Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Manitou's Revenge Ultra 54 Miler (plus 5 bonus miles) - Race Report 6/18/16

First view of the day from the climb up Blackhead Mtn.

I first heard about the Manitou’s Revenge Ultra when it was originated in 2013 and immediately was drawn to its rugged, technical nature and elevation profile. Additionally, getting to experience some running in the Catskill Mountains of New York was high on my list since I have never spent any time there. I’ve been following the results and race reports the past couple years and this year finally decided to sign up and planned to make a family trip out of it. Being only 3 hours away from Worcester, it was an easy drive and my wife and I felt it would be fun to take the kids to and we could have a long weekend to explore some of the trains and other attractions in the area.

The description on the race website sums it pretty well:
This is a grueling, gnarly, nasty course with approximately 15,000 ft. of climbing, much of it rocky and precipitous.  To be sure, there are some runnable sections, but you will more often find yourself hiking uphill or down, sometimes hand over hand.
My training from February through early June has all been to prepare for this one race, the only race I’m signed up for this year so far. I ran the Goat Hill 50k in April as a prep race for this one and did a few mountain runs to give my quads some practice on the uphills. Below is a chart of what the last couple months have looked like for mileage and vertical (with links to strava info):

Week of
Vertical Gain
Key Workout (s)
Hill repeats at Pisgah, most of the week off preparing for Wapack & Back

I think I did a decent job of preparing for the race, making every attempt I could to seeking out gnarly trails in the area and testing myself on the hills trying to make improvements in cardio. I even got a new pair of Inov8 Roclite 295s that I planned to wear for at least some of the race. 

My daughter Emma in front of our cottage for the weekend

We arrived the day before and I picked up my race packet at the pharmacy from Charlie Gadol, the RD. He recognized my name and mentioned that he would like to come up to our area and run the Wapack and Back race that my wife and I organize. I told him he should check it out next year and would not be disappointed in the trails in that area. Since I have only run one other 50 miler - Wapack and Back in 2013 & 2014 - I was trying to compare my time from those years to what I was projecting at Manitou’s. (Manitou’s would be a little slower because of the increase in climbing).

We settled into the house we rented that was walking distance from the town and, most importantly, where I would catch the bus in the morning at 3:30am. The race course is set up as a point-to-point run from Windham, NY back to Phoenicia, NY, where we stayed. I went to bed around the same time as my kids with everything prepared for the next day and got a decent amount of sleep. 

Charlie giving the pre-race prep talk

CD Lane Park - starting the race

Wave 4 runners lining up

I headed out the door for the hour bus ride through the hills to the starting line at CD Lane Park, which was uneventful and went by rather quickly. I was slated to start in the fourth wave, which would go 20 minutes after the wave 1 starters (there were waves of 15 starters, 5 mins. apart). I started at 5:20am and Scott Gregor and I ran together for the first 6 miles or so, along the paved section at first, then turning onto the Long Path for the first climb of the day. We chatted a bit about upcoming races and our projected pace for the day (we were both shooting for 13 hours) and I stopped at the first viewpoint to take a photo as he went ahead. I wouldn’t see him again until maybe 9 miles in when I caught up to him on a downhill section, and then he lost me for good. He ended up going on to be third overall in 12:16, a very good time on the course.

The next few miles I spent catching up to some of the wave 3 and wave 2 starters and offering words of encouragement to them as I went by. We all knew we were in for a long day and I felt great in the early miles so I tried to run well within my comfort zone at a pace I planned to hold for the full 54 miles. I spotted Jeremy Merritt who was running the relay with his friend Lars and I talked with him for a bit as we clicked off the miles. A little further up the trail I ran with Sheryl Wheeler (last year’s winner), Mike, and Kevin. Mike informed me that I had passed enough people to be running in the middle of the first wave, about 2 hours into the race, which meant I had made up the 20 minutes from starting in wave 4. We continued for a while together and came into N/S Lake Aid Station shortly after, I felt great and filled up bottles there before quickly heading out. My strategy has been in the past few races to try to work efficiently and spend as little time as possible in the aid stations. Sheryl discussed the upcoming sections of the course with me and told me what to expect next. There were a couple sections through here that had a steep drop-off where the trail skirted by 50-80 foot cliffs, so I paid special attention to footing.

