July 28th, Windham, NY. 224 runners at the start.
Here is a great video from the race:
Had a great day on one of my favorite trails in Catskills mountains.
This is one of the toughest running courses in US. This epic race is being held every summer since 1977.
Result – 2h 51m (in the rain), 6 minutes short of the course record. Solid win and big improvement on my previous best of 3h 11m (3rd place, 2011).
Here is the course description:
THE ESCARPMENT TRAIL RUN IS FOR MOUNTAIN GOATS ONLY!!! The Escarpment Trail is a very remote, rugged hiking trail in the Northern Catskill Mountains in New York State. This single track trail crosses no roads, has total elevation changes of nearly 10,000 feet, and requires all aid to be backpacked in by volunteers. This is not for your average runner but for the runner who trains 12 months a year, and has spent years building a base and gaining long distance experience. Therefore, qualifying standards are required to insure that all participants have experience with endurance events and have a reasonable chance of completing the course within 6 hours.
THE TRAIL… is viewed by many as an exaggeration of the term. It is extremely rocky and a runner must expect to navigate over boulders, downed trees, gullies and hidden roots the entire distance. Contestants must be prepared to deal with any of the forest’s natural barriers, such as bees, slippery rocks, porcupines, black bears (not probable, but possible) and anything else that can be found in the forests of the Catskills. There are numerous places where runners must climb hand over fist to scale a rise, conversely, extremely steep downhill sections add not only challenge to the course, but also a high degree of unwelcome danger. There are sections of the course that travel along cliffs. If you’re not careful, you could fall to your death. Very few runners go the distance without taking at least one painful spill. Most runners take many. Believe me, you’re going to take a flop or two, or more. Bees!!! In 1987, we ran into lots of them. If you are allergic to bee stings, you MUST run with your own medication.
THIS IS NOT A CARRIAGE TRAIL… it is a treacherous hiking trail. There won’t be a vehicle to fetch you if you if you should decide to quit and it is your responsibility to get to the finish line.This is not a Run-For-All and we are not trying to hype it or make it something it is not. There won’t be people telling you where the trail goes, doctors to wipe your blisters, or a bus to give you a ride to the finish if you decide you can’t continue. This is a wonderful run across wonderful country, a run in which we will share the experience and the friendship with those qualified runners who choose to participate. No awards, no age group categories. Just runners, mountains, and some refreshments at the finish line.
Not much to share really. I felt good but still wasn’t sure that I should do this race (due to higher risk of injury in the rain on highly technical trail). My season is far from being over.
Traditionally I race trails in road shoes (yes, even very technical trails, and yes, even in the rain) and this time I also decided to race without socks. It was a good decision in terms of reducing water weight on my feet, but at the same time I knew that by doing this I risk getting very painful blisters on my feet. And indeed I got some of those. They didn’t slow me down much during the race, but next few days I was in pain while running… I do not recommend doing this unless you’re trying to defeat a National Team mountain ultra-runner and 11-times winner of the race…
As we started the race, Ben traditionally assumed the lead, with Jamie Julia (1:09 half-marathoner) and myself in tow. It took me a while to warm up and I was struggling to keep up with Ben as we climbed the first mountain. About 3-4 miles in, on the top of the mountain, I jumped from 3rd to 1st and broke away.
Rain turned rocky and mossy trail into a very slippery surface, and downhills were particularly dangerous, not letting me to run with my maximum racing speed. So, I was running conservatively with a goal to stay safe and keep my pace relatively constant (see, I’m finally growing up). This strategy worked and I never experienced any major issues, gradually building my lead to 7 minutes, and finishing in 2h 51m (course record is 2h 45m). No accidents except one “rolling” fall at low speed, and hitting a branch with my head less than a mile before finish. Nothing serious.
Very happy that despite wet and cold conditions I still decided to race. Huge respect to all 223 runners who shared with me this magical experience of enjoying Escarpment Trail under the rain. We once again saw a pure beauty of nature.
This season is going great so far, my next stop – Leadville 100, stay tuned.
