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Revisiting my first Ultra to take the crown

06/04/2022 | 50M Trail | 7:18:33

Ryan went back to Ithaca, NY to take on the 50-mile course he raced 3 years earlier. He wanted redemption on the course that started his love for ultras!


Cayuga Trails 50 2022 edition lived up to all the hype that I could have imagined and more. With a decent training block of high volume and intensity the weeks leading up to the race, I knew that I had a chance to hit a huge PR on the same course that started my ultra-running journey three years ago. My main goal was to run under 7:15, with side quests of running with people until the first loop (25 miles) was completed, negative splitting the race (3:40/3:38), and finding a scavenger hunt raffle. I am happy to report that I was able to hit all of my side quests, and fall a few minutes short of my main goal, which is ok because it was still a 34-minute PR on the course.

Looking at the field on Ultra-Sign Up before the race showed some worthy competitors, with Ben from Rhode Island winning Eastern States last year, and Kellen from Pennsylvania having a high percentage. When the race took off, it was us three out in front, and we gapped the field almost immediately. As expected in the first few miles, I tried to get a feel for the field as we were beginning the climbs, and gauge where the competition really was. Right off the bat, I was able to tell that this pace was a little too hot for Kellen, and that Ben was excellent at running downhill (especially on steps). This is important to note because as the race progressed, I had to make the move at the right time and do it in a manner where I would not have too many downhill sections back-to-back.

We alternated between who took the lead for these early miles, chatting about our running journeys, careers, and so forth. On the first climb which consisted about 250 ft of stair climbing, I took my time, walking with a purpose up to the top. After all, the main goal of these kind of events are to preserve as much energy until the end. This put me in 3rd for a few miles but allowed me to take in the sights. Lucifers crossing offered immaculate views of the gorge, and as we descended down the stops on the opposite side where we climb, we encountered a bag piper piping away. This set the tone of how epic this was about to be. There were bouts of up and down with stairs as we made our way to the first aid station. As traveled along the next section, which was an out and back loop, the temperature already began to rise. I took off my arm sleeves at this point.

With hydration and refueling being the main source of prolonged energy, I made sure to keep myself fully stocked. A miss calculation in the planning phase became quite evident when I didn’t see my crew of Papa John, Cody and Matt for the first 8ish miles. We hit the first aid station around 7 miles, and I took a gummy worm to go, while the other two didn’t stop at all. I knew I would see the crew in a few miles and would have a little bit of fueling to catch up on, but it was nothing to worry about in the immediate. We cleared the aid station and made our way through an open field. This was a great opportunity to see if anyone was behind us. Nope, not one person in sight. Finishing up the field, we were back the way we came, and began seeing the rest of the 50M field. They were already easily 1 mile behind us. When we got to the split off to continue towards Buttermilk Falls, we took that and were immediately met with a steep climb. I activated my poles and made my way up the climb preserving energy. Stopped for a quick pee break and caught up to the group a few minutes late. At this point, I felt hydrated, but knew I probably had not put in enough liquids, so was cautiously aware. 

After a quick single-track section, and a steep downhill, I was met by my crew at the Old Mill. I swapped out both my water and Tailwind mix (TW), and apologized about the miscalculation. Continued onto the 3-mile downhill (for the most part) and saved our group of three from making a wrong turn. This section had a bit more twists and turns then I remember from 2019, but I ended up taking the lead because of the almost mistake. We ended back at base camp at 10 miles in, all feeling good, and I did not grab anything. About a mile later, I was greeted by my crew, and did a swap of TW. It was here where Ben and Kellen both complemented my crew for being equivalent to a NASCAR pit crew. Cody, and Papa John make a good team indeed! This was also where Matt had to leave us since he had prior obligations.

The legendary water crossing was up next, and the photographer snagged a nice pic of me. It was also super refreshing since I was starting to get hot. I knew the next section would be one of the toughest since it had the steepest climb, so it was time for the poles again. I didn’t mind trailing behind the other two here, keeping them within eyesight. I met up with my crew at a few road crossings before Buttermilk and swapped out the water too. I also took another pee break but felt like I was starting to get dehydrated/sweating it all out, so I popped a salt tablet. Upon entering the Upper Buttermilk aid station, the other two had not refilled their packs at all, so they stopped to do that. With my NASCAR pit crew, I didn’t have a need fill up, so I continued on with a few oranges in hand. I also had a vanilla GU, which I have not had (or enjoyed) since the Desert Solstice in 2020. You have to keep the calories flowing! A nice 1-mile road section was up next where I picked up the pace a bit, but Ben and Kellen caught up right towards the end.

