Race Report: NJ Trail Series Mountain Madness 2013

When I woke up at 4:30 AM sans alarm clock on Saturday morning I finally realized that I was actually pretty anxious/nervous to toe the line at this years Mountain Madness 50K. MoMa has a reputation as being one of the tougher 50k’s in the Northeast, which is definitely represented in it’s 4h39m course record (held by Mike Dixon) which, for a low-altitude race is patently indicative of how tough of a course it is. Race reports, both published in blogs as well as orally dictated to me by myriad runners of varying abilities articulated only one thing for sure: rocks. Surprisingly, peoples impression of the course ranged from calling it near-impossible, to wheelchair accessible, so obviously some of the opinions I found were outliers to say the least.Considering this, it looked to me like I should be expectant of a rocky course with a substantial (6000′) amount of climbing.

Rick McNulty provided the oral countdown leading precisely into 9AM (apparently he’s consistently punctual about start times) and we were soon rounding Shepherd Lake and heading into the woods. Within a mile or so (after hearing some runners in the chase pack yelling “too fast!” at us) the lead pack had reduced to a trio of Myself, Seth (who looks like Tarzan carrying a camelbak) and Bill Cuthbert. We headed up the initial climb at a staggeringly fast pace, and maintained what to me seemed like a relatively reckless clip through the first aid station (5.6 miles) wherein no one took any aid, and continued through several miles of the next leg until Seth and Bill gained ~200′ on me as Mike Dixon caught up, only for Bill and Seth to miss a turn (which Julian, who was taking pictures eventually reeled in and re-directed).

Mike and I dialed things back to a more manageable pace heading into AS2 wondering if Bill and Seth would go too far off course, and taking some comfort in the lead that we had developed over the chase pack (at AS1 we were “reportedly” 5 mins ahead of Mike, and the chase-pack proper was supposedly several minutes behind him at this point). I refilled my bottle, downed a cup of Coke, and a couple of cups of water, snatched a few gels, and the two of us were out of AS2 reasonably quickly. I had been expecting to see Mike on the course, and since his reputation preceded him as a dominant runner at pretty much any race up to the 50-Mile distance (as well as a solid sub-24-hour showing at the WS100 in 2012) I was glad to be able to run with him most of the way into AS3 before I started to lose the pace, giving him about a minute lead going into AS3.

Seeing Mike leaving as I came in, I tried my best to keep myself together, drink a bit, fill up my bottle, grab a couple of gels and give chase, but admittedly I was already starting to feel some stomach issues rising, primarily what seemed like an insatiable thirst, and a surprising reluctance to continue forcing down gels. The route from AS3-AS4 was an out-and back consisting primarily of fire roads with a stretch of single-track in between. Roughly 1/3 of the way to AS4, Seth caught up to me, and the two of us took full advantage of the downhill, basically running recklessly into AS4, while I was mentally coming to grips with the fact that this 3-ish mile downhill was going to turn into a 3-ish mile uphill before I knew it, and a low point was definitely coming up.

Seth came into AS4 and left without taking anything, roughly 30 second ahead of me, not feeling so great, and already noticing some of the early onsets  of dehydration (dark urine, constant thirst) I took a few moments to collect myself, grabbed a fresh bottle from Dena (who was slinging bottles for the day) socked back a few cups of water, and started my way back up the hill. The nice side of the Out-and-Back is that you can see any competition/friends, as well as how they’re doing. As I was leaving, Bill was charging into the aid station, followed by Jason, Lindsay, and David Allara, all of whom have had some rather successful races in the recent past, and from what I knew going into the race, Dixon, Hamoudi, and Allara should be the Raritan Valley triumvirate to look out for. I also had the pleasure of running into the Parakeet, as well as Robbie and Adam from the Salt crew on this stretch, and their encouragement was more than welcome to say the very least.

In spite of the obvious proximity of formidable competition, my own waxing misery was starting to get the best of me, especially with respect to the seemingly interminable climb (which, for the record was a blast to go down) so as I was getting close to AS5, Bill eeked by me a few hundred yards before the aid station. Coming into AS5, I could see Dixon and Seth heading out, and Bill refueling unbelievably quickly and hustling after them. Feeling dejected and dehydrated, I had my bottle refilled by a kindly volunteer, drank a few cups of water, and rudely informed (upon being asked) another volunteer that you could get a buff with a visor from the internet (the same place you can buy anything) before I headed back out on the trail to try and hunt my way back into podium position.

Feeling fundamentally miserable, I recognized that it’s precisely this point in any given race wherein you can really test your gumption, and after mulling over the idea of DNF-ing at the next aid station, I began to slowly, but surely start grinding my way back into the game. Fortunately, this section was (at the start) pretty steep and technical, so power-hiking no longer felt like I was surrendering to fatigue, but rather a smart game plan. I began to regain some strength and energy, finally reeling Bill back in on one of the extended declines. Little to my surprise however, on the next incline Bill quickly went out of sight (and apparently soon after took a wrong turn). Before long, I could see Shepherd Lake again, and started to pick things up headed into the aid station.

