Following my first ever 50K trail race at the Trail-2-Trail Kettletown State Park 50K, there were plenty of things that I would have done differently:
First off this course was in Connecticut – the flattest state in America, right? Wrong. I was wildly caught off guard by my ignorance toward proper course reconnaissance for this race. Usually, I do a thorough job segmenting a printout of the course, divvying up the task before me. For some reason, going into my first trail ultra race, I wanted to just RUN. I didn’t know what to expect, so I didn’t set any expectations. I knew there would be some elevation gains, but coming from Colorado, I thought I was sufficiently prepared for these lower elevation climbs. At roughly 1200-feet of climbing per loop, I was challenged and exhausted, eliminating and advantages of altitude training.
Second this course was FIVE LAPS – just like running five laps at the track, right? Wrong. If I had my way, I wouldn’t do another 50K lap course. While the safety and structure of a lap course is convenient for race directors and spectators, for the competitors it is a dearth. Trail racing is about exploration and adventure. There’s something magnificent about not knowing what challenges await on the trail ahead. However, when you’re on your 4th lap and start hallucinating about what section of the course you are on, and even forget entirely what number lap you are on, something needs to give.
Third was navigation, there was nothing intuitive about navigating the southern loop of the figure-8 course. While I already explained my desires for continual challenges in a race course, navigational challenges are not that which a runner yearns for. I found myself second guessing my tracks way too often. It wasn’t until the 4th lap that I successfully navigated the loop without making an incorrect turn and having to backtrack. This was a tricky course at Kettletown State Park, and though I’d like to belly up and admit I’m a poor navigator, I thought there should have been more frequent course markings. Particularly, in the technical sections where scaling rock formations was a must – course markings every three feet (sorry!) would have kept me focused on running.
Finally, nutrition proved problematic. Even though the course was a figure-8 with a single, central aid-station, I had trouble getting the nourishment that I needed for the last few laps. With each pass of the aid station, I stopped to fill up my hand-held water bottle and grabbed a few gels and packs of salty Fuel 100 Electro-Bites. These bites were very dry and lacked much substance to them, like eating dry cereal, so I ended up dropping most on the trail. Regardless, I tried my hardest to keep sucking on gels, grabbing two at each pass of the aid station, and remained hopeful that something else on the aid table would tickle my stomach fancy. On a whim, I grabbed half of a banana, but quickly realized I was in no state to chew or swallow mid-way through the 4th lap, so I spit it to the ground.
Don’t be deceived by the lack of mileage shown in my Strava file. Of what should have been 31-miles, my tracker only recorded 27.7 milers. The reason being that I have a minimum speed cutoff on the tracker app on my phone. This is usually useful when cycling and making frequent stops at intersections. However, it also stops recording when I’m not moving fast enough, i.e.walking, climbing, or scrambling. There was a good amount of scrambling on the 4th & 5th loops of this course, as the technical climbs and slippery descents drained the mojo out of me.
I was the first finisher of the 50K race in a time of 5:24:28. I felt good at the finish. I remember pushing through the last mile along the Brook Trail, brimming with excitement for the finish line. I was greeted at the finish by my adventure buddy, Yoav, and my parents, who ventured up from New York City. I had seen them multiple times as I passed through the aid station, though it wasn’t until the finish, that I could greet them and thank them for their support. After receiving a race t-shirt & commemorative Trail-2-Trail mug, I made my way into the Kettletown Brook Pond to soak in my victory and clean myself off. The water was refreshing and rejuvenating, as water therapy is a welcome post-race replenishment routine where I can reflect on my accomplishment.