yesterday emmy, rob, and i braved the ridiculously cold weather and ran the watchung winter 50k in new jersey. the backstory to lining up for this one is interesting. last year we had planned to do this event and bad weather kept us from it. instead, we ran the fred lebow 5 miler that day - and, afterwards, emmy met up with her brother and the two of them hiked the watchung loop! this year i had planned to do the "recover from the holidays" 50k the week before, in staatsburg, new york. we skipped that one and ran the boston build-up 10k, instead.
so here we were - leaving my house at 6:40 with 22 degrees on the car thermometer and arrived at the watchung reservation an hour later with the temperature at 20 degrees - ignoring the wind chill! i had on shorts over my running tights. i made a smart move in switching to a pair of running pants over the tights. that was the first time i'd ever run a race with pants over tights - and i never regretted that last minute change. as it was, i had on 3 long-sleeved shirts and a fleece running vest. i am not a happy cold weather runner!
the course consisted of three loops of a tough, mostly single track trail. it was hilly and rocky at points, but not especially technical. the most dangerous section was the initial half mile, which was covered in a sheet of ice! by the third loop the thin layer of snow that covered this stretch had been pounded away and walking was the safest (sanest) method to cover it. there was also a rocky stretch leading up to a nice climb up a hill that was tough going. and, for a change of pace, there was a short road portion that went through a ghost town/cemetery!
the loop was closer to 11 miles (rob had 10.8 on his garmin, and most runners measured between 10.7 and 10.9 on their garmins). there was a marathon option, where runners could bisect the third loop. but when i reached the first (of two) aid stations on the course (aside from the major one at the start and finish point, alan, the runner i had done the most of loop three with, had 26.6 miles on his garmin - and we were at least a mile away from the marathon turnoff!! if the 50k was 32+ miles, the marathon distance was easily over 28 miles! it certainly gave a new spin to the term "horton" miles.
my biggest mistake was not carrying water with me on the course. we were told that there weren't any aid stations on the course (except at the start/finish - which was amazingly well-stocked). but i figured i'd get by without a fluid belt for the first loop. it turned out there were two (one unmanned at roughly 5 miles and a second at 7 or 8 miles), which i was told were set up by a group of runners, independent of the race organizers. i'm not sure of that, but those aid stations were a life savers for me because i was seriously dehydrated by the end of my run.
i ran the first loop in 1:45 - and midway through it fell in with another runner, laura, who turned out was training for the upcoming umstead 100 miler at the end of march. the terrain highlight of the loop was a gigantic water tower in mile 9 - which i'd learn during the second loop was a popular local spot for committing suicide! but before that, i pull off at the end of the first loop to have half a pb sandwich and some coffee from my drop bag. i was also pleasantly surprised to see my good friend susan at the aid station! i hadn't known she was running it because she had opted for an early start.
i dawdled more than necessary before starting off on the second loop, hoping that rob and emmy would catch up and we could run a few miles together. as it turned out, i didn't see emmy for the entire day, and rob would only run one loop before calling it a day. midway during the second loop i hooked up with a local runner who gave me the back story on the water tower. years ago it had a wrap around staircase - which made it easy to climb - and thus facilitate those very sad swan songs. the stairs were removed to stop the leaps!
despite the 3 layers and fleece vest i was still freezing most of the time. when the wind howled my fingers were numb with cold and i seemed under dressed. when the wind died down, it seemed like i was overdressed! but since the wind had picked up during the day, wante my jacket. i finished two loops in 2:50 and was shocked to find rob in the car when i opened the door to grab my jacket! it took a lot of mental effort not to join him. but i zipped up the jacket and picked my way across the icy first half mile.
up to that point i had gone off course 3 times during the first loop, and 2 times during the second one - none of which involved too great a loss of time (just minor frustration). i missed a turn just before the first mile and found myself following yellow blazes - argh. retracing my footsteps, i was quickly back in business - and hooked up with another runner, alan. we ran together for about 5 miles - to the first aid station - before i ran out of steam and he went on ahead without me. that's where i hit my lowest point, mentally, and started an internal debate on whether to pull out at the marathon distance.
eventually, laura caught up to me and discouraged me from bailing at the marathon distance. we ran together, on and off, from that point. when we reached the second aid station (frozen gummi bears and water) at 5:30, we were on pace to finish up in 6 hours. instead, at 5:45 we found ourselves back at the aid station! the oncoming runners should have been a tip-off that something was wrong with our navigation! that was momentarily demoralizing - but with the wind picking up, i didn't want to dwell on it. i finish without further incident in 6:35 (well off my 6:00 target).
once done, i couldn't drink enough water/gatorade. i was seriously dehydrated by that point and drank a quart bottle of gatorade in one gulp! but the fluid highlight of the finish was undoubtedly the bottle of johnny walker black on the aid table! a kindly volunteer poured me generous two finger shot in a plastic cup - which went a long way toward thawing me out! back at the car i changed into dry clothes as rob and i waited for emmy to finish. amazingly, for such brutally cold weather - i had a great time! all the bonus miles, frozen fingers, and pangs of dehydration melted away as i warmed up.
here are some race photos.