You’re in the woods at a secret location in the Bronx. It’s 1:00 AM. You need to get to Coney Island, about 28 miles away, but there is no marked course. You’re about to begin the Warriors Ultra-Run.
Jon Durand heard about this race, and we headed to NYC together to check it out. The race format is inspired by the 1979 gang movie The Warriors, where 8 members of the Warriors are trying to get from the Bronx back to their home turf in Coney Island while being chased by an assortment of rival gangs.
The event itself is more fat-ass than race. There is no swag, no aid stations, no bibs, no course. You do get Todd Aydelotte, the enthusiastic race director. You get a fun group of people to run with. And you get New York City – a lot of it.
Jon and I followed Broadway from the start and through the length of Manhattan, counting down the cross streets from 242nd to somewhere below 14th. This route was well-lit and simple to follow, with places to restock food along the way. Bathrooms weren’t as easy to come by. The overnight atmosphere through here was surprisingly subdued.
There were opportunities in Manhattan to see locations from the movie. Jon and I are pictured outside 72nd Street station, where the encounter with the Furies begins. (It’s presented as 96th Street in the movie.) We also made a slight detour to see the real park where the opening conclave was filmed. Further down Broadway we passed through Times Square and Union Square.
We took the Brooklyn Bridge out of Manhattan. The temperature all night was upper 70s with high humidity, so it was a relief to get some cooler air on the bridge. The optimal route through Brooklyn wasn’t obvious. We passed the Barclay’s Center and Prospect Park and then turned straight toward Coney Island. We were spent by this time, and traffic was picking up with the daylight. But we soldiered on and made it to the finish on the boardwalk well after sunrise. There were a few beers available for the finishers, but Nathan’s wouldn’t be open for a few hours yet.
The top 3 finishers (in the 4:30 range) will get replica Warriors vests. The plan is for them to begin next year’s race with a 10 minute head start, while the rest of the field chases after them. 2020 was only the second year for this event. Last year had 32 participants, and this year was on track for well over 100 before COVID reduced the number to around 30 again.
The race director added a few nice features for big fans of the original movie. We gathered for the start and listened to an audio replay of Cyrus’ speech at the conclave (pictured – note our masks). The race began at the sound of the gunshot that kills Cyrus.
Participants were also encouraged to come dressed as one of the gangs. You only have to watch the first 10 minutes of the movie to get plenty of great costume ideas. But in the July heat this wasn’t very practical. I started the race with a Furies baseball jersey and a ring of face paint around one eye. Both had to come off in the first mile. However, if you go with a group of people, it might be fun to wear matching running shirts and show up as your own “gang”.
You can eventually find updated information at thewarriorsultra.com, or hit up me, Jon or Jason Karpinski (another local participant) for more details.
I’ve been waiting a year and a half for this weekend – Eastern States 100. 36 hours to run, hike, (crawl?) 103 miles. Two years ago, I got my first 100 miler experience as I helped crew and pace Brian at this race. It was an incredible thing to witness runners pushing through the suck, and the volunteers and crews out there to support those runners. I fell in love with Little Pine State Park and the surrounding areas we traveled to for crewing during the race. I’ve had many trips back to the area since then, for other races, and training runs. I feel like I don’t have any business attempting a 100 miler, but here I am. I have a lot of badass, influential friends (or bad influence?). I’m sure there are many other great races out there, but this is it for me–I want this one. The course and the area it travels through have all come to mean something to me, so I don’t think any other distance race will mean as much to me as this one does. I’m not fast. I’m not competitive. I don’t push myself as much as I could. I don’t train as hard as others. I just do what works for me, or maybe I’m just lazy. Despite all that, I do not doubt that I will finish this. That might make me a fool, but all I see is me finishing this race. I know this course. I’ve trained on it. I’ve re-read the course description and race reports. I love the time I’ve spent on these trails, and I hope I still feel that love when I am out there all day, and night, and into the next day. I don’t want to be the girl that fails, that didn’t train hard enough, or isn’t tough enough. Reality is though that anything can happen. I might not eat or drink enough, or eat the wrong things, get hurt, or find myself at 3am hoping a bear would just eat me and put me out of my misery. I want to smile and enjoy this, just take it all in, rather than be miserable, which I can be at times, especially under these conditions. I hope I can remember out there that I GET to do this. I can see, hear, walk, run… things I usually take for granted, things some people are not able to do.
6 years ago, I wasn’t a runner. If you had told me I would run a half marathon, marathon, 50K, or 100K, I would have laughed at you. I didn’t even know that trail running and ultramarathons were a thing. To all the people that don’t think they could ever do this, well, I didn’t either, until I tried. I put in the work and built up to the distances. Our bodies are capable of much more than we realize; it’s our mind we must convince.
