Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Whiteface SkyMarathon

What a weekend. It was such a great experience over only 2.5 days, and I had been kind of regretting signing up for this one. I didn't realize how beat I was going to feel at this point from all of the racing since I registered awhile ago. After Mt Washington, I felt super nervous about hitting the Whiteface SkyMarathon so soon after, with Loon and Cranmore to follow. But I had paid the entry fee and for the campsite and had an old friend coming that I hadn't seen since 2010 (when I came up from North Carolina to do the Adirondack Marathon Relay with her). So the weekend was a definite. No turning back.

Friday morning, I got up and took an easy run from my house up Heavenly Hill and continued onto the trails at Tin Mountain. I took it pretty easy since Thursday night's run had been decent. I used to run this route all the time since I didn't have to drive anywhere, but it had gotten old. This was the first time I had done it in probably 10 months or so. 5.2 miles in 1:02:30. 982ft of elevation gain.

After I was done, I had some coffee and then proceeded to pack up the car before John came home around noon. We hadn't camped since our camping trip in Burlington, VT in May 2014, so I had no idea if we still had all of our stuff. The one thing I did remember to get ahead of time was a new stove, since I lost custody of the old one in the divorce. ha ha. :) Fortunately, everything was accounted for and pretty much right where I left it over a year ago. I thought I would be ready to leave noonish, but it took me longer to pack than I thought, and we didn't get on the road until around 1pm. Seemed like plenty of time with a few stops in town along the way and a quick stop planned in Burlington. The trip to Burlington seemed fast, and I made a stop at the the Healthy Living Market for a few things (the same breakfast I bought there for VCM); I LOVE this store. I wish our Local Grocer owners in North Conway would take a trip over to Healthy Living Market to see what a legitimate health food store should be like. I made it as quick as possible so we could get back on the road. Once back in the car, I started up my GPS again and noticed a little "!" in a circle by the route. I clicked on it and got a shock. "This route includes a ferry." Whoa, whoa, whoa. WHAT??? A ferry?! Huh. I had never noticed that. Oh my god. ha ha. I had just assumed we went over a bridge to NY. A ferry was so far off my radar that it never occurred to me that we would have to take one. I was shocked and started to worry we wouldn't make to the campground in time to check-in! And, since I left late, we hit Burlington rush hour traffic. I could not get over the fact we had to take a ferry. We finally made it there, got our ticket, and then I relaxed. It was so calming and pretty right there at the dock. John and I got out and looked out at the lake. I realized we would get to the campground in time, so I just started laughing. I could not stop. It was just so funny to me that I didn't know we had to take a ferry. I think I laughed for 2 hours. I even laugh thinking about it. We made it onto the 2nd ferry that was there and took some time to enjoy the ride.
Looking out at Lake Champlain 

Looking out at Lake Champlain 

Us on the ferry

My Kia on its first ferry ride. Ha ha.
Once off the ferry, it was a BEAUTIFUL drive to Wilmington, NY where Whiteface Ski Area (the race site) is. We went right to Wilmington Notch Campground to check-in, set up the tent then headed over to the Hungry Trout for dinner. We went to the pub downstairs and sat outside by the fire with a view of the Ausable River and Whiteface.
View and Lake Placid Brewery Ubu Ale

Photo by John

John wrapped in blankets by the fire
We had a great dinner and a really fun time. I was so excited to be there. John was even having a blast, and we kept each other laughing the whole time.

