Two years before this 2019 race, I had placed 5th at Cayuga Trails which was a vindicating performance for me after having numerous issues and drops at this event. I felt that I would let this event rest, but with it being the USA 50 mile trail championships one more time, I guess this was a shot to improve upon my 5th place.
The race day weather was calling for a nice summer day in the low to mid 70’s. I came into this race with the mentality just to go for the win and see what happens. It was an interesting field of runners with many of them never to run Cayuga before. I was the true veteran of the course having run it every year in some capacity.
Ashlee and I slept in our Honda CRV in the parking lot before the race, which was great and serene as the parking lot we stayed in would soon be swarming with cars and anxious runners. I have run this race every year because of the community that I was a part of while I lived in Cortland and Binghamton, NY. Upstate NY trail running is a wonderful community of people and I feel like it is a home-coming for me each and every year. I also like Cayuga because the course is unique in that it boasts 8-10k of elevation gain in the 50 miles but the trail is not super technical but technical enough that it poses a real challenge. For those knew to Cayuga Trails, this race is like running through a scene from Tomb Raider with the stone steps, lush greenery, dark forests, incredible waterfalls, and did I mention the steps—there are a million of them it seems.
I felt ready to roll for the race and just like every Cayuga trails, we headed out for the 50 miles of “gorgeous” running. One thing was different. We went out controlled and I was leading the group. We hit our first climb and off we went. It was great running with some of the young guns from California which I labeled them the “California Contingent” as we shared the opening miles. I focused on my nutrition and conserving my energy and pace for the second 25 miles. It was fun running with Scott Trummer and Tyler Wolfe and some of the other guys as we chatted about the course, about running in California and just really getting to know one another. We hung through the early climbs, stairs, and rooty descents that is Cayuga Trails. I spent the first 25 miles throwing in little surges to see if I could mentally scare the guys I was running with to see if they would catch my bait and either slow down or run too hard and cook their lunch a little too early. There was a new uphill road section that I hammered pretty good running 6:40-7 minute pace to test the legs of the guys that were with me. It felt amazing to now have that endurance and gears to be able to pace well but also change gears to test the other runners. It was not until about mile 22 where I started to put distance on the group. I came through the turn-around in the lead and a couple of minutes up on Drew Holmen. I continued to run and really focused on being smart with my pacing to make sure I could really push around the 40 mile mark near Buttermilk Falls.
I ran up the stairs and through the gorges with ease, which was something I had never really been able to do at Cayuga. Would this be my day?
Then around mile 30, I made a mistake and turned onto the wrong part of the trail we had run on earlier. Lucky that I saw Drew and he yelled to tell me where to go. I had spent what felt like a few minutes trying to figure where I needed to go and thanks to Drew, was able to get back on course. I followed Drew then for a couple more miles to around 33 before the creek crossing by the Underpass and I had a stomach that was feeling a little queasy. I needed to take a bathroom break. I told Drew that I was going to take a bathroom break and that I would try to catch up as best as I could. I pulled off the trail and spent a couple minutes “dropping the kids off at the pool”. Maybe at most 5 minutes have gone by and I feel much better but know that I gave up time to Drew. I come through the Underpass aid and Drew is 5 minutes or so up on me. Feeling much lighter and better, I begin to pick up my pace to see if I can catch him. I run the Lickbrook climb section fast, dropping 3.5 minutes off of my split the first time out—still no Drew. I cross into Buttermilk Falls State Park and the race officials tell me he is only a minute or two up on me. I average through this section—7:15 a mile with some miles in the 6:40/50 range but still no Drew. I come down to Buttermilk Falls aid station and they tell me that Drew is only 2 minutes up and you can see him going up the steps of Buttermilk Falls. I take a moment to refuel and off I go. I run this uphill section as hard as I can to catch Drew and to the top of the climb the Police officers tell me I am maybe 30 seconds behind. Could I catch him and pull this off.
Here is where I cooked my own goose a little too soon. Trying to catch Drew, I went too hard too early. He also was running an amazing race as he was being told I was hot on his heels and that guy motored!! Through the muddy trail section and the new road section, I was gassed. Now the 7 minute miles now were more like 7:30-8 minute miles. I was also cramping a little from the humid conditions.
By the time I made it to the Underpass Aid station- The BATS (Binghamton Area Trail Runners) aid, I was told he was now up about 8 minutes on me. I was close, but In my mind, I was not going to catch him unless he blew up. I was now running to keep 2nd. I slogged through those next 7 miles I started walking then running on and off until with about 5k to go, in all of the pain and grimacing from my cramping muscles, I found another gear where I pushed through the pain and starting running 7 minute flat miles. This part of the race the last 5 miles or so intersects on busy trails on the weekends with hikers and sight-seers so you have to carefully navigate people on the trail. This does make for another challenge in the event.
I came down the final downhill section and surged into the finish. I crossed the line: 2nd place in 7:33 which I gave up time to Drew Holmen and kudos to that kid for running so well and running scared the whole way. I hope that the 2nd place gets me onto the US trail team next year as I felt that my performance here was very strong as I build my resume.
Overall, This was my best race at Cayuga yet. Where I normally have fallen apart because of the course, this time, it was self-inflicted trying to catch Drew. That kid is going to turn some heads in the trail/ultra running world.
Here is a USATF recap of the race:
Thank you to all of the volunteers, Ian the RD, the Red Newt Racing crew, and the whole Upstate NY running community for making this my best Cayuga Trails yet.
Thank you Ashlee for all that you do including sleeping in the CRV with me and being my best crew chief!
Sponsor Gear Used
361 Degree Taroko trail shoe—versatile, light, all-rounder trail shoe (performed like a dream)
Boom Nutrition gels—one every 40 minutes
2 Nathan Exo Draw Handhelds!! 1 Nathan Vaporkrar Waistpack
1 pair of Fits socks (Low Runner with cushion)
Nathan Trail Emoji Hat
Janji Run Split Shorts (India)
Team MPF/RNR Sleeveless team shirt