Great photos and video – by Mountain Peak Fitness. Thank you!
12 hours-long racing drama on the most rugged mountain trails that I’ve ever seen.
Catskills Mountains, New York. June 22nd, 2013. http://www.manitousrevengeultra.com/
Photos by ManitousRevengeUltra, Katherine Varn Hawkins, and Kristina Marie Folcik.
Let me start by saying that 50mi is not my ideal distance. I lost my last two 50-milers (in 2012) with pretty solid gap behind winners (Ben Nephew at Peak 50mi, and Jack Pilla at Frozen Fifty). I prefer to either sprint all-out in shorter events, or be in the “survival” mode for a 100-miler. 50 miles is in-between, when it’s a pretty long way to go, but you still need to be running fast in order to win.
I was not in my perfect racing shape and a bit tired psychologically after my busy spring season. Therefore, I didn’t have high expectations for this race in terms of placing, my goal was to check out rugged Catskills trails and to enjoy the day. I also didn’t sleep at all the night before this race, coming straight from NYC to the starting line.
After few miles there are 3 of us running in the lead, then it was just me and Ryan Welts (team Pearl Izumi). On the only familiar to me part of the course (Escarpment trail) I went ahead, enjoying early morning hours in the woods and feeling light and fast… And this is a good time to share my pre-race thoughts of the course, just to explain my good mood while running rugged Escarpment trail…
Had I known the whole course, I probably would have been WAY more conservative in the first half of the race. I’ve heard before that Devil’s Path (later portion of the course) is really hard, but I’ve never been there, and in my experience Escarpment trail had the highest rating of technical terrain and I just couldn’t imagine that there are foot trails harder than that. So, I was having a blast on the early (still really technical) trails, thinking that they would be the hardest in the race. As I painfully discovered later, at that time I was actually going on some of the easiest parts of the course.
Here is a brief course description from the race website:THIS IS NOT LIKE ANY OTHER ULTRA YOU’VE RUN BEFORE! This is a grueling, gnarly, nasty course with approximately 17,000 ft. of climbing, much of it rocky and precipitous. To be sure, there are some runnable sections, but you will more often find yourself hiking uphill or down, sometimes hand over hand. Expect this course to take you much longer than your average 50 miler. That’s why we are allowing 24 hrs. to complete this monster. Because of its remote and difficult nature, there will of necessity be a limited number of aid stations, 8 or 9, and runners should be prepared to spend up to 3 or 4 hrs between aid stations. You will have to be reasonably self-sufficient. To make matters worse, the course gets progressively more difficult as you go along! And to top it all off, the average runner will have to tackle this hardest terrain in the dark.
Okay, back to the race…
After familiar trails were over, everything was new an exciting. First I was treated with several miles of slippery wet roots barely protruding from muddy trail. You either jump on roots or plunge your feet in the dirt. Few times after plunging into sticky mud, my foot was out of the shoe and I had to go back to pull the shoe out. So I was mostly dancing on wet roots. Lots of fun…
And then, after 30+ miles of rocks, roots, and mud, a really technical part had started. It was a crawl, more of rock climbing than running/hiking, I had to use my arms almost all the time going up. It took me 3 hrs to get through next 9 miles.
I was not prepared. I didn’t know what was coming and that I won’t have any water for 3 hrs during climbing in the hottest part of the day. My scant 2 bottles of liquid disappeared very quickly and I was ready to drink from any stream on the way. But there were no streams. And dehydration coupled with overexertion made me a bit more desperate for water. After climbing another huge boulder I almost blacked out, and really had to do something about hydration. Then I saw some water slowly dripping from mossy walls of the mountain. Yep, I just stood there letting water drip from rocks on my tongue and getting some from wet moss… This would have gotten a lot of views on Youtube…
Somehow I made it to the next station in one piece and spent some time there drinking bottle after bottle of water and juice. I was still running first, and remember saying there that if more than 3 people overall will finish this race I will be surprised…
Apparently, some people had way more fun on the course than I did. During all race Ryan was not that far behind from me, gradually getting closer, and he was on a mission to finish his hunt in a classic fashion, passing poorly-paced leader close to the end of the race… He was only 7 minutes behind me at the end of those steep climbs. And I had no idea of this hunt and of Ryan’s proximity. Why? Let me explain at the end of the report, it deserves a separate paragraph… Let me just say for now that I was led to believe that I was far away from any chase.
