…The woods are lovely dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
These days it often seems like a trite cliche to quote Robert Frost, especially with regards to anything outdoors.. I think we can all wax poetic about the different ways we believe we have taken the road less traveled, or how the only thing we know about life is that it goes on… but today as I recapitulate my recent experience on the ECSNY 50 Mile course I intend to keep my Frost quoting to the extremely literal, as I did indeed have promises to keep, and upon waking at the very least, many miles to go before i slept.
This calendar year I had run 749 miles prior to toeing the line. The last time I ran this race (2014) I had run 1031.1 miles leading up to it…. in my first two attempts I had covered 1200+ miles in the same time frame …. in none of these experiences did I truly feel prepared. How the hell am I supposed to get my ass across this finish line on 62% of the mileage… and 5 lbs overweight?
The reasons for my “light” training load (which informs my not being at “fighting weight”) can easily be summed up by quoting Lennon… and telling you all that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. And by life, I mean work. Since I’m on the road towards cliche, I figure I ought to steer into the skid.
Keeping all of this in mind I had decided for the first time ever to run an extremely “reasonable” race… which loosely translates to actually running my own race, and not giving a damn about the place. I would only worry about how I felt, and a semi-arbitrary time goal. You see my training partner Eric had mentioned on multiple occasions that he wanted to beat 9 hours in this race.. and he was obviously trained for it. I had done the math, and figured that 9 hrs was pretty damn close to my course average (having run an 8:20, a 9:03 and a 9:35) and that I could probably pace Eric across the line in 9 hours if given significant motivation (see: pride, promises). This would still require a really solid effort, and a much more tactical day than I’m used to delivering. (and also be my best shot at breaking 9 as well)
With that, I had told Eric that come hell or high water, I would get him across the line in 9 hours or fewer, and that all he would need to worry about was keeping my skinny butt right in his cross-hairs. I did the math, wrote out the requisite splits, sharpie’d them onto my water bottle, and got to the start of the race.
We took off in the first wave, and quickly settled into the middle of the front pack of runners, neither wanting to be too aggressive, nor give up too much time in the first several miles until things began to sort themselves out. Upon coming through AS1 we were roughly 6 mins ahead of pace, which is a good buffer to earn early, but unfortunately my sharpie had already failed me and begun to rub off… we’d be flying by mental math for the remaining 46 miles.
Having run hundreds, if not thousands of miles together, Eric an I quickly fell into old routines. I would set the pace, Eric would settle in a few feet behind, and we would talk about whatever came to mind… resulting in a sort of free-form roaming conversational jazz experiment, and by the time the sun was truly up we had settled in with some like-minded individuals, and started to put in “the work.” Our game plan was simple… don’t lose any time (relative to 9:00 splits) through the first 20, then try to drive hard on the fire-roads leading us into 40, and hopefully this just might get us across the line in time to get Eric a PR.
By the time we landed ourselves on the Long Path we had fallen into a solid rhythm: Power-hike the climbs, and keep it cool everywhere else. Both of us had gotten ourselves into trouble on this part of the course, running too hard on the rocky trails and blowing up by the time we got to fire-roads in the 20’s… we would NOT let this happen. Today we execute.We did, we made it to the 20 mile marker in good spirits, and worked the fire-roads hard enough to continue to bank time, the plan was working.
As we started to drive ourselves into Anthony Wayne my energy was beginning to wane while Eric’s was only increasing. I tried to keep on top of my calories while keeping a leash on Eric who had begun to smell blood, and hum the Jaws theme every time we came across a struggling 50 miler.. be calm my friend, the gloves won’t come off until mile 40, let them all come back to us.
Having run portions of the course several times this winter, I was elated to recognize and make the final descents into A. Wayne, and in an attempt to boost my own morale began whooping, hollering, and screaming nonsense about feeling like dynamite, and referring to Eric as a 150LB tank in my best Burgess Meredith voice. We had 14 minutes in the bank, spirits were high, and Steve was about to join us for the final pull back to the finish line. Life.Is.Good.
We pulled into Anthony Wayne, refilled some bottles, grabbed Steve, and immediately began clawing our way to the finish line. Unfortunately the road out of A. Wayne is deceptively uphill, and while I had come into the aid station like a lion, I was destined to go out like a lamb, and begin fighting my only really bad low-point in the race.
Roughly 200 yards into the woods it had become obvious that my pace was wavering, I was losing control… all of my caution could be for naught, I was going to melt down… or was I? The real key of fighting the bonk is obvious, you must actually fight the bonk. In my experience, sugar related energy declines come in waves, and each one is just a little more powerful than the one that preceded it… I had eaten at the aid station, and nothing had kicked in yet, so it was time to choke down another gel, swig some water, and try my best to lose as little time as possible while I waited to spring back… I’ve power-hiked through a bonk before, and Steve had seen first-hand what a couple of spoonfuls of Nutella can do for me, things would be okay, it’s just a sugar low, it’s just a sugar low….
Eric had taken off (with my blessing) to crush his goals, Shirtless-Wonder was pulling away, but I still had my legs, and Steve would be my guide for the rest of the day. We power-hiked, we ran, we bounded down hills.
It took what seemed like months to make it to the formidable Timp Pass, and then suddenly the reality of my 9hr time goal was within reach. It’s less than 3 miles to the finish, and I have 25 minutes to get there… this is actually going to happen. Steve an I opened up our strides, and began to really embrace the recklessness that only runners who can truly smell the barn would know. I crossed the line in 8:56:26, 13 minutes behind Eric. I had kept my promise.