Recaps of North Face Endurance Challenge (50K, 50M), Bear Mountain, NY, May 5, 2012
Kimberly McGuire (1st ultra & trail race!) … 6:54:24
Jane Whipple (2nd in age group!) … 6:57:19
Laura Gelman … 7:26:06
Glenn Trimboli (1st 50M!) … 12:10:03
Stephen Sundown (1st 50M!) … 12:10:03
Chris Jaworski … 13:23:35
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Running my first ultramarathon, on trails, was a feat and a treat. The story begins about six weeks earlier, when I had a spiritual need to get back to nature … which sparked an instant interest in running trails. I found out that a trail race was coming to New York in May … something called the North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain. Hmm … interesting! On March 20, despite knowing nothing about trail running, I signed up for the marathon. Then I put an e-mail out to Chris Jaworski, who invited me to join some of ERC’s ultrarunners on Saturday, March 24, for an early morning workout at South Mountain Reservation. That run was exhilarating, and I was invited to go again with the group a week later, on March 31.
Well, it took me only about five days and convincing from colleagues and comrades to go see a sports medicine doctor, who said three times while looking me straight in the eyes, “Kimberly, you are really lucky. This was a bad fall. You could have really messed yourself up, but it looks like nothing is broken.” I was prescribed No running and ultimately No exercise for “a bit.” With my leg still swollen a week later, I went for physical therapy and worked with a therapist who put up with my running neuroticism and helped me prepare in two short weeks to be able to run the Bear Mountain 50K … Oh, yeah, after a conversation with Ellen and e-mail correspondence with Jane, I whimsically opted to “upgrade” my race from a mere 26.2 miles to 50K. As Jane said, “What’s another five miles between friends?” Thanks to the amazing support from the ultrarunning crew and the help of that fabulous physical therapist, I was prepared for my May 5th challenge.
Finally, as I crossed the finish line, tears welled up in my eyes, and I was filled with joy and exhilaration at the beauty of experiencing what the mind and body are capable of. Although I’m not an elite runner, I felt like a champion when I received my first ever 50K medal.
A few minutes later, I heard over the speakers, Jane Whipple from Montclair, and ran over to hug her. We jumped up and down like excited kids and shed tears and were so incredibly proud of ourselves. Then we began eagerly waiting for Laura, and soon she was gracefully crossing the line. After cleaning up, and downing some beers and chow, Jane and I settled in for Stephen, Glenn, and Chris to finish their 50 miles, and for the amazing Ellen to come in too.
Everyone was so incredibly awesome. I thank the ERC ultrarunning crew for advising me that I could walk up and down hills if needed, that I could take the time to talk with other folks during a trail race, and that I would need to eat a lot during an ultra. The mentality of trail running is so completely different from that of road racing, and I’m hooked.
It is so great to read the recaps included here. This is the stuff to share … the real reasons that private athletes get out there and run and support one another … our challenges, feats, successes, camaraderie, friendships, and the pure love of running.
Signed, Kimberly, Newbie Trail Addict.
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There’s almost nothing I enjoy more than a day in the woods, and almost nothing I find more intimidating than racing. At Bear Mountain, on trails just 15 miles from where I grew up, I got to do something I love and put one check in the race box for 2012. Add in a couple of friends, and you have a recipe for a perfect day. Although I didn’t spend much time with them in the woods, my ERC comrades and training mates Jane, Kimberly, Chris, Glenn, Stephen, and Ellen constantly made their way into my racing thoughts, and I couldn’t be happier we all had a safe and successful day!
This was my second 50K. I started it relaxed and at a good clip, but quickly felt “taken” by the early morning humidity and slippery conditions, which made miles 10–14 completely miserable physically, and mentally almost unbearable. In this long race, my mind started exchanging thoughts very quickly: How can you feel this bad this early? Why didn’t you wear your other trail shoes, the ones with better traction? You should slow down. No, if you slow down, you’ll never finish. Trust your training. Don’t be stupid—if you can’t shake this by the next aid station, jump out and go home to watch your daughter’s lacrosse game. No, finish what you started, and do it well, and you might still get home in time for the game …but with a medal around your neck.