Eastern States 100 – I don’t even know where to begin… I had so much support from my friends and family, especially my husband. He got my crew to each accessible aid station, and he found some other spots along the trails to spectate and cheer the runners on. It was great to see my sons out there experiencing an event like this. Tim, Wendy, Will, and Michele camped at Little Pine State Park and came out for the race. Gabe, Jess, Hunter and Kassidy volunteered at the Hyner Run (mile 43) aid station, and then Gabe planned to pace me from there. Fran and Brooke were also there to help crew and pace me. Was I supposed to have a plan? I’m not much of a planner. 100 miles is a lot of unknown for me. How would it go through the night Saturday after already having 65 miles on my legs and not getting any sleep? Would I be able to move fast enough as my legs got tired? Would my stomach shut me down? The only thing I knew is that I needed Brooke with me for the last 20 miles. She had the experience, and I knew she would keep me in line and get me to the finish.
We rented a cabin at Happy Acres for the whole crew and went up Thursday night to try and have a relaxing Friday before the race. We had dinner at Mountain Top (so good!) and then went to packet pick up. I tried to get to bed early, but that’s usually something I fail at on a regular basis. I set the alarm for 3 am, but I was already awake and didn’t need it. We were only a few miles away from the start/finish area. As always, it’s nice to see everyone before the race starts. It didn’t fully sink in, what I was about to do. I was ready to start and get the pack spread out. I never know where to place myself. I don’t want to feel pressure from people behind me to go faster, and I don’t like being behind someone knowing I could go faster. The first 20ish miles are the hardest part of the course.
The race starts at 5 am. Here we go! The first mile is on the road to Little Pine State Park Campground and then we hit the Mid State Trail. It’s narrow, with plenty of rocks and roots to turn your ankle on in the dark, but I get through it safely to Dam Run Rd, to one of the worst climbs on the course. It’s a conga line on the climb, no need to push it, but the guy in front of me almost hits me in the face a few times with his trekking poles. I finally had enough and went around him. I didn’t want to be that person passing early in the race on a climb, but I also didn’t want to get stabbed in the eye! Throughout those early miles I got to chat with Karina, Brian R, Bryan S, and the company was nice while it lasted. On the back of my phone, I had the aid station chart with distances, cut-off times, and my estimated times, which were based on Brian’s times from 2 years ago. I looked at it a lot to know the distance to the next aid station. That’s basically how my whole race went, aid station to aid station. Climb, descend, repeat…
The first aid station is at Ramsey Rd, mile 5.5, which I went through without stopping. There is a rocky, off camber descent to Ramsey Run. I felt good on the descent and wondered to myself if I was running it too fast, which my quads would hate me for later. We start another long, rocky climb, and then the Mid State Trail descends once again, but not quite as technical this time. I worry about my feet going out from under me on the steep descent, trying to slow myself down, wrecking my quads. I got to chat with George along the way.
We cross Route 44 to the Pine Creek Rail Trail, and aid station 2, mile 10.5, where RD Dave Walker is helping. From there we run the Pine Creek Rail Trail for a short bit, and I enjoy the view as we cross the bridge over Pine Creek! I really do love this beautiful area! I exchange a few words with a guy from Sweden, and I find it interesting how far some people traveled to do this race. I believe there is a group of 10 from Japan as well! Shortly after the bridge on the rail trail, we turn right on the Stone Cutter Trail, and then the Tiadaghton Trail. The guy in front of me kept going on the rail trail, so I had to tell him he missed the turn. It’s too early to be missing turns! The Ramsey climb is another tough one, but I kind of like it because of the view towards the top, and it’s familiar to me from the times I’ve done it before. I take a moment to enjoy the view, and then we have some more gradual climbing along the ridgetop.
We get to a gravel road, Bull Run Rd, and I think I see a deer, but it turns out it’s my dog, Rusty. I see my friends and family found a spot to spectate and cheer us all on! Next is the descent along Bull Run, which is pretty, but rocky. I take my time here. I’m very thankful the bugs aren’t as bad as they’ve been on other days, and that the stinging nettle have been trimmed. I find myself getting emotional a few times early in the race as I think to myself, this is it, you are doing Eastern freaking States! Towards the bottom of Bull Run we turn and run a nice rolling section, with Pine Creek down to our right. We pass through some hunting cabins to Route 44 and make our way up a trail to the Lower Pine Bottom DCNR building, aid station 3, mile 17.8.
