First I like to apologize for not getting this post finished sooner. Work, weekends and running-related matters have taken a lot of free time away. During my writing hiatus I have been performing my duties as race director for several races, organizing beer runs, and volunteering, crewing and pacing at a lot of races lately. During one of those volunteering assignments I was manning an aid station when a runner who I never met before looked at me and said, “You’re ‘Ben Runs on Beer’.” As the weeks went by, I am getting many people asking when my next post will be. So I feel really bad for not getting these out more often.
I also like to add that if you found this blog after Googling “Cayuga Trails 50 Race Report”, this will be a different post than most of the other blogs. Yep, this is very lengthy but it is also a perspective from a middle-of-the-pack average Joe instead of a blog from a sponsored elite front-runners. Cayuga Trails 50 is quickly becoming one of the most elite-class races on the East Coast and it is really cool to have elites and ordinary ultrarunners in the same race.

If you read any of my previous entries you will find that despite having a good season thus far, I am just out there to take it all in and enjoy myself. I signed for Cayuga after looking for a late-Spring “A” race, I was drawn to the Cayuga Trail 50 after studying the course, saw the tremendous photos of the course, and as an excuse to return to Ithaca. I’ve been to Ithaca several times and it is one of my favorite regions and to have the opportunity to run up and down the gorges was so exciting, I was frothing at the mouth.  (Photos taken by me, Joe Viger, Ron Heerkens, Scott Dunlap, Steven Gallow and Steven Gorges)

Buttermilk Falls

Buttermilk Falls

Race weekend, Friday morning–May 30th, 2014.

I drove up to Elmo’s apartment in Altoona. Elmo Snively and his girlfriend Mikalee were outside packing their car while reading a handwritten list of things to pack for the trip.
“I borrowed these camping chairs a year ago from Todd Lewis. I just called him to say I was going to return them–and borrow them again this weekend,” laughed Elmo.
I would be traveling in my own car while Elmo and Mikalee would drive theirs. Later we would be joined by friends Hope and Craig Thompson, who were there to cheer us on; then Central Pennsylvania’s leading trail ambassador, Brian Newcomer; and then Joel Noal, my de-facto training partner who ran with me on more than a dozen trail runs this past spring and  raced at the Hyner 50k that I also did in late-April.

Yorkholo in Mansfield, AP

Yorkholo in Mansfield, AP

We hit the road at about 10:30am and drove up the Appalachian Throughway via Interstate 99 and US 15 north of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. US 15 is an especially beautiful section of highway dissecting the Endless Mountains of Northern Pennsylvania into New York. After a long winter and cool spring, it was the first weekend that the foliage was completely out in a bright and fresh green. This contrasted with the crystal blue sky and the rusted red Devonian sandstone exposed on every roadway cut. Along the way we stopped in Mansfield, PA at Yorkholo Brewery. After telling the waitress that we had a few of their brews at Hyner, she started to gush about someday being brave enough to do Hyner herself. After disappearing into the kitchen, the manager came out from the back of the restaurant to greet us as if we were V.I.P.’s. She also said about someday running Hyner. She also commented on how much trail runners love microbrews. Yorkholo Brewery went through more than a dozen kegs of their beers at the Hyner Challenge.
After a couple of beers and an unusually healthy kale and tofu salad (I think I must have contracted a “contact-diet” from Elmo), we got back onto US 15 toward the southern tier of New York. Just outside Elmira, NY we exited off the four-lane highway and onto the last two-lane stretch on NY-State Route 13 toward Ithaca. Not far from Elmira, I got caught up in a roundabout and decided to overshoot my exit and stopped at a convenience store to take a piss. At the store, I suddenly got a craving for a soft-serve ice cream cone. Elmo got one as well, flirting with the woman server in a ridiculous pseudo-Western PA accent. “Aw my gawwssh! Yinz treat me bitter den mah girlfriend. Geez Louise!” said Elmo sounding nothing like anyone I know from back home. The server gave Elmo an extra scoop.

As we approached Ithaca, I pointed to the turn for Robert H. Treman State Park where Elmo and Mikalee (and later Hope and Craig) would be camping for the weekend and they exited. I continued to head toward Ithaca. In the week leading up to this trip, my lodging plan was the same for my other trips: booking last minute through Priceline. Then about ten days before the trip I learned that the Ithaca Festival was the same weekend as the race–a festival about the same size and scope as our Central PA Arts Festival in State College, PA. I emailed the race director, Ian Golden (who I did not realize at the time won the Hyner 50k race that I participated in April) and he noted that the Ithaca Festival was a local affair and doesn’t bring in a lot of out of town tourists. He said I should be good with Priceline. However in the days prior to the race, Priceline wasn’t much of a help. Later I learned that the hotel market in Ithaca isn’t big enough for Priceline to work.
I was now faced with using AirBnB. Airbnb is a website for people to rent out lodging, whether it is a fully accredited bed and breakfast, an entire house, or some bloke renting out a room in the basement. “It’s all the discomfort of not staying at a hotel while sleeping near strangers.” At the time, this concept didn’t bother me at all. I just wanted somewhere, anywhere, that I can sleep. After going the listings and passing gems like staying in an actual miniature village dollhouse (see pic) and “the room where the dog usually sleeps”, I actually found a nice place a few minutes outside Ithaca.
Then coincidentally a day before my trip to Ithaca, I was watching Comedy Central when this aired: (see video below)


Up Enfield Creek in Robert H. Treman Park

So, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But it turned out to be a very nice (Victorian appointed) place. The boyfriend of the owner of the house showed me the guest room in the rear of the house which had its own exit out the back of the house. This was great in the event I needed to escape from someone wielding an axe at me in the middle of the night. It also had a very nice and clean bathroom.
I didn’t stay too long at Shangri La until I was back in the car and off to Robert H. Treman State Park and Elmo and Mikalee’s campsite. Shortly after I arrived, we hiked the loop up the gorge and back down along the rim to recce the course. My initial reaction was that it was an extremely beautiful course; it was more runnable than I anticipated; and the steps on Treman Rim Trail were steeper than I would have guessed. In the weeks before the race, I received an email that the course had to be rerouted due to flooding back in August destroying some trails and stonework at Upper Treman Gorge. For two weeks, the race director sent out emails about the race and each time he sent an email it seemed he increased the total climb by a thousand feet. By the time the final email was sent, the total climb for the race was now estimated to be 11,000 feet! As for the course changes, instead of running all the way up Treman Gorge on Gorge Trail, we would take a detour on Red Pine Trail, up and out of the gorge above the washed out section of the trails below. Then on the way back down the gorge, the course would be rerouted from the Finger Lakes Trail farther south to the Treman Rim Trail. This trail is directly above the southern edge of the gorge. Included in this section is the Treman Cliff Steps overlooking Lucifer Falls. I first scoffed at the email when the race director wrote:

One change in the course that this did necessitate was the addition of the historic stone staircase along the Treman Rim Trail and Lucifer Falls overlook which, on the descent direction, come at about 4.5 and 29.5 miles. These stairs are steep, have a wall but drop-off on one side and will test anybody’s legs and lungs at any distance. What I do want to emphasize is that everyone should take caution descending the staircase. We’re planning to have 3-4 staircase monitors/assists there for your benefit. They are there to keep an eye on all entrants and assist anyone that wants to use them for balance, support, etc.. Slow it down to a walk on the descent, stay close to the inside wall, and don’t hesitate to have one of the stair crew accompany you to the bottom – they’re there for you!

Mikalee at the bottom of one of many flights of stairs.

Mikalee at the bottom of one of many flights of stairs.

