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At the Races

Finger-Laking Fun

Photographs by Natalie Werner.


Recap of Finger Lakes Fifties (50M, 50K, 25K), Finger Lakes National Forest, Hector, NY, June 30, 2012

50K: Chris Jaworski … 7:25:41

Clang, clang. Clang-clang, clang-clang.

Hey, wha—? What’s that racket? I’m trying to sleep here! Hmm … is that a … yes, a cowbell. Ah, must be time to get up. Immediately my annoyance at being woken melted into gratefulness. There would be no sleeping through the tiny beeps of my phone alarm, or through the sounds of other campers crawling from their tents, and I would make it to the start on time. Then, just as quickly, gratefulness turned to bemusement. At 5 a.m., someone strolling past was ringing a cowbell to rouse us for a trail race. How cool is that?

And apt. At the prerace briefing almost an hour and a half later, bell ringer and co–race director Joe Reynolds talked about cows. He told us that the course included pastures on private land, and that the landowners grant access on a simple condition: After crossing a pasture, runners must close the gate behind them. In other words, don’t let the cows out!

Joe and co-RD Christine Reynolds stage their fun, well-organized event at the Potomac Group Campground in the Finger Lakes National Forest, the only national forest in New York state. This event is perhaps unique in just how much it intertwines trail racing and camping.

Quite a few runners, some coming with friends or family, made a weekend out of it, pitching their tents Friday and staying two nights, before and after the race. Just steps away from the tents was, well, everything—bib pickup, start, finish, a pavilion sheltering picnic tables covered with food and drinks, a huge tank of water, barbecue grills, bathrooms, a swimmin’ hole, and a pit surrounded by benches. Friday night a fire was going, and folks were gathered ’round as one person, and then another, sang songs and played guitar. Very nice.

Other runners stayed in nearby Watkins Glen and Ithaca.

Keeping this event small contributed to its intimate and friendly atmosphere. The number of entrants in the three offered races (50 mile, 50K, 25K) was capped at 250. I don’t know how many started, but 207 finished: 54 in the 50 mile, 108 in the 50K, and 45 in the 25K.

The course was a 16.5-mile loop run once for the 25K-plus race, twice for the 33-mile 50K, or three times (49.5 miles) with a 0.5-mile “baby loop” tacked on at the end for the 50 mile. The 50 mile and the 50K started at 6:30 and the 25K at 8:00.

Runners who were registered for the two longer races could, on completing the 16.5-mile loop the second time, either stop and get credit for the 50K, or venture out one more time. It seemed a lot of 50-mile entrants dropped down to 50K.

For me, the challenge of this race wasn’t its surface—the terrain was not technically demanding—but rather the combination of heat, humidity, and hills. The high temperature was a few degrees lower than the predicted mid to upper 90s, but it was still quite hot, and the humidity felt off the charts. Elevation gain was only 1300 feet per loop, and the two or three steep hills were fairly short, but other hills were of the long and gradual variety, which on this hot, humid day wore a body down. Also taking their toll were the constant little ups and downs. My legs eventually gained an “appreciation” for this deceptively easy-looking run. Perhaps under cooler and drier conditions …

Most of the course was mercifully shaded, though there were some under-the-glare-of-the-sun cow-pasture miles as well. I was happy with the mix and proportions of single track, open field, paved road, and bridle path.

The well-supplied aid stations came about every 3 miles, and the volunteers were quite helpful.

I had been on the waiting list for this event as late as three weeks before race day, and ended up not doing my course homework. In addition, despite signing up for the 50K, I started vacillating between that distance and 50 miles. Would the 50 mile be too much three weeks before the Vermont 100? Indecisions, indecisions.

With those hot temps in the forecast, I decided to let how I felt during the race be my guide as to distance. But then being “undecided” like that turned out to be, I think, not a good idea. I never settled on how to pace myself. I went too fast in the early miles, which ran mostly downhill to the lowest point on the course, down to where the aid station called The Morgue was set up.

A bit later, I made a wrong turn and ran a bonus eight tenths of a mile. Then I was taken with the notion that I had to catch up to the folks I’d been running near. I did catch up to some of them, and then struggled to reach the end of the first loop.

If I remember right, my split after 17.3 miles (16.5 + 0.8) was 3:24, or 11:48 pace.

After that loop, and with the temperature rising, I didn’t want to head out again. But quickly I decided to cool off, make myself more comfortable, and take the second loop easier—holding out even then, I guess, that I might go for the longer, 50-mile haul. I put on a fresh shirt, changed from a sopping hat to a cool Buff, dropped the hand-heavy bottle for the hydration pack, filled the pack with Gatorade and transferred a few items, and repinned my bib. Too bad I spent 20 minutes on all that.

The upside of the second loop was that, after plodding downstairs to The Morgue this time, I finally got off the 50K–50M fence. I started focusing, while on the steep climb up out of that aid station, no less. Let me get the 50K done! To save 10 minutes on this loop, I smartly skipped its 0.8-mile detour (ha!). I also pushed the pace until I could run no more, walked for as short a period as possible, and got going running again—over and over.

The running I did the final few miles felt fast, but that wasn’t well reflected in the numbers, as each sprinty spurt was followed by recovery walking. What is this consistent pace of which people speak? Anyway, the finish line was a welcome sight.

My split for the second, 16.5-mile loop was 4:02, or 14:40 pace. Subtracting the 20 minutes I spent powdering my nose between loops gives a 3:42 split, or a moving pace of 13:27. Either way, I slowed quite a bit.

Total time was 7:25:41. That’s 13:33 pace for the official 33 miles, or 13:11 for my extended, 33.8-mile version of the race. I can do better, but that’s not bad given the three H’s. And I didn’t have any fueling- or heat-related health issues.

Hooray for a vertical finish!

Kudos to Christine and Joe Reynolds for all the care and hard work they put into the Finger Lakes Fifties! I would run the 50K again, or try the 50 mile. This event might make for a good road trip for the ERC Ultrarunning Team in 2013!


Photos by …
1. FL50:
2. Elena Makovskaya:
3. Natalie Werner, part 1:
4. Natalie Werner, part 2:

Race Web site:

Photo Highlights

Photos on flickr

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