Sehgahunda Trail Marathon: A multi perspective look
We thought it would be fun, seeing as all 4 of us would be down at Sehgahunda this past weekend to share our thoughts and views on what went down. Sean, Ben and Ron ran and Eric participated as a spectator.
“Ber Beer Bear” @roctherun
As the loan bum on the TrailsRoc crew that was NOT running Sehgahunda I had to find a way to be as involved as I could. To be honest it was pretty fun being part of a race but not actually being PART of the race.
I recently wrote this piece “What I learned at Sehgahunda” But I wanted to add some of my actual race viewpoints from my perspective.
1. The volunteers were fantastic. I was so thrilled to see them treat each and every runner with every bit of focus and energy that they could. As the day wore on, and runners became lethargic and some a bit confused, they NEVER relaxed. They never lost the energy and the pep. I am certain many of the runners were only able to move on because they knew a well staffed and excited volunteer checkpoint would be just a few more miles down the trial.
2. The runners showed so much grit and determination. Not just the guys and girls in the lead. Not just the TrailsRoc dudes, but all of the runners. We did not leave until after the clock was well into its 6th hour. Many runners were still on the course at this point. Plugging away, and shockingly still smiling. This is how you know, that we as runners LOVE what we do. 6+ hours into a brutal trail race, and smiles were all around us.
3. The families and support crews were so important. Not just to the runners, but to each other. My wife and I spent a considerable amount of time with Rons family and with Seans family. As we did, the other families of runners “of the same pace” as our groups would say things like “Your guy should be here any minute” and they would get up and get ready to cheer. They began to know names. As we did as we cheered for other runners than our own. This never happens out on the roads, it was unique to me to see this going on. This… well, investment emotionally in another runner who you have never actually met. I was cheering for people by name that I only knew a wife or mother or husband, and I did not know THEM by name. It was odd, but it was awesome.
4. Fleet Feet and Yellow Jacket Racing have designed probably the best possible spectator trail marathon. Every few miles you get to see your runner. Not only see them, but talk to, support, help. On the roads, you might get one or two chances to hold up a sign. Here we had the start, 6 check points and a finish. A minimum of 8 places to see your runner and help them along. That made what is sometimes a very boring spectator sport, a much more enjoyable day.
5. Runners were supporting the heck out of each other. I saw runners encouraging, high fiving, and helping each other out. You won’t see this on the roads. At each check point they were asking “did he look ok, is he holding up well, how is the family” I heard all sorts of questions from runners about other runners. Not to know where they were as to beat them, but to get a handle on if they were OK. This is why we do what we do at TrailsRoc. That sort of kinship is rare in any other sport.
6. Volunteering is tiring, supporting is draining. BUT it is also the most motivating thing you can do as a runner. If you are in a rut, if you are bumming around with your workouts, get out there and volunteer. Get out there and support a runner. Your passion will be back within 20 minutes. Trust me on this.
7. Next year people will need to play the support role for me. I am going to be on the course. I am going to be crushing those trails with my crew. After watching and cheering all day, there is no way I am not going to be out there!
The event was awesome. As a spectator, supporter, bystander I loved it.
“Papa Smurph” @athletedad
Oh, Sehgahunda. You little bastard.
At this point in my short endurance racing “career“ (I was obese less than three years ago), a trail marathon isn’t too bad. I’ve soloed longer trails. 10-12 hours spent mountain biking or trail running are second nature by this point. Heck, I was actually using Sehgahunda as a part of my off road triathlon training because I’m tackling a solo off road ironman triathlon later this year. Coming into Saturday’s race I’d already thrown in a 100 mile single speed road bike and 2.5 mile swim in the week prior just to see how my body would respond to it all. So I know what I’m capable of and had no reservations at all headed into Saturday’s race. I showed up ready to go, not play it conservatively, and see how fast I could crank through Sehgahunda’s 26.3 miles of trail with a goal of finishing in the 5:30 range – give or take half and hour.
But in my racing experience I’ve also learned, mostly the hard way, that I need to listen to my body. Especially with endurance undertakings. There’s a time to push your limits. The pain cave has become a familiar “friend” by now. But there’s also a time to back off, cut your losses, and live to fight another day. Like when you’re risking heat stroke; like during Saturday’s race.