“Please! Assistance down the stairs?!” I trained on the Thousand Steps–Up Jack’s Mountain near Mount Union, PA, a 980 foot +/- in a quarter mile with over 1000 limestone cut steps carved out of the mountainside! But now, looking down at the steps, it was steep and with an odd length for each step, I knew I would not be able to run down. As I surveyed the steps, I learned that Elmo was having some issues. He injured his quad and ankle a few weeks prior and was also compounded with a lingering injury long ago. On the stairs he said he had trouble lifting his heels off the steps–a rather important bio-mechanical function–if I might add. At the bottom of the stairs he said that he can probably grin and bear it. He took off his shoes to do some barefoot running just to prove to himself that he can overcome any setback.
“You are the type that is out there to enjoy the experience and take it all in. I’m there to experience pain and seeing how far I can push his body,” said Elmo.

Immediately after our hike we bolted to Ithaca Beer Company for the pre-race briefing. First, the brewery is amazing. Though the interior of the brewery was small, it did offer a shuffleboard table, then outside was some outdoor seating out in the open with tables under a trellis of heavy timbers wrapped in hops. On the far end was some more outdoor seating (long benches) under a large tent. Moreover anyone is welcome to take Adirondack chairs out into the small grassy field and relax amid frolicking children, wild butterflies and the occasional farm cat. While there, I had their “Lucifer Steps” brew, a special 5-barrel beer brewed w/a combination of trace minerals, pink Himalayan salt and dry-hopped with Northern brewer & Pacific Gem hops for all the runners participating in Cayuga Trails 50. I also had to partake in a flight of their awesome Belgium beers on draft.

Ithaca Beer Company

Ithaca Beer Company

The briefing by the race director was very short and low-key, “Thanks for coming. Hope you enjoy the course. Just look for the pink ground flags. That’s about it! I’ll be here all night to answer any questions,” said Ian before handing his microphone to his friend.
After Ithaca Beer Company, we ventured downtown to Ithaca Commons–one of the oldest and largest pedestrian walkways in America. I really wanted to show Elmo the downtown knowing he would really dig the sites and sounds. Walking around Elmo developed a new catchphrase: “Here in Ithaca…”

For example:
Ithaca Commons was under renovation and Elmo commented;

  • “Here in Ithaca even the construction barriers are works of art.”
  • “Here in Ithaca, cars gives cyclists four feet of room.”
  • “Here in Ithaca, there is a store that sells bongs.”
  • “Here in Ithaca, you can see two middle-aged democrats at the same place at the same time.”
  • “Here in Ithaca, middle-aged white women do not feel threatened by other races.”

All of these spot-on observations is a stark contrast to Altoona. The evening was capped off with a couple of beers at dive bar full of hanging cocks. (You know, roosters. Sheesh! Get your mind out of the gutter!) It was some place called the Chicken Tickler, perhaps. (You know, tickling chickens. D’uh!) Weeks later retracing my steps, the name of the bar is the Chanticleer. You know, the Middle-Ages fable that later appeared in the Canterbury Tales. C’mon!


The next morning, Saturday, I woke up slightly panicked for about ten seconds as my brain tried to figure out why I was waking up alone in a strange bed in a strange room in an entirely different state. Meanwhile about eight miles to the west, Elmo woke up at camp with a thin, gaunt man starting him down from an adjoining campsite from inside a rudimentary tent (a tarp hanging from a rope suspended from a tree) and wrapped in burlap sack. His  sunken face and deep eyes only made him creepier. Elmo went back into his tent only long enough for his brain to process and ask, “Did I just see a man starting at me from inside a tarp tent and wrapped in a burlap sack?”. Elmo looked out again and saw the man still staring him at him. Personally I’m not sure how one would introduce themselves at this point but of course Elmo and the guy (Real name is Will) would became best friends.
Will, who drove in from New York City with his 5-year old son, turned out to be a trail runner with some awesome trail creed. He raced Cayuga last year and this year opted to volunteer and to “just check things out.” Will, who as the mannerisms, quick yet off-center wit, facial features and expression and even drives the same truck model and color as a friend and runner I know back home that I shall refer to Will as “Twin Stessney” or “Twinsney” for the reminder of this post. I couldn’t figure out if he was one of those ultrarunners who used what little cash he had to travel from race week to week while ducking their landlord or an eccentric millionaire. For example, Twinsney did sleep overnight in a sack underneath a tarp but later admitted he homed this technique from a survivalist seminar at Central Park. He also knew a lot about the perfect garnishes and spices for his salad–item that would be hard to find at your local Whole Foods. Out of a split tree branch, Will cracks a splinter from the stick and creates a rudimentary spoon.
His kid was a hoot. This anecdote may sound like I am ridiculing the kid but actually I have words of praise. There was a log in the fire that was so waterlogged that it was smoking up the entire campsite. Campers were coughing eight sites away. After removing the offending log from the fire, this kid is on this log like white on race and pounded it with fervor and zeal. Most five-year old’s I know are rather uninteresting and feckless drones. But this kid was so determined to pound that log back into the Stone Age, I’m sure that this kid is goin’ places. We will be reading about him in the newspapers someday.

Elmo has an ax to grind. Even Twinsney's son is questioning his expertise.

Elmo has an ax to grind. Even Twinsney’s son is questioning his expertise.

After going to the only sparsely patronized Panera Bread on the East Coast because “Here in Ithaca, we need to know the name of the cow that cremes our coffee”. Panera Bread is too “corporate” for Ithaca. After a coffee and breakfast at Panera, I drove over to Elmo’s camp. Soon after I arrived at camp, several trail kin, like one of the “course architects” of the Megatransect, Brian Newcomer from Williamsport, PA, and Hope and Craig Thompson from back home, arrived. Brian was also running in the Cayuga Trails 50 while Hope and Craig were just up for the weekend to cheer us along and keep Mikalee company during the race. I left the camp late morning to take a short recce up Buttermilk Falls Gorge and then meet an old friend, Dawn, who moved to Ithaca from Altoona many years ago. Dawn and I met at the Ithaca Boathouse for lunch to catch up and reminisce. I always felt that Dawn and I had a comparable wit, something I forgot until we met again and then realized how much I missed. I think Dawn was just happy to spend a couple hours away from the kids who sounded like they were a handful. While I was having lunch, Elmo, Mikalee, The Thompsons, and Brian ventured downtown to retrieve their race packets. After lunch, it took me almost an hour to park in the downtown. It was the Ithaca Festival that weekend and every parking spot was filled and all the garages required five dollars in cash money before entering. I hardly ever carry cash on me so after passing every parking garage in town and driving up and down every street to find a spot, I gave in and had to drive all the way out of town to find an ATM and then drive back to downtown to a parking garage. Now, mid-afternoon, I hooked up with everyone on the patio at the Ithaca Alehouse. They looked like they spent most of their afternoon there.

Cayuga Trails Shirt

Cayuga Trails Shirt

After a beer or two, I walked over to the Finger Lakes Running Company for my packet. Hands down, it was the best race shirt I ever got for registering for a race! Made by Atayne, it’s a fully sublimated half-zip short sleeve shirt. I’m a big fan of half-zip short sleeve shirts since they ventilate extremely well. Of course “Here in Ithaca…”, it had to be made out of recycled polyester and all the material was free from harmful chemicals. From the running store we walked through the festival and then back to camp. There, Joel Noal arrived with his sister and cousin who were going to crew for him at the race. While Elmo, Mikalee, Craig, Hope and Brian opted to stay and assign Elmo to make pasta over a campfire (without the use of utensils or a pasta strainer), Joel, his crew and I opted for something safer. Though I rather eat at a locally or family-owned restaurant or something unique and exciting, usually the evening before a race I was like to go someplace familiar so we headed for the Chili’s toward town. After dinner, I went back to the campsite to check if EMS had shown up to care for Elmo’s second-degree burns after straining pasta with his hands but only to learn that they only have gone as far as to make mountain pies. Hope was dismayed in Craig purchase of substandard Walmart-brand mountain pie makers that a tendency to melt and deposit heavy metals into the bread. Twinsney, never hearing of ‘mountain pies’ opted for some exotic Nepalese salad which included foreign spices like “bay-soul””, “or-rog-gee-no” (sp.?) and “dill”? It was about 8:30pm before I left. Back at the house I was staying, the place was entirely empty–I even checked under the bed and in the closet for killer clowns and video cameras. Satisfied and tired, it wasn’t long til I fell asleep. Despite having trouble relaxing and falling asleep at Hyner, I didn’t have the nerves, butterflies and the sleepless night that I had at Hyner even though Cayuga would be the highlight of my running season.


