Written by Pat Hallahan.
What an event! Escarpment Trails 45th year! For those unfamiliar with the course, it runs roughly 17.6 miles (average of the GPS watches) with 4,800-5,000ft of elevation gain. The terrain consist of mostly relentless rocks, some roots, and steep ascents and descents. The descents can be a bit brutal with steep drop offs and jagged/loose rock.
The course is very front heavy on the climb; you start running right up Whindam Mountain until hitting the peak about 3.4 miles in. After a gnarly fun descent, you will then cruise until your second big climb heading up Blackhead Mountain (8.6 miles in). Things start to get interesting here as you will climb 1,000ft+ in .86 miles (23.5% grade). After that, most of the intense climb is over. There will be one more gradual final climb until mile 14.6 when it’s time to hit the final descent. Don’t let this fool you! The final two miles are very technical and demanding after the work you put in. One final nail in the coffin on the legs.
The morning started real smooth as Bethany and I woke up at our campsite and headed to the starting line which was a close 15 minutes down the road. Going into the event, I had no real structure as far as training. The first part of my season was starting to wear me out and I needed to dial it back a bit. This was my 11th race of the season. I really wanted to run Escarpment so I accepted the fact I wouldn’t be able to hammer this in the hard effort that I wanted to.
After seeing some familiar faces and catching up, the race was off. We started in wave 1 and Lee Berube led the pack. I saw him for all of maybe two minutes until he was out of site for the remainder of the race where he would eventually take the win, as well as his second fastest course time. We started our ascent up Whindam. This section consists of switch backs in the first half so one must be careful of pacing themselves because it’s very easy to burnout starting straight up the mountain. I paced myself a bit slower than I had hoped for, but that was just where my fitness was at.
The aid stations were so, so amazing as far as the logistics; they were placed about every 3 miles which became fairly crucial for me. When I hit the first aid station, I could not get the twist lid off the top of my flask. I fumbled for far too long and decided to grab a cup of water and continue on. Luckily, I got the lid off at the second aid station! To my surprise, the rubber on the top somehow got a hole pierced in it and all of my liquid came squirting out. I did take a tumble before this station and I assume that was the culprit. Unfortunately, I had to chug most of the water during the race and my belly was not happy. I had to run it out for 4 minutes afterwards and then it would settle. Looking back, I’m lucky I didn’t cramp looking, but I really needed that hydration.
After leaving aid station two, I felt ok and just continued on at a pace I knew would be sustainable for me to keep the rest of the race. After my buddies, Jay and Justin, took off from me, I was basically alone the rest of the race just enjoying the beautiful trail! On the steep climb up Blackdome, I had some final company with another racer. We paced one another the entire way up. I was hoping to put on a push and make up some time, but each time I tried, my toe would find a rock and I’d have a tumble or a close fall. Every time my morale would start to get a bit low, I would run into an aid station and instantly be in a great mood. I can’t begin to thank all those volunteers enough for hiking in miles upon miles with gallons of water and snacks for us. Those guys truly made this experience that much better.
At about mile 14.5, right before my final descent, I was for sure feeling some exhaustion setting in and I had been running alone for some time at this point. I looked up and there was my buddy Steve. He jumped behind me for a couple minutes and really amped me up! My exhaustion was now excitement and I started my final descent! I tried my best to keep it smooth and steady, but the drop offs started to really be hammering my legs at this point. Going from the steep climb to descent, the muscles are always a bit thrashed at this point. My inside abductors/thighs both seized up on me cramping pretty freaking bad! I had 1.5 miles to go and I just had to drag it out. What made it easier was the amazing views on that final stretch!! I couldn’t help but flaunt a smile. It turns out after finishing, the inside leg cramping was a common theme for people, including Lee and Michelle Merlis, who ended up being the female champ for the day and had a 12 minute PR I believe. Super pumped for her as she will be representing Team USA in Thailand later this year. At 3h34m I crossed over the finish line and plopped my butt down on a chair. I was happy to be done and it felt like my season had been wrapped up there. It was a bit of a relief! I’m excited to get back to a training block and get my fitness back up to another level.
If you love technical trail with big climbs and steep descents this course is for you and is a must on the bucket list! The atmosphere was top notch and the event was run super professionally. The race director, Dick, is somewhat of a legend himself and I commend him on 45 years of hard work and dedication. It brings so much joy to myself and the trail community! Thank you, Dick!
Thanks for taking the time to read this! Shoutout to Miles & Macros for the continued support! Also, to Jared for getting a win at Swain Mountain race on August 6th! I’m excited to have started a new training block this week and look forward to putting one final legit effort in this season.