We went back to the campsite after dinner. I got a campfire going, and John made s'mores. He was all of a sudden tired and went to bed, but I hung out by the fire for awhile listening to the campers next door play guitar and sing. Funny to hear "Nothing Else Matters" for the second time in one week. I bought the single on tape when it first came out. That tells you how old the song is now. I was pretty amazed I still knew every word by heart. (Ok, I'll admit that I also bought "The Unforgiven" single, too. ha ha.)
John by the campfire
The next morning, we slept in until around 8am. It felt good to wake up and enjoy a peaceful morning. I made coffee for me and hot chocolate for John.
Wilmington Notch Campground. John loves to play on top of my car. 
We both had some breakfast then headed over to Whiteface Ski Resort to watch the Vertical K race, which was 3.5 miles with 3300 ft of elevation gain. I had opted out of doing this one and just wanted to spectate. As John and I were walking the slope, my friend, Kendra, and her daughter, Bella, showed up and walked up with us. We didn't make it far before the race started. I snapped some pictures of the people I knew and cheered them on as they headed out of view up the mountain. Speaking of the mountain. It was HUGE and looked very intimidating. I knew the next day's race was going to be a challenge, not to mention the weather forecast for heavy rain and extreme wind to go along with it. I tried not to think about it.

Whiteface. This picture doesn't even do it justice.
John and Bella hadn't seen each other since they were 4 years old but seemed to pick back up right where they left off. Best friends one second, enemies the next. It was so funny. They would be playing together having so much fun, and, then, next thing we knew they were punching each other or taunting each other and saying they would never be friends again. Kendra and I figured this is what having 2 kids is like. Best friends to enemies to best friends cycle, constantly. I am glad to only have one! ha ha.
John and Bella at the 2010 Adirondack Marathon in Schroon Lake, NY

John and Bella this weekend. Grown up!
Kendra and I were the second place women's duo relay team at the Adirondack Marathon in 2010. Funny enough, that jacket I'm wearing is the same jacket I brought to wear for the Whiteface Race.
We decided to take a walk up a trail right there at the ski resort that had waterfalls and cascades. We only walked about a mile round trip at the most, but there was a lot to see in that half mile.

My friend, Kendra. We met on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2002.

We would have walked longer, but the kids were getting bored, so we left to go to the campsite for Bella and Kendra to set up their tent. We made our way over to Lake Placid after that. I had never been there so it was cool to see. John and Bella swam in the lake and played on the playground for about 2 hours while Kendra and I caught up. From there, we ventured over to the Lake Placid Brewery, where I would once again break my no alcohol the day before a race rule. I'm starting to feel like a rebel... rebelling against myself. ;) ha ha. I only had one beer, though. Way lame compared to my 3 beers the night before Mount Washington.

After dinner, we went back to the campsite, and I finally decided to get into race prep mode. The weather forecast was nasty. 100% chance of rain. Heavy. Extreme wind up high. I had no idea that last Monday's run in a downpour or the other recent runs in the rain would be prepping me so well, but it was the extended period of time we would be out in it that made me nervous. I wasn't sure if I had the right clothes. I didn't want to wear too much because I knew I would be warm on the ascent, but the slower, steep downhills made me wonder what to bring along. I didn't even bring running pants on the trip so I had no choice but to stick with the skirt I brought. I decided to just go with a short sleeve shirt and my really lightweight Mountain Hardwear jacket over that. I'd put gloves and a hat in my running pack. Seemed minimal, but I put another bag with extra clothes at the lodge aid station, where we we would go through twice. I felt prepared, but unprepared. I just didn't know what to expect. Had I done too much lately? Would the legs hold up? Would I DNF? Would I get hypothermic? Would I get injured? 19 miles and over 9000ft of elevation gain was no joke, especially in bad weather. I had to get into the mindset that I was not out there to compete with anyone but myself. Ok, we all know I would never be able to keep that mindset going for the whole race, but it was how I intended to start the race. I had to play it smart. This was all going through my head as I got everything organized for the next day. I also had to get John organized since he was going to stay behind at the campsite with Kendra and Bella. In the meantime, I built another fire for them to make s'mores. It seemed like an hour before I was done packing and organizing, and I still felt uneasy. I grabbed a shower, then John and Bella decided to watch a movie on top of my car while Kendra and I hung out by the fire chatting. Finally, we all got tired and headed to our tents to get some sleep.

