Monday, September 3, 2012

A Year of Magical Running: Finger Lakes Fifties

June 30, 2012

Finger Lakes Fifties (25K)

What a great race!

I drove up to Hector, NY excited as ever to camp out with fellow racers the night before in my brand-spanking new tent I had purchased for the occasion. The buying of the tent and the decision to camp out by myself was the subject of heated debate the previous week amongst concerned family members and friends. Why not stay in a hotel? NO THANKS!

The week before I had dropped my son off at a mall nearby to get on the bus headed for his SEVEN-WEEK LONG sleep-away camp. I was home free, and ready for a nice stretch of running long distances without worrying about coordinating child care with my husband or having to drive my son around to all of his myriad activities.  But I digress....

I checked in at the picnic area at the Potomac Campground, where the pre-race hustle and bustle was in full swing, collected my bright green tech shirt complete with the customary cowbell insignia (I'll explain later) and put up my tent, and set up my chair outside with the latest copy of Trail Runner Magazine and some New York Times crosswords.

As I sat and relaxed outside my tent in the comforting cool of Upstate NY forest (being from Brooklyn, anything North and West of the Bronx is Upstate), I breathed in conifer-fragrant air with a hint of woodsmoke from a growing campfire. A woman accompanying herself on guitar sang slightly off-key camp songs and Simon and Garfunkel-type ditties.

I also saw a number of familiar faces, most who had done many NJ Trail Series races. It was awesome to see that many other folks had made the 5 hour drive north to participate in what I had heard would be a great time. There was also a whole crew from the North Brooklyn Runners-not the group I run with, but HELLO!?! they're from my home town. WOOT!

The singing and mingling went on until about one in the morning, along with someone partaking in a ritual that is celebrated on April 20. I'm guessing those folks weren't doing the 50 miler later on...

It was pretty difficult to sleep that night as I was high on adrenaline, and I had decided not to buy a Thermarest. DUMB DECISION. Anyway, I slept about four hours on a slight downgrade. The moment I began to sleep soundly, all of us campers were awakened by the clanging of cowbells. That is, at 5 in the morning. I guess this was the wake up call? Much better than the beeping and chirping of cell phone alarms. This was going to be an interesting experience, I could already tell.

The notion of more shut-eye was nearly impossible, what with other racers milling about and talking loudly--you could hear nerves and excitement in the increasing decibel levels and the constant movement towards the ever so malodorous privy.

There were calls at 6:30 for the 50M and 50K races, and 8:00 for the 25K. As this was my first crack at this event, I signed up for the 25K; the course is really a mile over 15.5, but who's counting?  I finally got up, took a "shower" with baby wipes, pinned my number to my leg, you know, so I could be cool like the other trail runners. Actually I've discovered that it's the least bothersome spot on your bod-no interfering with the Camelbak, no accidentally giving yourself a paper-cut in the final miles when your form is so compromised that you keep brushing your hands against the darned thing, and on my legs there's a lot of room...

And then I did what most runners do before a race: I stood in line like seven time to use the privy. Those runners who are not human don't need to, but most of us would prefer no to run with liquid sloshing around in our bladders. There's plenty of time for that during the race-the great thing about running in the woods is the availability of nature's privy.

We walked the quarter mile long path to the race start, passing the ambulance and search and rescue vans (comforting for some, disconcerting for others--I don't know where I stand on that spectrum yet) and then we were off! I don't quite remember what the word was, but it was probably "GO" or "RUN".  The first mile was pleasant-downhill, and then at some point we made a left turn into the mouth of the forest.

I don't remember much of the course, especially the parts in the ravines where I was trying my best not to wipe out too early in the race. My favorite part of the course were the cow pastures. There were several of them. Since the Finger Lakes Forests are mixed use, the trees are intermingled with functional cow pastures, which are fenced in. Most important to remember was to close the gate after going through it. I personally didn't want a herd of cows running after me in the forest, so I obeyed that rule.

Even though the entire state of New York was experiencing a heat wave, the forest was cool and inviting. The pastures were exposed, but the views of the surrounding countryside were somewhat redeeming. I can't say that I appreciated the views of the last 2.78 mile stretch which was mostly cow pasture, but I'm sure they were gorgeous too.

I finished (strong for me!) in 4:51:16. There was so much cheering at the end, I almost couldn't take it, it was so emotional! What a community we are, this group of people who rather like being in the woods. I collected my "medal", a  swank Finger Lakes Fifties bottle opener.

I waited for my stomach to settle from all the gels, sports beans, Picky Bars, Nuun tablets, and Endurolytes I had consumed over the course of almost 5 hours. I also had to wait for the swelling in my hands to go down before chowing down because that would look like a cave-woman trying to use a fork.  And then the hunger came. A ferocious and impatient need for calories, which I obliged somewhat unwillingly since it's really hard to eat with a gross concoction of stuff still swishing about in your stomach.

The hours flew by as runners in the 50K and 50M continued to finish, eat, and be merry. Another runner from the NJ Trail Series convinced me to camp out for another night, since I didn't have anything better to do, right? So I calmed down and enjoyed the company. There were lots of beers and wine coolers to be had, conversation, and self-deprecatory laughter. One lady, Karen, who had seen me at the NJ Trail Series Ultra Festival called me over, invited me to join her and her friends and asked me questions like "So, Mirna, who are you? What do you do? Why do you do this crazy stuff?" Great fodder for a long, sinuous monologue.

Camping out that night was glorious. It was cool, I was tired as hell, and at around 3 in the morning it started to rain. I opened the flaps on my tent, reveled in the sweet perfume that is nature's gift, and slept more soundly than I had in months.

The next morning I packed up my tent, both sore and satisfied with what was turning out to be a pleasant beginning to a fabulous summer, and headed back to new Jersey.

And now I can wear my shirt!

This is definitely on the list for next year.

Sign-up here!

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A huge shout-out to race directors Chris and her hubby, Joe! You are simply awesome!