I got up 4:30, got dressed, grabbed my duffel pack and drop bags and I was out the door within 15 minutes. I was surprised that it was starting to brighten in the pre-dawn eastern sky. I made it to the parking lot above the North Pavilion at Robert H. Treman Park near the start/finish area about 5:05am. Joel’s car was parked several spots away and it was empty. I walked over to the pavilion, checked in, got a bagel and coffee, before retreating back to my car to pin my bib, fill my bottles and get my drop bag pack. While there, Brian parked along the road, got out of his Mini and greeted the other runners with his signature positive attitude. I wasn’t rushed and had plenty of time to get my stuff in order and ready to go.

Waiting in line for the bathroom. I’m in the ridiculous hat.

Then back at the pavilion, Joel, Brian and I congregated and we talked about how well we slept and felt.
“Where’s Elmo?” I said looking at my watch.
“Good question,” said Joel. “I hope he wasn’t up all night.” Elmo is known for partying too hard before a race.
As soon as we asked ourselves Elmo’s whereabouts, he shows up like a drunken Tasmanian devil, wearing an old Slippery Rock sweatshirt and  sweatpants. “Hi guys!” he shrieked in a shrill voice.
“Did you sleep?” I asked.
“Yeah. I think. Yeah! Umm… Hello?” said Elmo trying to answer that very question for himself. “I gotta get my packet,” he said leaving in the same whirlwind as he arrived.
“Okay.. that was interesting,” I said to the others reacting like one of those victims CNN likes to interview right after a tornado leveled his mobile home.

Elmo got his bib.

Minutes after Hurricane Elmo left, he reappeared, taking his sweat pants and shirt off in one quick motion like Ace Ventura undressing to his boxers. Underneath was a Dirty Kiln race-shirt and grey running shorty shorts.
It was chilly with temperatures in the low 50’s–too warm for a jacket or long sleeve shirt once you got moving. I had my green Icebreaker merino wool short sleeve zip shirt and my Asics FujiTrail shorts over top my 2XU compression shorts. This was my first ultra and race in my New Balance 910 v1’s. It is the little brother to the famous Leadville 1210 shoe but without the supportive medial post. I only wore my shoes twice before–a short run at Canoe Creek and a long training run on the Laurel Highlands Trail.  As we milled around at the start, Brian said “I don’t think I should be here so close to the front.”
The elites in this race are true ‘sponsored elites’ and were the people you would read about in trail running magazines. Runners like Jordan McDougal, Yassine Diboun, Ben Nephew, Brian Rusieki, Chris Vargo, Michael Owen, Iain Ridgway, Zach Ornelas, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, Krissy Moehl, and Cole Crosby. Also among them was the 2012 Rock N’ The Knob winner, Michael Daigeaun, who been having a couple of phenomenal seasons.
Looking around, Brian and I sheepishly sank toward the middle of the pack.


Elmo, Joel, Brian and I about to set off.

Elmo, Joel, Brian and I about to set off.

Cayuga 50 Trails (West)

Cayuga 50 Trails (West)

Section 1: North Shelter to Old Mill – 2.9 milesElevation Change: +1020′, -560′ = +460′.

The start. I am on the right. More photos at

The countdown began and we were off on our adventure. About 50 yards into the run, I almost run into a fire hydrant that was in the middle of the field. 280 runners and I crossed the park access road and then I was surprised that the course turned away from what I thought was the trailhead. Instead, we went up around the base of the canyon on a grassy lane before merging onto Gorge Trail about a mile into the race. I was running faster than I would normally would run in a 50 miler. I really didn’t have a plan going into the race but figured I would come up with a strategy within the first half-hour or so before I could gauge by how I was feeling. Today, I was feeling very good as I climbed Gorge Trail along Enfield Creek and up the canyon. I felt very strong and the climb wasn’t nowhere near as demanding as I thought it would be. Here, I began to formulate my plan: I would run the first half as moderately and steady as I can without feeling uncomfortable or getting my heart rate up to anaerobic levels. Also in the first 25 miles the temperatures would be cool and leaving me all the time in the world to finish the second half. Doing some quick trail math in my head, I would be happy to finish anywhere between 12 and 13 hours considering the possible elevation I had to climb. For me, a 11-hour finish would be exceptional especially taking account that my PR for a 50-miler is a 10:53 at Stone Mill which had a less than a third of the elevation climb and was in perfect running weather.
This section of the gorge was not technical nor steep expect in a couple of spots but they were short. There was a staircase made from asphalt wheel stops like you see on a parking lot and another climb with timbered ties. Some of the distances between steps was just the right size that sometimes your foot got caught between the ties if you weren’t careful. Occasionally we would drop downhill to the creek but for the most part it was a slight uphill climb up the canyon. Even though there were hardly any rocks, there were a lot of places with exposed roots that demanded your attention but again these sections were rather short.
Then we came to the detour from Gorge Trail and onto Red Pine Trail out of the gorge. Almost everyone I was running with at the time had to downshift to a brisk power walk. This marked the point where we had to run above the gorge to avoid the trail damage from the August floods. At the top of the gorge, Red Pine Trail was rather rolling with some short downhills and uphills until we finally dropped down back toward Enfield Creek and to the first aid station.


The climb at Red Pine Trail

Elevation Chart for the Cayuga 50 Trails

Section 2: Old Mill to Underpass – 4.0 Miles – Elevation Change: +790′, -1250′ = -460′

Sun flickers through the trees at Upper Treman

With just three miles and less than thirty minutes into the race, I ran passed the aid station without stopping. Instead of returning back down the gorge, me and a group of six runners continued to follow the course that meandered at the top of the plateau along Fish Kill Creek. For about a mile the trail was narrow and winding, snaking its way through thick, low-lying vegetation with a occasional field or picnic area. There was also a small stream crossing of about 2 meters or so. Then we finally started to make a turn back toward the east and back toward the canyon. We went through an awesome grove of pine trees just as the sun shone through the forest like horizontal blinds.
“Oh wow!” said the woman in front of me as the sun’s rays flickered through the pines like a kinescope.

POV shot of the stairs on the first of many flights and switchbacks.

The downhill section was gradual at first until we hit the Treman Rim Trail Stairs above Lucifer Steps. The stairs were steep but rather short (220 steps as compared to the 1043 steps at Jack’s Mountain’s Thousand Steps). In a group of four runners or so and the span of each step was rather long, we didn’t attempt to run down the steps. Halfway down at a landing and switchback, a photographer lie in wait taking pics.
“Suck in those stomachs,” said the guy behind me. But sadly, a few weeks later I learned that the photographer did not take a photo of me hopping down the stairs.
After the steps was a relatively flat section until a slight uphill before a final descent down to the bottom of the gorge not too far from the campgrounds at Robert B. Treman State Park. Then came a section a bit “rolly” as it went up and down a handful of little hills and dells. I was talking to the guy behind me about running in “Rocksylvania” as compared to this course thus far. The trail gods overheard my blasphemy and within a few seconds a root clips the bottom of my left shoe and I fall forward. I hit the ground on my right side and immediately rolled on my back and onto my feet which were still spinning. It was quite a fancy move but as I planted my left foot, it landed in an awkward position and I felt a slight stress and pull in my left knee. However in a few steps, any pain and stiffness was done.
“Do as I say, not as I do,” I said to the guy behind me.


