Manitou’s Revenge Ultramarathon

They say you must be partially, if not fully, insane to do this race.  And whatever sanity you have had before the race, the devil would have taken it when you traversed its path. By the time you have finished the 4 summits of the Devil’s Path, you would be totally numb and void of sanity to finish the last 10+ miles of the course.

June 17, 2017.  Manitou’s Revenge Ultramarathon.  And from the event’s website, in all caps. “THIS IS NOT LIKE ANY OTHER ULTRA YOU’VE RUN BEFORE!“.

Prologue.  

This was the reason why I chose to defer my Quassy Rev3 70.3 triathlon. Quassy Rev3 was on June 4, Manitou’s Revenge was on June 17 – 2 weeks apart.  There was also an organized night run of the last 15 miles of the Manitou’s course on May 27, which I was so glad I did.  I was still on the wait list when we did the night run, but Charlie (Manitou’s Race Director) told me that there was a big chance I would be able to get in.  Three days later, I received an email from him telling me I got accepted to do the event.  Wooohooo!

Days before the event, I was both excited and nervous.  Actually, more on the nervous-like-shit side.  Honestly.  Reading stories written by those who have done the event in the prior years gave me crappy thoughts.  Some of those who have done this and 100-milers said that this was more difficult than the 100-milers they have done.  “Am I ready for this?!”

The day after the night run, I hiked half of the Devil’s Path, from Prediger’s Trailhead, doing Indian Head and Twin Mtn, out-and-back.  I came back the week after to cover the other half, from Devil’s Tomb/Rt 214 Trailhead, doing Plateau Mtn and Sugarloaf Mtn, out-and-back.  Doing the Devil’s Path with fresh legs was difficult and strenuous enough. Imagine doing these 4 summits after 31 miles of the already difficult course, including part of the Escarpment Trail!  Yes, this was the 2nd half of the Manitou’s Revenge course.

I drove to Phoenicia Friday afternoon for the packet pickup.  Lodging was at Kenneth Wilson Campground for 2 nights.  I had all my gear ready before I left home.  Tailwind + Carbopro would be my main source of nutrition, 18 pre-packed servings!  Final gear check after dinner and tried to get some sleep for tomorrow’s big day.

I woke up at 2AM.  I was happy to have my campsite near the camp toilets so I did not have to walk far or drive for my morning ritual.  The parking lot behind the pharmacy was almost full, but I was able to manage to get a spot.  The shuttle to the start was about an hour away.  Manitou’s Revenge is a 54.3 mile point-to-point race starting from CD Lane Park in Windham township and ending at the Parish Hall in Phoenicia.

The official race start was at 5AM, with wave starts.  I was on wave 5. And at 5:20AM, the longest time I’ve spent on the trail started.  Oh, I have to mention, unlike other runners who would survive with just few sips of water on the course, I have to drink A LOT.  My gear was a UD vest with 50oz bladder plus 2 26oz bottles – plus the pre-packed tailwind+carbopro servings for refill!  Weather forecast was cloudy, humid, with scattered t-storms in the afternoon.  I stuffed my rain gear, just in case.

Below is the AS-to-AS details with the time from my Garmin.

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Elevation Profile, with Aid Stations added.

To AS #1 @ Big Hollow Rd Trailhead, 3.0mi.  The 1st 3 miles was on the road leading to the trailhead, easy warm-up before heading UP to the mountain trails.

To AS #2 @ Dutcher’s Notch, 10.3mi (2:26hrs).  The course turns left after AS #1, entering the trail.  A short climb to the 1st summit, Acra Point, followed by the highest point on the course, Blackhead Mtn.  Then a ‘runnable’ descent to AS #2 @ Dutcher’s Notch.

To AS #3 @ North/South Lake, 17.5mi (4:15hrs).  The course goes up to Stoppel Point, and with the cloudy weather, it was so cool to see everything covered with clouds below you (yes, clouds below you!!!).  Along the trail was the wreckage of a piper plane that crashed in 1983.  A runner asked to have his picture taken which I gladly obliged.  Reached the aid station still feeling fresh.

