The details and set up of how I became involved in this race aren’t important. The fact that I was extremely excited for this event as it is in my old college stomping grounds and playgrounds surrounding Ithaca is not important. Neither is the fact that I had to pull out because of a stupid overuse injury sustained at the BPAC 6hr race. The fact that Ian Golden, the RD for the Cayuga Trails 50, was generous enough to defer my entry until next year with no questions after I cried “injury” to him is not important. Nor is the fact that I wanted to be a part of this inaugural event so badly that I begged him to use me in any way as a volunteer. Now that I got the non-important stuff out of the way I can move onto the the event itself…
On Thursday, I took off work a little early and me and my wife hastily threw a bunch of clothes in bags, food in a cooler, some sleeping bags and our bikes into/onto the car and made the 2ish hour drive south to Ithaca and Robert Treman State Park. We left early enough to check into our cabin/campsite, run our bikes up to the cabin and then split to the Ithaca Commons and The Finger Lakes Running and Triathlon Company, owned by Ian, to catch the presser/panel of elites hosted by Meghan Hicks of irunfar.com. The elites at the panel consisted of Cassie Scallon (Lake Sonoma 50M winner, Ice Age Trail 50M winner) Ben Nephew (Repeated Escarpment Trail winner, FKTs on basically every known path in the Catskills, USATF Trail 100k team member), Matt Flaherty (Winner American River 50M, 4th place Ice Age 50M, 3rd UROC 100k, 51:11 10 mile PR) Rachel Nypaver (Virgil Crest 100M Winner), Yassine Diboun (Leona Divide 50k winner, 4th Place Waldo 100k) Sandi Nypaver (Mountain Masochist 50M winner, 3rd Ice Age 50M) and Sage Canaday (Winner Tarawera 100k, Lake Sonoma 50M (CR), Bandera 100k, CR White River 50M, 3rd Transvulcania, CR Mt Washington) So basically, a bunch of hacks.
As a performer who has toured, performed with and opened for some of music’s greatest personalities I’m not one to get star struck, but being around these folks, known only by a handful of ultrageeks, left me with the schoolboy giddiness of meeting Farrah Fawcett (did I just date myself?).
Too embarrassed to ask questions at the panel like, “GUs, Blocks, or real food, how do you fuel during the race?” I waited until after to talk to Meghan about her Marathon De Sables win and ask Cassie if this race was a taper for WS 100. Satisfied with the answers Amy and I headed off for dinner and to move the rest of our stuff into our cabin, only to be surprised that the majority of those elites were staying in the cabins right next to us.
Friday morning, as the elites were preparing for a course preview run, I had a great conversation with Ben Nephew in the men’s bathroom of the campsite. We talked about East Coast vs West Coast and Colorado runners, about shoes and how no lugs nor rubber/traction pattern would grip wet slick rock, about his numerous wins at Escarpment and how he is on the USATF Trail team for next month’s international race in Great Britain and how little it means because the USATF is providing no support. Basically the USATF got some of the best runners in the US to represent them and said, “We’re not paying you, but this gig will be great exposure for you.” Having been in the music industry as long as I have the translation is “We know you love what you do, so regardless of all the time, effort, preparation and energy you put into this, we know we can use you for our own purposes and you’ll do it. Oh, you say you want to eat? Well maybe you should find some part time or full time employment to feed yourself and your family… I mean you only train between 30 – 50 hrs a week, right?”
Out of the elites at the gathering, I believe Sage Canaday is the only one making a “pure” living off of running. But even that is not an accurate statement. Sure, he has sponsors, but he also works for those sponsors. He spent the majority of his day Friday standing outside Ian’s store hocking Scott shoes. He is building his own company, VO2 max Productions, using social media and the web to garner advertising dollars. And, think about this, the payday for the winner of this race is $2,500, one of the highest purses in trail running in the US. The race/recovery cycle does not allow runners to race at a winning level every weekend, so he probably could only manage one win a month (which I believe is close to his average over the past four months). Could you live on $2,500 a month?
The other anecdote I leaned was Matt Flaherty graduated from law school in 2010, worked for two years at a law firm before he decided to quit in order to run full time. He got a sponsorship and joined team Soloman. The day he quit is lawyer gig he got injured during a bike commute and was laid up for a year. To make ends meet, he hocks shoes at Fleet Feet Chicago. This is what you can look forward to if you run a slow 10 miler at 51:11.
But I digress. The conversation with Ben was great because the school boy giddiness started wearing off once I realized that these guys and gals were just people. People who ran really fast and had passion for their sport, but still they are just people.
I spent Friday hiking the first part of the course (3.1 miles with 1,100 ft of gain) and trying to ignore my ankle.
Aid Station #1
You can see a person on the trail to the right of the falls, that is part of the course running up Lucifer Falls.