I’m happy to see my crew, and the only real bathroom on the course! It’s about 9:50am. I refill water and gels, ditch the headlamp, and back out I go. So many familiar faces, but it’s all a blur. I have 8 miles to the next aid station. We climb the gravel Lower Pine Bottom Road for ¾ mile and then turn right and cross a stream to Wolf Path, for more climbing. Along this section I think back to my training run here with friends, and it gets me through the lonely miles. The descent along Ott Fork is nice, gradual, and not technical. I’m surprised again to see my family and friends spectating here!
We cross Route 44 to climb the Plantation Trail. We are on some ATV trails towards the top and then a there is a nice descent on the Jack Martin Trail, with some waterbars to throw my rhythm off. I notice the girl in front of me looks like she is hiking down, and while I’m running down, I’m not really catching up to her too quickly. Maybe I should save my quads and do what she is doing?
Aid station 4, Browns Run, mile 25.8, and again it’s nice to see some familiar faces! Joe is there taking photos. He completed this race two years ago. I also see Luke, who did a lot of trail maintenance before the race. Thank you! It’s sometime after 12pm. I’ve been moving for over 7 hours now. I know I have 6 miles to the next aid station, and it’s a long, gradual climb along Browns Run. I chew some RunGum for caffeine to get me through it. I also turn some music on my phone, quietly, when no one else is around me on the trail. I don’t normally listen to music, but whatever it takes right now. Seriously, 6 miles of gradual climbing? It’s a mental grind. I am surprised to see my husband found another gravel road to spectate at near the end of this section!
At Happy Dutchman, aid station 5, mile 31.6, I get my water refilled and eat a little something before heading out. I think it’s around 2:20pm at this point. I cross Route 44, and it’s mostly grass snowmobile trails, and then the Donut Hole Trail to Ritchie Rd. All very runnable, if you’re up for that. 6.9 miles to the next aid station. I make myself run a lot of this section, and I wonder how my legs can feel this bad already, after “only” going 50K. Once again, they found another spectating spot. I’m alone for most of this section. There is a nice couple sitting out along the trail, though their “fuzzy friends club” (lots of stuffed animals) seems a little strange.
I love the creative signs along Ritchie Rd, coming into the aid station. It’s around 4:00pm, mile 38.5. Again, it’s nice to see some familiar faces here! Jade, Michael, and Kiran are here! I make myself eat something, and then I have 4.7 miles to Hyner Run. This is one small section I have never done. The dirt road power line section seems to go on forever, and I bet that’s tough on a hot, sunny day. I pass a few runners, and then finally get back on a trail and descend Bear Pen Hollow to Hyner Run Rd. I am slow on the descent, and happy to be done with it. I start running on the gravel road, and it feels like my home away from home, coming into Hyner Run State Park.
It’s around 5:15 pm. Aid station 7, mile 43.2. It’s crew accessible and I can pick up my first pacer, Gabe. I’ve been moving for over 12 hours now. I take time here to make sure I have what I need as I will be heading into darkness before the next crew access. I take my arm warmers, buff, headlamp, and fingerless gloves so I don’t get blisters on my hands… and then I never stop at the aid station to eat. I’m happy to see my family and crew, and Gabe’s family cheering for me with the signs they made. I head out with Gabe for the two mile climb on the Donut Hole Trail. It’s so nice to have someone to talk to as he fills me on his day with his family, volunteering at the aid station, and how others are doing in the race. I start to feel ever so slightly nauseous, and I realize my mistake not eating any real food at the aid station. I get some calories with my gels and baby food packet, and I mention that I need to eat at the next aid station. I know this section to Dry Run Rd very well, from the Hyner Half, and think of the fun times with the PA Trail Dogs. The trails are in excellent shape, thanks to them. I might know this section too well though, which makes it drag on for me mentally. Oh, the painful, short, yet steep descent of the “V”, where the trail just seems to drop out from under you, and then goes right back up again. I think back to watching Brian go down this on his butt because it’s that steep. Descend, climb, descend, climb…
We finally get to Dry Run aid station, mile 51.1, and it’s nice to see Sophorn here. I eat some real food and then we head back out. We have 3.5 miles to the next aid station at Halfway House. It’s dark and all a blur in my memory now.
We get to Halfway House aid station around 9:15pm, mile 54.7. Gabe paced me for 11.5 miles. Now I am picking up my next pacer, my 16 year old son, Dylan. We have 9.1 miles to the Slate Run aid station. We cross Route 44 and continue on the Black Forest Trail. He’s excited and a little nervous to pace me, but we’ve reassured him he’ll be fine as he’s done trail races with us before. He thinks it’s cool to be out in the dark. He tells me repeatedly how proud of me he is and how great I am doing. Having him experience this with me means more than words can say! He fills me in on what’s been happening, like how they got to chat with a Tesla owner from New York. It’s nice to hear him talk about Tesla instead of how we should have a pet wallaby (his current joke).
