Manitou’s Revenge, 54 miles

June 20, 2015, Catskills, NY


Our fearless leader, Joe Clapper

Joe pre-briefs me and Dave Friday night

Joe pre-briefs me and Dave Friday night about the 11 climbs (‘this one’s gnarly, this one is the worst climb you’ll ever do, this one you’ll think is over but then it just keeps going so don’t get fooled….’)

What kind of race is Manitou’s Revenge?  The kind that ate through Brian Rusieki’s shoe a few years ago.  And made Joe Clapper eat his boot, after he assured Michele he’d finish in under 16 hours (he finally crossed in 20+ hours).  Many of the climbs are so steep you have to use your hands.  As Joe wrote on the VHTRC club page:

The RD Charlie Gadol does it the old way.  If you seek a lot of course markings, aid station staff with rubber gloves, and a pampered experience, this might not be your course.  Manitou is in the Catskill Preserve, a 125 year old forest of firs, maples, and birches with spectacular views for 54 miles. The trail system predates switch backs. You get what you need but, no one is holding your hand.

dave 'mudman' quivey

Dave ‘Mud Boy’ Quivey

This year, there were added challenges of torrential rain storms and vandalism of course markings.  Dave Quivey got the brunt of the rain storm, in the dark, and claimed he fell 50 times (which was consistent with the criss-crosses of cuts and bruises all over his legs and feet, and the mud found in his ear).  Joey went 6 miles off course, adding another 1700′ of elevation gain.  I did some ‘bonus miles’ of my own, and winner Brian Rusieki commented that the winner was simply ‘the guy who got lost least’.

Home of the Azul Caboose

Beautiful but quirky home of the Azul Caboose, Phoenicia, NY

The ~83% finishing rate of MR is remarkably high, given the conditions, and no doubt reflects how much RD Charlie Gadol curates the entrants list.  No wimps allowed.  Given my lackluster ultra record (can’t seem to get through without puking), the only way I got into the race was based on Clapper’s word.  I was a bit concerned that Joe had oversold my trail cred to Charlie.

But I’m a big sucker for (a) free race entries, (b) wacky adventures, (c) nostalgia (Escarpment was my first trail race in 2006), and (d) road trips with fun friends.  So when Charlie asked me if I wanted to run the race, I shot back an immediate response in the positive.

Me at the start of Manitou's. #scaredshitless

Me at the start of Manitou’s. #scaredshitless #beingasub3marathonerdoesntcountforshittoday

Over the next months, as I learned more about the race, and came to understand the true meaning of 15,000′ of elevation gain over 54 miles, I began to recognize the very real possibility that the race would crush my scrawny ass.  Joe mentioned that the early Escarpment section of Manitou’s was the ‘easy’ part.  It didn’t help that my stomach didn’t recover for weeks after Bull Run (Sunday training runs devolved into long walks) and I spent most of May in Paris and Belgium for work, where 15′ elevation change was the closest thing you got to a hill.  When I got home from Paris in late May, I threw in one quality training week, running the most miles I’ve ever done in a week (74 miles) before I had to jet to Iowa for work in early June, another place I couldn’t find a hill.

But I was excited about heading up to the Catskills, especially since we had such a fun group of VHTRCers heading up for the Azul Train — Joe and Michele, the Quiveys, Joey, Aaron and me.  I hadn’t really hung out with the Quiveys before.  That’s gonna change.

King of the Crew!

King of the Crew!

Dave, Joe, Joey, and I were running, and Aaron, Michele, and Jill were crew.  Aaron was deeply handicapped by the fact that this was my first time having any crew and I was hopelessly clueless.  The morning of the race I noticed that Michele had a very detailed list of all the specific things Joe wanted at each aid station.  I had simply given Aaron two plastic bags of miscellaneous items, one which I told him contained things ‘I would probably want’ and the other bag consisting of ‘back-up’.  I just had mostly gummies, crackers, and gels, which got old real quick.  Next time I’ll bring a lot more variety of things to eat — Ensures, Cape Cod potato chips, more V8, and apple sauce were all things I at one point desperately could have used during the race.

me at the end of Escarpment in 2006. i had mud and dirt in my teeth

me at the end of Escarpment back in 2006. it wasn’t a cold day; the blanket was just because i was in shock.