Beautiful view of Katterskill from a point way off-course

I went a bit ahead of Sheryl and caught up to Mitch Ball who was running at a similar pace to me. We ended up turning right at one of the junctions where we should have gone left and continued to run downhill and across the ridge to Inspiration Point and Layman's Monument. Unfortunately, we both did not notice this and continued on our way getting further off course. Mitch was having back spasms and said for me to go ahead because the downhills were bothering him. I ended up getting to a couple more junctions and stayed on a blue blazed trail which, about 2.5 miles in, ended up at a parking lot for hikers near North Road/Scutt Rd. After discussing with the hikers that I was the first runner they had seen and they had been there for a while, as well as a whole lot of swearing on my part, we determined that I went off course. I looked at maps with them and they helped to direct me back the way I came so I could link up with the marked course again. I made my way back to the race course feeling pretty down on myself for getting lost and not noticing for quite a distance.

Looking back across the valley to Inspiration Point
I returned to the course and joined in running with some of the runners from wave 8 and they informed me they had plans to finish in 18 hours. I pushed the pace on this downhill and caught up to a few other people while making my way to the aid station about 2 hours later than I planned on. I fueled up there for the next long section to Platte Clove and headed back out on the course, which started with a long climb up a dirt road/jeep road. The trail would then cross some streams that offered some cool refreshing water to dip my hat in. Making my way through these sections I came across the first of several people that helped talk me out of dropping, which I wanted to do at the next aid station. Amy Hanlon helped me by letting me know she had finished all the other years and that last year there was thunderstorms while she ran the section we were at, and she said "If a middle-aged mother like me can finish this race, you can finish it". She was having issues with her ribs from a recent injury, but was still pushing on and determined to finish. She also stated that she would be checking the results and I had better have a good reason (like an injury) to have dropped, otherwise she wanted to see my name as a finisher. These two points stuck in my head as I made my way along the rest of the course. She ended up finishing the race and wrote about her experience here.

The kids greeting me at Platte Clove, mile 36ish
I came into the Platte Clove Aid Station about two hours after I expected and my family was there to greet me, as well as Jeremy Merritt. He had finished his portion of the race (31.5 miles) and his buddy Lars was taking over for the remaining miles of the relay race. I discussed with my family and Jeremy how I was dropping and they convinced me that I wasn't allowed to and that I had to continue on through the next tough section on the Devil's Path. I spent about 10 minutes at Platte Clove and made my way across the 7.5 mile/3,000' vert section to the next aid station where I was hoping to see Jeremy to catch a ride back to Phoenicia and drop out. Climbing up Indian Head I came across Jim Terribilini and he let me know that he was going to convince me over the next mile or so that I was not going to drop from the race. He described the remaining parts of the course in detail, since he had finished last year in the wet weather, and the way he did so made me think that the hardest parts of the course were already done. He was actually correct in some ways and I did find the later miles to be a little easier with less climbing.

Above the trees view along the course, most of the views were through trees

Coming into Mink Hollow Aid Station, I expected to see Jeremy for my ride back to town. I told myself that if he is not there, then I am going to continue to the finish and as it turned out he was not. This ended up being the best thing that could happen to me at the time, with a ride to town out of my mind, I focused only on finishing. I felt great through this section, grabbed some aid at the table - mostly fruit and a water/tailwind fill up - and headed out just as Jim caught up to me. There was a ~1,200' climb going up Plateau Mtn. and then a few more small climbs remaining on the route and I started to come alive. After I reached mile 42 or so, all the muscles of my legs that were feeling fatigue through most of the middle of the race stopped hurting and I was able to pick up the pace and start passing a few people again. From Mink Hollow to Silver Hollow to Willow Aid Stations was a blur and I spent very little time at the stations trying to limit the time wasted. I was taking in fruit and had some broth at Willow which really helped since the gels I had were not appealing to me. I got to the top of the final 3 mile downhill down Mt. Tremper, put my headlamp on and ran into someone who was unsure if he was on the right trail or not. I pulled out my map and used the app on my phone the RD provided and let him know he was on the right trail and we continued downhill to the final, short road section.

I passed a couple other people along this last downhill and noticed that there was something large running down near the course. I came across Mitch (that I got lost with earlier in the day), who had dropped and was hiking up to meet his friend, and he confirmed that he had seen a bear running across the trail. Grabbing my reflective vest, I "quickly" made my way down the road towards the finish line about a mile away. Coming into the finish line, I felt great and relieved that the run was completed and that I did not drop out when I wanted to several times. I grabbed some of the race food and had a beer with my wife and told her about my day. It was too late in the day for my kids to greet me at the finish, but I was glad to see Amanda and get a ride back to the cottage.

