Well, another great August day in the Catskills is under my belt now, with 2019 being my 15th year associated with this unique and very special event. As I reflect on this year’s race, I am struck with opposing thoughts, with the first being that every year brings something new and different to CMRR, and the second being that each year I feel a deeper sense of familiarity and family with all of you. Yes, I said it – you have become like family to me. And I think that’s why my voice broke as I told you all during the pre-awards announcements how much I love this race. Because yes, I absolutely LOVE what we have going on, and you all seem so very much like brothers and sisters to me now. It’s as if we all belong there together, our annual summer re-union.
For those of you who come out to the Catskills each 2nd Sunday in August, I know you understand what I’m trying to say. And for those of you who are new to CMRR, I trust that you will soon come to know the sense of family that I speak of. It’s a beautiful thing……
OK, so let’s talk about 2019, shall we? The solo race had 23 registered runners representing 7 different states, and featured a record number of starters. And it was also the first and only year so far that we have had a 100% finish rate. Yep, you read that right. EVERY starter finished this grueling 100K course. I attribute that partly to the splendid weather, but also to the fitness level that all of these great athletes brought to the start line.
In the relay race, our number of teams was slightly down this year, largely due to schedule conflicts with at least three of the running clubs that have become our “regulars”. But the good news is that we had quite a few brand new teams, with several from New York City’s proudest borough. Brooklyn in the house!
As I have made a habit of in recent years, I came into Phoenicia the evening before the race with the idea that I would get a nice meal and a beer, and then go out late night and do the preliminary setup. As a beer nerd, my first option was the Woodstock Brewing Company, located on Rte 28 just a mile or two outside of Phoenicia. Upon arrival, I spied one of our regular teams, the NY Harriers Bourbon Bosses, and dropped by their table to say hello. They were their usual mellow selves, just looking forward to a really fun day on Sunday. Within the half hour, three of the solo runners would also appear at the brewery, making me wonder if this is where I should hold future Saturday pre-race checkin !
But after eating and partaking in the beverage offerings of the brewery, I made my way over to High Street to get the start line area in order.
Luckily, the weather Saturday night was spectacular, and as I gazed at the stars at 1:30am from the Woodland Valley Rd bridge, our first solo runner appeared. By a little after 3:00am, the others began appearing, and although we did have a few no-shows, when it came time for the race briefing and the group picture, we were looking at our biggest starting field ever.
Beginning promptly at 4:00am, and with temps at a very pleasant 52° F, eighteen solo runners set off on their journey toward Woodland Valley. At three miles out they would turn around and head back toward the starting area, and then continue forward in what would be a 270-degree circumnavigation of one of the spectacular “high peaks” regions of the Catskill Mountains.
I had pegged male entrant Doug Haines of Goshen, NY, as a potential favorite to win, and it was therefore no surprise that he was the first to reach the 10K mark in 53 minutes, with 2018 female champion Lynne Fahy of Geneva, NY, following just a few minutes behind as the 1st place female. By about 5:15am, all of the runners had completed the first 10K and were on their way toward the village of Phoenicia.
Meanwhile, at 4:30am our first of the relay teams set out onto the course. This team was a special one to say the least. Calling themselves “The Race To Say ‘I Do’”, two of the team members were to be married later in the day at their Catskills home in Tannersville. The bride-to-be Katie Peterson started out running the first leg, at which point she slapped hands with groom-to-be Stephen Nash-Webber, who would run leg 2. Later on, Katie and Steve would run Leg 10 together, crossing the finish line in unison, a decidedly beautiful way to preface their wedding vows. Congrats and much love to you both on your journey in togetherness !
At 5:30am, my pals the NY Harrier Bourbon Bosses showed up to toe the line along with two other teams, Team TYS and Farmer Carl and 4 Chicks. Over the next two hours, the 15 remaining relay teams would be released at half hour intervals. Making what I believe is their 8th team appearance were the NEPA Comeback Crew, who had lost a
couple of their regular runners to scheduling conflicts, but found a fill-in, and were able to complete the race with just seven runners, two short of their usual nine. The 7:30am start featured the first ever all-female team to begin the race in the final time slot. This latest start time is predicated on speed, and based on their pre-race time estimates, the Dashing Whippets Women looked like they had it to burn, and could seriously challenge the course record. Time would tell.
With all the teams successfully on the course now, I packed up the car and began my drive toward the finish line in West Shokan. Between Phoenicia and Oliverea I would pass the majority of the relay teams, who all appeared to be making good progress.
Between the 30K and 40K marks on the course I began catching up to the solo runners. One of them was 4th-timer Julie Lyness of Rising Sun, MD. Over Julie’s 4 years at the
race she and I have grown to become friends, and given that, I felt the liberty to make jokes with her as she suffered along toward the largest climb on the course. Her husband Tom had popped out of the car to check on her at this point, and was ambling alongside her when I flippantly remarked that she was “farther along than when I saw you last year”. In the end, Julie would go on to set a 20-minute course PR, and I chalk that up to both good preparation and experience.
