Friday, September 7, 2018

Shawangunk Trail Run 70-Mile - DNF

I went back-and-forth several times before eventually deciding I should write a race report about my failed attempt at the SRT 70 Mile this year.  To be honest it took a few days to internal accept something that I had worked so hard for ended prematurely.  I haven't run since the event took place (8 days ago now) or even put my watch on.  The post-race depression hit a new low.

I arrived at High Point for the start about 40 minutes early.  After a quick trip to the bathroom, I found Jason and got to speak with him for a bit beforehand.  I was hoping to stay with him through the night, and try to extend a gap after entering Sam's Point in the morning.  I was also aware that Jake Brown, a talented barefoot runner was in the race, though I could not pick him out at the start.  I found Bill Hoffman before the start as well and we chatted for a few minutes before Ken and Todd gave their race director speech.  After a quick group picture we made our way down to the start.

The race began at precisely 6:31 PM and I quickly found myself leading the group back up to the High Point monument.  I was being followed closely by another runner who introduced himself as Tim [Ela] as we entered a flat section of trail.  We chatted for a bit as I navigated the terrain.  I remembered Tim as one of the 50 mile runners last year.  About half-way through the section we ended up separating and finished the section alone.  I was a bit concerned that I would need to run the night sections alone so I began to slow down.  After entering Greenville Turnpike I caught a glimpse of a headlamp before dipping back into the trail.

After a leisurely half-mile or so, I found that Tim had caught back up to me.  We chatted as we ran, still full of energy.  It wasn't until I got to the next road that I realized he was one of the "barefoot" runners (or sandals in this case).  I started to think strategically about how that would affect him over various terrain and decided that it might slow him down over the more technical sections (though what do I know).  We hiked up the road climb taking us under I-84 and checked back to see if there were any signs of other competitors.  There were not.  We started running again and made our way into the Hathorne Lake community and proceeded into the next trail section.

We were chatting as we proceeded up the white-blazed SRT, and it wasn't until a good while later that we realized we were not on the correct trail.  Tim's watch hadn't beeped (indicating we were still on course) so we proceeded to continue.  Eventually we found the SRT again as well as a small group consisting of Bill, Marcin, and a few others I recognized by face only.  After one or two more mis-cues we emerged onto the railroad tracks.  I notified the group I would be stopping for water here, at a creek traveling underneath the tracks, but no one else needed to stop.  Surprised, and a bit annoyed I couldn't continue with the group, I made my way down to the pool which I had scouted a week earlier.  I made my way back onto the tracks to see a train of headlamps in front of me.  I picked up the pace, hoping to catch back up before the trail turns back into the woods.  As I progress, I see a strange glow in the distance.  It train was quickly approaching, and was illuminating the foggy night.  It was magnificent.  The train roared by as it did last year, it's horn blaring as it went.

I caught up to the group as we approached the turn.  To my surprise, Tim was also just arriving, but coming from the opposite direction.  Apparently he thought he had seen Jason's headlamp in the distance and missed the turnoff.  The SRT at night requires unwavering focus, even a seasoned night-runner can easily lose their way (case-and-point, see my report last year).  The group of 5 or 6 headed down the abandoned jeep road, eventually finding the Long Path intersection.  The two trails share the path for the next 40 or so miles.  I ended up taking a small lead at this section and easily found the left turn back to singletrack.  I wasn't sure if the rest of the group would see me or not, but it seemed well marked so I didn't linger.  I made my way through the woods alone for the next mile or so, until briefly getting lost as the trail neared Guymard Turnpike, where the group caught me again.

We hopped over the guardrail as a group and made our way to the service road that aligns with the railroad tracks and eventually finds the power lines.  There was still no sign of Jason, and I was beginning to wonder if he had perhaps taken a wrong turn himself.  I doubted it, this was his 3rd time running this race and he has never finished worse than 3rd.  After walking for a minute to eat a gel, I restarted my engine, and passed most of the group back.  Tim and I were moving quickly through this flat section, and I began to pressure the pace.  I felt great but was careful not to overdo it, the race was still just starting.  We ran like this for about a mile before he fell back.  I kept the pressure on until I could no longer see his headlamp behind me.  My mind focused back to the Jason and the checkpoint in front of me, some 3 miles away.  I made my way through the power lines, where instant death was lurking above in the form of 10,000 Volts of electricity (ok I made that number up).  In the distance I saw a flicker of light.  I thought the aid station was a bit further ahead but this course is tricky in that way.  Suddenly it was gone again, and it occurred to me that it was Jason's headlamp.  I pressed ahead, hoping I would be able to reach him before the checkpoint.  But he was too far ahead, and I arrived at the checkpoint alone.

