My New Year’s goal was to complete a 50 mile trail race. When I saw that Vinnie Cappadora was organizing a 50 mile Fat Ass in Long Island, I immediately signed up. So even though it was in mid January (a little early) and was set up to be a 5 mile (2.5 each way) out and back 10 times, it was free and run by Saint Vinnie (the circumstances of his canonization are revealed near the end of this report).
I thought that this would be a good way to tackle my first 50 as the out and back course would heighten the natural camaraderie of trail runners as we rubbed shoulders so many times coming and going. This would help me stay mentally engaged and avoid or limit those blue periods when I’m left to my own agonizing thoughts. I also I hoped that I would also enjoy the familiarity of the course that would be gained going back and forth, recognizing landmarks and knowing how far to an aid station (or my car). Further, I especially looked forward to running on trails I’d never experienced. To cap it off, my wife’s family lives on Long Island and one of them, Jethro, agreed to run with me for a while and my wife agreed to run the last 5 miles with me. What could go wrong?
Due to higher levels of interest than anticipated (over 70 people signed up), Saint Vinnie lengthened the course to a 10 mile out and back (5 miles each way) adding more trail up to Cold Spring Harbor. Saint Vinnie said to bring a headlamp since the race was starting before sunrise. “Not a problem,” I thought, “I run at 5am twice a week without a headlamp [on the roads with more than a few streetlights I now realize] so I think I can pick my way through pre-dawn gloom.” I didn’t think about when the sun would set (cue foreboding music).
I arrived at the starting area at 6:00am, and milled about in the dark, chilly dampness as it had rained all night. There were not 70 people here. I got my bib number, returned to the warmth of my car to affix and prepare then returned to hear the race instructions (white blazes on the trees, pink survey tape at key turns). Then Saint Vinnie looked at his watch, paused for a moment and yelled “Go!” Off we went, about 30 of us, onto the Long Island Greenbelt Trail (also imaginatively known as the Trail View Trail and visible on Google maps).
I started out following a small mixed gender group who did have headlamps and we were all quite cautious to avoid mishap. Some late comers went rushing by to make up lost time, but I stayed calm and stayed in the back of the pack. No need to be a hero at this stage.
After crossing a road and going underneath some train tracks, we headed up into Stillwell Woods County Park which led to a huge, beautiful open field around which we ran on a slightly sloppy footpath around the perimeter. I’d been following a woman with a black pony-tail for a while now but she was setting a good 50K pace, so I backed off until I caught up to a guy that looked to be my age and slowed down to run with him for the next 6 or so miles. Frank was a great conversationalist although I felt bad he was doing most of the talking. He didn’t seem to mind.
About three quarters of the way around the big field we ducked back into the woods and ran on very nice packed sand/dirt trails that had a few roller coaster type up and down hills with Frank and I walking many of the steepest.
About 3 miles out, we crossed a road to meet Mr. B, the aid station volunteer, a quietly jovial fellow who was cranking Dylan and some modern day Dylanesque folk music from his truck while he sipped a beer and restocked the table with water, bananas, cookies and gummy bears. This was quite the FatAss.
From here, the trail ran along a ridge until we crossed a stream, and soon crossed another road and went up into Cold Spring Harbor with lovely views of two lakes across to the left. The trail here was often a nice wide woods road some times a wide-ish single track that wound around a hill before starting a long gradual climb up to the Uplands Farm Sanctuary. We saw the leaders heading back with the indefatigable Jessie Kennedy out front. Frank and I finished the climb up and then circled around a boggy bramble and then we descended back to run the route in reverse.
On the return trip I was feeling good, enjoying Frank’s company and learning a lot from a longer tenured trail runner. Except that once we got back to the big open field I started to pull away from Frank and cruised back to the start/finish area.
