Saturday, July 4, 2015

2015 Whiteface SkyMarathon: Rugged with a Capital "R"!

When Ian, the RD mentioned that he was planning on putting on a Skyrace in the planning stages last year,  I thought... "Why not run it! How bad could it be?" Little did I know a year from the time I ushered those thoughts, I was in for one insane run and no matter how I trained, I was not going to be ready for this.  I have run  ski slopes before but I never thought that it would be so bad.

This race experience I label as "Rugged"! Let me explain...

So like any awesome event, I had the chance to travel to the race the day before and scope out the area of Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain only 10 miles away. It was amazing driving into the area seeing hundreds of bikers preparing for the famous Lake Placid Ironman Triathlon Competition.

It was fun to link up with the Red Newt/MPF crew, the Binghamton Crew, as we had the chance to hang out at the top of the Whiteface Ski Resort Lodge. The weather was ideal for the Vertical K, an all uphill almost 5k into the clouds up to 4,600 feet. Pretty incredible event. Everyone was chilling just enjoying the nice Adirondack summer day. After hanging out with everyone, it was time to check into the hotel room and relax in Lake Placid. For those who have never been to Whiteface or Lake Placid, you NEED TO DO IT!  Not only are there quaint little shops full of Adirondack nick nacks but the village because of the Winter Olympic Training Center has this international European vibe which is unlike any place I have ever been to.

 The facility at Whiteface was everything that represented SKY Running! They had a great base lodge, various huts along the course, and the slopes looked like they were in great condition. Also with a top-field, I was hoping on an ideal day and my lack of sky-running prowess to place top 10. I know that I do not have the long arms needed for balance on steep descending and powerful compact quads and calves needed for the explosive demands of such a race. So, I felt ultimately that top 10 would mean I had an incredible day.

The mode of discussion for this race was the weather for the 19.3 mile Sky Marathon. It was supposed to be pounding rain and summit conditions 4,600+ feet above sea level that would have temps near freezing and wind gusts near 70mph. I came prepared with changes upon changes of clothes, waterproof gear, and hats and gloves.  With 9,500 so feet of ascent and equal descent in constant rainy conditions, it was going to be a tough run.  So I ate some delicious pizza and then rested up for the next day.

Race day came and boy was that rain coming down. It was not a gentle drizzle, but more like a solid heavy ran. This was something you would be soaked to the bone in 30 minutes outside regardless of what you were wearing.

All I thought was "Oh Boy!" I soon changed my perspectives of how this race would play out. I did not pack trekking poles nor heavily lugged cleats or shoes would me so I knew that I would be slipping and sliding. Little did I know, no real shoe besides metal cleats would help you gain traction on this type of terrain/condition combination. All bets were off. You always have to consider that everyone has to endure the conditions so that evens the playing field. But man, it was going to be unlike anything I have ever raced in before.

Pre-Race Photos:
The mountain the day before.

My father at Schroon Lake!

A sweet t-shirt highlighting the extreme uphill and downhill route that runners would encounter.

Race Time:

All my gear: Mammut MTR zip shirt, MTR 201 Tech Low Shoes, Craft Longsleeve, Finger Lakes Armwarmers, Fits socks, Mammut MTR Visor, Boom Nutrtion Gels, and Mammut MTR 3/4 tights (Capris)

The Race:  

1st Loop

The rain was coming down at the start and I knew that all of my rain gear would come in handy. My mistake that was clearly noticeable from the get-go was that I had too many layers on and was slightly overheating. I decided to vent my jacket to cool myself off. Also, my Ultimate Direction AK hydration vest was put on a little too tight underneath my jacket and with all the heavy breathing associated with steep uphill running/hiking, I tried to adjust the straps of the vest to allow for my ribcage to open up.  I settled into a solid controlled pace with a mixture of power-hiking and slight tip-toe running. Teammates Silas Carey, Ben Nephew soon surpassed my on the second slope ascent as we continued to trudge through the mud up into the clouds. I was climbing well not harming my quads too much. The pace I was going was smart to save my legs for the second ascent of this mountain. I was probably in about 8-11th place, right around where I wanted to be.  I continued to make the strong climb up. The further we went up, the more I slipped as the trail which was more like a small river made any foot strike lose total traction and control. This is where a specialized lugged soft ground shoe with metal cleats would have been better at digging into the ground. My new Mammut MTR 201 Tech Low shoes are incredible and just about every surface except these extreme conditions which all trail shoes would struggle in. The mud and wetness was the worst I have ever seen it in a race.  
As we came close  to the summit, the rocky trail was killing my calves as I struggled with the steep 40% grades. I saw some of the front runners come by mentioning that we went the wrong way.  I would not find this out until the bottom of the mountain but we ended up taking the Vertical Kilometer course which was a more technical and steeper climb. I felt it!  As we made the descent, I had to tip-toe down the trail for fear of slipping onto sharp jagged rocks. It was at this point as I descended off the ridge line that I realized this was not going to be a race where I competed. I just do not have enough experience on a course like this to negotiate such risky conditions. 
I began to flow down the slopes that we once went up. Oh, and with every step, I fell hard….again, again and again. I was covered in mud, wetness and grossness. I was passed by a good amount of people on the descent and even had the chance to keep pace for the most part with Stevie Kremer and Kasie Enman who are some of the most accomplished Female US Skyrunners in the world. I joked with them that I should probably stick with flat 50 milers as that seems to be more my thing. With the jarring and slipping of the downhills, my quads were taking a beating and there was nothing I could really do. Every elongated step was always followed with me falling flat onto my bottom sliding down the trail into rocks. 
I finally made my way down to the base lodge. 

