The Wildcat Ridge Romp was a true ultra. It was definitely one of the most challenging races of my running career. Everything was extreme. Temperatures in the high 80s and humidity over 90% make any race tough. Add to that a rocky single track course with 1500 feet of elevation climb each ten mile loop and you start to get a picture of what it was like.
Race directors, Rick and Jen McNulty, have a gift for organizing an amazing series of ultra and trail runs in Northern New Jersey. This newest race to their series replaced the Maholn Mayhem course of the previous two years. Where Mahlon Mayhem was challenging, Wildcat was brutal.
As the runners for the 100K and 50 miler lined up at 6 AM, I realized that the field was limited to only around 35 people. 4 or 5 were attempting the 100K, everyone else (including me) was there for the 50 miles. “Smarter” people were waiting for the 50K start or the 10 mile race later in the day.
I knew nothing about the course and was expecting a relatively easy 50 miles of trail. I hoped to be done in 10 hours. As Jen yelled “Go!” for the official start, we left the security of race HQ (a local elementary school) and headed off into the Wildcat Nature Reserve.
The course seemed to be well marked. I saw Julian, Tony, and Dante take off to an early lead. I expected Julian to win the 50 miler and Dante was a strong favorite for the 100K. I settled in with the next pack of runners, chatting with Justin, a soldier stationed in Maryland, and Scott, a professional opera singer. As with most ultras, you meet some really interesting people and it makes the race that much more enjoyable.
Water stations were set up at miles 4, 7, and 9. It took a while to get to 4, but on the way we passed a spot called Hawkwatch. It was still too cloudy to see anything, but I anticipated a beautiful view in later laps. As the course progressed, the terrain became more challenging. And the humidity became unbearable. The sweat was pouring off of me in streams. I have never sweated so much in my life. I was beginning to worry that the water stations weren’t going to be enough. I was carrying a water bottle, but I think I was losing more in sweat than I was able to drink. After mile 4, things got very tough. We entered a more remote section of the preserve. Extremely steep climbs here would have challenged a mountain goat. Then we got to cross a small river by jumping from boulder to boulder. This led to some ATV trails and eventually led us to a reservoir. A steep climb to the top of the dam rewarded us with the next water stop at mile 7. From there, the race followed a dirt road and eventually re-entered the reserve winding back down past some scattered homes to the race HQ.
I was following the orange markers pretty well, but I looked up at about 7.5 miles to see Julian, the expected winner, running down the trail towards me in the opposite direction. “One of us is going the wrong way!” I half-joked, assuming it was me and trying to figure out what I did wrong. Then I realized that I had only recently left a manned water station and the volunteer had told me where to go. I was definitely going the right way. Julian simply said, “I don’t know where I’m going.” We both stubbornly continued the way we had been going. That was the last I saw of Julian that day.
Things got tough around mile 9.5. The course markings became very confusing. I ended up running a half mile in the wrong direction before I realized that I had missed the 10 mile check in. As I retraced my steps, I found Rick, the race director, at mile 9.5 wondering where everyone was. I pointed out the course markings and he pointed out the checkpoint and aid station at the end of the first ten mile loop. When I entered the aid station, I was informed by the volunteers that I was the first person to actually come through. Dante and Tony had missed it completely, starting their second loop without having finished the first . Julian was still lost.
It was a mental struggle under the conditions to visualize 4 more loops like the first. And it was only going to get hotter. The only upswing was that now I knew the layout of the course and exactly what to expect. And I was rewarded with the beautiful view of Hawkwatch for each succeeding lap.
I didn’t think I could sweat any more than I had. I was wrong. It was pouring off of me. As I came in at the end of three laps, I thought it was a good time to call it a day, take the DNF, and head home. 50K is not so bad for a day’s run. That was not to be. As I approached the 30 mile check in, Rick informed me that I was currently in first place for the 50 miler. Everyone ahead of me had dropped out. Only Dante in the 100K was ahead of me. This was an entirely new experience for me and gave me the inspiration to push forward. All I could think was to take one step at a time and push through. I was determined to hold that lead for the next 20 miles.
End of lap 4. I had already been on the course for 9 hours and 30 minutes and I had only done 40 miles. A volunteer joked at that point that he should have run this race, he could have won it. He obviously had no idea of the course and conditions. Almost every 50 miler and 100K runner had dropped. Only 4 of us would finish the 50 miler and only 1 person in the 100K made it to the 5th lap.
As I left on my last loop, I focused on simply finishing. It helped that the weather started to improve. A cool breeze started to blow and the humidity decreased significantly. Less sweat, but the same rocks and hills. I finally finished the course at 12 hours and 21 minutes. For me, it was an awesome race. Far slower than my projected time, but still an accomplishment when I reflect on conditions that day.
Excellent review! I ran the 10, and it was just like that; rocks, the double river crossing (I spent time picking across the rocks at the forst crossing, but just waded the second because the boulders were the size of Volkswagons). The huge hills (the runners ahead of me looked like a train of pack mules trudging through the switchbacks at one point) and a great view out of Hawkwatch.
It was brutal, and I hope he does it next year!
In reply to this post by Crazy Dan
Great race report Dan! Sounds like a challenging race for a lot of different reasons.
Also, Frozen Fools is right around the corner!
"This is Watchung, not Siberia. Nothing bad will happen"...except bear attacks apparently!
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