Cayuga 50 is a new race up in the Finger Lakes region of New York State and organised by Ian Golden. When I first thought I'd be in the area for the race I emailed Ian to see if I could get an entry and he was great. He had a package laid out for 'front runners/elite runners' which was a great help.
The race is basically a 12.5 miles out and back with 10-12,000 feet of ascent. GPS readings will be pretty poor as the race runs up and down tight gorges. Almost entirely on single track or forest trails with constant hills and almost no totally flat running.
On arriving on Friday I did a quick 3.5 miler and then headed to meet others at Ithaca Beer where there was a race Q&A session and then back to the cabins where we stayed up chatting with the Trails Roc crew, and their dog Picasso, who were nearby. On Saturday I ran another 7 miles of the route which was basically the first loop and then headed into Ithaca to watch the Films in Motion Film festival which was in the area for the race and we then headed to Ian's for a BBQ (I got some more dog time with Ian's dog Indy, he's a tailless (he won't say how) collie/Australian Shepherd cross) before an early evening with the race starting at 6 am. The atmopshere was great from the off, Ian had managed to get together a strong field with runners travelling from all over to attend, with Matt Flaherty coming in from Indiana, Michael Owen from Ohio, Yassine Diboun from Portland and Chris Vargo from Arizona, with plenty of other strong runners from the local regions. From international races I knew of Ben Nephew, Dave James and Brian Rusiecki, and more locally Michael Daigeaun who had just ran a 2:24 marathon and had been dominating local ultra's.
My plan was top 10 at least, top 5 if all goes well.
Despite the strength of the field the start was pretty steady, much more conservative than Ice Age. I sat in behind the front group and felt pretty comfortable, certainly not over doing it and soon enough the group split as 3 or 4 went off hard and the rest formed a nice group. I was quite happy as we went through the first aid station and up the first major climb. It was pretty cool early on but due to push towards 80 later in the day and as we popped out of the trees it was already heating up. I was running with Yasssine and chatting away and felt good as we started the first major descent to the main turn point at 12.5 miles, Yassine had opened up a gap on the descent but I was conscious to take it easy and hit the climbs hard. After grabbing food I turned to climb the steps up the gorge and there was just nothing. My legs just seized. I've never before felt so bad so early. I went from feeling great and fancying a top 5 spot at 11 miles to feeling like I wanted out at mile 13... I looked at my watch and it had 'auto paused'... basically I was going so slow it thought I'd stopped...
I'm not sure what went wrong, I think the lack of hills in training had caught me. All i wanted to do at that moment was lose the route and DNF... unfortunately the route was well flagged so that wasn't going to happen.. so I plodded on up and even on the flats was struggling to hold 10 minute miles. My groin/pelvic region just felt on fire with constant pain in my groin (which felt similar to a past issue which was psoas pain). I'd stupidly played 7's rugby on Thursday and think had caused a few issues in my psoas/periformis/groin regions which were now really affecting me.
I think I was 9th, 6th - 9th, were all tightly bunched and a few others seemed to be in view which was why I fancied 5th still as I tend to finish well and you can normally bank on 1-2 people in the top 10 blowing up especially as it was due to be a hot day. Pretty soon though as I plodded through the top fields I was passed, 10th - 11th - 12th.. and I stopped counting. I was pretty set that I'd run to the start point to start the second lap and call it a day. Even on the descent I just felt in pain but not any actual injury, just constant discomfort. I really don't like to DNF (Did Not Finish), especially in trail ultra's (I've twice DNF'd in road ultra's both times with hip issues (once due to running in an arm cast and once due to periformis syndrome) when my goal times had gone so I dropped out to prevent further issues and target other races). But in a trail ultra, unless your health is at risk (badly over heated/dehydrated), or you do have an injury which will only get worse, having a rough day isn't an excuse. As I got closer to the turn around point I knew I was just being a soft lad and would have to push on and hope things changed. I knew I needed ibuprofen and at the next aid station stopped for a while and got 400mg off a helper. I also grabbed a load of fruit here and really hydrated. Time wise I was pretty certain I was going to be out for a long time. As I turned back to start the last half a fair few others were coming in and this did help fire me up a bit as I realised I could well end up well down the field so pride does kick in. At this point a young lad on his first 50 joined me (Cirus) an I decided just to follow him and hold his pace and this seemed to help, at first it seemed hard but maybe as the ibuprofen helped I could feel myself freeing up and it became easier but soon we stopped to find another lad in big bother so took a few minutes out seeing how he was, he was on the verge of blacking out, kept almost fainting and the two knew each other. A helper was also with him and after offering them drink and gels she said she could cope so we carried on, but it certainly made you want to look after yourself for the rest of the race as the heat was really getting up. We ran together and my aim was just chase his back, hit 30 miles.. ht 50k.. hit 33 miles (2/3rds).. just keep mentally chugging away. I spent so much time looking at my watch that I inevitably did the classic toe clip and went flying down again, as I'd done on one of the recce runs, grazing my knee, chest and hands again; instinctively yelling out, I called out to Cirus that I was OK but he stopped and checked, it was like that the whole race, with people looking out for each other, it was a really friendly event despite the competition element.