I showed up Saturday ready to play. A single speed road century and 2.5 mile swim already under my belt during the preceding week – to see how my body would react to my upcoming off road Ironman undertaking – I was confident and felt great heading into Saturday’s race. Unlike the long, off road solo undertakings I’m used to tackling, I went into Sehgahunda ready to push myself both physically and mentally. Aid stations? People cheering? Drop bags? Piece of cake. I’m used to doing this self-supported and solo. So I cranked through the first 12 miles or so right on target at a 12 min/mile pace (which would have had me finishing around the 5:30 mark)… but then my body got other ideas.
I’ve never had stomach problems on endurance races. Ever. I did Saturday. Man it sucked. I’m pretty good at ignoring the hurt, but somewhere after the second race checkpoint about ½ way through the race my stomach started feeling horrible. Having learned the hard way from my past experiences with heat stroke, dehydration, and cramping, I knew that I simply had to keep downing the fluids, calories, and electrolytes, but the more I took in the worse my stomach felt. And so the less I took in the worse my dehydration got. It’s a maddening cycle that only complicates the already daunting mental game that is endurance trail racing. At around mile 18 I knew that as much as I didn’t want to pull out – it might come down to making the safe decision rather than risking continued dehydration and possibly heat stroke.
I had heat stroke once back in high school on a 5 mile training run in the July heat of central Pennsylvania out by myself on a back road. I got cold. I stopped sweating. I blacked out momentarily… I was lucky enough to be about 2 miles from my start point and shuffled back without further incident. Thankfully I didn’t pass out in the road. But it definitely shook me up and ever since then I’ve had a very healthy respect for the heat.
So Saturday, deep in the woods by myself, knowing my time splits were continuing to tank rapidly and I was falling towards the back of the field, I knew there was a good chance the prudent choice might be to pull out. I hate pulling out. I don’t quit things. I’m not a fast athlete, but I can go longer than and suffer more than most people. But at that point in the race I stopped to see if a bathroom break would alleviate my stomach problems. My urine was practically brown. That’s a bad sign. Than I started sweating noticeably less. Another really bad sign. By the time I made it into checkpoint 5 at mile 19.4 I was seriously considering pulling out. My legs were fine, definitely tired, but no cramps – and my mental game was still fine, but I know my body and the reality was I was risking heat stroke. I sat for a few minutes. Iced my neck and head, fueled up and headed back out… But about .3 miles back down the trail I started feeling cold. That was the deciding factor. When heat stroke becomes a real possibility it’s time to call it quits. Sure, I had the motivation to finish of a beautiful wife, my 3 amazing kids, and my parents waiting at the finish line for me. But not wanting them to see me show up in an ambulance is also a very relevant kind of motivation. So I turned around, headed back in to checkpoint 5 and pulled out of the race after covering 20 miles. Cut my losses. Live to fight another day.
Thankfully a friend was heading back to Mt. Morris to get his car and stopped to chat and let us use his cell phone to call ahead and let family know what was going on. A mile or two down the road at checkpoint 6 we were greeted by some volunteers and relay team members who actually seemed to know what was going on and – after making sure we were ok – allowed us to hitch a ride back to the finish area. To his credit, someone from Fleet Feet eventually stopped by the checkpoint on his rounds and was positively livid when he found out that we’d been left on our own. But by that point I really didn’t care. And I still don’t. That shouldn’t happen. Ever. It was absolutely pathetic.
It’s a good thing my fascination with Sehgahunda transcends the race organizer snafu‘s. Aside from the post-DNF logistics, Sehgahunda was an utterly amazing day. And I will definitely be back next year to kick Sehgahunda’s ass. Even having to pull out 20 miles in, it was still an incredible experience. The fact is that DNF’ing is sometimes par for the course in endurance racing. When you’re out there pushing yourself sometimes you do actually find your limit. It was just one of those days. In hindsight, I still wouldn’t have changed a thing about how the day went. Given the circumstances I know I made the right call and I have no regrets.
I suppose that if I’d tapered properly for Sehgahunda and not squeezed the rest of an Ironman into the preceding week I probably would have done fine. But that wasn’t the point. This year’s Sehgahunda was part of training for something bigger and it definitely served that purpose.
