I’m about 7 weeks late attempting to summarize this race, sorry to those of you who wanted to hear about it sooner. After writing this thing I’m pretty sure the main reason I kept putting it off was because I didn’t want to mentally relive the race itself. Everytime I look back on it I have fond memories, but when I really start to think about it I know there were some real dark periods of time, and with a 48 hour race on the horizon I didn’t want to psych myself out.
However, I decided with the 48 hour race a mere week away, wrapping this summary would be good, since reliving all parts of this 24 hour adventure would help me remember what went wrong, and how to appropriately prepare for it on the next excursion.
So here’s the story of two guys who decided they’d try and compete in the 24-hour NYARA Longest Day Adventure Race…
I felt pretty nervous leading up to this event, but gear-wise felt really prepared. After we DNF-ed the 12-hour GMARA Bitter Pill last year (our first race ever), we learned more that any book or fellow racer could have taught us. These races are 95% about knowing your own body, how it reacts to the extreme conditions you put it under during a race like this, and how to best stave off hunger, sleep deprivation, and lack of nutrition. Last year I suffered debilitating cramps due to electrolyte imbalances 6 hours in, and Eric was knocked off his feet due to dehydration at about the 10 hour mark. We knew our weaknesses, and we knew how to beat them this year.
Why we decided it was a good idea to jump into a 24-hour race, when we didn’t even officially finish a 12-hour race, is simply because we’re mildly insane. We figured we were only held back by physical ailments that were easily preventable, so 24 hours shouldn’t be an issue since we were certain we could mentally handle it (we may have gotten a bit ahead of ourselves, as we also signed up for the 46 hour AAS Equinox Traverse at the same time.)
Physically I was in ok shape, save for a bit of Achilles Tendonitis I had been going to PT for. After 8 weeks of that, completing a 12-hour GORUCK Challenge in Boston, and with my physical therapists blessing, I felt like my ankle wouldn’t have any issues. The only thing bugging me was my right knee, just an annoying case of runners knee, since I had been favoring my right leg when my ankle was sore. I was hoping this wouldn’t be a factor during the event.
So Thursday mid-afternoon we headed off to Harriman State Park on the NY/NJ border to begin our adventure.
Eric and I stayed in a pretty sweet hotel about 30 minutes from the start point. Thursday night we went out and grabbed our last meal, hit the cell phone shop to borrow a cheap pay-as-you-go for the weekend for emergencies (which ended up being 100% free, because the manager was awesome and said he thought what we were doing was wicked cool so he just let us borrow it), then went back to the hotel for final gear check and prep since we wanted to be out of the hotel by 6:45am. It was a good thing we headed down nice and early, because we felt totally prepped the night before the race, opposed to the Bitter Pill where we were rushing a lot of our prep the night before.
Back to my knee real quick. I was really nervous that it was going to be sore the entire race, and when I was at the store the day before the race, I broke the rule of “never try new gear during a competition” and saw this stuff called KT-tape. I had several friends who had used it before, and it’s basically super light-weight stretchy tape that you can put on various joints to alleviate pain. I didn’t want to wear my brace during the race, and I figured I’d give it a shot and in the worst case just rip it off and put my brace on if things got real bad. I applied this stuff to my right knee, went for a little jog, and WOW, no pain, nothing. I was ecstatic, and Eric will tell you I couldn’t shut up about it the entire ride to the start. It stayed on me the entire race and was phenomenal, seriously, try it if you ever have some slight pain.
Woke up at 6:00am the next morning, took a quick shower, grabbed some grub, then hit the road. We arrived at the start point (Mt. Peter Ski Lodge) and went to check in. We got some great SWAG bag’s, as always, and then took a look at our map packs.
The first thing to run through our minds… "oh crap…"
The map pack contained 13 maps and a 5 page checkpoint sheet. Each map contained a section of the race with mandatory and optional checkpoints, and the sheet contained clues to help find the checkpoints at each location. It didn’t help that each map had a different scale, some looked like they were drawn in MSPaint, different orientations, etc. We were pretty overwhelmed, and we felt like idiots because we couldn’t even find where we were (the ski lodge) on map #1.