I’ve done the Black Forest Trail before, but it’s hard to remember it all in the dark. I know this will come as a surprise, but there were some rocky, muddy sections, with some descending and some climbing. At spots it’s hard to follow the trail in the dark, along Callahan Run, probably because it’s not much of a trail at times. Certain spots would come back to me, and I’d say, hey look, it’s clear and there would be an awesome view to see here if it wasn’t dark. I think we passed some people on the descent to Naval Run, but I’m sure they ended up passing me again later. Dylan informs me that Brooke instructed him to tell me run to the next reflector. Ha, of course she did! Once we get to Naval Run Road, I run all of it, so that should make Brooke happy! My son hid it well that he was feeling sick while he was out there, but he held it in until after he was done pacing me. We get to Hotel Manor around 12:40am.
Aid station 11, mile 63.8. I change my muddy shoes and socks because I don’t trust my Saucony Peregrines once they get wet. I’ve had issues with my mid soles working their way out from under the insole. My sister made a last-minute decision to drive up for the race, and this is the first place I got to see her. I ate some things, enjoyed seeing more familiar faces, and then headed out with my pacer, Fran, for the next 16.5 mile section. The climb on the Black Forest Trail out of Slate Run is a big one that seems to never end. It seems like it’s over, and then it starts climbing again. Right before we started the climb, Ryan passed us and told his runner how I dropped him on this climb during the Black Forest 100K, and then they disappeared, dropping me this time. I am feeling pretty slow on the climbs and my legs feel like they have no power. It’s a shame we are missing the great views along this climb. Poor Fran got the worst section to pace. Once we are finally done with that climb, I try to move with purpose. We get a break from climbing and descending for a little while. Every time I’ve done this section on a training run, it ended up being miserable, so I was mentally prepared for it to suck. I think that helps it suck a little less. I check what time it is and look forward to the fact that, as the hours pass, we will soon be in daylight again. We hear the Algerines aid station before we see it, which is impressive for the ridiculous time of night. Or is it morning?
Aid station 12, Algerines, mile 69.1. It’s around 3am. At this point I am done with anything sweet and only want salty foods. They talk me into sitting down by the fire for a few minutes. I think I had a hash brown that I had to wash down with broth because everything just sticks in my mouth. I see Luke again, and it’s nice to chat with Jeff, however it’s not so nice to get back up and moving on stiff legs. Fran and I head back out, and I’m prepared for the suckiest section, starting with another rocky descent that is hard to navigate in the dark. I probably complained about it a lot through here, just for something to talk about. We cross a gravel road and start climbing again. The more we climb, the harder it gets to follow the trail. Look for the next reflector and make your way towards it. It was hard enough to find the trail on our training run in the daylight! Once we are finally at the top, I complain some more about how long it seems to be taking to get to the next aid station.
We finally get to the Long Branch aid station, mile 75.6. It’s almost 5am. Broth or soup are my preference at this point. We see David and Lea here, and I love when she sternly tells him it’s time to get moving. We head out close behind them. I’m looking forward to seeing the sunrise and making it to Blackwell. That seems like a big milestone in my mind, to make it that far and get this section behind me. We get a nice, foggy sunrise view along the West Rim Trail.
David and Lea pass me, which means they missed a turn, because they had been in front of me. I’m impressed by how well he’s moving. Fran tells me I can catch the girls in front of us, which is something Brooke would say. I don’t really care about that at this point, but I do manage to pass them eventually. The descent seems to go on forever, and I whine some more about it. I watch my footing as I don’t want to go falling down the side of the mountain to the creek below. There is a big washed out section on the Bohen Trail that they have fixed since my last training run here, but that bridge seems a little sketchy. It’s probably because of that intimidating drop I just mentioned. There are some pirate flags along the trail, which makes me think of our PA Trail Dog pirates John and Larie. We finally get down to Blackwell, where I make a very pathetic attempt at getting my legs over the guard rail to the road, where we then cross the bridge over Pine Creek.
