emmy wrote up a great race report when we ran the escarpment trail run back in 2006. it was originally published in the hi-tek newsletter - and since we're heading back to the catskills for this grueling trail run this morning, thought it would be fun to post it here.
(and here are some race photos)
I survived my first long trail race yesterday... the July 30 Escarpment 30K trail run (yes, 18.7 - actually - miles of rocky, root-strewn, muddy, slippery, ledge-like trails running up and down 6 Catskill mountain peaks). Oh, and it was 90 degrees in the shade (and most of the trails were shaded), so I wore a fuel belt for the first time. It was a day of firsts for this road racer… (and Frank - we entered together, and yes, even with our endurance base, we were both nervous).
I have many trail running friends (like Rick, Carol and Nick) who have said that it is truly an accomplishment JUST TO FINISH the Escarpment trail run. We were told by the race director that we could severely injure ourselves, fall off a cliff, or even get lost further into the Catskill mountains. The 150 runners in the race (no awards; just the glory of finishing) have to qualify by finishing an ultra, marathon or ultra trail race in a certain time (a road marathon is nothing compared to this!). The trail starts in Windham, NY and ends at North Point - along the way is the most challenging, unrunnable terrain imaginable - it is crazy to even think about 'running' the Escarpment trail, yet the winners do finish in sub-3 hours! They even run up the climbs! and fly down the unrunnable last 2 miles of ledges.
We lined up at the trail head to Windham Peak, and I was told, as a rule of thumb, that one adds 1:30 to a marathon time to predict a finish (well, I finished more than 2 hours after my time!). The first part of the course was up Windham High Peak. It took me 57 minutes to power-hike up the mountain, and we had only gone 3 miles into the 18.7 - although I felt good (I had been pounding the water on Saturday), I was cursing my decision the day before to race a 5K at Shea Stadium (when I got to the top of the first peak, Saturday seemed like a million years ago). We were offered water and gatorade from volunteers who had hiked up, and then everyone continued down the mountain - the rocks and roots were slick from the Sat. rain (it rained all night) and I was terrified of falling.
I hopelessly watched 10 other women pass me like I was standing still-as I type
this now, I realize that they were had experience 'free falling' over rocks and were wearing appropriate trail shoes (I stupidly wore my supportive Nike training shoes - I chickened out on wearing my new-ish trail shoes as was afraid of blisters) - one man told me to keep my nose over my toes! and just 'go for it'. After another climb up Burndt Knob - 3,180 feet!(I found the climbs easy – was able to run up parts and passed alot of the big men and women! who passed me on the down hills).
I found myself all alone (until i tried to relieve my bladder on the side of the trail - then ironically someone passed by) until the 6.2 mile aid station - this was a gift from God, as my friend Rick had backpacked in (he does this every year) food and drink - he offered many words of encouragement (like the fact that i wasn't last)but he did warn me about the biggest climb ahead - Blackhead Mountain - 1 mile of a climb up 3,940 feet. He said 'when you get to the base of Blackhead, you'll know' - and I did, as many well-wishers and volunteers were at the bottom.
I loved the climb up Blackhead, as I felt great scampering up (we had to climb up vertical ledges at the top and pull ourselves up trees) - I passed at least 10 men who were 'breathing dangerously hard (at least my lung power got me some help in the race)- the top of the climb was lined with balloons and cheering volunteers (including kids - mountain goats). Only 18.7 more miles to go! We were offered candy, all kids of snacks... the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was the best I ever tasted - oh and the view was spectacular!! 2 men asked me to take their photo and I figured it wouldn't put a damper on my slow race time!!
The runners had to pass through the next climb in 4:15 to stay in the race (Dutcher's Notch, another big climb to 12.2 miles) and I hit that aid station in 3:38 - thank goodness I wasn't going to be sent off the trail head! The sun started to beat down, although the trail was shaded, and the ground dried a bit. I became more confident about 'jogging' over the rocks, roots and stumps - I had stubbed my big toe and yelled in pain for all to hear every time I tripped on a rock...at the next climb up to Stoppel Point, I had been on my feet for 4:30 - more than any ultra - and my legs were beginning to tire - it was harder and harder to navigate the relentless rocks and ledges (instead of jumping, I crawled over) - we did see the infamous wreckage of a private airplane that crashed - that was spooky.
Finally, an aid station volunteer told me that we 'only' had 4 miles - that 4 miles took me over an hour to complete! We had to go along big flat rocks and cliffs and jump down big ledges - again, the view was spectacular. The last 2 miles seemed to take forever - we had to follow the blue flags and had to again get through steep, rocky, ledges. I looked at my watch and I had been climbing, jogging, or crawling for 5 and ½ hours! A volunteer then yelled that we were 100 yards from the finish - truly, I though I would never see the light at the end of the trail tunnel - but there it was - a finish line.
My brother and sister-in law (and Frank who had just finished) were waiting for me. Oh, and to add insult to injury, in the last downhill climb, the women's winner had hiked back to cheer us on - hadn't she had enough climbing for the day? Didn't she know she had to back down the darn trail?? I was hot, sweaty, bug bitten, and exhausted but so elated to finish in one piece. Diet coke never tasted so good, as did the pasta salad and bagels and peanut butter. After a quick campground shower, we were on our way...oh, and the most exhausting thing was having to focus on the trail the entire time - to take one's eyes off the ground could be fatal!
I realize now that with some downhill running training (maybe I'll never be fearless) and some decent shoes (like the new Merrills), maybe I can take an hour off my time...but then, I should just be proud of myself for power-hiking the 6 climbs and the 18.7 miles. Taconic RR member Nick finished in 4:11, Frank in 5:20 (he also slipped down the downhills with the wet conditions and had to be extremely careful going down - he had tootsie rolls in his race-ready shorts and every time he tried to unwrap one he fell!). Obviously, the real mountain goats (like the winners) can shave hours off their times by flying down - but then again, maybe it's good to be slow - at least I survived.
p.s. a volunteer cheerfully told me at the finish that since I came in under 6 hours I could get into the 'race' next year - as if it was the best news we'd heard all day ...