The rain started a few hours later and woke me up. I love the sound of the rain on the tent; it brings me back to my thru-hiking days. This time, it wasn't so peaceful because it meant the start of the dreary day to come with an already difficult mountain race. I started to feel nervous and had trouble sleeping the rest of the night. I'm not one of those people who has trouble sleeping, either, so it was frustrating. I kept wondering if I would be prepared enough and then if I would even finish. Had I beaten myself up so much that I might not be able to handle it and have to quit? By the time my alarm went off at 5am, I had maybe gotten a few hours of restless sleep. I was so tired, but I got right up, put on my poncho and headed out of the tent into the pouring rain. I got dressed and then stood in the rain making coffee. My feet were already wet, and I started to feel a chill. Not good. I decided to drive over to the mountain where I could sit in my dry, warm car to finish my coffee. It was so gloomy, and a cloud hung over the summit of  Whiteface.

After I finished my coffee, I gathered up my bags and then headed over to the lodge. I was having one of those not-so-social mornings, so I hung out by myself for awhile and then ventured out into the rain, not really for a warm up but to put myself out there in the pouring rain so it wouldn't be such a shock at the start. I ran about .4 miles then came back to the tunnel where I lined up in the front of the middle of the pack. I needed to force myself to go off conservatively. Plenty of time on this course to make gains; it did not need to be done in the first 200 yards. After a brief announcement, the race began. The crowd held me back a little more than I wanted since some people were already walking...WITH POLES. Can I just say how annoying hiking poles are at the start of a race? First off, the person carrying them is now taking up the space of two people, and I had to dodge them to keep from being hit by them. Super frustrating. And this may not be popular opinion, but I honestly don't understand why they are allowed. They really get in the way. I was almost jabbed in the neck twice by people carrying them, AND it's using an aid. I hiked all 3 of my thru-hikes with Leki poles. I know how they work, and I know they do offer an advantage. It's almost like having 4 legs instead of two. Maybe I'm just an asshole, but I really don't think they should be allowed. Sure, an argument could be made that I have the right to use them, too, but the thing is is that I don't want to. It wouldn't seem right to me to use a tool to help me go faster. I think I got my point across, so I'll shut up about it now.

The race started on a gentle incline and then right to the ski slope which is steep. Here is a picture of the first slope that I took the day before at the Vert K.
Where the climb begins after the start. Steeper than it looks.
There were a lot of racers ahead of me, but I kept true to myself and held back. I wasn't pushing at all for this first climb. I did a lot of walking and some running, as did most of the people around me. This climb was no joke. Over 3000ft of gain. About midway up, we came to a confusing spot where the course was flagged in two different directions. There was a sign with an arrow on it, but it was placed at an angle just enough to not be clear. I looked off to my right to see almost the entire field going that way. The two people in front of me continued straight, and even though my gut told me those two were probably right, I decided to just follow the majority. And sure enough, we were all wrong. We had ended up on the Vert K course from the day before which was also the course down from the summit for this race, so about halfway up, we started to encounter all of the front runners coming down. This trail was pretty tight in a lot of places, too, so I'm sure it was frustrating for everyone to have the 2-way traffic. Plus, the extra foot traffic was demolishing the trail. It was already rocks and mud; I couldn't wait to see what it was like on the second mountain loop. This direction ended up being shorter than the correct route, but it was a lot steeper. In the end, they figured out the difference in racers' times was negligible. When I got to the top, the woman in front of me who had gone the correct way was pretty close to the same distance in front of me as she was when we diverged, so I had a feeling the two courses were comparable. Have I mentioned that this climb was steep? :) Pretty similar to Upper Walking Boss at Loon but about 20x more technical. Plus, the rain was coming down hard, and the higher we got into the cloud, the stronger the wind was blowing. Cold and wet. I was soaked to the bone already, and my hands were starting to get really cold. I put my gloves on that I was carrying in my pack and never took them off for the duration of the race. I also never took my jacket off. Crazy to be wearing gloves and a jacket on June 28th. Just before the summit building, the slope flattened out just enough to be runnable. Due to the weather conditions, all volunteers were indoors so we all had to go inside to check-in and have our number marked off the list. It wasn't a big deal, and I would never have expected those volunteers to stand out in those conditions for that long, although there were maybe 4 guys who were out standing on the course in that brutal weather for hours. I thanked them as I passed, and they all just smiled.