Elapsed time 1:57
I was warmed up now, so I left my jacket in the car, grabbed some GUs and my handheld, then went over to Saint Vinnie’s car to drop off my contribution (Kirkland Trail Mix) and headed back out. I was enjoying the familiarity of running the same trail but now with more light. I was running well but by myself and after going under the LIRR, I failed to take the right turn up to the big field and went straight for a quarter mile or so before I realized that I wasn’t seeing any white rectangular blazes, or pink tape, or footprints. So I doubled back and saw Frank trudging up the hill to the big field. It was good to have his company again and to regulate my pace since there was so much more to run. Frank and I continued our investigation of the universe, how to pay for the kids’ college, the wonders of acupuncture and many other weighty matters. This lap was going well, I was eating GU and bananas and drinking water. On the return trip, I again picked up the pace and left Frank’s good company.
Just before the railroad tracks on the way back, I spied my good buddy Jethro. He was anxious to get started so ran out to greet me. It was good to have someone to talk to again and I updated him on my kids and he updated me on his as we ran the 2 miles back to the start/finish area.
Lap 2 split: 2:16
Armed with more GUs, a refilled handheld mixed with Vitargo, and my new pacer, Jethro, I headed out for lap 3. I learned of Jethro’s desire to be on Survivor, and his Facebook conversation with last season’s winner, Denise. This is Jethro’s first trail run, although he has run road marathons and is a Spartan Warrior, so the dude is fit. We’ve never run together before and I think at the time we might be running a little faster than we should, but I’m happy to have a friend to run with and hope to convert him to trail running so don’t want to set a sluggish pace. We spy a hawk on a bare branch above the trail at the edge of the big open field, but each species leaves the other undisturbed.
On the return trip, we pick up Wai Law at the aid station three miles from the start/finish. It’s also Wai’s first trail race. Back at the open field, the hawk has moved to a different tree and is now conspicuously eyeing us as we tramp by. With Wai on my shoulder, I pick up the pace, separating from my buddy Jethro. Feeling good, I run up the remaining hills even though Wai says he was told trail runners walk the hills. We cruise into the start finish area and Wai hopes that he’s run his first 50K. Saint Vinnie tells him he’s a little short so Wai gamely heads back out to add a few more miles and shortly thereafter Jethro chugs in. I thank him with a big hug, tell him I’ll see him later (Jethro and his wife will be serving dinner to my wife and I later this evening) load up with more GU and Vitargo and head out for miles 30 to 40.
Lap 3 split: 2:07
Before I turn the corner, Nicole Cappodora shouts out “Good Luck, Marcus!” and I turn to wave my thanks and almost bump into Wai coming back in, and then Frank. But that’s the last I’ll see of them, those guys are done. I don’t see anyone else until I get to the 3 mile aid station, and find black pony tail getting ready to head back in, and then later I pass the friendly bearded fellow whose ankle is giving him trouble. We three are the only ones out there now. One of the reasons for tackling 50 miles in this race, the conviviality and fraternity of many fellow runners, has vanished, and vanished at a bad time for me.
I am alone, getting cold and very tired. My calves are barking and the inside of my right heel expresses some sharp discomfort. There will be no more midfoot striking on this run. As I tire, my head droops and so now my neck and shoulders hurt from not carrying my skull properly. “Maybe 40 is enough,” I think. “That’s farther than I’ve ever run before. 50 is masochism. I don’t see how anyone does it" Although my wife has agreed to run the last five miles with me, I figure that when she sees my bedraggled ass staggering in after 40 miles, she’ll yank me from the race.
These and other moody broodings cloud my head and not even the beauty of the path around the open field can lift my spirits. But coming down towards the train tracks on the way back to the start, I see my wife and her sister who’ve hiked out the trail to greet me. They are so cheerful and say I look great and how impressed they are with me.
I walk with them for a long while and our conversation lifts my spirits. Soon it’s decided that I’ll run back to the start/finish, regroup with GU, caffeine, and a gear change, then head back out to meet them and pick up my wife for a five mile jaunt. Fantastic! I lope on ahead, thinking I just might be able to do all 50.
Lap 4 split: 2:23
Back at home base, I change out of my NB110s and into the more cushioned NB1010s and put on a shirt under my long sleeve. After eating a GU and some of the remaining Jessie Kennedy baked goods I head back out to meet the wife. And there she is less than 200 yards from the start. Her family walks very quickly. I kiss the sister-in-law, slap my old lady on the fanny and giddy-up, off we go.
