Before I say anything else, I'll say this first. . .
DO THIS RACE!!!!
Good day to all you ultra runners. Alex here again and I thought I'd write my race report of this inaugural event which I participated in two days ago (23rd June) in New York State, within the confines of Letchworth State Park. This park encompasses the Genesee River (hence the run's name, 'Many on the Genny") and the text below is from the Letchworth State Park website and here is their cover photo to give you an idea of the terrain which is pretty bloody spectacular.
"Letchworth State Park, renowned as the "Grand Canyon of the East," is one of the most scenically magnificent areas in the eastern U.S. The Genesee River roars through the gorge over three major waterfalls between cliffs--as high as 600 feet in some places--surrounded by lush forests. Hikers can choose among 66 miles of hiking trails."
|How about that view! We ran both sides of this|
|Taken during the Fall by someone but gives you an idea of the views|
This race almost didn't happen. Sulphur Springs 200 miler took it's toll. It was 3 weeks before I was able to jog again. It took 4 days before my feet stopped looking like sausages and the ass chaffing subsided. The big toenail on my left foot was a lost cause and took almost 4 weeks before finally coming off, but the big worry was my right kneecap. I had problems during several loops at SS200 but many loops there were no symptoms at all. Three days after completing the race it got very sore and I could barely hobble up or down stairs. Finally it began to improve but even on gentle 9-13 mile runs it began to hurt after a while and I thought there was no way I wanted to injure it further and that 40 miles was likely too far to attempt.
Being stubborn and realizing that if I had any chance to continue on my plans for Fatdog that I really needed this longer run and feeling the knee was improving, I decided to go and treat it like a long training run. I love doing new courses and the thought of just sticking around here doing big miles on routes I'm very familiar with was depressing.
Even then this race almost didn't happen. My best friend and business partner Ruth was rear-ended in her car in the rain which gave her whiplash 3 days before the event and with facial numbness, shoulder pain, ringing in the ears and headaches I almost figured that it was a sign that it was not meant to be. Over the following several days she improved and wanted me to go so I got home Friday after work and did a very quick pack.
I went to bed at 9pm and woke at 12:15am, got ready and was out the door on my way by 12:45am. The border crossing took about 15 minutes as there were only a few gates open and my only delay was having to give up my two oranges which were no-no's. The drive was pretty uneventful. I passed a few very large buildings all lit up where cows were either being milked or just standing in stalls. I was not tired and the temperature was comfortable. There were rainy spots along the way and as I got further into NY State the countryside became more rolling. My ancient GPS, closer to the location, somehow got me to a dead end street with a chain crossing it and fortunately when I backtracked and took another turn it got me to where I needed to go. Total time from my home in Niagara-On-The -Lake (NOTL) to the Park was under 2 hours so it is very close by and I attend races in Ontario which take double the time to get to.
The parking lot was fairly small and there were coned off spots which we were not allowed to use. Remember this is a State Park and I think the organizers did a brilliant job of co-ordinating this race. Their names are Eric and Sheila Eagan and you can read about them quickly in the section below so you see how this race came into existence.
|Race Directors Eric and Sheila Eagan|
Upon arrival at the finish line it was dark but there were brilliant floodlights in the parking lot so it was easy to see what was going on. I was the second car there and I had a quick pee and then jumped back in the car to sleep/rest for 2 hours with my duvee and pillow while the rain came down heavier and then dissipated as dawn approached which was perfect timing.
This race is a single loop which goes 20 miles SW down the West side of the Genesee River, crosses over and then follows back up, NE, along the FLT (Finger Lakes Trail), to the Finish Line. So for those people that didn't have crew or friends along, like me, I parked at the Finish Line, and then we were bussed to the Start line, which was literally across the deep gorge on the other side. It made a nice change to do a longer race which is not loops. The two buses were to take runners from the finish to the start at 5am and the race began at 6am on the other side. They organisers say there is upwards of 7,000 feet elevation change. My watch indicated about 8,300 so it is hilly, or more precisely, undulating.
Since I didn't have a drop bag (although you had that option) and I knew this was it and there was no coming back to the car, I double checked I had everything I needed and jumped on the first bus that arrived promptly at 5am. The driver was obviously hired to pick people up at that early hour and transport them to their destination and she asked me what we were doing. Upon telling her I know she thought we were all mad but she was quite curious and was chatting away to a runner closer to the front as we made our 15 minute journey.
The rain had stopped, the clouds were dissipating and it was a very comfortable temperature. I remained quiet in my seat and watched the scenery unfold around me as we drove; sighting a deer peer at us from the verge of the forest, and then passing through a sleepy little town which is alike, and yet unlike, some rural Ontario villages. We crossed over a road which cuts across the Genesee River and headed to the start location of the race where there were many runners and cars.