Section 3: Underpass to Buttermilk – 5.5 Miles – Elevation Change: +1170′, -1180′

Cayuga Trails 50 (East)

Cayuga Trails 50 (East)

A leader crosses Cayuga Inlet.

I reached the underpass underneath busy Route 13 and then to the aid station on the other side. I loaded my bottles with Tailwind and water and stopped for a brief minute to talk to Hope, Craig and Mikalee. They said Elmo and Joel were doing well and looked strong. Several hundred yards from the aid station, we crossed a railroad near a trestle and then a creek crossing Cayuga Inlet. It was about thirty-feet across and was high enough to soak the bottom of shorts. Next came a beautiful flat section with knee-high grasses on each side of the trail. With a late spring and plenty of rainfall over the past few weeks, anything green popped with an over-saturated intensity. It might be the endorphins but it felt like tiny effervescent bubbles were fizzing into my brain to the point where I was almost high.
After the sea of green was a very steep (steepest of the race) climb out the glacial valley to the top of the plateau. It ascends 500 feet in a mile. To the right–obscured by trees and the edge of the cliff–was Lick Brook Falls. The first fall is a tremendous fifty-foot cascade fall at the bottom of a gorge and above it was another 100 foot waterfall. The climb, with a half-dozen or so switchbacks, is within the Sweedler Preserve along the Finger Lakes Trail and was also the most remote section of the course. Making progress up the hillside, I wondered what other surprises this course had in store for me. I didn’t get a chance to scout this area so this hill took me off guard and I was wondering how much I would be suffering the next time around. I made a mental note to ask Hope, Craig and Mikalee at the next aid station to find out what was the name of the phobia of waterfalls and cliffs. I figured it would be a good thing for them to know in the event they needed to write my obituary:

“Benjamin J. Mazur, 41, Hollidaysburg, PA, was in so much pain on the second loop, he overcame his fear of waterfalls and cliffs and took a flying leap off a cliff/waterfall just to make the pain stop.”

Lucky me, I would totally forget to ask Hope, Craig and Mikalee at the next aid station nor was I ever in that amount of pain. By the way, potamophobia is the fear of running water while cremnophobia is the fear of cliffs.

Soon the steep hill was behind me and I crossed the stream at Towline Road along the Finger Lakes Trail. Every time I saw a road marshal or police officer at a road crossing, I would tell them how much I appreciated them taking the time to volunteer or work and asked how long their day was. They would often reply with, “Not as long as yours.”

Crazy comrade!

Crazy comrade!

From mile 8 through 10 at the top of the plateau is an overland pass from Lick Brook to Buttermilk Creek. It included crossing a large field and pipeline, both in the open sun, except for a small strip of forest maybe an eighth-of-a-mile wide. Crossing a rural two lane highway in between, I said to the road marshal, “This section is going to be bad when we cross this again this afternoon.”
The volunteer, who looked like a younger Boris Yeltsin just laughed at me and said “crazy runner!” I don’t get it.

The second half of the open field after the road was worse that the first half. The air was more stagnant and the trail was surprising muddy. I was glad I wore my neck shield off my hat that protects the back of my neck. I still get grief about my hat and neck shield. Last year I wore it on a company cruise at Lake Raystown.
“Where are you going? Digging for bones?” laughed my co-worker.
But it turned out the joke was on him. He ended the day with the back of his neck sunburned.

Below is a video by Brian Newcomer in the open section between Lick Brook and Buttermilk Creek:

Back in the woods, we began to drop toward Buttermilk Creek. Ever since climbing out of Lick Brook and all the way to Buttermilk Creek, I seem to be running by myself–I was faster than the pack that I manged to lose behind me but not fast enough to catch up with the athletes ahead. Before I got to the creek, I saw about five elite runners running up the trail toward me. I was not sure if there were any runners behind me but I yelled “Heads up! Elites coming!”. They passed me like a freight train and I was in awe at their speed up the hill. They have already reached the bottom of Buttermilk Falls, the aid station and then climbed the entire gorge when I passed them. By my calculations, they were FIVE miles ahead!
Of course as with all the elites, it was all business in the front. But then, about when the tenth guy coming my way passed, he said “Good going. You’re looking great.” This guy, whoever he was, knew all about “Karma Kudos”. Karma Kudos is simply well-wishing or any other words of encouragement for your fellow trail runner during a race. You know, cheers like, “Good job!”; “Looking strong!”; and “Nice work!” For the majority of trail races, everybody gives each other words of encouragement however I have been to a few races where nobody says anything to anybody. After hearing that one person wished me good luck, I had to pay-it-forward and gave out some good karma of my own. As I ran down the headwaters of Buttermilk Creek, I started to say “Good job!” and “Awesome work” to each passing runner. At first the passing runners would not even acknowledge me but then after some of the less competitive runners passed, they would give out a quick “thanks” or “you too!” I mentioned this now because as the race grew longer and longer throughout the day, the more friendlier everyone became on the trail and by the last time around, everyone cheered for everyone else who passed and each returned the well-wishes. I like to think that the one person who said “good job” was the person who started it all.

The dam breast at Lake Treman

As the faster runners climbed out of the gorge, I kept estimating the ages of the runners that approached. Then, when about the thirtieth or fortieth runner or so came by, Joel appeared. I didn’t recall seeing anyone that might be close to his age. “I think you’re going to podium in your age group,” I quickly said to Joel as he ran by.
Crossing a bridge, we finally started the descent down Buttermilk Canyon via Bear Trail. To my left was Lake Treman before I climbed above the lake and around a narrow trail amid some pines to the top near the breast of a dam. The trail here was dry and for some reason reminded me of the trail that Indiana Jones ran down while chased by the Kali-worshiping, scimitar-wielding Thuggees before crossing the rope bridge near the climax of the movie. The trail narrowed even more and I finally had caught up to a pack of runners. As we stepped on the breast of the dam, one of the faster runners coming the other way stepped onto the concrete breast and began to hold his arms out flat as if his entire world began to spin.
“That guy didn’t look good,” I said to the runner in front of me.
“I hope he doesn’t fall off the dam,” said the other runner.

Soon we climbed out of the narrows and then along the creek to West King Road where we crossed above the creek to the Buttermilk Rim Trail. Starting here, runners would descend above the gorge to the north of the creek before reaching the aid station and turnaround up Buttermilk Gorge Trail. Not seeing Elmo, I figured I would miss him and that he was on other side of the loop–I would be descending on one side of the gorge while he would be climbing up on the other side. From West King Road to the bottom of Buttermilk is just over a mile with an easy 45o feet drop with most of the elevation loss coming at the end where the trail gets a little technical. As I gained speed down the hill, my left knee began to protest. Apparently the fall I took about 7 miles earlier did more to my knee than I initially thought. Instead of opening it up, I ran down at a cautious pace in the mid-8 minute to mid-9 minute mile. I reached the aid station at 8:23am and the first 25% of this race was done.
At the bottom I took a second to look at Buttermilk Falls before rolling into the aid station and filling my bottles with Tailwind and water. As I replenished, Hope, Craig and Mikallee walked over toward me.
“Elmo’s in trouble. He’s in pain. His quads are shaking,” said Mikalee while Hope and Craig quietly shook their heads.
“His quad and ankle problem must be worse than he thought,” not sure if I said it or just thought it at the time. But Elmo is tough so I didn’t think to much about it and soon my thoughts turned to my own race. I was very surprised to have reached Buttermilk Falls so early in the morning. On deck was the climb up Buttermilk Gorge and trails back to the start.