Sehgahunda is truly a remarkable race. I’ve never experienced a course so beautiful and brutal that doesn’t involve mountains. It’s all rocks, roots, gully drops, and steep scrambles. There’s nothing flat. There are no smooth sections of trail. It is thoroughly relentless. And it is utterly beautiful. The views of the Letchworth gorge are breathtaking, the ravines, fern fields, pine tree forests, and old growth tress have an almost mystical presence. The place has an ancient spiritual quality about it – one that leaves you feeling privileged for having been part of it.
I happen to have a rather unique perspective on these experiences, because 3 years ago I weighed over 60 pounds more than what I do now. I was obese. Not “Biggest Loser” obese, but definitely, by the BMI charts, I was obese. I’m really proud to have accomplished what I have since then. I’m thankful for my family and friends, my health, and the ability to race off road the way I do. Endurance racing has allowed me to discover more about myself than I ever knew I was capable of, and I get to do things in regular training that most people only dream of. It really is a privilege. I pushed myself out there, but I didn’t put myself in the hospital, so that‘s good. Sehgahunda isn’t going anywhere. It’ll be there next year for me to destroy. And destroy it I will!
“White Turtle” @badmanrunning
Sehgahunda has provided me the opportunity to write one of the most difficult race reports I’ve ever had. To say the race had it’s ups and downs would be a terrible pun, so I won’t say it… oops.
The course, the people, and the support at Letchworth was amazing. One of the great parts about trail racing is that you get a lot more for a lot less than you would get at a road race. Sehgahunda was no exception. The cost is reasonable for a marathon, hell it is reasonable for a 10k! For the race fee you get a sweet sweatshirt, really great aid stations, awesome company of fellow trail runners, and hours on a gorgeous course that will test your physical and mental strength.
From a personal perspective, this was my “A” race. After running my first half marathon in the fall I desired more… more distance and more challenge. I came across Sehgahunda in my search for such a race in November of 2011 and knew it was perfect for me. I love running trails and pushing the limits of what I’m capable of. Everything I read about Sehg told me that it would fit both of those criteria. I spent 6 months focused on this race. 60-75% of my runs were on trails. By race day I knew I was ready for my first attempt at a full marathon.
Race morning we knew it was going to be hot. Likely in the low 80’s. This worried me a little since I had done little training in that type of weather. I was still confident that I would run well though. I strapped on my Vibrams, threw on my #TrailsRoc shirt, filled my Camelbak with ice and a little Gatorade and joined my fellow founders of TrailsRoc . Ron and Ben were there to challenge the course and we’d be cheered by our forth founder Eric and his wife Sheila throughout the day. There were lots of other familiar faces at the start line, some friends and some rivals. I tried to focus on my plan, I wanted to go out fast and early, the first section of this course is by far the easiest and runs 6.2 miles before the first aid station. My goal was to get out of the gates in the top 10 and run 9 min miles to checkpoint 1. The problem was that my Garmin wasn’t getting satellite at the start line, therefore I had nothing to judge my pace. I settled into about 10th place anyway and hit cruise control. The first 5 miles flew by and I hit the first real challenge of the race feeling good. Each aid station is set up on River Rd. which happens to be usually about ¾ of a mile from the main course. These checkpoints are a requirement and count towards the race distance but are difficult because the are long climbs filled with knee to shoulder height grass and weeds. I was in and out of CP1 slowing only to grab a cup of water to dump over my head… it was already heating up on the course.
I held my position through to CP2 and was still feeling comfortable, although I knew that the race truly began when you left this point. It’s the longest stretch of the course without an aid station, 6.8 miles. I tossed my wife (she was driving between aid stations on the road to provide my support) my non-functioning watch and quickly dumped water over my head and struck back out. As soon as I left the checkpoint I felt a pang of fear as I worried that I hadn’t refilled my hydration pack. There was no going back however and I surged forward.