Luckily, I got my focus and my legs back after mile 14 and ran well the next 7 miles, with only positive thoughts in my head. Running through waist-high bushes with two Canadians chatting in French behind me, I felt like I was being chased in a video game. I was Ms. Pacman, and they were the ghosts! Alas, in the moment when I heard the sounds of a highway and knew an aid station was just up ahead, I slipped on a damp, mossy boulder and slid upside down, landing on my back in a crevasse, between a few large rocks and with my feet dangling over my head. I felt an instant tightening in my left calf and found myself staring at two runners who were looking down at me and offering to help me up. I love this about trail races—runners stop to take care of each other! I hobbled the quarter mile to the aid station, sat down, and rubbed out the calf. Would I be able to run the rest of the race with my foot completely flexed from the calf tightness? The next, easier mile, half pavement and half carriage trail, would give me 10 minutes to decide. Before I knew it, I was back on the more technical single-track, where I would run completely solo for more than an hour. The only people who passed me were a 50-mile runner and his pacer, who was singing the Rocky theme song as the pair leapt across a stream. They passed so quickly, I thought I’d imagined them.
Over the final 10 miles, my head was trading thoughts about physical pain and emotional pain, and I resolved that anything I felt on the run was the former and would be over soon enough. Relatively speaking, I was within spitting distance of the finish, so there was no doubt I’d make it. I took my time down the wet, rocky descents and powered through the uphills until I hit the last aid station, near mile 27. With only a few miles to go, I realized my leg cramp was gone for the first time in two hours, and I ran straight through to the finish line!
What fun this race was—a challenge and a personal victory in all the best ways. Icing on the cake: I made it to my daughter’s lacrosse game.
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Monday before the race, Kimberly e-mailed that she was nervous, and I replied, “Join the club! You were able to knock out a run of 17+ miles last week, so I think you’re ready. After completing that distance at Bear Mountain, you’ll be feeling you’re in the home stretch. Just three 5-mile chunks to go. Don’t worry about pace. Just forget whatever your road pace is, or that it’s been slower lately. Heck, just forget whatever pace you’ve been doing on trails, because these trails are different. Go to finish, to enjoy being out there, and be careful. Start conservatively. When you find you’re feeling okay, you can pick it up. Pick it up on the easy sections. Slow down when you need to. Run until it’s too difficult, and then walk until it’s too easy. You may go through several physical and emotional peaks and valleys on your way to the finish. Keep thinking relentless forward motion—run or walk, but always keep moving, and walk briskly. Well, enough advice. I’ve been nervous before all my ultras, I think, and it’s probably a good thing. It helps us make lists and check ’em twice and keeps us on our toes. Sharpens the senses.”
One nice thing about words of support and advice is that often they are what the giver himself needs to be reminded of. Yes, I had run the 50K at Bear Mountain in 2009, but the 50-mile race was another animal, a nastier bear, and, if you did not run fast enough, you would be dragged off the course and suffer a tragic end. You see, besides featuring more miles of steep hills and treacherous terrain, the 50-mile race had two strictly enforced cutoff points. If you did not reach the mile 20.7 aid station within 5 hours 47 minutes, or mile 34.2 within 9 hours 34 minutes, an official would pull you from the race. Complicating the matter was that the early part of the course was too long by 2 miles, if the consensus of many runners’ GPS watches is to be believed.
Race day … up at 2:15 a.m. … picked up by Glenn, Stephen, Scott (Glenn’s brother), and Brendan (Scott’s son) around 3:00 … at the Anthony Wayne parking lot by 3:45 … shuttled to the start/finish by 4:00 … making preparations, taking photos, saying hi to other friends, waiting for the 5:00 horn … and then we 50-milers were off into the predawn darkness, our headlamps guiding the way! We were required to wear headlamps until 6:15. At 7:00, two hours after the 50-mile start, the 50K race would begin, and the marathon, which Scott would be running, would kick off at 9:00.
The time cutoffs for the 50-mile race had tripped up many runners in years past, and I knew they’d be my main challenge as well. The day before, I calculated the pace I’d need to beat—about 16:45 per mile—to make the first and second cutoffs, and the final, 14-hour cutoff for the finish.
Early on, I was running just right, what came naturally, neither too fast nor too slow. I felt I couldn’t afford to be too conservative here, because ahead lay some pace-killing hikes, up and down steep, rocky terrain with significant elevation changes (the 50-mile course featured 7000 feet of elevation gain and 7000 feet of loss). Some of those climbs knocked the starch out of me, and then, tired on the runnable downhills and flats that followed, I had to work extra hard to try to make up for lost time. In short, the course never let up, and neither could I.
My pace in the Bear 50K had been 14:20 per mile. Today I was keeping a steady 14:45, or 2 minutes per mile under cutoff pace. A good buffer, eh? When I reached the first cutoff, I was told I’d made it with (only) 20 minutes to spare! I wasn’t sure how that happened, but I wasted no time refueling and then scurried on out. I picked up the pace over the next 13.5 miles and by the second cutoff had increased that buffer to 30 minutes. From there I felt I was home-free.
