Or what a 50km trail race, inclement weather and a lack of training combine to look like.
“Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.“ Bobby Knight
Two years ago when I ran the Finger Lakes 50(K) (FL50) all the rain two weeks prior leading right up to the race resulted in that event being the second muddiest trail race I’d ever run, close on the heels of the 2011 Guts Reactor Run. I live right in the Finger Lakes and this year we had more rain in the month prior than any other June in the 10 I’ve lived here. It rained hard most of the week leading up to the race, and it was raining pretty hard at 3AM race day on the drive out.
There are many reasons to run this classic trail race (FL50), first and foremost being the beautiful setting and trails in the Finger Lakes National Forest (FLNF) in Hector, NY. I ran my first ultra-marathon here in 2007, completing the 50K race in about 7:40. This is a terrific race for first time ultra-marathoner or veterans alike. The southwestern corner of the course in particular from the Gorge to Ravine Trails is wonderful and often scenic single-track trail. It’s a trail race so there is a lot of up and down but the elevation changes aren’t dramatic or overwhelming, and there’s some real diversity in running surfaces, mostly narrow or wide single track, a good stretch of dirt road and a short stretch of asphalt as well.
- The FL50 combines three races at once, the 50 miler, the 50K and a 25k race. The 50M & 50K start at the same time and share the course which is mostly a 16 mile clockwise loop. One of the most interesting things about the race on several levels is that racers can decide which distance they want to run during the race. After completing 50 kilometers in two laps you can continue onto lap three for the 50 mile finish, or call it a day at 50K. The 50 mile course includes a half mile baby loop after finishing one’s 3rd full lap of the course.
- So while it’s a loop course format, these are big, diversified loops with a ton of support on the course. Counting the Race HQ Main Aid Station at the Potomac Camp Ground, there are six aid stations on the course and racers are never really more than 4 miles from AS support anywhere on the course.
- The FL50 is a highly viable destination race. The FLNF is set on the high ridge to the east of Seneca Lake about fifteen minutes north of Watkins Glen, NY and right in the heart of western New York State’s wine country. I love the area. There’s a lot of things locally that can make this a great 4th of July weekend getaway for a couple or a family, including wineries, checking out the Finger Lakes and horse camping and horse camping opportunities right in the FLNF.
- Lastly, the FL50 has a long established twenty five plus years of history. Each time that I’ve run it the event has been highly organized, the trails very well marked, and just a lot of fun too. These are all the reasons that I found myself running this event again for a seventh time over this past 4th of July weekend, more repeats than any other race I’ve ever run except perhaps for the Army 10 miler.
The FL50 has sold out the day registration opens for the past few years, which I find to be one of only a couple of drawbacks to this event. But that’s also one of the inherent challenges in this sport these days. Races sell out and sell out quickly. FL50 starts a total of 250 races combined for their three events and maintains a 100-200 person waitlist as well. Out of 250 registrants, a total of 213 racers crossed a finish line under some really challenging weather conditions. Nineteen 50 mile finishers, one hundred and three 50KM finishers and another eighty-nine 25KM finishers. The winners (below) ran outstanding races:
50 Mile Winners
- Lyman Hawbaker, New York, NY 8:19:48
- Zandy Mangold, Brooklyn, NY 8:24:17
- Paul Italiano, Stony Point, NY 9:08:27
Female 50 Mile Winners
- Lisa Camillaci, Hilton, NY 10:20:06 (7th overall)
- Lori Johnson, Red Hill, NY 10:40:49 (8th overall)
- Tam Sari, Polk, PA 11:22:53 (15th overall)
50 KM Winners
- Rich Heffren, Ithaca, NY 4:23:05
- Devang Patel, North Bergen, NJ 4:53:15
- Mark Manz, Durham, NC 5:08:37
Female 50K Winners
- Michelle Pratt, Albany, NY 5:23:26 (4th overall)
- Sheena Heise, Newfield, NY 6:25:29 (14th overall)
- Chrristina Ardito, Niskayuna, NY 6:39:27 (15th overall)
Besides the FL50 rapid registration sell out (250 registrants in under half a day this year), the only things that I would like to see changed are that the race falls on 4th of July weekend. The second thing is the 25KM event. The races all run concurrently with the 25KM starting a couple hours after the 50M/50K. The 25KM course runs inside the 50 course and sections of the 25KM course runs in opposite directions from the 50/50KM course on the southern end of the two courses. So ultrarunners are running in one direction and the 25 KM racers are entering the course and running a short section of it in the opposite direction. This creates confusion for racers who are not familiar with that aspect of this event.
“Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win. “ Bobby Knight
Personally, the aforementioned lack of training will power combined with the worst trail weather conditions I’ve ever seen, at least north of northern Georgia in early March, resulted in far and away the most time I’ve ever spent on a 50K course.
I love the ultra-community and crossing ultra-marathon finish-lines but the lack of training has made those rare achievements, 1 to 2 per year the past 3-5 years. This was my 3rd or 4th year in a row at FL50 and 7th time on the course overall. Everything about this race now has a comfortable air of familiarity for me. Renewing friendships with people that run here yearly, or every other year, the team that supports the race every year, running clubs like the Brooklyn Trail Racers out here every year in full force, and I enjoy the fact that everywhere I’m on the course I know exactly where I am and how far I am from the next Aid Station to the finish line.