The race directors then stood up and started talking about the maps. We’d be bussed about 30 minutes away to the start point (no wonder we couldn’t find the ski area) and then would hit each section in order and each map had a waypoint on it that corresponded to the next map (so it would be easy to transition from map to map. There were about 30 other teams present, 20 of them looked just as confused as we were, so we figured that was a good thing.
It was at this point Eric and I reiterated our goals to each other, making it clear what we wanted to accomplish during the race. We were clearly one of the most junior teams present, and based on our past race we had but one goal:
Finish in under 24 hours, and hit every single mandatory checkpoint.
Goal firmly in mind, we hit the busses to the start point, feeling good about our prospects for the race.
The race started in a giant field at the base Schunnemunk Mountain. We were told that to start, teams would split into two groups, and one group would start a mile long trail run, meeting a race director at the half way point to pick up an “egg”. 5 minutes after group one started group two would run in the opposite loop, collecting the egg from their partner and then meeting back up at the start to hit the mountain.
I started the run since Eric is a much faster runner than I, so even with him starting later we’d likely meet up again at the start close to each other. The egg was just a plastic easter egg, we were told to write our team number on it and hold onto it until a later checkpoint.
After we met up, we decided we would try and hit S3, S4 (optional points), then move on to M1 and M2. We started up the mountain trail, and promptly found ourselves utterly lost with no trail markers around us at all. We ended up bushwhacking our way up the mountain (which sucked) and finally got back on track towards the trail at the top. We hit M1 and M2 (we lost so much time bushwhacking we couldn’t hit the optionals anymore), and started our descent. Once again, we got lost. Seriously, the trails just seemed to go and go and go and then... just vanish from existance leaving us lost. We were frustrated and decided that since there was a road somewhere within 1 mile due west of us, so we pointed our compasses in that direction, hit the road, and then headed north to get to the next transition area. Not a pretty way to start the race, and we were hoping our nav skills didn’t suck as much going forward.
As we were walking to the end of this section, I felt it. A little spike of lightning down my left leg, exactly what I started feeling when I cramped up in the first race. I was pissed, I had been chugging Endurolytes and water like it was my job and was hoping that the cramps wouldn’t flare up. Just to be safe, I threw back a few more Endurolytes and trekked towards the start of section 2.
A lot of people are curious as to what we eat during these races, it's kind of a mixed bag for each individual racer. Eric and I go with giant bags of trailmix that are easily accessible (Cheeze-its, M&Ms, raisins, granola, etc), and plenty of PB&J sandwiches. Eric will also tell you that I eat Snickers bars like an 8 year old after halloween (fact). We also carry plenty of Clif Bars and the Gu energy suppliments. During these races you basically can't keep up your caloric intake with the amount of fuel you burn, so you can pretty much eat anything you want, you just have to make sure you eat!
At the start of section 2 we were told to transition to our bikes, and looking at the map we realized that we were going to be on bikes for the better part of the rest of the race. We weren’t thrilled with this prospect since past races hadn’t incorporated this much biking, and it was certainly my weaker discipline.
My front tube ended up popping during transport to this transition area, so Eric changed it out at the speed of light while I filled up our water bottles from a nearby house whose owner was kind enough to help out all the racers. He thought we were all a little crazy for racing like this, but loved chatting it up with us. After the tire was fixed, off we went down the road on a great little 10 mile trek to Goose Pond, hitting three checkpoints along the way.
The weather was perfect, and it was late afternoon at this point, and unfortunately I did start to cramp up again. It was nowhere near the show-stopping level it was during the Bitter Pill, but enough to slow me down and be a major annoyance every time I got on or off the bike or tried climbing uphill. It just takes mental, and physical wear, on the body fighting through them. I told Eric I wasn’t going to complain at all, so I just sucked it up and powered through them until they stopped around 2am.