It was foggy early on, and humid, but temperatures were good throughout the day, which I was grateful for. I got to appreciate so much stunning beauty on my path (though I must’ve missed out on even more, with my eyes trained at my feet and my head filled with numbers). Here, there: all the green-green-green … the towering trees … the birdsong, my only accompaniment at times … the hypnotically dazzling green lichen that draws you in, making you forget the rock underneath … water giving rocks and leaves a sparkling coat … the sound of a peeper as I tramped through thick mud, alongside a stream … even the fogbound views from atop the peaks we climbed.
I ran solo, but began meeting up with Cherie, a friend, at the aid stations. We spent time together running and talking after the mile 27.7 station but parted before 34.2.
Heading uphill near mile 37, I felt dizzy for a moment. Then I looked down and saw all my fingers were swollen, and the next thing I knew I was a bit spaced-out, and unsteady on my feet. My running slowed automatically. Where the trail became a rocky mess, I picked my steps carefully, yet stumbled a few times. And though I love running long downhills, and usually do well on them, I could not capitalize on the next one. I ran it slowly, and walked over some rooty parts, simply because I felt I could not rely on my reflexes. No doubt a fall there would have hurt, and hurt bad, and I wanted to get to the next aid station in one piece.
I pulled into that station, at mile 40.3, both relieved and wondering if I should continue. As I’d never bonked like that before, I consulted the two EMTs on duty. They asked questions, and suggested I eat this and drink that, but wisely refrained from telling me to stop or go. (I suppose that, had I looked worse or been less coherent, they would’ve held me back.) With the consultation giving me time to rest and recover, and my sugar and salt receptors starting to respond to cookies and broth (what a combo!), I decided to go for it. The four longest legs of the course, 6 to 7 miles each, were behind me, after all, and aid wouldn’t be far off the rest of the way. The final three legs were 4.4, 2.5, and 2.8 miles. I thanked the EMTs for helping me sort things out, and turned to leave.
There was Cherie again. And there was Ray, another friend, sitting in a chair. He’d been dealing with blisters the past 13 miles. I began walking with Cherie and her buddy John. When they resumed running, I did too, but quickly began feeling, well, icky. I told them I thought I should return to the aid station, but they encouraged me to keep going. Forty miles done, only 10 left! I was so thankful for their pep talk. They ran on ahead, out of the Anthony Wayne area, and I power-walked up the hill after them. Ray was moving now as well, at a slow jog, but he was not catching up to me, and soon he was nowhere to be seen. Had he turned back?
I walked until I started feeling better, and then began mixing in running. I never became fuzzy-headed again, and in fact began improving more and more. Continuing to eat and drink helped, as did throwing on a second shirt. One of the EMTs had recommended adding a layer to counteract the drying effect of the wind, which had been picking up, and the chill that had been creeping into the air.
Eventually I caught up to Cherie and John and ran with them a bit. Then, with about 3 miles to go, I felt even more of my mojo returning, and the finish line calling, so I decided to see what I could do, and started picking up the pace.
Suddenly, Ray came tearing down the trail! We were on a long downhill, and he whipped past me as though I were standing still. I was so inspired I instantly gave chase! Although I slowed to a walk on the next uphill, and lost sight of him, the fire was now ablaze, and I picked it up once more, faster, no stopping, mad for the finish! Those may have been my quickest miles all day.
As I sped across a field and toward the line, I heard cheers from ERC friends off to the left. Then, in the finish area, Ray and I were all smiles, and we had a good talk and laughs about our low points and resurrections and crazy dashes. Next I got a big ole hug from Kimberly, gave her kudos on her own ultra finish, and posed with her and Brendan for a photo. My two EMTs showed up too, to congratulate me, and to find out just what food and drink at that aid station had allowed me to finish, and finish so strong. They wanted some of it! Finally, I joined the rest of our gang for a sweet end-of-a-long-day reunion!
Bear Mountain was grueling, my hardest race ever, but I’m pleased how I did, and that I gave it my all. At one point, I felt that my legs were holding up just as well as or even better than they had in the 50K, in 2009. It was as if the distance had no “bear-ing” on my endurance. Once I found myself in the waning miles, I felt I could easily go beyond 50, certainly on a less difficult course. That’s good news as I continue to prepare for the Vermont 100 Mile.
