mistakes in the first leg, I really did enjoy myself. It was a great day to be outdoors, a great day to be on the trails. As a tune-up run, it certainly gave me a few lessons to work on to sharpen my trail running skills.

here are the 2007 results from glirc.
here is emmy's 2007 race report.

1 comment:

DawnB said...

good luck saturday frank