Despite feeling pretty ropey I was actually starting to plod through the miles again and we were soon catching other runners and making progress and I pushed on at the next aid station and felt I was climbing pretty well up the major climb again, I grabbed another 2 ibuprofen here, Cassie Scallon (one of the top US female ultra runners) was helping out as she had to miss the race due to a broken leg and thankfully she got me some more. I was pretty confident if I could keep going to the last turn around I'd then be able to push on knowing it was the last stretch. I still wasn't running great but was certainly running better. After the major climb through the woods it's a good few miles through the forests and fields up the top again before the steep descent and here I almost ran into leader Chris Vargo. It was way earlier than I expected so I guessed he was an hour ahead of me which wasn't good so that was another kick up the arse. I'd expected to see Michael Owen first, who was leading and looking great when we passed on the out and back at the half way but he'd also succumbed to the heat and dropped out at the last turn around. Soon enough a few more passed and to a man everyone looked shagged... it was kind of comforting to at least know everyone was just struggling - Yassine seemed to be the only one who looked great, early on I thought he was struggling but he looked better at mile 40 than he did at mile 4... Almost all our splits would end up pretty horrific, mine were 3:40 and 4:15 and most seemed to lose 20-30 minutes + on their last lap, which is over 1 minute per mile which shouldn't be happening.. maybe it was the heat, maybe we did all actually go off to fast but I did feel 7:30, and still do, was a reasonable target..
As I climbed back out of the turn around point up the gorge steps I was getting info that runners were just ahead and soon enough I caught a glimpse of two as the course flattened out and I passed two more who had stopped or were taking time out to rehydrate at various road crossings and aid stations on the final 12 mile run in. The two ahead were a good 400m plus ahead through the boggy fields but I caught them quickly and was now pretty sure top 10 was still possible. I asked a few and was told I was in 12th and that the next guy was 3 minutes ahead.. as I entered the penultimate aid station there was still no one in sight and 3 minutes over 6 miles is a chunk to get back. But I still had Lucifers Steps, these are a flight of steps a good few hundred feet high and plenty of more climbs along the way so it was still a possibility. The trails are uneven but not overly technical so I was able to get a decent stride going and but still I was getting told I was minutes off the next guy. At the top of Lucifers steps we were told it was 0.5 mile to the next Aid Station, which it was probably more, but it helped to push me on knowing from there it's almost 3 miles mainly down hill. Finally I saw Brian ahead and again that really pushed me on and I moved past him just at the aid station, I just grabbed a gel and pushed hard here, the last mile is entirely down hill so I told myself it was just 2 miles of hard work. My watch had died so it was just counting down points we'd pass. I kept glancing back and still hoped to see one more but noone was in sight and I finished in 7:55, which ended up giving me 10th. I'd actually thought it was higher and initially the results said 8th but were revised to 10th. There were timing issues on the course so online tracking was off.
The rest of the day was spent recovering and hanging out at the finish area. Ben (who had a cracking race to finish 5th) and I headed for a sit in the river and then showered before heading back to hang around with others until the prize giving. I ran the race in the race sponsor's socks, farm to feet, so won $100 in free socks off them, I also got a free pair of Scott trainers for taking the fall and a baby's water bottle because Ian thought he'd seen me running without a water bottle.. Matt Flaherty won a grooming kit for his task.. It's worth staying around for prize givings just for freebies, Ian was basically calling out anything to win the free pies, socks, trainers, sunglasses and I think most went off with some prize. Plus like with cycling there were prizes for winning climbs, sprints and overall leader.. and with a $10,000 prize pot for a few it was a lucrative race. I'm not yet a USATF member so unfortunately missed out on an official top 10 in the US champs.
We stayed at the finishing area until the last runners finished about 9 pm, supporting the race sponsors as you do.. well drinking their beer. Then a group of us headed out to support the same race sponsor at the tap room at the Ithaca brewery, with Scott, Brad, Matt, Chris, Dave and Cassie. A few of us then headed back to one of the cabins for a BBQ and show support for the race sponsor again.. with a group from the Philly/NY region but by midnight we were all pretty shattered.
A great weekend. A great area which will hold the USATF championship again next year so definitely one to attend. Ian has put a lot into the race to make it a great event, both on and off the trails. I'd never been to the Finger Lakes region and already we're planning on another trip back this summer and to attend other races in the area later in the fall.
Overall not sure if it was a shite performance or a good one, it's always pleasing to hold on in and come back like I did, and I did end up with the top 10 I at least wanted but should have been higher and quicker had I prepared better. Certainly I'll race next year again but do more hills, climbs seemedto go well, I just didn't seem to have the conditioning to cope with the descents which I'd normally breeze through.
Scott Dunlap's great blog is here which has a race report and pictures: http://www.atrailrunnersblog.com/2014/06/cayuga-trails-50m.html
Some day I'll find my watch dongle so I can download my race data....