Escarpment Trail Run 2011: A Lesson in Humility

Despite being  less than optimally prepared, I had high hopes for the 2011 EscarpmentTrail Run.  The weather was good; I’ve trained consistently – at least until the last week.  At start time, it was hot in the sun, but not too humid.

While there wasn’t an end-of-the-world thunderstorm, as there was in 2008, my optimism was misplaced.

Given my penchant for going out too hard, seeding myself towards the back of the pack seemed like a good idea.  The benefit of starting easy was that I could accelerate here and there to drop a few people.  But a good motor will only take you so far in this race.  It’s not an ultra distance, or even a marathon, but Escarpment is 30 kilometers of the toughest singletrack you’re going to find.  After running  it six times, I’ve finally realized that to be successful, you have to be as fast, if not faster, on the downhills than on the climbs.

And I don’t have it.

This year, I ran for a few miles with Elizabeth Carrion, an excellent athlete who’s knocked off her share of ultramarathons.  On the uphills, I pulled away from her.  But she danced past me on steep downhills just as easy as you could ask for.  She said she doesn’t have a motor, but I don’t believe it.  After perhaps five miles, she pulled away from me for good.

The first couple of years here, I did a credible job on the downhills.  But in my fourth Escarpment, I fell hard three times, bashing myself badly.  There was blood and the whole nine yards.  The third time I fell, perhaps a mile from the finish, I just laid beside the trail a few minutes.  After a while, I was able to heave myself up and limp home.

Ever since, I haven’t hit the descents as hard.  Perhaps it’s fear of injuring myself bad enough to wreck the rest of the year, perhaps it’s genetic.  One person I spoke with said she’d she didn’t have to train to hammer downhills: she’d always been able to do it, and her siblings did too.

With a four-mile descent from Stoppel Point to the finish,  my motor was fresh, but my legs were another story.  In order to control downhill speed, you fight momentum to slow yourself down.  And that takes a lot of energy.  My legs were toast from practically tiptoeing down the big ledges coming off Windham and then Blackhead.

It was a beautiful day, and there were a lot of good people there that I haven’t seen in some time.  The weather was good, and the trail was in great condition.  I had the presence of mind to notice that the airplane carcass on Stoppel Point seemed to have been moved closer to the trail than it had been a few years ago.  If you could sneak a look to the north, the clear weather afforded 50-mile views.  Unlike 2002, no hordes of yellowjackets lay in wait for the unwary.

As usual, the descent from North Point was the toughest part of the race.  From here, the trail becomes more technical the closer you get to the finish.  Where the going was easy, I picked up the pace, and ran the last kilometer fast.  It was as beautiful a day as you could ask for in the Catskills in July.  The volunteers were superstars as always:  what else can you call someone who hauls water, at eight pounds a gallon, to the top of a mountain?  This race doesn’t have any road crossings to make their life easy.

Don’t forget to thank the volunteers here.  Just don’t.

As I work towards my 200-mile shirt, I have to re-think how I run this race.