Jenkins Mountain Scramble 2013 (1/2 Marathon) Race Report
What did I get myself into?
This is a bit harder than I thought.
I am so tired I want to stop.
Quit whining, this is what you wanted.
These are all things that went through my head as I ran/hiked/scrambled/crawled up Jenkins Mountain in ankle deep water. But let me start from the beginning…
Weather It started raining Friday morning and was still raining when I got home from work Friday night at 11am and when I got up at 5:50am on Saturday to leave for the race. It rained the entire way to the race. And yes, it rained during the race. (sigh) In fact, a slushy snow began falling a few miles into the race, and then heavy snow came down atop the mountain. Perfect trail running conditions.
Location The race was held at The VIC (Visual Interpretive Center) at Paul Smiths College, which is gorgeous—and I have to say that the trails there are some of the most beautiful that I have ever run on. I would love to get back there when the conditions are bit more…leisurely.
Course The terrain that is part of the VIC trail system is very diverse and includes: mulched trails that are generally 6 to 7 feet wide, narrower single track trails, as well as sections of “game trail.”
Be forewarned: this race is considered a “wilderness race” because there are no aid stations; you must carry all your supplies with you, and there are lots of sections of bushwhacking. (I really didn’t know that there was going to be so much “off trail” running. Oh well. Live and learn.) At various points I thought about how this must be what The Barkley Marathon is like (albeit that race is much, much longer and much, much more difficult).
The race boasts 2364 ft of total elevation gain, which is just shy of the Monster Half Marathon’s 2780 ft. I am not sure which should be considered the harder race, but given the Scramble’s “wilderness/adventure” element I think it might have a case for besting the Monster. Yyou can read our report from that race here).
The race I am going to divide the report into start-to-climb, the climb, and descent-to-the-finish.
Start-to-climb (Miles 1-9ish) We lined up in the VIC parking lot as the RD detailed what we could expect to encounter on the course.
“This is going to be an adventure wilderness trail run with steep scrambles and sections of bushwhacking through deep brush.”
As we headed off his final words rung in my head: “At least there are no bugs and no snow.” Well, the first part was correct (more on the second part later). I headed out with the front group of runners (ok, so there were only 16 of us but still…) and eventually realized that I was moving fast. I wanted to try and “race” this but eventually I knew I would have to drop off the pace a bit.
While the trails during this section were some of the most beautiful I have ever run on the rain was relentless and the temperature hovered just above freezing. That meant that the rocks, roots, and boardwalks were slick as ice; there were also large muddy parts and ankle deep areas of water. We slipped; we slid; some fell—but everyone around me kept pushing. I stayed with a group of 3-4 guys for most of this pre-climb section, though one guy did peel off from us (however I think he eventually dropped), and we wound up rotating the leader as we hit a few steeper climbs. While the elevation didn’t chance more than 200 total ft. the conditions made things really tough, and I began to question whether I could sustain such a hard pace. At one point I pushed ahead of the group for the first time, becoming the pro tempore leader. It felt strange—while I knew I wasn’t the leader, it felt good take the lead of our little group. At some point I downed a GU, hoping it would help to sustain my energy; which it did for a little while.
My plan was to hang-on through this long area until the climb up Jenkins Mountain. Then I could hopefully be able to make up time on the descent. Of course, this was my plan before I knew what the descent would consist of: steep scrambling and bushwhacking through trail-less brush. With that my plan sort of fell apart…
The climb (Mile 9ish-11) Eventually the trail began to climb upwards and that would have been bad enough since the course consists of between a mile and a mile-and-a-half ascent to reach the top of Jenkins Mountain (climbing from 1700ft to 2476ft). The footing was already bad, the rain had not let up, and now we were hitting steep scrambles over small boulders and uncovered root systems, all awash in water flowing off the mountain.
We were, quite literally, running up streams. My feet were freezing. Soaked doesn’t even describe it. I stayed behind another runner and emulated his strategy: when he ran, I ran; when he power-hiked, I did the same. During some short descents he would almost vanished because his pace increased so quickly. I remember vocalizing this with a “Holy shit, where’d he go?” then I’d see a blue jacket dart behind a tree. Eventually though, we stayed in line (another runner behind me) as we slowly trudged up the mountain. I decided to take my last GU during the climb. Hoping that it would sustain me up and over the mountain, not counting on how much energy I would exert on the way down.