I asked the volunteer crew what place I was in just to be sure and how far in front 1st place was.  They confirmed I was in 2nd and pointed to a light in the distance.  "That's him, arrived maybe 2 minutes ago" they recalled.  I continued down the road, with Jason well in my sights.  With him leading the way, he led me right to the turn off of the road.  He was still a good minute ahead as we climbed Gobbler's Knob, but I was closing the gap.  He picked up the pace when he summitted and I lost him briefly in the foggy air.  I saw his headlamp in the distance and I surged ahead once again.  Last year I got lost several times on this section, and I knew running with Jason would help the navigation, especially through the fog.  I finally caught him on an old a/v path, and we traded stories about how the race is unfolded.  Apparently Jason had thought he was in 3rd until he reached the checkpoint where they notified him he was winning.  At some point during our conversation we missed a crucial left turn and were lost once again.  We bushwacked using our phone map as navigation until we found the blazes again.  We spent about 10 minutes off trail, and added around a quarter-mile or so to our distance.  There were still no headlamps in sight, and we concluded we were probably still in the lead.

I was almost out of water when we reached the beginning of the Bashakill.  We found a good spot to refill (Jason was using iodine tablets I believe) and pressed on together.  We found a good rhythm in this flat section, hitting 10:30-11:00 minute miles consistently.  Every now and then we would see a light flicker in the distance behind us, but it would disappear moments later.  I took a hard fall in the middle of this section, but nothing was seriously damaged, and after a few moments we were running again.  It was nice having company this year, as last year I ran almost the entire night section alone.  We crossed underneath Rt. 17 and eventually arrived at South Road in Wurstboro.  We jogged the entire road section and noticed Jason beginning to fall back a bit.  I slowed down as well, as my legs were beginning to ache, but I felt like it was important to keep running because we would be walking the majority of the next section.  We crossed over to Sullivan Street and started to climb Mamakating Road.  I phoned Elizabeth and updated her with how the race was going.  She was happy to hear that I was running with Jason, and wished us both good luck.  We arrived at Checkpoint 2 without anyone else in sight, and proceeded into the Wurstboro Ridge State Forest.

Checking my watch, I found that we were about 25 minutes ahead of my pace from last year.  This was motivating considering I was hoping we would have moved a bit quicker through the flat sections.  We advanced up the first climb, which felt relatively good.  There was a water bottle placed perfectly in the middle of the trail.  I advised Jason not to drink it, or I would have to report him for using outside assistance on the trail.  We laughed and joked and the climb was over before we knew it.  I was leading Jason through the trail and was trying to run whenever possible.  We stopped for another refill at the bottom of the second hump.  There are a few tricky areas to navigate here, but we were mostly able to move quickly through these sections.  The 2nd climb is easier, and we found our way to the top without any trouble.  After the following descent, we arrived at another stream where i quickly refilled.  I remembered that the next stream wouldn't be until after Rt. 52 (though that ended up not being true).  We proceeded up the final of the three major climbs, and I recounted how Elizabeth, Crash, and I had hiked this section just a week earlier, and it was only 0.3 miles to Ferguson Road.  After a short climb we skirted across the road and made our way up the main climb.  We had not seen any signs of another runner, though that didn't keep us from looking back every few minutes.  We hiked until the fire tower was in sight, and jogged the rest of the way.  We didn't get the same view as last year, when the almost full moon was illuminating the area, but it was still a great lookout.

We proceeded around the fire tower until the trail turns left down the backside of the climb.  We were running fairly consistently, knowing that the stoppage point was only 6 miles away.  We talked the entire way, and had some great conversations about other ultras, commuting, relationships, dogs, etc.  Before I knew it, we were halfway through the section and beginning the final descent.  We hadn't seen any glimpse of another runner, but we still tried to move at a pretty good clip.  Eventually trail brought us down an abandoned fire road which marked 2 miles to go until we hit the next checkpoint and stoppage.  Soon after hitting the fire road we found a stream flowing across the path.  I found a spot to fill up and topped off both my bottles in anticipation of the long wait we would have at Rt. 52.  Jason was gracious enough to wait for me even though he didn't refill.  We opened our stride a bit and were moving at around an 11-minute mile pace.  We didn't walk at all during these last miles, trying to squeeze in every minute we could before the stoppage.  Eventually we saw a faint light in the distance.  Jake Brown was waiting with Ken at the checkpoint, both of whom cheered us in as we entered.