Blackwell aid station, mile 80.3, 7:35 am. I have been moving for over 24 hours. It’s nice to see my crew again, and more familiar faces. Brooke already has some food picked out for me from the aid station. What do I need? I have no idea! I sit down and take my shoes off because there is dirt in them, and it feels like sandpaper to the bottom of my feet. The muscles in my legs and feet feel stiff and sore. I spend about 5-6 minutes at the aid station. After I get some food in me, I head out with Brooke for the last 23 miles. The only other time I’ve done this section was when I paced Brian two years ago. I think I prefer knowing what I’m in for, and I can’t remember this section well. I look forward to the view at Gillespie Point, but climbing feels really hard by now, and extremely slow. It’s only 4.5 miles to the Skytop aid station, but it seems to take a long time, probably because it did! It’s a pretty section of trail, with a few stream crossings, but I’m not really appreciating it at this point. It’s nice to chat with Brooke. She is very encouraging and full of praise for me. Running has brought so many great people into my life.
Skytop aid station, mile 84.8, 9:26 am. They have an assortment of pancakes. Clayton tells me to sit down and eat some soup, and then before I know it he tells me I need to get up and move again! I was there for less than 10 minutes.
Onward we go, with 6 miles to the next aid station. We spend what seems like a long time on grassy roads, which are totally runnable, but I refuse to run. I believe I spent some time whining to Brooke about not wanting to run through the grass, because somehow the grass made it feel hard. I felt bad that I was slowing down so much, yet I really didn’t care. Brooke mentions to me that my sister expressed an interest in pacing me the last 10 miles. She wanted to make me aware of that before we get there so I have time to think about it. It’s a tough decision, because I feel bad cutting my time short with Brooke. I don’t want to disappoint her, missing out on the last 10 miles with me, but then again it would be nice to spend some time chatting with my sister and sharing some of the beautiful trails and experience with her. I know it would mean a lot to both of us, but then I’ll miss out on that time with Brooke. Ugh! I know I originally said I needed Brooke to get me the last 20 miles, but by now we all know that I am the one that will be getting myself through the last miles. There is no doubt I am getting this done. The struggle I expected never came.
Once we are back on a trail, I manage to do some running. There are some pretty sections with lots of ferns. (If you want a course description, you’re not really getting it here, but there’s a great description on the race website.) We get to a gravel road, which we run to the aid station, but again it seems to take forever. I’m met with disappointment every time we come around a turn, with no aid station in sight yet. I run when I can, and then I finally see it!
Barrens aid station, mile 92.8, 12pm. Hi Debbie and Nicole! Another great aid station where I am asked what I need, and I have no idea how to respond. I look at what they have and get something to eat and drink. My crew is getting my sister ready to pace, with a pacer bib and a waiver. We head out of the aid station, leaving my husband very confused as to what just happened. He thought it was a train wreck because he knew I felt very strongly that Brooke pace me to the finish, so why was Stacy with me? He wasn’t aware of the conversation Brooke and I had while she was pacing me. I still feel bad that Brooke wasn’t with me those last 10 miles, but I enjoyed sharing the experience with my sister. I slowed down A LOT those last few miles, and I know Brooke would have tried to push me, in the nicest way possible. I’m not sure if I could have handled that mentally, but I’m sure I would have told her in my whiny way. I have 6.3 miles to the next aid station. This is another section that I have never done before, and I find myself wishing I had, so that I would know what I was in for. I try to run when I can, but it all feels terrible anymore. There are no major climbs, but even going downhill feels bad. I enjoy talking to my sister, and eventually we make it to the aid station.
Hacketts aid station, mile 99.1, 2:30pm. Eat, drink, it’s all a blur, but the volunteers are fun. We head back out, and it’s downhill, which hurts. Really, everything hurts at this point. We cross a gravel road and briefly see my family, and we also see Tracy driving by. She says she will be sweeping this section later and doesn’t want to see me. “Only” 3.8 miles to the finish, but it feels like a death march. I was tired of climbing, and yet downhill wasn’t any better. I know the last part of the course to the finish, Panther Run, and I’m looking forward to getting to it, but where is it? We climbed on the Mid State Trail, and then we start descending, which is confusing me because I thought we descended on Panther Run. I didn’t realize that Panther Run wasn’t the top of the mountain! We keep going down, with no sight of Panther Run. How is this possible? I complain about this quite a bit! I’m sure it felt much longer with how tired and sore I was. Even though it was downhill, I am extremely slow. I am passed by people these last few miles, but I don’t care. I will finish this race in time, and that is all that matters anymore.
I finally see the Panther Run sign! We have about a mile or less on the ridgetop before the last steep descent. Of course, we take photos of the rattlesnake den! Thankfully none of them are out on the trail. There are a lot of cool rock formations on this ridge, but I’m still hating every step I take.