The not so good news: bonking. At first I thought dehydration was the cause, even though I was sure I’d been drinking enough. In retrospect, overhydration may have done me in. Too much liquid entering plus not enough liquid exiting (high humidity interferes with sweating) equals water retention (swollen fingers) and a lower concentration of electrolytes? I’ll have to research this.
For what it’s worth, my average pace was either 16:05 (50 miles) or 15:27 (52 miles).
Six Essex members ran an ultramarathon this day. That’s an ERC first. Equally impressive is that the completion rate for the ERC Ultrarun- ning Team was 100%. And that’s on one of the toughest courses in the United States!
It was great hanging out with Glenn, Stephen, Scott, and Brendan in the wee hours of the morning, and then again in the early evening, when the merriment expanded with Jane and Kimberly, plus supporters par excellence Ellen, and Michele and Ashby Sundown. If only Laura didn’t have that lacrosse game to attend!
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I made a New Year’s resolution: 50 miles at age 50. I should have waited a couple more years, since the Bear Mountain course was over 2 miles longer than advertised.
It all started on Friday. I arranged with a local bagel shop owner to have fresh salt bagels ready for me to pick up at 2:45 a.m. Saturday. He insisted this would be fine. “My bakers are here all night long,” he boasted. Unfortunately, when Stephen, Scott, Brendan, and I arrived at the shop the morning of the race, the lights were off. Nobody home. Yes, I was perturbed. Then I remembered the similar outcome with bagels the morning of our March marathon, and that day turned out great.
So, with that behind us, we picked up Chris and were on our way. We got to Bear Mountain with plenty of time to spare, which definitely gave us some good prep time before the race. (Thanks, Ellen, for suggesting the earlier departure!) It was dark, humid, misty, and ominous. I was looking around at all these hard-core runners and wondering if I’d even finish the race.
Last-minute prep, bag dropoff, bite to eat, Camelbak secure, and then the starting line. I recalled a few tips from some experienced trail runners. First, walk the uphills. Yep, I walked ’em, and was glad I did. Second, eat as much as possible at the aid stations. Third, stay focused. I lost focus twice and landed on my ass both times.
I’d never started a race at night, so all those headlamps bouncing around was something to see. I’d also never started a race that headed into the deep, dark woods, either! Steve and I began together. Early on, it was obvious that the course was wet, rocky, and technical. When we first hit the trail, I noticed my new headlamp was awesome, shining enough light for two runners. This was a good thing because, when I looked over at Steve, I saw that his headlamp was more like a book light, barely illuminating the ground in front of him. So, we stuck close together until sunrise. As it turned out, we became pretty much inseparable and saw each other for most of the race.
A 50-miler is a different animal. I had many highs and lows during the race. Sometimes I felt I couldn’t finish, and then a few miles later I felt I was running on fresh legs. I had my biggest high over the 3 miles leading up to the 40-mile checkpoint—running easily and faster than I had at any point up until then. This was the only place where I lost contact with Steve. We had planned to meet Ellen at mile 40, and she was going to pace us the final 10 miles. So, I pulled into mile 40, and there she was ready to go, but I did not know how far behind Steve was.
Hardest decision of the race … wait for him or press on … but then I remembered what had been happening throughout the race: Whenever Steve dropped back, he always caught up, and the same thing happened whenever I dropped back. So Ellen and I pressed on, and, sure enough, less than a mile later, we heard a voice from behind: “Ultramarathon runner coming through!” And we were back together again. But then Steve had a high in the race while I was hitting another low, so he pressed ahead. With less than half a mile to go, the trail popped out onto a flat road and an easy run to the finish. When I popped out, I saw Steve just standing there.
“We started this together, we’re going to end this together,” he said.
That was one of the most unselfish moves I have experienced on a run. We high-fived it, ran it in together, and finished with identical times.
I think it’s pretty rare to run a 50-miler with the same person, but that person being someone you run with throughout the year made it all the more special.
At the finish, we had one of the best receptions I can remember, with Ellen, Jane, Kimberly, Brendan, and Scott louder than a New York City Marathon crowd!
Thanks, Ellen, for pacing and for the prep you did for the race. And thank you, everyone else, for an amazing experience. Til next time?
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After Glenn shared his resolution with a circle of Essex runners at Eagle Rock Reservation on New Year’s Day, and my turn came, I got excited and said I’d run his 50-mile race with him. I had done the Bear Mountain 50K with this bunch last year and sworn that I’d never run there again, but I’d always wanted to test how far I could push myself. This was my chance. But as I trained for the USA Marathon in Washington, DC, and signed up for the Chicago Marathon, I started questioning my decision. Training for 50 trail miles would be a challenge. I got to the trails only about three times, though I did run around town on lawns, gravel, and other unpaved areas. Montclair sidewalks are good for that.