I hit the 13.1 mark of the race in right around 2 hours… a quick pace for the difficulty of the course. At this point I had crossed numerous streams and climbed over a ton of roots and rocks. I was taking GU’s every 45 minutes and felt like my hydration was right on schedule. I knew I had gone out too fast, but this was my plan and now I was going to have to hold on. Another 2 miles dropped by quickly when suddenly I felt my right calf seize up violently. I had similar spasms to this in the last quarter mile of the Flower City half marathon a month earlier but never experienced anything like it in my training. I pushed on despite the pain of this constant cramping and made it to the climb to CP3. I passed the leaders heading down from the checkpoints and said hi to Paul Glor who was running in about 6th at the time. He grinned and said “see you soon”, I was confused, we had a loooong way to go yet! I didn’t realize he was hurting badly. My calf loosened slightly as I made the climb but I knew I might be in trouble. CP 3 is just over 16 miles in and is notorious for having the most DNF’s. My wife handed me a couple of Advil and I washed them down with some Vita-Coco, clutch! The cramps diminished as I headed down to the trail. It didn’t last, soon after I was climbing a short hill when the calf seized again, followed in short order by my quad on my right leg. The pain was intense and forced me into hiking the next few rollers. I returned to jogging, almost dragging my right leg when the left calf joined the right one and completely cramped up. What the hell was happening! I started getting passed but hung tight and made it into the next aid station.
I told my wife and Dad that I was in trouble, but that I would finish. You could see the spasms in my right quad at this point, massive pulsating cramps that wracked my legs. Again I downed as much coconut water as my stomach could handle and headed back out. This point of the race became a blur as I crawled deep into my pain cave. I was passing a few people but getting passed by just as many. As much as I was hurting, mentally I was still in a really good place. I KNEW I would finish this race. Looking back to it now I don’t know why there was no self doubt, despite my increasingly desperate physical state. Somewhere in the next couple of aid stations the was a MASSIVE climb, I was alternating 2-1 jogging to hiking at this point when the worst hit. I tripped on a small root and my left groin felt like someone stabbed it. The calf cramps I was dealing with, the quads were trashed, but the groin was almost too much. Every step now was agony. Another competitor ran ahead of me into an aid station and begged for salt for me, he said he could see the spasms in my calves when he was behind me on the hill. The race director Boots appeared out of nowhere and gave me a handful of salt capsules. I downed them, shook myself off and doggedly set back into the woods.
At this point I got passed by Yoshi and Dan O. both of whom looked like they had just started the race, absolutely dominating the course. Normally this would have frustrated me, but on this day I was happy to just be moving forward. As I hit mile 20 I passed Paul Glor, he too was moving forward with great determination but I could tell he was hurting. He gave me some encouragement and said “only 10k left”.
The cramps finally subsided not long after mile 22, but at this point I had been dealing with them for over 8 miles and there was no strength left. It was all I could do to push on. I felt as if I was walking as much of the course as running at this point. My miles had slipped to 13-15 mins a piece. As I passed the aid station with 5k to go Dan Ward flew by me. I cheered him on and couldn’t believe how strong he looked. A ¼ mile down the trail I came back alongside him walking and I fell in stride with him. We would spend the next 2.5 miles encouraging each other into jogging for a few minutes. One of us would surge a head only to fall back within moments. It was much needed company at this point in the race. We agreed that place in the race no longer mattered (although we were desperately closing the gap on a pair in front of us who were similarly struggling through a walk/run strategy). As we left the trail with 600 meters to go Dan pushed ahead up the final hill of the course. At the top of the hill he was stopped dead, I couldn’t offer any more encouragement, I was hurting, bad, I needed the finish line.
I found the strength to push myself down the final straightaway and through the finish line… I was a marathoner. It felt amazing. I did not have to run any further!
It didn’t take me long post-race to start analyzing what happened. In fact as I enjoyed a cheeseburger and a couple of stouts I started planning my assault on Sehg for next year. I went out WAY to fast in this race and should have been carrying (or had my support team) with salt. I hadn’t used any during training but the heat caught up with me this day. I don’t want to be too hard on myself but I ran a terrible race. The cramps were my own fault. I should’ve finished top 10 in this race (instead of 15th). That still would have put me in 2nd in age group, but my fitness level was good enough for a 4:15 at this race, on this course. I failed in my nutrition and my race plan but I learned a lot. In the end I’m happy to finally call myself a marathoner but I know there is so much more for me! I can truly say that the distance of this race was not a factor, fitness wise I know I could’ve gone longer.