Upon retrieving my bottle, slugging back a cup or 2 of water, and ditching my singlet, I was informed that I was in 3rd place, with the leaders only 5 mins ahead of me (it turns out that this was a grossly wrong estimate of the amount of a lead that Mike had on me), so elated,I left the aid station at full-steam(and letting out a primal scream). As I was leaving, I saw Lindsay coming in, figuring that I had ~90 seconds on him, and that if I really went hard I just might catch up to the leaders, I was acutely aware that I was both hunting, and being hunted. With every squirrel that moved, or breeze that blew a tree, I was convinced that someone was catching me on the final seven mile loop headed into the finish, running scared is a wonderfully exciting, as well as stressful endeavor. In the final 7 miles there were several sections that utilized switchbacks, with my fear of being caught up to, I found myself incessantly looking back on every turn whilst trying to keep a low profile, foolishly hopeful that this might make me harder to see (it doesn’t). After just over an hour of running like my life depended on it, I came across the finish line to find myself in 2nd place, 5:15:15 elapsed, and laid down next to the finish line to take off my shoes and soak in some sun.

Bill came in 2 minutes later (5:17:16) Seth DNF’d, Lindsay came in 4th (5:24:36). Jason finished 9th in 5:45:15, Adam 20th (6:32:49) Robbie 30th (6:45:06) and the Parakeet DNF’d after reportedly taking no water for the first 6 hours.

A special thanks goes out to the following: Jeff Perry, for his incredible advice with regards to tapering, and race planning, Dena Orkin, for tossing bottles all day, and Jayson Kolb, for the race description, and the Saturday long run guys for their companionship the past few weekends out.

Taking off the shoes right after finishing (Photo Credit: Dena Orkin)
Sun-soak post-race (Photo credit: Dena Orkin)
Chewing the fat Post-Race with Dixon and company (Photo credit: Dena Orkin)

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Summary Sept 9-15

Monday Sept 9, AM 7 Miles, 940′ 45m20s
Usual road route from the house, and first day putting any “real” (as in definitively not-jogging) effort on the ankle. Legs felt incredibly fresh (Several days off will do that) and the ankle feels solid.
PM 7 Miles, 940′ 44m32s
I’ve always tended to run by “feel” mostly because of my reluctance to buy a GPS watch, and partially out of a philosophical desire to diminish the amount of external information regarding my run available to me on the actual run. This being said, I had planned to go out really easily ~30-40seconds per mile slower than the mornings run, but to be frank, it simply felt good to move a bit harder.

Tuesday Sept 10 AM 11.5 Miles, 1140′ 1h31m
Super-humid and generally awful (see: dehydrated) feeling road run. Legs were feeling solid, but my head/stomach/rest of my body just wasn’t along for the ride.
PM 4.5 Miles, 1420′ 45m Super-easy run with the Salt guys. Also, first time on trail after the ankle-roll… overall it felt solid, although an off-camber step on one rock did cause me concern for a few steps.

Wed Sept 11 AM 7 Miles, 940′ 48m18s
Again, a relatively easy jaunt from the house, feeling pretty solid, with nothing to particularly complain about.
PM 1.5 Miles, 14m Dreadmill session after hitting the weights. 10 mins at 15% incline (varying speed to whatever I could hang on to)

Thurs Sept 12 AM 20 Miles, 2280′ 2h48m 
Primarily I wanted to see what kind of long legs/brain I had in the middle of the week, with humidity. A combination of under-hydration and thunderstorms slowed me down a bit, but my stomach remained solid, and even allowed me to drink a liter mid-run (refuel stop) as well as two 20oz bottles on the run without complaining whatsoever (that said, the heat/humidity still drained me out pretty well)
PM 3 Miles, 160′ 25m37s Hashers run–abbreviated due to some gnarly thunderstorms coming in

Fri Sept 13 AM 7 Miles, 940′ 50m07s 
Primarily shaking the funk out of my legs from Thursdays outing before sitting in the lifeguard chair for the day.

Sat Sept 14 AM 17 Miles, 3250′ 2h5m
Saturday Long run group. Left from Chester for a road-route through Pottersville (Hacklebarney, Black River Area) Really should have brought my camera, because it was by far and away the prettiest road run I’ve done in NJ thus far. I was expecting that the residual fatigue from Thurs would be heavy in my legs, but in actuality I felt remarkably good all day. Last mile was a bit of a hunger-thirst push, but nothing that actually having a gel in my pocket, and carrying water wouldn’t have fixed.