To AS #4 @ Palenville/Rt23A, 21.5mi (5:15hrs).  This was a ‘relaxed’ section with some ridgeline and boulder running at the top, which reminds me of Schunemunk Mtn.  Saw and glad to have joined Joe Limone and Charlotte Dequeker on this section of the course. A good downhill to the aid station for food and refill.

To AS #5 @ Platte Clove, 31.5mi (8:27hrs).  The section with the longest distance between aid stations – 10miles from AS #4 to AS #5.  At AS #4, I filled my bladder and my 2 bottles for this section.  I was actually worried I’d run out of water on this section that I have a spare 500ml flask in my vest.  It was a steep and felt-like-no-summit hike right after leaving AS #4.  Not technical but just never-ending climb going up Kaaterskill Peak.  I met Rachel on this section (we would be leap-frogging up and down until AS #7 where she’d finally drop me for good).  Another good downhill section to the aid station, where I took a break.  AS #5 is the aid station with drop bags.  I sat down while refilling my bladder and bottles again for the hardest section on the course – The Devil’s Path.  Made sure I have my headlamp and flashlight before I left the aid station.

To AS #6 @ Mink Hollow, 38.5mi (12:12hrs).  The distance between AS #5 and AS #6 is under 8 miles, but it took me close to 4hrs to cover it!  This distance covers the 3 summits of the Devil’s Path – Indian Head, Twin Mtn, and Sugarloaf Mtn – all members of the Catskill 3500 Peaks.  Meaning – these 3 summits go over 3500ft!  The ascents were technical and the descents MORE technical!  Both ascents and descents required hands-first and body-twists maneuvers!  My heart rate was going over the roof on the climbs I had to stop so many times to recover!  Reaching the aid station without any fall was a relief – the gnarliest section over!

To AS #7 @ Silver Hollow Notch, 43.5mi (14:14hrs). AS #6 does not mean the end of the Devil’s Path!  What follows next was the steepest climb of the 4 summits – Plateau Mtn – another member of the Catskill 3500 Peaks.  I needed more breaks on the climb to the summit – my heart rate was just running too fast for me!!!  There was a ‘runnable’ section at the summit but who could still run at this point???  It was at this section where it was time to say goodbye to Devil’s Path, turning left on the Long Path Trail to the next aid station.  It was still daytime when I reached the aid station.  I was tired but still with high spirits leaving AS #7.  Just 2 more mountains to tackle.

To AS #8 @ Willow, 48.5mi (16:42hrs).  It would be nighttime before I’d reach AS #8. There was a stream crossing and my target was to reach that before dark.  There was still a glimpse of the cloudy sky when I crossed the stream.  The cold water was so refreshing to the tired and swollen feet.  One last mountain to tackle – Tremper Mtn.  It became a really slow trek when it was dark.  Even with both headlamp and flashlight on, and generously marked trails, it was still not easy navigating the twists and turns.  Alone in the dark, it felt like forever getting to the aid station.

To Finish, 54.3mi (18:51hrs).  AS #8 meant there was about 6 miles to the finish, with just 2 more miles of climbing to the Fire Tower, then 3 miles of rocky, steep, and slippery downhill to the trailhead/Rt 40, then 1.5 road miles on Rt 40 to the Finish.  When I reached the tower, I had a sigh of relief knowing that the race was almost over – no more hills!  On the 3 miles of downhill, my headlamp died but I did not bother putting on the spare batteries.  The flashlight would be enough, I said.  I tried to run on this section, then Bam!  I slipped.  It hurt.  Walked gingerly for a few minutes and started walking/running again.  Bam!  Slipped again!  Ok, let’s not jeopardize this race by getting injured on the last few miles to the finish, I told myself.  So I just walked.  THEN, THE FLASHLIGHT DIED!  It was pitch black!  I couldn’t see a thing!  I stayed there, shaking and clicking the flashlight trying to make it turn back on.  Luckily it turned back on!  It might have malfunctioned momentarily when I slipped and fell.  I decided to put the spare batteries on the headlamp right after!  Walked the rest of the way to the last aid staion at the end of the trail and Rt 40.  This aid station was unmanned, with water and reflector vests for us night runners.  Quickly washed my face, put a vest on, and turned to Rt 40 for the last 1.5 miles to the finish.  Crossed the Finish Line past midnight, with Charlie, some volunteers, and runners and friends hanging out waiting for their friends still on the course.  54 Miles.  Almost 19hrs. Whole body numb and sore.  WoooooHooooo!!!

