Forty-five miles into the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile race, I took a modicum of comfort in having made it up the last big climb of the day, albeit very slowly. I had been chasing Sage Canaday for the last six hours, but barring a major crash, he had slipped out of reach. I was frustrated to have learned from iRunFar's Meghan Hicks at the previous aid station that Sage had extended his lead to six minutes. I had hoped to remain close enough to attempt a chase down the final three mile descent to the finish—loaded with wet stairs and some root-riddled singletrack—as it was this stretch where I narrowed a two minute gap to a mere 30 seconds earlier in the day. But it was not to be. As I hit one of the few straightaways on the course, I turned my head to see that Jordan McDougal was only a minute back. There would be a chase down the final descent after all; but I would be the prey.
Earlier in the race, after a fairly uneventful opening eight miles, Sage had run away from the pack on the steep, switchbacked Lick Creek climb, chasing a $250 "fastest climb" prem prize. The rest of us powerhiked, ran, and grunted our way up the hill. (Denis Mikhaylov was also out front at that point, but I would pass him several miles later before he eventually dropped after a wrong turn.) As we crested the hill and settled back to a reasonable pace, Jordan and I found ourselves opening a bit of a gap on the rest of the field. We ran fairly quickly together on roads and smooth trail to the Buttermilk aid station at 12.5 miles. Jordan left the station more quickly than I, and he also climbed out of the gorge a bit more quickly. However, I had soon closed the gap and we continued to work together until about 17 miles, where Jordan offered me the lead and I started to open it up on him a bit.
I was feeling pretty good and continuing to hear reports that I was two minutes behind Sage. I decided to get a little more aggressive and try to shorten his lead. I twice lost a bit of time, making mindless errors simply not paying attention at a turn, which required a bit of backtracking to make sure I was on the right course. However, passing the 22 mile aid station, I worked quickly down the wet stairs and sometimes-technical terrain. I was excited to turn out onto the field near the halfway point and see where Sage was. As he came into view, I saw his lead was only about 30 or 40 seconds. Crossing under the Start/Finish arch, I grinned, grabbed an electrolyte pill from RD Ian Golden, and turned around to give chase.
My cheery mood didn't last too long. While I had opened up some nice gaps on the field, including three minutes on Jordan in third, I was starting to struggle on the climbs. Despite doing some treadmill work back in Chicago—perhaps one workout every two weeks for the last few months—my climbing legs just still can't match the boys who live in the hills, especially Sage. He quickly opened up a few minutes on me, and I started to struggle a bit in the 30-35 mile section of the course.
I was chatting with some fellow racers later in the day about how when things start to go poorly late race, it's not always easy to identify what exactly is causing the trouble. I had lost all of my electrolyte pills in the first big creek crossing (where I did a little body surfing and went neck deep), as they weren't in a ziplock bag and thus got soaked. I had tried to take some pills at aid stations, but I still wonder if electrolytes were an issue. Muscular soreness and fatigue were almost certainly factoring into the equation, and perhaps calories as well. My final tally had my total calorie intake for the race at 1100, or about 160 calories per hour; not all that much. I started the race with my stomach probably a bit too full from breakfast, and I had trouble getting down much more than that. I tend to be pretty fuel efficient, burning fat well, so I can get away with fueling less than some, but the 200-250 calories per hour range is probably more ideal for me.
Sage must have been struggling as well, as I somehow kept him in range through the Buttermilk aid station at 37.5 miles. But as the total elevation mounted, his strong edge in the climbing delivered him a victory.
Back to spotting Jordan at mile 46— Jordan knew I saw him, and we both knew the race was on. Competitive desire alone was plenty to drive us hard to the finish, but we were also aware that the difference between second and third place prize money was substantial ($1500 v. $500). I wound my way through the mile of rolling singletrack before the last aid station, no longer amused by all of the felled trees criss-crossing the trail. As quickly as possible, I grabbed a mini PB&J tortilla wrap, an electrolyte pill, refilled my water, and high-tailed it out of there, knowing Jordan would be right on my heels.
The next mile or so was the stair-laden descent through the gorge, and I flew by bemused hikers, certainly taking my share of risks on the steep, wet steps. As I pushed hard over roots and rocks, I was thankful for having run this section of trail three times already—I had picked out the best lines and covered them quickly. I had power hiked a lot of the climbs earlier in the day, as I've begun to do quite a lot on steeper pitches, but I took no such allowance on the few brief climbs remaining. As I hammered down the wide, grassy descent back to the final loop around the field, my Suunto Ambit read 5:20/mile. Even once I hit the flat grass, I managed to maintain a 5:50 pace until I finally saw Jordan pop out of the woods, still a minute behind me. We congratulated each other from afar as we looped the field, and I eased off the gas just a hair to enjoy the final few hundred meters of the race.
I would be remiss if I didn't talk a bit about how great a race Ian Golden puts on. The course was beautiful, the competition stiff, and the whole weekend incredibly fun. From the panel discussion on Thursday night to french toast and eggs courtesy of Ian on Monday morning, I had an outstanding trip to Ithaca. Ian took a handful of us on a nice tour of the Buttermilk Falls section of the course on Friday morning, and the post-race festivities on Saturday were great. A BBQ party and some beer from Ithaca Beer Company made for a great, relaxed recovery, chatting and swapping stories with all of the other runners and spectators. Ian also emceed a very entertaining awards ceremony that lasted until the final 14-hour cutoff time, so that plenty of people would be around to cheer in the final runners of the day. From a technical standpoint, the course was well-marked, and the whole weekend came off very well. Pretty incredible for a first year race, and everyone owes a big thanks to Ian for working so hard to make it all happen.
Thanks much to the many volunteers who marked the course, worked aid stations, etc. I always try to thank everyone throughout the day, but late in the game, I got a bit urgent and tunnel-visioned, so I hope I didn't come off as short at any of the stations. Thanks to iRunFar for stellar coverage, as always; and finally, to Salomon and all my sponsors for the great equipment! My Sense Mantras delivered a flawless performance for the third fifty miler in a row.
Now it's time to recover as quickly as possible in order to resume my stretch of serial racing with the Mt. Washington Road Race next weekend!