We were excited to learn we were about 30 minutes ahead of when I came in last year.  Because of this year's quality of runners, there were too many of us that would be stopping for Ken to fit in his car, so to keep it fair we would all need to wait outside.  I was thankful I had brought my northface shell, which kept me at least partially warm during the wait.  We had 1 hour 27 minutes before we were allow to enter the South Gully trail and proceed up to Sam's Point.  I fetched the turkey BLT Elizabeth had prepared me just for this occasion, and half of it promptly fell on the ground.  I finished the other half, and tried to consume as many other calories as possible (mostly in the form of bacon and rice crispy treats).  Tim Ela was the next runner in, arriving approximately 20 minutes after us.  We cheered him in and he informed us that he was not feeling great.  More runners soon followed, including Marcin, last year's runner up (and who is known for his late race heroics, at least to Jason and I).  The group enlarged to 5 or 6 I believe when Ken gave us the 1-minute warning.  We all quickly gathered our packs, and shortly after found ourselves walking across the road to the next section.

I assumed the lead into the woods, but began walking as soon as I hit the notorious South Gully climb, which is approximately 1,600 ft over 2.6 miles.  The group seemed content with how I set the pace, and strung out behind me.  Moments later, Marcin blew past me, hammering the climb hard.  It reminded me of how he looked when he passed Jason and I last year with 5 miles left.  I was unwilling to let him get away, and charged forward.  Soon there was only 1 faint headlamp behind us, and I reasserted myself in front.  I felt Marcin drop back and I eased up on the pace a bit.  I had no interest in wasting energy up this climb.  I was mindful that I technically had a lead on everyone except Jason, and I had not seen him since we restarted.  I was running a decent pace on a flat section when Tim caught up and soon overtook me.  We started climbing again and Tim continued to run the climb!  I was in disbelief.  Unfortunately he soon made a trail miscalculation and we were soon running together again.  I stopped at a stream to refill again while he continued to run.  I made sure not to take too long and was soon back on the trail with his headlamp in sight but far enough away that I could not see exactly where on the trail he was.  I arrived a minute or so after him at South Gully Road to find Tim still searching for the trail.  I quickly pointed out the reentry and we were running together once again.  He again outraced me on the climb and disappeared, only to rejoin me moments later.  And once again, left me in the dust as he surged up the hill.  I was doing my best to move quickly, but found my legs were in bad shape when I finally arrived at Loop Road in Sam's Point.

Tim was again waiting for me, unsure of the correct direction (he had been going the right way this time).  We ran together down part of this descent but he quickly opened up a lead.  I needed to walk up the next climb to the Sam's Point overlook, and saw Tim at the very top before he disappeared around a curve, about a quarter mile in front of me.  I eventually reached the top and spent a moment to admire the sunrise (or almost sunrise).  I arrived here exactly when I hoped to, and experiencing that sunrise at that moment in the race was something I'll never forget.  I proceeded down loop road, but Tim was nowhere in sight.  I pushed harder, and made my way toward the Ice Caves and Verkeerderkill Falls.  When I stumbled back to the singletrack, my legs could not muster any sort of momentum, and I was forced to a walk.  This was quickly followed by a nosebleed, which is something I've had to deal with before in races every so often.  I used some tissue I brought to manage it, but it forced me to lose a few minutes while I tended to it.  I continued on with my nose plugged with tissues until I arrived at the waterfall.  I filled up quickly and moved on, excited to be on a less familiar part of the trail.  Tim was still no where in sight, and I was beginning to suspect the hill climbing may not have affected him as badly as it did me.

