One of the things that always strikes me about the Catskill Mountain 100K is its simplicity. Despite the fact that the course traverses 62.1 miles – a formidable distance even for a relay team – there’s an air of simplicity about it that is unmistakable. Whether you’re lined up at the exchange point waiting for your relay teammate to reach you, running your own leg, or just driving the course in support of your current runner, there is nothing stressful or complicated about any of it. It’s just you, the road, and the beautiful Catskill mountain landscape. It’s this concept of simplicity that has drawn me back again and again to CMRR ever since first running it in 2004 with a group of friends from my train commute. Back then, team Rail Riders was an uncompetitive team (I think we came in in just a few seconds under 9 hours), but we had a blast, and took home many great memories.
All this was in mind as I made last minute preparations for the 2015 Catskill Mountain 100K Road Race & Relay, my second year as race director after having spent 8 years running in the event myself. This year’s race featured 15 relay teams, but also 13 starters in the fairly new solo division, a doubling of the number who toed the line in 2014.
The 4:00am start of the solo race began under the light of the street lamp where High Street meets Woodland Valley Rd in the quiet hamlet of Phoenicia, NY. I sensed a determination in the runners, and despite the forecast for temps in the upper 80s, knew that we were going to be in for a good day out there.
Not long after the lead runners began returning from the out-and-back first 10K, relay teams started to appear in preparation for their 5:30am start. But the solo race began to take shape, with William Uribe the 1st to reach the 10K mark in 44 minutes, followed just 2 minutes later by Adam Rau. Both men appeared to be running too fast by my estimation, but the proof would be later on, when they reached the 70K and 80K sections of the course, which would be in open sun during the hottest part of the day. CMRR and 100K newbie Rachael Rheaume was the first female to reach the 10K mark in 59 minutes.
Following the Solo start, Relay division teams were released onto the course at half-hour intervals between 5:30 and 7:30am. A group calling themselves Dirty Running Scoundrels, decked out in shirts depicting a skunk that resembled Pepe Lepew, fielded four teams in this year’s race. Another running team from New York City called the Dashing Whippets Racing Team (DWRT) fielded three teams, upping the ante from the one team they had brought to last year’s race. Also joining the fray were two Albany-based teams, a Long Island team, and even one from distant Ithaca, NY, aptly calling themselves ‘Cornell.’ The Harrier Men were back this year from NYC, trying to avenge their narrow loss to team Raider Pride in the 2014 race. And finally, there were the Road Warriors, comprised of runners well-known in the Orange and Sullivan County race scene, several of whom were long time veterans of CMRR.
Once everyone was off and running, I gave instructions to Andres Espinosa and Jim Bixler, two of our super volunteers, who would be out on the course most of the day making sure that the solo runners without a crew were monitored and being cared for.
Moving out past the 20K mark, my girlfriend Catherine and I spotted several runners along Route 28, making their way between Phoenicia and Big Indian. With the time now approaching 8:00am, I was particularly pleased to see my car thermometer still showing a temperature reading in the low 60s. Cooler temps would obviously make it an easier day on both ultra runners and relay runners alike.
After picking up the fluid support table I had placed at the turn onto Ulster County route 47 in Big Indian, we made our way past the 30K mark and eventually caught up with solo runner Cathy Troisi. Cathy is a great story, an ultra runner 69 years young who was using CMRR as a training run for the Tahoe 200 she is registered for in September. She confessed to me before the race that she would only run 50K and then call it a day. Needless to say, whether she planned to finish or not, I was glad to have such an inspiring runner in the race, and Catherine and I stopped to chat with her and wish her well before moving on. (True to her word, Cathy completed 50K before hailing a ride to the finish from a volunteer)
As we neared – and then rounded – Fiddler’s Elbow and began the huge ascent up Winnisook Hill, we encountered several other solo runners, all of whom appeared to be doing a good job of properly pacing themselves on this very hill race course. Trishul Cherns and Melissa McCutcheon were running together, and Trishul told me that he was predicting a finish for them of right around 15 hours. Rachael Rheaume, although having lost the lead female position to Jordan Grande, was still smiling, and appeared to be happy with her day so far. Ken Kirsch was plodding up the hill, but based on his experience of last year, knew that running this section was not only an exercise in futility, but also possibly a recipe for disaster.