This was also where we discovered that checkpoints aren’t always what they seem. During these races, checkpoints are usually brightly colored flags with a hole punch that has a pattern in it (so that the race directors know that you hit the right checkpoints). The clue for the checkpoint we were looking for was “List the three Oxfords” so we started hunting around to see what that may mean. We found a nearby cemetery and thought that we were supposed to find the flag by three Oxford gravestones, but after 10 minutes couldn’t find anything! Finally we wandered back to the road, and looked I looked up at the street signs. Lo and behold, we noticed were at the intersection of Oxford Street, Oxford Road, and Oxford Lane, and we realized that the clue wasn’t the location of a checkpoint, it was to actually list “Street, Road, and Lane” on the scoresheet. Checkpoint reached, and we continued our trek to Goose Pond Mountain.
This section seemed fairly simple, it was a good little bike to the entrance of Goose Pond Mountain, and then a hike-a-bike up to the summit. We got to the summit and our checkpoint clue was “Overlook below high point, off trail”. About 8 teams were held up here trying to find it, one team even tried calling the race directors to tell them no one could find the CP. Finally Eric and I just said screw it and started biking down the mountain. As we were coming down, the director was biking up and said the CP definitely got lost, and we would still get credit for hitting it.
At the top of Goose Pond Mountain was also where we started chatting with another amateur team. One of the team members was puking his guts out on the side of the trail, and said he had pretty much been throwing up for like an hour (generally this is a bad sign). Turned out that the two were longtime buddies, and just decided to give this race a shot while one of them was visiting from California. These guys were ballsy, and we instantly got along with them, over the next couple hours we leapfrogged each other between checkpoints always saying hello.
We got to CP10 and it started to get pretty dark out (around 8:30pm or so). We threw on our headlamps and I realized another problem, mine was vastly underpowered. Eric had an industrial 1500 lumen bicycle light on his helmet (so did most of the other teams), and I had an 80 lumen camping headlamp that barely did the job. Fortunately Eric just rode behind me so I could see for the rest of the night, but it was a definite “need to get” for the next race.
Also fortunately at this point, my nav skills had improved drastically, I hadn’t gotten us lost anymore, and we were cruising through the various country roads from checkpoint to checkpoint. When hunting for the entrance to Sterling Forest, we met up with our two buddies again and decided that since we were both such newbie teams, we’d stick together and help each other out for the rest of the race. It was great to have some extra guys to look at the map with and to chat with, it kept Eric and I sane for the rest of the night.
We knew we had to be at CP11 by 11:00pm, and decided that rather than try to hit any optional CPs in this section, we’d go right to CP11. At CP11 the race crew was waiting, and couldn’t figure out why there was a 4-man team showing up. We explained that we basically teamed up to finish since there was no chance we were going to win any prizes, and just wanted to finish, and one guy on the crew thought that was awesome. He said some teams had already dropped due to injury and fatigue, and that new teams working together rarely happens and were thrilled to see it. Cool!
We crushed the remaining biking legs and had an awesome ride through some fire roads as the night got darker and darker. It was insanely peaceful and we hit CP12 and 13 with ease. We biked around Sterling lake and then a long 4-5 mile downhill section
Then we started up a nice winding uphill towards a nunnery, and we decided to try and hit our first optional CP for points. We found it by a bridge after reaching the top of the nunnery and were ecstatic that we got our first optional, and we continued on to CP14 which had an interesting transition area.
The next section worked as followed, you got a map that contained optional CPs you could reach by foot. After hitting as many of those as you wanted you came back to CP14 and got a map that pointed you towards optional CPs you could reach by bike. We decided we would try and hit three optional foot CPs (F1, F2, and F6) and set off. At this point, I went into mental zombie mode. It was somewhere around 2am, the dark of the night engulfed everything around me, and I was exhausted. I looked at Eric and he knew I was losing it, and that mentally I was just going to turn it off for awhile and run on auto-pilot. It was fine, we hit 2 of the optional and couldn’t locate the third, so we trekked out to get our bikes. As we were leaving we noticed a few of the nuns had actually come down to the transition area to see what everyone was doing. They too thought we were crazy, and enjoyed watching more teams come in and leave the TA.
One of the more humerous interludes during the entire night was Sean (one of the guys we teamed up with), dry heaving every 15-20 minutes. It literally sounded like he was dying, but would always come back up laughing at himself going "Well that was a good one." We probably scared away most of the animals in the woods by his sound alone, and he would continue to do this right up to the finish line.