We get to the final steep descent, and I am so happy to hear people and see the road down below! As I make my way down, pathetically slow, I think of Bob and me running down this hill last year at Call of the Wilds. I’m certainly not about to run down it now! Once down, we cross the road and make our way through the parking lot and across the grass to the finish line. I slowly run to the finish line, so happy to be done, yet not really feeling any of the emotions I expected to feel. I think I felt more emotion coming down the last descent, knowing the end was in sight. RD Dave Walker is at the finish line with a smile on his face, along with my family, crew, and friends. I can finally stop moving! I tell Dave I don’t want to do Black Forest 100K, but he says I should give it a few days. He gives me my buckle and a hug. I am given my finisher jacket and BOCO Gear backpack. I don’t like beer, but when Dave hands me a New Trail beer, I sit down and drink it! It’s been a long 35 hours and 12 minutes!
I did it! I finished this beast of a race, Eastern States 100! I don’t have a desire to run another 100 miler, but I can see myself possibly doing this one again in the future. Maybe… I have so many experiences on different sections of this course, from other trail races and training runs, and that plays a big part in my love for this course. It’s rocky, brutal, and yet so beautiful! I’ll be back next year, preferably as crew or a volunteer. I can’t say thank you enough to my family, crew, and friends for the support and encouragement, and all the awesome volunteers that make this race possible! I can’t imagine all that goes into putting on an event like this, and 100 miles is a lot of trails to clear. Thank you, Luke, Christian, and everyone that helped clear the trails! Thank you to the original RD Craig for creating this race, and thank you, Dave, for taking over as RD. I hope this race continues for many years.
So, I signed up for this race early on, based on the description only as ” rugged, wild and lots of big climbs”. Everything I wanted to test my training and skill set. I figured this would be a good, end of season run to explore a new place. My “A” race for the year, Laurel Highlands 70.5 miler, was done and in the books. I thought that was the hardest race of the year, but boy was I wrong! I had no idea what I was in store for.
Almost immediately after the run starts ( at 6am, in the dark), you are hit with a short road section and then a gradual climb. Don’t let this runnable section fool you, because after about a mile of easy running, you get smacked with your first climb up the Mid-State Trail. And then down. And then up. And then down. The big climbs never end, and the hard, rocky descents don’t either. And when you aren’t going up or down, you are running off camber on the rocky Mid-State Trail on moss-covered and slippery rocks. Falling and tripping is the normal here, and this course requires all of your body muscles and mental focus.
About halfway through the race, you get a little break as you come down to the village of Ramsey, where you get a short reprieve from the hills with some flat running on the Pine Creek Trail. BUT, only to get greeted with the biggest climb up, up, and up! After that you get to go back down and get another nice 2-3 mile runnable section before you then get the hardest of them all: the Torbert climb. Steep and straight up around mile 26 with mostly dead legs.
The aid stations were great, with enthusiastic volunteers who were cheering you on and making lots of noise! The PA Trail Dogs put on a great event! I was happy with my effort, finishing this in 6:56. From mile 5 to the end I was passing people and no one was passing me – a good feeling to have in the race. This ends my season for the most part, but as many people know, I have been racing this year to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research, having lost my mom to this dreaded and deadly form of cancer 15 months ago. Click on this link to check it out: https://events.lustgarten.org/fundraiser/1826394
Although Laurel Highlands was my “A” race, this was my best and hardest race. So, if you want to know what Eastern States is about, but don’t want to run it, check out its baby brother and sign up for Call of the Wilds!
