Here’s the rundown…
I’m uncertain the wisdom of doing another ultra length event with just a couple weeks between them, but I really wanted to complete this before years end as the weather and daylight hours are only going to get worse. I did the obligatory 5k Turkey Trot on Thursday, so I knew I wanted to have at least a full day rest before heading out. I also needed some time to pick up supplies. I decided that if I was going to give it another shot, it was going to have to be Saturday.
I went out shopping the “night of” to pick up more gear. I needed more base layers with tech fabric and general supplies. I also wanted to make sure I picked up an orange vest for the four forest trails. We just had somebody in my hometown shot and killed by a hunter a couple days before, so it was definitely in my mind.
Once again, I got a later start than planned. I knew I was going to be getting there just about dawn so I was either going to start at Forest Frolic and work east to west, or start at Danby and work the other way around. I chose the latter, largely because I thought it set up well for getting Pseudo Skunk in as the fifth circuit since I had yet to see any of Pseudo in daylight and was hoping I would get there in time. One regret I had on the first attempt was taking too long in between courses. I wanted to get straight from one trail to the next without dawdling. That ultimately ended up being wishful thinking, but largely due to things unforeseen and somewhat out of my control.
Layering was the toughest of the challenges again. The temps for the vast majority of the day were right around 31deg. It is a tough temp because it is not quite cold enough to really dress too warm, but not quite warm enough to dress too skimpy. If it is at least upper 30s or into the 40s, I don’t mind running wet. I erred on the side of being too cold. When I would start a course, I wasn’t just cold, I was uncomfortably cold. In fact, I never really got hot on any of the runs. Even when I was sweating out, I was still cold. It makes it interesting as well because if you dress minimally to compensate for your warmup, you also by definition need to be running hard enough to stay warm. If you are four miles into a wood and sprain your ankle and can’t run, you’re going to be in trouble unless you have emergency gear like a mylar blanket with you or something else to keep you warm.
Danby: Ran it clockwise again, only without the poles. Was really trying to make good time on it and things were going smooth but inexplicably, just before mile 4, I got sidetracked and took a wrong turn on a side trail. Ended up having to circle back around and eventually connected back up to my original tracks on the main trail. Cost me a bonus half mile and probably around 15 minutes of bushwhacking. After that, it was smooth sailing and ended up being the only time for the remainder of the day where I would botch the navigation. The trail was covered with a nice thin layer of fluff, with no signs of any other human activity. I had originally planned to change out my base layer every other run, but I was soaked through, so I stripped off my shirt and socks and got directly on the road.
Buttermilk: Even with the weather as it was, I was surprised at what was an empty parking lot. Decided to use the poles here to help balance across the tree where the bridge is washed out. Passed one guy on his way down with a hydration vest running at a solid clip and wondered whether he was a challenge guy, but the activity log for Saturday seemed to indicate I was the only one to run it that day. I was only on the second course, and on my way down my right knee was in a great deal of pain. I could not go down anything steep quickly as the braking forces were causing my leg to buckle. I was starting to question whether I was already done, but I knew this would only affect me primarily on Forest Frolic and mildly on ThomB. I figured I would just accept it and take it one course at a time. Once back at the car I was again soaked outside and in. I wasn’t planning on making any stops, but unfortunately had to use a restroom. I ended up stopping at a Panera I was passing by on my way to Forrest Frolic. I was In and out with my food to go and ate it while driving.
Forest Frolic: This was the last I would bother with the poles for the day as ThomB just isn’t technical enough to justify lugging them around. On my previous go of this course, I went in clean shaven and came out looking like Rip Van Winkle. Since this was the course that derailed me last time, I decided to revert to starting right into the woods. The snow cover in here and ThomB was a little thicker than Danby & Buttermilk. It really sucks the energy out of your steps and makes the progress labored. However, it also makes for a beautiful and picturesque trail. There was quite a bit of hunting activity evident in here. Every now and then fresh footprints would appear on trail, and then just trail off into the distance as suddenly as they appeared. No real signs of other runners to that point. Took the right up the hill at the junction to make it easier not having to pick up the trail head when you go the other way around. It was really wet and muddy in there, and about as cold as it got all day. Stepped in a few well disguised puddles and my feet were freezing. The snow would just cling to you and melt on impact. Just a few miles in and I was soaked to the bone. Before it was difficult to pick out the orange marks at night, the new challenge was picking out the white marks on the trees facing the blowing snow. I plugged away and made it through largely without incident, and vastly quicker than the previous fiasco. The knee was not happy, but I nursed it as best I could down the steeps and I was confident that once I made it through ThomB it would hold up for everything else.