Next up? I’ll keep my eyes on an ultra, Sehgahunda showed me that I’m capable of putting my mind over my physical pain. Huge kudos to everyone that took on this course, it is truly a monster and can eat up the toughest of athletes on any given day. Proud of the way #TrailsRoc represented and can’t wait to bring the community out onto the trails more this summer!
Ron Heerkens Jr
Just a scatter of thoughts about the day:
Went to bed at 8, finally fell asleep at 9:30. Slept pretty well till about 3:15 when I became wide awake. Got everything packed up and put into the jeep and headed out to grab some breakfast.
Apparently nobody except for Wegmans was serving breakfast and I ended up with a stale Cinnamon Raisin bagel and an Orange Mango Naked Juice. Not the best Pre race meal but it’s what I had to work with. Took of picked up fellow TrailsRoc founder Ben Murphy and headed out to Letchworth. Almost nailed a deer as we neared the start line. Pissed me off a bit and got my blood up a little.
Took my time getting ready then hopped on the bus shortly after my wife and family arrived. Back at the start I got the rest of my gear on then went for a quick loose up run. The ladies took off then it was our turn 15 minutes later. After meeting up with Ben, Sean and Eric (who was unfortunately not sharing in the pain today) I mosied on over to the Jeep, grabbed my gear, said my goodbyes and wandered to the start.
My adrenaline was pumping. My HR was at about 92 at this point, 40+ higher than my resting HR.I joked with someone about not giving up no matter what, and the EMT’s would have to chase me onto the course to pull me off of it.
I geared up with my Salamon pack which had PB M&M’s, PBJ wrap, GU, S-Caps, Gatorade and Ice cold water on board. I taped up my foot prior to the start to give some extra stability. Altra Lone Peaks have done me well, and I chose to stick to them. Jublo Sunglasses would play a huge part in my comfort today as well as my Northface hat and GVH jersey.
Had my bluetooth headphones working and phone in the pack. Queued up my Sehgahunda playlist that began with the full score from Gladiator, and away we went. (I also had a borrowed GoPro that I would use up till it ran out 3 hours later)
The start was very compact and took 2+ miles in before it was comfortable to actually run. Tucked in behind Doug DeWeaver and tried to keep the pace slow and steady. I actually ran longer than I wanted to and caught up to Ben at the first hill and began my walking. I would walk every hill and ant hill this day, that was my plan. I watched as others bounded up the hill, but stayed with my strategy of efficiency. It works, I know it does.
Before we knew it there was the access trail to the first CP, and away we went. The 2nd part of my strategy was walk up a majority of the CP, make quick CP stops and continue on. The CP are for the most part, all uphill (which means you also have a nice downhill to bank time) More efficiency.
Seeing the faster runners coming down from the checkpoint was pretty cool, never saw Sean as he booked out fast but saw several others I recognized (if I am nobody to them) and caught Dan O on his descent and he looked great.
Pulled into the first CP, yelled out my number told my wife Gatorade, made the swap and was out in 30 seconds. Then back down the hill.
I tried to make this as easy as possible for my wife as I really want her to crew me, I think it is good for our relationship and a way to bring her into what I was doing. I setup my aid kit and made a list of what would be needed each time. The distance between some checkpoints gave me time to revise this mentally or inform her of what I needed next time.
A short jaunt out of CP 1 and back onto the course, nothing special happened here except we started to pass a bunch of the ladies at this point. The access to CP2 was “annoying” to say the least. LOTS of shoulder high grass made it feel like the jungle. Or my backyard. It was also open so the sun started to be felt.
Pulling into CP2 I saw Dan about a 1/2 mile ahead, and figured I was doing pretty good. The next CP would be almost 7 miles and I decided it best to replace everything. Water, Gatorade, Gu. Having Ice cold aid stuff from my wife I believe was key to me having no hydration or heat issues. I kept my body really cool and stayed on top of pretty much everything.
I still felt pretty good, and grabbed a couple watermelon slices from the table and took off.
