This is my first race report of the year, but it wasn’t my first race of the year. I was just a little too busy in the spring to find the time to write about all the fun I had at the Chilly Cheeks 7 Mile Trail Run (which is so close to home I can see my house from one section of the course) or the Naked Bavarian Trail Marathon (shaving 31 minutes off my super-slow 2015 time) or the 7 Sisters Trail Race (which was was so steep, muddy, and rocky that it was pretty much entirely unrunnable–yet I still had a great time).
I heard about Cayuga from my friend Michael Heimes, who ran the 50-mile race in 2014, loved the course, and was eager to return and outperform his earlier effort. I was interested because I knew the area well from my graduate school days in nearby Binghamton. I had hiked and swam in Treman and Buttermilk Falls State Parks, knew how “gorgeous/gorges” they were, and thought it would be great to run a race there. I also have friends in the area, whom I rarely see, and would love to reconnect with.
The only problem was that 50 miles is still well beyond my means as an endurance runner. I’m just starting to get comfortable in the marathon / 50k range, but 50 miles is…well, a lot more. But luckily, Red Newt decided to offer a Marathon option for this event to complement the USATF 50 mile championship (i.e. the main event), in which Michael was competing. Once I heard this, I was on board, as was a third friend and Reading-runner, Jim D.
I booked a place with Airbnb, which was fine, except that it didn’t have AC and it was a HOT weekend for early June in upstate New York. We got there the night before the race, ate some Vietnamese Noodles, and picked up our bibs downtown, where “Ithaca Fest” was happening (street food, live music, artsy stuff).
The Other Matt Brophy
Michael had noticed weeks before the race that another runner with my name (how dare he!) had registered for the same race. When I picked up my bib, I was told that he (the other Matt Brophy–a few years younger, several inches taller, from Rochester) was mistakenly given my bib. The volunteer sent some text messages to the race director to sort this out. Not that I was too concerned–either way, my name would be accurate in the Results, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be winning any awards.
This did, however, solidify my top goal for the race: Beat the other Matt Brophy.
Jim drove us to Treman State Park, where the race begins, and as we waited around for the 8:00am start time (2 hours after the 50 Miler started), I was on the lookout for the other Matt Brophy. I didn’t see him until about 3 seconds before the gun though, and so I didn’t have a chance to make some awkward joke about the race not being big enough for the 2 of us. He went out faster than me, and so I just hoped I’d reel him in at some point.
My plan was to average around 12 minute miles and finish in the 5:00 to 5:30 range, so I tried to keep things in check early on as I trotted along and enjoyed the scenery before it got too hot and humid (which I knew it would soon). I took my time on the climbs, especially the notorious stone steps, and tried to pick up the pace somewhat on the flat sections and the gradual descents. I was eating a Huma gel every 3 miles or so, and popping a couple salt pills every hour.
At about 6 miles in, there was a very steep and seemingly endless set of stone stairs descending into a gorge. I immediately realized, since the course was out-and-back, that this wall-of-steps was going to be pure hell at mile 20 on the way back, when I would have to climb them with far less energy.
After circumnavigating Treman State Park, the course cuts through the Sweedler and Thayer Preserves along the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT)–the one part of the course I had not hiked as a graduate student. There were some beautiful wild flowers and meadows here, which complemented the more dramatic beauty of the gorges, waterfalls, and rock formations in the state parks. The FLT then takes you into Buttermilk Falls State Park, where you do a couple little lollipop loops before heading back the way you came.
I still felt pretty good at the halfway point, though I think I made a bit of a mistake with nutrition by eating some solid food (Kit’s Organic Clif Bar) that my stomach wasn’t quite ready to digest. I started to feel a little nauseous on the return trip, and wasn’t sure if I should still force down gels or just sip water.
I also started to feel some cramping in my calves around mile 19, right before the big creek crossing where I totally photo-bombed the 2nd place finisher in the 50 miler (Jared Burdick) as he passed me.
I ramped up my salt consumption to prevent the calf cramps from getting worse (which they didn’t), but I definitely started to slow down during the final 6 miles. Hitting the “endless steps” at mile 20 was as bad as anticipated, and I shuffled through the final 10k on fumes, except for the last mile or so, which was, thankfully, downhill and then flat.
The result? A little slower than expected, but still a performance I can be happy with, considering it was my first time on this challenging course, and really my first long run in hot/humid weather of the year. And most importantly, I finished about 35 minutes ahead of the other Matt Brophy!
With my teaching schedule, I had only been running about 3 or 4 days a week for most of the Spring. I was getting in a long run most weekends, and a couple 20+ mile runs each month, but I think it just wasn’t enough. I tried to “cram” in some miles in mid-May, after the Spring semester came to a close, but it was a little too late. Now that it’s summer, though, I’m running nearly every day, and much more acclimated to the higher temps.
For me, the best thing about this race is the course itself and just how breathtakingly beautiful it is. There’s also lots to do in the surrounding area (Ithaca is a super-cool, artsy college town and there are wineries up and down Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, not to mention more state parks with more gorges and waterfalls). Also, Red Newt did a great job organizing: well-stocked aid stations, well-marked course, great food and beer for the post-race party. What more could a runner want?
Not sure if I’m going to do a July race. Thinking about the Double Trouble 30k in French Creek State Park. But the next big thing for me, actually, will be the Pike’s Peak Ascent on August 20th, just outside of Colorado Springs. It’s not a very long race in terms of mileage (about half marathon distance), but it’s a sustained 7,000 foot climb up to a 14,000 foot peak. I have no idea what that will feel like. Can’t wait to find out!