Out we got and I headed over to the table outside by a pick-up truck where our race bibs were located along with a double sided map/directions which was rugged (i.e. in case it got rained on it wouldn't fall apart - not laminated but like your race bib in texture). After getting this and affixing it to my body I used the bathrooms on this side of the river and then sat apart and watched the runners mingling and preparing.
A lady called Sarah came and sat with me quickly before the start. She was covered in tattoos which I would have loved to check out in detail and it was obvious she does Cross-Fit as she had muscles everywhere. She is fairly new to the sport and her husband got her into it and it was nice to pass a few minutes with her before we were instructed to head over to the marquee where the race was to begin.
Eric had us line up and gave instructions which were that we would be heading 1 mile away from the start, along the road on the grassy verge, then cut back up into the trails to pass by the start again and then head down along the river where we'd cross some steep, slippery stone stairs. The first 20 miles down is the more accessible part and there were a few long road sections which we were instructed not to run on and in some cases it was ok to run on the very well maintained grass beside the road, but in some cases not so practical as there was a fairly steep grading which could potentially hurt your ankles so everybody was running on the wide median off the road in some of these sections, and as it was still only about 8am the road was almost completely empty except for crew who were going by. The temperature was lovely.
I began about 1/3 of the way to the front and checked out the front pack (as you do) and looked back at the people around me and behind me (as you do - ha ha). As I mentioned previously the 'plan' was to go nice and easy so I did that and leisurely jogged along the grass, staying with some people for a short period and then deciding that I'd catch up to the next person or group a few yards further along.
After the mile we turned into trail and it was very easy. We were still pretty closely packed and I kept advancing periodically until I was with a group of about 5 runners who I would guess were the second leading group behind the leaders and the pace was more 'healthy'. We then got into more technical trail and I was maintaining a gap so I could see any roots or obstacles in time and there were small pink flags sporadically indicating any changes in direction or that you were in fact going the right way.
The organizers made no apologies for this and indicate on their site that this is a grass roots trail run, not with lots of fancy medals and that you have to be prepared to take care of yourselves for up to 9 miles between aid stations and that the markings are basic and you need to pay attention. The leaders of our group within the first 4 miles dipped down a trail which went steeply down the gorge and we all came to a halt as it seemed a crazy path to take and there were no markings. After some faffing about we back-tracked up the steep banks to where we went off and saw runners passing by on the correct trail. Grrrr. I was tired from the climb and a bit demoralized to think so early I'd messed up and that who knows how many runners were now ahead of me. Hey ho. Say la vie.
I carried on and there was a lot of diversity in the nature of the trail which was awesome. It was pretty technical when you were not running a few long stretches by the road and you had to keep your wits about you. There were also a lot of muddy sections from the rain early in the morning and the day prior and it's amazing how only 120 runners (and only I guess 40 ahead of me at that point) can churn up a section. We were all a bit more spread out now and the groups were smaller. I was passed occasionally and passed a few occasionally.
There was a section early on that was a proper river crossing where you had no hope of keeping dry and so we crossed over the big and small loose rocks with a faster flowing water and I didn't do so well and fell forward a few times but didn't get soaked head to foot.
|I could be wrong but it was something like this where we crossed the river|
I grabbed some water melon and coke and quickly headed back into the trail and some pretty rugged sections but also some absolutely stunning sections where you were at viewpoints overlooking the gorge and had amazing views up and down and across. It was at some of these amazing views which had steep staircases going down or up that my knee really began to hurt but fortunately I'd packed my Voltaren gel and reapplied as my progress going downhill was painfully slow and ungainly. Runners passing me were asking if I was ok. I slowed things down and for a long time was completely alone.
At a few points I was wondering if I'd missed a trail marking but I think at this point it would have been pretty hard to get lost as the Gorge was laid out to your left and it was obvious which way we were going but when you are tired it's easy to second guess yourself and a few times I came to a walk and wondered if I should wait until a runner would hopefully come up from behind me but I didn't and eventually a little pink flag would turn up.
It's hard to remember all the run but it was a beautiful day. The sun was out and it was not too hot and there was a lovely breeze as well. I was wearing my Salomon shoes, Asics socks, calf sleeves, running shorts, a black Under Armor tight fitting breathable T-shirt and white UV long sleeves, a hat and my Salomon vest with a 1.5L bladder. I had in the compartments some salt tablets, Advil, Voltaren Gel, tissues and Shot Block gels. I had two separate water bottles, one was a 200ml and the other smaller and I filled both of these up and only had about 300ml of water in the bladder. I wanted to wear this in a longer race to see how I might get on with it at Fatdog120 which has a compulsory list of things to take which means carrying a fair bit of weight.