Section 4 Buttermilk to Underpass: 5.7 Miles. Elevation Change: +1210′, -1200

Climbing toward Pinnacle Rock along Buttermilk Creek (mile 13)


Around Pinnacle Rock.

I waved Hope, Craig and Mikalee goodbye as I crossed a bridge and began to power walk up the steps along Buttermilk Falls. Here I remembered that I forgot to give them my homework assignment and find out what is the name for the phobia for cliffs and waterfalls. Cresting the stairs, the trail levels out as it approaches Pinnacle Rock. Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to scout this section and take some photos. The section from Buttermilk Falls to Pinnacle Rock was the prettiest section of the course and except for the stairs at the onset, it was very runnable. At that moment I hoped that Hope, Craig and Mikalee would find the time to checkout this trail. (They did!) A photographer was in wait for runners running up the canyon and around the spire. Not too far beyond Pinnacle Road was West King Road marking the end of the loop and back on the Bear Trail for the remainder of the climb up the gorge. Passing the slower runners yet to reach Buttermilk Rim Trail now coming toward me, I said “good job,” to every runner that approached my way.
Back at the dam breast, I thought about the runner I saw earlier with vertigo and then wondered how high the breast was to the creek on my right and how deep the water was on my left. As I crossed, I kept my eyes ahead. I’m a bit scared of water. Just above the breast, I saw Brian running toward me.
“How’s it goin?” I said.
“Doing well, my friend,” he replied. “Life is good,” he said his usual catchphrase.
I was hoping that Brian would be videotaping as I ran toward him. As any trail runner from Central PA would know, Brian loves to document his runs with plenty of pictures and videos of his adventures.
At the top, I hopped out of the canyon and back to the overland pass through the open fields and pipeline. Fortunately it was still early in the day but I knew I would be crossing this way two more times in the heat of the day. I constantly kept an eye on my watch. I was making great time. I kept calculating each section and every mile. I decided that morning to have my iSmoothRun app on my iPhone to update my progress only every 5 miles instead of of every mile so I could concentrate more on running by how I felt rather than have a gadget tell me what to do. Being the only Oriental that’s bad at math, the only thing my feeble mind could estimate was where I was on the course and my ETA to the next aid station. I didn’t have enough comprehension to know that I was running much faster than I thought I would be but I felt good. Landmarks and sections of the course seem to be going by fast. I was on top of my fluids/nutrition–taking in 20 ounces of water with two scoops of Tailwind per hour. Confident on how things were going, I figured that I would crush the first half of the race and if things got worse in the second half, whether if I bonked, crashed or injured myself, I had the entire day to finish the race.

Heading toward the aid station from Lick Brook

What seemed like a blur, it wasn’t long before I was on my way toward the steep descent down Lick Brook. Here the course takes an alternate route down the valley via a spine ridge, away from the waterfalls and the switchbacks that I encountered on the way up. For large sections of the race, I was running alone but on a few occasions I would catch up to the woman wearing brown. (Note: Brown running clothes, especially form-fitting, isn’t a good idea for anyone regardless of gender or body type.) Despite the odd choice of running attire, she had a sardonic sense of humor and I had someone to talk to rather than constantly shouting well-wishes at runners coming the other way. As I started down the hill, again my knee protested in pain. I backed off my pace as Brownie stretched her legs and disappeared ahead. Fortunately the hill was short. I crossed the stream, over the tracks, and into the aid station just before the overpass. It was 9:34am. On the far end of the aid station with Hope, Craig and Mikalee was Elmo Snively. This was not good.
After getting my bottles filled, I walked over.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“No. My quad,” he pointed. He was frustrated and disgusted.
I wasn’t sure how long he was there but I assumed it had been a while. I didn’t know what to say. I’m sure Elmo didn’t want to say anything either. What seemed like a long awkward pause, the four of us stood silence while Elmo is tried evaluate his options. Elmo finally looked at me. “How far are we?”
“18 miles, maybe?” I guessed.
“Fuck!” he blurted. When he said that, I knew he was considering quitting.
We are were quiet again as Elmo weighed his decision as Mikalee consoled him. Then a volunteer from the aid station walked up to us from behind me. “Do you need a chair to sit?” he asked.
I grimaced. I knew that once he sit down, the less likely he would want to get up. I began to feel uncomfortable so with a very short “I really hope to can shake this and get back to it. You have plenty of time,” I then took off and dipped down to the underpass.


Section 5: Underpass to Old Mill – 4.0 Miles; Elevation Change: +1250′, -790′
Leaving the aid station and seeing Elmo in that state shook me up quite a bit. Elmo is one tough ‘MF’ and he must have been hurting tremendously if he was considering dropping out of the race. He has lot of tolerance for pain and had finished the Oil Creek 100 Miler in a remarkably fast time for his first attempt at running the century mark.
Not only did I think about Elmo but seeing him on the sidelines caused me to second guess my own abilities. “Can I make it through for the final 50k without imploding? If this race got to him, it will surely get to me!” But then I thought “Hey, I’m still in this. I’m still feeling strong. Let’s do this!”
Not only was I still in it but so was Joel, Brian, and Brownie–who I managed to catch again–and we were still in the thick of things and soldiered on. Unbeknownst to me, runners were dropping like flies including many of the elites. Out of 230 who started, 32 runners would be out by the halfway point.
As I climbed up Treman Rim Trail up the way I came down earlier in the day, I ran into some hikers and walkers that were talking nature walks through Robert H. Treman Park. Every hiker/walker I came up upon were friendly and happily yielded to runners.
“How far is the race?” said one woman walking with her husband and kids.
“Fifty,” I replied quickly and nonchalantly.
“Fifty!!??” she blurted as if someone stepped on her foot when she said it.

Pai-Mei is Tim Sheehan?

Pai-Mei is Tim Sheehan?

We approached the stairs above Lucifer Falls. “Oh… here we go!” reckoned Brownie in a tone that she was dreading this section all day. We both began to march up the stairs as fast as we could. Going up the steps, I almost expected either KungFu Panda or Pai Mei from the Kill Bill movies to appear around the staircase and challenge me in hand-to-hand combat. But instead of martial artists, there were a few punks clad in black garage shirts, trucker caps and skinny jeans (it doesn’t make any sense now as it did then) that signed up as volunteers to keep an eye on runners up and down the stairs.
“Only a quarter-mile to go to the next aid station,” said one of them with red hair and a ridiculous mustache as we reached the top.
“A quarter of a mile?” I said. “Surely it is further than that,” I thought.
When I got to the top of the stairs and started to run, my legs seemed to fair a lot better than I feared. The stair climb was not bad at all!
About a mile from the stairs, Brownie said “Quarter mile, my ass!” she said exasperated. We chatted a little until she said sarcastically, “In a few miles we will be where we started… 25 miles… That’s almost a marathon… Hey, this has been real fun… We should do it again… like immediately… Just turn around and do it again!”

Now at the top of the gorge, we entered the section near the thick undergrowth along Fish Kill. Once a train of six or so elites, it was now down to three, as they passed us coming the other way from the halfway point and the turnaround at the bottom of Enfield Gorge at the North Shelter. The runners that approached seemed more friendlier than the first time around.
There were several open areas that kinda faked me out into thinking that I reached the aid station but all they were picnic areas prior to the Old Mill. There was one point where I got onto a dirt lane down a hill and I missed the flags on my right. Luckily I was only off track for about 30 feet or so. Several days later talking to Joel, he said at one point he was off course for almost a half-mile before he turned around. He said that he yelled ahead to a couple runners ahead of him that continued running. Their whereabouts are still unknown.