Miles 42 to 48 (after the hardest climbing) I was taking it quite easy, trying to get home safe. I still managed to hit some rock pretty hard while running, I screamed with pain, and was limping for few minutes. This is when out of nowhere appeared Ryan and his pacer Cory. They passed me flying around mile 48.
I understood that there was some bluff in their insanely fast pace, just trying to demoralize me. Ryan was having a classic winning scenario for ultra races: staying a bit behind all day just to pull impressive win in the final miles. I didn’t like this scenario and had to start working again.
I stuck right behind Ryan and Cory, not letting them get ahead of me more than few feet. For several more minutes we were going very fast on technical downhill. It’s hard to get away from me on this kind of terrain and I kept up well.
After few minutes I warmed up a little, got into my sprinting mode, and decided to make a counter-offer… I went off trail flying on rocks past Ryan, and quickly disappeared from his view. In the remaining 6 miles to the finish I kept my sprinting pace and opened a 20 minutes gap, crossing the line in 11:51.
Here is Ryan’s recollection of the events (excerpt from his awesome race report):
Down the other side for a bit, then, there he was. Was he limping, cramping? I suddenly came alive and felt the urge to capitalize on his altered gate and make my move. He look startled as I came up on him and he picked up the pace. I answered hoping I could finish him off on this descent. We were flying down the mountain like with 8 miles to go like we had just started an 8 mile race. He missed a sharp turn and I went by. I kept moving down the mountain the best I could over the loose rocks and blowdowns. As the terrain leveled out Denis actually went off trail and passed me. As he went by I noticed his 2 bottle waistpack was nearly empty and I was under the impression there were no aid stations until the bottom of Mt Tremper with 1 mile to go. So, I let him go, again… he had put it in an adrenaline driven gear I just couldn’t match on the flats and I was sure I would catch him on the climb up Tremper or better yet, completely wasted and out of fluids sitting on a rock. Boy, was I wrong!
I made my way up the mountain the best I could trying to recover a little from our duel in case I had to throw in another surge. After all we were still 6 miles from the finish and I didn’t think I had enough in the tank to run hard to finish at that point. (weak minded fool)
We then came upon the Willow aid station, to our surprise. I filled my almost empty bladder as the volunteers told me Denis had 5 minutes on me. I tried my best but I just couldn’t run that hard anymore and ended up finishing 20 minutes behind Denis in 12:11:43.
Full results are here.
Third place overall (!) went to fantastic Ashley Moyer, who finished in 13:32. Overall the race was incredible, trails like this can not be found in any other running event. I am happy to be the first person ever completing this course. This race has a great future.
- “Wow, I ran 15 minutes faster than I did at the Vermont 100 Mile Trail Run”.
- “The Lion will sleep well tonight after being on the hunt all day long. He had the perfect hunt and had the Gazelle down going with the fatal blow about to be delivered..only to have the Gazelle leap up like a friggin’ unicorn and disappear into the enchanted forest. ” – Cory DeLavalle.
My recently found angel called Veronica was helping me at each aid station that had access for supporters. She did fantastic job with driving around and having my nutrition ready for me, but it was only her third time seeing an ultra race and I completely forgot to explain some basic strategies that can be involved in these races (and importance of knowing the details about potential chase).
At the aid stations when I asked how far behind was competition she just replied “way behind”. After the race she said “I thought 10 minutes is a lot of time. Besides, you didn’t have to know all this chase stuff and worry, because I knew that you were going to win anyway”.
Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Race – did 106 miles up and down rocky mountain slopes (missed a turn and had to go some extra distance). This event should be called an “obstacle course”, not running.