At the summit, I realized I was going to need both hands free to go down that insane slope, so I put my water bottle in my pack and moved on. The way down was slow and just crazy muddy and rocky. People were sliding all over the place. One of my new goals became to just finish this race uninjured. I passed two women who had looked really strong on the climb up but were now really having difficulty on the way down. Towards the bottom of the hill, a woman flew by me. I thought I was a good downhill runner, but she put me to shame. After what seemed like forever, we came to a sharp right turn and began heading back up to a second summit. This climb was a little more runnable halfway up before turning steep, and I immediately passed the woman who had just passed me on the down. Rare for me to be stronger on the up than down than someone else. This climb seemed to be less painful and went by quickly because the top of the gondola appeared through the fog a lot sooner than I thought it would. I checked in quickly then moved on. Just as I was turning the corner, the woman keeping track of the racers yelled out that I was 8th woman. At the time, I honestly didn't care. It was still early on in the race, and some of those women looked really strong. My goal was just to finish.

The next stretch was slippery, wet grass mixed with more mud and rocks and went downhill all the way from the top of the gondola back to the lodge. It was a LONG way to go. I could feel the grit in my shoes from all of the mud. I slid onto my butt several times due to the wet grass, and the rocks and mud were just unreal. It was a true test of one's technical ability. As we got onto the lower slopes, that same woman came flying by me again. I was pretty amazed and could not keep up with her. Finally, we made it back to the "tunnel" at the lodge where the timers, photographers, drop bags and aid station were. I quickly grabbed some Tailwind and a cup of water. I took my water bottle out of my pack and laid it by my drop bag. I knew I wouldn't need it for the Flume trails section and didn't want the weight. Most people dropped their packs, too, but mine was so minimal in weight that I just decided to keep it on. I think I spent about 30 seconds in the "tunnel" then moved on. I passed the strong downhill woman on my way out and never saw her again on the course. I had caught up with a man with whom I would end up running the entire Flume trails section; he was a local and knew those trails by heart so he moved along them swiftly. Just up the hill past the lodge was a Scott shoe aid station where I passed another woman. I wouldn't see her again either.
Flume Trails
The Flume trails were awesome; this is were my strength lies. Somewhat technical trails. No steep climbs, just gentle ups and downs with  a lot of twists and turns. I decided this was not a part of the race to hold back on and saved nothing on this stretch. The guy I was running with and I immediately starting picking people off. I was surprised at how slowly some of them were moving. I'm not sure how many people we passed, but it had to be close to 10 (including one woman) by the time we ended up off the trails and back on a ski slope. The Flume trails were just super fun; I love that fast, runnable, yet still technical, stuff. I gave 100% on this section. Just before the course heads back downhill to the lodge, I passed another woman. I hadn't been keeping track carefully and thought that maybe I was in 4th or 5th at this point, but I really wasn't sure. I couldn't remember who else was ahead of me. Although my plan wasn't to be competitive, I started to realize that I might finish in the top 5. In race where I'm "competing" against Stevie Kremer and Kasie Enman, top 5 is awesome. And I wasn't expecting it either, so that was a plus. BUT this also meant I would have to start racing. That was the last thing I wanted to do for the last 6 miles going up Whiteface again, but the last woman I had passed was not far behind me. She came right out of the tunnel aid station only about 100 yards back. I knew she was hurting, though, because when I passed her, she said, "This is hard." I agreed with her for sure, but this statement gave me a clue that she probably didn't have a lot left in her to race. I didn't either, but at this point, I really wanted to try. It sucked walking initially because I am just not a good power hiker and my legs were so tired. She gained on me a little on the first climb, so her power hiking definitely was stronger than mine, As soon as I could run, though, I ran. And I ran every runnable section. Before I knew it, she was dropping off a little more, but always in sight. Where we went the wrong way on the first mountain loop, someone was there guiding us on the correct route. It was definitely longer, but not nearly as steep. I was able to run a lot of this section. It was a service road that wound its way up to the top. We entered the cloud pretty quickly and towards the top, the wind was really gusting, stronger than the first time up. And it was still raining. I could no longer see my competition behind me because of the cloud, but I could tell I had a decent lead by this point and that it would be pretty difficult for her to catch up with me. I caught up to two guys who were walking most of the climb up.

