February 25, 2012
When one thinks of New Jersey they typically think of the city and suburbia. And being just miles from Newark for this race, you might think of crime and other bad things but in the smallish town of Maplewood lies a neat little area called South Mountain Reserve full of nice single and double track trails with rocks, mud and hills.
|Trails in South Mountain Reserve|
The last time I spent recreating in New Jersey was just out of college helping a friend build a house in Tom's River. But we spent most of the time surfing in some awesome fall waves at the shore, another great asset of NJ. And before that in the early 70's it was night skiing at the Great Gorge/Vernon Valley Ski Area. My start of poaching closed trails and having my lift ticket pulled only to beg management for forgiveness so I could ski again. So when looking for a 50 miler at the last minute close to Vermont and NJ popped up as the closest find, I figured why not. I had some good memories in the past so this could be fun. And Tom, a running client of mine was to be running this as a training run so I figured this would be a great opportunity to see Tom on the trails. So Tuesday night of race week I signed up.
Thursday afternoon I decided I better start thinking about the trip to NJ but first I had to run with the Thursday night crew followed with the traditional Italian feast at Mimmo's. Luckily XC skiing was cancelled this night so it allowed a little more free time. But still I didn't get home until close to 10:00 PM. Not much time to pack. So Friday I had to figure out the travel plans. I sort of knew where I was going as I had programmed my car Garmin to where the race was. I quickly came up with a game plan of drink mix and electrolytes, Body Glide, the important stuff. I grabbed some "drop bags" to put my essentials in, set up Hotel F-150, clothing, shoes and dinner for the ride down and the EZ Pass for tolls. The Pass works great on these road trips! So finally by late afternoon on Friday I was ready to hit the roads. Just in time for the snow to kick in too. Luckily it was not too bad and by the time I drove through Albany it was pouring rain and in the upper 30's. And a great time to enjoy a pesto pasta dinner and salad while cruising the NY Thruway. By the time I hit NJ, the rain had stopped. And at the same time, I was entering the congested streets of suburbia. I had traveled this same route about a year ago on the way to a USATF course in Brooklyn but made the left turn on the Lincoln Tunnel. This night I was in new territory on route to the Newark area. I listened to my faithful GPS voice of Samantha as she guided me through the streets. It was getting late on a Friday night and the streets were looking a bit sketchy. I was now in the "hood" and made sure the doors were locked. When I see all the store fronts with metal bars, I start to wonder. I checked and rechecked with Samantha to try to find Maplewood on the map to make sure I was in the right part of the state and finally there it was. Soon I drove by Seton Hall University and from there on I was in another world. Nice upscale homes, no more bars on windows and gated communities. True suburbia. I came upon the entrance to South Mountain and found a park sitting high up on the hill with the NYC sky line lit up in the background. I found the official parking spot for the race by the dog park and set up camp in Hotel F-150. Hotel F-150 is my race rig. It's a Ford F-150 pickup set up as a camper with a cap on the back, sliding windows with screens and an elevated platform for a queen size bed with gear storage below. With so many of the ultra races starting at the pre-dawn hours, it just makes sense and is way easier than staying in a hotel for a few hours the night before a race. Although this night would present some challenges. I finally had my gear and drop bags all organized and ready to go, got good and comfy under my flannel sheets, blankets and down comforter when all of a sudden I was visited by some flashing lights and search lights. I tried to ignore it but "IT" was not going away. Finally I popped open the back of the cap to the amazement of Maplewood's finest as I crawled out. "What are you doing here?" was what I heard and "License and Registration". I tried to explain about the race but he had no idea what it was. After a full check on my background and vehicle he explained to me that the Park was closed and that I was not supposed to be there but as he was leaving said "have a good night". Nice! I was fast asleep in deep sleep, for the moment. By 2:00 AM, the next shift must have been on, more flashing lights and search lights. Here we go again! I think I scared this guy even more as he was looking in the woods for me. I figured if I didn't make myself known, he might call a tow truck to haul my rig away. When I made my presence known, it was the "License and Registration" again. But this time after the interrogation, he told me I had to leave. I stumbled back into the cab and headed towards civilization, clueless as to where I was. I drove around the neighborhoods and after about 20 minutes, finally found a great spot. A huge church parking lot with a somewhat dark corner. Perfect! Back under the covers again, at least for a few more hours. Throughout the night I could hear the wind howling and the truck at times was rocking from the gusts. But for now, it was fine.
At 5:30 AM the alarm went off. The clock said 38 degrees inside the cap. Not bad but not easy to get out from the warmth of the down comforter. I had a quick breakfast which consisted of a half a bagel with peanut butter and a banana, got dressed to run and drove off to South Mountain Reserve for the race. Just after 6:00 AM at race headquarters I got my number, chip and figured out where I was, sort of. I still wasn't sure of the race course or of any stats like elevation gain but figured I would follow and learn as it as a 5 loop course' It was also kind of a figure eight so during each 10 mile loop you came back to the start finish area twice. It made it convenient for drop bags and I left some GU Brew drink mix and GU gels, electrolyte pills, extra clothing and an extra pair of shoes just in case. Tom managed to find me and we chatted a bit before the race but it was cold so we both went back to our cars to stay warm until the race start. With about 15 minutes to go I figured I should visit the port-o-let one more time. With only 2, there was a good line up and the line went slow. The RD was shouting out the time before the start and telling those in line for the port-o-let to move a little faster as he was starting the race on time. Finally as he yelled out "75 seconds to go", the door opened and I had my chance to quickly take care of business. With only a few seconds to spare, I was ready to go. There were a lot of runners at the start as this was for both the 50K and the 50 mile but the 50k runners headed out in a different direction to run an extra mile before coming back on course with the 50 milers. I had no idea how many runners were doing the 50 miles and never looked back after the start.