Eventually we ended up at the furthest point and went down some steep, slippery stairs to cross the river. It was at this point where I made the second directional mistake. There was a little pink flag on my left and I followed it along the trail until I came out to a pretty and wide cascading Falls with mist and the trail further seemed to have foliage and a fallen tree and there were signs that it was unsafe and closed.
Several other runners came out behind me and we determined this couldn't be right and backtracked and met several others and when we got back to the last pink flag it took a sharp left down another trail where we were to cross the river so I think that was the only poorly marked section (but then of course, others probably had no problem and it's always the people that go off course and bemoan the lack of 'proper' flagging when perhaps they were just not observant enough). Anyway, in total I guess I got about 1/2 mile of 'free' mileage. ha ha.
|Crossing the Genesee River at the SW point, approx. 20 miles into the race|
|Some of the stairs heading down to the river crossing|
|I can't remember this Falls but it's there somewhere|
|Another view of stairs and bridge and the view up the Genesee River|
We were now on the East side of the Genesee, having completed 20 miles of this 40 mile race, and this is the more rugged side which is more remote as well and almost the entire length back to the finish is a single trail called the FLT (Finger Lakes Trail) which is blazoned yellow on trees and if you see blue you ignore it as it's a side trail.
It was beautiful and I felt extremely alone in sections but in a good way. It is deep forest and it was beautiful with steep hills climbing away ahead of you or on each side and the sunlight filtered through in spots. I had been trying to take salt tablets and it was here that I took two Advil as I was struggling and my quads were screaming at me and the knee was beginning to complain again. My water intake had gone up substantially and at one bathroom area, perhaps earlier than at this point, I had filled up my 1.5 bladder and both handhelds and was really drinking a lot. I only peed once in the race and at one point my fingers felt a bit puffy and white so I was conscious of trying to get the balance right between salt and water.
I think this is one of the very few races where I didn't throw up. At one point I did step off the trail and bend over and 'think about it', but I was able to carry on so that is a 'win'. A few of the aid stations didn't have what I really wanted earlier so I was supplementing my calories with the Shot Blocks.
So back to the FLT... The trail is quite technical and there were muddy sections and the vast majority of it you are climbing or dipping down steeply to cross over one stream after another which obviously feeds into the Genesee. It felt like 50 stream crossings at least, I shit you not! In some cases, getting down to the actual steam crossing was pretty dodgy and you couldn't help but get soaked shoes, and in others it was less perilous. But it was constant and relentless and bloody tiring.
In some cases you'd get into the stream and wonder where the freaking trail was. During this period of about 10 miles I got passed perhaps twice and caught up to nobody. Finally, as I was out of water, I came across a hiker who informed me the aid station was less than a mile away but it seemed to take forever and then I came across 4 people standing on the trail, directing me down to one of the aid stations which was well provisioned and I was so happy to be there.
I was really, really tired. I stocked up on water and had watermelon, orange slices, coke and they even had bacon slices! I only took one and once back on the trail I wished I'd taken some for 'the road' as the salt and bacon flavor was delicious. They were always very helpful at the aid stations, taking both my bottles and filling them quickly and asking if they could get me anything. There was always clapping as runners came in which lifts your spirits too when you are alone for hours and hours in the forest and sometimes think you are the only one out there.
Off I went and there was only one more aid station left at around 35 miles. There was more of the same relentless stream crossings but things seemed to be getting less muddy and there were more runnable sections. I was walking lots by this point and if there was a gentle slope up, I was walking and it was around here that I began to catch up to some people. The first was a guy who said by now he was walking 90% of it and I said he was doing awesome and that we were getting there.
I popped one more Advil and carried on with the salt tablets and trying to drink but also conserve it, and periodically I'd come across another runner. It was kind of fun 'sneaking' up on them and loosing them over a rise only to go over and see you had caught up more. I only looked over my shoulder once or twice but was completely alone as far as I could tell. When I caught someone I tried to make it sound effortless and someone told me once that when you pass someone you should do it with conviction. It prevents them from trying to run after you or keep up with you because you look so fresh. ha ha. The trail had gotten slightly easier and the crossings became less and the terrain had more runnable sections which I tried to maintain a steady pace on, only walking when we got to inclines.