Shortly after leaving the falls I found a porcupine just off the trail.  I passed cautiously, but it was uninterested in me.  In Tim's race report he mentions have worse luck with this porcupine, which wouldn't stray from his path.  I climbed up to the intersection of the High Point trail, all the while wondering how Tim's navigation was serving him.  Now in the daylight, I was sure he would be making less errors, and I would need to do everything I could to close the gap.  I traveled past Mud Pond and Lake Awosting, but did not stop.  Running was becoming exceedingly difficult, and there were plenty of sections that I should have been running, but needed to walk.  Another difficult climb was ahead, but it is one of my favorite parts of the course.  The trail climbs straight up the rock face, and requires runners/hikers to use all four limbs to maneuver up.  Eventually I reach the summit and was greeted by another spectacular view.  After admiring the vista I went off course briefly but quickly found the correct path.  Running turned to jogging turned to walking until I found the next section, where blazed turned to orange.  This was the last section before the Jenny Lane trail and the aid station. Water was getting low but I knew Rainbow Falls would be fairly close.  Sure enough, after a brief section through more rock-hopping on the ridge, I arrived at the falls.  Though the falls weren't flowing as much as I'd hoped, I was able to quickly refilled my bottles and get back to the trail.  After a minute or two zig-zagging through the woods, I was climbing again, summiting near the top of Rainbow Falls.  The trail meanders away from the stream and through various rock groupings.  They are difficult to navigate at points, but I found myself wandering through them without any substantial errors.  Eventually I arrived at the service road, and jogged across the bridge on my way toward Jenny Lane.

I entered Jenny Lane actually feeling ok, but the uneven footing left me walking yet again.  I had been dealing with an ankle injury from a trail race back in June, and although it was mostly a non-factor, I did feel it quite a bit on this section.  Jenny Lane is about 2.6 miles long and descends the entire way, but a good majority is rocky any uneven.  It was about a mile into this trail I contemplated quitting.  I didn't have a good reason why, I was just frustrated and no longer having fun.  I told myself I would get to the next checkpoint and see how far away Tim was.  Looking back, I needed to convince myself that he was just around the next bend.  With about a half-mile until the next Checkpoint (and the end of Jenny Lane), Marcin came charging past me.  He asked if I was alright and if I needed anything.  I told him that I was alright just not feeling well and urged him to press on.  He had already left the checkpoint when I arrived, at which point they informed me Tim was about an hour ahead and Marcin was about 2 minutes. 

I was devastated, but I was not surprised.  The last time I had seen Tim he looked completely fresh.  It did not occur to me at the time that it was really only 30 minutes when factoring in the gap that Jason and I had established before heading up to Sam's Point.  I had no reason to quit.  I have felt more worse with much further to go in other races.  But the luxury of quitting had strangled my state of mind, and all I wanted to do was shower, eat, and take my pack off (in any order).  I didn't quit immediately at the checkpoint, I continued on for about a quarter-mile before making the final call.  I phoned Elizabeth to break the bad news.  She desperately tried to talk me out of it, but there was no changing my mind.  My race was done.  The trail skirts along Rt. 44 briefly before heading back into the woods, I made it there and decided it would be easier to get to the next checkpoint via the road then the trail.  I hiked along the road for about a half-mile when Todd Jennings (one of the race directors) spotted me.  I had already removed my bib and announced to him that I decided to drop.  He graciously gave me a ride to the finish line where I would be meeting Elizabeth.


If you made it this far, congratulations!  Today is September 7th, 2018 and I have just re-registered for the 70 mile division.  I wrote the majority of this write up about a week after last year's race and it seemed selfish not to share my experience with those that could find any wisdom in it.  Especially since I've read Tim Ela's race report about 10 times, I feel like I owe him and Jason my side of the story.  I am not in shape this year and I do not expect to win, but I will finish. 

Reading this report for the 1st time since last year brought back a lot of positive memories as well as poor decisions that I can learn from.  I'm proud of the effort I put in and I'm excited to be toeing the line again (against the better judgement of some of my friends).  Quitting last year is a hard pill to swallow.  It's easy to say you would never drop out when you're sitting at home staring at your computer.  It is much different when you have been running for 14 or 15 hours and missed out on a night of sleep.  I'm thankful that I still have people supporting me and that I am in good enough shape to do an event like this this year.  Thanks for reading, I plan on doing a full race recap after this year's event.


  1. Great report Zack, even if it didn't end the way you wanted, thank you for sharing. Good luck with 2018.

  2. This report is proof that even a trained runner with experience in the race can have a bad day and not make it to Rosendale as planned. It's also proof that the so-called "bad day" can provide great resolve to do it better the next time, and that there are GOOD days to make up for the bad ones.

    Good luck this year, Zack.

  3. Nothing to feel bad about, in not making it to the finish line.... the human mind has a powerful ability to second-guess itself and screw us up..... I'm reading the various race reports trying to psych myself up enough to push the button on the 70 miler.......