Ultra Tales part 2 -- The Rocky One 50 Miler
Yup, that was the name of the race. The name seemed justified. About half the course
(this map is only vaguely accurate) was on the Appalachian Trail, which in Pennsylvania is just a long narrow rock field. The rest was a mix of jeep roads plus about 6 miles along an abandoned railroad bed, the rails were gone but the big chunks of gravel were still there. One thing the name didn't seem so good for was drawing a big crowd. There were just 11 of us at the starting line in late November, 1981.
It had been a year since my first ultra, and apparently I'd been in no rush to do another. Though I think another consideration was not wanting to do one in the middle of orienteering season when events were beckoning. It took a while before I learned that you could race quite well just a week after a 50, if you did it right.
I don't remember a whole lot about this one. It went up, it went down, it was a bit hard to follow at times (some folks got lost a little), it was cold, there wasn't a lot of daylight so we started at dawn. But I do remember a couple of things.
One was that this was one of my first exposures to coming back from the dead, meaning you've bonked -- and I don't mean that in the Australian (or is it British?) sense -- and can hardly keep going, and then you get a little something sweet in you, and then 5 or 10 minutes later you are just ripping along. You go from feeling just awful to feeling quite wonderful, and you haven't even taken any controlled substances.
In this case I'd been doing quite well through 40 miles, but then started to die, and then by 45 miles died big time. Got something to drink and a couple cookies at the last aid station, and when the sugar kicked in in a few minutes I was off to the races. Caught and passed one guy (the race director and winner the previous year), finished strong (8:24), and would have won the race except for the fact that I'd made the mistake of talking Eric Weyman into coming. And Eric, with a 2:38 marathon to his credit, had dusted everyone with a 7:49.
Now second place is pretty good, but all it really did was move you up in the pecking order for claiming your award (Eric got first choice, me second, Damon Douglas 5th, among others, Fred got lost and was a DNF at 42 miles). The awards were all roughly the same -- big chunks of anthracite coal, hard coal. It's still sitting on display, a source of energy for heating the house I suppose if times get really bad. I do look at it once in a while and it always brings a smile.
Second place is actually real good, because my list of triumphs in running races is really really short, meaning 2, and each has a certain amount of bogusness associated with it.
The first was quite early in my running life, October, 1980, a trail half-marathon, one-way along the M&M trail from where it crosses the Mass Pike north to the tower on the top of Goat Peak (which is on the Mt. Tom O' map). Rocks and hills, rocks and hills. I think 9 of us lined up at the start, a motley crew as might be expected. The clear favorite was Roland Cormier, very good local runner, did some orienteering too including the Billygoat.
Roland was a lot faster than I was, but he had one problem, he was scared of heights (even more than I am). Where the trail winds along the top of the Mt. Tom cliffs, Roland was bushwhacking 50 yards in the woods the other way, just to be safe. Even with that, he was still out front all the way, past Mt. Tom, past the top of the ski area, past Whiting Peak, and right past Goat Peak too, missing the turn for the last 50 yards up to the tower, going quite a bit further north and showing up at the tower quite a bit later.
Meanwhile, I was the best of the rest on that day. This being an early Fred Pilon race production, the amenities were slim and the organizational support none. The instructions were to take you own time at the tower and he'd compile the results afterwards. I got to the tower, no sign of Roland, son of a gun, I'd won, not a soul there to witness it. I swear, really, I won....
The other win was much more recent, and it too smelled of bogus, it was the Soapstone Assault, put on by Clint Morse and his club, the Shenipsit Striders in NE Connecticut. The course was once around the loop trail circling Soapstone Mt., interrupted each time there was a side trail up to the top for a quick up and down. Five times up and down (vertical maybe 200 feet), and then on the last side trail at the end of the loop we just had to go up, finish at the top of the lookout tower.
Maybe 30 of us lined up at the start. What was bogus was that it was handicapped based on age and gender, so those of us rather old got big head starts. It was a big enough lead to hold on and be the first one up the tower. The crowd this time? I believe it was one guy taking times.
So really second place was the best I've ever done. And in just my second ultra. There were possibilities in this ultra stuff.... :-)