ThomB: For one brief moment on the drive to ThomB as I was passing through Dryden, the clouds parted and the sun shined through and it was beautiful and serene. It lasted maybe 10 minutes, but it lifted my spirits. Full set of new clothing again, only this time a change of shoes as well. I picked up a second set of trail shoes after the last attempt and I was glad to have the extra pair for ThomB. Similar to Forest Frolic, there was a lot of obvious hunter activity and off trail tracks. Additionally, I started off atop some cross-country ski tracks that were laid down earlier that day. Because of the labyrinth of trails in here, I checked my phone often to make sure I was taking the right trail. Unfortunately, I ended up dropping my phone into a pit of slush. It continued to work just fine, but I would eventually find out that all was not well. By the time I reached the end, I was once again thoroughly soaked and running out of clothes. With the temps as they were, going back out wet simply wasn’t an option. I tried as best I could to use my defroster to dry some things, but outside of hats and gloves it was a lost cause. I went to plug my phone in immediately to maximize the charge between courses, but was greeted with a very unpleasant warning sound coupled with a message on the screen saying that moisture was detected inside the charging port and that it had to be unplugged immediately. I dried out the port as best I could but could not get the issue resolved. I was down to about 50%, which I knew would get me through Pseudo Skunk but probably not much more. The warning message said it could take several hours to dry out fully. The days are so short this time of year, I started Danby just at sunlight and it was basically dark by the time I completed ThomB. It basically guaranteed that I had to do all the road or groomed courses in the dark.
Pseudo Skunk: The one course I had yet to start. At this stage I was really freaking out about the phone since it was all I had for Webscorer and navigation. I decided to move forward with the course and hope that by the time I had finished it would charge. If not, I would try and find some place still open to purchase a wireless charger. I pulled out the headlamp now as the sun had pretty much faded. With essentially my final set of dry clothes I scanned in and started heading north. My early pace was pretty good as my legs and feet were welcoming not having to climb around and trip over roots. The road was nice and dry and clear of snow. As I approached the first south turn, I mused about what would happen if I just kept going the extra quarter mile to East Rec and scanned that in as well, essentially doing that trail inside Pseudo Skunk. A course nested within a course. I had noticed before the trail head was only a half mile round trip from that corner and would have actually been quicker than driving. Alas, it was more a curiosity than an actual consideration so I kept on going past what seemed in the twilight like a field full of solar panels. When I made it back around Genung and continued heading east from there, I was still feeling pretty good. Then that really long leg heading south east came along. I felt as though I was on that leg forever and started questioning whether I had missed a turn. I was relieved when I could finally start making out cars up ahead at the cross road. The remaining trek back was just a matter of going catatonic and letting my feet robotically tick away the steps. Scanning in at the end, it was difficult not to reflect on the fact that what I had just done was the only thing that kept me from completing the mission just a couple weeks before. Being so close to East Rec, I hopped in the car this time without taking the wet clothes off with the idea that I could squeeze East Rec in without having to deal with my clothing issue. As I hesitantly plugged in my phone, I was delighted to find that it no longer alarmed when plugged in and now would actually charge. Another bullet dodged.
East Rec: My wife called me as I was pulling in to the trail head. It became apparent to me as I was speaking to her that I was showing early signs of hypothermia, so I knew I had to get the wet clothes off. The problem was I had nothing dry to put on. I decided to crank up the heat and try and take a quick 10 minute break to get my body warmed up and make sure any hypothermia issues were taken care of. As I lay there, I kept trying to figure out what I was going to do about the clothes issue. It finally occurred to me that I just needed to find a laundromat. A quick search on the phone showed I was in luck, as there was one open 24hours only a 5 minute drive away from where I was. So, off to Varna I went to the laundry without even having set foot on the trail. I managed to make an adventure even out of going there. First you had to purchase a card to use the machines, then you had to put money on the card, etc. Whatever happened to just putting quarters in? It had been maybe 25yrs since I had been in a public laundromat so I had no idea what I was doing. I finally got all the clothes stuffed in, started the machine, and then went back out in the car to take a nap. About 40 minutes later I woke up and went in to check on the progress. Some were just a touch damp, but certainly done enough for my purposes. I was happy to know that regardless of anything else, I now had enough dry clothes to last me the remainder of the courses. I headed back over to East Rec one last time, popped on the course, and just jogged down and back in businesslike fashion to get it behind me. CBG was next on my list, but unfortunately nature was calling again and I knew I would need to find a bathroom soon.
CBG: I decided to drive up to CBG from memory. I was a bit unsure where the parking was after the gates closed. I parked where I thought that was and checked my phone to make sure I was in the right area. Ug, the navigation was telling me that it was another couple blocks away. So, I started the car again and followed the GPS to that location. That location clearly was not right either. I went back to the map and visually located the actual course on the phone and had it navigate me there. Once I got there I realized that the parking spot I was in just 20 minutes prior was exactly where I needed to be in the first place. Twenty or so minutes wasted just for being a knucklehead. A quarter mile into CBG and I was already regretting not having found a bathroom. I even flirted with the idea of using the Porta Potty near the little loop, but it was cold enough for me to just stick it out. I made it around slow but steady and was glad to be back at the car. Seven down, three to go, and staring down midnight. I had hoped to do Waterfront next to cut down on the driving, but the best I could think of to find a bathroom that late (and looking like I did at that time) was Wegmans. So that’s where I went and took the opportunity while there to grab a sandwich as my stomach was starting to get sick from all the Gatorade and trail mix I had over-indulged on. From Wegmans, it now made more sense to take on South Hill Rec next.
