LeRoy Kopp ran Cayuga Trails 50 on June 3, 2017 at Robert H. Treman State Park in Ithaca, New York. This is his account of the race. Scroll down to view a 4:49 video of this beautiful course.
It was a beautiful early morning in gorgeous Ithaca New York, as I toed the line for my first 50 mile trail race. The previous September I had run/walked about 60 miles solo in what I had named the first annual sunrise/sunset run. That was a huge accomplishment for me as I had run farther than I had ever deemed possible, but it was a leisurely 60 miles on a fairly non hilly road route. It was definitely no trail race. In contrast, the Cayuga Trails 50 miler is a double looped course that offers over 9,000 ft. of elevation gain, as well as, gorgeous views of multiple waterfalls and gorges. In other words, there was plenty of climbing.
One of my main goals for the race was to film some portions of it on my new Go Pro so that the footage might inspire others to get after it. Of course my tech skills are often lacking and the battery was out of power even though I thought I had changed it the night before. As the race began and I realized the Go Pro did not have power, I ran over to my buddy Jason on the sidelines and handed it off to him to change the battery. He would give it back to me at the next aid station and it would once again prove useless in my hands so Jason’s foster son Taylor would shoot some footage for me later in the race. Since I paused in my start to hand off the camera I was pretty much at the back of the pack. I set my sights on just starting off with a very cautious pace as I have a tendency to push a little hard in the early parts of races.
Despite my cautious pace I would soon pass scores of people as they slowed down to a crawl for even the slightest hill. I am not a very fast runner in general and I am slow downhill, but I like to climb. I continued to make my way through the pack at each uphill as I tried to escape the bottleneck that had formed. I was feeling really good in the climbs and was inadvertently speeding up for them. The course is very beautiful as it traverses 2 major state parks with a multitude of cascading waterfalls. Although I was keeping my pace modest, the first seven or eight miles felt pretty much effortless. I was still under the adrenaline rush from the start of the race at this point, and I thought to myself “these hills seem much easier than I’m used to.”
Of course that’s about when I hit a major climb of which I could only run about 1/3 of the way before having to hike it. It was towards the top of this climb that I would be passed by a nice young guy with a 2016 Hyner Finisher hat. He was the only person to pass me during the race while going uphill, (thus the Hyner hat proving his mountain skills), although plenty would pass me downhill or on the flats. Once reaching the top of this big climb my race would change. Running was no longer feeling effortless. It was starting to feel like work as the huge climb had taken its toll. The miles to the next aid station would be much more of a struggle than the first 7, in addition to there being some mud to now contend with though nothing too major.
I didn’t feel the best as I rambled in to the next aid station (about mile 12), where my friends Jason and Taylor hooked me up with one of my homemade energy gels, of which I think I consumed about 4 of during the race. I feel the gels worked well for me as they gave me the calories I needed while keeping my digestion light. Jason and Taylor did a great job as they met me at every aid station to hook me up with what I needed and keep me motivated. It was a big help. So spoiled.
As I made my way into the mile 18 aid station I told Jason that I was feeling better than the last time I saw him and indeed I felt fairly good. I had learned from my previous venture last September that there would probably be highs and lows and to remember that the lows would probably pass in time (I hoped anyway). From mile 18 it was a pretty steady climb to the mile 22 aid station and it took a lot out of me. Luckily after this stretch it was a downhill pull to the halfway point at mile 25. The first section of the race took me about 4:40 to complete. I cursed as even though it seemed as if I was on pace for my sub 10 hour goal time, I knew that with how my legs felt it would be a much slower second half. Jason said not to worry about it and of course he was right, it was no big deal just needed to finish this beast. I fueled up and set out for the second half which of course involved basically climbing back up the way I had just come.
I was struggling pretty bad as I stumbled into the mile 28 aid station and needed a rest and some calories so I sat down and ate one of my homemade peanut butter banana rolls with apples and took some deep breaths to recoup. This was probably my lowest point during the race as struggled to even walk once I stood up. My friends Keith and Carrie were driving by as I struggled to walk up the sidewalk and into the woods but seeing them helped move me along so I walked for a minute or two then started to shuffle along once again. Luckily the next stretch was a net downhill or else I don’t know how I would have made it.
The remainder of the race was definitely a struggle and I was definitely not setting any speed records, but I kept moving forward. Halfway up one of the many stone staircases I had to stop and take a 2 or 3 minute break as fatigue was setting in but somehow I talked myself into finishing the climb then slowly running again. I just tried to tell myself to make it to the next aid station where I would see my friends and get a bite to eat and some drinks and then I would be one step closer to my goal. I never thought that I wouldn’t finish the race as I don’t like to think like that, but I knew I wasn’t going to finish in sub 10 hours either. I wasn’t nearly as trained for this race as I would have like to have been as things had gotten busy at the store back in mid-January. At this point my training, which had been going very well, was cut drastically. However, I knew I had enough base fitness to see it through.
It sure was a relief to get to the last aid station as there were only three miles to go and it was a net downhill. My buddy Taylor paced me while simultaneously filming with the Go Pro and not even stumbling once. Somehow I was managing a pretty good pace for the last stretch but it seemed to me to take forever. I just kept thinking “this is a long 3 miles.” Towards the bottom of the hill Taylor said we were pushing a 7:30 pace yet it was kind of depressing as in my mind it felt like a 6:00 minute mile as it was downhill and with my last surge of energy. I was thinking “How am I ever going to get fast if I can’t even run faster than a 7:30 downhill?”
As I finally sped across the finish line I did my best to stay upright. I ate some potatoes and other food that was handy then promptly collapsed in the grass as is my usual following a long race. The last half of the race all I wanted to do was jump in the creek after the finish line but that thought quickly faded as I could barely move. My calves ached mightily as I lay in grass. Our friends had a blanket set up like 50 yards away but at that point it might as well been half a mile away. Eventually though I got help up, staggered to get some much earned food (they even had vegan options!) and we made our way over to my other friends Keith, Carrie and their kids, who came out to support me. They had been nice enough to let Jason, Taylor and I stay at their place for 2 nights. It wasn’t long before I was shivering and had to have Taylor get me a coat. Weird right?
Anyways, it was a beautiful and challenging race but it is done and I can check that off my list. I am driven to push myself farther physically as time goes on for a number of reasons I suppose. First I guess endurance sports have always been a way to fill the void of my existence, i.e. something to kill time. Second it is just addicting to challenge myself to do physical feats that I would have scoffed at in the past. How much more can I do? Certainly there are many ways in which to improve. I also run to help motivate others and to show them that a person can absolutely be an athlete as a vegan. In fact that’s my main secret. As it is my goal to help people get healthier I like to think that a good plant based diet is the only real edge I have. I know that without good nutrition I would have not been able to complete that difficult of a race anytime soon. Finally, I guess part of me runs for my compassion for animals. After all as a plant based athlete the biggest joy comes from knowing that kindness and compassion are at the heart of my training!