(Note: Some people get all bent out of shape when I write about gross bodily functions. So to give those fair warning, I will post the words BODY FUNCTION ALERT prior to any detailed descriptions.)
Since the open fields at mile 15, I had been farting so much it was as if I was using it as a new type of propulsion. Then somewhere on my journey up Rim Trail, I had a wet fart. I really don’t want to describe what happened in too much detail when it did, it was something that I needed to take care of as soon as possible.


Section 6 Old Mill AS to North Shelter – Distance: 2.9 Miles; Elevation Change: +560′, -1020′

Somewhere in those trees, I am dropping my shorts.

[BODY FUNCTION ALERT – Cont’d] At Old Mill Aid Station I asked if there was a porta-john anywhere. Normally in most trail races, you crap in the woods. However I was within one of the most visited state parks in the Finger Lakes so dropping ones shorts on the trail didn’t sound like a good idea.
The aid station volunteer points back the way I came. Even though there were bathrooms about a 100 yards behind me, for some reason at that moment that seem too far for me to be going in the wrong direction.
“Do you have any toilet paper?” I asked.
I looked over the folding table. “Can you hand me those paper towels?” I tore off several sheets. “I guess this will do. This is going to burn!” I muttered under my breath.
The woman at the aid station shrugs her shoulders as if to say, “Hey, you gotta do what’cha gotta do.” I left the aid station and I continued down the course.
From the aid station there is a short climb on Red Pine Trail. Right at the top of the hill amid the pines there was a double track with a sign that read, “Do not enter! Service Road.” I took a detour up the service road about 75 feet or so, positioned some trees between me and the trail and squatted down. What went through my mind? Two things: 1: I need more fiber in my diet. 2: Since I was in the pines, there wasn’t a lot of underbrush around. Even though I was away from the line-of-sight, I kept peaking from behind the tree and noticed that everyone that past were elderly grandparents handing their innocent looking grandchildren out for a walk–the type of people that would be offended the most if they would see someone with their shorts around their ankles. (End ALERT)

A “rooty” section on Treman Gorge Trail.

After burying the evidence under a log and now back on the trail, it was just a 3 mile trip down the canyon toward the halfway turnaround. By the time I got to the Gorge Trail, I had caught up with Brownie and one other runner. Though not a technical course, we each took turns tripping over the exposed roots. But soon, we made a left onto the grassy lane that encircled the mouth of the gorge and then a sharp right turn onto an abandoned road and finally through a large grass field to the North Shelter which was the start and finish line.
The aid station was ahead of the start and finish line by about twenty-five feet. As I stopped at the aid station and was about to hand a volunteer my bottle, a woman called out to me and told me to continue to the start/finish line. I jogged toward, and then maybe four feet past the line before I looked at the woman. “Is that far enough?” I said to her while shrugging my shoulders.
She gives me a thumbs up.
“That seemed unnecessary,” I said. “What is this: a 25-mile shuttle cock relay?”
Somehow that comment seemed very funny to me at the time and I started to laugh uncontrollably. I think the woman wrote down my bib number, perhaps worried that I was getting delirious. It was 11:07am. Halfway through.

(Video below of Brian Newcomer coming into the halfway mark. Show the aid station and the start and finish ahead. Also the guy that looks like he is about to tackle Brian and then asking him if he needs anything is Twinsney.)


Section 7: North Shelter to Old Mill; Distance: 2.9 Miles; Elevation Change: +1020′, -560′
Before going to the aid station, (BODY FUNCTION ALERT) I went to the bathrooms. Since I took a shit so quickly back at Red Pine that I wanted to make sure I was “cleaned out” and  took care of any “swamp ass.” (END ALERT). At the aid station, Laura Mackay, helped with my bottles. From the Rochester, NY area, Laura found our Allegheny Trailrunners page and later friend-ed me on Facebook. I only met her face-to-face just once, that morning for about thirty seconds prior to the start of the race. The difference between most friends and running friends is that with most friends, there are always certain strings attached or conditions that apply. With running friends, it is as simple as, “You run? Then you’re my friend.” That’s it!
Anyhow she asked if I needed anything else and then promptly told me to get my ass going again and get back onto the course. Even though I was far from quitting, she knew from running many ultras herself that aid stations can be your worst enemy. They can suck up a lot of time and it can me tempting to drop out and DNF at an aid station.
Just as I was about to leave, I saw Twinsney filling up bottles at the aid station. “How is it going? By the way, did you hear about Elmo?” I said.
Twinsney confirmed Elmo’s DNF and said something about Elmo running too fast on his bad leg. What I didn’t know was that Twinsney was on the trail at Lick Brook and saw Elmo at his lowest point.
Leaving the halfway point, I looked at my watch and I was rather pleased about where I was at this point in the race. I figured if things got bad with my knee, I could still walk most of the course and still make the cutoffs and finish in a respectable time. I did the first half in just over 5 hours and literally had the entire day–almost 10 hours to do the second half if I had to.

A short section of steps on Treman Gorge Trail. Good shot of the timber steps that were throughout the course.

I probably spent the entire mid-winter to early-spring trying to figure out what shoes to wear for this race. From what I gleaned from race photos, course descriptions and blog entries from the previous year, I wanted a comfortable and fast shoe. My Salomon Speedcross and Fellraisers I thought would be too aggressive and are uncomfortable after 30 miles or so. My Brooks Cascadias, which did well at Stone Mill and some 50ks were a better choice than the Salomons. However I decided the Cascadias were too heavy. Even though I hate buying new and untested shoes prior to an ultra, I bought a pair of New Balance 910 v1’s. They are very similar to the New Balance 1210 Leadville but without the medial post which provided too much support and lateral stress for my neutral running style. Testing the 910’s on a couple of training runs on the Laurel Highlands Trail, I found them to be very nimble and light with good traction (more than my Cascadia’s) and enough of cushion–but not too much cushion that I would lose ground feel with the stilt-like shoes like Hokas. My 910’s felt very similar to my Saucony road shoes.
At over mile 25, the 910’s still felt pretty good. Just in case, I had my pair of Cascadias in my drop bag at the Underpass so it things did get bad, I could switch into them if I needed to.

Note: Even though the shoes worked very well during the race, after Cayuga I discovered the overlay had ripped on the outside of the shoe at the flex point behind the big toe. Having less that 90 miles on these shoes, having them wear out that soon is totally unacceptable! New Balance has lost a customer.

I made the trip from North Shelter to Old Mill about forty seconds per mile slower than what I did at the start.


Section 8 Old Mill to Underpass: 4.0 Miles, Elevation Change: +790′, -1250′ = -460′
I rolled into Old Mill Aid Station. “This is the worst scavenger hunt ever!” I yelled as I stopped to refuel a bottle. My sense of humor was still there signalling I was still feeling good and my spirits and energy was high.
Now that I ran the course out and back once, I knew what to expect. I knew when to take it all in on a beautiful section; when to run hard knowing there is nothing in my way; or to power hike up a hill with false summits and running would just be a waste. Even though I felt good, relaxed and confident, my knee started to get to the point that it started to nag at me. It was fine on the uphills but it was uncomfortable when the downhills got steep and I had to reign in my speed. I would judge the path ahead trying to find the smoothest line down the hill. Even though I was pain-free uphill, it is easier and more advantageous to subtract minutes off your time on the downhills. I was losing time.

Joel Noal going down the steps.

