Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The October Rick Report: Triennial Trail Relay

Our roving reporter, Rick Cleary, has outdone himself in both the roving and reporting categories and files this report from his trip to upstate New York:

Hi running pals:

Below is a report from the 2008 Triennial Trail relay, a bizarre event held every three years. Note that this is a long message even for me. I was very flattered by the fact that a number of people came up to me at the post-triennial party and mentioned that they enjoyed reading my race reports so I may have gotten slightly carried away. (Mathematician's warning about the last sentence: Remember that zero is a number ...) A non-zero number of people also told me that they can't believe I weigh more than 190. I should have made them try to lift me.

On to the report:

The triennial trail relay is the only trail race I do. I am not a very good trail runner. Actually with a moment's reflection I realize that these days I am not a very good road, cross-country or track runner either, but I still look forward to giving those a shot. (I am a good runner/glutton but the Big Man Run is only once a year.)

Trail racing is not a perfect match for me for several reasons:
-I have a very high natural RFG. That's Respect for Gravity, a measure of my unwillingness to fall down steep hills.
-I never did have much of a lift in my stride, and recent marathon photos suggest that neither of my feet ever leave the ground. This makes rooty, rocky, uneven terrain a place where falls are likely. Combined with my high RFG, I tend to shuffle the trail downhills instead of taking advantage of them.
-I am gregarious and enjoy running most in a group. Trail running is by nature solitary; requiring running single file even when one has company. This discourages story telling, or at least telling them in a loud voice so the whole line can hear, but that's hard when you're supposed to be running near aerobic threshold.

But I love the triennial for reasons that outweight those discouraging factors. I like relay/team events. It's a great chance to get back to the Ithaca area. And, while I don't particularly like racing on it, I have to admit that the Finger Lakes Trail is beautiful and the appeal of running in the woods is not lost on me. The post race party is always a great story telling event. And I have stories to tell since I have done five of the 10 triennials, been captain of a dominant winning team in '96, and always admired the score keeping ingenuity of team Atrocious, especially now that I'm on that most excellent and deserving team!

And so it was that I found myself waiting around Ithaca High at 2:45 Saturday afternoon, where I thought I was to meet Joe Daley to get a ride to the start of leg 6E. I had already gotten a haircut from Al at the Community Corners barber shop and had a nice lunch at the Ithaca Bakery with my son Joe, so I was feeling very much back at home in Ithaca. When Joe D. wasn't there at 3:05, I was pretty sure we'd gotten signals crossed so I headed out for greater Cayutaville. I arrived at the start of my leg after some beautiful "seasonal highway" driving at 3:43, giving me four minutes for some chatting and not stretching. Well, maybe six minutes ... I couldn't remember if my handicap was 13 or 11 minutes. When Joe Daley announced "13 minute start now, anybody a 13 handicap?" a guy at the start said, "I'm a 12." Ah, good, information! I asked, "How old are you?" "51," he responded, so, being 52, I took off and was underway.

Now, as I left several thoughts went through my head:
1.) Q: When was the last time I ran as far as 13 miles? A: Boston marathon, April 21. Nothing over 10 since.
2.) Q: How long will this take me? A: 13 miles on trails, maybe 10 minutes a mile, figure 2:10. Actually the real question was, "Can I finish this before dark." and the real answer was, "Maybe."
3.) Q: Where's Jeffrey? Jeff Juran had posted a note saying he was doing this leg, but I didn't see him at the start. In 2005 we had started our legs (Connecticut Hill to Lower Treman) at the same time, and he got way ahead of me, but then passed me several times as he kept getting lost and coming back. The last time was about 100 yards from the finish. Not seeing him at the start meant that I would spend the next two hours anticipating him about to blast by me while saying something perceptively annoying about how my race was going.
4.) Q: How well do I know this stretch of the trail? A: For about 12 of the 13 miles, I last ran this part in 1991 in Ed's Ultra, but going the other way, west to east. So not too well.
5.) Q: How will I get back to my car when my leg is over? A: That always works out somehow, so I didn't sweat it.

The first 1.5 mile stretch was lovely dirt road, not technical though quite steep uphill in spots. I caught the two women in my leg (Becky and Chris) and enjoyed conversation for half a mile or so. Becky and Chris said they had head lamps in case they got lost late, and I had images of my lying by the trail around 7:30 that night waiting for them to go by. Then I pulled away and got lost. The 51year old who had made up the minute on me and I got turned around at the first significant turn in our leg, falling well behind Becky and Chris, who made the right turn. My 51 year old companion turned out to be long time Cornell student and employee Dave Kalb, who has recently resumed his running career, and we kept each other company the rest of the afternoon.

Dave and I 'repassed' Becky and Chris about a mile later, just as we were starting to get overtaken by some of the scratch runners who went by very impressively. Shortly thereafter we began the treacherous, steep, winding, slick, rocky, descent into Texas Hollow. It threatened to be an endless descent as well. Dave has bad knees and kept saying, "I'm going to need a double dose of Naproxen later..." I have really good knees and kept thinking, "Don't fall. Here comes Jeffrey, any second now, I just know it." But it was nice to have the company, and Dave and I could now be each others' biographers as we had plenty of time to share life stories.

After going downhill slowly for what seemed like hours we emerged and saw a few smiling support fans on Texas Hollow Road. They gave us some water and a brief cheer and off we went. The trail follows the pleasant dirt road for maybe 100 meters, and then turns and goes up the section that people mean when they say, "Yeah, there's a part where you'll need to use your hands." It was straight up for a long time, side hill and slick mud. A deer flashed across the trail just a few yards ahead at one point and disappeared into the deep ravine to our left, which I was mostly scared to look into. Finally at the top we resumed some running on fairly tough trails, past the first orienteering control set out for us to punch the tickets that nobody had remembered to bring to the start of this leg. Just after that Dave and I came out on South Hill road in Burdett, right where Ed's Ultra used to start. For the first time I dared to look at my watch. It was 5:18, so we'd been running almost 90 minutes; about 40 minutes to go by my calculations. It had now been a long time since we'd seen another runner and it was pretty clear that barring a major directional screw up Dave and I were done passing or being passed except that I knew Jeffrey was about to go flying by.

There's the old joke about Cleveland where the tourist says, "I spent a week there one day." In similar fashion the last 40 minutes took 65. I was particularly discouraged when we came out off the trail onto Burnt Hill Road just past the next checkpoint, and there was a sign saying "Logan Road, 1.0 miles" It was downhill and I felt like we were running hard, but it took 14 minutes. I hope it's more than a mile.

Crossing Logan Road was disappointing in one sense, in that in 1996 my leg to Watkins Glen had started there and so I sort of felt like I should be done; but encouraging in another as I remember the trail from there to Satterly Hill and our finish pretty well. Dave got a few steps in front and got done before me, I was too concerned waiting for Jeffrey to pop out from behind a tree to put up much of a fight. The views from the top of the hill were spectacular looking south toward Odessa. Lorrie Tily was watching and taking pictures near the end of our leg, she said, "Not far to go now!" Well, that's no help, coming from Lorrie that could mean we still had 50K and she wouldn't think it was far.

And then we were done! Whoo-hoo! Tessa Dumont graciously gave me a gluten-free beer, and I didn't miss the gluten at all. I enjoyed seeing Becky and Chris come in with no need for their head lamps. Herb Engman kindly gave some of us sweaty guys a ride back to the start of leg 6E; and the post race party was a blast as always.

Thanks to the Rossiter brothers for their great efforts in organization, to my Atrocious teammates for their hard work and to the Finger Lakes Trail Council for keeping the trail passable!


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