Moving along through the 40K to 50K portion of the course, I passed most of the other runners before encountering 2nd place female Jenny Hoffman, and then Lynne Fahy. Lynne was still holding her lead, and was also remaining quite close to race leader Doug Haines, only about 5 minutes behind him. Would Doug be able to fend her off for the remainder of the race, I wondered?
Anyway, now it was time to get to West Shokan and start setting up the finish line. After putting the finish structure together and popping open the timing tent, I received a text from volunteer Yvonne Nedbal telling me she was on the way, and she showed up just a little after 11:00am. As she and I worked to set up things in the Davis Park pavilion, I received a call telling me that our 3-ft long sandwiches from the Boiceville IGA were ready for pickup. Yay!
With everything in place now, and additional volunteers Pat and Kathy Mahady having arrived (I bumped into them while I was at the supermarket as it turned out), all we had left to do was to wait for runners to arrive at the finish.
During all this time, race founder and my CMRR “partner in crime” Brian Cavanagh had been out on the course monitoring the runners, and he was beginning to send me texts with info about the position of solo race leaders.
Shortly after 1:30pm, the Dashing Whippets Men tore across the finish line in a course record time of 6:06:27, nosing out the previous record by a little less than one minute. The team split sheet left me in awe, and included a 32:55 by Jeremy Arthur on Leg 7, and a 34:57 by Jordan O’Donoghue on the very formidable Leg 8.
Sometime after 2:00pm, other teams began arriving at the finish on Lang Rd, including the aforementioned Dashing Whippets Women, who did indeed set a course record, coming in in 6:58:22 and breaking the previous record by almost 45 minutes. Wow! Notable splits included Meghan Bongartz’s 49:39 on Leg 4 (the toughest leg of all) and Jessica Chichester’s 42:10 on Leg 9.
Dashing Trail Whippets won the Mixed team division in 7:42:14, and making it a clean sweep for the Whippets was Deg’s Legs, who won the Superteam division in a time of 7:47:22.
Brian Cavanagh had arrived at the finish at about 1:00pm, and brought us word of what was happening with the solo race. Apparently a female had taken the lead away from Doug Haines, and now I was thinking I was going to be seeing Lynne Fahy as our first overall female champion. And at 1:49pm, a female did indeed turn the final corner in the race. But to my surprise, it was Jenny Hoffman of Cambridge, MA. Jenny had begun the race conservatively, it seems, but managed to keep a steady pace throughout, allowing her to pass Lynne, and then ultimately Doug. Not only was she our first female overall winner, but she had broken Jordan Grande’s course record by almost an hour, clocking a time of 9:49:04.
Doug came in 10 minutes behind Jenny to win the men’s division in a time of 10:04:20, a wonderful run for his first ever ultra. Great job, Doug!
Lynne would go onto to finish as 2nd female and 3rd overall in 10:57:34, and finishing 3rd female and 4th overall was Theresa Zacek of Salisbury Mills, NY, in a time of 11:14:52. Theresa’s previous longest race had been a 55K, but she trained with great discipline, and her result reflected the hard work she put in. With females taking three of the top four spots, this was certainly a year for the ladies.
Finishing 2nd in the men’s division was Middletown, NY’s Nicholas Damiano, another of several in the race who were running their very first ultra, finishing in 11:47:48. Rounding out the Top 3 was Chad Lapp of Ridgewood, NJ, who finished in 12:25:52.
The solo race also featured two other notables. We had our oldest female finisher ever, 60-year old Kathleen Walker of Hyde Park, NY, who ran virtually the entire race with her daughter Mary Claire, and finished in a time of 14:18:35. And….. we also had our youngest female finishers. Brittany LeClair (age 20) and her friend Schuyler Stuart (age 21) ran most of the race together, and finished in 14:24:01 and 14:34:08, respectively. Brittany confessed at the start line that her longest previous race was a 10K. Imagine that.
I also want to call out Phil Cappuccio and Julie Lyness, who both became the only 4-time finishers of the solo race. I’ve become good friends with both, and I know that I will be seeing them in the Catskills again and again going forward.
I consider it a great privilege to direct this event year in and year out, but it cannot take place without the help of great volunteers. My deepest gratitude goes out to Yvonne Nedbal and Kathy and Pat Mahady for their steadfast help with scoring and other race duties. In fact, Kathy and Pat drove straight to the Catskills from Cape May, NJ just to volunteer! And also thanks to race founder Brian Cavanagh, whose wisdom and experience continues to guide me and help make CMRR better and better.
I hope everyone has a great rest of your summer (less than 3 weeks left), and I invite all of you to join us again in 2020 for another wonderful weekend in the Catskills. Until then…..