But Aaron was stupendous and absolutely made the race for me.  That surprise V8 midway through the race was clutch.  The pizza was on the money (even though it was hard to eat the second slice when you need both hands to crawl up the hill).

Aaron also talked me out of the major low I had at the first crew-accessible aid station, ~17 miles in, where I was queasy and psychologically felt like the race should be over (I entirely recognized that this was the finish area for Escarpment, where 9 years ago I had collapsed in the medical tent).  ‘This seems like a nice place to end a race!’ I declared.

When I ran Escarpment in 2006, my first trail race ever, I didn’t even bring a water bottle.  It was July.  I got so dehydrated the last third of the race that it was terrifyingly dangerous.  There are super rocky descents that you have to use your hands for, and my mind was checked out and my legs were jello.  I couldn’t focus enough to stay upright and my body just kept slamming down on the trail.  There’s a beautiful YouTube video where you can see my legs just give out from under me for no reason.  My friend who ran the last bit with me said that he was absolutely terrified for my life, seeing my head come dangerously close to smacking into boulders several times as I body slammed my way to the finish.

Did you notice in the video that I was clutching something in my right hand?  The father of my friend from Penn State (Morgan W.) was standing at the finish line, and after I crossed I placed in his hand a crumpled up little empty gel packet that was covered in mud and blood and sticky with goo that I had clearly been carrying for many, many miles.  Even as I faceplanted over and over, I held onto that little wrapper in a little fist deathgrip. Despite the fact that this was my first trail race, and that my mind was barely functioning from dehydration, I knew enough not to drop trash in the forest.  I would continue to see Morgan’s dad at various PA events over the years, and I he never forgot me, marveling over that crumpled little bloody gel packet I had deposited in his palm before collapsing.

Coming into the Escarpment finish area, I recalled this as an awfully nice place to curl up with a blanket and not run anymore

Coming into the Escarpment finish area this year at Manitous, I recalled this very spot as an awfully nice place to curl up with a blanket and not run anymore

At Manitou’s those memories all came flooding back as I ran that last stretch of Escarpment again, and it was a serious reality check.  Nutrition is my Achilles heel, and I realized with a bit of dread that over a race of Manitou’s length the cost of not eating and drinking enough today would put me in even more danger than I had experienced at Escarpment.  If I got dizzy and depleted and lost the plot over that distance, I could crack my head open on those rocks.  For the remainder of the race, I focused on survival.  I drank so much I peed constantly, dozens of times.  And I tried my damnedest to shove enough food down, even if it was the last thing in the world I was in the mood for.  And even if it meant walking in some of the stretches I would have liked to run.

Keeping it in the pants!

keeping it in the pants!  (with the help of a fistful of jill’s extra salty pretzels)

‘Keeping it in the pants’ has become my unofficial ultra running mantra.  When I’m on the roads I give myself a lot of leeway.  If I want to rage like a bull, I let myself go for it.  If I want to compete head-to-head with someone who’s bugging me, male or female, I to let myself dig in.  But in ultra running, I’ve been trying to rein in that motor, and subdue the competitive instincts.  Most of the top female ultra runners weren’t fast when they started out, and got many years of grace period to figure out all the things like nutrition before they became competitive.

I never got that grace period.  In 2009, when I did my first ultra, the Laurel Highlands 50k, Keith K. told me to ‘just run it like you run a marathon, you’ll set a course record’.  LH50k is not an easy course, with a big climb around mile 7, but Keith has run 50+ 100-milers so I figured he knew what he was talking about (word of advice: don’t listen to Keith).  Approaching it like a marathon, I ate one shot blok every 5 miles (not one pack of bloks, one little square).  By mile 20 or so, having run several hours on some Gatorade and a handful of shot bloks, my depletion hit me, and I felt like I was going to vomit and stopped eating entirely.  It was hot (mid-June).  I walked the last mile or so.  I did manage to set a CR, that still stands, but I didn’t run another ultra for years.  I stuck to shorter trail races where nutritional depletion wasn’t an issue, like the Women’s Half.  I finally stepped up to the Uwharrie 20-miler in 2011, where I won again, but when they handed me a beautiful huge ceramic vase as my first-place award as I crossed the line, I asked them, Oh good, is this to puke into?  They swiftly yanked the vessel from my arms before I could defile it (the clay used came from the same North Carolina mountains we were running).

are you sure i'm doing this right?

i don’t know how dave q & folks did these descents in the night in the rain….

