Friday, July 31, 2015

Escarpment Trail Run - 2015 Race Report

My dear high school friend, Jessie's mom went to a trail running camp last summer.  At the end of the race Jessie was talking to some of the camp leaders who said their favorite race was the Escarpment Trail in Catskills, NY.  Jessie passed it along to me and said, "You should do this."  So, that's how it all began.

The Escarpment Trail Run is famous for it's challenging climbs and technical terrain.  It's also well know for it's longevity of 38 years, low key vibe, qualifying standard, and entry process with a series of envelopes exchanging hands with the Race Director Dick Vincent before you are invited to register online.  The website description of the run is one that I can only describe as brutally honest and the run was completely as advertised.

"THE ESCARPMENT TRAIL RUN IS FOR MOUNTAIN GOATS ONLY!!! The Escarpment Trail is a very remote, rugged hiking trail in the Northern Catskill Mountains in New York State." 
Starting with wave 13 at 10am

I was pretty nervous at the start of the race, but knew Mike was worried about me so I tried to put on my, "I totally have this.  It will be fun.  No big deal.  See ya in a couple (6) hours!" face.  
He always tries to crack a joke or something to make me laugh and I'm like, "Just BE here."

There were a series of lies told me to me during this race by my friends on the trail.  The 1st was that the start of the race - where a guy huffing and puffing on his 3rd Escarpment told me that the initial 3.5 miles were the toughest.  I know by now to take these comments with a grain of salt.  However, when I look at the data, I can kinda see why someone might say that.  It's close to 3.5 miles of climbing.  The grade isn't as steep as the other climbs so it didn't feel like the most challenging part of the run to me.

The description continues, "This single track trail crosses no roads, has total elevation changes of nearly 10,000 feet, and requires all aid to be backpacked in by volunteers....."

The volunteers are truly amazing at this race.  They carry in water and food to 7 remote aid stations.  Mike made some friends at the start and they hiked to the third aid station at the bottom of Blackhead Mountain.  This station is manned by the Lost Patrol, named this because of the multiple times different incarnations of the team have gotten lost on the way to the saddle.     
"THE TRAIL... is viewed by many as an exaggeration of the term. It is extremely rocky and a runner must expect to navigate over boulders, downed trees, gullies and hidden roots the entire distance.  There are sections of the course that travel along cliffs. If you're not careful, you could fall to your death. Very few runners go the distance without taking at least one painful spill. ........"

I remember reading that description of the trail and thinking, "That sounds fun!"  I didn't fully grasp how 18.6 miles of that technical of a trail would feel.  The climbs and descents were tough, but there were very few mental or physical breaks even when you could "run".  I compare it to people telling me about sleepless nights with a newborn and then experiencing sleepless nights with a newborn.  You just can't understand it until you've gone through it - no matter how accurately it's described.  Speaking of newborns, I remarked at the top of Blackhead that the climb was reminiscent of childbirth - a long, hard slog, full of panting, pain, praying for it to end, and then finishing with joy when it's over!  

"THIS IS NOT A CARRIAGE TRAIL... it is a treacherous hiking trail. There won't be a vehicle to fetch you if you if you should decide to quit and it is your responsibility to get to the finish line.This is not a Run-For-All and we are not trying to hype it or make it something it is not." 

Let's talk about downhills and treachery.  I was somewhat prepared for the climbs from doing the Hyner View Trail Challenge in April with Mike and our friend Bryan.  I was nowhere near trained for these type of descents.  The downhills were steep and rocky, in some spots requiring me to get on my butt, put one hand steadily on a one side and the other with my stupid water bottle on the other, and then jump down to the next ledge.  The slippery rocks got me a couple of times and I became more cautious as the race progressed.       

When we got to the famous airplane crash site, I felt such relief because I'd been told lie #2 that it was really run-able from there to the finish.  Lies!  The plane signaled the last big climb, but the remaining miles down were still very technical and challenging combined with the fatigue.  
Airplane crash site at the 

"There won't be people telling you where the trail goes, doctors to wipe your blisters, or a bus to give you a ride to the finish if you decide you can't continue. This is a wonderful run across wonderful country, a run in which we will share the experience and the friendship with those qualified runners who choose to participate. No awards, no age group categories. Just runners, mountains, and some refreshments at the finish line."

I talked to allot of people on the trail.  Trail runners are friendly and a big part of what attracts me to these types of races.  I passed men, women passed me, I passed younger people, a guy who said he could be my father passed me.  It was good - everyone had a smile or at least a nod of understanding and camaraderie.  I talked to 2 guys who are also doing the SOS triathlon in September and 1 who volunteers every year.  It was a welcome distraction that got me through the last few miles.  

I could hear the announcer at the finish and was so looking forward to crossing the line to see Mike and the Weatherwax family.  Since Jessie gave me the idea she was coming to cheer me on with the rest of her family - awesome friend!  I got excited and started picking up the pace a little and before I knew it I was flat on my belly with the wind knocked out of me.  I made it 18.5 miles and took my biggest wipe out in striking distance of the finish.  I escaped with only a big bruise to my thigh (and pride).      
Jessie captured me at the finish and it really shows how I felt - exhausted and relieved!

Am I glad I did it?  Absolutely.  Will I return next year? ....

Lessons Learned:
1. HYDRO PACK.  I need 2 hands for scrambling in these types of races.  My hand held water bottle almost got thrown over a cliff a couple of times, but I was scared of bad karma for littering.  
2. PACK AHEAD and use a checklist the same way I would for a tri.  The little town of Hunter had no blister band-aids or GU, both of which I had forgotten.  I took simplicity a bit too far this time.    
3. NEED TO WORK ON CLIMBS and DESCENTS.  I felt good, but got passed allot going up and down.   
4. DON'T GET COCKY.  Biggest fall right before the finish?  Stop paying attention AFTER crossing the finish line!  
5. SUPPORT.  Having supportive and amazing friends encouraging me made this race super fun.  Thank you Mike, Jessie, Bryan, Addie, and Abe!  Post race burgers and fries were pretty good too!

Photo courtesy of Jessie Weatherwax.  Jumping in the lake was AMAZING!