South Hill Rec: Although I had finished Pseudo just a smidge after 8pm, I didn’t start South Rec until about 12:30am. I burned basically 4.5 hours of time up around the two shortest courses and only had 3.4 miles to show for it. I had hoped to be on the last course by midnight but it was not meant to be. The sandwich was definitely good, but by now I was really just not feeling good. Constantly being cold, wet, upset stomach, leg pain, and increasingly tired was finally starting to drag me down. This course also always feels longer to me than it actually is. Once again, I ran the legs in order of long, medium, short, only really walking up the hill on the return of the medium leg. The wet snow had glazed over here into a sheet of ice and the footing needed to be well executed. This was true of CBG as well. As I was finishing up the short leg to scan in, I started thinking it amusing that I was practically now, finally, back to the same point I was a couple weeks before. 13.1 miles left to go and about 5 hours left to get it done. Only this time over two courses instead of one. Although I was feeling a great deal worse this time around than I was then, I at least didn’t have any worries about having to get home soon and I could take all the time I needed. I had also had the benefit of much more sleep. I punched in Stewart Park on my nav and headed over immediately.
Waterfront: I had been worrying about this one because I was not sure how well enforced the parks evening closures were. I wasn’t sure where else to park either, so I decided my best bet was just to get in, park near the challenge sign, get the run done, and get the heck out. Shortly after scanning in and getting down the trail I started getting stomach cramps. I ran all the way past the second bridge but then I had to stop and let the cramp subside. I kept cyclically running and walking for the remainder of the course. I knew I had plenty of time to make the cutoff and just didn’t have the gumption to push through the cramp. As I was on my way back, after crossing the final bridge, I did notice some activity near my vehicle. I could not see well, but it was almost certainly an officer running my plates. I turned off my head lamp and kept making my way back to the car. I think he noticed my lamp from afar before I doused it and got in his car and drove over near to where the bridge was. By the time I made it to the challenge sign, I scanned in quick and just got right in the car. I slowly pulled out and started leaving fully expecting whomever it was to throw on their lights and pull me over. To my relief, either they didn’t notice I was pulling out, or were just satisfied that I was leaving. I managed to get on the highway without incident and with only one final stop left. I was relieved that I didn’t have to try and explain to a cop at like 3am what the heck I was doing and why I was doing it.
Black Diamond: It was now a little after 3am as I was pulling into the parking area. The snow was falling at a pretty substantial rate, but the temps had warmed to about 36deg and it was largely melting on impact. I basically had 4 hours left and 10 miles to go. I really wanted to just dig deep and put in a good time so that I could get back home and get into bed. That said, I was really just feeling all out sick now and decided it was probably worth taking a quick nap before heading out. I left the car running with the heaters on, doused all the lights, and reclined back to try and reset. Once my alarm went, I immediately got out of the car and trudged directly to the challenge sign. I overdressed for this one and saved all the warmest clothes for last. I even decided to bring the hydration pack with me just in case. I started out surprisingly well and up to about mile 4 I had run the whole way. I figured if I could run all the way to the top, then I could just coast downhill and be back in a flash. Soon after mile 4 though I really started feeling ill again. I started walking, and once I did that, found it nearly impossible to compel myself to start running again. I resolved to just walk the entirety of mile 4 and then simply run the rest of the way down. My walking pace was decent (15min/mile), so I really wasn’t going to gain much time running anyhow as my running was getting up in the twelves. Once I got to the turnaround it was a strange feeling because I realized that the option to quit at this stage was already behind me as I had to complete the challenge just to get back to my car. I started running again as planned, but it didn’t last long. My mojo was now fully depleted. I just started walking and pretty much fast walked the remainder of the way down. Unfortunately, because I has sweated out so much on the way up with the run, I started getting really cold on the way down because I just wasn’t generating enough body heat. I basically turned into a zombie and mindlessly meandered the remainder of the way. The path here in places was slick as well. Even at a walk you had to take care with your footing. As I got within a mile of the end, I noticed what I thought might be more activity around my vehicle. I started worrying that they may have called to have me towed so that they could plow. For a brief half-mile, I started running again, and all the little ailments seemed to fade to the background. As I neared closer, I realized that the vehicle I saw was in a completely different parking lot and that I was just being paranoid. I managed to drag myself down the final distance, scan in, and take one final picture doing my best to smile. I hopped in the car, took a little nap, and then headed home. I again had to stop a couple times on the way back for some quick naps, but I was no longer in any hurry. I got home to find my wife was already up and ready to start her Sunday. I immediately threw on some pajamas, climbed under the covers, and closed my eyes.