Here is our version of the FLRC 100k 24 hour Ultra Challenge! Thanks @adamengst for organizing it! It was an amazing experience!
Jami and Paul’s race report for the FLRC 100k Ultra Challenge
We certainly got lucky with the weather! We were worried that we had waited too long into the fall to attempt the cool 100k challenge. Watching the weather like a hawk for the last couple of weeks showed 100% chance of rain Thursday. I assumed Friday would be similarly affected, the day we had picked for our ultra attempt.
Forest Frolic was first, we started going counterclockwise, diving in to the woods first. Going up that first incline helped warm us up in the clear cold early morning. Running along the ridge at the top is one of my favorite parts of that route, but this morning was particularly amazing with the early sunrise light filtering through the bare trees and snow floating down from the branches onto our faces. A great way to start the day! The creek crossings are another fun feature of this route. The last time we ran this route the creeks were super high, and the creek crossings involved shimmying across fallen trees to get across. This time, the water was back to normal levels, but we still used our poles to help us vault across in several places. When we broke out onto the power line trail, the sun was in full view, and it seemed like it was desperately trying to warm our backs but it was too far away. Continuing up Virgil Mountain, crunching through the frost covered leaves marked our passing, and we tried to avoid disturbing the raccoon and fox tracks we found in the snow, imagining that the animals were friends and having a “Forest Frolic”!
Our second route was Thom B in Hammond Hill, just down the road from my house, and we briefly entertained the idea to pick up our canine trail companion Ellie to join us, but decided to give her the day off. There was a tendency to start out a bit quickly, as the first part of the route is downhill, so we had to remind ourselves of our planned pacing. As is customary in many trail ultras (at least for us back-of the-packers) we hiked up the inclines, which helped us conserve strength and energy throughout the day. We settled into the trail after being a bit anxious to start the challenge on our first route, and we enjoyed the clear cold weather in Hammond Hill. Rustling through the leaves and enjoying the forest, we started talking about things like what meals we would have at the end to celebrate, as well as brainstorming ideas for a novel which we are slowly writing. The only muddy part of this route was coming off of Red Man Run road, up the hill on the back half of the route. Other than that, it was clear sailing to finish this trail!
We had been practicing our transitions in previous recent 24-hour challenge events that involved travelling between trailheads. This was important as our finish times in those events were just before the deadline, so we had to be precise. We predicted this effort to also be close to the time limit. Our organization of food, gear, clothes, and shoes in our car aid station was working out well. Instant soup packets and thermoses of hot water helped warm us up and provide some salt intake.
Next up was Danby Down and Dirty, and we warmed up once again by first trotting down the road and entering the forest up the steep incline. Although earlier weather reports showed very little precipitation for the day, we were treated to a brief hailstorm. We commented that it was much better than freezing rain, and hoped that the weather wouldn’t make a turn for the worse, which would hamper our progress significantly. This route was certainly down and dirty, the trail section along the creek bed and rising out of it was quite muddy. Our poles once again helped us maintain footing. Any hard feelings about the muddy parts of the trail were quickly erased as we cruised along the top of the ridge around mile 4, with glorious sunlit views of the valley, and the wind playfully buffeting us sideways and blowing down leaves around us.
We were on our pacing and transition schedule as we got to Buttermilk State Park for Tortoise and Hare. The parking lot was almost empty, but the falls were still cascading majestically down the rocks. We shed our bright orange colored garments, now that we were out of hunting areas, and poled our way up the steep first mile of the route. Along the way, we wondered how many times it would take to climb the hill to “Everest” it, using the vertical gain to match the height of Mt. Everest. The route was pretty and void of people, as it was nearing sunset, and the views and sounds of the rushing water were quite refreshing. A deer greeted us along the trail above Lake Treman, seemingly unimpressed of our efforts for the day. As we transitioned from forest trails to more even-footed routes, we took the opportunity to change shoes and clothes. The restrooms were locked for the season, so we set up blankets and towels around the car and took turns changing inside.