The last section before the Buttermilk falls climb was an addition to this year’s course, since the base camp was different. It was a rugged 1.5-mile section through the trails which felt like a downhill bushwhack before Buttermilk. Right before going onto this section, there were a few scavenger hunt logo signs. I grabbed the first one which I saw, which was for two full ciders, and told Ben to pick one up since he was right next to me. Kellen was too far ahead, so he missed his shot, but Ben got the Red Newt Racing logo. I also swapped out a TW with the crew at this point. When we got to the base of Buttermilk, I had to use the restroom (#2), and told them I would catch up. I was familiar with the difficulty of the climb, so I was not too concerned that I wouldn’t be able to catch them. A quick minute later, if that, I began climbing. I caught them by the end of the climb, and Kellen mentioned that his pack was leaking. This was the last time we ran with him, as we made our way to the end of the trail section. The next 1.5 miles was along a road and rerouted from when I did it in 2019. Ben and I took off, but this section was fully exposed in the sun, and it was certainly evident that the temperature was in th 60’s. 

It was good being able to chat with Ben and talk a little more about Eastern States. He also mentioned that he just into the race off the waitlist on Sunday (6 days before the race) and said that he was not fully in shape. He said he was shooting for sub 7:50, and I mentioned that I was shooting for sub 7:15 and planned on negative splitting the race. I assured Ben I wasn’t going out too slow, and that I wanted someone to run with for the first half. I saw the crew right before going under the bridge and did another swap of TW and water. I knew it would be a while before I would see them, so I made sure to fill up. 

When we got to the 25-mile mark, Ben stopped to fill up his water, and since I was able to get everything from my crew, I saw this as an opportunity to take off. I pressed the next 3 miles, now knowing the course, and even ran up the 250 ft of stairs. To my surprise Cody and my dad were right before the field opening, having hiked in, and this took me by surprise. I chugged my water for the next mile and swapped that out after the field loop. They informed me at this point that Ben was at least a ½ mile behind me, and this was good news for me because my strategy worked. I also told them that I would like the R8 roller since my quads were getting a bit sore. A bit of rinse and repeat remaining hydrated, and I met them at Old Mill, and did not get the roller. They must have forgot, but I told them we could try again at the next one. I also told them ice in a hat to cool me down after the bridge. They tried to meet a mile later, but by the time they rolled up, I was already heading down the trail. A worthy attempt indeed.

At 35 miles, I got back to the start/finish/turn around, and one of the volunteers tried to tell me I had to head up to Old Mill. I informed them that I was leading the race, and after a few seconds with me turning around to head up to Buttermilk, they understood what I was saying. I was starting to fade a bit mentally in this section, so I very well could have been talking gibberish. Regardless, I made my way back to under the bridge, and the ice in the hat was a god scent. I also swapped out TW and was fully fueled up. Managed my effort up the steep climb, and actually caught my foot on a rock falling the one and only time in the race. It wasn’t even a technical section. Regardless, I kept trucking along and made it to the Upper Buttermilk aid station, putting down another GU. I missed the crew once at this point and was in dire need of a refuel. After the Bushwhacking section, and making it to the base of Buttermilk falls, I surprisingly did not see my crew. At this point, it had been 8 miles without fueling up, and I was out of both water and TW. On my way up the falls, I called Cody to see what was up, and he said that I must have been going too fast, and that I missed them. He assured me that he would be at the next road crossing, and that we could refuel there. The only thing I wanted other than liquid, was raisin bread, and asked for that. 

A few minutes later, I met the crew at the aid station, and got my liquids filled up, took another salt tablet, took ibuprofen, icy hotted my quads (which were not feeling as strong on the climbs at this point), and R8’d my legs. All the works. Luckily after a short trail section, it was back to the 1.5 miles of road that passed the cider house, and they drove alongside catching me up on things that I may have missed. It wasn’t much. I knew I had the win in the bag at this point, but still had a shot for sub 7:20, so I pressed on the gas one last time. The next section had a more technical downhill, so I did my best doing it quick, but I did it as safe as I could. After the river crossing, I knew the crew wouldn’t be at the bridge, so it was just a long 2 miles back to the finish.

Nothing too eventful the last two miles, minus realizing that there was an uphill in a section that I thought was completely flat. There were many 50M and 50K people that were going out towards Buttermilk falls at this point, and the last miles were mostly single track, making it kind of annoying to do the head on pass. With .5 to go, I ended up passing Baileys buddy from Fulton going the other way, and wished him luck. The finish was uneventful, and a cluster since they weren’t using chip timing, and the aid station was a few feet in front of it. Regardless I came in at 7:18:32 and tapped the “giddy up” banner. The watch had me at 49.97, so I ended up running past the finish to get to 50. People thought that was a little weird, until they realized I was just maxing out the mileage. 

Overall, Ian put on another great race, and made some great additions to the race course, having to start at the campground. The volunteers were at every turn for me since I was super speedy, and the course was well marked. I am not sure that I would come back to this race again, as it wouldn’t serve much of a purpose, but we will see as my race schedule is always changing. With 8,500 ft of elevation gain, and a lot of stairs, my average pace is actually pretty quick as well.

I didn’t have any trouble walking afterwards, and my quads were the only sore body part after the race. No blisters (thanks SNB). Eternally grateful for the support from Cody, my Dad, and Matt, as they make these awesome results possible! 20 days until the Black Hills 100 (105 miles)! 😙

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