At this point we again found out a couple more teams had dropped, but I felt good knowing that we were in the final half of the journey, as exhausted as I was. We jumped on the bikes and decided to hit three more optional biking checkpoints (B2, B4, and B3) then off to M15 to transition to the next map. I of course bit it a few times biking down these rocky trails without a proper light, but got up and kept on trucking.
At M15 we figured out what the plastic eggs were for. The checkpoint was to deposit our team egg into a basket so the race directors knew that we reached that point. It was about 5:00am at this point, and the sky was just starting to lighten up. It was a solid 13-15 mile bike ride through some mountain roads to the next transition area, and my spirits were lifting as we were biking as the sun was rising, and everything around me was getting lighter. I felt like I made it through the night successfully and was stoked that the end was within sight.
At TA2 we were to hop into kayaks and do a 90+ minute paddle across Greenwood Lake. I took the opportunity to change my socks since I had been running in them for about 18 hours, and wished I hadn't. You know what ground beef looks like in the supermarket. That was exactly what my feet resembled. I realised they didn't hurt anymore because what was left of the "skin" was shredded to pieces. It was only after the race I would find out that many of the racers use something called Hydropel which essentially waterproofs your feet. Oh the tricks you learn. Our buddy from the race crew was excited to see that all 4 of us had made it this far, and said he'd see us on the other side.
It was here Eric goes “Oh I’ve never kayaked before.” After paddling in circles for about 5 minutes trying to figure out how to go straight, he entered what I like to call "beast-mode" and proceeded paddle and go non-stop for the entire 90 minutes. As we’re going across the lake ducks were flying right next to us, the water was like glass, and the sun was rising over the lake as we paddled which raised our spirits even further. As we were reaching the shore, sure enough the race crew dude was waving us in, stoked that we made it over. We hit TA3 and docked the kayaks, then took off on the last trekking leg of the race, a 5 mile stretch up a steep ridge then to the top of the ski slopes of Mt. Peter.
At this point we were all moving on auto-pilot, we knew the end was in sight, but were all so exhausted that the trek to the top of Mt. Peter was dead silent even though it was a gorgeous morning out. We hit one more optional CP at the top of the mountain, then started our bike down to the finish.
We cruised down the mountain and reached the finish line, and I immediately did a double take at the end. I thought I was hallucinating for a second, but then realized that the girlfriends (Steff and Lisa) had driven all morning to surprise us at the finish line! The greatest way to end a race ever. Eric and I were also thrilled because not only had we crossed the finish in about 23 hours and 30 minutes, but we hit all the mandatory checkpoints and 8 optional checkpoints! We went above and beyond what we expected to do, talk about a vast improvement from the year before.
The race crew had an awesome breakfast brunch setup, and Eric and I promptly stuffed our faces before heading back to the hotel. We then slept for 5 hours or so and then headed out to a local place the concierge recommended to eat dinner, where they had a burger that must have been designed for Eric and I – The Murder Burger.
Imagine a double bacon cheeseburger, with all the fixings, deep fried. Not just the meat, but the whole burger doused in batter and deep fried. It was incredible, and probably only refueled about 5% of the calories we burned over the course of the race. We all went back and crashed at the hotel, then drove back to Boston in the early AM. One hell of a race, and I can’t wait for the 46 hour AAS Equinox Traverse next!
We did substantially better this race than last, only a few key take-aways.
- Stick to the maps, bushwhacking is 70% less effective than hitting trails, even if you have to hike a bit farther. Make EVERY effort to stay on the trails.
- Take care of your feet, mine were sore for days afterward due to the "ground meat" problem. Use Hydropel pre-race and change socks often, bring spare shoes when possible.
- Take care of your groin, same as feet. Not "ground meat" but even with wearing super wicking tri-shorts there was some serious chafage. Next time I'll be combining my shorts with Body Glide.
- I need to take 4x the recommended amount of Endurolytes, it's super annoying and they certainly saved my ass this time around, but I want these cramps 100% gone for the next race.