I want to take a moment to thank the directors, volunteers, photographers, and everyone involved in the SRT races. It was a blast running the thirty mile trail event for the last three years. The terrain in all its various forms is otherworldly. The race format is pure magic by allowing each participant to choose their own adventure from the half marathon to the seventy miler, and yet forcing many of us to cross paths with each other. Seeing runners from other events during the race gives us a glimpse of an alternate reality where maybe we could have chosen an easier or harder race. In another life would I want to be a fun loving half marathoner? Or a suffering seventy miler? Or maybe I'm happy right here where I am somewhere in the middle, running the thirty. And don't forget those fifty milers, they're out there somewhere!
If you're not familiar with the area, it's worth taking a breeze through some of the photographs from the race. They are breathtaking, and equally so for the entire thirty miles. I look forward to running the seventy mile course one of these years to see more of it!
This race embodies what I love about running. It involves exploration, failure, growth, and maybe one day success!
In 2017 I went into the race full of naive optimism. My spirit was crushed halfway through but along the way I learned to love the trail. In 2018 I set reasonable expectations and had an enjoyable race. This year I was running by myself for most of the race, yet I did not feel alone. As I passed through each distinct section conversations and encounters from previous years would replay and renew my optimism. Instead of thirty miles of suffering, I traveled along a linear nexus of vivid memories, simultaneously experiencing three different years overlaid on top of each other.
The bus dropped us off at Sam's Point, the beginning of the thirty mile event. After trips to the bathrooms and meeting some of the runners, everyone lined up in three waves. I had seen from the list of registered runners on UltraSignup that there are a few faster runners, and one in particular, IS, really stood out. In talking with IS before the race, he lives nearby and knows the SRT trail well. Waves are started based on bib numbers, and I believe bib numbers are based on the order of registration. IS is in the middle wave and I am in the last wave.
In previous years, getting lost has been a huge part of the race. Last year at one point I was running the course backwards until T ran towards me yelling, "What are you doing? It’s this way!". T is not only gifted with an excellent sense of direction, but he also carries a secret weapon: a Garmin watch with course navigation. This year I am using the Garmin Instinct, a lightweight and fairly uncomplicated watch which includes the course navigation feature. I have resisted using such a tool for fear that it would ruin some of the experience but now that I have started using it I have discovered many ways in which it facilitates adventures that would not otherwise be possible. The little screen on the watch draws a simple line that indicates if a turn is coming up, and beeps if I'm off course. It's just enough to navigate confidently through an elusive course like the SRT trail.
The first mile ascends a switch-backed carriage road.
After a few quick turns, the next several miles proceed along a narrow trail consisting of rocks where the dirt around them has eroded away. Each step is a decision to either run along the trail's rocky canopy hopping from one rock to the next, or to descend to ground level and run on the soft ground stepping over or around obstacles with each footfall.
The race is configured perfectly to destroy you mentally and physically. The first quarter of the race is technical. It has a decent rhythm but it takes a lot of energy to get through. The next quarter of the race is largely smooth and rocky but takes you through a confounding maze of huckleberry bushes where every few steps leads to a dead-end. Last year I learned to make use of the rows of rocks along the sides of the trail, a few inches high. These rocks are not merely decorative, they are walls, and stepping over them will invariably take you off course. This year, I learned the hard way that piles of logs should also not be stepped over. I took a wrong turn, and when I finally realized my mistake and doubled back, I kicked myself for realizing I had stepped over a big log pile, an obvious warning.
I had passed a handful of runners from the first two waves of the 30-mile race in the first few miles. After that I didn't see a single person except a few runners from the 70-miler. Where is everybody? Also I had not seen IS on the course. Is he way ahead? Or did he take a wrong turn and is lost in the woods somewhere? If I was ever going to catch up to him I would expect to have done it by now. At around the halfway point I had accepted that he was well ahead and going to crush the race. I was happy whatever the outcome because I was running well and feeling good. It started to rain a little bit. As I ran along some wooden planks I noticed puddles on the wood followed by dry wood with no footprints. I incorrectly took this to mean there was nobody immediately ahead of me, but then very shortly after that I finally caught up with IS. I think he said he got poked in the face by a stick and was having a little trouble pulling himself together at that particular moment. We ran together for a short bit, but I took off ahead after the first checkpoint.
Memories of previous years carried me along. Last year at mile fourteen where T and I were running together until he had an unfortunate sandal break. Hilly sections around mile fifteen where two years ago I had all but quit the race and Sev and Ivan passed me by on the trail, then mile seventeen where I had fallen in step behind Tom and got started running again. Mile twenty-four where I almost made the mistake of climbing Bonticou Crag instead of taking the easy way around, but thankfully a hiker pointed me in the right direction.
The third quarter of the race includes long and steep hill climbs that don't exist on the map. These are there to kick you hard while you're already down. This year I knew to just take it easy and slow down and almost enjoy these sections instead of trying to fight them.
The final quarter of the race is wonderfully runnable for the most part. These dowhhill miles are smooth and soft with easy navigation that lend themselves to some fast running if only there's enough gas left in the tank. This was the first year where I ran well through each section, and yet was still up for letting 'er rip for the final section. It was a thrill flying down hills and along flats, with pink trail markers and my watch navigation enabling me to confidently run through each intersection. Just before the finish is a beautiful run across a huge railroad trestle. I could see a photographer in the distance pointing his camera at me. I remained calm and tried to smile for a while, but as I got closer I couldn't resist the opportunity for an aerial heel click, with my calf cramping mid-air.
I felt great for the entirety of the race. As soon as I crossed the finish line I knew I had left it all out on the course. Every part of my body was drained, particularly my upper body. Even lying down was uncomfortable. After forty-five minutes I started feeling a little bit like myself again and could at least stand or sit up and enjoy talking with all the other finishers.
I am grateful to have been introduced to this race by B and T. The race with all it's trials and tribulations captures the ultimate spirit of adventure. It's a week later and the post-race excitement still hasn't worn off.