So far we had covered 4 routes and 28 miles, and were getting tired of the meager snack food we had been eating so far. We couldn’t remember how long it had been since we had been to a McDonald’s, but when we cruised by it on route 13, we realized that was what we were craving: fatty, salty, carb-laden junk food. The large Coca-colas were a welcome refreshment as well.
It was now dark when we got to the Waterfront Trail, and we donned our lights and trotted along the lake, definitely feeling the difference between the ups and downs of the forest trails and concentrating on our footing and the smooth, predictable surfaces of the upcoming routes.
The Black Diamond trail was lit up by the full moon, and we almost didn’t need our lights. We kept checking behind us thinking there were bikes or people coming up with lights, but it was simply the moonlight bathing us in its glow. As we continued along the route, to help pass the time we simultaneously listened to an audiobook, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. The climbing season on Everest in 1996 was an ill-fated year, with several deaths during a horrific storm on the mountain. His non-fiction novel was a gripping listen, as the author himself read the book, and he was also among the people involved in those tragic events. We tried to settle in to listening to the story, but by this time we were becoming increasing cold and tired, and wondered aloud “why are we doing this”? Eerily coincidentally, at the same point in the audiobook, the author was giving a historical account of the exploration of Mt. Everest. He quoted the climbing pioneer and icon, Sir Edmund Hillary, when asked why he climbs Mt. Everest, Hillary replied “because it is there.” A fitting comment as well for this ultra challenge.
On to the South Hill Rec Way. At this point the temperature seemed to have dropped further, hovering around the 27-30 degree range. We blasted the heat and seat heaters on our drive there, and kept them going until we were ready to scan the QR code and be on our way. We employed a run/walk interval technique on all the non-forest trail courses, which helped to prevent over-fatigue. It also helped a bit with heat management, as we would warm up during the run interval but not get too sweaty, so during the walk interval we would cool down but not get overly chilled. Still listening to Into Thin Air, hearing about the perils of those poor souls at over 28,000 feet on Mt. Everest helped to dull our sense of pain and exhaustion.
We took a quick 10-minute catnap in the parking lot across the Arboretum, with the car running and heat on full blast. We were slightly re-energized to begin this course around 1am. The moon was still in full luminescent mode, as we embarked on the lovely trot along the curvy roads of the Arboretum.
At the Ellis Hollow Community Center, we anticipated that our abridged audiobook would end sometime during the Pseudo Skunk Cabbage, so we downloaded another. However awe-inspiring Into Thin Air was, this time we opted for a story about something more uplifting. We chose Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, the true story about ultra running, the Tarahumara Indian way. The temperature dropped further, or at least our tolerance for the cold dropped, and we added layers to our wardrobe, and started off down Genung road with a cheer of “We Got This!”. Fortunately, we encountered almost no traffic along the entire route while we rambled on. It became a standard practice to announce out the mile markers, with exclamations of “Only x miles left!”, and “We got this”, with varying levels of enthusiasm. We continued to use our run/walk strategy with some modifications, but even with those modifications we were able to maintain our overall planned pace. One exception was the long incline at the beginning of Ellis Hollow Road, which we walked the entire way. After that it seemed to be smooth sailing. However, we discovered how difficult it was to run in a straight line when sleep deprived and exhausted. Even while concentrating on the white line at the side of road, it was impossible to prevent the curvy meanderings of our forward progress. Furthermore, we couldn’t decide which was more of a factor, our exhaustion or pain/soreness of our legs. However, both were washed away temporarily the last downhill mile and approach to the finish.
Quickly driving over to Game Farm road for our last route along the East Hill Rec Way, we piled on jackets as we decided to walk this last mile, as a sort of victory lap. Our walk allowed us to reflect on the last 24 hours, trying to pick a favorite route and the more challenging parts. Also, this gave us an opportunity to predict which toenails would fall off in a couple of weeks.
Even though we both live a short drive away in Dryden, we were too loopy from sleep deprivation to drive. So we took another wonderful catnap in the car to celebrate the end of the ultra challenge before heading home.
It was an amazing experience! Looking forward to the possibility of another FLRC Ultra Challenge next year!