I knew very little about Ironmaster’s Challenge 50K when I
signed up for it back in the winter. I still knew very little about the day of
the race. All I really knew is the location, Pine Grove Furnace State Park and
Michaux State Forest in the south-central area of Pennsylvania. Basically I had a two hour drive out past Harrisburg and down to Carlisle. But like so many of
my recent races it was merely set up to be a nice slow long run in the woods to
get time on my feet and get the miles in. It’s a very small race and I don’t
think it’s very well known so much outside the general Central PA region. I
think this is partly because they don’t use ultrasignup.com and it just sort of
gets lost in the plethora of springtime marathons and ultras. The race is put
together by The Central Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Susquehanna
Appalachian Trail Club “with all proceeds from the race going to support
organizational programs and operations, including the Ironmaster’s Mansion” the
location of the finish line. So it’s a not for profit race which is always a
So you fancy yourself a trail runner huh? You like to climb,
feel the burn in your legs, then bomb the descents right? You think your pretty
badass I take it? Well then, why don’t you go run the inaugural Breakneck Trail
Marathon and 25K up in the Hudson Highlands? You’ll be fine it’s ONLY a
marathon. (insert facepalm) This was the voice inside my head rattling around.
I kept thinking of that classic Bruce Willis quote in the original Die Hard
movie, “come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs.”
The Breakneck Point Trail Marathon and 25K is put on by Ian
Golden owner of Red Newt Racing based in Ithaca, NY. They put on such great
trail events as Cayuga 50 and of course Virgil Crest just to name a few. The website states that Breakneck will have “a
cumulative elevation gain on par with SkyRun marathons, and a few of the
steepest ascents and descents of any trail race in the country”. That description
is clearly laying down the challenge that this race is not for the faint of
heart and not for beginner trail runners. It’s basically a mountain race not
even a trail race. To put it in perspective, the marathon had a final gain of
10,900 VF and the 25K had a mere 5,700 and change as shown on my 310XT. So race
day was here and it was time to “run steep and get high!”
I signed up when it first opened up on ultra signup after hearing
about it from Dylan over on the TrailWhippass FB page. I figured it would be a
grueling but fun training run with a chance to get some serious vert on my legs
heading into Dirty German 50. I have never been to the area let alone run here
but the pictures from the top of Breakneck Point were amazing. I knew it would
be the most difficult race for me to date due to the elevation changes but
little did I realize just what I had signed up for. Staring at the elevation
chart it was obvious the climbs were going to be brutal. In my head I was
fixated on getting through the climbs and then being able to run whatever flats
there were and even running the descents. That was my plan. Yea right good luck
with that plan, insert facepalm here you stupid.. stupid man.
I arrived at the Settlement Camp after a long 135 minute
drive and jumped in line for the porty potty. It was here I met Ron Kappus from
New Jersey. We both have many mutual friends and got to talking. We run the
same trails at Trexler Preserve and we talked about him running the Tammany 10
over the winter. He’s also running MMT100 so in hindsight this was perfect
training for a rocky course such as MMT. But that’s one of the best parts of
these small grass roots races, you always get a chance to meet familiar faces
and have great conversation. I then picked up my bib and went to my car to get
my gear ready. It was here I realized the girl gave me bib #1.
This was my first time running Garden Spot and my second
marathon in three weeks. I ran Ocean Drive two weeks prior and that marathon
kicked off a slew of running activity leading up to Dirty German 50 miler on
May 17. So G-Spot was #2 on the list and the races afterwards would start to
really progressively get harder. Funny thing happened I went ahead and signed
up for another trail marathon leading up to G-Spot, The North Face Bear
Mountain up in New York. A rocky nasty trail run at the foot of the Catskills.
So that gives me a brutal lead up to my fifty but I digress.
I really did not have a lot of expectations for Garden Spot
as far as time goes. I wanted to run well but nice and easy, sort of like a
glorified long training run. No pushing the pace or trying to go all out with
Breakneck Point Marathon the following week. I was looking at trying to run 30
to 40 seconds slower per mile then I did at Ocean Drive. That should allow me
to not really blow up towards the end. So that was my goal I suppose, to not
blow up. Easier said then done. I was running the race with my running bud
Kourtney. She and I ran the Bird-In-Hand Half Marathon back in the fall around
these parts and I struggled mightily in the heat and humidity that day. That
half was run on the hottest day of the year and was probably my worst race I
have ever done. So my memory of running in New Holland wasn’t a pleasant one. But
once again, that’s why I signed up for this one. This is as much mental
training as it is physical. Ultra distances of 50 miles and 100 miles require a
hardening of the mind as well as the body. This was ultra training.
Ocean Drive Marathon, a point to point road marathon held at
the end of March from Cape May New Jersey to Sea Isle City New Jersey. The
course is super flat minus a few minor bridge crossings. Not my forte for sure.
I’m a 200 pound trail runner and not a lean and fast road runner. However I
love a great marathon but I’ll be the first to admit that road marathons are
hard. Running on flat roads for hours is a mental challenge and that’s
precisely why I signed up for it. And it comes only a week after The Hat Run mauled
me like a baby seal in shark infested waters.So why run races and routes that I know I’m not good at or actually
enjoy? Because it’s great ultra training, that’s why. Everything and everywhere
I run this year is all solely for preparation for Oil Creek 100. Run races I’m
not good at, do speedwork, run mountainous hilly as all hell trail races. Run
in the rain run in the cold run in the snow..when I’m tired when I’m bored when
I don’t feel like it. Run flat roads run hilly trails. I’m going to do it all.
Leave no stone unturned. One target “A” race. One goal way off in the distance.
Finish that 100 miler in October deep in the woods in Northwestern Pennsylvania.
So Ocean Drive it is. It’s just a super
flat long run down the shore with seagulls, salt marshes, lapping waves and
boardwalk oddities. It turned out that I
actually really enjoyed this low key marathon even though I suffered a bit.
So of course it snowed six inches in Southeastern Pa the night before. I was really looking forward to this run and had signed up a while ago. Drudging thirty one miles in snow was not something I was looking forward to. However the race was about two hours south of my house and they only received a coating of snow followed by rain. With temperatures expecting to hit sixty, mud was almost sure to crash the party.
So off I went barreling down interstate 95 at five in the morning. I arrived at Susquehanna State Park on Saturday morning March 21st, parked, picked up my bib, bought a pint glass and a hat and went back and sat in my car to eat my peanut butter and nutella sandwich. After about 20 minutes I got restless and got out and fiddled with my shoes, attached my bib and fiddled a bunch more. Little did I realize that most of the runners I wanted to go meet and greet were at the pavilion area and not fiddling in the parking lot like I was. It was then Katie Eshlemen came jogging up and gave me a quick hug. I had met Katie last October at the Blues Cruise 50K. She was in a hurry and we wished each other a great run so we didn't get a chance to chat. That's the true secret of these races, the friends you make along the way.
I made my way towards the Pavillion and met up with a few of the TrailWhippass crew Brian and Ryan, Mel and Dylan as well as Emir and Amy Dedic and Casey Fisher a friend I met through Instagram. It's so great to see and talk to the same folks from race to race. When people say Trail Running or Ultra Community, it's very true.
Before I knew it I was walking down into the field for the mass start. Lined up and off we went up the crusty snow covered field.