About the race: In 2013, race directors Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe sought to create the toughest 50k skyrace in the United States, and Big Sky, Montana was just the place. A skyrace is considered an extreme sport of mountain running above 6,600 ft., where the incline grade exceeds 30%, and where the climbing difficulty does not exceed II°. The Rut Mountain Runs are held every year at Big Sky, and consist of four different races: a 50k, 28k, 11k, and the Vertical Kilometer (VK). Competitors also have the option of completing the Rut Trifecta: the VK, 28k, 50k. That’s three races in three days! What began as a total field of 300 runners grew to about 3,000 runners from all 50 states. . At the start of 2019, I found myself stuck in a pretty dark place. I longed to fill that fire that once burned so intensely but was then slowing to a single wavering flame. Stuck in a rut, as they say. On January 8th, I decided to gift myself a birthday present by signing up for The Rut 28k. 12:07 A.M. – I was in. By then I was becoming partial to a particular type of playground: unforgiving, technical mountain trails. The views are breathtaking, the descents are exhilarating, and the climbs keep me humbled. The 25k(ish) distance was also a sweet spot for a good agility, endurance and mental challenge. The Rut fit the bill. Races are not cure-alls, but it gave me something to focus on, at least temporarily. Two other friends signed up for the adventure, and shortly after, we were making plans to head to Montana come end up of August. . Fast-forward to the end of July. Tickets were bought. Room reservations were made. The Rut was 4 weeks away and I was about 90% confident that I was going to drop out. Sure, it looked like a good time, but I wasn’t having a good time. My mind and body were not responding well to training, and I was juggling either traveling or working long 6-7 day stretches every other week (shout-out to the graveyard shift). Add in many other life stressors, and I had my first DNF at my favorite Escarpment Trail Run. I often try to recognize how entirely lucky I am to have such opportunities – to have an able-body – but I was completely drained. Doubts started to creep in, and I began to wonder what I was doing at all. Equally so, I also try not to take time for granted. This race may not come again. I had to breathe, dig deep, and reanalyze. . 3 weeks until race day. I tried to recall the progression workouts I used to do while competing in school. I eventually threw out that idea. I’m not that structured competitor right now. Instead, I made changes to my diet, workout nutrition, training runs, social outings, media consumption, and threw in some speed and tempo workouts. 2 weeks to go and I felt myself coming back. With all the videos, maps, and descriptions of prior Rut races, I had a general idea what I was getting myself into. I have never run at altitude, but my saving grace was knowing the Presidential Traverse was about 1,000 ft. more than I would be climbing at the race. That and Dry Bar Comedy. . We flew into Bozeman, Montana and drove to the Big Sky Resort Friday afternoon. The 28k race would start the next day, Saturday, August 31st. No better way to prepare for altitude than throwing yourself into it right away! This was received advice: run at altitude within the next 24 hours of exposure or acclimate a week and half ahead of time. I do not recommend this to everyone. The resort sits about 7,500 ft. above sea level. This was already higher than any point in Pennsylvania. The highest climb on the course would put us above 11,000 ft. As soon as we arrived at Big Sky, I immediately felt my lungs hampered. Was it pre-race nerves or altitude? I could not tell. We picked up our race packets and scoped the area. The infamous Lone Peak mountain loomed over us. It was like staring up at Hyner View…only it was about 9,000 ft. taller. We would climb that the very next morning. My friends, Laura (F&M Track Club) and Paul (Lancaster Road Runners Club), went for an easy jog while I stayed back trying to relieve major pre-race anxiety. We all train with different running clubs with some overlap, so it’s tough to determine how well prepared any of us were for the race. Still, I was grateful we were all there to take on the challenge.
. The 28k race started at 8:00 A.M. Four different waves would start every 5 minutes. I placed myself in Wave 3 when I initially signed up having really zero clue what a realistic goal would be at the time. Some aspects I kept close: 1) don’t drop out, 2) beat that time goal, 3) have fun – “run your race,” as coach used to say. As soon as the elk horn was blown, I darted out with the lead male. And boy, was that the fastest second-guessing-switcharoo I’ve done in race for quite a long time. I can get out fast, but it does not mean I should stay there. Almost immediately, my nerves kicked in at full force. I found I had trouble breathing, and my legs went completely numb. For some reason I knew it wasn’t altitude related. 13 years of racing, and race anxiety is still going strong. As long as I could calm that anxiety, I could really focus. I slowed it down and calmed my nerves for the next 2.5 miles. Everyone knew what monstrous climbs were coming up, so we paced pretty generously. Much of the next few miles were a slow climb of double track dirt roads and single-track trails. Casual conversation and dirt-filled shuffles later, we had climbed to 9,000 ft. I already started to dislike the dry dirt trails. There was no real place to grip my footing, and I began to question my choice in race shoes. A small inconvenience that could not overshadow the already incredible views of the valley. . We then hit the base of Headwaters Ridge. This was to be the first major climb – about 2 miles of steep uphill with about 1,000 ft. of climbing up to the ridgeline. The route was rocky, loose, and exposed (known as scree). This excited me way more than it should have, but this was my type of playground!! I was relieved to find rocky foot grips to climb and then astonished by how slow everyone around me was going. I