After the Leaves Have Fallen (ATL) 20k
Its funny how when you do not think about something—say, the actually distance of the race you are going to run—it can all of a sudden burst into your consciousness at the strangest moment—say, as you are driving to the race. Suffice it to say this is exactly what happened as Katie and I were driving down I-87 Sunday morning on our way to the Shawangunk mountains to run the After the Leaves Have Fallen (simply “ATL” from here on out) 20k trail run. In September we ran the Monster Trail Half Marathon which is far and away the hardest run either of us have ever done. But the ATL is a 20k, which, at 12.4 miles, is only .7 of a mile shorter than a half marathon. Really? How did that slip my mind! Were we really prepared for this? (Jesh, how many times have I uttered that???)
Brief hydration/food thoughts As I pointed out, this was just about as long as the Monster Half, and if you read our race report you’ll remember that I almost passed out afterwards—something went SEVERELY wrong nutrition-wise. While this course was not has hard, the long ascents and sharp switchbacks made it very challenging, so I am glad to say that whatever we did this time worked out fine. Breakfast consisted of oatmeal, a bagel w/ peanut butter, and a cup of coffee. Then, after the hour and a half drive down New Paltz, we required some pre-race food in the form of a few dates (see me indulging in the above picture). That was it. We both took water at the aid stations and had our Vega Energy gel at the 5 mile mark. That seemed to be enough to get us through; add to that the post race eats and neither of us felt dehydrated or run down. Positives to take forward!
Weather The day had promised to be somewhat warmer, and as the race was about to start the sun was out, which took some sting out of the winds that were starting to pick up. No rain, which was good, however by the end of the race thick cloud cover had all but canceled out the sun, and the winds were even more pronounced, making it quite chilly.
Trail Conditions I was told that the course was changed from previous years due to Hurricane Irene damage. So I cannot compare this course to past years. That said, the majority of the race was on carriage trails consisting of fine crushed gravel, leaf covered dirt, or sections with larger rocks used to stem erosion. The fine crushed gravel was easy to run on (and it would be nice if all “rail trails” maintained this type of ground cover); it was the latter larger rocks that made for not merely an annoyance (have you ever tried to run stretches of level ground, let alone a descent, on unstable rocks?), but which also posed specific problems for running in minimalist footwear. There is no problem running trails with twigs, little rocks, branches, roots, and other pointy nasties; but try to run long stretches of a long race on pointy, uneven rocks. Not fun. The last half of the race was on more level, but rolling, ground so at least the foot falls were not as bad. While there were numerous rocky areas on the downhills, throughout the entire course the edges of the trail usually allowed anyone to bypass some of these areas if they so wished. All in all the trails were well groomed, marked with colored blazes, and the organizers had ensured that flour arrows marked the correct paths while small orange cones blocked the paths that were off-limits to runners.
Start to mile 5 This long stretch was, I felt, the toughest part of the race. The first aid station was at the 5k point; the second at mile five—and until that point the entire course was on a uphill (sometimes sloping, sometimes with sharp cutbacks and steeper climbs). I wish I had an elevation map so that I could know exactly how much climb we did. Regardless, the course just seem to keep going up and up with some rather steep climbs; then, as we left the 5k aid station we moved into a different climate zone (judging by the trees), and the ground cover saw larger flat rocky areas (you can see both kinds of rocky areas in the picture from Dirtproof; also check out the blog RUNDANGEROUSLY for some other pictures of the race).
As I said earlier, we thought this was the toughest part of the race because of the relentless climbing. There was simply not much time to catch your breath. I stayed with with Katie until the second aid station at mile 5. We both took our energy gels (first time trying Vega Gels—delicious!) and I headed on ahead.
Now, earlier in the race we had been passed by three runners who commented on my “No Meat Athlete” shirt with the predictable “I cannot wait to have a burger.” While it was all in good fun, I secretly wanted to catch up to them. So, after I left Katie, I kept my eyes peeled. The nice thing about this run is that the trail has switch backs that are near enough the edges of the cliffs to be able to see the runners ahead of you. Once I finally caught sight of these guys I knew I could catch and pass them—which I did, but not before I jokingly said that I had had to stop and eat a salad before deciding to catch them. (I ended up finishing ahead of all three, so score one for the vegan runner!)
Mile 5 to Finish This section saw, finally, more downhill sections than uphill! I had been beginning to think we were running in an Escher drawing: going up and up only to find yourself at the bottom. Well, we did go downhill, and this lead to the aid station at mile 8ish. From there it was an out-and-back (maybe a mile and a half total?) past the same aid station. I saw Katie half way back to the aid station after the turn around and she was looking pretty good. We exchanged hellos and then it was off to the last bit of downhill that wrapped around the end of Lake Minnewaska before (surprise surprise) a rather steep ascent along the hills that overlooking the lake. At this point I felt completely spent and decided to walk small sections of the uphill—but I tried to dig deep and forced myself to run on after a woman who was just ahead of me. I caught her about 400m or so from the finish as the trail sloped upwards and wrapped around a rocky outcrop to the finish (just back over the lip of the hill in the picture below).
After I finished I headed over to the car, grabbed warm clothing and some provisions (which proved quite a difficult tack since my hands were so cold that I could barely turn the key to open the car door), and then I jogged back to the finish line to catch Katie. She finished strong, though she told me her toes were thoroughly sore, maybe even another lost toenail—she needs a 1/2 size bigger pair of Merrells, so a pair of Lithe Gloves are next on the docket (man we love running shoes!). We drank some Soy Chocolate milk and some Gatorade, and munched on a banana and a bagel w/ peanut butter. It would have been nice to have some of the vats of chili the volunteers were serving, but we were unsure whether it was made with veg stock—we declined, though we did stop for Veggie Burgers and a beer at The Gilded Otter Brewing Company in New Paltz.
Final Thoughts This was a challenging but fun race. Despite the chilly climate and, what was almost as bad for us, the larger rocky areas, I would definitely run this again—especially now having knowledge of the trail conditions. [NB: The final picture above is of a guy running in KSOs. We talked both during and after the race about running in Vibrams on trails, and specifically this trail. He said that his feet were fine until about half way through the race. He agreed with our assessment of the trail: it was not comfortable to run on the sections with the larger rocks. That said, congrats to him for finishing the entire thing in his Vibrams.]
The ATL 20k is a friendly, reasonably low-key race with a well marked course, good post-race eats (though limited for vegans, there were plenty of vegetarian options) and edible prizes (loaves of bread for the top 3 in each age division). This is a great race for new or experienced road and trail runners alike, so make the trip from Albany or wherever you live and come run The Gunks next year.
*Update: 11/30: So you might have noticed the conspicuous absence of our race results from the original post. This is because I didn’t know them. As I finished my hands were so cold that I actually didn’t even hear what my time was. With that in mind, I wound up finishing in 1:50:03, while Katie finished in 2:05:10. The actual results can be found here: ATL 20 results So not bad times, given the crazy terrain and the chilly weather. Hope to run this again next year!