The title on my blog says “Training to find the edge”. This phrase was coined from a comment a friend of mine made on my race report from Moab. It stuck with me because I believe it defines us runners. We are always training to best our last performance, whether it is time, distance, terrain, or environmental conditions, always challenging ourselves. Then there are the times when you push yourself to that limit you didn’t even know you had in you and you go beyond. It is then that you find that new edge, that new barrier, and in doing so, learn so much about yourself.
My goal for this fall is to compete and complete my first 50mile race. So, to prepare for this, Derrick recommended racing the Damn Wakely Dam Ultra. To quickly summarize this race, it is a point-to-point, self supported, 32.5mile trail race through some of the wildest parts of the Adirondack Park. There is a very limited field which is made even smaller by the fact that previous years participants have first rights to registration. I put my name into the lottery and was fortunate to be one of the chosen few.
Training went well and I was pretty confident in my fitness going into the race. I had, or thought that I had, a pretty good handle on my gear and nutrition – with no support on the course, there was no backup if anything went wrong.
Kim and I drove into Piseco, NY late Friday afternoon in an absolute downpour. If there were any chances of the trail being dry, they were washed away by the rain that fell that afternoon. The one positive was that for now the temperature had dropped, but still they were calling for a high of 90F (32C) for Saturday.
Pre-race meet up and activities went perfectly -> handing out of race numbers, group photo, quick briefing by RDJim, (including the announcement that it would be the last year, for him holding this event, so sad), and final march to the starting line/trail head. After a short time gathering around, we were off into the great unknown ahead.
First impressions right from the start - this trail feels old, seldom travelled, but not over grown, a very special place. Second impressions - damn that IS shoe sucking mud, watch out for that rock/root/fallen tree, does this trail not go in a straight line, EVER! If you were to try to picture the perfect dense wooded, technical trail, this would be it.
Things ticked along nicely for the first 4 miles, I kept my pace under control, not being pulled by the rabbits and just did the work. I drank when I was supposed to, fuelled with Gels, re-filled one of my bottles at the first stream and everything was ticking along nicely. It did start to dawn on me at this point just how unrelenting the trail was; there were no breaks, no time to cruise and relax or get into any sort of rhythm as it was constantly changing trail and terrain.
Every time I thought that I could finally get into any sort of steady pace, there was another mud pit to tip toe through, or tree to climb over, or stream to cross, or (as Sara described them) slippery-like-no-other-surface-on-Planet-Earth boardwalks. But, it was all part of the game, so on I pressed.
I arrived at the half-way point feeling pretty good, but getting tired from the obstacle course I had been running for the last 3+ hours. I had been having some minor stomach issues for the last hour, but nothing too bad and with some candied ginger I had been able to keep it under control, but I was slowly losing that battle. The combination of the Gels, Blocks, and Water Purification Tabs was starting to take its’ toll. I pressed on, anticipating the final 3rd of the course where it supposedly became more runnable.
When I hit what I thought was the start of the last 3rd I was actually able to run for a stretch of about 200m until I hit was must have been the 40th mud patch and was forced back to the same old pace. So I wouldn't say the wheels fell off at this point, but the tire was definitely leaking. I was starting to feel that if I kept drinking any more purified eLoad or chewing another block that I would be sick so I decided to keep things under control by sticking with the water in my hydration pack and gels. Then, on a nice steady downhill it hit me, my hamstrings were starting to cramp a little – crap I had not kept up on my S!Caps, stupid! Reached into my little pocket, and they were gone – must have fallen out on the course. Just thought at this point, I’m screwed. My tire was leaking and I lost my patch kit. As it was hot, I was sweating like crazyand I had two hours to go with nothing but water and a couple of gels, it was time to go into survival mode. I slowed my pace a little, started walking when I felt a cramp coming on, drank what I had and kept moving forward. What I found amazingly encouraging was that after over 5 hours on the course, even with all this I was feeling pretty good. Sure I was bonking and cramping, but mentally still so much in the game. I knew what I had to do to get to the finish and just did it. There was never the thought of wanting to quit, or second guessing being out here, the mind was telling the body what to do and would not accept any excuses.
The relief that I thought I would feel exiting the trail on the road for the final 1.5 mile just did not happen. I was in a zone of pushing the body to the finish and until I crossed that damn dam, I would not relax. Finally there it was, finished in 6:34 of muddy, sweaty hell.
I stripped off my belt, pack, and shirt. While I had stopped running, I still couldn’t catch my breath. I was walking around is a semi-haze trying to recover but couldn’t. Walked into the lake to cool off, but I still felt out of breath like I was still running on the course, this was new! Finally sitting down it hit me – Gatorade – I need to get electrolytes. Finally after a couple of bottles, my breathing relaxed and my fog lifted. First time I have ever been that depleted, and you know you are when your ab muscles are cramping.
The race was tough, but fair and I would love the have the chance to come back to run it again, and give it a good smack down. This was an amazing event that I feel honored to be included in. On the back of this years shirt is the name of every person who had run the Wakely Dam, and there are only 250 names for the 10 years. This shows in the days of 25,000+ entrants in the big road marathon, what a small and unique this race is, and how few have had the joy to run the Northville Placid Trail.
The edge found at Wakely is one I have to be learn to be careful with; if you learn to mentally push through a physical limitation you also have to learn to take those physical cues and know what they mean. In hindsight, I was getting dangerously close to something more physically serious at the end. I wish I could report more on the trail; what this section was like, this lake, stream crossing, climb, descent, points of interest, but to be honest I don’t really remember. I was so focused on not falling on my face or doing something stupid that all I was thinking about was getting to the finish.
Finally the thanks – Kimberley my pre-race, post-race, life-long crew chief, none of this would be worth it or possible without you. Derrick, you trained me well, I hope I didn’t disappoint. And RDJim for inviting me to the dance, it was a great ride
Oh and Kimberley is also my official race photographer and her skills are really improving. HERE is a link to the pictures from the race
Final results were 32.5miles, 6:34, 11th overall