Epilogue.

manitous tshirt

To borrow a phrase, and change some wordings, from a good 1997 movie, The Game. “I suffered and survived the Manitous’ Revenge, and all I got was this stupid t- shirt!” 🙂

Congratulations to all who participated in this event!  Big thanks to all the supporters and volunteers, especially to those who unconditionally served and became our personal crews on the aid stations.

THANK YOU, Charlie Gadol, for this one of a kind event.  And please, stop the madness and don’t entertain the idea of creating a 100miler on this course!

 

Addendum.

gloves

Home Depot Gloves. 3-pack for < $10

These gloves helped a lot on the big scrambles in Devil’s Path, giving me grip and saving my well-manicured fingers on those slippery rocks, roots, and sharp edges.

Weekends of April 15 and April 22

2 Fridays of experimental and sleepless car camping – checked.
2 Saturdays of exhilarating mountain trail running hiking – checked.
2 Weekends of therapeutic bliss and inner peace – checked.

Breakneck Point Marathon.
The pessimist in me:  A marathon 1 hour slower than my 50k.

Hyner View Challenge 50k.
The optimist in me:  A 50k 1 hour faster than my marathon.

 

April 15 – Breakneck Point Marathon.

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Friday.  My first car camping experience.  Sleepless, but I still would have preferred this rather than waking up very early Saturday morning and driving ~2hrs to get to the event.  Dinner was Chinese take-out. Philip, also doing the marathon, did car camping as well.  His car setup was much better than mine, though.  We had beer before settling in for the night.

“It was a sleepless night not in Seattle, and I was thinking of Meg Ryan. Tossing and turning all night, I wish I could have what she’s having.”

Saturday.  I woke up at 5:15AM.  Participants started to arrive for the 6:30AM start.  Did my morning ritual, ate my muffin breakfast cold, and prepared for the event.  Oh how I missed my morning coffee.

There were 2 events today, the marathon, with 9k+ of elevation gain, and the half-marathon, with 5k+ of elevation gain.  With these elevation gains for these distances, you’d get the idea that this is not your typical trail marathon, and half-marathon.  Indeed, it was a roller coaster of ups and downs – on very rocky terrain.  The ascents were steep, and the descents felt steeper, where confidence and focus were important.  Both included the signature climb to Breakneck Ridge Trail, rated as one of the best destination day hikes in the country by Trails.com.

There were 4 aid stations for the marathon, the 1st at the base of Breakneck Ridge Trail, the 2nd at the base of Washburn Trail, the 3rd and 4th somewhere at the Mt Beacon area.

The first 5+ miles from start to the 1st aid station were runnable ups and downs (on trail running standards).  The next 4+ miles from the 1st to the 2nd aid station started with the steep ascent to Breakneck Ridge Trail followed by a long descent to the base of Washburn Trail.  I had no problem reaching the 1st and 2nd aid stations.  I filled up my 2 bottles with Tailwind at the 2nd aid station and continued the run/jog/walk to the 3rd aid station, which was 6+ miles.  Even with 2 full bottles, I still ran out and had to get some water from the stream before reaching the 3rd aid station.  Again, I filled up my 2 bottles upon reaching the 3rd station.  From the course guide, the distance from the 3rd to the 4th aid station was ~8 miles.  However, one of the volunteers said that it was actually just 6 miles.  It was a relief hearing this.  However, this would turn out to be totally inaccurate.  With more climbs on this leg, I ran out of water 4 miles out.  Without any streams nearby, I said I’d survived the next 2 miles from my reserves thinking it was just 6 miles.  Beep, my watch sounded, indicating a mile.  And then another beep – another mile.  And then another climb, and another.   Where the heck is the aid station???  A fellow runner mentioned that it was actually 8+ miles between the 3rd-4th aid stations.  What??? But the volunteer said it was just 6 miles???  After hearing this, I sensed problem.  I needed water.  Luckily, there was a family of hikers who offered some water. It wasn’t just me who really needed water.  I split the bottle of water with the runner behind me.  Big, big thanks to these hikers.  When I finally reached the 4th aid station, the volunteer confirmed it was closer to 9 miles from the 3rd to the 4th aid station!  ***** At the end of the race, runners said they ran out of water between aid stations 3 and 4.