Waiting for the 5:00 a.m. start, Glenn and I were in the middle of the pack, but, as we took off, it felt like we were being passed by hundred of runners, including Chris. At one point, I looked back, and all I saw was a long line of small beams of lights in the dark—there were still runners behind us. It was a beautiful sight.
Very quickly Glenn pointed out that my headlamp was not bright enough and that I should change the setting. But no matter what setting I chose, the light was too dim. I could say I stayed with Glenn to share his light on the ground, but I stayed with him for lighting the path in other ways—the sheer wisdom he brought to this race.
The numbers (pace, finish time) I’d had in my head for this race were described as simply ridiculous and too aggressive. Glenn pointed out that the average time to finish was way slower. As I’d not researched this race, I recalibrated. I didn’t want to know the horror that awaited. When we finished the first mile, I shouted out, “Only 49 more to go!” Glenn and I paced each other, and we saw some spectacular falls and recoveries, which made us run even more conservatively.
I decided to run in 10-mile increments. When we finished the first 10, I told myself go for another. There were good and bad moments leading up to 20, lots of climbs. At one point, we crested a mountain but couldn’t stop to enjoy the view. We had to keep moving so our legs wouldn’t seize.
When we got to mile 25, I convinced myself to begin the countdown. We continued to pull each other along, and got through mile 30, but our conversations were just grunts now. Somewhere around mile 38, the battery in my Garmin died, and soon after that I lost Glenn. I had to slow down. My legs were inflamed and too tight to move. I walked and jogged for quite some time, and then turned the corner to the mile 40 aid station, where I saw Glenn and Ellen taking off, in the distance. Later I found out Ellen had waited for hours to pace us in.
For me, now it was about finishing. I felt good knowing I had targets to pursue. With only 10 more miles to go, I was feeling better and was ready to “race.” Unfortunately, the terrain was still very technical and dangerous. After narrowly escaping a few face-plants, I switched to simply keeping a steady pace. To my surprise, I caught up to Glenn and Ellen, “Ultramarathon runner coming through!” I shouted. I was very happy to see them. Ellen did what Ellen does best—kept us engaged. She fed and talked to us as we navigated through some seriously rocky, jade green terrain. I swore my feet and toes were being ripped to shreds there.
After the final aid station and with about 3 miles to go, somehow I was able to take off, but then I had to slow down again, because of the hills and rocks. With about a mile left, I kept up the pace. Glenn was right there. When I got to the tarmac, I turned and high-fived him—we did it! As we came around the bend to the finish, I saw Michele and Ashby and called Ashby to come run and finish with us. As we crossed the line, Jane and Kimberly’s cheering silenced the 100 or so people who were there. They made us feel like we came in first.
Glenn, thanks for your help, advice, and wisdom. They helped me get through a 12-hour day.
Ellen, thanks for always being there with advice, gear, and beers and for having something to do with getting me on the trails.
Jane and Kimberly, thanks for cheering us, and for waiting around so long after your race.
Chris, always a pleasure running with you.
Laura, I enjoyed training with you, and I’m glad you had a safe race.
Scott and Brendan, it was a pleasure spending time with you before and after the race. I have a feeling we’ll do it again.
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For me, in the realm of running, very few things surpass the experience of running an ultramarathon trail race. The meditative focus required to negotiate thousands of feet of punishing elevation, rugged rocks, mud, waterways, and elegant root systems … the delicate balancing game of fueling properly over long hours and miles … and the dancing with extreme mental highs, and the overcoming of extreme lows … these are, in a word, exhilarating.
On a beautiful May day, I got to experience some of those “very few things” six times—awe and joy for six dear friends running their ultramarathon trail races. I was fortunate enough to be able to celebrate Jane, Kimberly, and Laura’s monster performances in the 50K and Chris’s epic chomp-up of the 50-miler. I was also lucky enough to pace Glenn and Stephen over the final 10 miles of the 50-mile course. Witnessing these two phenomenal runners digging deep to finish victoriously is an experience I will cherish and learn from.
Two moments stand out for me: Jane’s tears of frustration at the end of last year’s 50K replaced with tears of sheer joy this year, and Stephen’s sportsmanship in waiting for Glenn, with only 100 meters to go, so they could finish the race the way they started … together.
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Brendan Trimboli’s recap: http://www.solarweasel.com/?p=3070.
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