The next step for Catherine and I would be to get to the 55K mark and set up the water table there before the first unsupported runner reached that point. But as we made our way into Frost Valley and past the expansive YMCA property there, I became concerned that William and Jordan were both still nowhere in sight, and I was worried they had beaten us to the 55K location. Fortunately, we came upon race founder Brian Cavanagh, part of the volunteer support team working with the solo runners. Brian told me that both of them were just a few minutes ahead, and I was relieved to know we’d be able to get to them in time. Just after we set up the table alongside the East Branch of the Neversink River, William came ambling along, apparently suffering from some difficulty with his plantar fascia. I helped him refill his water bottles, and after looking at his watch, he assured me that even if he wasn’t able to run the entire way, he still had plenty of time to finish, and that he would do exactly that. Minutes later, Jordan appeared, and was looking very strong. After attending to her needs, we left the table there for the other unsupported runners and moved on in search of lead runners Chris Rice, Dante Simone and Adam Rau.
We passed Chris initially at about the 57K mark, but then caught up with his dad at the 60K exchange point. After a quick chat, we learned that Chris was doing OK despite our having seen him sitting on the car tailgate with his shoes off a couple miles back. Apparently he was changing his shoes and socks at regular intervals as a way of staving off blisters, which seemed like a great race plan.
It was at the left-turn at Zanetti’s Garage that we caught up with Dante, and he gave us a smile and a few words of gratefulness as we slowly drove by. Heading to and through Grahamsville, and now on our way toward the Rondout Reservoir section of the course, there was still no sign of Adam, and my jaw was practically in my lap as I contemplated the speed with which he appeared to be completing the course. Or had he DNFed? We didn’t know, and we would have to wait a little while longer to find out for sure.
Catherine and I set up the 75K water table at the bald eagle viewing area alongside the reservoir, working as quickly as we could, and carefully covering the water and Gatorade with a tarp so as to keep them from becoming too hot in the blazing mid-afternoon sun. Moving ahead toward Sundown, we finally reached Adam, who had one of his brothers pacing him at this point. He looked utterly depleted by the heat and sun, but I took comfort in knowing that he had his family all there supporting him and making sure he was as hydrated and as cool as possible. We stopped at 3 Goldens Convenience Store, the 80K mark on the course, and chatted with Adam’s wife Janis. She confirmed his determination to finish the course in record time, and confessed that at some point earlier in the day he had been talking about breaking 9 hours. As it was, he would probably not break 9:00 at this point, but was still in a great position to come in under 10 hours.
Having accounted for all of the solo runners, the next task would be to head to West Shokan and set up the finish line and pavilion at Davis Park for the post-race. As we passed through the Peekamoose Mountain trailhead section (about 85K), we saw dozens and dozens of vehicles parked along the road, in both legal and illegal parking spots. I had learned a few weeks ago that this area – which features a “secret” swimming hole called the Peekamoose Blue Hole – had become overly popular among many NYC-based day tourists, and from what we observed, the area appears to have gotten completely out of control. We came upon one motorist who had stopped his vehicle right in the middle of this narrow, shoulderless road, practically blocking traffic in both directions. After somehow negotiating around him, we quickly came upon a group of 4 or 5 young men carrying towels and 12-packs of beer, and one of them even had a Jack Daniels bottle that he was aggressively pouring into a plastic container. Catherine and I could only shake our heads in disgust.
Finally reaching West Shokan, we scrambled to get the finish line structure set up, and while I ran off to the Boiceville IGA to pick up the 3-foot-long sandwiches, Catherine set up the tables, tablecloths, finisher awards/medals and so on.
Shortly after 1:00pm, Adam’s support crew appeared at the finish, announcing that he was only about 10-15 minutes out. I was especially excited for him, and proud to be on hand to see such a phenomenal course record being set. As he rounded the final turn onto Lang Rd, the clock read 9 hrs, 19 minutes, and he finished in an official time of 9:19:39, almost two hours faster than Ken Posner’s course record time of 11:15:57 in 2014. Totally drained but clearly pleased, Adam spent several minutes flat on his back in the grass, chatting with his family as he got through his initial recovery from a very taxing race.