The last 3+ mile would be a gradual descent to the finish.  Finally, no more climbs!  It was the final push to the finish with trashed legs and hurting feet.   Beer awaits at the finish.

 

April 22 – Hyner View Challenge 50k.

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Friday.  Another car camping experience.  This time, someone decided to join me in my car to keep me company.   With constant buzzing to my ear, I was not able to stop and smash this lone mosquito that kept me awake all night!

Saturday.  The event started at 8AM, with a little shower blessing.  The course offers steep climbs with rewarding views at the top (if you have time to take pictures).  The course was not as technical and rocky as the Breakneck Marathon.  But it does not mean easier either.  The climbs were really steep.  Some of the climbs were really steep and slippery, which at times forces you to grab onto whatever support you could to avoid sliding back. The 2 really steep climbs were at the start and at the end, the Hyner View and the SOB climbs.  With the steep climbs come the steep downhills.  I enjoyed my time on the downhills, just letting gravity take control not thinking about falls and face-plants.   Thank you, Mt Tammany Blue Trail!

There was also this stream crossing part on the course that I find unusual.  Unusual in the sense that you are crossing the same stream going from left to right only to cross again and come back to the left side after just a few steps.  And you have to do this many times.  Why not just make the trail on one side of the stream?

The thing I remember the most about the event was at the end.  The big crowd at the finish.  It was a party!   With lots of food – pizza, donuts, chicken bbq cooked on the spot (really!), home-made pastries, and beer.  And everyone is welcome!  Anyone can get food – not just the runners – free.  No bands, no tickets, no stubs, to show.  This is perhaps the reason why this event sells out quickly.  It’s worth doing this event again because of this kind of support from the people.

And it’s hard not to mention the generous swag – hat, shirt, and socks.  And the cold shower at the finish, if you decide to have one.

A Band of Brothers

HoH 2017 Beer

A Band of Mischief Brothers.

They seldom see one another.  And when do they do, they tend to become loud. They are full of BS talks.  They talk in a language none of those around them understand.  Others would not approve of some of the actions they do.  They couldn’t care less.

They do events together.  And before the event, trash talks build up – either to stir some friendly conversation, or to intimidate and instill fear.  Those who know, know this is plain BS.  Those who get fooled, well…

Today, they rode HoH – Hell of Hunterdon – a bike ride in the central Jersey.   Some of them had to travel far to do this ride.  They rode not because the course was hilly – or flat.  They rode not because they knew they can do it, cruising – or crawling.  They rode because they wanted to spend time with friends they have not seen for a while.  This seldom happens, having their own busy personal lives.  Today, they became one.

They rode together. And once again, they were loud.  They had fun from start to finish.  They spent the whole ride exchanging stories, mostly of course BS talks.  Not even a mechanical problem could dampen the fun they had.

At the end of the ride, they spent more time in the parking lot, drinking beer and more BS talks.  No one talked how fast he was, how strong he was compared to the others.  None mentioned how long it took them to finish the ride.  It was just plain camaraderie time with friends.

This is one group you’d be proud to be part of.  And this is no BS talk.  I dare you to join them – I guarantee you’d have one of the best times in your life.

