Well I promised we were going to mix it up in the blog and what better way to start than with a little insanity.
Randy Shemanski, the Athletics Communications Manager at The University of Scranton, recently ran the Cayuga Trails 50. As the name implies it’s a 50-mile run through the woods because apparently a regular marathon is for wussies.
That’s a distance most people can’t even fathom. In the world of ultramarathons it’s hardly the longest either. There are 100-milers and plenty that are even longer.
I’ve known Randy for a long time and thought maybe you guys would like to hear from him on what it was like to train and then run an ultra.
For the record, Randy’s time was 11 hours and 19 minutes. His goal was under 10 hours, but it’s probably best if those of us who can’t even imagine a 50-mile run don’t hold that against him.
So here are 10 questions for our man.
1. Do you want me to recommend a good psychiatrist? I know several.
Ya know, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been called crazy, I could afford that psychiatrist. But I consider being called crazy a compliment.
2. Why a 50-miler?
Because I’m not ready for anything longer … yet. The “traditional” way people get into ultramarathons is to slowly step up in distance — 50K, then 50 miles, then 100K, then 100 miles. I’m hoping to continue that progression next year.
3. Tell us the difference between trail running and road racing. I mean there are some obvious differences but why trails?
Well, besides the obvious of trail vs. road surfaces, the biggest difference is probably that most trail races have many more hills and they’re often steep and/or long. For instance, the Cayuga Trails 50 had approximately 9,000 feet of elevation gain (climbing), which is 180 feet per mile. For comparison, the Boston Marathon has about 600 feet of elevation gain, an average of 23 feet per mile. Big difference.
The other main difference is just that every step you take is different in most trail races. Unlike the road, where you can lock into a stride and pace and not worry about what you’re stepping on (except for potholes in NEPA!), you have to watch almost every step you take in a trail race. That means looking at the ground 10-20 yards in front of you the whole time to pick your line when the trail gets technical. Some races have some smoother trail — think old service roads or railroad beds like the D&H trail north of Scranton — that don’t require quite as much concentration, but you always have to be at least partly locked in to where you’re stepping.
4. Seriously, give us the best and worst part of the actual race. (I’m invoking the “it’s-my-blog-and-I’ll-do-what-I-want” rule here. The best part CAN’T be finishing the race).
Well, since I can’t give the obvious answer for best part, I’ll give you two. First, just being out in nature for that length of time is super enjoyable. Even though trail and ultra runners are pushing their limits, it’s still very cathartic to be surrounded by nature for hours. Backpackers will know exactly what I mean.
And the second best part is the camaraderie of trail races. No matter what level of runner you are — an elite in the lead pack or someone finishing near the back — everyone has a word of encouragement for each other. The Cayuga Trails 50 course doubles back on itself a few times in addition to being two nearly identical loops, plus there’s a marathon that does one loop that starts two hours later, so aside from the first couple hours of the race, you’re constantly coming across other runners. Everyone cheers each other on and high-fives are common.
The worst part of the race for me was the IT band pain that I had over the last eight or so miles. It slowed me down significantly, forcing me to walk a lot more than I normally would have.
5. Was there ever a doubt during the race that you were not going to finish?
Only for about 30 seconds or so. There was an aid station with about six miles or so remaining that I stopped at for maybe two minutes max, and when I turned to leave, my knee was so stiff that I couldn’t walk without a limp. My immediate thought was that if my knee was going to feel like that the rest of the way, I might be in trouble. But after about 100 or so yards, it loosened up enough that I could power hike the hills, run the flats and gentle slopes. But I couldn’t run the downhills either, which is what cost me a lot of time.
6. There’s no way 50 miles is just a walk in the park. when did it get really hard and what did you do to get past that point.
It only got hard when my knee acted up. Going into the race, I felt that I had done enough training and I had run the course enough times over the last few years that I wasn’t intimidated by the distance or the terrain. Highs and lows are inevitable in an ultramarathon, but I think with proper training and planning, you can limit them. And one tip I read that I will always remember is to run into every aid station with a smile and greet the volunteers working there. They will always return that smile — volunteers at ultramarathons are special people — and even if you were faking that smile when you arrived, you’ll be feeling better when you leave.
7. It’s been said ultramarathoners hallucinate because of exhaustion. See anything you want to tell us about?
Not in this race, but I did have a few “visions” while pacing a friend at the Montour Endurance Run just outside of Danville last summer. She was in the 24-hour race and I had run the six-hour race and then stuck around to pace her through the night hours. We were walking along the trail and our headlamps would cast oddly shaped shadows off the bushes and trees. We flinched more than once and even jumped back a couple times because we thought we saw animals that were actually shadows.
There are some pretty good stories about runners hallucinating, too. My favorite is from Courtney Dauwalter, who won the Western States 100 this year and won the Moab 240 (yes, 240 miles) outright last year. During Moab, she saw a man playing a cello and a leopard in a hammock. But she also slept for a grand total of like three minutes during that race, so you can imagine the tricks her mind might’ve been playing on her!
8. What was your first real meal after you got done?
Well, there was some food at the finish, so I had a beer and some barbecued pork maybe 15 minutes after finishing. Then about an hour or so later, I went to Wegman’s and got two slices of pizza and a donut. But to be honest, I wasn’t crazy hungry. I took in at least 200 calories per hour during the race, sometimes a bit more depending on what caught my eye at the aid station, so I wasn’t totally calorie-depleted. But on the flip side, I was STARVING when I woke up the next morning.
9. Are you going to do it again?
Oh yes, most definitely. I don’t think I’ll run Cayuga again next year, but I have my eye on a couple races. I ran the Worlds End 50K on the first weekend of June as training for Cayuga, and there’s also a 100K at that event, so that’s a possibility next year. What I do for the rest of 2018 will depend on how I’m feeling over the next month or so. I’m signed up for a couple shorter races in the next three weeks, but other than that, all I know is that I’ll be running on trails as much as I can.
10. Did you see Bigfoot. (Asking for a friend)
No, but I did see a guy running the race in a kilt and sandals. That’s just as shocking, right?
For the record, this is a direct shot at your friendly blog host. We’ll get to this in a later post. Thanks, pal. Well-played.
NEXT UP: This hike could not be any more local … or worth doing