|Start of the 2012 Febapple Frozen 50. (Pic thanks to Kelly Agnew's collection of photos).|
I didn't recognize anyone at first until Joshua Finger said hi. He won the Febapple 50 last year and we had run a couple of years ago at the Finger Lakes 50. He remembered helping me after a fall there but I fall so often I forget about those things. Josh was mainly a road runner in his previous life but has come to the dark side to enjoy the trails and has been doing great. So off we went at a good clip. Soon it was four of us cruising along. Myself, Joshua, Denis Mikhaylov and I think Dante Simone. We would jockey back and forth some but most often it was Denis flying by on the downhills gracefully dancing over rocks and then we would catch up to him on the uphills. It went like that most of the first loop. The course was fun, not what I had expected in New Jersey. It was a nice mix of single and double track trails including some hills and sections of rocks and mud. The rains the day before made for some good wet trails in sections so wet feet was to be the norm for the day. After 4 miles we ran through the start/finish area and I quickly discarded my wind shell and changed my hat from the heavier Headsweats Mid Cap to the Race Cap as I was warming up.
The course was marked with white flour on the trail but the rains the night before made it not the easiest to follow, especially on the first lap. At about mile 6 or 7 of the first loop we found ourselves running along without any markings on the trail. At least they had marked a lot of the trail so if you didn't see any marking for a while, you knew to turn back before you were too far gone. Soon we were back on track. The four of us ran the first loop in just under 1:22. Heading out for lap 2, it was three of us, myself, Joshua and Denis. The course was getting muddier as foot traffic was churning up the surface. Not much happened on lap two but Josh and I chatted quite a bit while Denis continued to dance on the downhills and slowly climb on the uphills.
|Denis and Josh|
On lap three, Josh and I noticed that Denis had faded. After a long downhill we looked back and he was no longer is sight. This was his second 50 miler so we figured his lack of experience was taking it's toll on him. After lap 2, I had grabbed a new bottle of my GU Brew but this was a new formula with 2x's the amount of sodium. With all the cramping I do, I figured this was a good time to try it out. I also grabbed a new supply of GU gels, electrolyte pills and off I was again with Josh right there too. The course was getting muddier still and wasn't going to be drying out any time soon but still, it was a great day to run. Temps in the high 30's, no snow or ice on the trail, shorts weather, just the ideal weather to be running in the woods with the extra bonus of no rain or bugs. And it was February! Somewhere around mid lap of lap three, Joshua and I were chatting about the course record and saying it will be broken today. Last year when Josh won, he was running in snow and slush and only 3 runners finished the 50 mile race. So this year with much better conditions and more competition, bettering that time should not be a problem. Soon after that, Josh had faded and I found myself running alone. Josh had a great run at the Rocky Raccoon 100 three weeks earlier so it was only a matter of time until that caught up with him, especially at the pace we ran the first 2 laps.
|Nice scenery along the trail|
Just before the end of the third lap, I jumped over this log with a large cut out, almost like a bench. I took the approach differently this time and hooked a foot and slipped. I saw myself heading face first for a huge mud hole. The reflexes kicked in and my hands went out to prevent the body slam. Luckily most of the mud was kept to my gloves which I could discard at the end of the lap. So at end of lap 4, the gloves were history, I grabbed a fresh bottle of GU Brew, more GU gels, electrolyte pills and out I went. I had another pair of gloves in my bag but gambled that I wouldn't need them and didn't want to search through my bag for them either. As soon as I started lap 5, the winds picked up and the clouds were rolling in. It was snowing some and seemed to be getting colder. I wished I had gloves on. My hands get cold when its 60 degrees, this would not be fun but it would only be for 10 miles, I could handle that. The wind was definitely getting stronger and one gust was so strong that a large branch came crashing down in the woods next to the trail. I was wishing I had on my wind shell too. With no one to run with and no one in sight, I did back off a bit and even walked up some hills but kept moving forward as it was time to end this. I maneuvered better over the cut out log this time without a mud bath, ran through the last couple hundred yards of water and mud and finished up the day claiming the Golden Apple. Denis ended up second for the day winning the Silver Apple and Kelly Agnew claimed the Bronze Apple. Josh finished up after 40 miles.
And the gear for the day, a big change for me. A new ride after many years! I wore the Pearl Izumi Synco Fuel XC shoe and they were awesome. I only fell once during the day which is good for me but I did manage to kick a few big rocks along the way and the toe bumpers in these shoes were great. They also provided the extra support and cushioning I needed on the rocky sections. Thanks to Kyle at the SkiRack for assisting with this change and thanks to Jeff and Pearl Izumi :) The Headsweats Midcap was great for the cooler start and changing over to the race cap was the perfect transition as the day warmed up.
|The New Ride from Pearl Izumi with lots of mud.|
Nutrition, the new GU Brew with 2x's the sodium made for a cramp free day. I noticed after 3 laps that my shirt was spotted with salt even with the cooler temps and it's usually after 35 miles or so when my cramps kick in but not on this day. And I took fewer electrolyte pills than usual. I felt energized throughout the day eating GU gel and the occasional peanut butter and jelly sandwich and bananas. All good!
And thanks to RD Rick and Jennifer McNulty for putting on this race. They did a fantastic job with four different races going on throughout the day. Full results can be found here: RESULTS . They also host a number of races throughout the year so check out NJ Trail Series.
You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.