Late Post. Grand Canyon SK-PR-BA Hike

Dec 10, 2016. Grand Canyon. South Kaibab-Phantom Ranch-Bright Angel.

The Adventure – Goal. Hike from South Kaibab trail down to Phantom Ranch and up to Bright Angel trail. This is my first hike down the canyon, with information and knowledge gathered from the web.  This is a good source of information for GC backcountry hiking – Backcountry Hiking Brochure (PDF).

The Gear.

  • Mizuno Merino Wool + Midlayer Jacket
  • Baselayer Pants + Mizuno Pants
  • Beanie + Neck Gaiter + Gloves + Hand Warmers
  • Hoka trail shoes + Drymax socks
  • UD vest with 50 oz bladder (H2O) + 2 bottles (Tailwind)
  • 3 servings of Tailwind in ziplock bags
  • 2 Nut bars, 1 bag of trailmix
  • Trekking Poles
  • Trail crampons (not used)
  • Headlamps (not used)
  • First Aid Kit (not used)
  • Extra shirt, light rain jacket, extra hand warmers (not used)

The Adventure – Details.
After an egg white omelette breakfast at Maswik Lodge cafeteria, I walked to the Bright Angel bus stop for the the 8:00AM Hikers’ Express bus to South Kaibab Trailhead. Weather forecast was sunny, with temps in the village area at about 30s in the morning. It was just me and 4 guys (doing an overnight hike) on the bus that day. We arrived at the trailhead before 8:30AM.

I started at 8:30AM from the South Kaibab Trailhead. The distance from the SK Trailhead to Phantom Ranch is ~7.4 miles, with an elevation drop of ~4780 ft. It is a well maintained but steep trail, without any water source this time of year. I jogged/speed-hiked the trail down skipping the urge to take pictures because I wanted to make sure I’d reach the bottom with enough time for the hike back up. There’s a popular phrase in Grand Canyon for those hiking the corridor trails – Going Down Is Optional, Coming Up Is Mandatory. Only when I saw the Colorado river and the black suspension bridge connecting the South Kaibab and North Kaibab trails that I took some pictures. I crossed the suspension bridge at 10:30AM, with ample time to reach Phantom Ranch.

Can you see the suspension bridge?

View of the Colorado river (left) and the suspension bridge (right) from the SK trail

Can you see the mule train?

Looking back after crossing the suspension bridge. Can you spot the mule train? (upper left)

I reached Phantom Ranch 10 minutes later. The temp at the canyon was about 60F. I removed my jacket and the baselayer pants and refilled my 2 bottles with my pre-packed Tailwind. Water is available in Phantom Ranch. Bright Angel Campground is ~0.4 mile across Phantom Ranch, separated by the Bright Angel creek. At 11AM, I left Phantom Ranch, crossed the Bright Angel campground, and headed towards the Bright Angel trail.

Phantom Ranch to the start of BA Trailhead is ~9.9 miles – longer than SK-PR, but not as steep, with a water source in the Indian Garden campground.  This information from the NPS website provides detailed information about the trail distances – Backcountry Trail Distances

There is another bridge crossing the Colorado river on the Bright Angel trail, sometimes referred to to as the white bridge (as opposed to the black bridge connecting SK and NK trails). The first 2 miles in the Bright Angel trail is nearly flat following the Colorado river. It then goes back to the trail on the mountain side. While the SK trail provided open views of the ridges and the canyon, this part of the BA trail provided close up views of the mountain walls. It feels like you are traversing the ‘carved’ section of the mountain.

I reached the Indian Ground campground past noon, and with lots of time to spare, I did an extra trip to Plateau Point, a 1.5 mile flat trail from Indian Ground campground. This trail is visible from some viewing points in the South Rim. It’s different at Plateau Point – you get a 360 view, both horizontal and vertical, from the ‘middle’ point of the Grand Canyon.

Panoramic view from Plateau Point

Panoramic view from Plateau Point

A view of Indian Garden Campgound / Bright Angel Trail from Plateau Point

View from Plateau Point trail – Indian Ground Campground and South Rim.

