Holy cow. HOLY COW! I can’t believe it is over! I’ve been prepping for so many months, and that day has passed! And I’m still alive (and – dare I say it – I can look back and say I loved it)!
First, the lead up to the race: I’ve only completed ONE 50-miler before this – Virgil Crest Ultramarathon in September 2014. That was tough, but I ran it with Adam, and his company and companionship were a HUGE comfort to me the whole way. For scale, Virgil Crest is 50 miles, with just under 11,000 ft of elevation gain. I have joked before and claimed we ran up and down the ski resort Greek Peak six times, but that’s basically true. It is a beautiful course, and a beautiful day of running. By the time I finished it, I was exhausted and couldn’t walk properly for days. I loved it and was hooked on trail running and ultra running after that!
You can imagine my anxiety when I signed up for Manitou’s Revenge: 54 miles and just under 16,000 ft elevation gain. I’d like blame my friends, Taz and Rusty, for convincing me to do it, but I’m sure it was an easy sell. Here’s the profile:
Yikes, right?? I was determined to do this, regardless of how deranged it seemed. For this kind of challenge, I’m 100% game – I was going to finish Mantiou’s!
Day before the race, I was a quiet storm. I had all three of my “drop bags” ready (one official for the 1/2 way, one for Adam to support me with, one for the finish). I had an extra pair of shoes, dry socks, and running clothes for each bag, but I only ended up changing at 1/2 way. TP, baby wipes, headlamp, NUUN and salt tabs: CHECK! Chicken quesedillas were the solid food of choice, because after running for 8 hours on gels and gu’s, I knew I’d be ready for some real food. I quietly went through scenarios in my head and mantras of strength, retreating into a very rare state of introversion. We had to get up at 2:35am to get to the buses on time at 3:30am, so we tried to get to bed early. Hah. With three anxious runners all in one room, that was difficult. Eh, eventually I did get a mildly decent night of sleep.
THE RACE ITSELF
As the race started, I felt nauseous. My incredible team, Taz and Rusty, were 20 minutes ahead of me in the first wave, as I started in wave 5 on my own. The first three miles were on road, with mild rise and falls to ease my muscles into running. It was a good warm-up – really! A slow climb from the road, the first section was dappled with sunlight as the sun crested above the hills. The first peak provided some staggering views, and made the dull awareness in my quads melt away the miles to the top of Acra Point. I was ready to run! I loved it!
The second peak seemed to take forever, but I was told there was a plane wreck near the top and that was the sign that downhill was approaching! I think this is the highest elevation point in the race, but it is far from being the hilliest part of the race. Already, there was plenty of hand-over-hand climbing, and a bit of scooting down boulders on my rear, but my body felt good, and I was in great spirits! I was chatting up the people around me, and enjoying the stunning trails and views. My fear here was that my cheery attitude grated on people’s nerves or focus. I didn’t get a lot of chat back until later in the race. (I can’t imagine what people think when Taz and I run together and sing songs to pass the time. Must annoy the crap out of anyone in earshot.) It was here I started taking note of runners with trekking poles. Hmmm. Maybe they have a point…more on that later.
To be honest, I don’t remember the second aid station (mile 10.3). I know I stopped at it; I refilled my water and stuffed my face with – something – probably oranges, potatoes or the like. I was feeling really good, and I was scared I was feeling too good. As in, feeling so good in that I was draining energy for later, and that I’d hit a wall at mile 40 and never recover and regret all these moments of “oh, I’ll just keep this quick pace”. But I was running strong, taking my time uphill and I knew Adam was waiting at the third aid station (mile 17.5), so maybe my excitement was feeding my energy. I felt prepared and ready to tackle more of these gorgeous hills!
Coming into aid station three, I was FLYING. There was a nice flat piece and I was really letting my legs stretch out. I must have surprised Adam, because the next thing I know he’s bounding out from the trees yelling “holy crap, Jeney!” And, as I’m slowing down to the food tables, I see Taz and Rusty! What the what?! Now, I was really scared. Somehow, I’d made up 20 minutes in 17.5 miles to catch up to Taz and Rusty. How in the world did that happen? Was I pushing myself too hard too early? There was A LOT of elevation to come, and honestly, I’d just completed the easiest part of the race. I started feeling unwell at the thought of exhausting myself too early, and I told myself “time to slow it down, Wierman.” I started getting too analytic, so I joked about with Adam, talking through quesedillas and cookies to distract myself (“eat early, eat often”). No need to get into my head yet…
Taz and Rusty started out a few minutes ahead of me while I kept stuffing my face (see Mountain Peak Fitness Facebook Photos of Manitou’s) and repacked my bag (something which became the bane of every aid station stop). I took off with renewed spirit and supplies, ready for a 3 mile downhill trot. Anyone who tells you running downhill is easy is lying. It is a skill, which I have yet to master. I’ve heard you want to ‘ski’ down, using a slalom type approach, bouncing from one side to the other every five to ten steps. I should’ve used that on this stretch a bit more, as it would’ve saved my toes (more on that later, too). Instead, I slid and shoved my toes into the front of my shoes, trying to keep a decent pace downhill. The rocks were terrible, and made the way a bit tricky, with fist-sized rocks dispersed with ‘dinner plate’ rocks and roots. So. Many. Rocks. Still strong, I bounded into the fourth aid station to see Taz and Rusty and, to my complete surprise, Adam! He was supposed to be on his way to working the eighth aid station! Why was he here?! I mean, don’t get the wrong impression, I was OVERJOYED to see him again, and to have the chance to tell him a proper “thank you” and “I love you” and “I appreciate this more than you know.” But I was shocked to see him again! I had been thinking of how horrible I was to just fly away from the last station without so much as a “luv u”. Awesome!