Emma tired out after a long day

After finishing with a huge plate of food

Splits to Aid Stations:
Dutchers - 1:55, 10.3 miles, 11:09/mile
N/S Lake - 3:13, 17.5 miles, 11:01/mile
Palenville - 5:18, 21.5 miles (+5  bonus miles for me),  12:28/mile
Platte Clove - 7:53, 36.5 (with bonus miles included), 12:57/mile (really bummed through this section about getting lost, and was ready to drop at this aid station)
Mink Hollow - 11:19, 43.5, 15:36/mile
Silver Hollow - 12:54, 48.5, 15:57/mile
Willow - 15:29, 53.5, 17:21/mile
Finish - 16:23:41, 59 miles, 16:40/mile overall pace

Full results

Most of the Strava GPS Track 

Last 6 miles of the course GPS Track

I want to thank all the volunteers, the race director, and all the runners I came across that helped me along the way. This was a great race and I would highly recommend it if you want a technical, scenic race through some beautiful forests and mountains. The race was well organized and aid stations were placed well, especially as the miles got slower for me at the end. I'll be back to try again for a 12 or 13 hour finish, sometime in the next couple years. My wife, kids, and brother-in-law were super supportive and made the trip a great time.

As far as future plans go, I have one trip planned in July to take another shot at completing an AMC Hut Traverse. I attempted this route in 2014, but stopped short of the final hut by 1.5 miles due to heat exhaustion. My foot placement that day would not connect with my mind and I started to get nervous so I dropped out reaching my car at Old Bridal Path. (Read the writeup here) The Standard Hut Traverse route is 50 miles that also requires a 3.9 mile hike in and 1.6 mile hike out, so the actual mileage is around 54.5 with a vertical climbing total of 16,800'. After the traverse, I plan on taking it easy the rest of the summer keeping a goal of completing the Midstate Trail (92.5) miles in one run sometime in September. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Wildcats Carters Wild River Long Loop

Manitou’s Revenge 54 Mile Ultra was on my mind from the day I signed up in February of this year. Steep terrain, unfamiliarity with the course/area, and potentially warm weather all were factors in this race’s difficulty as well as already knowing about its notoriety from other runners accounts before. My wife and I decided to make it a destination race this year, bringing the kids, and use it as an opportunity to explore the Catskills area of New York for the first time. It would be good to have people cheering for me and assisting me at key spots in the race to help me get through the day and in good spirits.

Manitou's Revenge 54 Mile Ultra profile, 13,500' of climbing
A big preparation run for me was in order a few weeks prior to the June 18th race date and I planned out a loop exploring some different areas through the Wildcats and Carters range of the White Mountains in NH. I wanted to attempt a route that would have around 10-12,000’ of climbing and would take me anywhere from 10-12 hours to complete, and the loop that I put together did not disappoint on both factors. The plan was to go up the Wildcat Ski Area trails and across the Wildcat Ridge Trail to Carter Notch Hut, following the Appalachian Trail up Carter Dome, Mt. Hight, and the remaining Carters to Moriah Brook Trail on the side of Mt. Moriah. Then I would head down a 5 mile downhill into Wild River Valley before coming back up about 3,000’ to Carter Dome via the Black Angel Trail. From there, I would repeat the first section I came across from Carter Dome back to the Wildcat Ski Area.

I got to the trail head at 3AM and started my trip out in style by forgetting that I took my map out of my bag and placed it in the van. Thankfully I remembered that fact about a half mile in, headed back downhill and got my map only to start over on the trip. After retrieving the map, I started to make my way up Wildcat’s Polecat Trail in the less than 20’ visibility through fog. The temperatures were balmy at 64 to start and light winds, with the forecast being in the clouds for part of the day and a low threat of rain. The trail was pretty easy to follow although I did take one wrong turn on a different trail and just kept going up before meeting back up with the Polecat Trail. I made it to the top of the mountain in 45 minutes at a decent pace and came across the Wildcat Ridge Trail in the dark over the wet rocks and roots. Getting to the vista at Wildcat A before sunrise didn’t offer any views except of someone sleeping in their bag, whom I tried not to wake.