Dante Simone followed Adam a mere 38 minutes later (and still looking quite fresh, I might add) in an official time of 9:57:12, with Chris Rice coming in 3rd overall in 10:45:35. Chris’s stated goal had been to beat the previous course record, and having done that, gave me a happy smile as he crossed the finish line.
Only minutes later, Jordan Grande became our female solo winner in a stunning time of 10:53:52, beating the women’s course record by over 43 minutes, and also taking nearly 3 hours off of her 2014 time of 13:43:07. Following Jordan was William Uribe, who had recovered appreciably in the latter stages of the race, and finished 5th overall in 11:11:37.
During this time, the fastest of the relay teams began appearing in Davis Park. Finishing 1st overall and first in the Open division (6:49:53) were the Dashing Whippets Men, who, as a team, recorded the fastest individual time on 7 of the 10 relay legs. Ryan Hepworth’s 44:25 time on Leg 4, although nowhere near the fastest ever, was a full two and a half minutes faster than any other team’s leg 4 time. Scott Bartucca’s Harrier Men team finished 2nd overall (6:59:17) for the second year in a row, showing that they will always be a force to be reckoned with. Crossing the line 3rd in the relay division was the 1st Superteam, calling themselves Rising Sun. This enthusiastic group – also from NYC, as many of this year’s teams were – completed the 100K course in an impressive time of 7:16:18.
In a display of team dominance, the Dashing Whippets Women took first place in the Female division, clocking in at 7:45:42, followed in 2nd place by their lady teammates the Mountain Whippets in 9:08:58. Winning the Masters Division were race veterans the Road Warriors in a time of 10:02:59. And finally, in the Mixed division, Albany area team the MA-RA’s (Middle Aged Recreational Athletes) won in a time of 10:14:20.
After the relay teams were all in, and everyone had partaken in sandwiches, soft drinks and (for some) a beer or two, we gave out the team awards, after which time many of the teams headed out on their long trip home. But the race was still going on for many of the solo runners, and we gave renewed attention to the finish line as the sun began to make its way toward the horizon on this terrific August Sunday.
Finishing 6th overall in 13:11:12 was Grzegorz Klapadlo of Maspeth, NY. His resume coming into the race was thinner than many of the other solo competitors, but he clearly showed that he has what it takes to tackle CMRR, and was a proud 1st timer. Chris “Pizza Man” Regan of Wappingers Falls, NY was 7th in 13:35:49, and upon finishing, swore off ever doing a 100-miler. “100K was enough for me.” he stated.
Robert Sholtis, a late entry from the D.C. area of Virginia, finished 8th in 13:53:59, followed in 9th (and 2nd place female) by Rachael Rheaume. Rachael’s mom and dad had been hovering around the finish area for at least an hour and a half, wondering about her status in the race, and hemming and hawing about whether to drive out onto the course to find her. Well, they finally did, and then quickly returned to tell me that she was nearing the finish and looking good! Rachael finished in 13:58:48.
Rounding out the field of solo finishers were Melissa McCutcheon and Trishul Cherns. Melissa had raced CMRR last year, but DNFed somewhere around the 70K mark. Buoyed by a desire to finish it this year, and crewed for again by her husband Tom, she finished with Trishul in a time of 15:18:02. Trishul’s was – are you ready? – his 238th ultra finish. Wow!
The only regret I had of the day was that I didn’t have the opportunity to run with all these great teams and individuals. But as the race director, I take great pride in the caliber of runners that CMRR draws – team relay runners with a great sense of fellowship and adventure, and solo ultra runners with a grit and determination that says “Hardest road 100K in the country?? Bring it!”
Thanks to all the teams, solo runners, and especially to volunteers Catherine Petroski, Brian Cavanagh, Jim Bixler and Andres Espinosa, whose boundless help was pivotal in our 2015 success. I look forward to seeing all of you back in the Catskills with us next year for another great adventure. For those who may be wondering, the tentative date is August 14th, 2016.
Have a great end to your Summer, a terrific Fall, and keep doing great things!