Taz, Rusty and I went off together, chatting and keeping great company. What came next was about an hour of hiking. I know people think I’m crazy to go on these ultra “runs”, so let me assure you that this race included a LOT of walking. From the fourth aid station, we walked uphill 3 miles at about 12-14% grade which took us around an hour. Rusty called it the rollercoaster climb – “You just put your legs in gear and chug slowly up the hill.” We reached the first shoulder and mucked our way through bogs, roots and mud patches. Here, my shoes gained about ten pounds (kidding). I love mud, and I love how it makes your legs and feet look badass, but the weight is nothing to shake a stick at. And this stretch was very muddy! And had lots and lots of roots. Our pace slowed to a moderate walk/run, picking our ways through gnarly patches of roots or mud. Rusty hit his low point here. At first, I tried to cheer him up, with the jokes and energy that I could muster, but I could tell that was not what he needed. I eventually took off after the marathon mark (26 miles), my mood and energy high with strong (and muddy!) legs.
At the fifth aid station, I changed my shoes. Talk about one of the best feelings to slide your feet into dry socks and shoes. Mmmff. I also changed my top, since I was soaked in sweat, ate my chicken quesedilla, and replenished my pack. Before I left, I hugged Taz and Rusty goodbye and wished them luck, feeling guilty that I would once again leave them to run on my own. I really am enjoying the solo running! The next few stretches were honestly one big stretch in my mind. It was tough. If you look at the elevation map above, and notice the really sharp peaks on the right – that’s where I was – Devil’s Path. There was a lot of steep, steep climbing, a lot of summit-ing peaks, scooting down on my rear, dips to lower to body to the next boulder, etc. There were vertical drops of 10-30 feet when you had to climb down using roots or hand holds. At points, I came to a place in the trail I felt was a dead end, with just rock in front of me, only to look up and notice a trail marker on a tree…way…up…there. What the….? Really? I signed up for this?
Interestingly, I ran into a lot of hikers around Devil’s Path. A few cheered as I went by, and one woman even commented on how nice it was for a woman to be racing. I was just glad I wasn’t wearing any of the packs they were hiking with. Hah!
From there, I ran with several random groups of runners, and I ran by myself. It started misting, and then raining. It was during this stretch of steep ups and downs that I started feeling weak. Around mile 40, my confidence waned – I was hurting. My toes were throbbing, and I knew I could feel blisters forming under the nails. I saw those runners with poles almost running up the hills, their arms lifting the weight from their legs, aiding in the trek. I was jealous. I could feel my legs burn on the hills, and they were starting to cramp (electrolyte imbalance?). I knew I wasn’t fueling properly, but I was tired enough to ignore my better judgement and just push through – “I’m tough, I’ve only got 10-ish more miles”. I tried drinking more NUUN, but ran out of water to dilute it. Aid stations came and went and I kept a good attitude when chatting with people, but my thoughts were pretty despondent. “Why am I doing this?”, “Is this worth it?”, “Why is there another hill?”, “Everything hurts!”, “What if I just gave up at the next aid station” (answers below). I knew I had to make myself finish it, but I felt myself start to focus on how much it hurt – rookie mistake. I forced myself to look around, enjoy the trail, the sound of the birds and find beauty in my surroundings. The forest really is beautiful, and I wish I would’ve saved more mental images (forget taking pictures, my phone was soaked).
I had made another mistake; I misjudged where the eighth aid station (mile 48.5) was located. I thought it was at the top of a small hill, when really, it was up nearly 1000 ft. As I zig-zagged up the side of the last mountain, I grumbled and moaned and quietly sobbed in frustration. I didn’t want to be climbing anymore; I just wanted to run. If I had a trail where I could get some speed, then I would finish faster and this would be over sooner. But I kept looking up, and seeing more climbing. When I finally caught up to Adam at the eighth aid station, I nearly collapsed into his arms. I can’t even remember if I thanked the aid station crew, but I hope I did – they were crucial at this point. It was growing dark, the sun had nearly set, and I still had at least an hour and a half to go, and most of it downhill. The crew urged me to get along, take advantage of the what little light was left before I plunged through the darkness toward the finish. I didn’t want to – I just wanted to eat peanut M&Ms and sit down.