don’t consider myself a great climber but surely we could go a little faster. Route bottlenecks this early on in the race cannot be rushed. Sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise. Once we hit the top of Headwaters, it was off to run across the rocky scree ridgeline. I was so elated to hopscotch across the scree that I passed a good number of other runners. Scree and incredible ridgeline views! Once we hit the downhill portion, I opted to move past the more cautious goers. At that point, the route was descending with half dirt, half scree. As I was trying to pass others on the right side, I ended up slipping and doing a 360 spin and slide down this dirt descent until my feet could grab a hold to brake. Gracefully nailed it. We continued onto a dirt road with a steady climb up to the Swiftcurrent aid station. . By then, the route had been entirely exposed to the hot sun. I thanked the numerous cheering spectators, high-fived the man in costume, and waited while the aid station helped fill my hydration bladder. No reason to rush to the arduous climb cleverly named Bone Crusher. From there, we continued to climb all the way to the top of Lone Peak sitting at 11,166 ft. Mentally, I knew I had climbed long rocky, exposed peaks in the past. This was only a little over 2,000 ft. climb, right? It felt by far the longest.climb.ever. The base of Bone Crusher was a mix of dirt and loose gravel. I found myself frantically begging for the surface to transition from loose dirt to scree to give my legs a break. Once in a while people would stop on the side of the trail to catch their breath. I thought to myself surely this is where I would feel the real effects of altitude. It never happened, at least not that I noticed. Neither nausea, lightheadedness, nor stomach issues affected me. If anything, my legs were just tired. A woman in front of me stopped to gasp for air, pointing out that the altitude was making it tough to breathe. I was not so sure. It’s always tough for me to breathe while climbing, especially up a mountain. My lungs did not feel any more labored than they usually do, so I just kept climbing. With every few gasps for air, I tried to take in the vast beauty of the mountain valleys. The last 10 feet was extremely tiring to climb, but once I reached the top of Lone Peak, I let out a sigh of relief that the worst climb was finally done. Looking back, climbing Lone Peak felt no more difficult than climbing Blackhead Mountain at Escarpment. Maybe it’s that east coast humidity. . The next descent was absolutely insane. I knew I was a decent downhill runner, but I didn’t anticipate how fast and how slick this descent would be. Between gravity and downhill speed, I was running down about 2,600 ft. of loose dirt and very sharp turns at a rapid pace. I slipped several times trying to avoid running into other people, thanking them as I went by, but also wincing at my cut-up legs, hip, hands and throbbing quads. Once the speed builds, there’s no stopping down that mountain. I was somewhat grateful for the change in terrain at the bottom. The loose dirt soon turned into a segment of loose gravel, which I pretty much surfed/slid through. Once I reached the bottom of the mountain, I realized it was the first time I was running alone since the start of the race. That descent was exhilarating, but it also really hurt. . The few flat dirt roads we were rewarded with afterwards turned out not to feel so runnable under trashed legs. I pushed on as each incline after felt worse than the last. I still have 5 more miles?! We entered a heavily wooded section of trail later to be discovered named “Africa” with 3 more miles to go. In my head, I thought to tough it out and push this last 5k. Little did I know that Africa would be an absolute nightmare. Not only did the trees trap the heat closer to the trail, but the trail itself was incredibly steep, muddy, and rutted. This was not what I expected so close to the finish. The guy next to me fell over on the trail in exhaustion and defeat. I told him, “we’re almost there,” but also knew we had a feeling of mutual disappointment of what was ahead of us. Surely the worst prank a race director can pull that close to the finish. Curse those Mikes! But I should know better. I know Pennsylvania races. By the time I climbed out of Africa, I felt there was nothing left. We could hear a small group cheering us on from the top of the climb. There I saw Paul and was almost in tears when I realized we still had a steady exposed climb up to the last aid station. . After reaching the last aid station, I sprinted down the trail to finish. Only ½ mile to go! My quads were not so willing, and my legs started cramping hard as I continued down another steep descent of dirt bike trails. With a bizarre twist of banked dirt trails and throbbing legs, I managed to push through the pain all the way to the finish. Phew! So glad I didn’t sign up for that 50k! . All in all, The Rut 28k was a crazy good and painful time. It was well-organized, well-marked, and well, you just can’t beat that type of mountain running community! What was cool was to hear the finish announcer state where everyone was from. They suspected Laura and I must know each since we both hail from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We didn’t do so bad for a couple of Pennsylvania runners out there in the mountains. My favorite section: running along the scree-filled ridgelines. I’m like a kid in a candy store on that type of trail – not to forget the incredible 360 views! Would I do it again? Probably with more specific training under my belt. My growing interest in more technical terrain throughout the year ended up helping me train for this race even if I just saw it as play at the time. Still, that doesn’t quite cut it against the strong mountain running community out here. As for race photos, I typically do not take personal photos while racing. You will just have to Run the Rut to experience it! . On-on to watch the kids’ Rut Runts Run, meet The North Face Speaker Series athletes Rob Krar and Coree Woltering, and then to cheer on Paul in the 50k!!