The Advil was helping and eventually I caught up to the Father and Son who had passed me many miles earlier. We were almost at the final aid station and I just filled my two handhelds, grabbed some coke and watermelon and got out of there quickly. I just wanted to get to the finish now and in the last 5 miles I caught almost 10 people. The final guy I caught up to but had used my energy reserves and was running on fumes. I was now walking flat sections and had to keep goading myself to jog in fear that someone I'd passed was going to catch up. The guy I caught up to would slip ahead and then I'd gain on him. There were some stunning viewpoints over the gorge again and I wish I'd had the time to stop and admire it. There was a beautiful breeze and the trail was wider and we then popped out to a small car park with a single occupant and the road was on the right and we headed back into the trail for the last half a mile.
I saw the guy ahead gain ground and then he was out of site and I concentrated and tried to keep the legs moving. It still felt so bloody far away. My watch was giving low battery warnings and according to it I'd run 41 miles and knew I would be there 'any minute'. Finally I heard clapping and knew my fellow runner had made it and that spurred me on and ahead I now saw the clearing in the trees and some volunteers who directed me to take a right, along the parking lot, and right again past the toilet block to the final turn left into a field where Erik, the race Director, was encouraging me to run it in. He high fived me and I was done. Everybody clapped loudly for me and I was so happy to have completed the race. Hands on knees, bent over, I kind of just stayed like that a moment or two, stunned a bit, and looked around. 30 seconds later a woman came in behind me and I clapped and acknowledged her finish. There was no finishing mat with chip timing but people made note of our bib numbers at each aid station and obviously at the finish.
My finish time was 9 hours 23 minutes, 52 seconds, good for 35th place of 120 runners. I was very happy with that result and honestly thought I'd be in about 70th place or thereabouts.
My body was screaming at me ' FOOOOODD'. I heard Erik mention pizza and beer and asked him to point me to the pizza and there, under a big marquee, I could see huge pizza boxes and after a guy handed me my 'goody bag' I wandered over, grabbed two rectangular slices and put them together like a sandwich, sat on the picnic bench and looked at the bounty of food and drink before me, and wolfed it down. Runners already finished were coming in between the benches getting pizza or drinks or Oreo cookies or peanut butter on bread and I just sat there eating and drinking, and sitting, and eating, and watching and sitting. Oh, glorious sitting.
It was a really great afternoon. Everybody in the field was clapping as every runner made their way in and I chatted to a number of runners including Sarah who had come in a good hour ahead of me and looked fresh. Eventually after sitting there and in the vicinity for about 30 minutes I made my way to the car which was right on the final stretch to the finish line. I had moved it so it was under tree cover and there was a lovely breeze. I got freshened up very slowly, washing my body down with water and putting on dry clothes, opened the back and side door and lay down on my duvet with pillow and let my aching legs recover.
My feet didn't fare too badly overall. I had a mild blister on one heel. I'd covered my missing toenail on my big toe with a band-aid and hadn't done further damage but the one next to both large toes I think I'll loose them now too which makes it 5 black, or soon to be black or missing nails. Sheesh. I could feel one being bashed a lot on the constant downhill sections and the cooling water from the streams helped mask the pain. Other than that, I am A OKay.
I have learned that trying to drive home some distance after a big ultra is a bad idea and so I rested there for 2.5 hours in the car, sometimes just resting and turning from side to side, listening to the claps and hearing the runners passing by the back of the car literally 5 feet away. Sometimes I'd sit upright and clap appreciatively and yell out something encouraging as runners finished. The goody bag contained a nice visor with the details of the race and a cool homemade necklace made of wood with a bottle cap again with the details of the race.
I finally decided to head home when I saw big clouds in the distance as I wanted to get home before nightfall. The majority of runners had finished but were still hanging out in the open field and it would have been nice to have gone back and joined them.
I slept well and went to work the next day and obviously have very sore quads from the constant steep down-hills and also had quite stiff shoulders from wearing the hydration vest with water bottles mounted on the front which I'm not used to but there was no terrible rashes or bruising. Going down stairs is a challenge but I'm used to this feeling and in another 2 days I should be walking normally.
Before I finish this blog installment off I really want to recommend this race to Ontario runners (or anybody actually). I've raced pretty much every Ontario Ultra race on the calendar and even a few in the US, but I think this is my number one favorite race to date in 6 years of ultra running. The course is challenging and the views are stunning. It's one big loop and is close enough for anybody to access from Toronto. This was the first time they held this event and I hope it becomes an annual one because you should definitely put it on your 'to do' list. I don't say 'bucket list' because it's not that race of a lifetime type of race, but it is very special and I really hope next year that more Ontario runners check it out and stay some days in Letchworth State Park as well because it is beautiful.
Thank you for reading this extended report and happy running.
Alex (aka The Running Dude)
Ontario based runner