Somewhere after coming down from this CP I was passing some ladies and stumbled going down a hill. Stretched out my groin and right hamstring pretty bad and landed hard to where I felt how bad my knees were feeling. I also happened upon a rock in my shoe and pulled over to take care of it. Better to deal with it than the after effects from it. At about mile 12 my legs were evident that I was not back to shape and the past month of injury ravaged any hope I had of getting a decent time. It would be a mental over physical battle from here on out. Up to this point I was only walking the hills/climbs but made the decision to switch over to the 4:1 run/walk as much as I could. Something I should have done much earlier, and probably would’ve finished better.
Pulling into the CP, I wanted to keep them as short as possible. I allotted 5 minutes for this one as I knew I would have to do a full refill, but since I split most of that at the last `CP it was much shorter. I continually passed people in the CP who went past me a while back. Elyse told me later, some guys were in there for a very long time. With the heat I don’t blame them, I just kept doing what I was doing as it was working.
I think it was during this CP I actually saw Eric & Sheila! I was way too focused. Also the last time I saw Dan O, and watched Mike Ryan zoom down the course.
The distances between CP got smaller but my times got slower as well. Somewhere along the way I made the conscious decision to eat my PBJ wrap while I walked. Good decision. I started to feel a bit more knee pain at this time. Grabbed another watermelon, ice cold water and a tablet. Wiped the face down to get the salt off and out of my eyes. I saw lots of runners dropping at this point from heat exhaustion.
Ugh. Lazy feet strike again. During this stretch I had a mental battle with myself as I hit the point on the course where I tripped and hit hard 4 weeks ago. I walked the section almost 10 minutes of it. I just kept struggling with the fact that I was tired legs and THIS is where it happened. Nearing the CP I rolled my right ankle scaring the beejezzus out of some poor guy. Nothing serious. Longer stop on the CP for some more gatorade and tablets.
This section sucked, big time. long climb and lots of rocks. Got to see the girls as this would be the last CP anyone was allowed at. Watching the Relay runners on fresh legs come flying down was a bit disheartening. IT looked like I was walking through a battlefield at this point with people stopped and sitting. 22 miles done, I would finish, but how long. My time goal of 4:45 had passed and there was no way I could do 5:00 in the time that remained. Survive.
After slowly goign back down the long climb I was back on the last section of technical trail. Sehgahunda wasn’t finishd with me. She tripped me and rolled my left ankle, then 1/2 mile later she tripped me again causing me to barrel dive and land on my shoulder. Demoralized I picked myself up swore at her and told her I was still going to beat her no matter what sh did. Rolled in to the 2nd to last CP to find Barry handing out ICE COLD REDBULL.
I’ve had Red Bull once before on a run, and it was…um interesting. I packed the can in my pack and ascended the next hill. I ran walked the road , something everyone else was doing at this point too.
Last CP. I popped open the Redbull and drank about half, grabbed a handful of Skittles and went on my way. MY family would be waiting for me at the next stop. The finish.
I continued the run walk, until I could see the FF sign on the road. It was about this time that the Redbull kicked in. I willed myself to a 8 min mile pace that turned into a sub 6 over the last 1/2 mile (which included …1 more hill) turning into the parade grounds I forgot about my knees and just sprinted. Sprinted with anything I had left. Crossed the finish line and grabbed my arrowhead.
Sehgahunda…I beat you.
All in all my immediate thoughts on the day and race were not positive, hence my delay in posting anything worthwhile. I’m glad I did. I took a walk Sunday afternoon and followed that with a talk with Coach Ian. So in the end the positives FAR out weigh the negatives coming out of this race
In the end, this wasn’t my race. I trained nearly 18-20 weeks for this, and still managed to run it despite losing a month of good training going into it due to injury. I’m proud I finished this course, on this day. It was a good training run. Next year, I’ll be back and I’ll shoot for my sub 5, and I’ll go another 26.3 rounds with Sehgahunda. It was great to have the support out there, between friends, volunteers but most importantly family. Could I have done this without them, yes, but it made it that much more of an enjoyable experience having them and especially my wife involved as much as they were.
To recap, we all had a blast, we all feel there is room for improvement (especially Eric who didn’t join this year). The race is for the most part extremely organized, very well run. It is runner friendly, and spectator friendly.
We will be back next year to tackle the course again, move up in the rankings and continue to share with the Rochester Running Community just how much TrailsRoc!