Without exception, every runner coming through the finish of this year's Finger Lakes Fifties had mud caked solidly up to their knees, with splatters reaching even higher. The trails were a disgusting mess. It was so much fun.
I can't say enough good things about this race that winds through the beautiful Finger Lakes National Forest near Ithaca. There are 25k, 50k and 50 mile races all held on the same loop. With the 50k and 50 mile both starting at the same time, the race organizers give you the option of deciding mid-race which distance you want to complete. With conditions like this year's, it was an especially welcome option.
Logistically the event is low-key and no-hassle, with campsites available within a few steps of the start/finish. It poured through the night but thankfully it stopped by the time morning rolled around.
My only concrete goal for this race was to enjoy myself, so I was thrilled that many things lined up to make that easier. Some things I couldn't control (notably that the weather was ideal and the course was beautiful), as well as the things I could control (I went out at an easy pace and kept a positive attitude throughout). All the mud made things harder in a way, but I was in the mood to enjoy it. My Crosslites were the perfect shoe, and I never felt like I was out of control even in the slickest sections. As usual, the worst obstacles were the slippery wooden boardwalks.
I had signed up for the 50k, but I went out at a relaxed effort on the distant chance that I'd feel good enough at the end of the second loop that I would want to go on to the 50 miler. The first loop was spent waking up, settling into a nice rhythm, and enjoying the trail. It took a little longer than I had expected, 3 hours, but with that much mud it made sense.
Going into the second loop I felt great, and up until 4 hours in I still saw going on to the longer race as a possibility. I was enjoying the trails and was feeling up to going through them again. However, over the next hour I started to wind down, and I eventually decided that I wasn't prepared for that much more running in the muck. I reshifted my focus to enjoying the rest of the loop and finishing strong.
The mud made things difficult and slower, but I'll take that over a heat wave any day. In a way it felt like running through snow, and for the majority of the race it was at least above the ankles, and often a lot higher. By the end I had certainly had enough of it, and it did a number on my leg muscles, but for the most part it was just plain fun.
The course from the knee up was beautiful, nicely broken into sections with a lot of variety so you never got bored of one thing. Most of the hills were in the first half as we climbed and descended through beautiful gorges and ravines. The worst was a particularly quad punishing 1.3 mile downhill on a dirt road. It was the longest road section of the course, but it sure wasn't easy on the legs. (There were two other very short paved uphills that connected trails later on.) Most of the course was under the coolness of thick tree cover, with a few open pasture sections where herds of cows would curiously stomp towards us. There were also stunning open views looking down an immense valley with glimpses of Seneca Lake (one of the Finger Lakes). These sections has a welcome cooling breeze even as the sun gradually heated things up.
I had started running a bit harder for the last five miles, picking up the pace. Less than ten minutes before the end, my calf painfully seized up. This has never happened before, it must have been from all the shifting in the mud. If there was any fear that I'd at some distant point regret not going on, the wonky calf told me loud and clear that I was making the right call. I had passed quite a few people in the last loop and pulled up to 4th female postion in about 6:20, which I was happy with. Not the conditions for a particularly fast day, but that's trail running for you!
Unlike some races, I had no chance to see Derrick out on the course, and hoped he was making out okay. I checked his split times and saw him come through for his last 3.5 mile loop and then to finish. He looked strong, and it was great to see him have a successful race. He executed his race perfectly, just totally nailing the effort and nutrition.
The post race barbeque was amazing, and they even had tasty veggie burgers to go along with pasta salad and potatoes. Yum!
Two days later, my legs are still ridiculously sore.
Photo: Tom Perry, Western NY Ultra Series