Why is nutritional depletion such a hot button for me?  Even aside from running, I require a huge amount of food/calories just to get through a typical day.  When I was a kid, my mom cooked me pancakes, waffles, french toast every morning before school (Saint Mom).  I didn’t just eat just one waffle, but two or three.  When my family went out to a fancy brunch when I was in middle school, I ordered a waffle with strawberries.  And then I waitress if I could please have another one.  Who just ate one waffle for breakfast?  My pediatrician prescribed for me a milkshake every day.  I would go over to my friends’ houses after school and politely inform their parents, in my little British accent, that — doctor’s orders — I needed to have a milkshake (I was shocked to discover that some of my friends didn’t stock their fridges with ice cream at all times!).  When I went to Stanford my freshman year, other girls would look askance at my tray piled high with food.  My friends from high school just knew that was how I was, and hadn’t made me feel so conspicuous about it.  When I got to Amherst, where the food wasn’t nearly as good as Stanford, I had to get a doctor and a nutritionist to write letters so I could get off the required dining meal plan so I could eat in town, as I was starting to waste away eating cereal for dinner.  Thank you, god, for Antonio’s Pizza in Amherst, MA.  Kept me alive those years.

‘Does it bother you that you got two pieces of pizza and I only got one?’  I was living off campus in a house owned by a crazy lady who leased rooms to myself, a woman who had come from Kyrgyzstan to study the local Men’s Resource Center, and a kid who had just graduated from Amherst High School, who would join me sometimes for pizza cravings.  He had a habit of staring me straight in the face and asking pointed questions, as if hoping to fluster me.     

‘Oh, I’m sorry, did you want a second piece?’  He had successfully flustered me into considering that maybe he didn’t have enough money for two pieces of pizza.

‘No, just, you’re a girl.  And you’re having two pieces of pizza and I’m only having one.’  At the time, Antonio’s was the greatest pizza I’d ever had.  They had funky kinds like chicken tortellini and potato pizza.   

I rubbed my temples. ‘This is what I always do: I eat two pieces of pizza.  I’m happy to buy you a second piece if you want it.’

‘So you’re not bothered.  A lot of girls would be bothered.’  


‘Because they think they shouldn’t eat as much as a guy.  Hannah would never eat more than me.’

I flushed, realizing I was discovering how women think from an 18-year old boy.  But relieved to have at last firmly established that each of us were eating exactly the number of pizza slices we desired, and I could now re-focus on the magical blend of finely chopped bell peppers, chicken bits, onions, and jalapeños smothered in melty cheese.  


When I finally did take a swing at ultras again, I was plagued by the same problems — running too hard, not eating enough, nausea, vomiting, swearing I’d never do it again.  So these days I’m stepping back and reclaiming that lost grace period, letting myself go as slow as I have to in order to be able to eat, without anything hanging over about finish order.elevation_profileSo as I ran at Manitou’s I made sure to ask people if they wanted to pass and step aside, and not let anyone subtly push me into going faster (if someone’s breathing down my back my natural instinct is to quicken).  I chatted with a couple people — such a small world, an Australian biochemist from the University of Sydney knew Eddie my PhD advisor, whom I’d just visited last November~  He told me about some cool ultras in the Snowy Mountains in Victoria that I’ll have to check out for next time I’m in Australia.

As I had suspected, a beautiful and challenging course like Manitou’s is perfect for adopting a mindset that you’re going to set back and enjoy the day.  First, just finishing Manitou’s is an accomplishment, in and of itself, and I wonderfully went through the whole day without anyone in any of the aid stations mentioning what place I was (I ended up finishing 3rd female).  And much of the course is not run-able, so I had plenty of opportunities to walk and just focus on nursing down morsels of food and keeping my stomach in a happy place.  My goal was simply to finish before dark, realizing that those rocks would be even tougher after nightfall, which I just barely accomplished (I finished around 8:30pm).

