He’s out there. Behind a tree, around the next turn, waiting at the bottom of a deep descent. He is the Dark. Dark cramps your lungs, binds the quads, fills the lungs with wet sand. Dark scampers into the mind, sings eulogies about you mid-run, shows you dead ends. When I pulled into the Old Mil aid station, at 11hours, 30 minutes, Dark had not yet made an appearance. With a chance at a sub-12 hour 50 miler insight, I fist pumped my crew, took another GU, and headed into the gorge.
Going into this year’s Cayuga Trails 50, I had plenty of doubts. Trained enough? Tapered properly? Ready for 10,000 feet of elevation change? Could I do a 50-miler this early in the year?
The plan: run the first 25 mile loop at a steady 12 minute per mile pace, stay hydrated, fuel well. Then, hold on through the second loop and make forward progress. Overall, my goal (beyond checking a finish) was to stay positive and not hit any low-down, dark places.
Having previewed pieces of the course earlier in the spring, I knew most of the sections through Robert Tremain and Buttermilk Falls. With this beta in hand, I was able to visualize myself through sections, and to further use the knowledge as a mental checklist as I moved through the day.
So, from the starting line, I stuck to my plan. Drink on the 10 minute mark, GU every 30, salty stuff at aid stations. Electrolyte tabs every couple of hours. Everything worked, I put it into cruise mode and ticked off mileage. Chatted with nearby runners, gave encouragement, took it.
In the first loop, once out of Tremain on the Finger Lakes Trail, I crossed railroad tracks and thigh-deep stream, a huge climb. This was new territory for me, but I felt good thinking about this cool adventure i was experiencing. At 10 miles, I felt good, thought, “One-fifth done.”
Somewhere about three miles out from Buttermilk, the leaders came back through. We gave those, “Good jobs!” as we passed each other–something that is so cool about the trail running community.
Miles went by with plenty of gorges to take in, waterfalls and forest. At the half-way, I refueled with hot veggie broth and potatoes, reapplied some lube, and started to count backwards from 25.
Much of my mental strength on the second half came from knowing what was next. I could say to myself, “Get ready for the climbing coming,” or “Going to be muddy for a while.” The next hours went by much like a check list of chores on a Sunday. I don’t say this to connote a sense of boredom, but a feeling of getting it done. Still no Dark.
I thought about how my nutrition was working, how good the cool temps and moist air felt, how cool my crew was, how 70 miles away my wife finished her first half-marathon, how good my school year was, how many cool books I was going to read this summer, how awesome the leaders looked passing me.
Mid-afternoon, I started to feel those descents, especially on the rim trail coming into the Buttermilk aid station, but I downed hot broth, salami, and refilled the back. 13 left, three hours to go.
In that last half-marathon, the trails were a little more muddy, that last descent on the FLT brought me to a slow, gingerly trot, last stream crossing a little more chilly, the climb long the Tremain rim trail hard.
Then, I pulled into the last aid station. Was Dark lurking? I still felt good. But, I was gassed physically. I went slow, because I didn’t want to trip and fall now–plummet to my death at Lucifer Falls. Aptly named. I wanted to finish. Dark was there, and while I couldn’t see him, I knew that if I kept my cool and just plugged away, I’d get there.
A 12:20ish finish, and for me a great race: adventure, an all-day run, community, and some of the best scenery you could ask for. I kept Dark at bay this day, staying positive and focused and never feeling low.