It is amazing how on some days, things just come together. We can put all of the pressure on ourselves to meet expectations, or we can just be free and truly live in the moment. My 2017 Cayuga Trails 50 mile race was just me running to run, to finally beat-down a course that has beat me every time I have given it a go. On this one day out of the year, on the 5th time, I overcame all my demons and ended up with my best day yet. This is my story...
To give you a more general idea of my journey up to this point. Here is a quick recap of the past 4 years of Cayuga Trails.
Year 1-(What was I doing? And ankle sprain): I went out with the lead group (Too FAST) and twisted my ankle at mile 18 to suffer through to a top 10 finish.
Year 2-(Ouch Tom B broken ankle into survival): I had some of my best fitness coming into the race and with a near ligament tear, raced injured but hung tough for a 7th place finish.
Year 3 (Let's talk about stress baby): Had electrolyte issues and lost sight mid-race to have tunnel vision for about 3 hours. Dropped at 42 due to warning signs.
Year 4 (Fruit is good, fruit peels are bad): Came into race ready. Had GI issues with fruit peels from breakfast of apples and peaches. Caused body to force it back up and could not keep anything down after that and had to DNF at mile 31.
I came into the race trained but probably the least prepared that I have ever been in terms of peak fitness. It was not as if I wasn't training but I lacked key long runs beyond 20 miles, higher volume of hills, and strong tempos that I had done in years' past. I wanted to have a solid day out there. If that was just to finish, then I would take what I could get.
I ate oatmeal and bananas for breakfast (something I know has done well for me) and had my raspberry zinger tea.
Weather was going to be ideal with temps near 50 at start and 75 by end of day.
I felt rested and nerves were under control.
I had my Vaporkar 4L Vest with Boom Nutrition gels, the Mcdavid Cooling sleeves, Fits Light Runner Low socks, Mcdavid Compression Calf Sleeves, Nathan Emoji Hat, and the Topo Athletic Terraventures
I joined my fellow Red Newt Teammates and other friends out on the trails and foolishly started to push the pace from the gun. I was leading the race with MPF/RNR mate, Ben Nephew as we hit the first big climbs of the course out along the Gorge loop and the stone steps and cascading waterfalls that make this course well-known for. Not my best moment pushing hard from the front and I knew that I could regret this later but proceeded to just go for it.
As we hit the next "New section of trail" that Ian (RD) set-up, I was amazed how rooty and technical this section was. As Ben dropped back (a wise move on his part), Chris Rauli (Eventual Race Winner) and I think Zach Merrin took chase right behind me. We kept together throughout the next aid station and after our first creek crossing, I had to stop to adjust the fit in my Topo Athletic Terraventures. I think I laced them too loose and my feet were shifting around too much so I took the minute to get the shoe re-adjusted. I was now on my own. I proceeded to run alone the next 23 miles enjoying the beautiful morning. I made sure to take down a Boom gel every 40 minutes and took in plenty of ample hydration. I had some bathroom breaks during the miles of 10-16 that made me lose about 5 minutes on Chris and Zach but kept trucking along.
I felt energized and strong throughout these sections. The early pace only started to tax me some around mile 24/25 as Brian Rusecki and Michael Owen came by me up the gorge as I was slowing some and power-hiking.
I took some time at the half-way point to fuel-up and during that time, Matt Flaherty and Zach Merrin came in and out of the aid station. I went out in chase hopeful my brief low patch would be over. And boy it was. I quickly regained my climbing legs and started to crush the next uphill sections. I was hitting them around 7:30 minute mile pace.
I started feeling really good hitting now sub 7 minute miles which at Cayuga have been unheard of for me unless it was the steep downhill. I soon saw Matt F in the distance and caught-up with him. He was having what looked to be a little but of a rough patch for him. I made the pass and kept on the accelerator.
From here on out, I ran the best I have ever run at Cayuga. I tackled the uphills well, ran the descents strong and hammered on the flats. Going up the Lick Brook Climb the second time, I noticed two signs: one for Altra and another for a pie. It was if someone just placed those out there for me. I picked them up and placed them into my pack as I worked-up the climb.
The rest of the race was running strong and feeling full of energy. There was a few muddy sections that made running fast difficult but besides that, I felt like a man on a mission.
As I hit the last 5k, I knew that there was nothing that could stop me from finishing this race. I hit my last mile (downhill) splitting 5:23 as I hammered into the finish. I had tears of joy as I crossed that line as I had finally tackled Cayuga trails and won! I finished the race 5th ; the best finish that I have ever had at Cayuga trails. I felt incredibly strong 48 miles of the race and ran with the ability to rapidly change my pace at will which was something I had not been able to do in past Cayuga races.
This Photo Says it All!!!!
* I finished the race, about 53 miles on my gps in 7:57 for 5th place. I had run the race smart and hung tough all day long and powered to a strong finish. I never thought something like this would ever happen as I have been plagued with really tough races at Cayuga each and every year. Running into the arms of my Superstar wife, Ashlee was one of the best moments ever. She has stuck it out with me through 5 tough years at this race, waking up at 4 am to get to the event and staying all-day to watch me beat myself up on the course. My success here was a team effort. With the help of my family and crew, the awesome volunteers (especially the BATS aid station), and all of the kind words of encouragement out on the trails, I was able to feel more motivated than ever before.
If at first you don't succeed...
For me, the 5th time was the charm. On my next race, maybe it will take me 50 times before I get it figured out. That is part of the beauty of running an ultra.
Congrats to Chris Rauli for running an incredible race out front to take the US Champ title. Well-deserved!