I have run Caumsett 50k a few times before. Once in 2016, 2019 and again in 2020. Every year I have run it, it has been a Road USA 50k championship, where the top finishers under 3 hours -earn automatic qualifying times for the National team.
I was not planning on running Caumsett, and rather was looking to run a 40 miler in Pennsylvania as a tune-up for the Lake Waramaug 100k instead. But with the IAU selecting a site for a 2020 World Championship in Jordan in November, and with many of the athletes I raced against running the Olympic Marathon Trials, I thought this would be my best chance at making the team. So I registered the week before and looked to take my chances only 2 weeks after arriving back from the World Snowshoe Running Championships in Japan.
The course this year had moved to another park: Herkscher Park located in East Islip, NY- on the South-shore of Long Island as Caumsett State Park was under renovations. I had heard that this course would be faster and not having the signature hairpin turn might mean that I could go under the 3 hour mark and get an auto-time for the National squad. In 2019, I came close to running under 3 hours- I finished the race in 3:03:13 and was right around the 3 hour mark until the final 5k loop.
The race weather a week out looked promising as we had been going through a nice warm-up with many days in the 50’s and 60’s. Then as the race inched closer, a cold front came through and created some chilly conditions. Ashlee and myself headed out the day before and spent the day relaxing and checking out some local breweries nearby. It was great to just hang out and relax. We arrived at the host hotel: Courtyard Marriot of Islip and settled in. We had some delicious Impossible Burgers and I ran into Sam Skeels and Aaron Saft in the lobby as we chatted about Hellgate and about the race for tomorrow.
I knew that it would be chilly and there would be some wind but hoped it would mostly be cross-winds instead of a headwind. What we all found out was that there was a good ¾ mile stretch on bike path that was a straight head wind. My plan was simple, run an average pace under 5:48 miles. If I could do that, I would be under 3 hours. Leading into the race, I had been dealing with a groin pull and some right hip tightness but luckily, I was able to remedy it enough to race.
Breakfast was some bananas, and oatmeal, which has always worked well for me.
It was great to see everyone at the event: from teammates Jay Friedman and Laura Kline of Team MPF/RNR, to Camille Herron and Michael Wardian. The race had Khalin Khan who ran in the 2019 race at a breakneck pace splitting around 2:20 for the marathon and then hit the wall in the latter stages of the event , finishing in 9th. I knew he would be the guy to go after as he could stick it and run a very fast time. I was focused soley on time and was committed and ready to fight the elements and prove I could hit a qualifier. The race started and in temps around 28 degrees and a wind chill in the mid to lower 20’s, it was going to be a doozie. Khalin Khan and another runner set out to the lead and I positioned myself behind them. I hit my first few miles around 5:40 and felt like today was going to be the day. The course runs on a 5k loop around the park and takes you out along the shoreline which was really beautiful and inspiring. As we hit the wind tunnel stretch, it was ¾ of a mile of 40mph headwinds. I tried not to look at my watch and tried to run by effort. I did glance and see my watch reading 5:57 mile pace. I felt that was too slow if I was going to run under 3 hours, so I pushed to get the pace down to 5:50-5:52. That was my major mistake.
On each lap, I pushed through the wind, and then surged on the stretches where the wind gusts were cross-winds or were not blowing right at you. I was feeling strong and in control. It was up to the 15 mile mark at half-way where I knew my aggressive approach might be too much too soon. I could feel my legs start to tighten slightly, but continued to push on. My Nathan Exodraw handheld, that I switched out every 10k followed by a Boom Gel was a perfect fueling strategy. With each passing lap, my pace on the wind tunnel section, became more labored. I still pushed onward. It was between mile 22-24 where things started to fall a part for me. I had about 3 minutes on my splits from 2019 which would put me around 2:28-2:29 marathon split which would be enough time in the bank to hopefully run under 3 hours. Throughout these sections, I started gaining on Khan and the 2nd place runner but could not hold it together.
I tried to remain relaxed as best as I could and in the stretch before the marathon loop, Michael Wardian passed me on the wind tunnel section. I struggled terribly on this stretch now running 6:34 mile average. I was gassed.
I made a rookie mistake. I ran for time rather than the conditions and soon, my body began to gradually lock-up on me. I crawled through the marathon in 2:34 and knew that sub 3 hours was not going to be today. I then ran the last 2.5 loops just trying to stay upright and not hemorrhage too much time on the runners behind me. With one lap to go, Sam Skeels passed me as I struggled through the windy stretches. I crossed the finish in 5th place in 3:11. It wasn’t pretty but I was relived to finish. I had my moment in the car to sulk over my failure of having the wheels come terribly off in the race. I finished Caumsett 2020 like a train wreck.
I spent the remainder of the time cheering on the runners and getting to spend time with the top Men and Women’s group. We had our chance to take some photos and then we were on our way.
Ashlee was again an amazing crew chief! She braved those conditions like the rest of us and she always had a smile on her face throughout the entirety of the event. Thank you Ashlee for your love and support! We finished the day having a delicious brunch before heading back home to NJ.
This race was really one of the last organized running events before the Co-Vid 19 crisis hit the United States. Looking back on this, I am so grateful for the opportunity of running this event, as many events are canceled around the world and the future of organized running is left wondering when our sense of normality will resume again.
I entered this year with the big goal of trying to make the USA 100k team for the World Championships in the Netherlands. With Lake Waramaug canceled, who knows even if this event will even happen this Fall. What will the future of international travel be? Will we even be able to travel out of our home states? There is too much uncertainty right now to know, to plan, and prepare. I had also looked at a race in NJ where I could run a USATF certified course to run a 50k and perhaps make the USA squad as hopefully things will be better by Nov 27th. I still see this as a goal, as representing our country in this time of stress would be the greatest honor especially in these times of true uncertainty in our nation and in the world.
So as a runner, what can we do? In a time where social distancing is our new normal, how can we come together without physically doing so? How can we challenge ourselves and our fitness to hopefully inspire others and to give back to those in need?
I think this is a brand new challenge for us all. What I plan on doing, is finding new ways to test my fitness and hopefully find a way to give back. It is a time for us to be creative, and I am looking forward to helping as best as I can. What we learn in ultras is that when the going gets tough, forward progress is the best progress. It doesn’t always matter how fast we do it, but as long as we are moving forward, we can get to that finish line.
Stay safe everyone and see you all on the other-side of this. Let’s fight this together!