My daily running streak is still intact and has piled up to a decent amount of days now but I’m not training hard. About 3 miles a day with my canines, usually for loops on the short course in our woods. My longest run of the year leading up to this event was only about 8 miles and my highest 1-day total this year was 13 whole miles.
Mother Nature played some tricks early on. An hour and a half before the race it stopped raining and as the Sun rose, things seemed optimistically promising. But that was short-lived. July 2nd turned out to be the type of weather day that you either had to laugh at and embrace, or you were just miserable all day. It was the type of day you’re glad about later once the race is over. Then you have a little extra sense of accomplishment because you were foolish enough to start the race, stay on the course and finish it under such conditions and then have bragging rights too.
In the first 10 minutes of the race it was already apparent that the trail conditions were wetter and muddier than two years ago. And that was at the start of the race.
It was fun watching the racers try to skirt the mud and water early on and then see their resignation later. I just tried to avoid the deeper mud and water where I could. While there was a bit of sunshine here and there, it rained most of the day until about 3 or 4 PM when the Sun came out for good. Three individual thunderstorms rolled though, one about 10AM, one about Noon, and the final one rolled in about 2PM. Maybe it was my imagination but each one seemed successively larger in magnitude, including some significant thunder and lightning pretty close by during the last one.
There are a total of 6 or 7 streams on the course; I crossed every one of them twice last year without getting wet. This year you had to wade carefully across each of them. For example, the longest trail section on the course is a wide grassy section of the Backbone Trail (BBT) that runs straight north for two miles until you hit the last aid station on the course, make a hard right turn and head east for 3 miles towards for Race HQ. By the second lap entire 200 yard long stretches of the BBT were covered in 3-5 inches of water in areas I’ve never seen water in before-flooded by a couple of what are normally one yard wide run-offs from ponds to the east and not even really streams.
The first 16 mile Lap was really muddy and wet. By the 2nd lap, there was mud and water everywhere, including just flowing downhill on the trail in areas I’ve never seen water in before. Trail running tip, the footing was better in areas where the flowing water as opposed to the sides around it that were still slippery with mud.
I pushed as hard as I could during the 1st loop but by the 2nd loop I was pretty much reduced to running downhills only. Race Director Steve’s post-race note estimated that we might have received as much as 3-4 inches of rain throughout race day. I don’t know if we drew that much, I just know it rained. A LOT. The water and mud levels reduced my level of training to an afternoon power-hike.
I wore pretty much my standard ultra-gear. My Nathan Hydration 2.0 without the water bladder-just to carry stuff like my phone; my MP3, some S-Caps and aspirin. Shorts, t-shirt, sunglasses and my reading glasses. I even used the sunglasses a couple of times. I thought about changing my shoes and socks after Lap 1 but there was really no point in any gear changes other than a dry t-shirt after the first lap.
I still run and train almost exclusively in Hoka One Ones. I wore a new pair of SpeedGoats for this race. Decent shoe, good traction. My understanding is that SpeedGoats are designed by a very elite ultra-runner for elite trail runners. They must all have much narrower feet then mine- my Goats are the right length but just too narrow through the front toe box. I have hardly any mileage or tough training on these Goats and my toes are already starting to poke through holes on the outsides of them.
I do have to admit even though my shoes were too narrow, my feet have been much worse after races before. Only one lost (large) toenail and I knew the Goats were much too tight 10 miles in so that was just my oversight.
I ate little to nothing on the course-some aid station candy here and there. About 10 miles into the race I drank a cup of water and a cup of coke at every aid station on the course thereafter.
By the end of my 2nd 16 mile loop, I missed the cutoff to go on to 50 miles (by a wide margin) even had I wanted to go on to fifty miles at that point. The Sun had just come out about thirty minutes prior so it was nice to grab a race-provided beer at the finish line, get rid of the wet gear, rinse the mud off and chat with fellow ultra-runners again. Once I sat down off to the side and was drinking that beer (or two) around my finish line cigar, three different guys asked me if I was “that guy (my translation–loser) in the Barkley Documentary.” “Really, how hard is Barkley?” Two of them wanted to know how to get in.
So while Knight’s quote is accurate, maybe the late John Wayne’s (paraphrasing) “Life is tough; it’s a lot tougher when you’re stupid” is more applicable to slogging through a 50K ultra without the benefits of any training, other than the experience of having finished 60 ultramarathons and marathons. I have to admit that two mile section on the Backbone seemed especially long this year both times through. It’s been a long time since I was excited about an ultra and that’s not reflective of any event or the sport itself but rather my own increasing age and commitment level. I’ve had few experiences more rewarding than crossing an ultra finish-line with the feeling that zI owned the course, rather than the course had it’s way with me. It’s been since 2012 since I had the exact experience, and the 2017 FL50(KM) was no exception in that regard.
But I love this race and I still love ultras and more importantly the ultra-community itself. I just have to re-solve (or resolve) that commitment to ultra training thing. FL50 was quite an adventure this year.
August 6 2017