Result: 20hr 26 min, 2nd place overall (from 200 pre-qualified athletes). 46 people didn’t finish, average finish time – over 30 hours.
Black bears, rattle snakes, and other wild animals on the way. Drank 80 oranges (freshly squeezed) on the go. If you know any better way to spend a weekend, please let me know.
Here are few more details:
I was even thinking about dropping out at the next station. I wasn’t sure that I can finish this absurdly technical course with my muscles suddenly shutting off already at mile 35. I was blaming this shut down on my fast race 2 weeks ago and was almost ready to quit, but wasn’t sure how I could say it to my amazing crew and pacer – Elena… So I didn’t say anything and kept running. I also made my crew work harder than anyone’s else. I had few different nutrition options for this race – bottled juices and smoothies, gels, dates, and fresh oranges to be juiced right before I stop at each station. By mid-point of the race my body made it clear that the only source of fuel that it will accept today is freshly squeezed OJ. I told Elena that I need a bottle of it at every aid station going forward…
We had a box of juice oranges (100 total) and an electric juicer. The original plan was to plug it in the car’s outlet (with a converter), but we have already blew Elena’s car fuse with my electric massager that I used on the way from New York the day before… Fresh OJ would go bad pretty quickly so we couldn’t make any in advance to be placed in the drop bags. Elena quickly became regarded as the most unlucky one amongst crew people at each station, having to juice bunch of oranges at each station because her demanding runner is refusing to run on anything but fresh OJ. There was no way I could finish without the juice, it certainly helped me bounce back to life.
Photos by MountainPeakFitness and Elena Makovskaya.
Yes, Fruitarians did it again!
40 minutes after taking a win, still waiting for the next runner to finish
May 4th 2013, Bear Mountain trails, New York.
333 runners at the start, combined elevation gain: 4,854 ft. Distance – 50K (31 mile).
Very technical rocky and hilly trail. This course has the highest “Overall Difficulty” and “Technical Terrain” rating of North Face Endurance Challenge races.
Here is a video that gives a good idea of the course:
This race has a special meaning to me because my first ever trail runs happened there, my first ultra race was there, and most of my solo trail training was done on these rocky trails. I consider Bear Mt to be my home turf, this is my place to train, reflect, relax, and draw the inspiration from this temple called “nature”.
Two years after I first time raced on this beautiful course, I now finally completed the mission and achieved what feels like the fastest run I can ever do on this rocky trail.
Almost everything from training and preparation to all details during the race day went perfectly. It was my first real race in past months, I was a bit overtrained but certainly well-conditioned to go fast. My spring training included few small wins at short running races and one very hard road cycling race. In the weeks before this race I averaged about 80mi/week of running training, both trail and road (with occasional long bike rides).
The day before my race I was loading up on fruit, as usually. Barely got any sleep at night but still felt well in the morning.
Right after the start I went ahead and was running completely alone since mile 2 or 3, enjoying familiar trails without much concern about possible chase.
Running Flying Free
Last year I similarly sprinted away shortly after start, but got caught about 5 miles before the end and finished 3rd with 4h41m after a very hard effort. This year I trained harder and was counting on finishing around 4:35.
My run went extremely well, I felt fast and light, barely stopping at the aid stations. During the last 5-6 miles some muscle fatigue started to settle in, so I had to do some mental “pushing” in order to keep my fast pace.
Finishing moments were exhilarating, just complete happiness. I sprinted last few hundred feet at a very fast pace and even forgot to look at my finish time. I felt great after finishing, even ran half-a-mile to my hotel to take a shower.
Thrill of finishing first
Yes, I did take few nasty falls with rolling on the rocks
About 30 minutes after I finished, the second place runner was still nowhere in sight, and I became curious about my race time (I usually don’t race with a watch). When I looked at the screen with my finish time I was in complete disbelief (just as those people that were coming over to congratulate me).