At some point blue jacket grabbed his calf and stepped aside. I called ahead and asked if he was cramping. Affirmative. I offered an electrolyte pill, but he said he would be fine; so I pushed on ahead of him (that was the last time I saw anyone ahead of me until the finish). The trail was really steep at points, and the water, rocks and roots made it almost impossible to move at more than a fast hike. Some sections leveled a bit and I tried to run, but it took a constant dialogue with myself to ensure that I kept putting one for in front of the other. The worst, though, was yet to come.
The descent-to-finish (Mile 11ish-13.1) Summiting the mountain found slowly falling snow…but its beauty only drew a slew of expletives from me. While I noticed the pristine beauty that I was running through it became more of a blurry background hum to the pain of running (falling? sliding?) downhill. The trail went up and over some solid rock and then disappeared—all that I would have to guide me were the orange and blue ribbons that marked the path back down the mountain. And so I plunged into the brush…
At times the descent wasn’t “that” bad…considering that there wasn’t a trail. Some of the time I simply found it easier to bound down the mountain, skipping and hopping over the logs, rocks, downed trees, and muddy patches, just allowing gravity to take hold of me. Most of the time, though, I had to carefully climb over, scramble down, slid around, or plunge through the various terrain.
My only fall came when I decided to jump over a fallen log and hit the mud patch on the other side—both feet went out from under me, I flew in the air and landed flat on my back, thankfully missing the tree with the back of my head. I got up, laughed a bit at my stupidity, and continued down the mountain. The “trail” markers would sometimes vanish in the thick brush or around a small slope and it took a lot of mental effort to stay focused—searching my line of sight for where I needed to go.
Eventually, after shimmying across a fallen tree to cross a rather fast moving stream I smelled a camp fire. It. Smelled. So. Good. After pushing through more brush and climbing a small hill I saw one of the volunteers I had seen earlier. (A few of them had been scattered throughout the lower sections of the course to ensure that everyone was ok and check us off as we went by.) I commented to her on the lovely smell and headed off on what I knew was the push to the finish.
It was here that I really bonked. The energy from my handful of dates and two GUs was completely gone. I should have brought one more GU for the descent, but having none I tried to tell myself that I was almost there and I just needed gut it out. But now even the smallest of inclines seemed too much. My progress turned into: stop, walk, start running again, repeat. Add to that the fact that my entire body was turning cold and my hands were little tiny clammy caves in my gloves—I had to peel them off with my teeth to try and get the blood moving. It was agony to keep going.
Eventually I saw the RD at a turn in the trail. He was clapping and cheering me on, telling me that I was almost there. Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. But I emerged onto the entrance road to the VIC and knew it was only a couple hundred yards to the finish.
My spirits lifted when I saw a small group of volunteers and spectators cheering—I mean really yelling and cheering for me to finish. There was no other grandiose fanfare; no crowds; no finishers metal. Just a small group of people in the rain, telling me that I could do it. I crossed the finish line and put my hands on my knees; then I realized that they were under a tent, so I shuffled 5 feet towards them (out of the rain) and resumed my hands on knees position.
Volunteer: “Runner number 99. 2:16:07.”
[I looked up.] What place did I finish?
Huh? Third? Your pulling my leg.
“Nope we don’t lie. Two other runners dropped out, but you finished 3rd.”
I was stunned. I felt proud of myself for gutting out was a ridiculously difficult race. It was more than I had bargained for, more than I expected, but I had pushed hard and finished as strong as I could. As I reminded myself countless times during the run, I had asked for this, I had wanted lots of climbs and descents—I got what I wished for, and I persevered through it all.
***This was only the 3rd running of the Jenkins Mountain Scramble, and when I went to look for info on past runnings I couldn’t find any detailed race reports. I hope this serves to guide/prepare/deter? (ha!) runners who are interested in running this race. It is small field, and a very challenging course, but it is lots of “fun”—at least, fun for trail runners.***