Purple cactus! Only in Plateau Point!

Added bonus. Purple cactus at Plateau Point trail.

Water is available in IGC. Refilled my water bottle and continued on with the hike. A group of hikers was resting and enjoying lunch at IGC. The trail becomes steeper and steeper as it gets closer to the South Rim. I started to see more hikers on this part of the trail, most of them probably doing an out-and-back hike from BA Trailhead to IGC. The last mile+ leading up to the BA trailhead was icy. From the website information, this is the part of the trail that’s almost always covered with snow and ice come winter time. Saw some hikers having difficulty going down because they had no traction. I advised one hiker who was sliding that it was not worth the risk to go down with those shoes – one false slide and you’d be part of statistics.

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Bright Angel – Snow-turned-Ice

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Bright Angel – Icy trail

I reached the Bright Angel trailhead at 3:40PM. Covered 21.56miles, including the trip to Plateau Point, in 6:40 hours.

Epilogue. Grand Canyon at the South Rim is already magnificent. It’s enough to give you chills. Hiking down the corridor trail is an added bonus to those who decide to do it. Seeing the different rock layers up close and being able to touch the mountain walls give a different perspective of this natural wonder. And once again, Thank You for letting me experience this.

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View from the South Rim – Sunrise Dec 12, 2016.

Coastal Run New Year’s Eve One Day

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Dec 31, 2016.

Mike picked me up from my hotel in the morning and we drove to Crissy Field. We picked up our bibs and souvenir fleece shirt, pitched the tent, and waited for the 9AM start. The weather was sunny with some cloud and wind (oh wait… this is the San Francisco Bay Area – being windy is the norm). I had my Mizuno merino wool shirt + a light running tights. 10 minutes before 9AM, we all lined up at the start, the 24hr runners and a mix of 6/12hr runners. More 6/12hr runners would start later. I’d be doing the 12 hrs and Mike the 6 hrs.

Mike and I jogged at a leisure pace around the course, a 1.065mi lap around the lagoon at Crissy Field. What’s new this year is that runners can go in either direction, clockwise or counter-clockwise as they please, as long as they pass the timing mat each time they finish a lap. A good change to combat the monotony of a uni-directional lap. Runners also get the chance to greet the other runners going the opposite way.

Tailwind was my main source of nutrition, which I took sip every lap. Mike and I would also take a bite of whatever’s available at the pit area. And every hour, I would take a salt pill to prevent cramping later. This would be the routine for the next 12 hours.

I’m thankful to have Mike on the 1st 6 hours of the event. Having some company to chat with made the lap quick and easy. Mike’s family came before his run ended at 3PM. Quick hi and hello, and I proceeded on with my 12hr monotonous adventure.

It started to get dark before 5PM. With the sun gone, it felt colder too. I changed clothes – a polar fleece shirt, a windbreaker, and a heavier and warmer tights. I felt fine the whole time, enjoying the experience, doing more jogs and walk breaks on the last 3 hours. I finished my last lap 5 minutes before 9PM. I’ve covered 55 laps for a total of 58.6 miles. My target was to at least cover 50 laps.

I suddenly felt the cold breeze the moment I stopped. I went to my tent and changed to warm and dry clothes. I was shivering even with layers of warm clothes. 9PM in SFO = 12MN in NJ. I called home and spoke with my daughter – greeted them a Happy New Year. I decided to stay inside the tent until my body has gained some warmth. I tried to get some nap but my legs were twitching. I came out before 12 midnight to join the mini-festivity to welcome the new year. We just had a glimpse of the fireworks, which was most visible from the other side of the town. After the toast and cheer, I headed back to the tent for warmth.

I managed to get some short but very much needed sleep. When I woke up, the 24hr runners were still on the course. 9AM would be the official finish time for them. The overall winner for the 24hr event covered 100 laps for a total of 106.5 miles. A question I asked then, and I still ask now… How the heck do you run for 24 hrs???

This is another experience I’d remember. My 1st 50+ miles. A good way to end the year and welcome the new one.  Happy New Year!