At the Rim Trail Stairs my knee felt fine, probably because of the angle of impact on my knees from lifting my feet. At the very bottom of the stairs, I saw the red-headed screamo metalhead that gave us the wrong mileage from before. I pointed at him with two fingers, first at him and then at both of my eyes, “Forth of a mile, my ass, you shithead. After I’m done, I am going to find you, haunt you down, and punch you in the face!” Then I laughed. Hopefully he realized I was joking.
After the stairs, across a fast flat section before another steep descent before the campgrounds this time with an eagle eye and lifting my feet so I don’t trip on any roots, I arrived at the Underpass aid station at 12:45pm – 6 hours and 45 minutes and 31.9 miles into the race. I didn’t realize when I wrote this but I just ran a 50k about 15 minutes slower than Hyner 50k a month before. Not too shabby. The first time I ran from North Shelter to the Underpass in this race I did it in an hour and 26 minutes. This time I was just 12 minutes slower.


Section 9 – Underpass to Buttermilk: Distance: 5.5 Miles, Elevation Change: +1170′, -1180′

Lick Brook Falls. Lick Brook Fall has three major falls – 93ft, 47ft, and 25ft.

After the aid station, over the railroad tracks, through the creek, and then toward Lick Brook, I continued to run. Since the top of the canyon at Fish Kill and the aid station at Old Mill, I’ve been running mostly alone. I tried not to think about the switchback climb alongside Lick Brook Falls but when I got there and like the other climbs throughout the day, I focused on the obstacle at hand and soon enough I was at the top of the plateau. Now that climb was behind me, the worst section was ahead–the two mile section of open sun in the fields and pipelines between Lick Brook and Butttermilk Creek. Now that it was mid-day, the sun was directly overhead and beat down on me. That day I wore my Icebreaker short shelve shirt half-zip. Made of merino wool, it is my most versatile and my favorite running shirt. It was perfect as the temperature rose from the high 40’s at the start of the race and now into the 70’s. The half zip in the front is great in regulating temperature. However, finally it was getting too warm for the shirt and I was looking forward to getting to the bottom of the hill and changing into something thinner.

In the wooded section before I got to Buttermilk Creek, I saw Joel Noal running my way. This was the third time we passed. The last time I gave Joel the news that I thought Elmo might have dropped out. This time I was careful in looking at the runners that had passed before I saw Joel.
“You are going to podium,” I said as we intersected.
Down Bear Trail, around Treman Lakes, across the breast of the dam and then down Rim Trail, my right knee gave me enough of a problem that I started to slow to a jog on the downhills. The final hill down to the bottom of the falls was the most difficult for me. Not only was I jogging but I was also starting to limp and overcompensate with my right leg. But finally I made it to the Buttermilk Aid station at the bottom of the falls at 2:10pm.


Section 10: Buttermilk to Underpass – Distance: 5.7 Miles Elevation Change: +1210′, -1200

Buttermilk Gorge at mile 39.


Climbing Buttermilk Gorge

I was a bit relieved looking at my watch. It was still early in the afternoon and I had plenty of time to finish with my goal of 6 to 7pm. The scene at the aid station was a little surreal. On one hand there was the aid station crew, attentive to the needs of the runners. Then there was a small crowd of families and friends cheering on their loved ones. Finally there were the park visitors walking about, lying on the grass, milling around, taking photos, who seemed either obvious or indifferent to what the runners and aid volunteers were doing. As a volunteer refilled my bottles, I changed into a fresh shirt. The volunteers for the race were top-notch, assertive and were “johnny’s-on-the-spot” on getting what you needed and sending you on your way.
This is the second race I used Tailwind and it worked fabulously. I didn’t bonk and had great energy all day. Also I didn’t need to load up like a pack mule for the race like I did at Laurel Highlands and just relied on food at the aid stations. In fact, throughout the entire Cayuga 50, all I ate were two peanut butter and jelly squares and one small cinnamon roll.

Climbing toward Pinnacle Rock on the left.

Leaving the aid station and up Buttermilk Creek, it didn’t take me long to run to the top of the gorge since I was showing off in front of the hikers out for a walk and my knee would feel fine going uphill. Past the bridge at the West King Road, I got back onto Bear Trail. The slower runners were strung out from the bridge to almost the end of the open section along the overland pass but almost everyone seemed to be in good spirits and encouraged each other along. As I got closer to the dreaded open fields, I could feel my undercarriage starting to chaff. I had worn the same combination, 2XU compression shorts with Asics Fuji-Trail shorts, that I have worn in every race for the past year with no problems so I was at a loss as to why I was chaffing at Cayuga. Maybe I was sweating more than past races. Anyhow things were “getting raw down there” and along with that, it was the late stages of the race and I was slowing down. I went from a 10 minute mile the first time through this section to a 12 minute mile.

(Below is a video from Brian Newcomer at mile 40 in the powerline/pipeline and the small woods before the larger field. Even though its out in the open, it doesn’t mean its dry!)

As I approached the downhill at Lick Brook, I had caught up to a female runner about my age and an older gentlemen. Near the top, the man trips and falls and the woman and I stopped to make sure he was okay. He told us he was fine and we took off, pausing a few times on the trip to look behind us to make sure the older man was still on his feet and making his way down the hill. At the bottom of the hill and at the creek crossing I took a moment to fill my hat with water and dumped it on my head. Salt from my forehead and hair flowed into my eyes and I was temporarily blind for about ten seconds until the water drained from my eyes. I stepped out of the creek, eyes squinting, stomping my feet, and my arms extended out like Godzilla emerging out of Tokyo Bay.

Running toward the Underpass aid station. 12.5 miles to go.


Section 11: Underpass to Old Mill – Distance: 4.0 Miles. Elevation Change: +1250′, -790′

Up the stairs one last time.

I rolled to the Underpass aid station one last time. I contemplated whether to change my shoes. In my drop bag I had a pair of Brooks Cascadias ready to go. I debated. Sometimes a fresh pair of shoes makes you feel like you have new legs. At that moment my legs didn’t feel too bad. I didn’t know if the increased heel drop on my Cascadias would help or harm my knee. With only 7  miles to go and deciding not take any risks into the unknown, I decided to keep the shoes that I was wearing.
It was good to know that this was the last time I would be running up Rim Trail at Robert H. Treman State Park, up the stairs, and to the top of the gorge. This was the first time I ever did an ultra with multiple out and backs. Though it was good to know what was ahead, any more that 12 miles in one direction before heading back was enough for me–any distance shorter would have driven me crazy.
I was at the point where my muscles were getting sore but I chugged along. When I reached the bottom of the stairs on Rim Trail, my legs were very tired but as soon as I started to climb up the 220 steps to the top, it wasn’t as bad as I dreaded–probably since I was using different muscles groups. After the stairs and taking on the remaining climb I thought about my sore legs and I could not conceive of doing another 50 miles of this. Several friends of mine, after I did the Laurel Highlands 70 miler and other 50 mile races, they have been pressuring me to do a hundred. One of my ultra friends, John Weaver, eloquently told one of my other friends that if my heart and head wasn’t into it, then I wouldn’t have the drive to get it done. Here, at the late stages of the Cayuga 50 and thinking about how tired I was, there was no way I would be doing a 100 miler any time soon.
Even though I didn’t have a 100 mile race in my future, my thoughts turned toward the moment. For the last two-thirds of the race, I had been obsessed with the clock and I was constantly looking at my watch. First expecting a finish at about 12 to 13 hours, I was now focused on finishing it in under 12 hours. Even though at this point it was taking much longer to go through each section, I knew that a sub 12 hours was in the bag.


