Marathon number 19 was the "Ultimate XC Challenge" in Jay, Vermont on 28 July 2007. The race consisted of essentially the same course as the Jay Challenge Marathon, which has been run for about 5 years. The race is organized by Dan Des Rosiers, whose casual approach is illustrated by the fact that he added a couple of miles in the week before the race to take the course from 31 to 33 miles. The name change is rumored to be due to a dispute with local businesses that may ultimately result in moving the race away from Jay.
I was drawn by the desire to try something different, although I don't expect to start pursuing ultras as a matter of course. I liked the race slogan, "It's all good."
Rachael has lately been going along with me to marathons to run associated halves, but I didn't mention this one to her at first because the "half" is 20 miles long over mountains and streams. She was enthusiastic when she heard about it however and signed herself up.
We flew to Manchester, NH and drove to 3 hours to Jay, meaning that over 8 hours of travel was required just to get there. Jay is pretty much the end of the earth. It seems to be a reasonable, although small, winter resort without much to draw people in the summer. Most of the restaurants were boarded up for the summer.
We stayed at the race hotel, "The Lodge at Jay." It was quaint. The rooms were very hot with no air conditioning, we were lucky to find a small fan in the closet. Many rooms apparently had no fan at all, or insult to injury: broken fans. There was no maid service, the house keeping staff was so affronted by a full house in summer that they refused report to work. The showers were either boiling hot or freezing cold. Saturday night after the race the notel hosted "Nighttrain," a rock band. The environs were loud all night, with a peak coming at the 2 am close, when a car alarm went off followed by this conversation: "Who's alarm is that?" "I think that it's yours, mine sounds like this." Second car alarm goes off. "Gee, we could play a song with those." Intentional 15 minute symphony of car alarms follows. Sunday after the race no one in the place had a hot shower. We called the front desk several times, once someone picked up and hung up without a word, so far as we could find there was no staff in the building, just a basket to drop your keys in on your way out. One could say the Lodge was overwhelmed by the level of participation in the race.
The trip was worth it, however, truly a unique experience. For me, the race was fine until the last 5 miles, which were pretty gruesome. In this photo of the start one observes gell packs in my side pockets. I didn't eat those, but they proved useful (if gooey) as shock absorbers for later falls.
We climbed over the top of Jay Peak, climbing 4000 ft in the first 9 miles, 1500 feet in one mile going over the ski hill. Here is a picture at the start with Jay Peak looming in the background (Secret of the trails, the stains on my clothes are from vasoline spread liberally. Comfort over fashion in this endeavor.)
Then we ran 2000 feet down a ski run. An amazing portion of the race was "running" in actual rivers for miles at a time, over boulders and junk. I had read the race description stating that some of the course was in streams, but didn't understand what this could mean. The streams were mostly small boulders and stones, 6 inches to several feet of water. Running in the streams would be fun if you weren't trying to move fast, but people were in a hurry and watching each other to find the best footholds. Sometimes one waded into the middle to cool off, most of it was rock hopping near the edge. I fell several times and found surprising dexterity in planning for safe falls and catching myself going down. If you don't get hurt too bad, you leave the experience surprised by skills you didn't know you had.. I have lots of scratches and bruises on my legs from the stones, but no major injuries. We ran also ran through swamps and mud. It didn't feel very environmentally concious to put 500 people over the course.
It took over 3 hours to get to 13.5 miles, then it was flat to about 20 miles. I ran pretty hard over that section, wanting to stretch my legs. Probably I should have been more conservative there. There was a time cut off at 20 miles (the fifth aid station). I got there in 4:15, but apparently a third of the field was stopped for missing 6 hours. The next section involved insanely dangerous stuff like swinging across a waterfall on a tree. At 24 miles you had to jump into a river and pull yourself across with a rope. I ran great until the 7th aid station at 28 miles. When I started out on the last 5 miles I thought that I would walk for a minute and then run, but had trouble even walking. I was hot, light headed and nauseous. The sun was out and I had dropped my head cover at 24 miles. The course had been overcast or shady until this point, but now we were in the Sun. I tried walking half a mile, sitting for a few minutes and then walking some more. I should have dropped out, but couldn't bear the thought of having to come back to Vermont to try for another stupid medal. It was an extremely uncompetitive race, from the start no one worried much about pace. When I sat down to rest toward the end virtually everyone stopped to offer me something. Everyone was walking. In the end I jogged the last quarter mile to finish in 8 hours 19 minutes. That was good enough for 40 out of 85 masters men and 132 out of 258 overall. You might think, in the photo below of the finish, that the blood letting on the course changed my shirt from white to red, but the change came from a drop bag at 24 miles. Amazing how clean socks and dry shoes can raise the spirits.
The winner finished in 5 hours 16 minutes, but was over half an hour ahead of second place.
Rachael ran well in the half. She finished in just under 6 hours. It was essentially the first 20 miles of the marathon. We finished nearly together because the half went off two hours after the full.
I have no particular desire to run this far again, I don't have time to train for it.
I feel pretty good today, the day after the race. I didn't have much trouble with my legs. I had chemical imbalance and overheating from being out for so long, but I fixed the chemistry with a prime rib and wine last night (at the Junction 101 Restaurant in Troy, we ate there three times, fantastic place) and am ready to run again.