Ideally, I’d like to be able to not have to devote so much energy to shoving food down my throat, which detracts from the enjoyment.  Maybe if I had more suitable things in my drop bags I could have stocked up on calories in the aid stations and not had to focus so much on eating on the trails.  And I did go off course a bit, far enough that I had a feeling of doom in the pit of my stomach that I wasn’t actually sure I would ever find my way back to the blue trail and may be lost in the woods for hours.  When I finally did find the blue trail, I was so disoriented I wasn’t sure which direction to take it (I guessed right).  I was highly depleted when I finally finished the race in 15+ hours.  Sadly, I felt too ill to stick around and be social (although it ended up being the right choice, as I ended up vomiting from over-depletion when I got back).

happy marmot

(photo courtesy of

Overall, these were my lessons from Manitou’s:

(a) Crew is the best.  Specifically Aaron Schwartzbard Crew Extraordinaire.

(b) The Catskills are *awesome*.  I can’t make it back to Escarpment this year because of a work commitment, but I will be back for Escarpment hopefully in 2016 and Manitou’s again in 2017, and possibly a new fall race they’re holding (Cat’s Tail Marathon).  Even though you can drive to the Catskills from DC in ~6 hours, there’s something about the area that makes you feel transported to a very distant land.  Maybe my mind was a little hazy from the length and ardor of the run, but I kept seeing monkeys in the trees and bright lizards at my feet.

(c) Speaking of which, the mind does funny things when you run by yourself for that long (this was nearly 2x as long as I’d ever run before).  In addition to seeing things that don’t exist (‘No, Martha, that can’t be a monkey, you are in N-e-w Y-o-r-k’), I sang the same songs in my head over and over again for hours, sometimes just a single verse or lyric:

“All That I Need”/Blind Melon

All that I need is the air that I breathe
And all that I need are things I don’t need
And all that really matters is what matters to me
And who of you are like me

If I was to smile and I held out my hand
If I opened it now would you not understand
Because you know if I’m to benefit I’ll do everything that I can
And who of you are like me

That lasted several hours.  Then as the day went on longer I switched to Pink Martini’s ‘Hang on Little Tomato’:

You gotta hold on, hold on through the night
Hang on, things will be all right
Even when it’s dark
And not a bit of sparkling
Sing-song sunshine from above
Spreading rays of sunny love

Just hang on, hang on to the vine
Stay on, soon you’ll be divine
If you start to cry, look up to the sky
Something’s coming up ahead
To turn your tears to dew instead

No race excursion is complete without a hike that includes newts!

No race weekend is complete without a Joe-led hike that includes newts!

(d) Relatedly, I have serious issues with boredom.  Manitou’s was *awesome* that I didn’t struggle with boredom much, because the course was always throwing something new at you.  Even though my little calves were not trained for those steep ascents, I loved the parts where you climbed with your hands.  So much, that when we got to the last climb and there was no hand-over-hand, I started pouting a little.  This is bor-ing!  But I think that’s why I’m kind of bi-polar when it comes to running: I either want something really fast (marathon and below) on the road, full of adrenaline and heart thumping, or I want something really technical and gnarly on the trails.  People keep suggesting that I run something like JFK because I’d be really fast.  Running for long periods on a flat boring canal makes me want to curl up on the side of the trail and sob.   A lot of people don’t get how a ‘roadie’ like me digs the 5k and something like Manitou’s, but not something like JFK.  It all comes down to the boredom factor.

(e) If I do go back to Manitou’s, I want it to be with as much of our little Azul Train as possible.  As I declared to Aaron and Joey on the ride home, ‘That was the Most Fun Race Excursion!’  Meaning that it wasn’t just the race itself that was awesome, but the whole weekend with Joe, Michele, Dave, Jill, and Joey.  The post-race hikes we did, going to town, and just hanging out in our quirky house.  I really, really appreciate how everyone skipped a day of work so that we could all have our post-race fun together.  Which is really what it’s all about, right Sean Andrish?

(f) ‘Crackheads Gone Wild’ is not nearly as funny as you think it’s going to be.

wussies gone wild!

we took a lot of stops on the ride home to stretch our legs (port jervis, ny)



One Response to Wussies Gone Wild

  1. HOOORAY WUSSIES!!! Way to do WUS proud. And I agree, road trip ultras with the VHTRC Blue Train are the best.

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