Sun Sept 15 AM 10 Miles, 1100′ 1h14m 
A little tired/banged up from the day before, but nothing substantially annoying, as seems to be the trend for the week… should have drank more water.

Totals: 95.5 Miles, 13,110′
Generally a big-road oriented week, which  wouldn’t be my usual preference going into a trail-ultra, but I wanted to make sure that I took care of my ankle as best as I could whilst running on it, and that usually means staying off of the gnar whenever possible. Much to my amazement, my ankle seems to have healed up pretty well, no more bruising, hardly any noticeable weakness, and absolutely no post-workout discomfort. In spite of this weeks lack of trail mileage (~5%) I’m feeling remarkably comfortable/confident going into MoMa in 2 weeks. My legs are climbing and descending really well, and perhaps more importantly, this was the most comfortable near-100 mile week I can remember.

Summary August 26 – September 8

Monday August 26, 10 Miles, 1,100′ 1h7m 
Neighborhood loop after a few days off trying to shake a niggle out of the lateral side of my right calf. Feeling solid on a moderately sustained effort.
PM 4 Miles, 350′ 32m40s Evening Shakeout

Tuesday August 27, 11.6 Miles, 3920′ 2h3m Pretty hard blow-up out at Allamuchy, after a few weeks of unseasonable coolness, August decided to return to let me know how little of my heat acclimation was still around.

Wed August 28,  3.3 Miles 2440′ 42m32s Singular loop out at Mt. Tammany, thunderstorms brought the fun to an end far before planned.

Thurs August 29, 5 Miles 360′ 38m29s Broken Shin Loop

Fri August 30 AM 6 Miles, 350′ 42m28s Easy road run through the local neighborhoods
PM 6 Miles, 1560′ 56m10s Tourne park with Brian. Taking things kind of easy for the afternoon in attempt to have some pep in my legs for Saturdays outing with some new folks.

Sat August 31, 18 Miles, 3000′ 2h18m I was invited by a neighbor of mine to join his marathon training group for some Saturday long runs, and all things considered, who am I to decline a chance to meet some new running partners. He described it as a training group for “2:50-3:05” marathoners, with no particular club affiliation (which is always nice) It did turn out that they’re loosely associated with Runners Haven (the stores owner is one of the founders of the training group) which is a local mom and pop style running store, and a rather nice one to boot. Everyone was remarkably friendly, as well as consistent throughout the run, which took us all over Randolph including the towns trail system and some pretty gnarly-steep road climbs.Overall things felt pretty good, although I should have probably hydrated a little more effectively, as the last 5k or so felt pretty tough.
18 mins (2 Miles) Barefoot

Sunday Sept 1, 7 Miles, 940′ 50m
Surprisingly banged up from he previous days 20, c’est la vie

Monday Sept 2, 2.5 Miles, 18m
Treadmill workout (thunderstorms) before I got called into work mid-stride.
PM 4.6 Miles, 1340′ 44m41s Tourne with Brian… turns out that it was stormy at the pool as well, so we decided that we might as well go running.

Tuesday Sept 3, 15 Miles, 5100′ 2h33m Dunfield Creek>Next Fire Road Via AT and back. I forgot how gnarly a lot of this terrain really is, which really seemed to slow me down, nevermind the fact that it was a pretty serious net-gain (~1000′ pos diff). I would have been able to make up a good amount of time had I not rolled my ankle near Sunfish Pond and been reduced to a gimpy limp for the remaining 4 miles to my car (and thus losing out on one of the best sustained descents in the state). When I got home, my left ankle had swollen to the size of a baseball, and wouldn’t agree with taking on any weight.

Wed- OFF

Thurs- OFF

Fri Sept 6, 1 Mile, 7m44s
 Feeling surprisingly okay, no pain in my ankle, no sense of major distrust on lateral movements.

Sat Sept 7, 3.1 Miles, 20m44s Again, pain free…. maybe diving into hardcore recovery has worked out?

Sun Sept 8, 7 Miles 940′ 47 Feeling rather good, no pain, no additional swelling.

Overall, kind of a disappointing first week (volume-wise) and second week through a major curveball with the whole respraining my ankle bit. This is the third time this summer that I’ve rolled the same ankle, with each successive turn being marginally worse than the one that preceded it. Fortunately, I’ve learned how to appropriately deal with it, mostly a combination of Ice, Hot/Cold Therapy, immediate rehab with regards to maintaining/recovering range of motion, Arnica, and consuming a certifiable fuckton of pineapple, turmeric, and Omega 3’s (all natural anti-inflammatories). Right now, things feel solid again, and tomorrow evening I’m thinking of testing things out on some trail which will hopefully inform me enough to make my final decision regarding Mountain Madness at the end of the month (although at time of writing I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to toe the line in the shape I’d like to be in)

Kittatinny Ridge just North of Sunfish Pond

Coolers make the best ice baths

Tammany