Carter Notch Hut, from later in the day

I made my way down from Wildcat A to Carter Notch and the hut to fill my bottles quietly and head out on the next climb to the highest point of the day at Carter Dome (4,832'). This climb I have done one other time in 18" of snow and was prepared for the ~1,500' steep slog. Once arriving at the summit I planned to visit Mt. Hight, home of the best views in the Carter Range. At Hight I encountered an irate Ruffed Grouse and kept my distance, since I've heard these animals can chase people down if you get too close.

Carter Dome summit clearing in the clouds
Presidential Range in the distance above the trees at Carter Dome
Ruffed Grouse, or mountain chicken, strutting around near the summit of Hight

Presidentials clearing from Mt. Hight 

Clouds blanketing the Carters

Daylight piercing through clouds along the Carter-Moriah Trail

Typical trail conditions along the Carter-Moriah Trail
More views somewhere between Middle and South Carter Mts.

Sea of clouds covering the Maine line
Nice section of bog bridges approaching Imp Shelter

Wild River Wilderness border, just as I dropped down 3,000' into the Wild River Valley along the Moriah Brook Trail
Moriah Brook
Painted Trillium along Moriah Brook Trail

Moriah Brook widening at one of the many crossings, as it approaches Wild River
Lady Slipper

Great section of the Black Angel Trail heading towards Carter Dome
The rest of the way across the Carters along the Carter Moriah Tr./AT was uneventful as I made my way towards Moriah Brook Trail and the long drop into the valley. The trail through is here is much less traveled than any others I've visited before and the last maintenance done on some sections of bog bridges/logs placed over wet sections seemed like it was done quite a few years prior. That is part of the mystique that intrigued me about the area, and it did not disappoint. This was such a scenic and lush section of woods that, although it was slow moving through, had me guessing whether I was on the trail still or not. I did not see another person from Imp Shelter all the way to the junction of the Wild River Trail and the Highwater Trail and it was as meditative an area as I've ever seen in the wild. Taking note of the tree cover change from spruce and fir at the top elevations to nice beech and silver maple glades with jungle-like ground cover flowers, I picked my way down to the Highwater trail which continued to have me questioning whether I was on a trail. It was relatively easy to follow except for a couple turns that I had to backtrack a bit on.

After 8 or so miles of wandering in the Wild River Valley and it's many river crossings, I made it to the Black Angel Trail and the start of the 5 mile/~3,000' climb up to Carter Dome's flanks. I hiked this section uphill at a pretty slow pace after already having 20 miles on my legs and before I knew it I was joining back up with the Appalachian Trail/Carter-Moriah Trail and making my way back to the start of my run over the Wildcat peaks. Filling up water and grabbing some of their high-calorie gooey chocolate oatmeal snacks at Carter Notch Hut, I talked with one of the Croo members about ultrarunning, which he was into. I told him about the fun I had that day along this wonderful route and mentioned that he should run the Wapack and Back race my wife and I organize. Making my way across the Carter Lakes section and back up Wildcat A, I knew that almost all the climbing was over with and I coasted across the ridge and back to the top of the ski area. The footing along the access road was a relief and I made good time coming down the mountain in around 28 minutes.
That was a tough climb up Black Angel

Mountain Splits
Wildcat D (Ski Area 4,062'): 45 minutes, 2.7 miles
Wildcat A (4,422'): 1:21, 4.4 miles
Carter Dome (4,832'):  2:15, 6.4 miles
South Carter (4,430') : 3:06, 8.4 miles
Middle Carter (4,610') : 3:28, 9.5 miles
Moriah Brook drop down: 4:38, 12.8 miles (after stopping at Imp Shelter)
Start of Black Angel Trail uphill: 6:41, 20.4 miles (slow through this section)
Carter Dome (visit #2): 8:35, 25 miles
Wildcat A (visit #2): 9:57, 27.6 miles
Wildcat D (visit #2): 10:33, 29 miles
Total trip: 10:59:21 total of 31.5 miles, 11,870’ climbing

Strava route info here

I feel this route and training run was a success and I thoroughly enjoyed getting out of my head for a long period and just experiencing the trail in front of me. It got me ready for the pace and footing I would encounter at the Manitou's Revenge 54 mile race, which I will be writing up a report about soon. I used the same shoes and socks that I was prepared to use at the Manitou's race, the Darn Tough Herringbone and Inov8 Roclite 315s, and in tandem they worked great on the wet rocks/swampy trail areas and I had no blisters at the finish. I would highly recommend this route to anyone that wants to bag a few peaks as well as do some remote wilderness wandering in one of the nicest areas I've seen in the White Mountains so far. Plenty more to explore though.