Section 12: Old Mill AS to North Shelter, Distance: 2.9 Miles, Elevation Change: +560′, -1020′
As I got to the aid station, I was relieved that this was the last aid station and that despite my knee, it was all downhill to the finish, figuratively and literally.
I crossed a couple of volunteers keeping track of bib numbers as we checked in.
“Three-Six-One,” said the woman.
“Did you say three-six-one? Yes, I’m three-six-one,” I replied. “Did you get that?”
“Yes, sir. Thanks for checking.”
“Okay. I am so delirious that I have lost the ability to read,” I said as I looked down at my bib. “Seven, maybe,” while pointing at the one.  I pointed at the six. “This looks like a guy eating ice cream.”
They laughed nervously.
I looked over to my right and saw someone that was really having a bad day. He was sitting in a chair and his head was between his knees.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I’m dizzy. How do you say… ah, vertigo,” he uttered in broken English with perhaps a French accent.
“It’s just down the hill. Only three miles to go.”
He waves me off. “No. No.”
As I got my water bottles filled, the volunteers at the aid station talked amongst themselves. “How long has he been here?” “Is he quitting?” “What’s wrong with him?”  “Why is he quitting?” “It’s only three miles to the finish.” “Why doesn’t he just walk,” they said.
I looked over to the guy wondering if he heard their conversations about him. Right then a volunteer walked into the aid station with a watermelon. I decided to wait a minute until she cut up the melon so I could have a slice. What I saw next was one of the most amazing transformations I had ever seen! The guy who was just about to quit took a few bites into two slices of watermelon and suddenly, like Popeye eating a can of spinach, got up on his feet and started to run. We ran out of the station together.
“Need any help? A pacer for the last section?” I asked.
He ignored me, eyes front.
He was right behind me as we got onto Red Pine Trail until he passed me, looking strong, and left me in the dust! A lot of things can go wrong in an ultra but sometimes you just need one lucky break to bounce back.

Running to the finish line.

I ran down the last steep hill on Red Pine Trail very gingerly and then onto Gorge Trail. I wanted to run fast and finish strong but my knee and tired legs wanted nothing of it. Then finally in the last mile or so as the course turns left off Gorge Trail and onto the grassy trail around the the mouth of the gorge, adrenaline seemed to wash all the pain away and I had the last miles was the fastest mile of the entire race (a 9:14 minute mile). I made the last few turns and into the grassy field. As I approached the finish line, about 10 yards from the finish, I saw on my left that the award ceremonies for the top finishers were already in progress.
“Joel Noal from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, come on up,” said the race director. With the finish line in front of me, Joel Noal stood just beyond the line, not sure whether to stay and congratulate me or walk up to get his award.
“That’s awesome! I made it just in time” I yelled to Joel as I crossed the finish line. Just as I suspected Joel had won in his age group and since it was the US Track and Field 50 Mile Championship and Joel bought a membership prior to the race, he also won the national championship! His time was 9 hours and 41 minutes.

I finished in 11 hours and 29 minutes.


Crossing the finish line.

The Finish Area

I was very happy with my time. It was about thirty minutes slower than my 50-mile personal record but considering that PR was at Stone Mill and had about a quarter of the elevation climb, I was pleased with my performance. Even though on paper I finished 101 out of 230 runners who started, considering the number of and level of elite and sponsored athletes in the race, I was happy. I was most proud that the time differential between finishing times for Joel and I was cut in half as compared to Stone Mill! ( 3 hours at Stone Mill compared to an hour and a half at Cayuga.) 52 runners DNF’ed.
After crossing the finish, I was surrounded by Joel’s crew and we all clapped for Joel on getting his award. Joel returned and I congratulated him on his awesome achievement and he showed me the pair of sunglasses he won which coincidentally was the same brand that he was thinking of buying just the week before the race. We talked and both admitted that even with the race director’s fair warning that the course was harder than we anticipated.  We only had a chance to briefly go over the highlights of the race when Joel reluctantly admitted he had to drive back to Hollidaysburg for work in the morning. We hate Sunday races.

Joel (right) is awarded his prize.

The race director knowing that there was a large field of elite runners still wanted to reward the average “Joes and Janes” with such unique awards like “Dirtiest Socks”, “Last to Leave an Aid Station” and “Not Get Caught By The Sweeper”, “The Person with the Most Consonants in Their Name” etc..  Joel met a runner that happened to win pies along the course. I am sure I could have got an award for something or another but I was more interested in taking care of my raw undercarriage. I feared that I didn’t have any skin left on my scrotum; something I later confirmed with my iPhone and the first time I had to use it’s front-facing camera other than a selfie. Interestingly enough, my legs and especially my knee left fine as soon as I stopped running. However, with my severe chaffing, I walked around like something between Frankenstein and a baby’s first few weeks of walking.  I had to keep introducing myself prefacing, “Oh, no! My legs aren’t sore, it’s the underside of my balls.”  (BTW: That is a great opening line you can use at your next social function.) I stuck around for an hour or so, got some chicken and baked beans, and drank a beer that Laura had saved for me. I also watched the other runners finish, reconnected with some of the other runners I met along the course, and waited to cheer on Brian as he finished.  All of that time, I was either standing or had my ass at the very edge of a chair.

Brian Newcomer getting it done.

Sticking around for about 2 hours after I finish, I decided to head out. I wondered if I would needed to find a CVS and purchase one of those “inflatable donuts” for the drive back to Ithaca. Lucky me I found a paper towel roll in the trunk and used it as a roller so my scrotum lifted high above my car seat. On the way back, I got the munchies again and bought a rubber-like, salty slice of pizza at a gas station before I managed to head over to my AirBnB guest’s home. When I shuffled in, the hostess, Karen was wrapped in a blanket with her boyfriend. This was the first time I met Karen during the entire trip.
“How did the race go?” asked Karen.
“Good. Good. I did pretty well,” I said. They I continued, “So… not to be anti-social but I am exhausted. So I am going to take a shower and call it a day.”
“Understandable,” she said.
As I shuffled away I remembered to mention one last thing. “Um. Just to be frank… I am having unbelievable chaffing so if you hear screaming while I take a shower, I’m fine.”
Karen drew a look of concern on her face. “Oh…kay.”  Granted, I am sure if some strange dude rents out a room in your house and then returns one evening from a ridiculously long run and then talks about his raw scrotum, that would be off the norm.
After a long shower, I passed out. I don’t think I sun had set by the time I was asleep.

I woke up the next morning around 10am. Karen’s boyfriend was still there and I thanked him for their hospitality despite barely being there all weekend. I went into Ithaca for one last meal along Aurora Street at a Mexican restaurant with outdoor seating. Coincidentally I sat behind a couple from New Jersey who were reevaluating their training after DNF-ing yesterday.
“We really need to step up our game. We need to do a 40-mile run every weekend,” I heard the guy letting his partner.
“I hate running and I want a divorce,” she said. [Actually she never said that.]

As the last half dozen races or so like Hyner and Stone Mill back in the fall, I feel better after each race. Walking around that morning, you wouldn’t even know I ran a 50 mile race. On the way back, I capped off my extended weekend by stopping at a great microbrewery called Bullfrog Brewing in Williamsport, PA. Even though I could have ran two or three days after the run, it wasn’t until Thursday and Friday before I ran again. My left knee is still giving me problems–either on the onset of a runs or late in day. Strangle the discomfort was not always where I tweaked my knee but it seemed like it traveled all around it my knee depending on the day. I was told it should be too much of a concern and it was just my knee healing. Even after almost a month after Cayuga, my knee still seems a little cranky at times and it might be just my mind lately but it feels my legs are still feel sluggish. It seems to take many miles before I can get blood circulating into my calf muscles. During the month of June, I curtailed my running to every other day instead of 5 days a week. This “off-time” if you can call it that, has given me the opportunity to volunteer as some races like the Rothrock Challenge and the Laurel Highlands Ultra as well as crewing and pacing for a friend. It wasn’t until the we

On June 20th, came word via mail that I was accepted into The Escarpment in the Catskills of NY–one of the oldest and perhaps the most grueling trail race under a marathon distance (18+) on the East Coast. Here we go…