Flume Loop--Flat-ish 6 miles

As you can see, I ditched my long sleeve shirt underneath my jacket and new that after that loop, this was a fun run for me. It was not that I am not well-trained to handle tough conditions, but besides wearing the right gear, I did not have exactly what I needed in footwear and trekking poles for the tenacity this course on the day embodied. 

After some snacks, like Nascar, I was off for the more runnable section. I was hoping to make up some ground I lost on the descent. I was flying through once on the trail at sub 7 minute miles as I passed both Stevie and Kasie and continued to push hard.

Photo Credits Mountain Peak Fitness

This photo here shows how wet everything was. I laughed as I ran through the trail as it was nothing but a river. I felt like I was in some movie such as "The Day After Tomorrow" when the tidal wave floods New York City except we were in the woods and the world was slowly flooding completely. It was an erie run so far at this point. I sloshed along and kept putting down the hammer on my jello legs as I wound through the winding trails. I passed one gentleman in the woods and continued with my forward progress. I kept my pace even.  I came out of the woods feeling low on calories as I took only one gel in 2 plus hours of running. That was probably a bad idea. I came out of the woods struggling on the slight uphills. I was caught again heading into the aid station at the Ski Lodge.   

I was ready to drop. But I figured I should just suck it up and shoot for top 20. I knew I was still near 10th place or so but I did not have the legs nor the energy to power up that mountain once more. I dreaded the pain I was going to put my destroyed body through.  

Third Loop--Alpine Loop

Well this loop is pretty simple to the story. I slipped both up and down and slowly hiked the whole loop. I was passed by a good string of people but I did not care at this point. My body was failing and I just wanted to be done. The summit conditions were intense with 70 mph gusts and freezing mist at the top. I thought I was going to fly off the mountain.  The rest of the run was me falling every other step. I took it slow and easy. I was not really taking in calories which was foolish. As I hit the final ascent to Little Whiteface, I bonked and consumed 7 Boom Gels I had in my vest. It took me a few minutes to regain my energy but it helped power myself up to the finish.  I played it cautious the whole way up and down and finished just under 5 hours which was off of what I hoped to perform in but hey what can you do. I was 20th place Overall and 17th for Men. 

Here are the photos from this incredible adventure.

Mud on my face, in my water bottle, in my pockets-all over my body.

Race Recap:

To sum up things, I am not sure if I am a sky runner. I think I am best at runs with hills but on courses that require locking into a fast pace. Can-Lake 50 was perfect evidence of what I can do on a runnable 50 mile course. I think that is the type of runs I am going to stick with.  This race was incredible even if I struggled with competing to my potential. Anytime you get to run up such an iconic mountain, you have to take the chance. And truly, this race is something the East Coast needed. Never before has a Sky Marathon been hosted on the East and I feel that Whiteface takes the crown for being the perfect European-style mountain. On race-day we had pounding rain, silt, mud, rocks, steep and long ascents, quad-punishing descents, and a bit of mountain-culture all right here in Lake Placid. It was awesome to see so many people brave the tough conditions of Sunday and come out of it triumphant. On a nice sunny day, the sky marathon would provide absolutely gorgeous views and the course would have been much faster and a much different dynamic. Maybe next year I convince myself again to give this race a go or at the least, go for the Vertical K.  It you want an incredible experience unlike any other, this race is for you. Having the chance to spend a weekend in the Lake Placid area is awesome and the Adirondack mountain culture is something you need to experience. 

I am now ready to train well, rest well, and prepare for my next adventure: an FKT on the Cranberry Lake 50 trail.  I am excited about running a fully self-supported attempt at running a new speed record for the 50 mile trail. Dates are still tentative but I am hoping for a go the last two weeks of July. More to come on that front. 

Thank you to everyone for an incredible journey and weekend at Whiteface. Thank you to the amazing volunteers who braved the same conditions we ran though. Thank you to Mountain Peak Fitness for making an appearance.  Thank you to my sponsors:  Mammut North America, Fits Socks, MPF/Red Newt Racing, Boom Nutrition, Karhu/Craft Sports North America, Redfeather Snowshoes for all your support. Thank you to my family, friends, and followers. All of your support helps to keep me motivated and really keeps me going.

The Vertical K Video from Mountain Peak Fitness

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