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You Always Remember Your First

RVRR Crew pre-race - Photo courtesy of Sally H.

Having run 11 Ultras (nine 50ks and two 50milers) as well as countless training runs all across the country, I’ve had the honor of experiencing many amazing trails and races. However, NJ Trail Series Mountain Madness 50K holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first race that took me beyond the 26.2 barrier back in 2009. Since running this race in it’s inaugural year, I’ve been back each year since. As with most trail/ultra races, this race has a great community of runners, volunteers, and race directors which add to the enjoyment of the event. It’s also held in early Fall when the leaves are changing and the weather is crisp making for beautiful and fast running conditions!

In the events inaugural year in 2009, I went up with a few friends, the two who ran the 50k ended up getting lost and needed to take a taxi back to the start. My other two friends ran the 7 miler which ended up being closer to 14 miles with some wrong turns added in. Running any race with friends can really make all the difference in the world. You have people to carpool up with and BS with prior to the race start which helps settle the nerves and keep your mind off the race. Even better is having friends cheer you along during the course, cheer you through the finish, and enjoy some post-race beers together. What really what made this year special was being able to share this great trail race with so many of my RVRR friends. It was a special day for three RVRR teammates who were lining up to attempt their first Ultra, and a fourth running her first trail race.

9 AM – Race Start

The course was different this year in that instead of having roughly 8 miles of easier trails to spread out the pack, we ran roughly a half a mile before turning onto single track up the first notable climb. I went out comfortably with the lead pack of around 10 guys to try and avoid the likely bottleneck throughout this section. I was feeling good, passed by a few on the climb and settled into 5th or 6th with my buddy Bill. I had the pleasure of running the first ~18 miles with Bill who was running his first marathon/ultra marathon. Running with him kept me relaxed and helped me keep moving at a quick and steady pace. It felt just like we were out on a training run, but with more people and covering the miles at a quicker pace.

~Mile 10 - Photo courtesy of Joe A. of MpFit


My Nathan pack has been having some malfunctions recently which I haven’t been able to pinpoint. The bladder doesn’t seem to leak outside of the pack, yet when I put it inside it begins to leak, a lot! I lost about half my water (3/4 L) within the first few miles and was pretty soaked. I didn’t plan to stop at any aid stations long enough to refill it, plus there would have been no point if it would just leak again so I made do with what was left in the bladder. This caused me to be pretty thirsty by the time I got to each aid station, forcing me to stop at each aid station longer than I would have liked. I still was in and out fairly quickly pausing only to drink a cup or two of water, pick up some orange slices, a hammer gel and some PBJ’s (thanks Alli). Bill and I went through the first two Aid Stations together and then passed John from Sneaker Factory who was also running his first ultramarathon, we chatted a bit and Bill and I continued on our way.

I really had pretty close to the perfect race one could ask for; I didn’t get off course, had no tumbles, and never really hit a low or felt super spent. I ran by myself from the point I pulled off from Bill but didn’t really mind it, the time seemed to go by fairly quickly. One runner passed me not long after splitting from Bill. I knew that I was moving fairly quickly and believed this guy HAD to be running the 25K because of how quick he was moving and how fresh he looked. After a mile or two, I pulled up to a battered Jayson Kolb who was in a rough place due to a few falls. He mentioned that the next 50k runner was about 4 minutes up. I had thought Jayson was in third place and couldn’t believe that the other guy was running the 50k. I tried not to dwell on it too much, buckled down and kept moving forward with my eyes on Aid Station 6 at the Start/Finish.

Focused coming into AS6 - Photo courtesy of Joe A. of MpFit

Well before race day, I decided I would put in my headphones at this final manned aid station. The last ~7.77 miles are arguably the most runnable of the entire course and I knew music would motivate me to give everything I had over that last bit of the race. Just as I descended onto the carriage trail with about a quarter mile to go to the aid station and turn around point for the start of the final loop, I crossed paths with Jason Friedman who was in 3rd place. I took note of the time and pushed into the aid station. I dropped all my food, aside from one Roctane Gu, drank a cup or two of water and sprinted out of the aid station with much encouragement and motivation from everyone to race for 3rd place and the cash prize that went along with it. When I reached the point I crossed paths with Jason, he was just about 6 minutes ahead of me. I knew I would have to run with everything I had just to have a chance of catching him, but I knew it was possible. In previous years running this race, I’ve caught runners and put 12+ minutes between us over as little as ~3 technical miles before the finish. As I anticipated, my music gave me the much needed adrenaline rush that it typically does in the last few miles of ultras, enough so that I was running nearly all out in hunt for 3rd place. I focused on my breathing and my footing, knowing one spill could take me out of the picture. These last miles had many straight sections where you could see a quarter mile or so ahead of you and I kept wishing that I would catch a glimpse of 3rd place. I knew I was running wicked fast, but I had no idea how strong Jason was running. Just when the adrenaline from my music was fading and the fatigue was sneaking back into my legs, I caught a glimpse of Jason at the top of a short and steep switchback section. I powered my way up the climb and made my move by sprinting past Jason as fast as my legs could carry me, as I wanted to be out of his sight to ensure he didn’t have time to react and chase me down.

Finish - Photo courtesy of Sally H.

I thought to myself, “Okay, now you’re in 3rd place…just keep cranking, give it everything you have.” I had no idea if he responded and was giving chase, so I glanced behind me on a few climbs and around a few turns and didn’t see Jason. This didn’t put me at ease so I continued to run all out trying to focus on my footing, praying to see the orange and pink ribbons indicating ~1/2mile or so to the finish. I begin coming up on runners finishing the 25k and some 50kers who had yet started the final 7.77 mile loop. I passed by the runners and was soon back on the carriage trail around the lake for the final quarter mile sprint to the finish.

This race has ended up becoming a sort of fitness gauge for myself each year to see how my training is progressing. With only a few small variations in the course throughout the first three years, it’s interesting to see the improvements in my finishing times.

Year – Finish Time – Finish Place
2009 6:17 3rd
2010 5:53:50 6th
2011 5:19:42 3rd
2012 5:01:53 3rd

Podium - Photo courtesy of Joe A. of MpFit


I think this is a true testament to the progression I’ve made in my training and racing over the last four years (note: my marathon times have also dropped from around 3:23 to 2:53). I’m feeling super fit, and feel like I’ve been doing a good job balancing higher mileage weeks (75-80+mpw) with rest and easier days/weeks. I’m hoping to continue with this momentum, train through the winter, continue to do lots of long trail runs on the weekends with friends. I’m looking forward to the future possibilities in my running and looking for a good first 100miler come late winter/early spring. So if you have any recommendations, please let me know!

Also, be sure to check out other RVTR race reports by Gene and
Dixon

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