While my spirits have revived and the new shoes ease my foot and lower leg pains, my pace is still rather plodding so is well suited to running with the wife. I think she enjoys running with me since I converse more freely on the run than in the home when the blackberry is buzzing, the TV is blaring and the kids are not doing their homework.
She is amazed that we’re in Nassau County, as it looks like the east end of Long Island when you get up to the open field and into the woods to the north. I’m having a great time in her company, rehashing my race so far, talking about my new friend Frank, and my old buddy Jethro. We wave to the unstoppable black pony-tail as she glides past on her way to the finish.
Since my wife only agreed to run 5 miles with me, I thought I’d leave her at the aid station to keep Mr. B company since I'm the last guy on the trail and he might be getting tired of Dylan and out of beer. But she said she liked the trail and wasn’t tired so we thanked Mr. B for his hospitality and said we’d see him again on the way back.
The hills in Cold Spring Harbor were tough for us both but it was good to get up to Upland Farms and complete the turnaround and get back down the hill. It was starting to get dark, however. By the time we got to the corridor on the way back just before the 3 mile aid station it was almost completely dark. Mr. B advised us to call it a day and get in his truck, but I said my wife is bright eyed, this is my first 50 so we can’t stop now, but tell Saint Vinnie not to wait that I will email him when I get back to my car. And off we went.
While we were running underneath the leafless trees it was fairly easy to pick up the white blazes on their trunks, but the pink tape was not often visible. Nonetheless we made it up to the big open field and breathed a sigh of relief since taking wrong turn in those woods would have been the worst place to go off trail. But leaving the big field was a worry as we would be in the pine trees whose needles blocked all light so finding the blazes would be very difficult.
It got so dark in the pine trees we had to walk, even though there were not many roots to trip us, we were a bit spooked. Getting out of the pines and down the steepish hill to the train tracks, we met a hiker also without a flash light. But he’d heard of us, the wayward runners without lights. So now we were famous. Hopefully we would survive this jaunt to enjoy that celebrity a little longer.
The trail from the train tracks to the next road was not too difficult to navigate as there was more ambient light from nearby buildings, but the trail from that road back to the start was more technical as well as meandering making our passage more halting. But we were still jog/walk/plodding our way back when behind us we heard a friendly voice and turned to see a runner with a headlamp and a flash light.
It was Vinnie (this is how he became Saint Vinnie), come to make sure we would be able to finish our 50. His flashlight was powerful, and his company a welcome relief so we picked up our pace and ran the last mile or so back to the finish. I finished in 2nd place, which on this day gave me sole possession of last place.
Lap 5 split: 2:48 (it was dark so we walked a lot, cut me some slack)
Total time: 11:41
Mission accomplished, in a rather adventurish fashion, but what trail race of any decent distance does not have its share of adventure. I truly enjoyed the wonderful course, not too hilly, only slightly technical in places (a welcome paucity of rocks), and a beautiful migration from a nice nature trail in a fairly dense suburban surrounding to the beautiful solitude of the Stillwell Woods then into a New Englandish landscape of Cold Spring Harbor.
Next time, should there be one (right now I’m thinking that 50 miles is not really for me), I’ll be a better boy scout, and be prepared. You can’t fake a 50.
Nice race report Marcus. And congrats on your first 50 miler!
In reply to this post by M Jones
Congratulations on an awesome finish! Way to go!!! Fantastic race report. You truly captured the feel of the "first 50 miler" and running on Long Island. How great to have family and friends out there with you.
Time to start thinking about your first 100!!!!!
In reply to this post by M Jones
Great RR Marcus! Congratulations! Give it a few weeks and I'm sure you will be lining up your next 50 miler. Great job.
"This is Watchung, not Siberia. Nothing bad will happen"...except bear attacks apparently!
I tried to convince him to get into Bull Run! Marcus, you have to do it!
Sent from my iPhone
On Jan 23, 2013, at 4:41 PM, "RNR [via NJ Trail & Ultra Forum]" <[hidden email]> wrote:
I agree Marcus. It is a GREAT race. Feb 1, the lottery opens. I'm think there is a good chance I will signup this year.
"This is Watchung, not Siberia. Nothing bad will happen"...except bear attacks apparently!
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