We later went downtown to eat dinner at the Waffle Frolic where I dined on Buttermilk Waffles soaked in caramel topped with Purity Cookie Dough ice cream. I recommended this combination to Cassie Scallon who was at the restaurant at that time and received a look of pure horror from her, until I reminded her that I wasn’t running the next day.
I won’t bore you with the pre-race meeting that night other to say that Ian Golden is a class act. I caught up with some of the regional runners I know and caught up with Ian briefly. Ian finally determined what volunteer duty I could do. He said he was giving me an undisclosed amount of money and I was to be available by phone for all of the aid station captains and would run into town to resupply the stations if they got low on anything. Yep, we met the day before and he was giving me mondo bucks and trusting that I was a good steward of his money. I have tried to explain to non-runners what it is about the trail running community that is so magical and have failed to paint a comprehensive picture every time; but I believe this act by Ian encapsulates the sentiment I have tried to express for years.
Race Day (whoa, two-pages and I haven’t even gotten to the race, aren’t you glad I avoided the unimportant ’set up’ portion of this race report?):
I recruited Egils Rob to help with my duties (as the brakes in my car weren’t stellar and Amy actually wanted to go to the Ithaca Farm Market in the morning, a real delight). And we traversed over to the underpass aid station to drop off their supplies. This course is a spectators course. From the start/finish you can drive 3 miles up to the first aid station (3.1 miles into the course), then 3 miles to the underpass Station (another 3.7 miles), then less than a mile to the Buttermilk Falls/#TrailsRoc aid station (another 5.3 miles) then reverse the aid stations as the course is a modified out and back. There were crews supporting their runners on bikes (including the eventual 4th and 6th place women’s finishers). So Gil and I were ready for the day.
The rams horn was blown at 6:03 and the runners were off. (Pardon me if the splits aren’t accurate, I’m going off what I remember, also I was wasn’t following the women’s race as closely as the men’s as I could only be one place at a time) Denis Mikhalov took the early lead, putting 2 minutes on the field, this was shocking as he had put together a second place finish at MMT 100 two weeks earlier. In retrospect, I wonder if he was trying to get some of the in-race prize money as one of the awards was cash to the person who put three minutes on the field by AS 1. He was only a minute off.
Yassine and Sam Jurek AS #1
Sandi Nypaver AS #1
Denis maintained his lead all the way to the Underpass with Matt, Sage, Jordan McDougal, Brian Rusiecki, and Yassine Diboun running as a pack in hot pursuit.
Jordan, Matt, Sage, & Yassine rounding the bend into Aid #2
At Buttermilk Sage had used the steepest uphill on the course to catch Denis and put 2 minutes on the field.
Sage Buttermilk/#TrailsRoc AS
Matt Flaherty running up Buttermilk Falls
The return trip from Buttermilk Falls to the underpass is a little different than the trip there. When Denis made it to the bottom of the hill, he took a left instead of going straight and went back up the Lick Brook ascent and circled back to the Buttermilk aid station, ending his day as he got off course.
Sage back at underpass
Matt on Sage’s tail
Jordan breathing down Matt’s neck
Yassine in pursuit
Local Talent Cole Crosby making a statement
New Englander Sam Jurek sporting his Trail Animal Running Club (TARC) shirt
The race got very interesting as Matt Flaherty who lives and trains in the extreme elevation and hilliness of Chicago was nailing all of the descents. He was 1:30 back from Sage at the 5th Aid station and closed in to less than a minute at the turnaround (25 mi.) After 5,000+ feet of elevation gain and loss the two men with Jordan, Brian and Yassine in hot pursuit turned in 3:20ish marathons qualifying them for Boston (at my age) on this course!
By the time they returned back to the top of Lucifer Falls, Sage had put 2:30 on Matt and Matt had about 5 minutes on Jordan, Yassine was in fourth followed closely by Brian, while Ben and Sam Jurek were well behind the pace running together as a united New England front. The top two seemed to be battling it out while the rest of the field seemed set.
On the women’s side Cassie Scallon, took a spill and strained her hamstring early on. She completed 25 miles of the course but ended her day at the turn-around. I’m sending positive energy that she’s okay and it wasn’t serious as she is a pre-race favorite for WS 100 in three weeks (BTW Matt Flaherty is pacing her at WS). So, New England runner Kristina Folcik took the lead. In another amazing example of the humility and generosity of trail runners, Kristina quipped as she passed the 22 mile aid station in first place, “I’m first, but I’m not the fastest runner, Cassie’s injured!” Respect runs deep. Another quick note on Kristina, five years ago she was chasing Aid Station cut-offs, and now she’s chasing podiums, check out her irunfar.com interview.