Final Result: 4:13:30, this is 8:10 min/mi average pace, beating previous course record by 9 minutes! (the race is being held every year since 2008). Second place runner (Marc Boivin, Canada) finished 47 minutes behind me with 5:00:03, only 17sec ahead of the 3rd place runner.
How did I do this? Just few years of clean Raw Vegan (Fruitarian) diet, solid training, and love of nature.
Huge thanks to all my friends (Especially Elena Makovskaya) for incredible support !
This is just the beginning!
Few days the after the race I had a very mild muscle soreness (only while running), but it didn’t stop me from having a regular-volume training day on Monday.
Next stop – 100 miles on the mountain trails of Virginia on May 18th (infamous MMT100 race).
More about North Face Endurance Challenge:
I’m not a sprinter, and rarely race anything shorter than a marathon. But following the advice of my friend Elena, this year I decided to use shorter races as my tempo workouts (I dislike doing those on my own).
First on March 9th I unexpectedly won a small 1hr Endurance Race in Manhattan (World Race For Hope): 10.1 miles in 1 hour (5:56 min/mile). Was running third until half-mile to go and barely out-sprinted Troy at the very end. Huge PR for me.
Then on March 30th I won a 10K trail race called “Wolfes Run” in Staten Island. Highly recommend this race, beautiful course.
And to wrap up my training-racing schedule, on April 13th I raced my bike in the Tour of Battenkill, the toughest bike race in America (they say this, not me). 65 miles of hilly roads (both paved and not) in gorgeous Washington county upstate NY. This race is truly epic as it attracts thousands of cyclists every year and the course is unique. I had a great day considering I didn’t race my bike for over year and a half, and didn’t really train. I certainly felt more in control than at my previous Battenkill race 2 yrs ago. I’ve lost some explosiveness, but gained some endurance. Got detached from fast leading group around mile 40, and rolled in somewhere in the middle of my field. The hills broke peloton apart in the last 10 miles. Fantastic and challenging course, very strong competition, lots of fun, and of course great training!
What am I training FOR?
After a brief winter break filled with serious training, I am ready to race again.
The first race of this season is Febapple Frozen Fifty (again) here in northern NJ.
I was well-prepared and quite hyped about this technical trail course with some decent climbing. But just 1 day before the race I managed to stretch a ligament near left knee cup during a short run. The knee became swollen and I could barely walk. Fast racing for 50 miles was pretty much ruled out, but I still decided to try to get there and run. I bought a large heavy knee brace (meant for basketball players) with two steel springs inside to aid in bending leg back to straight position. Now I didn’t expect much out of this race any more, just wanted to get out and try to have fun.
Cold morning before the start. Just above freezing and constant rain. Ice-covered trail made many runners wear metal cleats. My large knee brace worked surprisingly well, and there was almost no pain. Rain would guarantee getting soaking wet so I decided to go with as little clothing as possible. I know that as long as I’m moving fast I’ll be warm enough.
Started rather fast and after a mile or two took the lead. I knew that there are few very strong runners in our field and I didn’t have much hope of keeping my lead for too long (even with good knees I probably wouldn’t stay away from Joshua Finger, the 2011 winner and accomplished ultra-runner). I was having a great time though, slipping on icy trails, hopping on the stones to avoid dirt, moving fast past beautiful frozen waterfalls in the South Mountain Reservation, and at one time even started to think that I could finish entire 50 miles course today with a good result.
But knee and weather wore me down a bit earlier.
Roughly at 25-mile mark Joshua caught up to me and I tried to increase my pace a bit.
This is when the knee brace started to bother me (I think it was too tight and constricting the blood flow to the muscles). After spending some time adjusting it, I had to considerably slow down, and called it a day at 50K mark (with 3rd place time in 50K race).
Pretty happy by the result given the conditions, it was definitely very valuable experience. After few days my knee is well and I even won 1hr endurance race in Manhattan (with average page under 6 min/mi) shortly after racing on the ice in NJ.
The 2013 season is open!
Photos by Otto Lam and Ronald Mathewson