I begrudgingly left Adam and the last resupply I’d get before the finish. With it getting dark, it was hard to see the trail markers and flags. Twice I thought I got lost, and turned around – only to turn around again, trusting I was on the right path. As the last bits of light disappeared, I saw the fire tower at the top of that last summit and knew I didn’t have to climb anything else tonight. Thank goodness! But boy, that sense of relief was quickly replaced by the reality of the slope down to the finish. My toes were already toast, and I wasn’t looking forward to mushing them down the mountain.
The last 3 miles of trail were all down a 14% rocky road. The mist and rain made visibility short, with only about five feet of trail in view in front of me before the mist dispersed my headlamp into white nothing. Remember those fist and dinner plate sized rocks? They were back, and in force! The rocks turned my feet into ground meat! The blisters under my toes made every step excruciating – I was wincing and whimpering. The rocks were wet and loose causing me to slip and fall hard twice, with no big injuries, but everything ached. I was done with any confidence I had in myself.
I was alone. I cried. I bemoaned my state – wet, achy, grumpy. I cursed at the trail, rocks and trees. I gave up running and wobbled down the last mile of trail. I suppose I must’ve had something pushing me, likely the thought of just getting out of the woods into something dry and some warm food. I’m sure that’s what pushed me to put one painful step in front of another!
In the darkness, I could make out the last aid station! The finish was just around the corner! I knew it was 1.5 miles on road to the finish; nevermind that it was uphill and still raining.
But I had nothing left in my tanks. I was gassed and simply walked on, occasionally picking up the pace only to discover that my legs wouldn’t take it for long. I’ve never been in this state before. I could walk fine, but as if all the energy was wiped from my legs, any change in momentum completely drained me. I tried running, but succeeded in only a couple steps before slowing to a walk again.
About a mile left to go, Adam came flying by in the truck, racing to meet me at the finish from his aid station. Those few words of “you’re almost there!” and “you are strong, you’ve got this!” sped me to a trot with tears in my eyes (where that energy came from is beyond me). As I punched out the last bits of road, I caught up with another runner, Joe, that I’d spent a solid portion of the race running with and I convinced him to run to the end. And we did. Never did a finish line drenched in rain look so welcoming. I was DONE.
I’d like to thank Charlie Gadol for organizing such a fantastic race. Never have I experienced this special kind of trail running. I plan to do it again! Also, thanks to all the volunteers and aid station workers who kept me stocked and running. Thank you to Joe, Gerrit, Scott, Mike, Brennan, John, Simon, Amy and Paul for keeping me company throughout the race at various points. I don’t know how I would’ve distracted myself otherwise. 🙂 Thank you to my team, Taz and Rusty, for training accountability, company, and for encouraging me to “KILL IT” on this race. I think I did that!
But finally, and in my mind most importantly, thanks to Adam. Without you, I never would’ve signed up for this. Actually, I wouldn’t have started trail running when I did. You’ve kept me accountable for my training (I’m lazy at heart) and been the foundation of my support. For this race, you were my support, my team, my crew. You went above and beyond what was expected (which wasn’t much, considered you were supposed to run it with me!) and I can’t express the gratitude I feel for your effort. Thank you.
- Wrist: Garmin Fenix 2, Garmin VivoSmart
- Feet: New Balance Minimus WT10v3, Darn Tuff Tab No Show Ultra-light
- Hydration: Nathan Intensity (2L) + Salomon 18oz flask
- Head: Petzl Tikka Improved Lumen Output Xp 2 Headlamp, Buff Headgear
- Noms: Chicken quesedilla, Hammer Gu, Clif Shot Blox and Energy, Honey Stinger Energy Chews, and yogurt covered raisins
- Start (wave 5 @ 5:25am)
- Aid station 1 water stop
- Aid station 2 Dutcher’s – +2:14
- Aid station 3 N/S lake – +3:46
- Aid station 4 Palenville – +4:49
- Aid station 5 Platte Clove – +7:27
- Aid station 6 Mink Hollow – +10:42
- Aid station 7 Silver Hollow – +12:20
- Aid station 8 Willow – +14:21
- Aid station 9 water/vest stop
- Overall – +16:06:25
P.S. – I want to emphasize how amazing this course was to experience. I’ve never fallen in love with a trail before, but the Escarpment Trail and Devil’s Path really captured my heart. I enjoyed the diverse trail, the climbs (I felt like a kid again!), and the breathtaking views. Bonus: I enjoyed it under my own locomotion. It will be hard to remember how exhausted and frustrated I was at the end of this year’s race, and thus, I will likely do this again next year! Plus, who am I to back down from a challenge?
Post-P.S. – It is three weeks out and I’ve re-evaluated my position on running Manitou’s Revenge 2016. I’m going to run it under 16 hours next year. Just you wait!