The women’s field was pretty much set at this point with Kristina holding a commanding lead over Sandi Nypaver, and Amy Rusiecki leading Rochester, NY’s Jessica Snyder by a few minutes. The race for third was compelling.
At this time I was getting calls from aid stations that were out of coke, watermelon and salt tabs so Gil and I headed around the town of Ithaca to get supplies. The hardest thing in the world to find was salt tabs so we ended up at Ian’s store and updated the staff that he had manning the fort of the day’s proceedings.
As we were making the rounds, I kept running into my friend Dan Kress who was running that day. His day started rough with him battling migraines and by mile 22 he was disoriented and confused. I gave him some salt and pushed him in the right direction for the turn around and assured him he had enough time to complete the race. His 25 mile split was around 6 ½ hours, good enough to not be lapped by the leaders.
Gil and I dropped off supplies at the underpass and then went to Buttermilk to hang out for a while. In the time we were gone we learned that Matt was keeping Sage between 1 ½ minutes and 2 minutes in his sight, that Jordan had lost about 8 minutes on Matt and that Yassine fell off the pace and Brian was running 4th.
While hanging out at the Buttermilk Aid Station, Ian arrived and had Gil put a pie placard halfway up the Buttermilk Falls ascent. The runner who found this placard, picked it up and brought it to the next aid station won a free pie. Congratulations Amy Rusiecki! We watched the top 4 women come through this aid station and were pleasantly surprised to see Jessica 2 minutes back from Amy and Rochester Runner Elizabeth Matthews had moved up to 6th. Then I started getting texts from my wife at the finish line.
Not having seen the elite males for over a few hours I started getting updates. Sage won in 6:47:48. He put up 5 minutes on Matt at 6:52. Then the big surprise, Jordan came in under minute later, he had made up an 8 minute deficit in 20 miles. Matt later admitted to me that he saw Jordan at a stretch about five miles from the finish, “When you see someone gaining that fast, it’s almost impossible to hold them off, but I realized the difference was $1000 and I dug deep looking over my shoulder for the next five miles.” Brian dropped in 13 minutes later followed in five minutes by Yassine. Stout competition lead to a tight race, Sage took a header on a stream crossing and admitted he was beat up; Yassine looked strong midrace and I thought he would catch Jordan, but Jordan found something late in the race and shocked while Yassine faded out of the money to allow Brian to pick up some cash. That said, the Northeast represented: Sage (Cornell Alum), Jordan (Vermont), Brian (MA), and Yassine (TCCC Alum) in the top five.
On the women’s side, Kristina won, Sandi Nypaver (Sage’s GF) took second, Amy Rusiecki third (and a pie) and Jessica Snyder did not catch Amy in 4th. Overheard at the Awards Ceremony Amy quipped, “At one point I heard someone come up behind me, I glanced back and said ‘Jessica, what are you doing here?’ If people don’t know who she is, they better find out; this was her first 50 miler.” Elizabeth Matthews hung on to 6th overall.
After the Women came through, I had some calls and had to do another Coke run (those darned ultramarathoner’s and their coke addictions). When that was complete my duties were basically over so I met my wife at the Old Mill Aid Station at the top of the Enfield Gorge to watch the women leaders go by and hang out to watch some friends. When I got there, two hours after I pushed Dan Kress into the gorge to the turnaround, I saw Dan re-emerge from the gorge. Six miles in two hours and chasing cut-offs, it wasn’t looking good, but he kept going. I found out he dropped at the next aid station completing 50k on an extremely tough day for him.
We waited for hours at the aid station for my wife’s strength trainer Josh Rossi to come by. We started getting really worried, as 11 hours race time was approaching. I checked with Search and Rescue who were keeping tabs on the bib numbers and on who had dropped, to assure he was still in the race. The report was that he was in 86th place and still running. Then he emerged from the woods, put his arms up in a “I got this thing” expression and moved onto to the aid station and into the gorge.
Amy and I headed down to catch his finish at 11:35 (clock time and actual finish time were off by 3 minutes due to a late start), watch him jump into his girlfriend’s arms and then collapse at the finish line.
This hit me hard, I remembered my first 50M finish, the emotion, the overwhelming realization of what is possible when you realize that the only limits you have are self-imposed. I was happy for him but selfishly upset for me not being able to run. Thankfully it was a momentary feeling, and Amy and I went to eat.
The awards ceremony was fantastic and I can’t say enough about the race director Ian Golden. To be a part of this event was extremely important to me. To be of service to the runners and understand what they are going through makes me feel qualified to support them. To witness ordinary people do extraordinary things is inspirational. To share this experience with my wife made it even better. As I was humbled by my first 50 mile finish, by my first 100 DNF, and subsequently my first 100 mile finish, I am humbled by this event as well. It is really too hard to put into words, but for those who understand, no explanation is necessary -for those who don’t, no explanation will suffice.
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ― John Muir