Once at the top, the wind was intense. And the rain was blowing in from the side. It was cold so I checked in at the summit building, drank some Tailwind again and then continued on back down the super steep slope. I thought it was trashed the first time around. This time, it was just so unreal that I kept falling into mud pits up to my thigh. At one point, I thought I was just stepping into mud, but found my leg wedged perfectly right in between two rocks. With a little more momentum, that could have easily been a femur fracture. Kind of scary. The condition of the trail was just so brutal that I was laughing at the this point. Expletives and laughter, what typically comes out of my mouth. Ha ha. Too be honest, I was actually having fun. I was a hurtin' puppy, but it was awesome. I made it to the bottom of the hill and turned to see the other woman not too far back. I was a little worried, but I knew this second climb would give me the lead I really needed to be comfortable. I ran most of the first half of it, passing two men, got to the top, checked in and then moved on. One long downhill to the finish!

This next section of trail was also trashed and I was falling all over the place, but I kept moving quickly. I did not want to get caught at this point. I was still unsure of my place, but whatever it was, I didn't want to lose it. I managed to nearly catch the two guys in front of me. My shoes were FULL of grit, but I didn't care at this point; I just wanted to finish. Finally, the lodge came into view. I knew I was almost there. And then I spotted a small person wearing a yellow poncho. It was John!!! I got so excited to see him and started waving. I had been thinking about him off and on all during the race and couldn't wait to see him. I'm actually getting a little choked up as I write this just thinking about it.
John waving to me just before the finish. 

Just before the finish. It was so dark out that it was hard for Kendra to get a good shot. You can see my mud-covered leg, though. Ha ha.
Just beyond John, Kendra and Bella was the finish line at the tunnel. I came through in 4th woman, 4:59:43. 22nd overall. My watch and phone had both died during the race, so I only recorded up to 16 miles, but according to other people's watches, it came out to just around 19 miles with over 9000 ft of elevation gain. I was ECSTATIC. I felt like I had run a great race. As soon as John caught up to me, I gave him a hug and kiss. It was so good to be back with him. I grabbed my things, and Kendra, John and Bella followed me to my car. Kendra brought over John's things and my soaking wet tent. Ha ha. She and Bella had woken up in the middle of a puddle under their tent. I guess our tent was a little wet inside where some water had pooled on the top and started leaking through. Kendra said John was still cozy, though. We had brought our 0 degree sleeping bags so we were warm even with the rain.

I changed clothes then we went upstairs where the food was. I ate, and we watched the awards. I was pretty psyched to see a local MWV runner, Tristan Williams, finish 3rd overall for the race, beating Joe Gray by almost 2 minutes. Very impressive. I talked to him a bit after to congratulate him. He's a superb runner, yet very modest. He was the hiker on my Tuckerman Inferno team who pulled our team into the lead up the mountain. Very nice guy. I'm always happy to see him do well.

John and I needed to hit the road after that. It was a long drive back. We said goodbye to Kendra and Bella. Unfortunately, John and Bella "weren't friends anymore" when it was time to leave, so they parted on a bad note. Ha ha ha. I think they had a fun weekend together overall. Kendra and I are going to make sure we don't let 5 years go by this time without meeting up again. I thanked her for taking care of John while I was running, and then we parted ways. Then John and I left Wilmington. I would love to go back there on a non-racing weekend to explore that area more. I loved it there. Maybe some day, I can take John skiing at Whiteface.

We made it back to the Valley without a hitch; I picked up Flatbread, and we came home to 3 dogs very happy to see us. What a great weekend.

Editing (a little late) to add a link to Ben Nephew's race report. I love reading other people's perspective on the same race I have run.
Ben Nephew's Whiteface Report

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